#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.

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Yesterday, I went for my usual walk through the woods. I took the more scenic path this time, as it gets too buggy and overgrown during the summer for me to comfortably pass.

But this time of year, some of the weeds have died back, the crunch of leaves is underfoot, keeping some of the mud at bay, and the insects have thinned out.

So I took the road less traveled onto the ridge above the creek.

And that’s where I discovered the fallen sentinel.

This old oak had been standing at the top of the ridge, majestically leaning out over the cliff for as many years as I can remember hiking here. Its trunk is at least three feet in diameter.

The last time I passed through it was early spring, before the foliage filled out, while the creek gurgled its way around the bend. At the time, I could see the tree was getting too close to the edge. Or the edge was eroding too close to the tree. I gingerly stepped close and patted the bark of the tree. “My friend..this does not look great. But the cliff won’t erode that fast. I imagine it will be at least a few years.”

I went on my way.

The torrential rains of this past spring that prevented our farmers from getting their crops in the ground also took a toll on the ridge. As I wound my way through yesterday, I stopped in my tracks. The landmarks had changed, my bearings were rattled.

The earth had shifted.

And an old friend had tumbled.

I surveyed the area where the tree once stood. Everything had changed. Was it here? Was it slightly further back? I could no longer even recognize the place where it had once stood. It must have been months. It must have been the downpours. It must have been inevitable.

Still, I found myself sending a little blessing. And immediately wondering it the forest preserve would allow it to stay there, damming the creek.

I bowed my head and turned on the path to continue my journey. As I left I saw chipmunks scurrying and playing along the trunk and branches of the tree below.

Ever adjusting. Ever changing. Exploring a new landscape.

The Joy of Choosing to Ignore the Mass Market

Have you ever spent hours on Pinterest? Wandered through quaint little shops in a seaside village or a charming midwestern town?

I’ve spent some time in local shops and in large home decor stores. I’ve browsed online and been to craft shows and art shows.

And I’m discouraged.

I am missing originality and I am as much a consumer as everyone else. Where are all the original thinkers? Where are the creatives out there doing what’s never been done? Am I just missing it? How can I go from an exurb of Chicago to a small town in Wisconsin, and find basically the exact same products?

I loved the inspirational script messages at one time, but to be honest, aren’t they getting old? If one more piece of wood or vinyl sticky for my wall tells me to “choose joy” I’m going to scream. (What does that mean anyway? Choose joy. Instead of eating chocolate? Instead of crying? Instead of reading the newspaper? Instead of choosing to make a change? Instead of choosing to work out?)

I even have a little houseplant pot that bears the message “grow.” The plant is suffering. And I think it’s because the pressure is too great and the obvious command on its outer shell is intimidating and off-putting.

I might also be watering it too much.

Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder that these constant, script-y, positive messages are numbing us to the reality around us.

If you are INSPIRED to paint the face of a cow in purples, oranges and teals, bless your heart and the artwork will be beautiful. But if you are purchasing the same one that’s shown in a chain of stores across the country, because…umm…”farmhouse”, well, what’s the point?

And I say this with love in my heart for all things farm. I’m descended from farmers.

But anyone who thinks that farmhouse style begins and ends with anything but manure and straw and hay is kidding themselves. And the farmhouse I knew was cramped. We didn’t have a whole lot of decorative items. Most of them were practical. You needed a broom nearby to chase the bats that flew in at night. You needed a vacuum cleaner to get at the flies that swarmed the window sills in the summertime. You needed plenty of logs in the basement to keep the house heated all winter. You needed hooks and pegs for jackets and boots and fishing poles. When I was out in the barn no one ever had to tell me to “choose joy.”

Joy showed up uninvited. So did laughter and tears and hugs.

This week, let’s all go out and find something original to do. Something one-of-a-kind.

That’s the beauty of sewing. We can make things that no one else has made, and make memories that no one else has experienced.

Let’s be more authentic. And let’s ditch the mass market.

It’s Time to Get Real About Organic Cotton

When is the last time you thought about where your quilting stash comes from? Have you ever thought about the process, the transport, the distribution? How many of us have ever even recognized on a conscious level that quilt cotton is a plant?

If these questions seem abstruse or even mildly annoying, you’re not alone.  So few people care about this issue. At least that’s the information I was given when I contacted some of the largest distributors of quilting fabric around.

Moda told me there’s no market (that’s us) for organic fabric. Oh yes, they had one line of it a while ago and it didn’t sell terribly well, so…they don’t even carry any organic fabric right now. Fatquartershop.com who sells fabric online said they have nothing to do with the content of their products. In their copy on their website, they describe whatever a manufacturer tells them to say, and distribute on demand. Period.

Fabric designers tell me they do not get involved with the fabric manufacturing process.  They license their designs and have no say in whether their designs are used sustainably/responsibly or not. This may not be true for all of them, but it’s common practice.

So who makes the determination about whether fabric should be organic or not?

Surprise! It’s you. And me.  We are the ones who define this market, and we will have to be the ones to require change.

The question is:

Do you think we need change? 

Let’s talk about it a bit.  Because I’m going to make the case that we have no choice but to put pressure on manufacturers to change their cotton growing processes. And we might have to start with our local quilt shops.

Here’s why:

–70% of the world’s topsoil is degraded.

–It takes 1,000 years to replace 3 cm of degraded topsoil.

–With current farming practices, all the world’s topsoil will be gone in 60 years.

This is not my opinion.

This information is provided by lengthy studies done by the Textile Exchange and reported in life cycle analyses done over spans of years.

Go ahead and google “How much topsoil is left?” 

Without topsoil, the world doesn’t eat, let alone quilt with natural fabrics.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be responsible for my kids and grandkids being unable to have food and clothing because of my simplistic, uneducated (and, frankly, selfish) choices.

I’ve seen some people make the case that organic fabric requires more resources. 

That is simply not true. Not when using any scientific methodology of measurement. Not when attempting to understand the life cycle of the product.  And certainly not when we entertain the implications of the alternative. On the contrary, we now have clear indications that water use on organic farms is far less than traditional practices.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the information on these two charts, but the explanation for them was very clear: Organic farming of cotton greatly reduces water and other energy consumption, and continuing on our current trajectory is simply not sustainable.

Here is where we encounter the power of market forces.

You and I can demand that things change. Manufacturers, distributors and farmers, all have little reason to improve their processes. Inertia and monetary fears will keep them all from advancing to more sustainable processes.

But the science tells us that we will pay a price one way or another. As consumers, we either start demanding organic cotton now, or we will not likely have access to any at all in the future. The choice is that simple and that stark.

But I’m just one person.

What can I do?

-Ask your local quilt shop to carry organic cotton. Be assertive. Those designers that you love? Their designs can be made on organic cotton. But folks like Moda (who is a HUGE distributor of fabric) think you don’t care. I’m telling you it’s time to care and care deeply.

Contact folks like Moda directly: marketing@modafabrics.com and let them know about your concerns.

–Do your own research. Here are a few links to explore:

–aboutorganiccotton.org

–textileexchange.org

Quick Guide to Organic Cotton

–Get the Facts About Organic Textiles

Hope is on the horizon.

But we must all start to act.

Folks like Wrangler, H & M and Nike are starting to recognize that their own businesses will not be around if they don’t educate consumers on organic products, and make the industry more sustainable.

The organic cotton industry has increased by 11% in the US from 2016 to 2018. But that’s not enough. Where does our quilt cotton come from? India? China? the US?

I don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to follow up. In the meantime, I will continue to work down my stash of fabric, and I plan on only purchasing organic fabric in the future. This is a statement I can only make because I’ve done a bit of homework on this and believe it is the best path for me.

I’ll be exploring more of the current manufacturers soon. The good news is that there ARE organic quilt fabrics out there. We just aren’t aware of them.

I leave you today with a current picture of my own garden out back. Our Midwestern loam is the finest on the planet. Everything grows here. But we need to be responsible stewards of the land, of our money and of our resources.

I’m ready to take the organic leap. Are you?

Kraft-Tex Update

As you know, I have a lot of fun with Kraft-Tex products.

In a prior blog post, I talked about using embroidery for yard flags or signs.

This time, I decided to try a little acrylic paint on it and see how it holds up in weather. The previous sign that I did has been out in rainstorms, thunder, wind and more, and looks just as nice as it did the day I put it out there.

To be honest, I’m a little shocked that it held up so well.

So this time, I pulled out my acrylics and painted up a patriotic floral for the Fourth of July. I have not added any finishing, like Mod Podge or varnish of any kind.

For the record, I asked Kraft-Tex for more information about their product. It is recyclable, and therefore biodegradable, but doesn’t fall apart in the rain. It is OEKO-TEX certified, which is standard in the textile industry in that the end product is certified to be non-toxic. It also holds an FSC accreditation (Forest Stewardship Council) Essentially, this means that the product is regulated to be using forestry resources responsibly as defined by the highest industry standards.

I’ll be getting back to my wool and quilting momentarily. But for now, I’m having a great time with outdoor decorating and garden crafts…using my sewing machine.

For the Gardeners Among Us

I’m guilty of spending a teensy bit less time in the sewing studio, and a bit more time out in the yard these days…like most of you, I’m guessing.

It will be raining off and on this weekend, so between trips to the store and out in the garden, I might get in a bit of organizing/sewing.

But for now, here’s a tribute to those of us who cannot resist the flowers. They cheer us, bloom under almost any circumstances, and lead the way into a new season.

What would we do without them?

For the Gardener

I’ve been sewing, I promise.

Just not as much as I would like.

But here’s a little peak at the hyacinth that have started popping up in my backyard. We all need a bit of the wild earth to sweep us away every now and then. For me, that happens in the spring and summer when the light and the blooms blend into tiny miracles. The closer I look, the more miraculous it all seems.

Enjoy.

Wisconsin Quilt Shop Hop 2018

Hey you Mid-Westerners! Grab your friends, hop in a car and spend a day in Wisconsin.

That’s what we did.  And we loved it. Now, it didn’t hurt that the day was completely clear, sunny, no humidity and just early-spring lovely.

It also didn’t hurt that the towns were all really vibrant and attractive. And the drive between shops was pastoral and rural, with neat, well-tended farms dotting the landscape.

Relaxing.

Get your details here.

Of course, we did not cross the entire state.  We stayed along the I 90 corridor, and still got to see so much in one day.

The Wisconsin Quilt Shop Hop ends at the end of June.  So you still have plenty of time. And if you miss the shop hop? No problem.  The stores are still there, just check the hours.  Shop Hop hours are consistent throughout the region. 9:30 – 5:30 pm week days, 9:30-4 pm on Saturday. Maybe I’ll run into you in Wisconsin!