Then & Now - 70 - CopyA stitch in time...well, a stitch in time takes time. And it keeps you from other things like writing a pretty regular weekly post that's been a fairly consistent routine for the last five years. Oh, and there were the three graduations and a wedding, trips to NY and CA, lots of wedding preparations, lots of people to see though we missed a few, and all that ridiculously arduous air travel that has become the American way of life. Let's just say I felt a bit unstitched and exhausted after a month on the road.

But there were other stitches needling my creative attention. During our California time I attended a stellar art retreat with cherished friends at the C Gallery in Los Alamos superbly hosted by gallery owner Connie Rohde. Entitled "Transitions, Identity and Threads," the weekend retreat was facilitated by therapist/poet Roslyn Strohl and artist Peg Grady. Lifelines, birds, embroidery floss, prose writing and haikus were all part of the first evening's invitation followed by the next morning with a daylong whirlwind of collage on canvas paper incorporating pattern pieces, buttons and threadwork.

We were each encouraged to bring several photos of ourselves for possible inclusion in our artwork. The one I chose to work with is a recent portrait by talented photographer Pam James. Using  a photocopy, the process of transferring the image to the collaged canvas paper was quite simple...using a push pin I punched holes to create an outline of what I wanted stitched. I left the face blank as I'm still discovering my identity in this new place called home in NC.

Since I enjoy handwork, the stitching part of this art project was very satisfying. And one art piece wasn't quite enough. So I've begun a series of thread portraits using photos of myself at various ages in hopes of eventually completing a life span of images. So far I've completed three others at ages three, four and eighteen. Each stitched portraits includes pattern pieces, birds (or butterflies), and buttons. The accent collage colors correspond to the clothing I was wearing - a yellow smocked dress, my favorite red and green butterfly print dress, and an orange dress made for a backwards dance also worn for my senior picture.  And consistent with Roslyn's invitation, each stitched portrait includes a haiku. That takes a bit of doing to encapsulate a snapshot of life in seventeen syllables!  My "Austin Powers" mid-twenties portrait from the psychedelic 60s will be next.

If you were going to create a thread portrait, what photo of yourself would you begin with? What design elements like birds, buttons or accent colors would you include that told part of your story at that moment. What would your 5/7/5 seventeen syllable haiku say about this particular moment in your life? What memories have you awakened or anchored with this creative process?

For all of you who emailed to inquire about my well-being because of my long blogging silence, thanks for missing me!


Bali Wedding Star QuiltThey've worked four arduous years for their goal. I only worked for six and a half months. But it was an accomplishment for all of us...tackling something that we thought at times was completely beyond our abilities. Nevertheless, we persevered.

Our only granddaughter, and her fiance Colin, graduated this weekend from West Point and were commissioned as 2nd lieutenants in the army. We were privileged to attend many of the week's celebrations from the final parade formation on the hallowed parade grounds to the pinning ceremony on the Catholic Chapel's balcony overlooking the stunning Hudson River Valley.

In the midst of the pomp and centuries-old ritual, we found time to relax and visit. And to share with them the Bali Wedding Star quilt created for their up-coming wedding. The quilt top was finally finished the week before the West Point festivities. Soon it will be taken to a long-arm quilter to create the quilt "sandwich" - top, batting and backing held together with decorative stitching. Then I'll somehow figure out how to complete the quilt with a curved edge binding. Perhaps just in time for their deployment to Fort Bragg, NC next spring.

Let's just say this quilt has been a learning experience every step of the way...especially in regards to reading instructions which typically took me 24 hours to decipher for each step of the process. And there were many steps. Which became many groups. Which became many units. Which were eventually sewn together to become one large 80 x 80 quilt. Phew.

After months of clipping things into groups, then storing them in specifically labeled baggies, the units were artfully arranged on our expanded dining room table prior to final assembly, a process that took only a few days and seemed somewhat anticlimactic until the final seam. Which was like wrestling a bear while attempting to perfectly match all the seams. I staggered back to my corner hardly able to believe the quilt top was finished. Finally! My design wall was full of exquisite stars!

But the real stars are Colin and Judy who have finished their time at West Point, been commissioned into the Army, and who will begin their life together in a few weeks as husband and wife! May they always be blessed and protected by Jesus, who called Himself "the Bright Morning Star."



Scrappy Happy Hollyhocks-1-1My parents came of age during the Depression, an event that had great influence on what was saved and stored away for some rainy day need-it-now occasion rather than scrapped. My brother and I fussed and fumed and laughed our way through cleaning out their home after our mother passed away. A hundred empty gift boxes crammed into bedroom cupboards. A thousand empty coat hangers. A complete set of Reader's Digests in the garage rafters bookended with complete sets of National Geographic and Family Circle. Empty Mason jars which hadn't held homemade jelly in decades. After the industrial size dumpster was filled to over flowing a couple of times, we swore we'd never do that to our children!

My brother is by nature a minimalist. I, on the other hand, am...well, an artist. Our home isn't teeming with empty anything, but there are art and sewing supplies which my children might possibly fuss and fume and laugh about at some point in the distant future. Especially since I can't bear to throw away fabric scraps. Particularly those that are created in the process of making a Lil Twister pinwheel quilt for a baby shower recently. A significant pile of scraps - 3" tall triangles, 2 1/4" squares, and 1/4" raggedy bits were left behind...too big a pile of precious sewing possibilities to be scrapped. I just knew there was a rainy day need-it-now moment right around the sewing room corner.

Tumbling Pinwheel Baby QuiltWhile the complicated looking but easy baby quilt looked like this, I especially love the improv quilt that emerged out of the pile of scraps. The black fabric, batting, improvised quilt backing, and a few buttons were all leftovers from other sewing projects...scraps too good to scrap. The two crocheted doilies were a gift years ago from a West Coast friend who was sure I "could find something to do with them." She was right. Another one found its way into the embellishments added to a fabric collage included in the recent art installation In Clothing We Remember at the Cary Arts Center.

This pile of colorful scraps got me to thinking about the ladies at the Lighthouse, a year-long, faith-based, residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse, and their begin believe that their lives were a pile of filthy rags that needed to be scrapped. Little by little, as they progressed in their recovery, learning of God's love for them, they began to see the potential for making something beautiful out of the scraps of their lives. Sometimes, those rainy day need-it-now scraps are more important to keep than we thought possible. The original pattern was beautiful. But sometimes, what we courageously, creatively do with the leftover, throwaway scraps is far more engaging and inspiring.

If you've cleaned out an ancestral home, what are some of the favorite hordes you discovered...and threw away? What are the beloved scraps you've saved that will make your children fuss, fume and laugh? Are there interesting projects you've created from scraps that others might have thrown away? If you were to describe the "wholecloth" made from the scraps of your life, what would you say? What would it look like? And what would you title your creation?


In ClothingAt last! The reveal of our collaborative art project In Clothing We Remember was last Friday evening. Hung from the entrance ceiling of the Cary Arts Center, and wonderfully close at hand from the second floor landing, this installation was the creative inspiration of artist in residence Jan-Ru Wan.

Over a number of months during the fall and winter, many gathered at the Cary Senior Center to paint, silk screen, embroider and embellish donated garments what had been cut up and recombined into fabric collages. Often collars, necklines, cuffs, and button plackets were left intact. The widely disparate fabrics combined together presented frequent creative challenges. How could we help these bits and pieces of clothing "talk to one another" through the addition of creative stitches and other embellishments.

As part of the creative process teens from Cary Art Center youth program interviewed and videoed many of us who had donated garments, inviting us to share the stories connected with these items of clothing. They ranged from a boy scout shirt worn by a son to an exquisitely beaded dress worn on a celebration cruise for a fiftieth wedding anniversary. I donated a light yellow Oxford short sleeve dress shirt I'd co-opted from my husband's closet...a beloved paint shirt that bore traces of paint from the circus mural painted in our son's bedroom over forty years ago plus a long ago mural in the church nursery. And, of course, the ever changing colors of the latest home decor palette.

In Clothing - VideoThe edited video is shown in a continuous loop as part of the installation. While I was not interviewed for the paint shirt I donated, I was interviewed with my Grandmother Doll, a life-size story doll who wears my wedding dress and assorted heirlooms that help tell the stories of women in my life who have been influential...both family and friends...both positively and negatively.

The In Clothing We Remember project was an exceedingly enjoyable art experience. Especially the round table conversations the last few months as we've embellished the fabric panels while stitching together our past and present stories with new friends. Reluctant for the experience to end, a small group of us have continued on, meeting monthly, to share our individual passions with one another during an afternoon of art making. I miss my paint shirt, but my messy art apron is bearing witness to some fun times I'll remember fondly.

If you were to donate an item of clothing to such a project, what would you donate? What is the story you would associated with that item? If you were to create a story doll of the people who have been influential in your life, who would you include?

PS - Many thanks to Joyce Lombard and Patty Van Dyke for introducing me to the creative idea of the Grandmother Doll.


Tri-fold Book-1I've listed to a lot of stories this last week. Thankfully. They were a great amusement, comfort, and distraction as I waited for results of a medical procedure my husband was undergoing at a local hospital.

One of the disadvantages of moving away from long established relationships is that no one knows you story. One of the advantages of moving to a new area is that no one knows your stories. Those often told anecdotes that gift life with its rhythm, drama, and humor. I heard stories of skiing accidents where a heart surgeon skillfully sutured a facial wound so finely no scar remains. I heard stories of a navy man, lashed to the conning tower of a surfaced submarine, who was momentarily, though it seemed like a lifetime, submerged by a rouge wave. And the story of a prank pulled on a nurse by a patient who substituted ginger ale for his urine sample. When she worried that it looked a bit pale, the patient seized the beaker, drank it down to her horror, and said, "Let me run it through again."

The stories were well crafted, stripped of the inessentials, allowing the drama of the event to build, the blood to drip, the ocean-swelling fear to register, the quasi-revulsion, see-it-coming recoil to mingle with laughter. What a way to spend the day with two new guy friends listening to one another's stories. The books of our lives are filled with such artistry. Yet at the heart of each story is a crisis, a possible bad outcome...that ends, thankfully, with a good resolution. By swapping these ski and sea stories the guys were speaking hope into our story...even that hospitals can be a place for lightheartedness.

Our story? Though slightly more bionic, my husband is home, doing well, creating sawdust out in the garage, and making excellent progress on his Mississippi riverboat model. At the same time he is researching a more heart healthy well as more elaborate model ships. That's our story...and we're sticking to it.

What's one of your stories that names a crises, suggests potential bad outcomes, and resolves well? Have you ever considered that as a story of hope that you might speak into another person's story? Have you ever considered including that in a book of your spiritual story? If not, will you now?

PS - One of the sweet pieces of the story was being able to spend the afternoon and evening with someone who knows our stories - our daughter who loved us as a mother hen.


In My DNA - Wretched Man That I Am-1Some weeks you just have to improvise. Too many balls in the air. Mostly fun, but a sad one as well. We've lost a beloved friend from church who hosted our weekly Bible study at her home. Valerie never met a stranger; she was so graciously welcoming when I first met her at a retreat last October. On hospice care for the last few weeks, the weekly study has migrated to our home and the group is improvising how to do life without this inspiring friend.

And at the same time, life goes on. We remain engaged with all the activities and responsibilities that crowd our calendars. Yet one of my projects, our granddaughter's wedding quilt came to a screeching halt a couple of weeks ago. A complicated pattern that requires intense attention to a tome of written instructions, I reached a point where I wasn't sure I was doing it "right." I didn't want to continue sewing units together with the very real possibility that they might all have to be taken apart...all 72 of them! The clerk at the quilt shop who specialized in these kinds of patterns had been ill, was still ill, and wasn't going to be available for consultation for another week. Have I mentioned making this quilt is all about delayed gratification? Now things were delayed more than usual.

So in the interim, an idea from Pinterest inspired some improv digging through my stash. Enough of everything was available except a pattern...which I had to improvise...more or less successfully. The pattern reminded me of DNA strands which invited me to reflect on the pleasure of creativity being in my DNA. But during the process of piecing the quilt front, I made every rookie mistake there is to make in quilting. Let's just say my seam ripper and I were on a first name basis. Which got me to improvisationally reflect on Roman 7's "oh wretched (wo)man that I am, I don't do what I want to do, and do what I don't want to do..." Yup, that's in my DNA too.

DNA - Back ArtBut it was the back art for the quilt that brought me the most pleasure...and immediate gratification. I began a quilt backing that would hopefully use up as much of the remaining fabric as possible in a way that used bold colors, large negative spaces, in a graphic composition that was both balanced and irregular ....improvisational... qualities frequently found in contemporary modern quilts. My studio design wall didn't lend itself to laying out this composition, so our large, round oak dining table became an improv design space. Only small bits of yardage remain of the substantial original pile. While this scrappy quilt was a great stash buster, the immediate gratification of this two-day project was immensely pleasurable. And taught me that the pleasure of improv is also in my DNA. The things we learn about ourselves when we're, seemingly, looking the other way!

In the midst of delayed gratification, what have you turned to creatively for a wee bit of immediate gratification? What have you learned about yourself in the process? What were the improv pieces that were a part of that learning? How might what you learned about yourself influence your future?


WCC - MaskedI could barely walk by the time I drove home and got out of the car. An hour and a half nap was immediately in order as a chaser to a couple of ibuprofen. And nine and half hours of overnight sleep mandatory for a woman of my vintage to recover from a deliciously wonderful day of art making with the youth at church.

A growing group in a growing church, the youth really had no room of their own and weren't too keen to hang out in the non-nondescript room set aside for their use. With some inspired Pinterest hunting by Meg, their youth leader, an "industrial cool" coffee house theme began to emerge. And Saturday was set aside for a youth work day...with lots of adult volunteers with big-boy-toy tools and paint store art supplies.

When the youth room makeover was announced about six weeks ago, I volunteered to help the youth paint a mural on the largest wall of the room...the one you encounter the moment you step into the space. When Meg pitched the idea to them they were skeptical they could do something of that magnitude that would have the requisite coolness. But thanks to my art making buddy Tara Lamont Eastman, I had a creative ace up my sleeve...rolls of blue painter's masking tape. By masking off a mural design suggestive of cool industrial pipes or a cool computer circuit board, we created a coloring book fill-in-the-spaces easy-to-paint wall for those who'd never touched a paint roller in the past.

Not surprisingly, the youth were slow to show up in the morning, but that turned out to be a blessing. It took me a while to draw grids on the wall and tape out the beginning design. Once that was in place, one of the younger teens, Caleb, became my able "monkey" scrambling up ladders to finish taping the upper portion of the design, plus all the side walls and baseboards. After lunch, the never-done-this-before painting crew arrived, and we all set to work coloring in the various blocks...more or less according to the small graphic design I'd created for their approval.

Meg had a primary color scheme in mind for the room, so my preliminary design was boldly colored. There was some concern among the youth that it might be "too bright" and suggested maybe substituting secondary colors - purples, greens...and something...well, not so red. I was delighted with their input. Coffee houses these days tend to have a more muted secondary color scheme so their suggestion seemed spot on. But the thing that grabbed me was realizing that, probably unconsciously, they were suggesting a color scheme harmonious to the already existing decor in the church's fellowship areas. While this was clearly going to be a youth inspired room, it wasn't going to be visually off-putting.

We pressed on beyond our scheduled quit time to finish all the painting, leaving the unmasking until after worship the following day so the paint had ample time to dry. Besides, a dad and his soon were busy attaching an abandoned crib frame to the ceiling so that various sizes of cool silver slinkies could be hung on it. We had our priorities. Across the room the license plate topped coffee was coming together. And in the near future, Philippians 3:14 will be added near the yellow arrow that wraps the corner of the mural - I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

The final unmasking took maybe five minutes. And tada! There you have it! Some pretty happy kids who accomplished something they didn't think they could do! Ka-ching. Spends at my bank...and makes all the aches, pains and fatigue worth it.

WCC -Tada

PS - Click on each of the photos to see some additional details I've mentioned.


Thank YouThere's always something new up my sleeve. Combined with being a crafty (as in sly) grandma type, I had a very creatively fulfilling time this week. I also had the privilege of helping our pastor's eight year old twin daughters and his ten year son learn how to sew. Their first project? A pillowcase with a contrasting cuff and flange. Way easy and a lotta bang for the buck as they say.

Our adventure began on Tuesday with a trip to a fabric store with their mom. To my delight they swiftly moved beyond the Valentine novelty prints. Although the girls both love all things pink, they opted for contemporary fabrics with more sophisticated designs and color schemes. Their brother Daniel? He wanted something soft like satin...but in greens and brown! I love how kids embrace the creative process and make it their own.

As sewing day approached I realized with three kids and one sewing machine there'd be a lot of down time for two of the kids while the other sewed. This is where my crafty/clever grandma gene got fully expressed. I've discovered small 500 piece jigsaw puzzles at the dollar store. An easy day's entertainment during winter weather, once they're done, they're done...unless you can do something creative with them. Like smooch shades of green paint all over the puzzle while it's still assembled. Dried and popped apart, the individual pieces are great for simulating foliage on a tree. A brown paper bag stamped with a wood grain pattern made wonderful tree trunks and branches using each kid's arm and hand as a pattern. Prompted by Psalm 1:2,3 - a man's delight is in the law of the Lord...he is like a tree planted by streams of water, they added star-burst punched suns and grass clumps, and streams of water. I'll be borrowing these as project prototypes when I teach a workshop next year entitled Altered Papers/Altared Images at Montreat.

We moved from the cutting/pinning area to the sewing machine to the ironing board all afternoon with excitement...and a little apprehension about using the unfamiliar...namely the iron. All three of the kids took to the sewing machine with ease, a learning process that requires hand, eye and foot coordination. All three were very satisfied with their first experience sewing. And then there were all the head bands they made from the scraps. The twins wanted to know if they could come back next week to begin their quilts! Mom had to remind them they were headed to the coast for spring break.  Going to the beach? Making quilts? Going to the beach? Making quilts? That's a tough one...

And of course, during the course of the afternoon, each one stuck her/himself with a quilting pin. There was even a wee bit of blood involved. Rather than have that be a discouraging experience that might dampen their sewing enthusiasm, I simply enthused that one wasn't really a sewist until one had drawn blood sticking themselves with a pin. What had been a painful experience all of a sudden became a badge of honor!

My young friends headed home very happy with their new pillowcases and an art project to boot. It was my pleasure to introduce three new sewists into the wonderful, magical, creative world of sewing!

If there was a crafty/clever older person or grandparent in your past, what was something new you learned from that person? What is something in your "bag of tricks" that a young person might love learning from you? Think outside the paint, carpentry, home maintenance, knitting, bird watching, gardening, music, sharing a particular field of interest...anything at all that others would appreciate having handed down to them. With your particular flair attached, of course!

PS - Since sewing is no longer a gender specific activity, the term seamstress is no longer appropriate. The new term sewist is now currently in Vogue....pun intended.



Fireworks - BeforeLadies and gentlemen, I have just discovered that after two whole weeks of activities and appointments cancelled because of snow and ice, a day-long evacuation of our home because of area wide power outages, the ornamental pear trees in the front yard are shaking their limbed fists in the face of winter; buds abound on the bare branches all around. Spring is going to win after all. And we've discovered that we've tolerated winter better than we imagined.

I've discovered that snowy days are the perfect occasions to explore what can be created with the amazing assortment of altered art paper left behind by one of my grandsons who self-admits he's addicted to my Fiskar paper cutter! From decorative die cut punched note cards to embellished note card houses (created by another grandson) to collaged backgrounds from the prodigious pile of paper strips, there was art to be made. And to rummaging through long-neglected art supplies with the hopes of discovering something I've never taken the time to the water-soluble oil pastels in this fireworks scribble, a product I haven't touched in over ten years.

There was also the paper pieced name tag I stitched from a pile of batik scraps generated working on our granddaughter's wedding quilt - an extreme delayed gratification project that needed an instant gratification token. While the final two images aren't fully realized yet, I've discovered begin cooped in the house for days on end, needing to entertain myself, has its benefits. Ideas begin to bud shaking their fists at boredom, just like the ornamental pears trees in the front yard.

If you were to be snowed and iced in for two weeks, what would you do to entertain yourself creatively? What interesting resource, art or otherwise, has been languishing unexplored in your home for far too long? What discoveries might await you...that you don't fully understand? I've discovered relaxing into the art making of others and simply enjoying the collaborative process of being together creatively. The end product is not the end product. Such a lovely discovery!


CookiesFinally. There were a few leftovers. A scant few cookies left on the wooden tray out in the garage. The third heaping tray of hot out of the oven chocolate chip cookies that had drawn kids from all over the housing development to supposedly sled on our awesomely icy driveway. Really, it's not a world class downhill, so I'm gonna assume some of the snowy allure is the warm aroma of freshly baked goodies.

Growing up, my mother wasn't an all-the-time baker, just mostly at Christmas time when snowballs and fancy cut out cookies were a yearly tradition. But I married into a family where cookie baking took on legendary proportions. My mother-in-law baked cookies by the gross - a dozen dozen cookies at a time - several times a week. And my father-in-law was know to come home from a day's labor as a lineman for the telephone company and eat a dozen cookies before dinner...and then another dozen after dinner!

Mind you, these weren't fancy tea cookies; these were robust cookies - chocolate chip, sorghum, oatmeal with get the picture. But my husband developed a very narrow range of preferred handheld baked goods - chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and oh, chocolate chip cookies. Store bought cookies were a luxury when he was growing up. Nevertheless, he entered married life with a  still existent love of Oreos and Nabisco's Ginger Snaps, always with a glass of milk.

When the kids left home for college, married and moved to towns far afield, my cookie baking days began to wane. Along with the weighty consciousness of the connection between calories, fat content, and middle age spread. However, a cookie baking opportunity arose for a Christmas choir performance and dessert fellowship at church. Obviously, it would have been easier to have a number of women bake and donate cookies for the event, but I figured this was my one last chance to bake any and every kind of cookie that struck my fancy, whether my family liked them or not. My memory's a bit dim on how many cookies I actually baked, but it was something like 200 dozen cookies! Roughly double batches of 25 different recipes. And that, folks, got cookie baking out of my system!

Now it's gently returning with the predictable knock on the front door...not to ask if it's OK to sled on our icy driveway, but to let me know they're out of cookies! A new storm is bearing down on us this evening with an anticipated 3-5 inches of snow. But we have provisioned the pantry...sacks of flour and sugar wait at the ready, anxious to be stirred into action. I love the clatter and clang of snow sleds, the noise and laughter of kids having fun, even the teenager nailing the trash can head first with only a concern that someone had caught it on video. I'll bake cookies for that any day!

The plate under those tempting cookies was created earlier this week during an afternoon with my art buddy Anna. She bought two inexpensive china plates and shared her stash of Sharpie pens. Oven baked at 350° for 35 minutes, the design becomes permanent, although the plate needs to be hand-washed.

So what are some of your cookie memories? And what's your favorite cookie? For me, a great peanut butter cookie is hard to beat. My husband wouldn't touch them. Well, I guess you could say that's more for me.