“Tiger Tracks”

Tiger Tracks

While the weather can’t make up its mind these days — a regular occurrence for northern Illinois — fall is definitely pressing in to push summer on.

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When I retrieved the newspaper this morning, I noticed the trees across the street turning mottled yellow-orange. It surprised me with all the heat we just had.

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On a recent evening walk, my husband and I saw geese overhead, soundless this time but for their wing strokes. And this weekend, we’re driving up to Wisconsin for a 30th anniversary gift to ourselves. I look forward to see the coming of autumn there too.

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While mother nature’s delivery of fall can lag and tease, there are two other things that escort this season DIRECTLY to us without messing around:

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SCHOOL

and

FOOTBALL.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

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So I’ve got a combo pack for you in today’s blanket. It was custom-ordered by a mom who was thinking of those two things when she imagined this gift for her son.

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Laura found The Green Sheep online. She asked me to design something for her son Bennett who was about to head off for his freshman year at University of Missouri. Her first child, going off to college! She wanted something special to send with him, something school-related, something sports-related.

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Here’s the Mom low-down: Bennett loves sports. He finished high school on the varsity baseball team. He loves hanging out with friends. He likes the sciences and is considering how he might use that in his future.

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Bennett also had his heart set on Mizzou and was eager to get there. So Mom Laura decided to go for the Mizzou theme and mascot: the Tigers. Then Laura decided to give me a jump-start on this blanket — she did the resale rummaging herself to find the right school colors: black and gold. She loved it!

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“Tiger Tracks” is a BIG blanket, big enough to be a bedspread for a dorm bed or to be available as a throw for a college-sized guy.

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For Bennett, I hope your freshman year is nothing less than GREAT! (For a perfect start, the Tigers football team is 2-0 so far!) For Laura, I saved a tiger paw to make you a potholder — a small tangible reminder of your son, who, though several hours away, is always in his mom’s heart :)

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“Tiger Tracks” (70″ x 93″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“Fullness of Peonies”

Fullness of Peonies

It’s been my delight in recent weeks to create another “legacy blanket” from, as it happens, another beautiful Irish sweater.

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The pieces with the diamonds (above) and the chevron (below) — that’s the Irish one.

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Each time I work on one of these blankets (like hereherehere, and here) I am moved by the complexity, wonder, and organic force of legacy within a family.  I hear about these things when an individual brings a sweater and says, “My dad passed away, but I’d love to have his wool sweater put into a blanket for my mom. Will you do that?”

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Mary, one of six kids in her big, lively family, found my work online while exploring what to do with her late dad’s sweater. She emailed, asking if I could make a blanket for her mom, Barbara. I replied (“Of course!”) and asked, as I always do, if I could briefly interview her by phone about her parents.

This is one of my favorite parts of the process. It’s where ideas begin to germinate.

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Mary not only talked with me, she sent a couple photos of her parents’ den, a long-time favorite hang-out of the entire family. WOW. A picture and its thousand words cannot be beat. I particularly fell in love with a sepia-toned vintage map of Europe above the red couch, hung next to a classic print of a horse and rider.

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The blanket took its shape around what I learned of Mary’s family, her mom, her dad, and that welcoming den.

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Mary’s dad, a college professor, became a US Congressman in the ’60s and moved his family near Washington D.C. He and his wife not only raised their family and served their state and country together, they co-authored books! There’s a lot to admire there.

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Barbara is a capital-G Gardener, with related offshoot activities: she has led garden tours as a docent and helped launch (I believe — my notes grew sketchy here) a neighborhood garden club. I got the feeling she loves to be around both gardens and people.

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Confirming my suspicions, her daughter reported that Barbara adores having a house full of people :)

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And so it came together: the neutrals to match the masculine sensibilities in the den, the flowers to match the warm red furniture, the fullness of peonies to match this mom and her family full of generations, interests, activities, loves,…legacy. To Barbara, Mary, and the family: I hope this blanket represents your family well :)

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“Fullness of Peonies” (55″ x 70″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

What I’ve done so far on my summer vacation.

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I feel like I owe some explanation for my absence here for two-thirds of the summer — but I’m hoping that you have been too busy yourself to notice!

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I keep my trusty camera handy to preserve a bit of the beautiful, interesting stuff I see. Honestly, I feel surrounded by that stuff every single day.

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Or course, it’s not hard to feel surrounded by beauty in ALASKA, which is where we were for a one-week family celebration with two dozen relatives. Simply amazing!!

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These pictures, in random order, were taken in Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan.

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BELOW: Closer to home, we spent a weekend with my son-in-law’s parents, who inhabit a quiet spot in the Michigan woods. I had been longing for rest in a two-week battle with a cold; their great hospitality and this gorgeous setting did the trick.

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FINALLY: In my estimation, there’s never a shortage of loveliness on the home front either. For Mother’s Day, my family surprised me with a bright outdoor rug from Lulu & Georgia. A book, an iced coffee, a cushion on the chair — heavenly.

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This summer, in my work as an occupational therapist in a neuro outpatient clinic, we’ve been, um, “mastering” new electronic documentation. The difficulty of the task is compounded by the many audiences we must write for: the patient, other clinicians, doctors, insurance, and Medicare. Hoo boy. No wonder those deck chairs look good to me when I get home!

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This summer has also held the weddings of wonderful young people, the funeral of a precious friend, one daughter home from college, and my brother-in-law staying with us while he finds a house for his family to follow from out east (we’re delighted he’s accepted a job near here!).

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In the midst of all that, I’ve been working on several custom-ordered blankets which each have their own great story.

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Stay tuned, because I have two more of those to share very soon :)

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”                             –Philippians 4.8

What have YOU been up to this summer?

Pillowcases for a Princess

Pillows for a Princess

In January, I posted photos and related the story of Calliope’s Castle. My latest project is a companion piece: pillowcases of a sort. They are actually flange-less shams, meant for completing the scene more than cradling the head :)

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When I finished the queen-size blanket, there were so many great sweaters left to work with that this was simply the next logical thing to do.

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I laid out the fronts first, choosing some apricots and greens.

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I had to start with all fresh sweaters and wasn’t able to pull in anything but the teeniest of scraps left from creating the original blanket. I had used every bit of those earlier sweaters!

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Then four cream-colored cardigans of Calliope’s presented an idea  for the backs of the pillowcases — they could serve as the closures…

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…making the pillowcases fully reversible.

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And so the backs got a separate set of colors to tie them in: pinks, green, and creams.

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I was able to add in some meaningful little details from the sweaters themselves:

the ballet slippers,

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the painter’s palette,

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and the sweet neckline of Calliope’s own little-girl sweater.

Queen-size pillowcases (20″ by 30″ each)

This is a custom order.

“Sunshine and Happiness”

Sunshine and Happiness

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This blanket makes me think happiness! every time I look at it. The colors are fantastically WARM and luscious and gorgeous together.

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It’s like the wild California poppies in the empty lot next door to the house I grew up in.

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And the spring-green tumbleweeds across the red-dirt desert of northeast Arizona.

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It’s the jumble of marigolds and cosmos in my Midwest garden.

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And shopping in a Mexican market.

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It’s the hot sleepy feeling of lying on the beach in August.

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And chili-smothered pork, roasting in the oven, to be shredded and eaten with tortillas.

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It reminds me of just about anything with sun and heat involved.

How about you? What does it make you think of?

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Sunshine and Happiness (Size: 55″ x 68″)

This blanket is no longer available for sale.

“Rainy Day”

Rainy Day

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

I’ve had the sweaters for this blanket matched up for some time, just waiting. Even before they were a blanket, I thought they were comforting together —  like being indoors — cozy, warm, and contented — on a rainy day.

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Just about the time I put the blanket together, my daughters put together a book they had worked on through this semester for my younger daughter’s watercolor class. The assignment: to paint a series of paintings as illustrations. Daughter #2, the painter, asked Daughter #1, the writer, if she would contribute poems to this project. Their collaboration took its final form as this book.*

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They created a painting/poem pair that fits so well with the spirit of a rainy day that I asked the daughters if I could share their work with you.

They said yes :)

Here is “Early Spring,” a painting by Hope Olson, and “If Only,” a poem by Grace Claus.

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Hope's rainy day watercolor

“Early Spring”

(Painting reprinted with permission of Hope Olson)

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If Only

(Reprinted with permission of Grace Claus)

On a day like today,

inspiration is nowhere

to be found. It has stolen

like a fox into the woods

and has curled up beneath

a silent bush, damp but

asleep while the rain slaps

the leaves, weaves between

branches, slips down

trunks, shoots, roots,

and seeps into the soil.

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If only I were a fox

and could leave this stale,

drowsy house, sheltered

from the rain, and let

one immaculate drop

startle my shoulder,

bead against my fur,

and disturb my sleep.

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Proud momma? I s’pose you could say that :)

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I could’ve tied this all together better if I had had a cloudy and dreary day to shoot these pics. How did I miss all those cloudy, dreary days?? Even the turtles at the local park came out to sit in the sun.

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Anyway, to me, the cream-colored squares in the blanket are like two windows, letting in wan but welcome light. Up close, you can see scrabbling vines “outside.”

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The gray wool with the diamond pattern is sprinkled with a handful of clear sequins, looking like little raindrops balancing atop the wool.

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This blanket is very cozy, cushy, and a nice throw size. In person, the colors are absolutely gorgeous together. (It’s difficult to capture that aspect in these photos.)

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“Rainy Day” (58″ x 74″)

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On a Day Like Today

(“On a Day Like Today” by Grace Claus; illustrated by Hope Olson)

“A Quiet Creature” (the hummingbird blanket)

A Quiet Creature

My friend Gloria is a sweet fan of The Green Sheep. Along with choosing a blanket for herself, she has let me have fun designing for her grandkids (see 11, 12, Dig and Delve and I Love Minnie). Once, when she saw a small baby blanket I had made in purples and greens, she said, “You can make an adult-sized one of these for me!”  I kept my eyes open for more of those colors.

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Months later, with a nice collection of hues, I contacted Gloria to see if she was still interested. Yes, indeed, she replied. Her email contained a little postscript with a smile: “I like appliqués. I especially like flowers or hummingbirds.”

Just in time for hummingbird season, here is A Quiet Creature.

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“A Quiet Creature” (the hummingbird blanket) (60″ x 75″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“In Argyle Style”

In Argyle Style

Today’s post will demonstrate my six degrees of separation from this blanket’s theme. From four different angles.

Today’s post is just silly.

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1. I am Scottish on my dad’s side — The argyle pattern comes from Scotland — The area of Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, is the birthplace of the Scottish nation — From within Argyll comes the Clan Campbell, and argyle is their pattern — Unfortunately, I am not a Campbell.

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2. The sport of curling comes from Scotland — I’m a little Scottish, as I mentioned — AND I have been curling, once — My husband once worked with a manager, Ken, who was Canadian. Ken rented us some ice and split us up into teams so everyone could have a try — I was not very good at helping the stone along with my broom, but I had fun — I still accidentally call the curling stone a “kettle” because of that distinctively shaped handle on top.

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3. In the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Norwegian men’s curling team wore argyle — They did this, of course, because argyle comes from Scotland — As I have mentioned, curling comes from Scotland too — I am Scottish on my dad’s side — I married a Norwegian — We watched the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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4. I like plaid — When I was a girl, my mom made me a circle skirt made of plaid wool — Plaid originated in Scotland just like argyle — Those Scots have some mad fabric skills — I’m working on some fabric skills of my own — I may have mentioned: I’m Scottish on my dad’s side.

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Here’s what I hope you actually learn from this post (beyond exposure to my terrible six-degrees-of-separation reasoning): Joan finally made something masculine! This is large and manly, comfy, cozy and definitely big enough for two. And am I alone in thinking lovingly of Charlie Brown when I see that zig-zag pattern above?

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“In Argyle Style” (Size: 70″ x 86″)

(This is no longer available for sale.)

“The Pond”

The Pond

It’s true what they say about fish, I think, and about water and ripples and quiet babbling — babbling of the watery sort, that is.

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(I have been known to babble to myself on crazy-busy days at our rehab clinic. In our back office, we have 14 therapists and 2 student interns — plus SIXTEEN DESKS in a room the size of a large living room. It’s no wonder! That, however, is not the babbling I mean.)

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Fish and water are able to lend their sense of peace and calm, quiet and order to our racing minds and bodies. Contrast the soothing, gliding movements of fishthrough water to the hurried, harried, schedule-bound movements of us racing out the front door to our next important thing.

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I’m convinced I have a sort of homing device inside that is always seeking out calm: the quieter place, the isolated sunny spot on the grass, the good book to carry along. I fully believe that our minds and hearts and souls need it.

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So grab a blanket, find a pond — even an aquarium! — lay out in the grass or at home on your sofa and soak up the soothing calm of the fish and the water. You may find that a nap will be in order. That kind of peace is a godsend.

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“The Pond” (Size: 58″ x 72″)

 (This is no longer available for sale.)

“Visiting Grandma” c. 1965

Visiting Grandma

When I was a little girl in southern California in the 1960s, my parents would tuck me in to a makeshift bed in the back of their car and drive through the night across the desert to Tucson, AZ, to visit my dad’s parents. Driving through the night served two fine purposes for my young parents: escaping the heat of the day and making the trip go by quickly for me.

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Harold and Ruth, my grandparents, raised their family in Iowa. But after their three boys were married with families of their own, the couple retired to a teeny little house on the outskirts of Tucson. Their middle son (my dad’s big brother) and family lived in town.

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I loved Grandma and Grandpa’s place. If memory serves me well, it had two small bedrooms, a kitchen (with a big birdcage complete with screeching bird), a back sewing room with a big hot window, a screened-in front porch with a glider that made a scraping sound when it was in use, and a cautious but faithful road runner who would come to eat snacks Grandpa put out for him.

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Their place sat, with its small green front lawn and white picket fence, like a little vision at the end of a long, rut-filled, and dusty dirt road. Beyond the fence was one other house, a big green one where the kindly Flo and El lived (I loved to say their names!), and beyond that, long-thorned cacti and giant threatening jackrabbits. At least that’s how I remember it.

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The inside of that little house is somehow tied up with the colors in this blanket. Was it the linoleum in the kitchen? The ceramic tiles? The birdcage? Grandma’s dress? The fabrics in the sewing room? I don’t know for sure. But when I first put these sweaters together, before there was even a blanket in my head, I caught my breath — that’s like visiting Grandma and Grandpa! 

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 The blanket includes vintage buttons to go with the vintage colors :)

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I am one year old in the photo below, too small to remember much, but we made this trip many times until my grandma died six years later and Grandpa came to live with us. It’s amazing how much of my affection for the southwest part of this country grew up out of this tiny postage-stamp piece of land.

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I’m pretty sure the succulents currently growing inside my house in Illinois owe their little lives to my early and happy memories of Tucson.

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“Visiting Grandma”  (Size: 61″ x 82″)

This blanket is no longer available.

“Terra-Cotta Red”

Terra Cotta Wall

[Please visit my Etsy shop, The Green Sheep Studio, for purchasing information.]

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In the back of my mind, I always have an idea for “the next” Arts & Crafts style-inspired blanket I want to do. Two that have come to fruition are That 70s Throw and Ginkgo Leaves. And the same influence is visible in Life is a Gift (the poppies blanket)The Spruce Tree, and even in the flowers on Night Garden.

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This blanket is a little different. Terra-Cotta Red was prompted by a photo I have of an old terra-cotta wall with a fountain set into it.  It’s from a book about Craftsman-style homes.

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The  connection here to Arts & Crafts style is less about motif and more about the materials — particularly the earthenware tiles.

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The photo — and now this blanket — mentally transports me between Italy and California and back again. The reds make me feel the absorbed heat of the tiles and the dry Mediterranean air. The greens hint at the shade of towering trees to tame the heat. The sound of trickling water sweetens the setting. I imagine a worn wooden bench nearby where I can relax with a friend over coffees and conversation.

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It’s a bit of an anachronism to have this hanging on a picket fence in the Midwest’s thin spring sunlight. But hey. We do the best we can.

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“Terra-Cotta Red” (60″ x 75″)

A self-education

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[I’m busy making blankets for an in-house environmental fair by a Chicago-area firm in May. I feel honored to be invited! I’ll post those blankets in a couple more weeks. Meanwhile, let me share some great books I’ve been *reading.]

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You folks already know I fell into making these blankets et al. by surprise. My daughter saw a magazine article and introduced me to the concept of reusing felted wool sweaters. So I simply got started, using the trial-and-error method of designing. It’s not a bad method, and I fall back on it often. But the more I designed, the more I found myself looking for guidance.

I began searching for books on design. The trails I followed kept leading me to graphic design or website design, not exactly what I was imagining. But then I happily ran into “Universal Principles of Design,” by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler, and Osburn’s “Secrets of Good Design for Artists, Artisans & Crafters” (a replication of a 1948 book). With these I began to better understand proportion, balance of all kinds, curves, weight, drawing the eye. I have several of their pages bookmarked and refer to them regularly.

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But color was still missing from my education. I would page through art books and magazines and study the colors. What did I like? What did I dislike? What made things work? There are lots of books on color theory, and I decided to start with Quiller’s “Color Choices.” Quiller has designed his own color wheel, conceiving of color in the way a painter does (which Quiller is). My bit of watercolor experience gives me a framework for understanding this. Quiller juxtaposes “sketch” paintings of the same scene done in different color combinations, so the reader can feel the effect of color. It’s a wonderful book…and has a side-effect of making me want to keep paints handy for experimentation.

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I found another interesting book while messing around on Amazon looking at color wheels. De La Roza in “An Eye for Color” provides incredible photos of all sorts of things and then breaks each entry down into the actual colors used. It’s fascinating to simply sit and study each page. And I found a color wheel that’s made for working with textiles — the “Rainbow Color Selector” by EK Success. All these tools are helping me consider color in new ways.

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That little color wheel led me to books by and for quilters, which in turn led me to check out quilters’ websites. Gah! They are amazing artists! See here and here and here, for instance. I feel right at home in these books. Although I am not a quilter, I am inspired by the ideas and colors and arrangements just the same. These wonderful books are Wolfrom’s “Adventures in Design” and Barnes’ “The Quilter’s Color Club.”

So there you are: a little peek into how I’ve been figuring out things as I go :). I’d love to hear from any of you out there who have explored wool-felting, designing with fabric, crafting of one sort or another, or anything else by pursuing a little self-education.

* I use “reading” somewhat lightly here due to the preponderance of pictures in all these books ;)

Beneath the cross

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Every year on Good Friday, I like to take time alone to reflect on Jesus’ cross and how his act changed history and the world…and my life. This morning I was especially affected by one particular verse of the old hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” It is worth sharing.

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Upon the cross of Jesus, my eye at times can see

the very dying form of one who suffered there for me.

And from my contrite heart, with tears, two wonders I confess:

the wonder of his glorious love and my unworthiness.

(You may follow the links below to find lyrics to the entire hymn and also to hear its beautiful melody.)

Photo credit: Kenneth Keifer

Hymn text: Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1830-1869

Hymn tune: Frederick C. Maker, 1844-1927

Why wool?

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[I’m working on several projects I can’t post yet, so instead I’ll entertain you with some AMAZING things about wool.]

What’s so wonderful about wool? Why bother with it? Isn’t it itchy, hard to clean, and hot? Umm….no! (OK, some wools scratch, but we can avoid those.)

I thought about writing this post one morning when I was up early, wrapped in my robe, reading a good book with a steaming cup of coffee by my elbow, and a synthetic blanket on my lap. I was still cold. Here are my legs, covered with the synthetic fleece blanket –

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How dumb, I thought. What am I doing when I’VE GOT WOOL? So I got out one of my first blankets. This is Some Like it Hot.” It’s got great colors in it, but I was still learning the best sweaters to use, so it contains one (the orange) that I would no longer choose. Still. WHAT A DIFFERENCE. I immediately felt cozy and could read without distraction.

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For your trivia library, some amazing properties of wool:*

• Wool fibers insulate without overheating. They are historically used in both the heat of the desert and the coldest arctic climes.

• Many kinds of wool, especially Merino (because its shaft is so slender), are very smooth and extraordinary comfortable on skin.

•  Wool wicks moisture away from the body.

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•  Wool fibers actually absorb water and move it temporarily into the core of the shaft, keeping the wearer warm and dry. It won’t feel wet to the touch until it has absorbed 60% of its weight in water.

•  Wool has antimicrobial properties, so it doesn’t harbor odors and stays smelling fresh — in fact, backpackers and bikers are returning to the use of wool, as synthetics cannot yet mimic this.

•  Wool is disliked by dust mites, which are behind many allergies and asthma troubles.

•  Wool in blankets by The Green Sheep has already been washed and dried, so you can carefully do the same with really great results! (See here for directions.)

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• Wool holds dyes better than many other natural fibers. (This is one of my favorite properties.)

• Wool is long-lasting. Wool fibers can bend 20,000 times without breaking. Compare that to cotton at 3,000x and silk at 2,000x.

•  Buying wool supports raising sheep for their fleece rather than for food. Every year a new fleece grows on the sheep’s body and is removed without harm to the animal.

•  Buying wool supports local farmers throughout the world. Also, processing wool requires fewer resources than those needed to process most other natural or man-made fibers.

*With gratitude to the following websites for their informative content: Wool Revolution!, Zeilinger Wool Co., and Dennis Baxter’s article on Merino wool on ezinearticles.com.

Shearing in the Shade

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On a recent Saturday morning, my Hub and I rose at the crack of dawn to drive from our home in northern Illinois around the tip of Lake Michigan and up the opposite coast to Holland. We travel this route often because our daughter and her husband live there.

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This time, however, we had a different destination. We were headed to Shady Side Farm so I could watch some sheep being sheared. My man was kind enough to come along :)

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About a year ago, I learned about this farm and their Shearing Day, which they open to the public as an educational event. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since. In part, it was a way to recognize and honor the animals which provide this AMAZING fiber I so love to work with.

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As we drove up the lane, we were met by a neighbor who was helping out. “Is this your first shearing day? Welcome! You can park right here. There’s the barn where they’re shearing the sheep — just go right on in!”

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The barn is a long, low building with a staging area for the shearing and several animal pens. Upon entry, our first sight was of a just-sheared fleece being tossed, dirty side up, onto a rack to be “skirted” — which means the visible debris gets picked out before the fleece is set aside for processing later.

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Just beyond that, the shearer was wrangling a very pregnant sheep into a sitting position to get her haircut. We learned that perfect timing for shearing is just before lambing so that, after giving birth, the mamas can better share their body heat with their young ones and the lambs can more easily find their mamas’ milk.

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This shearer, just 20 years old, can shear an entire sheep in less than 5 minutes. The sheep do not struggle against him, no matter what position he puts them in, as long as they feel secure within his hold. He sheared about 80 sheep before the day was over!

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As soon as the shearer lets go, the agitated ewe — looking like a skinned mango! — is up and dashing back to the familiarity of the pen.

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She trots past the holding pen where the others await their turns.

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This is Lona, the Farmer’s Wife (and a fellow blogger over at Farming in the Shade). She had this smile on her face every time I saw her! I asked her how they happened to open shearing day up to the public.

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She said it was triggered a handful of years ago by a comment she saw online, ruing the “fact” that sheep had to sacrifice their lives in order for people to get the wool! She was astounded by this misunderstanding and decided to do something about it. Shearing Day was born.

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And they’re doing a great job. Please click on over to Lona’s blog to find more photos of a really interesting day. The process is described here in much better detail than I have done.

HEY! By the way, did you know…

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…? Yeah, neither did I. Wool. It’s amazing!

Sheep Shearing Day

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I’ve had tomorrow’s plans written into my calendar for a year — it’s Shady Side Farm’s Annual Shearing Day in Holland, Michigan. I’m going!

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I met Lona of Shady Side Farm either on her blog (Farming in the Shade) or mine — I can’t remember exactly how the contact started. But we share an interest in wool and in Holland (the Michigan Holland — she lives there, as do my eldest daughter and her husband). AND, just to make the connection even more fun, Lona’s daughter is married to my son-in-law’s friend. Small world, right?

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Anyhow, when I learned last year that she and her husband open their farm up to let folks come watch the shearing, I had to save the date. What a great chance to see the start of the process of turning the incredible “fur” of sheep into amazingly functional, warm, and beautiful things. I’m grateful to those sheep for sharing.

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Hopefully I’ll come home with some good pictures to post here. In addition to the shearing, there will be some skilled folks spinning wool, doing circular knitting of socks, needle felting, and giving plenty of education. It’ll be fun.

Find more information on Shearing Day here. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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All photos from Farming in the Shade at http://shadysidefarm.blogspot.com/.

“Calliope’s Castle”

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Last May I received an email that started a surprising and rewarding venture toward a blanket like I’d not made before. It opened like this:

“Hi, Joanie – I have an 8-year-old daughter and over the years she has accumulated tons of beautiful wool and cashmere sweaters. When she was four I asked Caroline Unruh to make a patched blanket out of my daughter’s old sweaters and the result was spectacular. I can’t seem to find Caroline now, but I found you! The next batch of outgrown sweaters is ready. Is this something you do? “

Since, as I wrote previouslyCaroline Unruh unknowingly gave me my start in sewing with wool, I considered this a huge honor! But there was that little question in the back of my mind: How does such a young girl end up with multiple cashmere sweaters?? I was soon to find out…

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The client and I began an email exchange followed up by a phone call, and I learned that this little girl is so fortunate as to have a New York fashion executive for her momma! Ah, the pieces fell into place. I soon received the client’s box. This is corny, but I felt like a youngster on Christmas morning as I opened it. I had never seen so many beautiful sweaters all in one place.

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Since I had several custom orders already lined up, I had to put this project on hold for a bit. But my mind was already at work on the puzzle before me: What to do with an entire rainbow of colors? I’m accustomed to working with 1 or 2 centerpiece sweaters provided by a client, but this was completely new territory.

One afternoon as I once again pulled the sweaters from their box and considered how to incorporate as many as possible, I realized that their colors reminded me of the illustrations in a book of poems I read to my daughters when they were little. I got out the book. I got out a couple other children’s books as well for inspiration.

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And when I got to this book of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by the wonderfully talented Lisbeth Zwerger, the ideas started triggering like explosions in a high-scoring game of Bejeweled. Especially when I saw the page below. For I recalled that Calliope, the young owner of the sweaters, enjoys making things by hand (a girl after my occupational-therapist heart!). And one of those things is CASTLES.

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Yes! A fruitful idea! I don’t know if Calliope’s parents chose her name for the Greek muse, but I did feel grateful that some muse had finally tapped me on the shoulder :).

As I worked on the blanket, I frequently recalled my own daughters’ imaginary worlds when they were young — “I wish I could live in the Berenstain Bears’ treehouse!” “Mom, will you build blocks with me? Let’s make a house with a zoo next door.” “I want to live in England someday!” Oh, wait. That’s what Daughter #2 says now.

Guided by a clear idea, I plowed ahead, working out what I saw in my head. It meant I had to devise some new ways of putting the wool pieces together to create the hills and the clouds. Thankfully, I hadn’t promised the completion of the blanket until fall.

I did make the deadline, although admitting to that suggests a certain amount of lameness, doesn’t it, since I didn’t post it until now. Ah, well.

I added Calliope’s initials to the castle doors just before sending the blanket to its new home. For the font, I adapted PR Celtic Narrow by Peter Rempel — appropriate for a castle, I think!

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Calliope, I hope you continue to use your imagination for years and years, all through your life. It’s a precious gift we humans have, one we should never outgrow!

“Calliope’s Castle” (86″ x 95″, for a queen bed)

[This is a custom-ordered blanket.]

A Christmas message that involves a sheep

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Yesterday our pastor re-told the story of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and preparing for their baby’s birth. His sermon’s point was that Christmas can have a different message for different people at different times in their lives.

For instance, papa Joseph (below, from my Catholic-influenced, Mexican-made nativity set) was confused about Mary getting pregnant by who-in-the-world-knew who?! (Matthew 1.18-25.) But an angel met Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary’s conception was caused by the Holy Spirit and that he ought to marry her in spite of how things looked. Joseph hung in there and was patient.

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Then we have Mary (looking for all the world like a Catholic schoolgirl, below). She was initially frightened and uncertain about what was happening and what would happen in the future. (Luke 1.26-38.) But she too was calmed by a visiting angel and, after hearing how God desired to have her be the mom of Jesus, she responded willingly. She sat still before the Lord and was able to accept this ethereal mystery. Mary accepted the inexplicable and pondered it in her heart.

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The angels kept busy. Next stop: shepherds (in worn choir robes, below). On the night Jesus was born, nearby shepherds were going about their everyday, ordinary shepherding routine, staying alert, watching for anything unusual in order to keep their animal charges safe. (Luke 2.8-18.) Talk about unusual! First one and then a multitude of angels came to herald this spectacular event of the Savior’s birth. What did those ordinary, alert, observant shepherds do? They responded! They went.

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The wise men, although not actually present that night, played a part in this story. (Does my guy not look like he stopped at the monastery barber en route?) Like the shepherds, they too were watching. They noted an amazing, significant star in the sky and packed up and followed it from a very distant land. They carefully chose gifts to bring to the Christ child they would eventually meet. These men made a concerted and wholehearted effort to seek God. (Matthew 2.1-12.)

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Our pastor also talked about the innkeeper (“Pay attention because God is near!”) and about Anna and Simeon (“Don’t give up, even when you’ve been waiting a long, long time. God’s time and economy is different from the world’s!”).

But I found that I have one more character to add — a sheep, which certainly tagged along with the shepherds. This morning, while I was reading in the Psalms, my passage for the day included this:

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments (Psalm 119.176).

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Do I have to admit how often this is me? It’s often. I get off-track, feel lost and astray (and wander in dusty fields, above :) ). But how sweet the words, “seek your servant” — for that is what God does when we ask. I do not have to find my own way back; I only have to cry for help. What a Savior.

“Sealed with a Kiss”

Sealed with a Kiss

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite places to visit was the stationery store. The stationer’s was a precursor of today’s big-box office supply store, but with a much narrower — and more charming! — set of offerings.

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One of the best parts was the near-complete lack of plastic packaging for all the delightful gadgets in the store. That meant if I were careful, I could handle them. Bliss.

Sealed with a Kiss

I hovered over the pencils, pens, notepads, and the stationery. Those papers enchanted me. Printed or embossed, elegant or sweet, they looked fresh and expectant, ready to be filled with a message and mailed to a lucky someone.

Sealed with a Kiss

I still love the physicality of this. Email is immediate and convenient. But a handwritten letter, packaged up in a sealed envelope, brings so much more of the sender along with it. Discovering it in the mailbox is like being caught off-guard by a surprise party. Opening it is like opening a gift. Is this old-fashioned now?

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Natalie (for whom this blanket was made) is a member of my extended family. And in my family there are several people who maintain this gratifying habit of writing letters — I can count them across three generations.  Natalie is wonderful in many ways. Yet when this blanket was ordered, what did I think of first? Her gentle notes and letters, so representative of her.

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The order was for a throw of pinks and pale oranges, so that’s where I started. And, as usually happens when I make these blankets, an unforeseen opportunity presented itself — this time, the possibility of a postage stamp :).

Sealed with a Kiss

What could be more fitting?

Sealed with a Kiss

With much love for you, Natalie, and with gratefulness for the way that you are ♥ — here is “Sealed with a Kiss.”

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“Sealed with a Kiss” (57″ x 76″)

This is a custom-made blanket.

“Butterflies for Momma”

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As promised, here is the companion to the blanket I posted yesterday. (Read more about “Peace” here.) These blankets are Christmas gifts for a pair of sisters from a third sister, Maureen. Don’t tell! These were ordered and designed in remembrance of their mom.

So finally, here is “Butterflies for Momma” :

The assignment: two different blankets for two different sisters but each meaningful in its own right. I was put to the test again! But as always happens, the sweaters and the colors and the wool itself all guided me with their ever-surprising capability to inspire.

For this blanket, Maureen had told me that butterflies remind this particular sister of her mother’s presence. And then Maureen said, “You can make it colorful!” Was this the kind of colorful she had in mind? I’m not sure! But I do believe it’s full of color and light and tranquility too. Here the border hints of a trellis or an arbor, a pleasant place from which to watch these delightful flitting creatures.

My hope and prayer is that both of these blankets can bring wonderful thoughts of a wonderful woman to mind for two very special sisters.

“Butterflies for Momma” (60″ x 76″)

(This blanket is not available for sale.)