Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Factory Work

The American factory may not be completely a thing of the past. I've been working in my own version of it on two fronts.

I've been in a marathon of paper grading over the past couple of weeks, and yesterday I finished the last batch of ten-page term papers and turned in grades. (Hallelujah!)

I can do some fairly plain knitting while I read, and so my pile of fingerless mitts for Christmas gifts has grown while I've graded. Multi-tasking isn't part of factory work, but it's more an adaptation to my life as a contemporary woman.

Between undergraduate and graduate school I worked in the plant at General Mills, where my mom worked in the office for many years. Those months on the graveyard shift, dropping coupons into the bottoms of empty cereal boxes as they came down the conveyor belt, kept me motivated in my studies.

One of upshots of all those years of school is that, even though I do an occasional graveyard shift, there's no more single-tasking for me. Plus my work environment is a lot quieter.

Here's the recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto for Allie, adapted from one in Oprah magazine. I hope it helps you eat up all the squash you harvested this year.

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth (I use the veggie broth that comes in the cartons)
2 T olive oil
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 med butternut squash (about 1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (you can also use acorn and other winter squashes)
8 large sage leaves, chopped (omit or substitute dried if you don't have it)
2 T butter
2 t salt
freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1/4 cup toasted chopped pecans (I use walnuts)

In a large heavy-bottomed pan, over a medium-high flame, heat the olive oil. Add onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add the rice, stir for 1 minute. Add the garlic and squash, and cook for a minute. Lower the heat to medium and add 1/2 cup of the broth and stir until the liquid is absorbed, but the rice isn't sticking to the pot. Continue adding 1/2 cup broth and stirring until the liquid is absorbed, about 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is cooked, the squash is tender, and you've used all the broth.

Remove from the heat. Add sage, butter, salt. Season with pepper and stir. Add the Gorgonzola and nuts. Serves 4.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mother, Rejoice (24 x 27)

I finished this piece I've been working on. I think of it as a collage of fabric and embellishments more than as a crazy quilt. It doesn't have much embroidery, unlike "Little Flower." I think I am taking a break from heavily embellished pieces for now. (Or perhaps, this is what passes as light embellishment for me.)

I used vintage linens and lace, fabric, trim, and lots of beads. Most of the border fabrics are home dec samples.

This is my second time working with transfers made from holy card images. They have a lot of significance for me, as they call up my childhood in a very sentimental and innocent way. I like the way these images fit so nicely on vintage handkerchiefs.

I use plain old pre-made t-shirt transfer sheets from the fabric store. I make the photo transfers by running the sheets through my printer, and when I iron them onto the handkerchief, the print of the fabric shows through.

Allie Aller gave me this silk panel. I embroidered over the message and did a bit of had embroidery and beading.

This patch is from a handkerchief that I cut down and embellished.

The lighting was bad when I took the photo of the whole piece: the sky was black and stormy. The detailed photos came out better, however.

I cut the gold flowers from a trim and I used a lot of sequins and pearls. The beading did double duty in that it also hold the quilt layers together.

Most of the flowers in this piece were pre-made and I combined them with beaded accents.

In the middle of this photo you can see some small pearls from an old broken necklace.

I like the way this part looks like an apple blossom branch.

Click on the images for close-up views.

Birthday Goodness

Last week we had our annual birthday fest. Michael and I have birthdays two days apart, so it's one celebration after another for a few days. For Michael's birthday, I finished knitting his vest.

This pattern is from the book Folk Vests. It was knit in a sport weight wool and alpaca blend. It's very soft and light weight, but warm. I also cooked Michael dinner: butternut squash risotto with Gorgonzola and walnuts, fresh green beans, and chocolate cake.

Two days later it was my turn to be the honoree. Allie cooked, though Michael shopped. She did a beautiful job with wild salmon, rosemary roasted potatoes, and roasted asparagus. For dessert we had the red velvet cupcakes in the first photo.

How nice to have so much to celebrate.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Color of 2009

I saw this news report about the anticipated trendy color of 2009. It says that bright yellow will be hot.

I've always liked yellow, and I've noticed that a wide range of shades haven't been widely available in recent years, so I'm glad we'll likely see more yellows in the near future.

This shade looks like butterscotch, and it kind of reminds me of our old 70s friend Harvest Gold. Can burnt orange and avocado green be far behind?

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Sometimes I get a terrific craving for piecing. It's probably the part of quilting that I love the best.

It's especially satisfying to go through the scraps and freely compose something as I go along.

I think piecing satisfies a lot of psychological needs: the urge to create, to transform the mundane into something beautiful, or at least useful. It can satisfy the desire to follow impulses and to see how one decision can impact the outcome of a project.

Piecing satisfies the desire to create unity from fragmentation, to put things together, to make a whole from elements that are small, mismatched or insignificant. To piece is to experience control.

Sometimes piecing creates order, and other times it seems to celebrate chaos. I think I like celebrating chaos the best, perhaps because it gives me a break from my regimented life.

I find free-form piecing satisfying because it lets me see how far I can bend the rules, and when I need to insert orderly elements where the eye can rest.

This little quilt is asymmetrical, but it is also perfectly square. As I was making it I thought about a quote I recently read from Cezanne: "We live in a rainbow of chaos."

Chaos Rainbow (34"x34")

Here are some close-ups of the free-form quilting.

I like the impact of the piece as a whole, but also the little surprise images in the piecing

Monday, November 17, 2008

Deal of the Week

This is what I found at the thrift store this week. It was marked $2.00, but it was half-off day, so I got it for a dollar. I've always wanted one of these overnight cases, and of course getting it for a dollar added to the thrill. I love round things, and these always remind me of something Audrey Hepburn would carry to Europe in the movies, or maybe something Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie in That Girl would carry to visit her parents in Brewster.

The inside is in perfect shape, no tears and no ruinous stains. I decided to use this case for my knitting WIPs.

First, there's the sock I made. I've only got about an inch done of the mate, but once in awhile I put on the single sock and admire how cozy it is.

Then there's the collar of the Vogue Sweater I'm knitting with Catherine and Susan. We're chronicling our progress on our blog.

On top I put my February Lady Sweater, which is very popular on Ravelry. I'm doing mine in two-tones, though I haven't decided if the sleeves will be green or teal.

The needles and other paraphernalia fit nicely in the pocket, and it looks great standing next to my chair in the living room. It's an improvement over the overflowing basket, which I've reorganized so that it's less of an eyesore.

I don't think Audrey nor Ann carried knitting in their round overnight cases. Poor things didn't know what they were missing.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hand Work

I've had the chance to do some work on "Rejoice, Mother." I think the fabric collage is one of the strongest part of this piece, so most of the embellishment I'm doing right now is embroidery over the existing prints.

I've embroidered over vines and some parts of the flowers, outlined the virgin's image in metallic thread, and I've beaded the large flowers and the background to hold the layers together and add sparkle.

I've done some simple lazy daisy stitches and beading on the silk panel from Allie that's incorporated into the composition. I'm in the process of outlining the word "rejoice" in the panel and I'll probably go back and satin stitch over the letters.

Both Susan and Jane Ann had recent posts about dresses, so I thought I show this little dress that I've hung up over my sewing machine as a decoration.

I made it for my daughter for her second birthday. It has snaps in the back instead of buttons, because I had not yet learned to make buttonholes, but it was the first of many dresses I've make for her over the years.

The pattern on the collar was embroidered from an Aunt Martha transfer. I loved this dress, though Allie only wore it for about 10 minutes that day. Her first act as a willful two-year-old was to decide that she didn't like it.

I ended up sewing a lot for both my kids in those years. I worked part time and was finishing my dissertation, but I would stay up late or get up early and make little shorts, pants and dresses for them, and I also sewed for myself. At one point, I had made most of my own clothes. Because we lived in Southern California at the time, it was pretty simple to do since I wore cotton almost exclusively.

I remember once I ran across the garage sale of a guy who had a factory that made the cotton pants ("jams") that were popular among surfers at the time. I came away with yards and yards of fabric and for years after the kids and I wore a lot of the bright colored faux South Pacific prints. We were the SoCal version of that scene in The Sound of Music when Maria the governess makes play clothes for all the kids out of the curtains.

I started quilting because of all the scraps that accumulated from these projects. My first quilts are like swatch collections of the clothes we wore when my kids were little.  The lime green Tiki masks bring up especially fond memories.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Days of the Dead

For years we have put up a Day of the Dead altar at my house. Remembering is a critical act for individuals and communities, and so for a few days a year we construct this monument to our past.

The Days of the Dead in Mexico were celebrated by indigenous people before the Spanish conquest. They dedicated a whole month to the event and believed that the division between the living and the dead was especially porous during this time. These beliefs and practices were merged with the Christian observation of All Soul's Day. In the present day, people construct offerings for the dead in their homes and in cemeteries in a profound celebration of nostalgia.

Allie put up this year's altar: she's a very nostalgic person and she's taking a Sociology course on death and dying, so the dead are very much on her mind these days. Over the years she and I have made spirit houses to commemorate very important people to us.
I made this spirit house for my maternal grandmother María. She was born in Mexico and had a very hard life, most of which was lived in extreme poverty. She never learned to read or write, but she had a dry wit, and would make jokes and play with words in ironic ways. Some of her jokes I would only "get" much later. In Spanish the word for leftovers is "sobras" and the word for nieces is "sobrinas." My grandmother always called leftovers "sobrinas," as in "let's have some nieces for lunch." For years I thought that "sobrinas" was the real word for leftovers.

I put clothes pins and twine in her spirit house because she seemed to be always doing laundry, and she always had perfectly starched tablecloths and curtains in her kitchen. She was religious and prayed the rosary daily, often with the telenovelas playing quietly on the TV.

The photo on top is one of me with my grandmother, and the one on the bottom is a photo of her and Allie. I put beans and cinnamon sticks on the bottom, because these were the smells of her house. My grandmother unfortunately died within three months of Allie's birth.
Her husband, my grandfather Luis, who was born in Urápan, Michoacán, Mexico in 1886, is on the other end of the altar. He died when my mother was 12, so I never knew him. He was apparently kind of a dandy. He had beautiful handwriting, and he liked to have his photo taken. He was a laborer and a musician, who my mother says played all string instruments until he lost a finger in a bar fight, and he loved the opera.
My cousin Madi died last year very suddenly. She was a teacher and community activist who was loved by her children and grandchildren. She was very interested in our family history.

Allie wants to make a spirit house for her dad's mother, who's in the unframed snapshot. Cecilia was a loving, smart, self-made business woman. who died too young from cancer. She had 8 children, and was the heart and soul of her family. Her mother, Micaela, to whom she was devoted, is in the framed photo in the back. This spirit house is for Arturo Islas, a teacher, and friend who I studied with in graduate school. Arturo died in the 1990s from complications of HIV/AIDS. He struggled for years to publish the novels that established him as an important writer: The Rain God, Migrant Souls, and La Becky and the King of Tears. He was also an accomplished poet.
At the top of his spirit house is a caption: "El pueblo que pierde su memoria pierde su destino," A people that loses its memory loses its destiny. This sentiment reminds me that nostalgia and memory are purposeful, that they help us to remember who we are in the present, and shape who we will be in the future.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Old Ladies with Heating Pads

This is Wee my old cat. She's 13 and celebrates her birthday with Alex, who was 5 when we got her. A couple of months ago she started limping, and after many dollars spent at the vet's, we found that she had torn ligaments in one of her back knees. The treatment for this ailment in cats is rest.

Wee hates rest. She loves going outside and though she's semi-retired, she has been an active and successful hunter. She's never met a rodent that she didn't want to have for breakfast, unlike the other three lazy cats that live here. Wee did get better after her rest cure, but a couple of weeks ago, she started limping again, so now she's back on house arrest and napping on the heating pad. I figure either it was the sudden cold snap that brought back her limp, or she re-injured herself by jumping or running.

Wee and I are very simpatico, because in the midst on my walking routine, I tripped on some uneven pavement and twisted my ankle. I went to the chiropractor, who adjusted my jammed up bones. I'm hoping to feel better soon, but in the meantime, I'm trying to walk a bit less until it all settles down. It's not fair when you get hurt by your healthy practices.
But sitting around with my foot up I finished knitting this vest for Allie. The pattern is from Knit Simple magazine's Fall 08 issue and it knit up pretty fast. The pattern called for chunky yarn, but I found some thin yarn in my stash that I doubled, and it worked perfectly. One strand was some curly Icelandic wool that I've had forever, and for the back and trim I combined it with a beige strand of wool. For the front and hood, I combined it with a thin blue wool. Allie's been wearing it, and it looks cute on her. It reminds me a bit of that fur vest Sonny Bono used to wear in the Sonny and Cher days. I've kept that association to myself.
I finished my Halloween quilt. I machine quilted the center on a diagonal and did simple quilting in the border. It's now on the dining room table, where one of the cats has decided that it makes a lovely mattress. I love the cheerfulness of these colors. Orange is one of my new favorite colors.

And purple is too! Michael took this picture when we walked to the Farmer's Market yesterday. I see a purple sweater in my future. Ouch, my ankle. I'll have to wrestle Wee for the heating pad.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Oh, to Be a Cat

Cats really know how to relax. In the hustle and bustle of my life, they remind me of the beauty of curling up for a nap. I wish sometimes that I were as relaxed as they are, but doing stuff is much more fun.I was inspired by Debra's closet cleaning to get a bit more organized. I'd been keeping a lot of my jewelry in a jumble in milk glass bowls in the bathroom, but the damp isn't good for metals. I saw this idea on the net for storing and displaying pins. Take an old embroidery hoop, stretch a piece of wool in it, trim, put your pins in it, and hang it on the wall. I put mine up in the closet, where I'll be able to see it when I get dressed.
Last week Michael and I picked blackberries. We've been corrected about calling these blackberries, apparently they're Himalayan black raspberries. They're a real treat and this is the season when they ripen. We picked a couple of gallon buckets of berries, and I brought them home, washed them, and then froze them on parchment paper-covered baking sheets. Once they're frozen you can store them in plastic bags. They make killer jams, pies, and cobblers.
I've taken some stray balls of yarn and started a hooded vest. I bought this curly oatmeal colored yarn a long time ago in my early knitting days, and I never found a use for it. I recently realized that I can combine it with other yarns in order to knit larger-gauge items.
We'll see how this comes out. It's pretty thick, so it may not be the most attractive thing I've every knitted.
Allie finished knitting a Harry Potter scarf, and Susan wanted to see a picture. It's knit in a big tube in stockinette stitch, and then you sew up the ends. It's huge, but she stuck with it, even knitting in the dark at the movies. This is a Gryffindor scarf, and I guess she hasn't had enough, because she cast on for a Slythrin scarf in green and silver. She got the pattern here.

We've been busy bees here, despite the good example of the cats.

Sweater Genesis

  A few years ago I learned to harvest yarn from old wool sweaters.  I don't do it so much anymore, with the exception of if I find...