Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Things They Left Behind

For Christmas my mother in law gave me this beautiful sewing box, which had belonged to one of my husband's grandmothers. I only ever knew Henry's maternal granny, Pam, a woman I deeply admired. She was of that greatest generation; a young wartime bride who engendered the know how and self sufficiency that defined the women of her era. She was an ambitious cook who routinely whipped up souffles, potted shrimp, and fish pies, an avid gardner who grew her own vegetables, and a prodigious knitter. After each of my boys was born, I'd get one of her lovely hand knit baby jumpers in the mail. When I first removed them from their packages, they always smelled of Embassy cigarettes, a fact I somehow found endearing. (For her great granddaughters she made exquisite hand smocked dresses.)

My own grandmothers were both crafters as well (though at the time they never called themselves this-making things was mostly born of the exigencies of life). My mother's mother (and her mother before her) was a quilter and also dabbled in embroidery. She never used a machine to sew or quilt, and as I grew up I understood machine quilts to be somehow inferior to hand stitched ones. I have two that my great grandmother made; they are among my most deeply valued possessions. After my grandmother died a year and a half ago, my sisters and I helped my mother sort through her things. I took with me a cast iron skillet, in which she made her cornbread, and some things from her sewing box, including some needles, wooden spooled threads and an embroidery hoop (pictured below). Before she died, my grandmother passed along a partly embroidered tablecloth that her mother had started working on. I accepted it reverentially, and promised that I would finish the job.

When I'm working alone in my studio, these women and others like them often come to mind. I reflect upon the fact that the make-do-and-mend mentality was for them a given rather than a chosen ethos. I marvel at the fact that they managed to make so much, even in the absence of the abundant time saving devices that free me up to, ostensibly, do more. And I also experience gratitude, for the things they left behind.

My maternal grandmother, Violet Mail, and my boys in 2011.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Gifts of Christmas Past

Hello friends, and happy 2015! I hope the photos above help excuse my absence from this space these past two months. I wanted very much to make this my most handmade holiday season yet, and began working toward that end back in September. I didn't want to rush, or feel stressed about making gifts this year-I really wanted to enjoy the process and be mindful of the people I was making things for. Rarely a day went by between September and Christmas when I wasn't making something to give away, and by the time Christmas came, I had finished almost everything I set out to do.

I started out making jam from the bumper crop of wild blackberries we saw last season, and added some sage from the garden per the recipe in Alana Chernila's  book "Homemade Pantry". I also started in on my soap making then, as it needed several weeks to cure before giving away. The third photo above is soap from a batch of lavender and lemon zest coconut butter bars; the photo below that shows them beautifully wrapped by my five year old. Henry's honey was in good supply this year, too, and the kids' teachers each got a jar, along with a jar each of bath bombs (also of the lavender and lemon variety-one of my favorite scent combinations). I first learned how to make bath bombs from the Teach Soap website, but have since gained the confidence to make my own variations on those basic recipes.

The pink and blue bunting were gifts for my nieces, whom we spent Christmas with in America this year. I'd been saving a stash of Liberty fat quarters for a while now, and thought it was finally time to use them. The brown and cream scarf below that was a woven creation from my loom. It was intended for my sister til I remembered she has a thing about wool touching wool-and doesn't wear wool scarves or gloves, so that one is an unintended Christmas present to myself. I made my boys matching pajama bottoms, and printed "small" "medium" and "large" (using freezer paper stencils) onto plain white t-shirts. My large son didn't want to be photographed wearing his, but small and medium were okay with it. To make the bottoms, I used a free pattern from Oliver and S for boys' shorts, and just added the appropriate length to make them pj's. It worked like a dream.

Lastly, I ordered some magnets from Sticky 9, which prints your Instagram photos onto little magnetic squares. You can make a version of these yourself using printable magnetic sheets from an office supply store, but they're not all that cheap and I was happy with what I got from Sticky 9. I printed photos I had taken all around the farm throughout the seasons, and of my boys, to give to my family back in the States. I hope they think of us every time they open their refrigerators.

I made a few other items not pictured, including a canvas and denim log carrier for my husband, who is forever hauling in stacks of wood for the stove, and tweed zipper bags for him and all my boys, so they could carry their toiletries on the plane in something other than ziploc bags. I made similar silk zip bags for girlfriends, and for all of those I used different size variations of this tutorial from the Say Yes blog.

Hope you all had a relaxing and peaceful holiday season, and are ready to embrace this New Year, whatever it brings. I'm off to my studio now, to get back to work on a birthday present for my sister. It's long overdue!