Stitching with the Ladies of Gee’s Bend

Sep 29

Earlier this year, I got a hankering to sew a quilt top by hand. I’ve always pieced by machine and quilted by hand in the past, and I wanted to slow down the top-making process.

Quilt block

This urge coincided with special guest artists at  Fiber College : three of the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

I spent a relaxing Saturday afternoon at the world’s prettiest camp ground drawing out fabric from my stash, ripping off strips, stitching them together by hand as I listened to the murmur of sewing machines punctuated by laughter and conversation (Gale posted photos and a short video from the day). “Doing it your way” was the theme–pick the fabrics that speak to you, let them cozy up next to fabrics that you might not normally put together, but that tell you they want to be together.

Anyone expecting to be instructed exactly how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt was probably let down by the afternoon. But anyone who really listened, who bent her will to the fabric, realized she had, in fact, learned how to create a Gee’s Bend quilt: stitch what makes you happy.

Every now and again, I add another strip to the block. I’m not sure if I’m going to make one large lap-quilt-sized block or make several more about this size and stitch them together. I’m using stash fabric, old cotton shirts, sheets, and the cutest contribution from Amy Lou–the denim-patch fabric includes apples and the saying “I like you” on it.Sajou box


When I open my Sajou sewing box, a beautiful gift from Sara years ago, I see treasures like Cal’s business card, a reminder of watching her sew on a vintage Singer; a thimble from Clementine placed sweetly on my cottage cot pillow; the embroidery knife I purchased in Paris with Sara after we spent hours in the gorgeous Sajou shop pawing over all the pretty things. I love that hand stitching drenches me in sweet thoughts of friends, of places like Maine, Paris, my porch. I love that each fabric reminds me of someone or some moment in time. That’s how stitching this quilt makes me happy.

I’d love to read about a project that’s making you happy–what are you doing your way?

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Sophie’s House of Cards: a Review and Contest

Sep 26

This summer Sharon Oard Warner emailed to see if I’d be interested in reading an advance copy of her new novel Sophie’s House of Cards. I’ve known Sharon since 2003 when I took a workshop with her at Iowa’s summer writing festival. She’s responsible for my decision to go to graduate school and for my eventual move to New Mexico. I’m fortunate to have studied with her, and I remain grateful for her guidance as my dissertation chair.

So, yeah, when Sharon, a wonderful teacher and even more terrific human, asks anything of me, I say “yes”!

It doesn’t hurt that I love her writing. She doesn’t shy away from hard ideas, and she is a writer to study if you’re interested in a model for crafting flawed characters that resonate with the reader.

I just posted my review on GoodReads, which I’ll add here in case you don’t feel like clicking:

In her second novel Sophie’s House of Cards, Sharon Oard Warner tackles tough questions, just as she has in her debut novel Deep in the Heart: How do we allow loved ones to live their lives as they feel is right, even when we disagree? How do we handle betrayal? What does it mean to be a family?

As in her first novel, the characters in Sophie’s House of Cards are individuals, depicted with authority, leaving the reader confident that they had rich, complex lives before the story opens, and will continue to do so long after the book ends. Even minor characters in the novel are three-dimensional and might warrant having their stories told, too.

The story follows three women as they grow to understand how their lives entwine through love and betrayal. Warner renders not only the women with care and precision, but also the men who complete and complicate ideas about love, betrayal, and family.

Set in New Mexico, the novel brims with details that let the reader almost smell pinon wood in the kiva and Hatch chile peppers being roasted. The narrative structure—a tarot card reading—adds layers of meaning to the story, reminding the reader that even if fortune and destiny are at play in our lives, we can’t help but to be flawed. Warner allows us to see the beauty in our flaws, which may be the greatest gift of the novel.

Want to read the novel? Of course you do! Lucky for you, there’s a give away contest going on right now. Hop on over for your chance to win a copy of Sophie’s House of Cards and a set of tarot cards! Don’t want to put yourself in the hands of Fortune? Order your copy here.

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Ethical Elegance Icons

Sep 25

The comments on last week’s Ethical Elegance post were terrific and super helpful as I refine my definition. Mary, Kirsten, and Mary Lou reminded me that the definition should include clothes having an excellent fit. Mary Lou’s encouragement to find a superb tailor made me think about my boss Nancy, at my first job out of college. Nancy was everything I wanted to be: civilized, unflappable, confident in all matters related to writing, especially grammar and style, and elegant even when dressing casually.

She’d spent her early career in Manhattan, living there with her husband and two daughters, and the polish of city life stayed with her when I knew her in Westchester. She taught me to slow down, to be more precise, to prepare for events by learning a little bit about all the big players, which allowed me to make conversation with ease.

I was scruffy, growing out a bleached pixie, too broke to buy new clothes at first. But week by week, I saved up, observed her enough to figure out I should buy one decent sweater set, a pair of flattering slacks, black loafers.

I complimented her clothes often, and I think she took pity on my attempts to dress more elegantly. She told me how she bought dresses with long sleeves and had them cut above her elbow, a more flattering look for her, or had her tailor hem her skirts to land at the sweet spot that made her legs go on forever.

When I close my eyes, I can picture Nancy in a simple tan dress with black piping that fit her as though it had been made for her. It was one of my favorite of her outfits, one that she could wear today, over 15 years later.

Part of what makes an article of clothing a classic is endurance, timelessness. As I cull my wardrobe, frame it with the ideas behind Project Ethical Elegance, I’ll bear that in mind. Ellen’s urging to love a piece, for it to make the wearer happy will be a good test, as will a pause to wonder “What would Nancy do?” –hem it, cut it, make it flatter.

I’d love to hear about one of your IRL fashion icons!

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Welcome, Autumn, You Bringer of Squash and Yarn!

Sep 22

garlic barn

Keats had it right. I’m like the bees, “…think[ing] warm days shall never cease…” and listening for Autumn’s music, though the music of summer and spring is so much more inspiring. Still. Let’s take a look at some of the loveliness as summer slips away.

My CSA share comes to an end in a few weeks. Saturday the old tobacco barn, now used as a farm stand, was filled with bunches of garlic drying. The tomatoes may lack the sweetness that burst out of them in late July, but Autumn’s bounty brings warmth and depth of flavor. I’m especially excited to cook squash again–here is my favorite butternut squash galette recipe, and my go-to butternut squash soup.

I did no canning this summer, but I’ve been freezing leeks, fresh sauce, and garlic scapes, which means there will be a little taste of sun and earth and rain in this winter’s meals. In another week or two, I’ll buy up all the butternut squash I can handle and spend an afternoon peeling and chopping and freezing it. I want late Autumn and Winter me to think fondly of Summer and early Autumn me!



Even better than the terrific foods that Autumn brings is the return of my knitting fun! I spent most of the summer crocheting motifs for a linen shawl. With Rhinebeck around the corner, it was time to pull out a languishing WIP and get the wool turned into sleeves! The first arm of the sweater is about elbow length as of this morning. I don’t like pushing sleeves up to keep them from getting in the way, so I will only knit to just above wrist length.

I started this in 2012. I know. I told you it was languishing. But this is the year I wear it to Rhinebeck. I just know it is.

What has Autumn got you excited about? Are you trying any new recipes? Starting any new projects?

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Ethical Elegance: a Definition

Sep 18


This picture, a view from my cot in Maine, embodies my definition of ethical elegance, which I first wrote about here. A shawl I knit, my 12-year-old jean jacket, my Breton shirt made in Brittany. The definition may shift, develop, grow as I delve into my newest style project. I can’t wait to see what I learn in the next few months.

Ethical Elegance means maintaining a minimalist wardrobe, avoiding excess and unnecessary consumerism.

Ethical Elegance means making my own clothes using as many sustainable, organic, or up-cycled materials as I can.

Ethical Elegance means purchasing from indie makers who use as many sustainable, organic, or up-cycled materials as possible.

Ethical Elegance means purchasing from manufacturers that support workers’ rights and decent working conditions.

Ethical Elegance means mending and wearing clothing out.

Ethical Elegance means turning to vintage and used clothing before buying new.

Ethical Elegance means not settling for frumpy clothing just because it is made ethically.

I’m going to return to the definition, refine it as I understand this project more. I’d love to hear what you think defines ethical elegance–won’t you share your ideas in the comments?

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