Category Archives: Crafts

Fair Isle Success

_MG_1935I made a promise to try to push myself to learn new techniques and skills this year.  First up…stranded colorwork knitting. For some reason, stranded colorwork always seemed really hard and kind of scary. I posted a picture of my yarn stash on Instagram last week along with a caption about my resolution to learn colorwork, and a few people commented that I should try YouTube. I was unsure that I could learn via video but it was surprisingly easy! I watched a few videos and then gave it a shot.  I had to get the hang of holding two strands at a time, which was the most challenging part.

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_MG_1894I picked the Schuyler hat for my first pattern.  I found it via Fringe Association and I’m so glad I did.  This is such a beautiful, wearable pattern.  I’m thinking of lining it with fleece, which would make it the perfect winter hat!  Of course everyone in the house is fighting over it, so I already have a second colorwork hat on my needles.  And you know two more will have to come soon after!  At this rate I’ll be ripping through my stash in no time…which can only mean one thing… yarn shopping is in my future!

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The Power of Craft

_MG_1493I hope you had a very merry Christmas. I’ve been bursting to share this story and these images with you for weeks now, ever since I sewed the last stitch on this dress.  Allow me to start from the beginning: this past summer and fall proved to be a very challenging time for my parents as they dealt with many difficulties related to my younger brother.  I saw my mom stripped of so much of her joy as she internalized the stress of the situation and quite frankly, it broke my heart.  I decided that I wanted to use the power of handmade to create something of beauty for her.  I decided that I would finish her Alabama Chanin dress in time for Christmas (you might remember this past summer when my mom and I took a class from Natalie Chanin at Blackberry Farm– this was her garment from the class, which she had barely started).  It was a ridiculously lofty goal what with 6 large panels of applique to conquer, so I decided to enlist the help of my community.  I envisioned an old-fashion quilt circle with women coming together to create something of beauty.  I imagined each stitch sewn with intention and love.  Three amazing women came forward and offered their sewing assistance, and together we created this masterpiece.  I sent them each a panel, and made a little instructional video, and a few months later they sent me back their panels, each completed to perfection.  I stitched up the panels- my three, plus the three others, and finished off the neck and arm holes.  In all it was a six-month project.

bustOn Christmas morning I had the dress swathed in sheets of tissue paper, wrapped in a big box covered in red sparkly wrapping paper.  It was the last gift my mom opened and she was absolutely speechless.  Nestled in along with the dress I had notes from the women who helped to sew her dress:  Kellen Meyer, my sweet Squam friend, was one of the amazing women who lent her talent to the project, along with Amy Mercer, a lovely knitter, seamstress and blog friend, and Ann Ryskoski, a long-time friend of my moms.  The dress fits my mom perfectly- it is quite amazing.  I hope it brings her joy each and every time she wears it.  There is something so powerful about wearing a garment that other hands made for you with love and intention.  This was the most fulfilling and uplifting project that I made this year and it got me thinking: the power of handmade is incredible.  I would love to do this again- craft a beautiful garment for someone who needs a touch of joy in their life.  What do you think?  Would any of you be into that?  Together we could pick someone to receive the gift, and then decide on the garment.  Together we could make beautiful things and spread some handmade joy.  Give it some thought…and keep in mind you don’t have to be a master crafter.  If you can hand sew, you can make an Alabama Chanin piece.  Another idea- an Alabama Chanin sew-a-long in the Providence-area- I’d be happy to host at my house!  Wouldn’t this be a fun way to kick off 2016?!  I’m ready for some deeper, more fulfilling making in the coming year.

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Blackberry Farm with Natalie Chanin

_MG_6350Blackberry Farm might just be one of the most magical places on earth.  The food…the service…the sweeping views…the tranquil environment.  If you throw a weekend of sewing with Natalie Chanin into the mix, you pretty much have heaven on earth.  Our sewing weekend was the culmination of our southern road trip and we truly saved the best for last.  Natalie and her team were the warmest, most inspiring teachers.  Their level of skill, attention to detail and determination to create in the most sustainable, high quality fashion possible was just extraordinary.  As we walked to class, and walked to dinner each night, we were greeted with these views…

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_MG_6202On the first day of the workshop it rained off and on for the entire day.  Of course we didn’t mind as we were busy stitching away.  But when we came out of the classroom we were met with this incredible fog, which had rolled in over the mountains.  I grabbed my camera and wandered for the next few hours trying my best to capture the ethereal feeling.

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_MG_6128I must say that in all of my travels I have never experienced such food and service.  Blackberry Farm has won several James Beard awards for both, and it was easy to see why.  Much of the food served is grown on the property, and that which they don’t grow is sourced from local farms.  The quality, freshness and presentation were incredible.

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The property is comprised of something like 4200 acres, all nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.  You can walk the property for hours and never run out of places to explore.  I wish we had time to partake in the many activities- fly fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, hiking- the list goes on.  Mostly, I wish I had time to indulge in their spa services 🙂  The spa itself was such an incredible building.  Someday my home will be modeled after their spa…and I will live forever in quiet peace and white surroundings.  All kidding aside, by the final day I was dying to get home to my boys.  It was the longest I had ever been away and I felt completely undone by the end.  When I woke up yesterday morning to both of them jumping in bed for morning snuggles, I finally felt at rest.  I felt whole again.  My true peace will always be with them, and that is something no spa service could ever top.

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_MG_6032I don’t think I have quite processed all that I learned and absorbed during my time spent with Natalie.  I am completely addicted to her hand sewing process now and though it will take a good 6-9 months to finish my piece (of course I had to choose one of the most intricate patterns!) when it is finished, it will be a masterpiece.  Of that I am sure.  Natalie’s story was inspiring, and her fortitude as a business women was pretty incredible.  She has built the company she has always wanted- from the ground up, and with many mistakes, bumps and bruises along the way.  But she always stayed true to her belief that there is inherent worth in handmade items.  Trying on pieces from her collection, and flipping through her sample swatches (below) was breathtaking.  And although I am grinning like a fool, I simply had to include the picture below…

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Squam

_MG_4809I returned from Squam on Sunday feeling completely exhausted, but riding a creative high.  The exhaustion thing was totally my fault- with two of my best Squam friends, Kellen and Felicia, staying in my cabin we never seemed to make it to bed before 1am.  At our age it pretty much felt like pulling a few all-nighters in a row.  But totally worth it.  I haven’t had time for that kind of connection in a long while.  Sitting by the fire, knitting and talking about everything from why we create, to how we raise our children (and teasing each other mercilessly)…it is a magical thing indeed when you can connect so deeply with other women.

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_MG_4592On Thursday I had the pleasure of taking Ann Wood’s class where we learned to hand-stitched a mushroom and seed pod (those are mine, above).  It was such a blast, and Ann is a generous and inspiring teacher.  She shared her vintage fabric collection with us- scraps of lace, indigo and hand-dyed fabrics, old wedding dresses and couture clothing- all for us to play with!  It was such a playful and creative way to spend a day.

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_MG_4662When we had down time, Felicia, Kellen and I hit the open road and explored the countryside.  We even staged a little barn photo shoot, which I’ll be sure to share this week.   We stopped to get coffee and take pictures of flowers.  When you are used to having kids in the car with you, little luxuries like this feel extra decadent.

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group

_MG_4799On Saturday night the Squam Art Fair was in full swing.  I had a booth selling a few new items from India, and right next to me was Roost, my publisher, selling a stack of Little Bites.  It was pretty thrilling to watch my friends purchase my book, and being able to sign their copy with a personal message.  What a fun way to soft launch Little Bites!

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_MG_5102And even though I know they’ll want to kill me for posting this picture…my girls, looking so happy.  I’m in a wee bit of denial that I won’t be seeing them for at least another year but I’ll rest easy knowing we can pick right back up where we left off…

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Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

_MG_2626I kept putting off dying Easter eggs because I really wanted to photograph them surrounded by spring blossoms.  When it started snowing this weekend I realized that my blossom wishes would not be coming true anytime soon, and so we got down to it.  I love using natural dyes, but it does take time and patience.  The kids weren’t so into the whole process, to be honest.  Mainly it involves boiling ingredients and allowing the eggs to sit in the dye overnight.  So if you are into instant gratification, like my kids, this might not be so exciting!  Our eggs turned out a bit more molted in color than in years past, but I still think they are beautiful in an earthy way.

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I used the following ingredients to achieve these colors:

Tumeric (yellow and orange)

Red Cabbage (blue)

Red Onion Skins (brown)

Beet (pink)

Grape Juice (dark blue)

Combine ingredient with water in a saucepan, submerge the eggs, and then bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Once the water is boiling, remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.  Strain the mixture, composting the solids, and straining the dye into small glasses.  Add one egg to each glass, place the glasses in the fridge and allow them to soak overnight. In the morning, remove the eggs from the dye and allow them to dry.  The key is to remove the eggs gentle from the dye and allow them to dry completely before you handle them.  The dye will rub off if you handle the eggs before their dry.

Play around with both brown and white eggs for varied results.  Also, try adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to some of the glasses and the colors will be richer.  I just play around and each year the results seem to be a bit different.  These eggs are completely safe to eat, and we never notice any odd flavors due to the dyes or vinegar!

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More or Less

_MG_9128I start my e-course today over at Squam, teaching an eager group of students the in’s and out’s of pitching their work to magazines, agents and publishers.  We’ll be learning together over the course of the next month, and this means that things are BUSY!  I have also been putting the final edits on my book manuscript and playing around with shooting the cover.  It hasn’t left much time for crafting, but surprisingly, I’m okay with that at the moment.  I’m at a bit of a crossroads with my crafting, if I’m to be honest.  I recently read this New York Times article about a women who lives in an 84 square foot home, with only 305 possessions.  I can’t tell you how much that lifestyle appeals to me.  Of course we own 300 trucks, blocks and board books alone- your possessions have a way of quadrupling once you have a kid or two.  There are many days where I feel like all I do is move stuff around- a load of laundry from the laundry room to drawers, toys into their bins, dishes into their cupboards- you know the drill.  I swear once my kids are raised, I might convince my husband to buy a tiny home and park it in one of the boy’s backyards!  It’ll just be the two of us, our garden (!) and our 305 possessions (but wait, do knitting needles count as one possession as a whole, or does every needle count- hmm, we might have a problem there).  But as a crafter, I’m not quite sure how to apply the idea of ‘less is more’ when I am always making stuff.  Whether I’m sewing quilts or baby books, blocks or shirts– it adds up.  As does my knitting- no matter how much of it I give away.  And let’s not even get into my yarn and fabric stash.  It’s not enormous, but it definitely takes up a few shelves in my studio, to be sure.  Although I don’t buy much new material- I prefer to reuse, repurpose and shop from my stash- there is still the issue of stuff.

_MG_9140And what happens when you don’t really have anything else that you are dying to make- be it sewing or knitting?  We have enough clothing, blankets, hats, scarves, etc. to last us a lifetime- in fact I’m always decluttering and giving away things that don’t fit quite right or that we just don’t like anymore.  And I don’t really want to sew just for the sake of sewing.  I’ve gifted quilts and knit things to almost everyone I know and love.  And yet, when I’m not creative in this way, I become a bit depressed.  Knitting and sewing bring me joy and they ease my stress in a way that even exercising can’t.  So what’s next?  I’m not sure. I just finished this sweet little shrug (pictured here) out of a ball of natural yarn I’ve had in my stash for years, and buttons that I have been saving for something special.  It’s so beautiful in its simplicity- fitting for this idea of less is more.  I’m also finishing up a dress for myself, and a quilt each for my niece and nephew.  That will keep me busy this month…but then what?  I would love to hear your approach to dealing with the issue of accumulating stuff vs. the need to keep crafting.  And any good de-stashing projects that you’d like to share would be greatly appreciated!

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Fabric Baby Book Tutorial

_MG_8479This weekend I finished Vik’s fabric baby book.  He LOVES it, which is just the sweetest thing to see.  This is the kind of crafting I love- easy, creative and anything but fussy.  Here is a quick tutorial I put together in case you want to whip one of these up for your own little own.  It is not a super quick project- there are a lot of steps involved- but it is fun, and it comes together pretty easily.

_MG_8450Step 1: Pick four coordinating fabrics, as well as batting and notions including felt, ribbon, rick-rack, etc.  Cut your fabrics into eight rectangles measuring approximately 16 inches x 8 inches, two from each fabric.  Cut four rectangles of batting, as well.  This will give you 16 pages to work with, so you will need at least 16 pictures, or more if you choose to do two on a page.  I use these Colorfast Fabric Printer Pages.  Follow the directions completely to ensure your color adheres.

_MG_8455Step 2: Layout all of your pages, and pin the pictures and felt pieces in place.  Using a zig-zag stitch for the pictures, sew into place.  Use a straight stitch for the felt.  Press each page well after sewing.

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_MG_8474Step 3: Place your matching fabric pages right sides together (take care that all your photographs are facing the same way), with the batting in the back, and sew together, making sure to leave an opening so you can turn the page right-side out.  Clip any excess batting and clip your corners.

_MG_8477Step 4: Turn right side out, making sure to pull out the corners, using a pin to help, and press.  Turn in the raw edge of the opening, creating a finish edge, and pin into place. Top stitch 1/4 inch from the edge, around the entire page.  Give the page a good press.

_MG_8458Step 5: Repeat for the other three pages.

_MG_8460Step 6: Once all four of your pages are complete, place one inside the other in the desired order.  If your machine can handle sewing through such thickness, sew down the middle of the book, creating a binding.  If your machine can’t handle the thickness, you can hand sew the binding.

_MG_8481Note: This project was made possible by the fact that Vijay discovered scissors, and a die hard love for cutting paper, felt, fabric, ribbon and even a few electrical cords (!) was born.  We spent TWO HOURS together in my studio this weekend (while Vik napped)- him cutting away, me sewing away.  It was a dream, I tell you, a true dream!

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Finding Sanity

_MG_8440This past week was a doozy.  Burst water pipes, a health scare and a few other traumatic events made for a stress filled week.  It seems that hard things often come in pairs, or triplets, and I have to believe that is to test our resolve and help us appreciate the good times.  I know spring is around the corner, with all of its fresh air and hopeful energy.  The cherry blossoms and magnolias are so close to blooming, and I can only imagine how the burst of natural beauty will help to lift our spirits. At least that is what I’m counting on!  Until then, I find that knitting helps to relieve my stress, and so each night, when the boys are finally tucked in and sound asleep, I head up to my studio to work on my projects.

_MG_8442This week, given the stress, I found myself tuning into my favorite shows and knitting like a maniac.  I finished this Clara dress for my friend Sarah’s little one, Emily.  I was saving it for her first birthday this summer, but she is a healthy baby (!) so I think I better hand it over before she outgrows it.  There is such joy in making handknit gifts, especially for those friends that appreciate what goes into such gifts!

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_MG_8426I also spent some time freshening up my inspiration boards with some of the vintage textiles that I brought back from India.  I am endlessly inspired by textiles.  Fabric and yarn are my true weaknesses, and although these are mere scraps, I find them to be beyond beautiful.  Speaking of fabric…I also began Vik’s fabric picture book.  Vijay’s book remains one of his favorites, and it is one of the projects that I love the most out of everything I’ve made for him.  For my sweet little Vik I decided on Heather Ross’s Far Far Away line, which features the Owl and the Pussy Cat.  It is the sweetest print, and color palette.  And that is life these days- knitting, garden planning, dreaming and feeling so thankful that this is a new week!

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Seaside Tinkered Treasures

p082-CB777_Luminaries_01Writing a book can be both exciting and incredibly isolating, especially in the final stages when your head is buried in your manuscript and all you can think about is what’s left to be done.  I’m grateful to have a few writing friends who help keep me sane, and who can relate to the craziness of it all.  Elyse Major is one of those friends, and she just finished her second (!) craft book.  She is so full of creativity and drive, and I am so proud to share her book here.

p0120-CB777_Ice Cream Spoons_01Seaside Tinkered Treasures is like a breath of spring air, full of beach inspired crafts and projects.  As I was browsing through the pages, my first thought was…”These projects would make for adorable party decor.”  Of course our party themes tend towards construction and fire trucks, but in the event I had a few girlfriends over, or perhaps one day have the pleasure of planning a little girl’s birthday party, I would absolutely whip up a few of these.

p072-CB777_Pinwheels_01I could see pastel colored tin lanterns dotting the yard, a table full of doily covered pop bottles and colorful pinwheels, as well as an ice cream station complete with little decorated spoons and bowls.  What I love about Elyse’s crafting is that all the materials are easily sourced, and many make use of things that would otherwise be discarded, like tin cans and pop bottles.

p089-CB777_Bottles _01Congratulation Elyse, on another amazing craft book.  I don’t know how you come up with all of your ideas, but I am greatly inspired by your creativity.  Please check out Seaside Tinkered Treasures, as well as her first book, Tinkered Treasures, and her delightful blog.  Maybe if we all craft with an eye to spring, we can make the warm weather approach with greater speed!  There’s a happy thought!

IW CB777_SEASIDE_TRSRS_BLAD_DSJ_xSeaside Tinkered Treasured by Elyse Major is published by CICO Books and is available from Ryland Peters.

Studio Tour

_MG_7396Thank you so much for all of your enthusiasm over my India Pop-Up Shop– I’m almost sold out, but there are a few goodies left.  The shop will stay up until the end of the week- so if you have your eye on anything, jump over and grab it!  And now, for a studio tour!  This has been a long time coming, but it was hard deciding when things were finished enough to share.  There are still a few odds and ends to pull together, but for the most part, I’m thrilled with how my space turned out.

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_MG_7312_2If you can remember, I gave up my old studio space when Vik was born and it was then that I decided to redo the attic.  It took a few years, but this past summer, while we were visiting my parents in Northern Michigan, we had the attic painted and the skylights added.  It made a huge difference, as you can tell by the before picture.  I decided on a bright white, clean look which I love.  It acts as a blank canvas which allows me to create and brainstorm without distraction.  Above is my Ikea desk, which has room for both my computer/ writing area, and my sewing machine (shown with its cover on- make your own here!).

_MG_7342_2We replaced this window, which really helps to keep in the heat, and makes the space so much brighter!  I love keeping some live plants on the window sill- adds a bit of color and cheer.  Above is one of my two vintage Paul McCobb chairs, which I have recovered multiple times.  I often keep my quilts and handmade stuffed animals piled here for inspiration!  Lots of pink going on!

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_MG_7359Next is the sitting area, with my new Ikea chair.  It has a nice high back (which is great for tall gals like myself) and is very comfy for knitting and writing!  I just need to find an ottoman.  I want a cool tufted number that I can reupholster with a vintage quilt.

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_MG_7321_2I love bringing fresh flowers into my space…it makes me so happy to make this one place in the house a total girly getaway.  I could never get away with white walls and delicate accessories anywhere else in the house.

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_MG_7295_2If you can image walking up the stairs to an attic space with slanted ceilings and skylights- you turn to the right and there is my desk, window and chair, while right in front of you is my Ikea work table which allows me to work standing, and to the left, a few inspiration boards, my ironing board, and an amazing old chest that my mom gave me which now houses all of my treasured handmade possessions, including sweaters the boys have outgrown, old quilts and pillows, the very first quilt I ever made, and various other odds and ends.

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_MG_7377I am totally in love with the Ikea rolling drawer unit that I just purchased.  It holds all of my sewing supplies.  Seeing that I am organized (some would say to a fault)- this kind of thing just makes me ridiculously happy.  Everything in its rightful place!

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_MG_7372You can see the beautiful patina of my old chest- on top of which I keep a large, shallow basket.  I love to set out beautiful, inspirational vignetes all around my studio- like these block-print, hand-stitched notebooks that I brought back from India, along with a pom-pom scarf and knobs.  I’m planning of having a booth at the Squam Art Fair this June where I will be selling an incredible selection of notebooks, blocks and other fun things from India!

_MG_7367I’ve also been ridiculously inspired by this fabric that I brought back from India by the yard.  I don’t know yet what it will become, but I am brimming with ideas.  I would also be totally happy just wrapping myself in this fabric head-to-toe and taking a nap.  I am that in love with it!

_MG_7392You may be wondering where I keep all my STUFF.  Fabric, books, supplies, baskets of yarn.  I have a little nook behind this curtain where I keep my shelving unit.  It holds all of my crafting supplies.  I would show you more, but this little nook also houses all our baby clothes, luggage, infant car-seats, bassinet…it is kind of a mess!  But it is our only real storage space in the house- and once the curtain drops, you’d never know it was there!  And that’s about it- I can’t tell you what it means to have a space of my own again in which to craft, daydream, write and create.  I don’t get up here as often as I’d like, but knowing it’s there, just waiting for me, brings me such happiness!

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