#GardenFail–But It’s All Good

So do you remember the barren piece of dirt from the garden plot from my last post?

I went to work on it like a crazed garden lady, and by June I had conquered some of the hurdles and seed was in the ground. I also managed to plant a few things, like tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and peppers.

Day after day during the drought, I showed up. I dragged gallon after gallon of water onto the tomatoes the lettuces, the kales, the flowers.

I weeded. I got out the hula hoe and I worked it, baby.

Here is what I managed to eke out of it by mid-June.

I harvested young lettuces, and kale. Delicious.

Then the rains came. And came. And came. A small pond formed in the garden at one end. Rivers flowed from the tomatoes to the dahlias on down to the peppers and just kept flowing.

I couldn’t walk in the garden even a little. My shoes sank down into squishy mud, and I could barely pull them out. If I managed to pull out a weed, it took out a pound of dirt with it. The waters didn’t recede, but I did.

I’ll give it a couple of days, I thought.

In the meantime, I started feeling pain on the ball of my right foot. It felt like a balled up sock was there. I had to stop walking on it. I started to see doctors…what’s happening with my foot? Well, they said…could be overuse, could be neuroma. Try rest.

So while the garden dried out, I rested my quirky foot. On a day when it didn’t feel too bad, I ventured back to the plot.

Wait. This is not my nice little plot. This is some overgrown parcel of wildness with random plants. I made a feeble attempt to catch up on the madness.

Now let me just say that while the weeds are taking over, and Mother Earth is returning this site to its natural meadowland, I am getting an astounding amount of harvest. Despite the chaos, every day, I am able to harvest at least a pint of cherry tomatoes. (They are in the far left in the back) The zinnias, by the way, are prolific. They are producing like nobody’s business, and tolerated both drought and biblical flooding without the tiniest interruption in growth.

The dahlias (one shown above) on the other hand, are like precious fragile blown glass figurines. They wilt when it’s hot. They rot when they sit in moist soil around the tubers. They take forever to start growing and bloom late in the season. And mine? I have no idea if they will ever bloom. But for now, they are still alive. The grass growing in there? I can’t pull it, because if I do, the whole tuber will come up. Sigh.

All is not lost. My peppers and beans, tomatoes and cucumbers are producing well, despite my ping-ponging from doting obsession to negligence.

The cosmos and asters are happy as can be. They don’t seem to mind competition from weeds and grass.

A volunteer tomato plant appeared in the back and seems to be happily producing with no encouragement whatsoever. Same for some sort of weed that looks like it might produce either sunflowers or some sort of puffy seed pod.

Someone on social media was lamenting that they worked hard all season only to harvest 5 peas. Someone else recommended “The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.”

I can relate.

Still. The first bite of that homegrown tomato was worth it all. The green beans…simply boiled, were the stuff of heaven. I had forgotten what food is supposed to taste like. Fresh green peppers? Like candy.

So.

If I try this again next year, I’m going to simplify. I really wanted cut flowers. Gonna have to stay with zinnias and cosmos.

Vegetables? Tried and true. Tomatoes, green beans, peppers.

And me? I’m getting too old for this.

But I’m not giving up.

Endings and Beginnings and Quilts, Oh My!

This barren pathetic patch of earth is where I’m setting up my community garden plot this year. The ground is hard, prone to weeds and, frankly, as inhospitable a piece of land as I’ve worked on in a long time. It reminds me of pics from Curiosity, the Mars Rover.

It’s clear to me that it’s been deprived of nutrients and expected to perform over and over with nothing returned to the soil.

But it’s mine this year.

In our house, it’s a season of beginnings and endings. My son is heading off to college in August, saying goodbye to an old school, old friends, and his old parents. Yesterday, he was 10 years old, reluctantly traveling with me to 30 quilt shops one summer. We did the entire Northern Illinois Quilt Shop Hop. He was supplied plenty of food, was instructed to be Chief Navigator and man of the GPS, and off we went. We found our way to unknown towns (with candy shops) and got lost in cornfields and stopped in strange places for food and potty breaks. He later told me it was the best summer he ever had.

Fast forward a few years to the present, and he (again reluctantly) is tasked with helping his mother by carting 10 bags of organic compost and spreading it out on that empty, unyielding piece of land. (I’m going to make sure he’s happy to be headed off to school.)

In return, I’m making him a quilt of his choosing. I won’t go into the horror on his face when I showed him all his t-shirts from middle school and high school and suggested I’d make a quilt out of those. It was as though nightmare zombies from the dead had reappeared and come back to haunt him and travel with him to college. In the end, he selected a tasteful French General pattern. And it just so happens that I’d been collecting that fabric for years so…hooray…no new purchases.

With the cutting done, I’m ready to start sewing. I figure, if I don’t finish by August, it’s OK, I can always ship it to him. He won’t need an extra quilt for a month or two.

In the meantime, at the garden plot, I’ve had a few seed failures. I tried purchasing flower seeds from an independent grower, and most of those seeds just haven’t germinated. The commercial seeds have begun to emerge, and some of the vegetables are doing OK.

On we go into summer. I hope you have some exciting things planned. I’ll be delving into this quilt in between trips to carry water buckets at the garden plot. Wish me luck.

Happy growing season!

It goes by fast, doesn’t it.

Spring Machine Embroidery Ideas

Great minds think alike. Or at least that’s what they say.

I had just recently been working on this lawn flag for the front of my house.

I am a great Kraft-Tex lover and I use it for things like this all the time. You can read about my door hanging here and last spring’s greeting here. It’s almost always my fabric of choice for wallhanging-type projects, because it is eco-friendly, recyclable, and does not contain any scary chemicals.

But this year, I desperately wanted to use some of this new buffalo print ribbon as well.

My project is simple. I start with a large piece of black Kraft-Tex. That is the base. I embroider on smaller pieces. The “Hello Spring” font I’m using is called Strawberry Blossom, available on dafonts.com. I really was having a hard time finding an embroidery design that would be perfect and colorful and cheerful, but with a cap of about 30,000 stitches. With a double layer of sticky back cutaway under the Kraft-Tex, it holds up quite well. But if the design is too stitch-heavy, I start to worry I might perforate the fabric.

The embroidery design I used is called Truly Tulip Blooms from Embroidery Library. I have to admit, it was not my favorite design, but it turned out pretty well.

Of course, once I had this project completed, I received an email from Embroidery Library with a grouping of some designs that are just adorable. The line is called Blooming Expressions by Shannon Roberts.

Check out this project. They offer designs and even yard flag fabric, along with a tutorial.

Now, you don’t really need a tutorial, because it’s just basic machine embroidery. But the designs are just the sort of thing I was hoping to find. They just came too late for me.

(Embroidery Library, in case you are paying attention, we need versions of these for summer and July 4. Watermelon and lemonade with flowers and butterflies would be so cute, don’t you think? . And start designing the new cozy ones for fall and the holiday season as well. I know I’m bossy…I’m also a good customer.)

I have a weakness for these types of designs that show up so well on black and are reminiscent of chalk art that is so popular these days, as well as the use of script.

The only difference I would notice between my project and theirs is that I have added velcro across the top and along the side to attach to the pole. Last year, I watched on a surveillance camera how my garden flag got swept away by a mighty gust of wind, never to be seen again. So I added a bit more security, attaching it not only at the top of the pole, but at the side as added reinforcement.

The ribbon is just something I purchased on Esty…wired ribbon 2.5 inches wide. It’s perfect. I sewed it on just inside the wire at the top and bottom of the ribbon.

It’s possible to create a design on the back side as well and just sew the two pieces together. Because of my location, I chose to just add a blank piece of Kraf-Tex on the back.

While it’s a bit too early for my annuals to brighten up the house, this little piece of lawn art adds a bit of cheer.

I’ve also been spring cleaning in the sewing room. What a nightmare. But that’s for another post.

Scrappy vs. Stash-y

We have all seen the books about making “scrappy” quilts. You may even own a few of them. I know I do. And most of them recommend separating all your fabrics into neat, color-coordinated bins.

Sounds great.

Have you ever tried to do it? I find myself asking questions. What about this colorful print which really does not seem to fit into just one category of color? What about this collection I purchased all at once which coordinates perfectly with the other fabrics from its own collection? Do I really want to wrench those apart? (Hello Downton Abbey fabric line from 6 years ago.) And then there are the pre-cuts. Am I supposed to take apart these charm packs and layer cakes and re-sort each and every fabric into different categories even though they are all from the same collection and look great together?

As you can imagine, my answer was no. In fact, I was feeling a little defiant. Guess what? There are no rules.

Normally when we talk about making a scrappy quilt, we just mean that we are going to make an ordinary quilt from some pattern we’ve purchased, by shopping our stash. I’ve done that many times. Here’s a nice pattern. What do I own that will look good? Most of the time, I can fill out the pattern requirements part of the way. But in the end, I’m missing the exact perfect shade of grunge that I need to finish. Or I just need 5 more fatquarters in this color family. Or I need a better binding or 4 yards of backing. No matter how hard I try using that method, I always end up purchasing more fabric. Which, frankly, is not my goal.

That old saying? She who dies with the most fabric wins? No she doesn’t. She just becomes a pain in the rear end to her family AFTER SHE’S DEAD.

That’s not the legacy I want to leave. Too many quilts? Yes, my family will grapple with that, but at least those are useful.

Anyway, I might be in a dark place because a friend of my sister’s, and a family acquaintance, just suffered a severe health emergency. (not COVID.) But she is middle-aged, and was healthy and vibrant until this struck. And now she’s got a long recovery ahead of her. I’ve had her on my mind so much recently, that I decided to make her a quilt. One that was scrappy but strong…a message I want to convey to her. Lots of pieces put back together in odd ways can make something interesting and strong and vibrant.

So instead, I started with whatever fabric I had been hanging onto for years, moved from bin to bin, never having a purpose. I put them all together in a pile and challenged myself to make a quilt.

And this is the result.

It’s made from a mini charm pack bundle I was given as a sampler at Quilt Market years ago, along with a couple of charm packs, and scraps of red and coral fatquarters. The backing is 4 yards of vibrantly red fabric. I feel like this quilt is saying:

I’m strong.

I’m tough.

I’m fierce.

I break the rules.

Don’t f$%^ with me.

And that’s the message I hope is conveyed to our friend who will receive it. Ride it out. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are weak. Show them you are a survivor. Be bold.

So my challenge to you today is this: If you’re feeling like you’re in a rut, break out. Do the thing you are told you should not do. Put two colors together that don’t belong. Simplify. Complicate. Whatever it takes to shake it up for you. And then pass it on to someone else who really needs the courage.

Making Peace With Nature

By now, if you’ve ever read anything from this blog, you know that I am on a mission to promote organic cotton and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) fabrics. To read one of my previous posts about organic cotton, go here.

I tackle the business of organic cotton because, frankly, as sewists, this is one thing we can impact. We are the end users of a product we think very little about and we worry even less when we have a project in mind.

We like our fabric.

We love the feel of it, we love the bright colors and the textures, and the sweet, cheerful designs. But it’s very possible that if you saw the conditions under which your fabric is made, and the chemicals involved in the treating of the fabric, and the dyeing process, you might have second thoughts. If you are thoughtful enough, you might also be concerned about the livelihood and well-being of the independent farmer who grows the cotton and small villages around the world who must learn to live sustainably off this income. They cannot destroy their land in the interest of a short term gain and then have ruined land that cannot be farmed in the future. This is a real thing. Farmers understand regenerative practices. It’s obvious…just not to everyone else.

“The report serves to translate the current state of scientific knowledge into crisp, clear and digestible facts-based messages that the world can relate to and follow up on. It first provides an Earth diagnosis of current and projected human-induced environmental change, by putting facts and interlinkages in perspective, including by using smart infographics. In building on this diagnosis, the report identifies the shifts needed to close gaps between current actions and those needed to achieve sustainable development. The analysis is anchored in current economic, social and ecological reality and framed by economics and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. By synthesizing the latest scientific findings from the global environmental assessments, the report communicates the current status of the world’s urgent issues and opportunities to solve them. “

Our small quilt shops only have exposure to sales people who bring the brightly-colored sample books to them every season for ordering.

Through social media, we are exposed to the designers (whom we love). They show us their studios and their creative ideas. However, their designs are simply licensed by fabric distributors. In other words, our favorite designers basically give up all their rights to determine the way fabric is created, other than seeing proofs for color and accuracy. They don’t get to tell manufacturers not to use toxic chemicals or not to pollute the ground water. They get a paycheck and that’s what matters. To them, at least.

In reading this UN document, it’s obvious to me, and I hope it is to you as well, that this way of living has made us blissfully happy, unaware and unaccountable to the planet we live on.

I know this sounds cliche.

But if we don’t soon change everything we’re doing now, in every supply chain, all the way back to the raw materials from the Earth, we may not survive as a species for much longer.

Here’s a tidbit: did you know that if current sperm count trends continue, by 2045, the median male will no longer be able to reproduce? Ha. Now I have your attention.

Look, all I’m saying is that everything around us now indicates that we are going to have to make BIG CHANGES.

And if there’s one thing that the human species is resistant to, it’s BIG CHANGES.

But I believe we have to start thinking seriously about how our food is produced, where our energy comes from, how much waste we produce, how much we consume, and on and on and on.

It’s daunting, I know.

So that’s why we need to start small.

  1. Make yourself more aware of the materials you use. Where did this really come from? What are the chemicals used? Do I know anything at all about this fabric?
  2. Ask your local quilt shop these questions. They are dealing with the distributors who make the decisions.
  3. Become a savvy user. Can you make it from your already-way-too-big stash? Can it be made from other textiles you already own?
  4. Start making yourself an educated consumer. Below are a few links that will assist.

Here’s a new fabric I’ve seen available: Lenzing Ecovero. “Take less, Give More”. You’ll want to watch their video.

UNEP Making Peace With Nature

Textile Exchange Global Non-Profit

Global Organic Textile Standard

Are you ready for change? Ready or not, it’s coming. Let’s be ready, willing and able. And start where we can.

Why We Sew and Embroider

On inauguration night Dr. Jill Biden wore an amazing ensemble of embroidered flowers from all 50 states and the territories.

All I saw on Inauguration night was a lovely white coat.

Then Threads Magazine posted something about the details.

I have to share this with all of you.

Here’s a link to all the gorgeous details of her dress and coat, including the muslin.

Be sure to scroll to the video at the bottom and scroll within it, to see all the stages and the making of the coat and dress. What a stunner. Yup, this is why we sew and embroider.

It’s my goal to be able to make a coat like that. Perfection.

My Heart’s Greeting, and Other Valentines

I found these Victorian themed Valentine’s Day designs on Etsy, and ordered them just printed out on paper. I think they were 3.99. per sheet.

In Photoshop, I flipped the images horizontally so that the words read backwards, like a mirror image.

Then I printed them out on Transfer Artist paper, and transferred them onto white Kraft-Tex.

The Krat-Tex paper means that if I threw them in the wash, it would hold up, soften a bit and the image would stay in place. I might experiment a bit with washing the cards to see how they turn out. For now, I have them hanging with ribbons on an LED-lit birch tree stand.

The image above is one of my favorites, as I imagine myself during Jane Austen times, wandering through the flowers, accepting a love note from a distant suitor via a barn swallow. My heart’s greeting. We can dream.

Actually, most of my young Valentine’s Days were spent hoping for someone to send a card from a Secret Admirer. Do you remember those days? I would have given anything to have a Secret Admirer, someone in the shadows who had eyes only for me.

As it turns out, no gift ever came except for ones from my Dad. To his credit, he always brought a small gift home every Valentine’s Day for my Mom, my sister and me. We each got a box a chocolates, or a necklace or some other trifle.

He never forgot. To this day, if I head over to his house, during this pandemic, he will likely have some chocolates for me and for my sister. (And I won’t know how he got them, because he is supposed to be staying home.)

Years ago, I worked in a chocolate shop for a while, and Valentine’s Day was peak insanity. But they had regulars, who came in and bought the same size heart box of chocolates every year, or a special box for every grandchild. Others would get the most elaborate heart box and fill it with their sweetheart’s favorites. The ritual behind it was a fascinating social phenomenon. It was the few days out of the year when all the men showed up in the store.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

May you receive all the chocolates you love.

Better yet, may you receive them from a Secret Admirer.

Here are a few links to previous Velentine’s Day projects:

My Practical Valentine

Valentine’s Day Kraft-tex Project

Buttoned Up Valentine

The Un-Valentine

I update this sign on my door with the seasons. And I thought it would be cute to put up something for Valentine’s Day.

So I shopped around some of my favorite machine embroidery sites, looking for a charming Valentine’s Day design.

I was confronted by a trashy array of cupcakes, lips and kissing pigs. (OK, I know some of you would love the kissing pigs.) But it’s not what I was looking for at all.

And the hearts .So many hideous hearts. Big, ugly, hearts with loads of swirls and ornation. Gathered in multiples, in solid colors, outlines, curving, distorted, nouveau, deco, modern, punk, angry, broken, baroque, and dipped in gnomes.

I hated it all.

Truly, this is a message to all machine embroidery designers: You can do better on Valentine’s Day.

I would have settled for one of those vintage red trucks with a load of flowers and sweets…tastefully done, with some script. Or how about all the charming old school Valentine’s from the forties? Wouldn’t it be cute to have a line of those in embroidery? Or how about those old Victorian Valentine’s Day cards? Tell me you couldn’t create some designs that played off of those? Or anything cozy? After all, we’re still in the dead of winter.

Anything other than the selection that’s available now. Which is gag-worthy.

And I say that with love in my heart for artists and designers.

So after all of that, I settled on a design that barely hints of Valentine’s Day, but is warm, inviting and sweet. And it will look just as good on February 15 as it does right now. In fact, it will even carry into spring.

It’s a bit stitch heavy, but looks great against the black.

Here’s a link to the design.

I did the design on black Kraft-tex, which is surprisingly good at supporting machine embroidery. The trick is to use two layers of cutaway stabilizer.

I still have to figure out how to create a Valentine for my husband this year. Sadly, it won’t likely be machine embroidery, though I had hoped to find something charming. I thought about the kissing pigs, and then decided against an off-color joke about our pandemic weight gains.

I have other tricks up my sleeve, though.

So carry on, sewists. Surround yourselves with bright colors and whatever helps get you through the day.

Cross Stitch Life Hack

I love cross stitch. But I am completely inept.

I have watched the YouTube videos. I have studied people moving those needles in and out. I purchased the right fabric. I can sew, machine embroider, hand embroider, knit, crochet, do hand quilting. I’m not afraid of stitching by hand. But for the love of all that is good, I cannot figure out how to cross stitch. I. Cannot. Do. It.

So I did the next best thing.

I digitized.

I found the most adorable designs (from Little House Needleworks on Etsy.)

Using Bernina Embroidery Software 8, I got the idea into my head that I could run a border of these gorgeous cross stitch patterns around the outside of a very simple tree skirt I was making.

But as always, it was not an easy task. Like Tina Turner, I never do anything nice and easy. I do it nice, and rough.

It starts with a scan of the pattern, which needs to be trimmed to the exact pattern size in some sort of graphics software. I’m used to working in Adobe, so that’s what I used. But Bernina’s software comes with Corel, so you can use that too. Then it gets imported into the Cross Stitch application in the software.

Now comes the tedious part. Every single stitch gets reconstructed with a click, and a color choice. If you look closely enough at the above image, you can see that some of it is filled in with color, and some of it still has the cross stitch symbols shown. It took me about an hour to get everything filled in for that design.

The next step is to move it into the embroidery program. The software then converts every click that you made in cross stitch into machine embroidery stitches. And it’s pretty magical. One moment it’s just a weird looking drawing, the next minute it’s stitches that my machine will understand.

And I am absolutely loving the way these turned out.

I still have a long way to go on this tree skirt, and each design from start to finish probably takes about three hours. Could someone do it by hand in that time? Maybe someone who knows what they’re doing. That would not be me, when it comes to cross stitch. But I am just so taken in by their charm and sweetness.

I hope you are tolerating this difficult holiday season.

I leave you with this December thought:

“Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”