“Wacky Pockets”

Argyle! Stripes! Patchwork! Puppy applique! There’s been a flurry of activity on the Facebook page where close to 20 creative women sewed their own sensibilities into felted wool blankets. I coached them with Green Sheep-style techniques and these sewists brilliantly took it from there.

We have been virtually planning, sewing, struggling, encouraging, and finally FINISHING our blankets alongside each other. I am charmed to see the beautiful work of these women and to imagine their gifts in the hands of youngsters around the world, via the simple shoe boxes we’re madly packing to be collected by Operation Christmas Child this week.

I made a blanket right along with the class, filming the process as I went. I made it for a boy this time, in the 5-9 age range. (I wanted to mix it up, as last year’s was for a girl.)

This blanket has cashmere and merino wools, a striped bias binding, and best of all, two pockets that button. I called it “Wacky Pockets” because one of the pockets is upside down.

Or maybe the other one is. It’s hard to tell.

Anyway, it’s been fun to think about a little boy this year, especially for this mom-of-two-daughters. I enjoyed picking out small, interesting things to pack in his shoe box.

So much stuff can fit in there! Because I am a container lover, I bought three for this little guy. One for his soap, a lock-top one in which the socks are packed, and a round, screw-top one. The Slinky and some awesome rubber-tip clips (from the hardware aisle!) fit perfectly inside it.

And now it’s off. Wing your way, little box, to a precious boy who could use your stuff.

I’m pretty sure this wish is the same for all the other women in our class. May the kids be blessed as much as we have by this little project. ♥

©Joan Olson
“Wacky Pockets” (42×52″)
Felted wool sweaters

“Do you teach how to make blankets?”

[I’m afraid it’s too late to join the class, but you are welcome to pack your own shoe box for a child in difficult circumstances. Follow this link and let a young person know someone cares. It means more than you can know.]

How could I have known how much fun I was about to have?

Two weeks ago, after brewing up the idea just days earlier, I launched a little online class. Well, I thought it would be little.

A still shot from my “Welcome” video, made in the guest bedroom. I accidentally got the bed in the frame.

I regularly receive questions from blog readers about making blankets: “How do you make your binding?” “Do you back your blankets?” “What kind of sweaters do you buy?” I do my best to answer these sewists, one at a time, generally through email. They are always enthusiastic and eager to learn, and are filled with questions. I love this interaction.

But each time I’ve been asked, “Do you teach a class somewhere?” I’ve simply said  “No.” That limp answer started to bother me. What was stopping me? I knew: fear of the unknown.

The first frame of my third video. I’m still figuring out lighting.

Then I received a notice about Operation Christmas Child coming up and was reminded I wanted to make a child’s blanket again for a shoe box. It clicked. This could be the kick in the pants I needed! How fun would it be to create something beautiful for kids alongside a bunch of stitch-loving women?

I thought of other ventures in life I had waffled on because of fear of the unknown—going to grad school, starting a blog…having children :). Without a doubt, great outcomes, all. I certainly appreciate having my ducks in a row, but that can’t always be.

Two weekends ago, with me needing to master several things quickly, the unruly ducks waddled everywhere:

How do I use the format of a private Facebook group to teach a class?
How do I sequence MailChimp’s forms and confirmations to move people
into a virtual classroom?
How do I make videos, edit and post them?

The dining room set up with lights and camera for a session on laying out a blanket. I had to be careful not to trip on cords while taping.

Fortunately, I already had an outline of course content because Tara Swiger’s practical book Map Your Business recently propelled me to draw up action steps toward some goals (even though I was avoiding executing them!).

So I borrowed photography lights, watched YouTube videos about how to make a video, made two videos using my outline notes, and sent out an invitation to my email subscribers to join me in making a child’s blanket for an Operation Christmas Child shoe box.

I expected three people to join me, and I am not kidding. I was a bit off. Two dozen people signed up!

Scripts for the videos, often taped to the lower half of the camera.

Now there we are, over on Facebook, having a ball. A group of fascinating women teaching, learning, encouraging and spurring one another on. And doing our level best to hit the National Collection Week deadline of November 13-20 for our blanket-filled, lovingly packed shoe boxes.

I’m learning so much from these women! It’s spurring me on to make a plan for more teaching.

[I’m afraid it’s too late to join the class, but you are welcome to pack your own shoe box for a child in difficult circumstances. Follow this link and let a young person know someone cares. It means more than you can know.]

A still shot of some fancy graphics, before I learned more video-editing. The advice certainly fits my learning curve too!

Art in the Barn 2017: Sizzling!

[Photo credit: artinthebarn-barrington.com]             

Last weekend I was at Art in the Barn 2017 in Barrington, Illinois. Although it was 94 degrees (!!) it was a wonderful couple of days.

I’m grateful Walmart still had battery-operated misting fans on their (clearance) shelves. I was able to share them and keep cool myself. I’m also grateful to my hubby for filling our ice chest with chilled waters to hand out to people through the weekend. Without the fans or the water, The Green Sheep may have had a two very tough days. It’s wool, people!

(By the way, those misting fans? They are a huge hit with young boys.)

I don’t do many shows (because so much of my work is custom orders), so it’s extra fun for me to meet people who enjoy wool and its colors as much as I do. Thank you to every single one of you who stopped by in the muggy heat and dared to think about blankets. I loved talking with you. Special recognition to you who tried on wool vests (and then bought them!). I commend you for your imagination for cooler weather ahead, and I hope you’re having fun making outfits with your new vests now that fall is really here.

Thank you all too, for your gate tickets and other purchases that contributed to the Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital Auxiliary and their worthwhile causes. It’s much appreciated.

[Photo credit: artinthebarn-barrington.com]                   

A surprising highlight came at the very end of Day 1, when I was folding up blankets to close down my tent for the night. Master juror Eulalio Fabie de Silva and chair Sharon Vogel approached me with an award for Best of Fiber 2017. A very fun honor!

Several of you told me you follow me online—what a kick that was for me! Many of you are fellow sewists and I love comparing notes. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to get a photo with you until it was too late. Next time, okay? I would value keeping names, faces, and stories together.

Finally, a special “thank you” to my faithful friend and photographer Kellyann Harmon of Kellwood Studio Photography for loaning me her vintage dress form and her wavy mirror for my “fitting room.” They were perfect :).

Here’s to looking ahead to next year!

New Fall Vests!

Are you in northern Illinois? Join me at Art in the Barn Sept 23-24 10 am-5 pm!
The endeavor supports important causes and has wonderful art.
Come try on a vest or cozy up with a new blanket —
I’ll be at space 45 (map here) and would love to see you!


◊   ◊   ◊      Vests!      ◊   ◊   ◊

 

I challenged myself this year to design and refine a vest pattern for Art in the Barn 2017. YES! I’m loving the result. And now I have 5 vests ready for the show THIS WEEKEND!

These are one-size-fits-most/medium, with variations in length and give in the fabric. The pattern’s throw-back cowl neck and loose, swingy fit create a vest that lays well and looks attractive on many body shapes and sizes. Allow me to introduce:

#1 Blue and Gray
Inspired by my obsession with turquoise and silver
$195

#2 Black and Tan
Versatile!
$195

#3 Autumn
I see gourds and leaves. What do you see?
$195

#4 Foresty Green
Named for the evergreens that beckon us toward winter
$195

#5 Denim
The perfect partner for jeans
$195

Come try some on!

On Brokenness and Mercy

Art in the Barn 2017 is soon here! I’ll be there, centrally located at space 45, and honored to be among such a fine group of artists and artisans. Mark your calendar if you’re local—it’s Just one more month until this enjoyable show opens! It’s a great size (175 artists, so not overwhelming) and the quality of art is wonderful. It’s a perfect time of year to appreciate a Midwest fall, and not too early to think about holiday gifts. If you’ve never experienced a Green Sheep blanket in person, come wrap up in one!

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

With Art in the Barn coming up quickly, I’ve continued work on The Beatitudes blanket series enthusiastically. There are now four completed blankets, with ideas for the rest.  “Blessed are the Meek” and “Thirsting for Righteousness” were posted earlier. Today I have two more.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

This is “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit.” The original verse says this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
— Matthew 5:3

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

When I went about collecting colors and ideas for the vibe of this blanket, I dwelt on what it is like to feel scarcity or poverty in my spirit.

The spiritual side of me is where I want my living to be rich and full, where I want to make a priority of significant things in life and be faithful to those.

But it’s also the place where I am very aware of my shortcomings and inadequacies—aware of the poverty of my spirit. With these thoughts, I quickly chose the gray, charcoal, and neutrals.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Of course this verse doesn’t end with the sorry state of an empty, broken, and poor spirit. That’s how it made the beatitude list, after all, because there’s a Part Two!

And Part Two says, “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

My understanding of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God, used interchangeably in some places in the Bible), is that it is both something for the future and something for now.

If I take my poor spirit and turn to the God who made me, concede my inadequacy and accept his sufficiency, then right there, in that place, I’m pretty sure sits the kingdom of heaven.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

Is this exactly what Jesus meant when he spoke these words? Of course I can’t know. But this is what those words stirred up in me, thus this is where the blanket began.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Poor in Spirit” (61×74) Felted wool sweaters

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

This next blanket, offering quite a contrast in color, is “Blessed are the Merciful.”

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

The original verse says,

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
— Matthew 5:7

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

I can’t explain this one so well; it’s abstract even to me. So this will be brief:

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Mercy.

It is hoped for but seems unlikely.
It comes when it is not deserved.
It comes in waves, on a swell of relentless love.
It comes in layers, emotional, immense, overwhelming.
Its arrival throws one off-balance.
It comes with surprises and it surprises when it is given.

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

Where in the world would we be without it?

©Joan Olson “Blessed are the Merciful” (61×75) Felted wool sweaters

 

“Satin and Lace”

“How do you back your blankets?”

This is a question I am frequently asked! Actually, I leave my narrow seams raw. It means the back of a blanket is a lot like the inside of the shirt or jeans you have on. (Spoiler alert: This is not true for the blanket in the current post!)

(You can see my blanket backs in this previous post and this one and this one, for example. Scroll down in each post to look for a pic where the back is flipped up and exposed.)

Why do I do this? Two reasons.

Reason #1 I love the drape of these stitched-together swaths of wool. They’re malleable. They move with cohesion and lightness. They can do this because there is no back to impede this.

Reason #2 To apply a backing to the various shifting, stretchable knits (from a mixture of sweaters) that comprise one blanket requires a LOT of careful and precise stabilizing. Yards of hand-basting and dozens of safety pins come into play. Except it’s more workout and less play! It takes a strong back to hold, pin, and baste while leaning over the work surface for an extended period. The time needed to do this well translates into a higher cost per blanket.

In sum, if an appropriate backing does not spoil the drape and the hand of the finished wool piece, it can be a lovely thing. Yet its cost in time, money, and back wear is high. STILL! Despite my carefully studied conclusions above, I have a backed blanket to show you.

It happened like this:

My client wanted a wedding gift of a lap blanket for her niece and husband. Serendipitously, for a project I was experimenting with, I had recently assembled several sweaters into a piece in the very colors she desired. I showed her. Perfect! But the fabric was too lightweight to hold its own as a lap blanket.

This client has worked with me before—she’s my lap-size blanket aficionado—and knows I’m a no-backing kind of gal. But she asked if I’d consider putting one on this time. I contemplated. If ever there was a time to try my hand at this, it would be with this manageably-sized blanket. I said yes.

I chose a very soft cotton flannel for the back, keeping the blanket cozy and pliable, and bound the edge with cashmere. While I considered doing some fancy quilt-type top stitching, I don’t have enough experience to know how to effectively conquer the shift and bunch-up challenges caused by the knit. I instead stitched along the stripe lines of the blanket.

Mid-project, my client brought to me some pieces of satin and lace she had found from her mother’s wedding dress. Could I use them? If so, the niece would have “something old” from her grandmother’s wedding dress permanently part of this wedding gift blanket.

There was enough lace to span two long edges, and enough satin to sew up three bridal flowers. I love the touch of antique white and the family presence and significance that comes with it.

Congratulations, Erica and Brian!
Like lace, may your marriage be unique and ever-intriguing;
like satin, may it ever be deep and rich.

©Joan Olson “Satin and Lace” (37×57)
Medium: Felted wool sweaters
SOLD

“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst
for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
—Matthew 5:6

As far back as I can remember, I have done my thinking first in weight and image, in spatial impression and juxtaposition, in line and shade, and finally—at the very very last—in words. I can’t help it; it’s how my brain fires. (You can imagine what this does to having a conversation.)

I tell you this because this is how the images for each blanket in this series on the Beatitudes have come to me. I’m not researching the theme first, seeing what Bible scholars say about what Jesus meant, although I think that’s important. Instead, I imagine what might have come to me if I had been sitting on that hillside, listening to those words being spoken twenty centuries ago.

Last month I posted “Blessed are the Meek.” Now here is “Thirsting for Righteousness.”

The word righteousness in present-day usage can carry some negative stuff: a whiff of moral piety, a haughtiness, an outward appearance of being upright. But when I hear Jesus’ statement afresh, I imagine something different: a longing for right-ness, justice, fairness, deep caring, and the making of choices for the good of many, rather than the good of one. I think of humility, not pride.

Of course I don’t imagine those things in WORDS though! It was hard work to transform that last paragraph into verbal units for you!

Now I’ll forge ahead toward more words to attempt to convey how this blanket came to be.

The muted colors of the background are like daily life—lovely and comfortable, but not brilliant. In my mind, this background encompasses personal life, community life, life in our world. There are a few spots that stand out as highlights, but they’re still relatively subdued.

But then: those day lilies! When I look at them I want to cry. It’s that longing rising up—for justice, for caring, for goodness. The plant is not big, nor is it loud, but it stands in sharp contrast to what’s around it. It isn’t there simply due a will to do good or spread beauty; it’s there because of where its roots are.

The lily plant is rooted in a strip of blue, a nod to the prophet Jeremiah’s insight: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

I’m fairly certain the day lilies appeared in my head because of something Jesus said just upon the heels of his beatitudes. He addressed the topic of anxiety. (Apparently it’s not just a modern malady.) He pointed to the lilies in the fields near where his listeners sat, and noted that if God dressed the short-lived lilies so beautifully, he would care MUCH more fully for those who trust him (Matthew 6: 25-34).

So. Righteousness? True righteousness? I’m not capable on my own. But with my roots in the right place, amazing things can become possible.


“Thirsting for Righteousness”  (62″ x 76″)

“Blessed are the Meek”

[This blanket is available for sale in my Etsy shop here.]

“Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.”

— Jesus, in the book of Matthew

Just over a month ago I decided to try my hand at a blanket series, creating several large blankets around a theme. At that time, two friends and I had started reading and discussing the book of Matthew together. When we got to the Beatitudes in chapter 5, I knew I’d found my subject matter.

The word “beatitudes” comes from the Latin beātitūdō which means “happiness” or “blessing.” I remember thinking: what better attribute to imbue a blanket with.


May I set the scene for Matthew 5? Jesus is about 30 years old, he has recently left the home where he grew up and has begun to travel and teach in public places throughout the region of Galilee in Roman-occupied Israel. He has asked 12 men to accompany him and learn from him, like apprentices, which they do. Also, quite notably, Jesus has begun healing the people he meets of all sorts of diseases and ailments. Interest and crowds are growing. It is in this setting that he begins to teach, just as a rabbi would, and with an authority and credibility that surprise people, especially as he is a carpenter by trade, and from a small town.

It was on a hillside one day, surrounded by such a crowd, that he said (among many other things) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

What? Meek sounds so unflattering! I don’t know anyone who longs to be known as the meek one!

But over at Dictionary.com I learn this (with italicized notes in brackets added by me):

          Meek
          1. humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others. [Worthy traits!]
          2. overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame. [The “meek” we don’t think highly of.]
          3. Obsolete: gentle; kind. [Check out these older meanings! They’re great!]

And Merriam-Webster offers these synonyms: demure, down-to-earth, lowly, humble, modest, unassuming, unpretentious.

 Sheep of course aren’t ideal representatives for meekness, but they’ve got some fitting characteristics. They’re docile. They’re unable to protect themselves. They depend on their shepherd. Yet when they feel assured that the shepherd is watching over them and tending to their surroundings, they go about their day at peace.

However, they’re also not so smart. (Sorry, sheep!) But perhaps that keeps them humble?

If Jesus insinuated that meekness is a quality worth having, then I propose that it’s worth reconsidering how we think about it in our modern-day world, maybe in these terms:

gentleness
humility
kindness
modesty
endurance
patience
healthy deference
and even…trust.

Then there’s the last part of that verse—whoa!

What is the blessing that the meek will receive? They will inherit the earth. What can that even mean?? I don’t know, but it sounds amazing. Is it like a fairy-tale king entrusting to his beloved daughter a sound, cared-for kingdom, with peaceful people tending beautiful, full fields and lands? Even that picture is poor next to the possibilities contained in the blessing of this beatitude.

But someday perhaps we’ll know :)

“Blessed are the Meek” (62″ x 72″)

This blanket is available for sale in my Etsy shop, here.

“Dory Finds a Pearl”

[Life has been full lately, and the fanciful world in which I am a prompt blogger is truly just imaginary. I actually finished this blanket in November and finally put together the photos. Better than photos though? I wish I could hand you this blanket to hold in your arms. It’s luscious!]

Faithful Green Sheep collector, supporter and Disney-devotee Gloria welcomed her new granddaughter Margaux last year. Margaux is French for “pearl,” and since she arrived in the year “Finding Dory” was released, it was a natural to pair Dory with a little pearl for this blanket. (This is actually the 12th Green Sheep blanket for this family! See their other Disney-related ones here and here.)

I decided to keep the water in true water colors and added movement with the diagonal stripes. For femininity, I included the lacy pieces of the green sweater and used pink for the border and in the oyster. I love that the blanket did come out with such a feminine feel! I also made this blanket large enough for a young child, so it can grow with her. (In fact, this blanket became the pattern I used for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox I packed last Christmas. The blanket measures larger than 3′ x 4′ and yet still rolls up and leaves room for lots of other goodies in the shoebox. More about that blanket here and here.)

Little Margaux, may you find lots of pleasure in using this soft, warm blanket over the years. And just as Dory, out and about on her adventures, happened upon the treasure of a precious pearl, I imagine you also will discover many fine pearls in life. And yet! There is one whose value is greater than them all (Matthew 13:45-46). Seek until you find, girl!

“Dory Finds a Pearl” (40″ x 49″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Family”

Little Nora was born this week. In old-school style, her parents decided not to learn her sex ahead of time. She, with emphasis on the gender, was a true surprise to them.

In line with that, I got to make a blanket that could work either way, for a boy or for a girl—another fun challenge in my blanket-making adventures.

Each parent had items to contribute (faithfully preserved by their moms), so we’ve got pieces of mama Lauren’s and papa James’ baby blankets (three of them) and a spectacular spaceship T-shirt here.

In a very special addition, Uncle Jon has a piece of himself here too. Marine Lance Cpl Jonathan Collins, older brother of Lauren, was killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 at the age of 19. He is a deeply beloved hero, and his family and our community meaningfully keep his memory and the memory of his sacrifice alive. Patches of Jon’s fatigues are part of this blanket, so little Nora can touch and love her wider family. As she grows she will learn the impact of all of her family members on her life.

(Yoo-hoo! You out there in your 50s too: is this the sort of stuff you ponder regularly?? The reach of generations and family web fascinates me with its breadth and impact.)

It wasn’t until I was laying the pieces out that I noticed a slice of the fatigues had “USMC” and the Marine corp symbol just along the edge. I’m glad it made it in —

It was a pleasure to make this blanket, commissioned by a childhood best friend of Nora’s maternal grandmother. See? More far-reaching impact of family and all who love them :).

Welcome, little Nora, to your dear tribe.
May you discover the wonders of it throughout your entire life.

“Family” (42″ x 41″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home

[Memorial Day is around the corner. Take time to remember and honor veterans young and old, especially those who have made an ultimate sacrifice. We really are in this all together.]

“Honorarily Dutch”

[Hope’s paintings will be opening May 6 at the Button Art Gallery in Douglas, Michigan, a lively arts center in West Michigan connected to Saugatuck. The gallery’s original roots go back 200 years to London, England. It later moved to New York City, then Chicago and now West Michigan. If you’re in that area, consider stopping in! Her works will be on display a year. Her proud dad and I will be there on opening night, 6-8 p.m. May 6.]

Until recently, the daughter who got me started with repurposing wool sweaters had no genuine article of gratitude from me except for a pair of mittens. (Or maybe three pair? All of which would have benefited from a connecting string through her coat sleeves. She’s 25. Can I still say things like that? I say it with pure affection!)

This year as her birthday approached—her 25th—I wanted to have a blanket for her. FINALLY.

Hope is an artist. She lives in Holland, Michigan. She works diligently and enthusiastically to get her work and her name known. And this in a town where Dutch pride runs deep and the Dutch network is strong. She’s not Dutch herself, but has been warmly taken in and is thoroughly enjoying living and working in her adoptive town.

Making something for a daughter is no simple thing. (Can I get an “Amen” from any other mamas?) You want them to like it, and you know them awfully well, but you also know they, like us all, have particular preferences—which are often not your own! Above all you don’t want to disappoint. So my very first step was to be gracious with myself, do my best, and not consider this a be-all end-all gift. It was much easier to begin with the weight of expectations off my shoulders.

From there, my thinking about this blanket began with Hope’s love of blue and white porcelain. She hunts resale for vases, bowls, plates, and leans towards ones with Asian art. She has included these in several of her paintings. I took that porcelain theme but put a delft spin on it to honor Hope’s lengthening roots in West Michigan soil.

Making this became a lot of fun! For years Hope has loved watching British-made shows like Clatterford, Miss Marple, Doc Martin, and Rosemary and Thyme. She admits it’s the scenery in the shows that charms her most of all. Over the years she has shared that love with her sister and me, and now our bucket list includes seeing old and quaint cottages somewhere in the world. That is how these two little cottages came to be on this blanket. Then the windmill. The birds, river and sailboat brought the whole scene together.

Artistically, it was surprising to discover that several blues make up each blue-and-white scene on porcelain pieces. For the blanket, I chose three: a dark (navy), a medium (a truer blue), and a light (approaching sky blue). The two darker ones are pretty close to each other in value, especially in the photos. Can you find them all?

The blanket had a final addition that I nearly missed: The ripple of water by the boat. It was actually fabric trimmings left over after I cut out all the birds. The boat had been floating in mid-air until I saw that wavy scrap with new eyes. It offered the perfect weight for that lower right corner and provided the boat a lake of its own.

And there you have it: A Dutch town for my English-countryside-loving Norwegian-German-Scot daughter who lives and paints in the American Midwest. To me, this blanket includes it all.

For Hope,
with much love from Mom.
It’s a joy to be related to you.

“Honorarily Dutch”

This blanket lives happily in its new home,
surrounded by many companions of the blue and white sort:

[Photo credit: Lindsey Peterson. From hopeolson.com. Used with permission.]

“A Sunbeam to Warm You”

May God grant you always:
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel so nothing can harm you.
Laughter to cheer you,
Faithful friends near you,
And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.
—An Irish Blessing

So, Monday was the first day of spring :) And here I am posting snowy photos when snow is the last thing we want to see!

But I’ve got a blanket to show you, and I photographed it back when snow was on the ground. You can help me out by thinking of warm and cozy things.

This blanket was a custom order, a wedding gift to a young couple. In fact, this is the third wedding gift blanket within this family. What a privilege for me to part of these! (The earlier ones are “Easy Together” and “His and Hers.”)

The mother of the groom gave the sparest of a color lead: neutral grays and tans. I suggested throwing in yellow-gold for a warm accent and got the go-ahead.

Tucked away in my mind, I had a painting I’d seen in those same colors. The painting is in a favorite inspiration book, “An Eye for Color,” by Olga Gutiérrez de la Roza. (I’ve written about this wonderful book before, here, here and here.) The painting I had seen is part of a larger collage by Karen Stewart of  STEWART + BROWN. Here was my guiding image (see below), with sun, hills, water, and the sun’s reflection. It enchanted me.

There’s something about marriage in this scene. It has a sense of calm reassurance and stability, things a good marriage provides. But the sun’s reflection on the rippling water hints at the less-than-stable: the unknown ahead, new ventures, transformation. Just like life together.

I took the painting and abstracted it, maintaining the placement of sun, hills/woods, water, and reflection. I omitted the green to keep the entire blanket within a neutral range.

Although it’s hard to tell against the blue-white snow, in person the colors of this blanket remind me of late summer sun on a field of straw. Warm!

To Mike and Laura: I wish for you the words of that Irish blessing. May this blanket be with you through friendship and laughter, sheltering and prayers. May it bring you warmth, togetherness, a place to talk things over or maybe to take a nap…while you rest up for new adventures. Happy marriage! 

“A Sunbeam to Warm You” (65″ x 76″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home

 

“Garden of the Gods”

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Two Christmases ago I gave my husband a card with a repeating pattern of camping tents on the front. Inside, I confidently announced my Christmas gift to him: a road trip to the national parks of southern Utah. It was on our bucket list! It would be our first road trip since our kids have grown up, leaving us on our own! We could start a new tradition!

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What I neglected to note as I wrote that card, however, was the actual fitness of my trip-planning skills to the requirements of the task. Was I confusing myself with someone else? Oh, THAT’S RIGHT. While this skill-set does exist in my household, it does not belong to me. It is my husband’s.

Hubby’s M.O: Go online and plan the trip.

My M.O.: Read a little, brainstorm (with hubby), go look up more stuff, bounce ideas (off hubby), write things down, float possibilities, write things down in multiple places, lose track, get overwhelmed, make impulsive decisions. Give hubby the impression that the plan is shaky. Does this sound even remotely Christmas present-ish??

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My guy was tremendously patient with me and allowed my slow, uncertain method to still be a kindness to him. I fumbled around just about as described in my M.O. above, with him providing only enough structure for my halting efforts to actually bear fruit. (I’ve mentioned before what a gift my husband is to ME.)

And in this manner it finally came to pass that we indeed took our two-week road trip to “The Mighty Five” national parks of Utah in September of last year. Two heads are better than one, and all that.

But about those parks! Have you been there? Do you live near there? IT’S MAGNIFICENT. The landscape makes you feel tiny but at the same time fills you up and enlarges you (somehow!) with its glorious spaciousness.

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In September I blogged an overview of the trip, including a handful of our photos. Then this last weekend we had some friends over for dinner and to see our pics from the trip (they’ve been asking!). And I realized I needed to share this blanket—a wedding gift and offshoot of our Utah road trip.

En route from northern Illinois to southern Utah, we stayed a night in Colorado (worth its own road trip, of course, but that will need to wait). We arrived at the end of a long day of driving, and our friends in Colorado Springs popped us into their car at dusk and drove us about a mile from their home to a favorite spot of theirs, the Garden of the Gods. It was our breathtaking introduction to the rich reds and vibrant greens we were about to see throughout the next 10 days. So as a very belated wedding gift to them and as a way for me to express our joy with the place and with them, I made a small throw/large lap blanket.

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My aim was to represent the land, the space, the juxtaposition of the brilliant colors that we stood over and under and among at all times. I experimented with some free-style stitching to capture the line and texture of the monolithic stones. And if you look just left and below the cloud, you can see my nod to Pike’s Peak, whose eminence is constantly felt in Colorado Springs.

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GO, friends. Look up The Mighty Five. Look up the US National Park Service. Look up AAA and get some old-school road maps that will rewire your brains. And if you need some trip-planning advice, you know who to call. I will hand my hubby the phone ;).

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“Garden of the Gods” (45″ x 55″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Happy Winter”

"Happy Winter"

Books have always been a big deal around our house. We spent a lot of time reading when our girls were little and certainly had our favorite books, as most families do. So when the calendar flipped to December, when winter winds shook the fir trees around our house and the snows began to come, a particular book got pulled off the shelf regularly. Titled “Happy Winter,” it depicts a day in the life of two young sisters who awake with a thrill to fresh-fallen snow. Author and illustrator Karen Gundersheimer captures the pleasures of childhood in a wintry climate perfectly: sledding, baking, playing dress-up, reading books, getting ready for bed in a warm house. We fell in love with “Happy Winter” because everything that happened in their fictional household also happened in ours.

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This past month I’ve been absorbed in thinking about moms and little girls and winter, as I worked with customer Elsa’s box of wool sweaters to make a blanket “big enough for my daughters and me to cuddle up under.” They know about wintry climates: they live in Minnesota. Elsa sent a gorgeous assemblage of her own bright sweaters—various reds, pinks, purples, blues and blacks. The sweaters presented LOTS of contrast. So lovely! So warm and welcoming! And yet I felt intimidated. I’m more in my wheelhouse working with lower-contrast colors. How would I bring these together into a cohesive whole?

I challenged myself to put as many of Elsa’s sweaters as possible into this blanket without launching chaos.

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To face this challenge, I did what I so often do when I feel at sea. I sit down with (what else?) books. In this case, I grabbed a well-worn one, “An Eye for Color,” by Olga Gutiérrez de la Roza. (Also mentioned here and here and soon in a forthcoming post.) The photo below, from the book, let me know I could be successful with the mix if I worked to rein the colors in by applying some order.  I plotted a beginning symmetry and then quickly laid out colors to balance each other.

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I focused on two common denominators in this collection. 1. Nearly every sweater is highly saturated with a strong, bold color. 2. Those colors sit in large part between red and blue on the color wheel.

After finalizing the pattern of strips, I needed to figure the sequence for sewing them together. Here’s my sketchbook. I referred to it constantly till the final border was stitched on.

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It worked. I love it. I love the strong red “figure-8” that runs diagonally across the surface. I love the sweet pinks in the corners. I love how the blues and blacks provide a weighty border while the raspberry binding keeps everything light-hearted. And I love love love the four landmark rectangles that center everything.

This blanket has necklines galore, buttons on the front of a V-neck pullover, an Abercrombie label, and three pockets for secret messages or for tissues during a sad movie. I had to swipe the pockets from other sweaters in my stash as Elsa’s didn’t have any. But pockets just seemed right for a mother-daughter blanket.

How did I do with the personal challenge? There are parts of 17 sweaters in this blanket, 13 of them Elsa’s. (The other four were for the pockets and for filling out the red figure-8.) Mission accomplished!

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Elsa, thanks so much for asking me to make this for you and your family. In honor of you and your girls and keeping warm together, here is “NIGHT,” the final chapter from Gundersheimer’s “Happy Winter”:

Happy Winter, evening time —
I like how little star-specks shine
Or blink and sparkle cheerfully —
They almost seem to wink at me.

And now switch on the bedside light
To shoo away the dark of night.
We read until we yawn, and then
With one last flick it’s dark again.

The big black night is soft and spread
Just like the quilt upon my bed.
I’m warm and toasty, very snug,
Then Mama comes for one last hug
And sings a winter lullaby,

“Hush and quiet, close your eyes,
The moon’s a night-light for the sky,

Where sprinkled stars are twinkling high
And far below, the deep drifts lie
‘Til Northwind spins and flurries fly.
A snowy blanket’s tucked in tight
And so are you, and now good night.
A happy winter day is done,
Now close your eyes and dreams will come.”

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“Happy Winter” (68″ x 76″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“The Light Changes Everything”

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Last year one of my dear collectors asked me to make a special blanket for her and her husband, to denote a time of renewal and restoration in their marriage. She said, “No hurry, but whenever you can. And I would love for it to be in cream-colored wool, light, like a breath of fresh air.”

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I had made a personal commitment to reserve the first half of 2016 for sewing inventory for the juried Chicago-area show, Art in the Barn. I was willing to take orders for custom work, but I let people know I wouldn’t be starting on their things for a few months. Although this customer had to sit tight for a bit, I mentally started working on her blanket right away.

What I actually did was to simultaneously make two matching blanket “bases” (the background without appliqués), one for the show and one for my client. I then set aside her base until later.

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What a pleasure! The two blankets took similar form in my head, both with springtime trees to depict new life and new beginnings and most certainly the beauty, stability, and longevity of a tree. (You can see the first one, “Hope,” here.) Today I’m introducing the second one, “The Light Changes Everything”—so named because the blanket gave me a pointed object lesson in the practical truth of that statement!

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There were particulars I wanted to express in this project. I wanted to represent a meeting of two people in this one tree. I wanted there to be both masculine and feminine aspects to it. I wanted to have even the background alluding to the powerful hope of transformation.

You can see them when you look for them: The two main branches, leaning toward each other at points. The brown and pink fabrics mingled in the trunk and branches. The transition of background hues from darker on the left to lighter on the right.

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And then! I searched and sampled, looking for a distinct green for the final scattering of leaves. Many of the greens I tested were too bright, too outspoken. I wanted the trunk and branches, not the leaves, to be the main thing. Ahhh, I finally found it. I quickly cut, laid out, and stitched all the leaves on. The color mix resonated perfectly!—in the daytime. But when evening fell, the leaves nearly disappeared against the darker background wools. I was dismayed that I had not paused for a day, as I often do, to live with the design before stitching things down.

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“WOW, the light changes EVERYTHING,” I said gloomily to myself. And suddenly I thought about what a really wonderful thing it is that light does change everything.

Let’s start with the sunlight itself, as this Southern-Californian-turned-Midwesterner frequently watches winter weather forecasts to find the next upcoming sunny day. That’s for mood management :). And there’s my aforementioned practical need for sunlight in order to see how fabric colors interact with each other. Honestly, do we not see sunlight’s breathtaking effects everywhere: on mother nature, on us, on the beauty around us? We need it for our very lives.

On a deeper level, there’s the impact of letting light into life’s dark places in order to begin healing. I have a friend who grasps an imaginary flashlight and cries, “Shine the light!”—a challenge to us all to undermine the painful hold of darkness over things often too shameful to talk about.

Finally but most aptly, there’s Jesus, the light of the world (John 8:12). This couple, for whom I made the blanket, leaned in to Him to turn around an intractable situation in their marriage.

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That, of course, is when I got the title for this blanket. A solution to my disappearing leaves came soon after. I threaded some moss-green wool yarn onto a large darning needle and embroidered a defining edge on the leaves so they could hold their own, both day and night.

For this special couple, may this blanket and the meaning that accidentally / serendipitously got sewn into it be a regular reminder of the strength and power of the Light. With much love…

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“The Light Changes Everything”
(76″ x 64″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

Little Cherished One

I have written about sheep before at Christmas, here and here, and once at Easter, here. I’m at it again. (Honestly, I relate to the creatures: more timid and quiet than not, mildly inattentive, and never comfortable standing out in a crowd. But…enough about me. I’m getting uncomfortable.)

So. What follows here is a roundabout sheep-and-shepherd story in time for Christmas.

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Our granddaughter Miriam (a year old this month) was baptized in October. To note the significance of the day, I decided to give her a blanket as a gift. I hope I’m able to give her several more through the years! But this first one needed to convey something especially meaningful.

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As she and her parents marked the sign and the seal of God’s grace in her life through baptism, there was one message I really wanted young Miri to know: That when you stray, when you err, when you’re lost, embarrassed, in pain, you have a Shepherd. He knows you, loves and cares for you, and he will set aside his flock to come after you.

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“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” ’ ” (Luke 15:3-6)

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Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your birth at Christmas, for becoming a sacrificial sheep yourself, for living again as the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep. And then! For chasing down an awful lot of wanderers and for celebrating each and every rescue. Happy Earth-birthday, sir!

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Little Cherished One (Size: 36″ x 37″)

Still looking for that something-special gift?

Hi, folks! I completely forgot to announce this here on the blog, but I have wonderfully warm woolen mittens and fun one-of-a-kind Christmas stockings in my Etsy shop! There are just a handful (heehee!) of mittens left, so check them out now if you’re interested.

Link here: www.etsy.com/shop/TheGreenSheepStudio

Our faithful US Postal Service’s 3-Day Priority Mail will get them to you before Christmas if you order by this Friday, December 16 (if you are in the US).  It’s getting risky after that, but I’ll do my best to ship items quickly!


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Thanks for looking! Etsy shop link: www.etsy.com/shop/TheGreenSheepStudio

Name That Blanket…Results!

Thanks, everyone, for stirring up your creative juices to help name this blanket! You guys are great. This is the blanket that got packed up in an Operation Christmas Child box a couple of weeks ago. But as I was writing the blog post about it, I suddenly realized it had been sent out without a name. But names matter! Many of you came to the rescue, adding ideas on Facebook, Instagram, and this blog. A couple of you emailed me.

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These are the wonderful ideas that came in. Making the final choice was difficult!

Blanket of Love
A Bright Beginning
Christmas Child
Promise
Pastel Peace
Colors of Love
Quiet Rainbow
Heaven’s Hues
God’s Perfect Promise
The Christmas Rainbow
A Rainbow of Love
Vibrant Love
A Box of Sherbet
Ribbon Candy
A Rainbow Promise Pocket

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After much deliberation, the WINNER IS…

    ♥ THE CHRISTMAS RAINBOW ♥

I realized I wanted it to be a name that worked from a child’s perspective, so I tried to think like a little one. “The Christmas Rainbow” rose to the top because 1) I could imagine a child thinking it; 2) both “Christmas” and “rainbow” hold all the significance of the promise within each one of those; & 3) the blanket is not REALLY rainbow colors or rainbow sequence, but it is unusual, like a rainbow at Christmastime would be. Credit for “The Christmas Rainbow” name goes to Melissa Dugan.

And now this blanket can find its proper place in the world, since it has been named :)

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[Click here for the full story of “The Christmas Rainbow.”]

A blanket for a stranger

(“Strangers are friends you have yet to meet.”)

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This is the final collection weekend for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. OCC is a faith-based global effort that sends off gifts packed in shoe boxes to children whose lives have been touched by disasters, war or poverty.  I’ve known about this activity for years; I even know two wonderful young adults who were significantly affected by the shoe boxes they received as children in a Russian orphanage many years ago.

But I sheepishly admit I never packed a box myself until two weeks ago.

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A few weeks ago, my church made available empty shoe boxes from OCC, and my small group (a baker’s-dozen of great women) decided to have a packing party of our own. We each volunteered to shop for 13 somethings–toothbrushes, toothpaste, pencils, pads of paper, candy, toys, wash cloths, bars of soap, socks, cards and more–and bring them together to pack boxes. (I picked up some of Ikea’s colorful children’s tableware.) We were each to also add one “Wow!” gift to our own box. My “Wow” gift was a soft, sweet-eyed, stuffed-animal puppy.

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A few days before our packing night, both of our grown daughters (and 10-month-old granddaughter–gah!) happened to be visiting for the weekend. Saturday evening we popped in the DVD of a film recommended to me by a co-worker: The Drop Box. The seed for the film was planted when a young Los Angeles filmmaker (with Sundance aspirations) was eating breakfast one morning over the LA Times. On the front page, he read a story about a pastor in Korea who rescued unwanted babies by building a small warming box in the wall of his church, a “drop box” for newborns. The film is interesting, surprising, and to me, very moving. I came away with a renewed sense of the deep value of every single life.

As often happens in my brain, the experience of the film mingled with some other information up there in my head. In this case, I was thinking about a woman named Gift I’ve gotten to know a little this past year. Gift is from Zambia, and every year she raises money to send to her village for blankets for the women and children, who often do not have one of their own.

Sunday morning I woke up with one thought on my mind: I wanted to pack a wool blanket in my little shoe box, to let its young recipient know that she is one-of-a-kind in this wide, wide world, and someone somewhere was thinking about her.

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So that Sunday morning I pulled out my stacks of already-cut strips of wool sweaters, to see what child-friendly combination I could assemble. But it wasn’t working. I needed to start from scratch. With those bright Ikea dishes nearby, I chose a rainbow of saturated colors and got to work. I had just been working on a custom-ordered child’s blanket with diagonal stripes and decided to repeat the pattern. I love its youthfulness and sense of movement.

As I was limited to the interior of a shoe box, I knew this blanket couldn’t be thick, so I chose cashmere, merino wool, and lambswool. The result? It’s exceedingly lightweight and yet cozy and warm.

I hope it can feel like a cuddle to a little girl.

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I made our deadline and packed up my box. (In the photo, it looks like the blanket is taking up the whole box, but all the practical items are rolled up in the blanket.) Unfortunately, there was not enough room for that precious puppy. (Not for lack of trying, though! I even bought a bigger plastic box, but realized this would not feel fair to a group of kids on the receiving end.)

Of course, I likely will never meet the “5- to 9-year-old girl” this box is destined for. But I did learn from the woman at the collection counter that among the countries this batch of boxes is headed toward is Zambia :). Godspeed, little boxes!

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“A Christmas Rainbow” (Size: 40″ x 50″)
Named by readers in this post here.
The blanket has already gone to a good home.

I’ve Had Some Catching Up to Do

Okay, it only took me a month after Art in the Barn to post new things for sale in my Etsy shop…! But I’m finally finished :).

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(There was some shop upkeep required as well. I find myself wishing those software/app developers would go on vacation and allow a little moss to grow under their techie creations back at home. It’s hard for us ordinary folk to keep up!)

Over at my Etsy shop you will find these two blankets now for sale:

Sing a New Song

“Summer Nostalgia” (57″ x 70″)
The “Summer Nostalgia” story is posted here.

"The Redbud"

“The Redbud” (62″ x 76″)
“The Redbud” story is posted here.

In the Etsy shop there are also several pairs of fleece-lined wool mittens…

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…and lots of keepsake Christmas stockings for the special people in your life.

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Please come take a look. The doors are open for Christmas shopping, window shopping and anytime shopping. Invite your friends!