“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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What?? I never named this blanket!
The suggestion box is open!

(Size: 40″ x 50″)

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!

 

 

“La Paloma”

Several times in the past, I’ve come back to a “finished” blanket and taken it in a different direction with new appliqués. (I’ve written about that here and here and here.)

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It happened again. “Terra-cotta Red” has become “La Paloma.” I’ve known for a while that this was a clay wall in search of an ornament, but was never happy with any sketches I made. Then in a flash this week, I saw a dove perched on the edge of that fountain. 

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Reminds me of some of the brick work I saw at Mission San Juan Capistrano this summer, visiting my native California..although that particular place is known for swallows, not doves!

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La Paloma” (60″ x 75″)
This blanket is available for sale. Contact me through the Contact button above.

 

The Mighty Five

Art in the Barn is at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, IL, next Saturday & Sunday,
Sept 24 & 25, 10 am-5 pm each day.

I’ll be in Tent 21 near the north entrance (see map here). If you’re nearby, call up a friend, come on over, stop by Tent 21 and say “hi”! It’s a beautiful setting and a fun way to spend an afternoon. Any shopping you do supports a really great hospital. Hope to see you there!

That was my public service announcement :). Keep reading for a brief round-up of summer fun–

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My husband and I just returned from a two-week road trip out west to see friends and to tour southern Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks. It was an incredible amount of loveliness to take in all in one pass. Though I have many photos yet to sort through, for now I thought I’d give a quick overview … in addition to the reminder above about Art in the Barn!

Stop #1: Canyonlands National Park

Highlight: We hiked a 6-mile trail through The Needles section (from Elephant Hill to Chesler Park) and had nearly all of this surreal landscape to ourselves. There are no trail markers but the stacked cairns, often over rock and slate, to point the way through the “needles” and the “mushrooms.”

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Stop #2: Arches National Park

Highlight: In the same way the mind finds whimsical shapes in clouds, my imagination was triggered by the interesting shapes of this park’s formations. Do you see the elephant head below? (In the second and fourth photos below, of Double Arch and the South Window, look for the tiny people in order to gain a sense of scale.)

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Stop #3: Capitol Reef National Park and the town of Fruita

Highlight: Through Airbnb we stayed in a home hand-built by a man who loves this land and loves puttering. In the evening we relaxed in his garden of thoughtful details and in the morning we awoke to sunrise on the bluff just behind the house. (Our hiking at Capitol Reef itself included the deep canyon of Grand Wash Trail.)517a430a596a 626a

Stop #4: Bryce Canyon National Park

Highlight: It was late afternoon when we finished our hiking in Bryce (Navajo Trail/Queen’s Garden loop). It seemed like the entire amphitheater was aglow in color!

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Stop #5: Zion National Park

Highlight: We climbed straight up the canyon walls, essentially, to gain an altitude of 1488 feet on a hike from the river at the canyon bottom to the top of Angels [sic!] Landing and back. In the first photo below, check out the steep switchbacks on the right. These were nothing compared to the next set of switchbacks, nicknamed Wally’s Wiggles. The second photo is of a broken-off branch of manzanita tree, I believe, that has been clung to by each and every passing hiker on the final steep ascent. Photo 3: my feet at the top of Angels Landing vs. the triangle of the park’s shuttle stop at canyon bottom. Photos 4 and 5: Zion Canyon and sunset.

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There you have it: my whirlwind summary. It’s a trip I highly recommend. We live in a country that has such interesting topographical diversity. With every curve we rounded in any road we were on, each mile looked new. (Well, maybe not in Nebraska. Sorry, Nebraska!)

“A Soft Answer”

[The final blanket is ready for next month’s Art in the Barn! I will be displaying 5 brand new big blankets along with a handful of others, in addition to some baby blankets, Christmas stockings, and women’s mittens. Whatever doesn’t sell will go up onto my Etsy site when Art in the Barn is over. If there’s a particular item you are interested in, don’t hesitate to send me a message!]

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Recently I’ve been reading through the book of Proverbs in the Bible. Proverbs is known for its enduring wisdom, and each time I read it I find plenty to provoke my thinking as I view 21st century human behavior — mine included — through its lens.

Reading and designing meld together for me in mysterious ways, and midway through my work with these grays and blues, I realized this blanket was all about an axiom from Proverbs:

A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

– Proverbs 15.1

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Earlier this year I landed in a situation with a friend where I recognized my response to their emotion would make or break our relationship moving forward. (Don’t wonder if it was you! It wasn’t!) I carefully thought through what outcome was important to us both and how I could help aim us there. My approach involved lots of soft answers.

And then there’s marriage. If 33 years of marriage have taught me anything, they have shown it’s wise indeed to keep my lips together, especially when they want to fly in action and articulate my flawless, clear-headed perspective (yeah, right). To make things worse, I’m a concrete thinker, which translates into direct talk, which can definitely come off as harsh. Not good.

The fact that I’ve learned this through trial-and-error does not mean I always get it right.
But I’m coming along :)

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For a great read on defusing a tough situation with an angry person, I suggest this brief article by Nadia Persun, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. I don’t know if she came up with the cupcake imagery herself, but it’s a great handle to grab onto in a heated moment. If you are confronted by anger, Dr. Persun recommends that you…

Give out an imaginary cupcake.

Cupcakes are sweet , peaceful, calming and smile-inducing. Raging people often are in dire need of an imaginary cupcake. A big part of their anger is driven by their belief or feeling that they never get any or someone stole or damaged their cupcakes. So, generously give them one or even a couple, even when they seem to be undeserving of any sweetness.

Despite the obnoxious behavior, loud shouting, screeching voices, clenching fists, pointing fingers, red faces and all, most angry people have a sad message. Most likely they are trying to tell you that they are feeling hurt, ignored, disrespected, unappreciated and unloved.

 [From How to Switch Off an Angry Person]

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Finally, Proverbs has a relevant postscript for us:

Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

– Proverbs 12.18

My best to you, fellow person, as you thoughtfully pass out cupcakes and soft answers!

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This soft blanket drapes beautifully. The blanket and bias binding contain lots of lambswool, cashmere, and angora. Its details include necklines, a small pocket, a button placket, a shoulder tab with an interesting button, and appliques of flowers.

“A Soft Answer” (Size 65 “x 81”)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

Art in the Barn Juried Art Festival — Sept 24 and 25

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I’m excited to announce in one month I’ll be joining 175 other artists at this September’s 42nd Annual Art in the Barn Juried Art Festival! It’s a weekend-long affair on a charming rural piece of land belonging to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Illinois. It makes a fun show in a beautiful setting.

Today I browsed the listing of this year’s artists, planning who I’d like to visit when I can slip away from my own booth for a minute. (For instance! I’m a sucker for a ceramic coffee mug that settles its weight just right when I slip my fingers around the handle.)

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If you are local, please come out! You’ll find works in oil, watercolor, pastel, drawing, acrylics, fiber, glass, photography, digital media, jewelry, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, scratchboard, wood, and mixed media. There will be food, music, entertainment and, to make it fun for the entire family, a children’s art corner, art gallery, and petting zoo (it’s not called Art in the Barn for nothing!).

And you’ll find me at Tent #21 (click here for map) with several new big blankets, baby blankets, and some Christmas stockings and mittens for the coming season.

Finally, here is a sneak peek at the laaast blanket I’m getting ready for the festival. I’ll put this one up on the blog very soon!

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Would love to see you in Barrington in a month ;)

“Nap Hunting”

Nap Hunting

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Sometimes, when your eyes just want to close, there’s nothing for it but to close them. I highly recommend that, because putting it off can mess up a sleep-rhythm that knows what it’s doing.

In some circumstances, though, it can be highly inappropriate to simply close your eyes. In that case, I advise deferring temporarily and then going nap-hunting when you can.

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Of course, I’m talking about nap-hunting only in the most non-violent way. You can take your own nap, but never try to take someone else’s nap. That could be trouble. (Credit goes to Shel Silverstein for the taking-of-naps idea.) But even for your own nap, you generally need to hunt down the right conditions for it to happen.

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Once you’ve got the right conditions, interruptions certainly won’t do. The duck decoy? He’s there to lure others away so you can keep your quiet all to yourself.

Enjoy your nap.

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“Nap Hunting” (82″ x 70″)
This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

 

“Learning to Swim”

Turtle

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In June I had the pleasure of responding to a fellow wool-enthusiast by sending off a blanket for her expected grandbaby’s first shower. This customer, Lona, is previously known to me — and to you too, if you’ve been following my blog for a while. Lona and her husband own a small farm in Holland, Michigan. They raise sheep and now cows, beans and other crops, and in their “free time” process their wool to make and sell wonderful wool products. (Shop for their wool and beans here.)

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Their Shady Side Farm hosts an annual late-winter Shearing Day event, opening their doors to the public when they bring a hired sheep-shearer in prior to lambing season. My husband and I attended three years ago, and my appreciation for sheep, their amazing wool, and their patient handlers grew tremendously. (You can read my blog post about that exceptional day here, and I’ve added a couple of photos below.)

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Lona’s daughter Anne, the momma of the coming grandson, is a blogger and masterful do-it-yourselfer. The daughter of farmers? Of course she’s a DIYer! She’s the one on the right above, skirting a wool fleece freshly shaved from a sheep. Anne blogs about household projects and other interesting things over at Planting Sequoias. Her energy is inspiring!

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Grandma Lona’s one request for this new baby blanket: that it have an applique of a turtle. It turns out that Anne and husband Kenny’s backyard gently rolls right down to a lake with … turtles! I imagine turtles lined up like bumps on a log, stretching their pointy turtle-noses on their thin turtle-necks toward the sun — just as heat-lovers around the world are wont to do.

And that baby turtle?

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That baby turtle, of course, would be learning to swim.

Kenny and Anne, I wish you a sweet time of getting ready for your own little guy to break through to the surface and into this beautiful world.

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“Learning to Swim” (36″ x 40″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.


“Summer Solstice”

Summer Solstice

[If the colors in this blanket make your heart beat faster, you may also like S.W.A.K., seen here.]

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Summer solstice.

The longest day of the year.

Luxurious, lazy, warm, seductive.

“Don’t you want to stay up late?” it whispers in my ear. “Don’t you want to eke every bit of loveliness out of this evening? You can!” When I was a young mom these summer days would murmur, “Of course you can feed your kids dinner at 8:30 p.m. There’s still an hour-and-a-half of light! They’ll be FIIINE!” (We lived in Michigan, where, thanks to hanging out at the western edge of the eastern time zone, we had light until 10 p.m. )

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I gave in to it then and I give in to it still. My (poor? lucky?) kids got to play outdoors way past a sensible bedtime. I was slow to call them in, slow to feed my family appropriately. But I think it was my way to keep summer summer, even after the time came for my husband and me to be adults, to go to work and be responsible and make money to, you know, live off of. It was a way to be a smidge irresponsible while generally keeping things together.

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Because I think so highly of this time of year, I recently gave myself an astronomy refresher to relearn what causes this delightfulness. (Wait! Wouldn’t “this lightfulness” be far more accurate?) Anyway, if you need a review too, allow me to give it a try–

Summer solstice marks “one of earth’s major way stations on its annual journey around the sun.” (From www.space.com.) Those four way stations are summer solstice (our first day of summer), fall equinox (first day of fall), winter solstice (first day of winter), and spring equinox (you’re on it, right?). For each one of those, the earth travels a quarter of the way around the sun. Earth’s tilt makes the sun’s rays hit at ever-shifting angles and levels of intensity.

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Note: Of course, the earth is the object doing the moving as it takes a turn around the sun, but since it looks to us like we are stationary and the sun is moving around us, our earth-bound terminology leans toward speaking as though the sun were running its course.

I appreciate this helpful illustration from timeanddate.com:

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In the drawing, see how the sun’s rays are directly shining onto the northern hemisphere? (Hint: Follow the direction of the arrows!) They are pointed at the Tropic of Cancer, 23.4 degrees above the equator. Earth’s angle of lean toward the sun creates summer solstice for us in the northern hemisphere. Hoopla! Merriment! Delight!

Now imagine Earth at its exact same tilt 6 months from now, on the right side of the sun in the drawing. Since Earth takes a year to move around the sun once, 6 months will take it halfway around. Imagine those arrows pointing directly off the right side of the yellow sun-ball — there they will be pointed at the Tropic of Capricorn, 23.4 degrees below the equator. Those rays will shine onto our southern hemisphere neighbors and it will be their turn to party while we are all battening down the hatches against the coming snow.

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For you wordsmiths: In Latin, sol = sun; sistere = to stop or stand still.

The summer solstice is the poetic p-a-u-s-e before the sun begins its travels back down toward the southern hemisphere. The sun will hang right there at its height–the closest it ever gets to the north pole–it will PAUSE, and then it will begin its southward trip until it crosses the equator (that will be our fall equinox) on its way to summer solstice for the other half of the earth.

Has anyone stayed with me here? If not, no biggie. I have enjoyed myself.

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One more tidbit. Did you know that the morning and evening twilight also last longest in the days around the summer solstice? They do. Just one more enchanting thing about this time of year.

To my northern hemisphere friends, happy summer solstice! Enjoy the gift of these long and leisurely days.

To my southern hemisphere friends, congratulations on soon confronting the shortest day of the year and winning! It only gets better from here.

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“Summer Solstice” (60″x78″)
A wonderful mix of lambswool and cashmere make this a very soft blanket.

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

 

 

Redbud Joy

"The Redbud"

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

I so enjoyed the surprising greens and purples in “A Quiet Creature” (the hummingbird blanket) that I recently pored over my purple and green wools again. I designed this blanket as spring unfolded all around me here in northern Illinois, and I remembered a story…

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Nine springs ago I paid close attention to the flowering trees in our area. I wanted a front yard companion for our daffodils and tulips in heralding the coming of this long-awaited season.

Although I LOVE the wild, disheveled, excessive look of crabapple trees in full bloom, I did not know anyone who loved their (messy) crab tree after the glorious blooms were gone. I wanted a tree we could love year around. It turned out to be the Eastern Redbud: purple-pink blooms in spring followed by heart-shaped leaves through fall. Its shade is dappled and its movement graceful when stirred by a breeze.

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When fall came I went to a local nursery to pick out our own Eastern Redbud. My youngest daughter, then 15, came along. The staff helped us choose a well-shaped one with healthy leaves and asked if we’d like to have it delivered, but it looked so slight and manageable that I couldn’t imagine why we’d need to do that. And we were barely 5 miles from home — easy-peasy!

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One nursery worker used a mini forklift to transport the tree to my small SUV. A second nursery worker met him there to transfer the tree to the car. I imagined the graceful top of the lovely redbud brushing the shoulders of my daughter and me in our front seats. But as the tree neared my car, I got a new perspective on it. It wasn’t so small after all.

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I dropped the back seats flat and the two young men, struggling with the root ball, pushed the tree, canopy first, into the open hatch of the car.  The leafy treetop filled the passenger seat, curved across the dash and completely covered the windshield. I looked at my daughter, wondering how to get her home. “I’ll just lay beside it,” she declared. We rolled down the passenger window and stuffed as much of the tree outside the car as possible. That cleared a slice of windshield above the steering wheel so I could drive “safely.”

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There are no photos to commemorate that drive, but I wish there were. I couldn’t see anything on the right side of the car and of course both the rearview and passenger mirrors were completely obscured by those beautiful heart-shaped leaves. I didn’t even have a free hand to push over the top-most branches because, you may recall, I adore a car with a manual transmission.

Those were among the l-o-n-g-e-s-t five miles I have ever been responsible for.

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We made it — no police officers, no accidents. We have no idea about looks from other drivers because we couldn’t see them. Besides my sweaty palms and the twigs embedded in my daughter’s hair, we were not worse for wear. And we had a gorgeous tree!

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I’ll never know how she and I got that tree out of the car (I later learned the root ball likely weighed 500 pounds.) Our aging wheelbarrow sustained a very large dent from the root ball dropping over the ledge of the bumper into it; I thought we had broken it. We saved the rest of the planting job for my husband with help from the father and son next door.

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When the next spring came, my daughters surprised me with Mother’s Day photos taken next to our very own flowering tree. Here it is, eight years ago, maybe 8 feet tall.

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Here it is last month, just before a storm came through, nearly 20 feet tall. It was in full bloom just before Mother’s Day, when many of these photos were taken.

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And here it is as a photo prop, whether providing a leafy frame or dappled shade:

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So there you have it. I preeetty much love me some pinkish-purple and green. And I definitely love that tree.

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“The Redbud” (Size: 62″ x 76″)

This blanket is for sale in my Etsy shop.

“Hope”

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I saw this on photo Facebook recently. That “loading” bar — such a tease!

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The sign’s declaration rang true here in northern Illinois — until two days ago when driving to work I saw that the smallest branches of every tree were FINALLY outlined in green (…or pink, or white for the flowering ones). I had been waiting for this day.

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Spring has been so long in coming here that my flagging hope pressed me to make a blanket in honor of this much-anticipated event: the coming of spring.

I’m calling this one “Hope” for the wildly blessed whisper of promise that pulls us forward when the barrenness, the dark, and the chill stubbornly hang on.

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Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul 
And sings the tune without the words 
And never stops at all.”

― Emily Dickinson


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“Hope” (Size: 60″ x 74″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“Love in the Rainforest”

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Dave wrote last year, asking if I could have a blanket ready for his wife’s February birthday this year. “Make it a birthday-slash-Valentine’s blanket!” he said and then left me with wide artistic latitude. I just barely managed to learn that Connie loves blues and greens.

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“Latitude” is a particularly relevant word for our two plucky world-travellers. Dave’s work, with Connie’s partnership, has taken them to some far reaches of our planet. And about the time I actually got started on the blanket, Dave and Connie were living at a latitude of 6°, very near to the equator’s zero.

They were in Guyana, up in the northern part of South America. The coastline of Guyana has beautiful broad beaches and a big Caribbean flavor. But inland, as the terrain approaches the Amazon River, the region is thick with forests, rivers, plants and wildlife.

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Blues and greens? The tropics? Was there even a choice left to make at that point??

I didn’t think so. And so, here for Connie is “Love in the Rainforest.” The deep red border encompasses a clear blue sky with a swift river below, forest greens with lotus flowers, and a sleek pair of macaws winging through the sweltering air. (Our thin northern Illinois winter sun  confounded my ability to convey sweltering very well for you!)

For atmosphere, here’s a scarlet macaw audio-clip:

(Credit: naturesongs.com)

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I have a smidge of rainforest travel myself, from a college trip to Guatemala. And from that trip, there is a notably distinct memory in which I clambered out of a small motor-boat along a black river’s edge in pitch darkness and discovered, standing there in my jeans, that I had stepped into the middle of an anthill of very quick ants.

And so. While I carefully chose soft wools for this blanket, there is one exception: the nubby, variegated blue below the birds. It’s from a gorgeous but brambly hand-knit sweater — like a tropical jungle, where beauty and peril can be hand in hand.

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But the heart of the blanket are the two macaws and the two matching blue squares — because seeing the sights, conquering the fears, sharing the beauty — it’s always better with two. Connie and Dave, may love forever sustain and uphold the two of you wherever your adventures lead.

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“Love in The Rainforest”

(Size: 65″ x 82″)

This is a custom-order blanket.