Monday, May 21, 2012

Rags to Riches

This is a rough time of year around our house.  Coach and I end our semesters in such a frenzy, I feel like the kids’ school years kind of fizzle without notice.  Somewhere amidst the piles of papers and dirty laundry jut errant notes from school about Water Day, Awards Night, and one very delinquent lunch money fund.  It’s tough to keep up for most of the year; finals week, nearly impossible. 

So, when Little Man asked me to make tote bags for his teachers-- four days before the end of school-- my knee-jerk reaction was “Hmnawwwwwwwwwww…”  You know, that comatose fugue you get when all of your neurons fire at once—like keys on a typewriter.  I started to kindly make my excuse, but his teachers were so great this year, and he looked so excited about it, in the end, I couldn’t refuse.                                                                   

“Okay, Buddy.” I grabbed his spindly shoulders and steered him toward The Stash.  “What fabric should we use?”

"I want this."  He pointed to a brightly-striped curtain panel I thrifted from Goodwill last year. 

Thrift store curtain: before.
Uh… The curtain cost $3, and despite being washed and dried twice, may once have hung in someone's window. 

“Miss Kathy's favorite colors are pink, orange and yellow.  Miss Cheryl's favorite colors are blue, green and yellow.  This one has ALL of those!” 

For a child who can’t decide what to do with his tongue when he spits out his toothpaste, this was a freakish amount of certainty. 

Clearly, this wasn't the vibe I was going for.  I was hoping for something sophisticated and subdued, more Barney’s than Barnum & Bailey.  And, what is the etiquette here?  Thrifting?  Re-gifting?  Still, it was clean, sunny, and of sufficient yardage to eek out two tote bags, complete with custom pockets and handles.  Given my work schedule and time frame, I decided to save the moral debate for another day.


I made Noodlehead's Summer Madras Tote, the same pattern I used for a recent swap.  I wanted to somehow customize the bags, but my silk-screening gear is still packed away in storage. Instead, I used freezer paper to stencil the school crest onto white fabric, and the 6-Minute Circle to frame them out.  

Look at the tiny carving I had to do!

The circles turned out a bit more 'rookie' than I would have liked, but the ladies seemed to like the finished products.  We outfitted each bag with a bundle of gerber daisies and a gift card for the local ice cream shop.  It was a frantic race-to-the-finish, with final grades just due and a pending trip to KC to work the Modern Meet-Up, but Little Man and I finally got to deliver the bags the day after school let out.  (Why make one when two takes three times as long?)   :)

We found his teachers hard at work in their tiny pre-school classroom, miniature desks all pushed aside and prepped for summertime cleaning.  He delivered each bag so carefully, like a nervous Mommy leaving her little one for the very first time.  Then he stopped to study the empty room.

"You come see me next year," Miss Kathy said, leaning down to hug him.  "I'll be right outside my doorway when you're walking down the hall."  He bobbed his blonde head in a nod against her leg.  "Love you," she said to the top of his head, and he switched legs to Miss Cheryl, who hugged him, too.  They thanked us both again and wished us a happy summer as he quietly took my hand and we headed out the door.

He left school that day so much more than two hugs the richer.  The past few years have been a really difficult time for our family.  Like so many people, we've faced unemployment, relocation, and 31 months in my in-laws' basement waiting for our house to sell.  Of all of these hardships, floating the kids from school to school has been the most difficult to bear.  After the amazing year the kids have enjoyed, and the loving welcome by our parish and school, we feel so blessed to have finally settled here.  Re-gift tote bags don't quite seem enough.

As we pulled out of our parking space on the way home, I asked if he was glad the teachers liked his gifts.  

"Yeah," he said softly.  "But, I might still cry a little."

Me too, Buddy.  Me, too.


Friday, May 4, 2012

Fabric Friday: First Loves

You never forget your first love. The way your heart skipped a beat the first time you laid eyes on that beautiful creature, and you knew you'd never be the same. Other loves come and go, but the first, the original... Well, there's really nothing like it, is there?

So you can imagine my excitement when -- out of the blue -- mine popped up at my HOUSE this week!

It's been a rough few weeks here, end of term and all. Naturally, this called for a little retail therapy. The ever-obliging UPS man delivered this happy little stack to my door about a week ago:

Packed with quilty goodness

Swamped with work, I really didn't have time to look through them right away. So, I let Miss Em flip through to see if there were any in particular that caught her eye. My last quilt for her was the "Wicked" quilt, and I think she's feeling a tad neglected... Like those cobblers' kids, who have no shoes.

Anyhoo... She asked if she could fold over the page corners for the ones she liked.


Once my speaking voice slipped back to within audible threshold intensity, I suggested she use slips of paper instead. I passed her the empty Barnes & Noble box, complete with packing slips and glossy advertisements.

"Can I tear this, too?" she asked, purchase order in hand.


What Dad doesn't know won't hurt him, right?

About a half-hour later, she handed me these:

I only have to make quilts from the marked pages.  :)

Like mother, like daughter.

Somewhere between 1,000 pages of organic exams and 1,000 pages of project reports, I managed to squeeze in a minute to peruse these luscious pages. Emma was right: these books are jam-packed with eye candy, one quilt happier and more desirable than the next. As I moved from page to page, I slipped into a sort of bliss, the kind you feel when all of the planets are in alignment and your brain starts to simmer with ideas. You can imagine how jarring it was, then, when I turned to page 17 of Sunday Morning Quilts and found myself face-to-face with this:

Borrowed from Sunday Morning Quilts
The first. The original. One-half of Amanda Jean's (Crazy Mom Quilts) duo "Pete + Repeat," a set of twin-sized quilts she made for her boys' beds back in 2009, and the very first "modern quilts" to catch my eye. I remember studying those wonky blocks -- before I knew the word for it -- and thinking, "Those aren't actually straight, are they?" And, the fact that the fabrics didn't all match, well... Just about blew my tiny little mind! What got me more than anything, though, was the binding: Amy Butler's Lotus Full Moon Dot, in tangerine:

Love that binding: 

Love at first sight.

Unfortunately, I wasn't really in a place to do anything about it at the time.  Lotus had already flown off the shelves -- not that I had the means to purchase any. Despite many a Google search, I couldn't find a scrap of it anywhere. What I did find instead were the "web-logs" (ha) of modern quilters, with names like Oh, Fransson!,  Film in the Fridge and Red Pepper Quilts, all of whom had used the fabric in their own creations. And, just like that, I was hooked. A modern quilter was born.

Over the years, I have had this fabric in and out of my shopping cart more times than I can count. This week, after years of longing -- and, just in time for our STLMQG polka dot swap -- I finally took the plunge:

    And, they lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spring Swaptacular - And a plea for clemency

This Spring, I have enjoyed participating in two terrific swaps: The STLMQG pouch swap, and the For the Love of Solids 2 (FTLOS2) swap via Flickr.  

STLMQG Pouch Swap - Received

The STLMQG had our secret partner pouch swap last month.  Cuteness everywhere.  

My friend Juli Ann picked my name and crafted this fantastic patchwork zipper pouch for me. Snippets of Garden Party, Innocent Crush and Kei Dots mean there were as many treats on the outside as there were within, where Juli Ann generously hid a few surprises: a fun stack of fabric for my stash and a few sweet treats to boot. To this point, I had never tasted Nutella. Can you imagine? It's all I can do now to keep from putting the stuff in a casserole!      

Yummy (literally) pouch swap package from Juli Ann.

The back of the pouch is every bit as charming as the front.  I'm not sure how she did it (some serious Pinterest stalking, I suspect?), but she managed to combine three of my favorite things: navy blue, handwork, and Reunion by Sweetwater. I LOVE the way the navy and grey pair with the subdued reds, greens and golds of this line, and the bunting print is one of my favorites. Thank you so much, Juli Ann. From the beaded zipper pull to the last savory bit of chocolate, I love every bit of it. The special little details, and the fact that it came from a true friend, make it all the sweeter. You are the best.

Juli Ann's pouch (back)


STLMQG Pouch Swap - Given

I was very excited to draw as my secret swap partner Miss Nancy, who blogs over at Tea and Quilts. Miss Nancy is an active and treasured member of the St. Louis Modern Quilt Guild. She is soft-spoken and kind, and always willing to share her considerable experience with newbies like me. The profile pic she has chosen for her blog is an example of her excellent handiwork: a darling little redwork embroidery of a young girl sitting in a rocking chair stitching her own redwork. Having subscribed to Nancy's blog for some time, I already knew of her love of redwork, the St. Louis Cardinals (Redbirds), and several red accent walls in her home, so my color choice for the pouch swap was an easy one.    

Miss Nancy's blog icon
After pulling a selection of reds from my stash and completing a practice pouch, I got to work on the real deal.

I started with an embroidery pattern by Michelle Clement, which I completed on a small piece of white cotton canvas. I then pieced 144 one-and-a-half inch squares into a small patchwork and used this in combination with Dale Fleming's Six-Minute Circle to frame out the redwork. The dense, layered seams of the finished patchwork stretched the six-minute circle into a much longer ordeal, but in the end, I was relatively happy with the (somewhat elliptical) results. This finished piece would serve as the front of the pouch.

Pouch for Miss Nancy (front)

Flea market find - good stuff inside!

For the back of the pouch, I used a Dresden Plate template I pulled from a flea market find earlier that week. The pouch itself was a modified version of Elizabeth Hartman's Perfect Zip Bags pattern, the first pattern I've ever purchased, and definitely worth every penny. With the exception of a wonky gusset on one side of the bag, it turned out largely as I had hoped. Unlike my practice pouch (which tried to eat itself whenever zipped), the lining for Miss Nancy's pouch stayed put, and the zipper worked like a charm.  :)  I tucked a few chocolate bars inside, along with a box of Nancy's favorite tea for good measure.  I'm so glad she liked it!  

Pouch for Miss Nancy (back)

This was the first swap we've held in the guild since we established our new Swap Committee, and it was a HUGE success! The pouches were all so modern and fun. The ladies did a great job. In May, we'll hold our "Polka Dot Swap" for fat quarters of fabric. I'm definitely looking forward to it!

FTLOS 2 Swap - Received

Since I first found it on Flickr, I've been dying to join in on the "For the Love of Solids" swap. The craftsmanship of the gifts has been incredible from the start, and the theme lends itself well to my overwhelmingly-solid fabric stash. So, I was really excited to learn that I'd been accepted to participate in Round 2 this spring.

Jeannette Day (Flickr name:  Sacridote) drew my name for this swap. I'd spotted her project in the Flickr pool a few weeks before, and had my fingers crossed that it might be for me. I'd requested a knitting needle roll as my first choice, in linen and greens, and boy, did she deliver!

Awesome swap package from Jeannette Day (Sacridote) in the FTLOS 2 Swap.  Knitting needles not included.  :)

The linen case is beautifully made, and already chock full of needles. Along with the roll came a fabulous zipper pouch with loads of hand stitching and a crisply-pieced center block from Faith's (Fresh Lemons) Solstice Stars series. Inside I found a parcel of fabric, a pair of chocolate and caramel lollipops, and (yikes!) an Aurifil sampler pack! SO generous! I've been dying to try Aurifil for the longest time, but I get so distracted by "pretties" in the fabric store, I rarely make it over to the notions.  Thank you, Jeannette, for a stunning swap package.  I consider myself very lucky, indeed!

FTLOS 2 Swap - Sent

I don't know if it's my training as a scientist or the plethora of Agatha Christie novels read in my youth, but I love stalking swap partners. Not to creep you out too badly, but there's something about the thrill of the chase (for the perfect aesthetic) that just makes me tick. So, the minute I learned that Ruth of Cherry Coloured Twist was my secret swap partner, I whipped out the houndstooth cape and set to work. Ruth lives in the UK, and is moving soon to Sweden.  Her taste is hip and very modern, sophisticated in the eclectic, worldly sort of way that I always admire and can rarely emulate, having grown up within a relatively sheltered three-hour midwestern radius.

The combination of her inspiration mosaic and a few Pinterest finds here and here got me to thinking about this bag from Target I've been saving for years...

Isn't it just asking to be a quilt?  I really love the original color scheme, but Ruth wanted something with a bit more of a rainbow flare, hence "Linen and Leaves" was born:

Unfortunately, assembling this puppy took a tad longer than I'd expected. (And by "tad," I mean a month). *Sigh* I could give you lots of excuses about stomach flu and spring break and teaching loads and malfunctioning dishwashers, but the fact remains that I have always underestimated how long it takes to do things. My research advisor used to tell me to take whatever estimate I had in mind, double the magnitude and increase the unit. So, I should expect a project I estimate at one week to take two months. Two months, four years. Four years, eight decades. You get the idea.     

True to form, I sent this parcel out just about one month after the original post date. It was so late, in fact, that the Swap Mamas posted my name in the "Have Yet to Send" list on the Flickr site. I watched the list tick down from nine names to six, to five, to four... There sat Miss Stash Would, stuck with three partners in crime on the virtual post office wall.  :( The package was destined for the UK, so once the initial deadline passed, I figured I might as well try to salvage the situation by sweetening the deal.  Hence the tote bag, notebook cover and other assorted goodies:

Ruth messaged last week to say that she'd received her package, and she seemed (thankfully!) genuinely pleased. I certainly appreciate her patience, and I'm so tickled that she's happy, but I can't help wondering now, if I'm banned for life. Will the powers-that-be decide from on-high that I'm unfit to participate in this swap in the future? Or other Flickr swaps, for that matter? Does the modern quilting community, comprised of all sorts of people, have room for "late-swappers?" Even those of us who (hopefully) make up for our tardiness with beefed-up packages? Doesn't everyone still win?

Sorry to seem temperamental, but this really touched a nerve for me.  I fully admit to signing up for this swap against my better judgment.  Like many of you, I suspect, I work an inordinate number of hours outside the home each week, and as a result, have very little time for anything other than work and family.  What little bit of free time I do find I have to create, generally between the hours of midnight and three in the morning. Just to say that I've salvaged one, tiny fragment of my day to do something I completely and genuinely enjoy. So, I joined this swap purposefully, in an effort to feel included in something outside my workaday life that makes me feel rejuvenated and happy, like I've made a connection with someone who "gets me."

Maybe this rant is my preemptive attempt to sway the tide in my favor. Maybe when FTLOS 3 rolls around, they won't think twice about my tardiness. Then again, maybe I'm already blacklisted and all of this is moot.  Regardless of my status at the moment, I know a few things for certain.  Becoming a part of the modern quilting community has changed my life.  Creating beautiful things for people who share my love of textiles makes me feel included like I never have before. So, whether it's an established swap, or one I'm forced to create on my own for reluctant-type-A-workaholics like myself, I think it's fair to say that I will always try to find a way to stay connected to swappers around the world.  I can't imagine anything that feels better than knowing you've made something you love for someone who appreciates it.  Despite the hurt feelings and blacklists and deadlines and exorbitant fees for international express deliveries, it's a great thing to make good friends from all around the world.

And, it's still cheaper than therapy.