The Ubiquitous Old Red Truck — And Other Holiday Icons

C’mon. You know you’ve seen this truck everywhere.

I’m not sure when it became the definitive retro/vintage/holiday symbol. But somewhere along the way it did. I’ve seen it in catalogs, in charming shops, on TV (Hallmark Channel has at least one movie where the truck is a co-star.) I’m sure this old truck obsession is a simple longing for tradition, simplicity, home-baked cookies and the scent of actual pine. But let’s remember: this cute, sentimental old truck could put out enough dangerous fumes to choke a horse pulling an open sleigh. We are excellent at suspending reality during the holidays.

That said, my grandfather had a dark green/blue one just like it on the farm. (You can see it in the pic with Mom and me below.)

Since I’m as sentimental as everybody else around the holidays, I found myself purchasing the truck machine embroidery shown at the top. Buy it here.

I stitched it out on Kraft Tex.  If you’re not familiar with Kraft Tex, it’s the miracle textile that the Levi’s logo is made of.  It doesn’t rip.  It’s washable. It lasts forever and takes a beating and doesn’t show wear and tear. And you can sew with it and on it.

I wasn’t sure how it would hold up with 22,000 stitches on it, but I used Stabilstick Cutaway stabilizer and it was perfect.

Then I started getting more ideas about holiday decor using Kraft Tex and machine embroidery. You can find some cute and simple designs here.

I stitched them out, again using the Stabilstick cutaway stabilizer.  I put a design on the front and on the back, trimmed them to size, rounded the corners, and stitched in black around the outside.  They are the perfect shape for mouse pads.  But I added ribbon and will give them out on Thanksgiving as a holiday decoration.

Once I did those, I started testing ornaments.

CAUTION: Don’t just resize the designs.

I tried to take them from 7 or 8 in. wide down to 4 in. Even in software, they did not size down properly.  They were not originally .ART files, so the software was struggling to reduce stitches. I tried it anyway, but…

Yuck. Big mistake. So I went back to the website and ordered some new ones in smaller original sizes.

These turned out just fine.  I’ll be adding ribbon and using them as ornaments. They will have different designs on each side. I’ll share more when I get them completed.

For now, I’m wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving and a relaxing weekend with loved ones. My holiday will be spent with 10 close family members and 2 dogs. That’s charming and sentimental enough for me.

 

Patience and Persistence and (Im)Perfection

15-year-old:  Wow, that’s cool.

Me: Thanks!

15-year-old: It must be teaching you patience.

Me:  Child.  Raising you teaches me patience. Sewing is what I do to relax.

15-year-old: That’s wonderful.  That you could find something other than food to help you relax.

Sigh.

In fairness to the tactless adolescent living in our house, I have been making a concerted effort to eat properly, and he is fully aware of that.  I actually think that *he* thinks those are words of encouragement. It’s almost like he’s new around here.

The other day I found a “journal”, a spiral bound notebook, from when I was 14. I looked over the scribbles and cringed myself into a fetal position…pages and pages of teenage angst. So-and-so likes this guy, but he likes another girl and this one didn’t talk to me today at school, but another guy wanted to call me after meeting at the roller rink.  OMG. Could I be any more of a living breathing cliche?

Anyway, the point is, I wrote pages and pages about my weight. At 14, I went to Weight Watchers for the first time, and I weighed 104 lbs. It was the end of the world.

Yes, that’s Donny Osmond.

A little more digging and I found the rest of them.  An archive of my weight, my life, my loves.  You know you have them too, somewhere.

And I started thinking about the themes that run through our lives.

What are yours?

Do you have a way to revisit some of them and see if you’ve made any progress?

I imagine that this is the work of our lives…to choose the colors, to find the patterns, to do the hard work, and to make something out of nothing. Again and again. Over and over, and with any luck, we evolve.

We learn a little patience, a little perseverance, and we learn from mistakes. (Well, at least some of the time).

And, maybe, like me, you have some battles that just drag on and on.

As we get a little softer around the edges, those old battles aren’t quite so fierce any more.  We can slow down and enjoy the details and the journey.

And maybe, at the end, when all the quilts are done and all the notebooks are filled up, we’ll have something to show for it.

Maybe.

Hello Sunshine! Machine Embroidery for the Season

I wanted something cheery for my basement door, and finally took down all the “Rules of the House” in pictorial form.  If my 15-year-old doesn’t know the rules of the house by now, like brushing your teeth, not jumping on the sofa, not throwing superballs, we have truly failed as parents.

Anyway, I had a nice blank door that was screaming for something to hang on it.

A while back I found these embroidery designs from Kimberbell, part of the “Hello Sunshine” quilt collection.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and didn’t really want to purchase any fabric

I had a teensy memo notebook on my desk and scribbled out a few ideas.  I printed out the embroidery designs and laid them out on some linen fabric I already owned  It was an awkward amount…not really enough for a quilt but enough for a decent wall hanging.

On the last bicycle, my machine locked up and I had to bring it into the dealer for a cleaning and tune up.

My machine is now running smooth as silk and I was able to complete the design.

I wanted something simple and cheerful.

I love these bikes as they remind me of the possibilities of the summer season.

It also gives me an excuse to create something in machine embroidery for that spot every season.

Ready for fall leaves and holiday yet?

I Want to Live in a Sundance Catalog

I want to live there.  I want to live in a world where I am about 6 feet tall.  I want to pause elegantly on a cobblestone street and smile mysteriously at nothing in particular.

I want to always have a bouquet of flowers in my hands or in the background of my earnest gaze, filling my world with color. I just paused for a moment, maybe to listen to a sweetly singing bird, while I gather fresh vegetables and fresh flowers at the Saturday morning outdoor market. In Guatemala.

My clothes are all embroidered. Not in a kitschy way, but in a swingy, carefree Boho jumble of flowers —  on my jeans, my shirts, my belts, and yes, on my shoes.  I have just the right amount of bangles and baubles. Not too many, but always enough to make you think that I’m never seen without a perfect accessory. Turqoise is my fave, but basically anything with a piece of leather attached to it will do.

Welcome to my home, where even the easy chair has a touch of colorful embroidery.  The quilt on my bed is hand-stitched, makes no difference who made it or where. Don’t envy my iron accessories or rough-hewn wood furniture. It all just flew in through the mountainous/desert/woodsy scene out the window where it was created naturally by the forces of nature, and simply appeared on the weathered Uzbekistan rug.

It’s time for me to grab my jaunty, fringed, leather bag and head out to meet my friend in the mountains.  He’s a lumberjack, with one day’s worth of beard.  He and his friends are busy chopping logs in front of the cabin where we all gather to wander in the snow wearing textured sweaters, bulky cabled hats and scarves and heavily embellished fingerless gloves.

I must enjoy the moment. Before long, I’ll be off to the beach, taking my melancholy barefoot stroll, sandals in hand, gauzey, fluttery sundress and waves rolling in behind me.

Sigh.

I want to live in a sundance catalog.

Where everything and everyone is aesthetically beautiful. And no one is grieving or devastated or angry.

And the biggest question of the day is whether to put my hands in my pocket or lean against the warm stone wall with the sun shining down and the bougainvillea framing my view.

 

And So This is Christmas…

And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.   –John and Yoko

Bah Humbug.

Sigh.  This time of year I don’t want to hear any more holiday songs. (Unless of course it’s “Celebrate Me Home” by Kenny Loggins, which I can listen to over and over and never get tired.  Here you go…a crazy live version.)

Not to be confused with Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg, which I listen to for one week every year (between Christmas and New Year’s) and tolerate for its simple wistful loveliness.

But John Lennon haunts me.
Every year at this time, he asks what I have done and reminds me that I’m another year older. And the haunting part is that he’s not. He is timeless now, with his music still playing everywhere.

What HAVE I done? What have you done?  The only thing I have to show for this past year is my work.  So here’s a little gallery of this last year’s finished projects.  And some that might be not-so-finished.

“A very Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”

 

What Inspires You to Create?

You’ll find no shortage of social media out there:  Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter.  Every single one of them is loaded to the brim with lively “inspiration.”

People tell me, “It’s where I go to get good ideas.”

Yet, social media is a double-edged sword. So many things come our way to discourage us on our way to creativity and inspiration.

Short list of inspiration-killers:

–Someone will always be better than you at whatever it is you want to pursue. They have more time, more money, more resources, more experience, or more years of life ahead of them.  And let’s face it, they often have better ideas.

–You’ll waste time on social media.  Yes, you will see pretty things.  But you are more likely to get discouraged than to be inspired. It’s the nature of the beast. (By the way, that’s also the reason that new studies are showing that the more time kids spend glued to their phone, the more likely they are to become suicidal.  This is especially true for teenage girls.  Don’t think adults are so very different.)

–Life gets in the way. We’re busy and pre-occupied with raising our children, working, caring for other family members, getting side-tracked by every day chores, like home repairs, grocery shopping, health issues (our own or that of loved ones.)

So what can we do?

Some ideas:

  1.  Take a walk in nature.  Get to the woods, the trees, a botannical garden, your own backyard, a local forest preserve, any place not overly occupied by humans.  Notice the birds, and the other tiny things. The change from flower to seed, the turning of the seasons, the smell of the air, the sky on any given day. Listen. Is wind rustling? Which birds do you hear? Are you near water?  Crashing waves or trickling creek? Is it starting to freeze? What patterns do you see?

2. Visit some place new. Extensive travel to other countries is fantastic, but we’re not all willing and able to do that. I recently drove a half hour from home to a tiny shop that sells Polish Pottery.  I’d never been there. The owner was a bubbly young lady, and had just moved into a new building.  The shelves were filled with bright, cheerful pottery, hand made by women an ocean away. Lovely.

3. Learn something new. This could mean anything for you. Attend an exhibit. Take a class at the local community college or park district. Or easier yet, read a book.  I recently saw a statistic that said that 30% of college graduates never read another book once they finish school.  80% of families have not purchased or read a book in the past year.  How is this even possible? I’m not entirely sure I believe the statistics but the trend is discouraging. We already know that reading books makes people more empathetic. Where are we headed?

A book suggestion to get you started:  Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.

It’s a peak into his journals and famous works, as you also travel through life with someone totally committed to his art. Think you already know everything about him? I bet you don’t. Some of his geometric studies would make fantastic quilt patterns. Granted, he lived in a time when diversity, architecture, aesthetics, craftsmanship, and great art were all honored and appreciated at the highest levels of society.

Let us recommit ourselves to advancing the arts, in ourselves and in our society. Get out into real life. Experiment. Enjoy a visual and auditory feast.

And step away from social media for just a bit. It will be there when you come back.

I promise.

Of Endings and New Beginnings

The quilt shop where I worked closed this week.

I don’t think very many people understand what a small quilt shop does for a community.

Yes, we sold machines and fabric, notions, patterns, doo-dads and what-nots.

But that’s not what a quilt shop is all about.  We also provided support.  And inspiration.  And education.

And friendship.

We loved our customers and became close.  And they came to visit us when they had enough of the outside world, when they needed a place to unload, to unburden, to be among like-minded people.

We celebrated with them and mourned with them. And they with us. We all grew together and processed life through cloth and fabric, needle and thread.

The purchases?  They were just an extension of all that wholeness. We didn’t close because we weren’t doing well.  On the contrary, the shop was doing great.  But sometimes life intercedes and the owner was unable and unwilling to deal with the crushing demands on her time from her home life and work life combined.

I could go on about the number of quilt shops in this area that have recently shut down, or the economy, or the aging of the quilt-making market.  But I know better.  I’ve been around long enough to see that to everything there is a season.

I was fortunate enough to work there from the time that my son started first grade to the time he entered high school.  What a season!  From crayons to perfume…or deodorant, in this case.

I know that these things are cyclical. The market will re-emerge in a different way. Our customers will find their way to new and exciting shops and relationships, and the world will keep turning.

I will never stop sewing. In fact, I have some new and interesting plans for this blog. Endings provide the catalyst for new beginnings. Stay tuned.

Straigh line quilting on domestic machine

Here’s the quilt I was working on from my last post.  Completed, just need to add the label. Crazy squiggly lines through the color, straight and narrow through the grey.

The ombre blue on the back turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
Ombre modern quilt back
Colorful binding signals the end of this project.  But we never really finish our work as quilters, or as artists. We’re always ready for the next project.

I’m ready. Are you?

Chicken Soup and Embroidery Software

It’s a chicken soup kind of day.

My son came home after his first few days of high school with a nasty cold.  I’m not surprised.  The place is a breeding ground for experimental teenage germs.

On top of that, the weather turned cooler today…for how long, I’ve no idea.  But it’s cloudy and cool right now.

Furthermore, like everyone else in the sewing industry, I read Nancy Zieman’s latest blog with a heavy heart. Whether you watched her show or not, you know Nancy.  You buy her notions or you attend Quilt Expo in Madison. I’ve learned many tips from Nancy along the way, but my favorite line was this: ” I sew at least one quilt a year for charity.”  She never said “You should…”  She told us what she did, and then she did it, among all the other wonderful charitable contributions she made within the industry (and outside of it).

So, yes, it’s a chicken soup kind of day.

While the soup bubbled away, I sat down with my laptop and organized some of the Halloween designs I want to make in the very near future.

I use Bernina Embroidery Software 8, and I’m planning on making tiny pillow-like ornaments to hang on my Halloween tree.

The designs I’m using came from urbanthreads.com, a favorite of mine for cute and/or spooky embroidery.

It’s hard to see the design in this shot but it is a single thread color of a cat.  I used a feature that people rarely take advantage of in the ‘design” menu. Click on “background” and change the background color in the hoop.

Now you can actually see what the design will look like stitched out on dark grey or black fabric. In the prior shot, you can see where I added stitching in a square around the outside.  Before I stitch that, I will add a square of fabric and a ribbon for hanging.  I’m not stitching out today, but I promise to share when I do.

In this design, I’m stitching the profile of this cat, but it has multiple thread changes for each cat.  For some reason, the.exp file I’m using has changed all the colors from shades of purple to random colors.  I did not take the time to fix the thread colors on screen because I will just use the correct ones as I stitch out.

The important thing to note here is that on the side, in the color film, I used the “Sequence by Color” tool.  This way, I’m able to stitch all the same colors at once instead of changing threads each time for each color on each cat. Whew!

It makes a big difference in the amount of time it takes to stitch out.  Also, I will have to cut the jump stitches in between each thread change, as I have the thread moving around quite a bit.

 

Still, I have loaded all this onto my USB stick and am ready to stitch as soon as I prep some fabric, stabilizer and fabric for the backs of these cute little ornaments.

Can’t wait to get started, but I won’t have time for a couple of days.

My Halloween quilt is complete, and ready for its debut! Stay tuned. It may be early September, but it’s already time for a cool change.