Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Simply Shaker thread: Simply Lovely

I have to mention that the Stacy Nash's "Summer at Hollyberry Farm" pattern recommended Simply Shaker thread (by The Gentle Art). I'd never used anything but DMC, so I got quite a sticker shock from this hand-dyed thread. At first I thought I'd save a bit of dosh by combining some DMC and some Simply Shaker. Because of how unique the colors are in the latter, I decided against it.

And I'm so glad I did.

I am absolutely smitten with Simply Shaker threads! Love, love, LOVE! The variation of the color of the thread is so lovely. The variation is so natural. (Yes. Love.)

I've been thinking about turning a beautiful naturalist botanical still-life into a cross stitch pattern. I know there is software out there that will turn jpegs into patterns and even provide DMC thread numbers to boot! But I think that converting the colors into Simply Shaker threads would make such a picture truly gorgois! [My Frenchification of 'gorgeous'; pronounced /gorj WA/; rhymes with "more saw." But, I digress.]

Meanwhile, back on the farm, I did notice that using these variegated threads required me to pay attention to the order of my stitches. For example, Stacy recommends sewing in a large diamond-shaped pattern for her version of the rooftop. I loved this idea, but I decided to do shingle shapes and used three different colors of thread in the same tone. I'm very pleased with the look it achieved. It gives detail without being overly "drawn."

Stacy Nash
When I got to the trees, I realized that a left-to-right stitch pattern didn't look natural. It looked, well ... stitched. So I unpicked it and, instead, ran the stitches up into branches, carefully varying where each vertical line of stitching ended so that I never had an obvious line break.

Because I wanted the trees to look like the huge hundred-year-old trees at my grandpa's, I also borrowed the leaves from the pattern in another section, built out the trunk and limbs, and made the leaves and limbs a little less symmetrical.

Stacy Nash
And, of course, there is my beloved swing. (sigh)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Ahhhh, the good old days. That's when things were better. 
Back Then. 
Once Upon a Time. 
Remember When.

Last year I read a great "New York Times" article about how experiencing nostalgia is healthy. When we review our lives, the process of reflection and retrospection can be motivating and satisfying—if the focus is on appreciating the past.

But nostalgia is also an actual period of life. People especially in mid-life and later are known to spend more time recalling the past as they age. We roll our eyes as kids when parents break out that same story for the hundredth time, but telling it (and, I guess, telling it, and telling it, and telling it) is really necessary to a person's mental health and overall wellness.

Telling our stories is a way of making sense of our lives, something our human brains are programmed to do: to find the patterns, and to find meaning in those patterns. 

That’s why I love my work as a personal historian. I get to watch people have those inevitable “a-ha” moments when they step back and look at the larger arc of their lives.

As we hit middle age and become parents ourselves, we suddenly stop rolling our eyes and are eager to understand our parents as real people. Because, it is only then that we realize that they are people, not just roles.

I noticed this when I was making my family farm cross stitch. By what name was my great grandmother known? Was it a shortened version of her first name, that is mirrored in my mother's name? But then why do we have a pin with her middle initial? Perhaps she went by her middle name. Unfortunately, everyone who knew her as anything other than "Grandma" has passed on.

And it is the story of those people that makes them real.

I'm so glad that my parents started me writing in a journal as soon as I could write at all. I find myself reminiscing and re-reading those journals more and more.

My daughter likes to read them, too. The one rule is that she can't read ahead of her own age. So she looks forward to her birthday because it means a new book she gets to read about my life.

When it came to soothing my daughter when she lost her first tooth (that had to be pulled out by the dentist--ouch!), it wasn't Momma that was quite able to help her as much as 7-year-old Tabitha, who wrote in her journal about that first tooth coming out and drew a picture of the blood coming out of her mouth. That Tabitha was able to connect to my daughter in a profound way that only a peer could.

Meanwhile, I'm eagerly learning as much as I can from the eldest members in my family. Asking them to write down their memories, or recording them with my phone when an old story suddenly gets repeated. (Wait! Wait! Let me get my recorder! .... [click] Okay. Go.)

If I were sucked back in time I would lean to the '40s and '50s, or the Edwardian Era. (And I feel such an affinity with trees, I can't say for sure I wasn't also a druid in a past life, too, but I digress.)

Where are you in your nostalgia life-pattern? Are you writing your story or asking your parents or grandparents about their pasts? What are the eras that seem to fascinate you? What’s your nostalgia niche?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Perfect Little Boxes: Cross stitch

I think I like to cross-stitch because I am a bit of a control freak and I love art, but I'm not really a drawer or painter (though I would like to be). I find cross-stitching very Zen: the rhythm of the needle, in and out, back and forth, again and again; and everything going into perfect little boxes. Neat. Organized. Everything in its place.

Also, it is amazing to see the art that come from otherwise wasted time. I carry my cross stitch with me everywhere. Waiting for a train to pass? I'm stitching. Waiting for my daughter to come out of any number of classes? I'm stitching. Waiting at the doctor's/dentist's? I'm stitching. I love what is produced from so many little bits of time.

While perusing one of my favorite online stores,, I stumbled across the Stacy Nash Primitives design "Summer at Hollyberry Farm." I was taken with how closely the house in the piece looked like the family home that my great grandfather built around 1906, where my grandpa was born and raised and lived, where my mother grew up, and that was my second home. So I used Hollyberry Farm as a basis to design a cross stitch for my real family farm.

I was on vacation when I was starting the project and decided to hand stain my linen. So I used a coffee packet from the hotel room. I ground the coffee into it, patted it, dripped on it. And it must have worked because when a stranger came to see what I was working on, she made a nice remark about the "antique material." (You can just see some of the staining here:)

When I finally started sewing, I thought I was going to go blind on the 35-count evenweave. (Ahem.) THIRTY-FIVE COUNT! I almost picked up a pair of those ubiquitous eye glasses with magnification that adorn so many check-out counters. But I have become used to it.*

*Excellent lighting required

The more I cross stitch, the more I like to personalize my work, change the pattern, make it my own. Some day maybe I'll be smart and daring enough to create my own piece from design to finish. But for now I get the convenience of having patterns on which to build my own version. I am having such fun with this one! You'll get more details on it! (Coming soon ...)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Let It Go

I opened this blog a year ago. And I never really did anything with it.

I'm a writer, so I'm supposed to have a blog. I'm an artist so I'm supposed to have a platform. I should build up a "following," a customer base, a readership, etc. etc.

My response to this was: FREAK OUT! 

I JUST CAN'T TAKE THE PRESSURE! My blog should be brilliant and I need to tend to it like a child, I need to spend hours building up its friendship with others. YIKES! Run away! Run away!

So then I figured: If I haven't started this blog all this time, I must not really want to do it. And frankly, I don't feel the need to publish my personal life for all to see.

And then recently I had a thought: What if I didn't do it "for"? What if I took "for" out of it? What if I just wrote for me? Just did the stuff that I do. No worry about anyone reading or not reading or commenting or sharing. And I have found some bloggers out there that I love to read. I have come across simpatico souls. It would be nice to share what I'm doing with others who are doing it. And it doesn't have to be for readership or platforms or part of some branding scheme. What if I did this just for the joy of it?

My response to this is: Whew.

Now that I've taken out the pressure to be brilliant or wonderful or the most popular blog on the block, I think I can just be me.

Now I can invite my friends and family who are always asking what creative project I've been "up to" lately to see. Then the things I enjoy might be enjoyable to them, too.

So welcome, friends and family, and—who knows—maybe even strangers who are kindred spirits. Welcome to my blog. I am eager to start sharing what I am up to...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Everything Old is New

I’m a writer. A reader. A lover of history. Of the what-if and the what-did. I love scrapbooking and writing and photography because they are artistic expressions of story. I love vintage books, clothes, furniture, jewelry, and buttons because they have a story. Many of these items were hand-crafted—pieces of art with history—a string of owners, lives, and hands that they have been passed through over the decades. Shared stories.

I am a product of the past; part of the literary arc of time filled with the subplots of thousands of individuals’ triumphs and disappointments. Stars that aligned and comets that crashed. I was handcrafted over millennia.

We are each others’ story. 

I guess my love of all-things old also stems from growing up with antiques. They were in my house and in the 1906 Victorian home my great grandfather built, where my grandpa was born, that served as my second home. So antiques make me feel homey. They remind me of holidays with family and a view of the world that wasn’t throw-away, when the items of life—cookware, housewares, furniture, clothes, jewelry—lasted.

I love "old-fashioned" hobbies, like reading real books with real pages and sewing heirlooms.

I guess age is what it all has in common. With age comes experience; the more time, the more story. The more story, the more interesting.

So I guess this is a reminder to myself. Embrace age gracefully, Tabitha. Yes, even the lines deepening into your skin. They show you have a story.

I hope this blog will help me share mine.