“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

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

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

 

“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.

“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

 

“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.

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.

 

“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.

 

“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.

 

 

“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:

Illustration image

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”

Hope

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.

“Easy Together”

Easy Together

I recently got to make a blanket for a newly married couple. In a fun twist, I interviewed them after they’d been married a few months. They impressed me with how comfortable they were with each other and how much they enjoyed each other’s presence. Meet Steve and Kelly. They have a delightful, easy way together.

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Monograms on the blanket adapted from “Roycroft Initials” by Dieter Steffmann on dafont.com

Easy Together

Steve and Kelly went to the same high school but weren’t acquainted — until a few years later when Kelly’s older brother and Steve’s twin brother wound up living near each other. That’s when they found themselves coincidentally visiting their brothers at the same time — and looking forward  to seeing each other at least as much as to seeing their brothers. I asked what drew them to each other.

Kelly: “He’s funny! And he paid attention to me.”

Steve: “She was good to me, she always is. We just get along really well.”

Kelly: “We never fight. I don’t think we’ve ever truly had a fight. Or if we do, it’s like this– I say, ‘Shut up, Steve!'” Kelly says this last part very sweetly.

Steve smiles.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Kelly loves decorating the home they just bought. “I never really cared about decorating before because where I lived was never mine.” She reflects. “Well, I guess I did decorate my dorm room. I used gray and blue, just like now.” It appears this blanket may have staying power.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Steve loves sports. He grew up in a family of athletes — four boys and one girl who all have been serious in their sports. Now he plays fantasy sports of all kinds. He also loves golf. That comes up again later in our conversation.

Easy Together

Easy Together

I ask the couple if they have any advice about pulling off a wedding or about the early days of marriage.

Steve is succinct: “Don’t go to bed mad. Let her plan the wedding.”

Kelly continues: “Planning a wedding sounds so hard at first. Then you realize the main things are your date and the location. Once you choose those, the rest is simple.”

Steve adds: “We’re some of the simplest people we know.”

Kelly counters: “Well, except he likes to play golf. It’s expensive!”

Steve: “But that’s that only thing I do!” Kelly smiles.

Easy Together

Kelly teaches high school foods and loves to cook. “But I don’t really cook for Steve now because I cook all day at work. He cooks more than I do. Sorry, Steve!” she apologizes.

Easy Together

Easy Together

Can you feel it? So easy with each other. That’s why I added the pockets. Do pockets not make any article of clothing feel a little more relaxed and welcoming? And after I finished the blanket, I found that the placket of neckline and buttons under the “S” and the “K” reminded me of a comfortable, well-loved cardigan. A little Mister Rogers-like. Just right for these two young people, comfortable in marriage and happy with each other.

Easy Together

Easy Together

“Easy Together”  (60″x75″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

 

 

 

 

“Summer Nostalgia”

Sing a New Song

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

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I detect a pattern. It hasn’t held true every year, but 3 of the past 5 springs I have created — without being aware of the repetition — a new blanket of orange, yellow, and green (see “Sunshine and Happiness” and “Marigolds” for the earlier ones). Those summer colors seep into my being long before they actually appear in the garden, and from the inside out, they warm up the chilly fissures winter’s strain has left behind.

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That was certainly true this year. Every year I battle the changes caused in me by the darkness and the cold — and northern Illinois delivered a very cold winter this time around! As the seasons finally began to change, I have leaned eagerly toward the glow of the advancing sun.

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My subconscious mind had been forming this blanket for several months, inspired by a page in one of the books I bought to train myself about color: “An Eye for Color,” by Olga Gutiérrez de la Roza. The strip down the left is (according to the book) a slice of Tapeten wallpaper. My bit of Googling tells me “tapeten” is “wallpaper” in German, but the book’s photo credit — “Tapeten, Cologne” — is no help in learning where this design actually originated. I’d love to figure it out!

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From there, I sketched my ideas in my idea book. The wallpaper is reminiscent of the 1960s and 70s; the border of the blanket acts like a sepia filter. Together they pull up a storehouse of summer memories for me.

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The six creamy-white “panes” complement each other: one pair is plain, one is lacy, and one is cable-knit. I chose the ribbon-like strips of a Nordic-patterned sweater for the perfect yellow-green in its motif.

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This sweet blanket came to fruition in stages, around all the normal-life stuff that’s been going on around here :). Happy summer to you!

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“Summer Nostalgia” (57″ x 70″)

This blanket is for sale in my Etsy shop.

He gave her yellow roses

Yellow Roses

“Significance of yellow roses.” I typed this into my search bar as I worked on this latest blanket.

Yellow Roses

Personally, I lean toward less traditional flowers — the handful of purple wildflowers from the hillside near my college in southern California, the tangle of bright cosmos from my first garden, the graceful tulips I came to love after living several years in Michigan. But I gained a new tenderheartedness toward roses after hearing about Richard and Anne.

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

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The meaning of yellow roses (from goldflorist.com):
• friendship
• a love that is familiar
• happiness with the domestic arrangement
• joy and happiness

 

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

When Richard and Anne met in college, he was on his way to becoming a dentist, she, a nurse. They married, settled down in Indiana and raised two daughters, now grown with families of their own. This last August, after over 50 years of marriage, Anne died. The daughters, grieving the loss of their mom and seeing their dad’s profound lonesomeness for her, wanted to have a blanket made for Richard from several of Anne’s sweaters. Lori, the oldest daughter, talked with me about her parents.

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

“Mom had a heart of gold,” said Lori. “Above all else, she loved being a friend. She liked to write cards to encourage people. She loved to get together with friends for lunch. She loved the Lord and she loved us. She was so sweet! We really miss her.

Yellow Roses

“Dad always worked very hard. He also enjoyed being an outdoorsman and hunting when he was younger. But after we were grown up, my parents had more time to travel. Myrtle Beach was a favorite place, and Dad loved to golf there. My parents completely enjoyed being together.”

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

“Oh!” said Lori, near the very end of the phone call. “Dad always gave Mom yellow roses! Would you put a yellow rose on the blanket?”

Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

I look back at the meaning of a yellow rose: friendship, a familiar love, happiness in a domestic arrangement. Those warm, sunny roses are perfect for this pair, on so many levels. I also read that yellow roses can signify spring and new life, causing this blanket, made in April, to be extra timely.

Last week, when the finished blanket was hanging over the railing of my loft/sewing space, the roses caught my husband’s attention. I told him about the significance of the flowers. My guy, tough yet tender, got tears in his eyes as he imagined the difficulty of losing a companion and friend of over 50 years. “You’re gonna make him cry,” he said.

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For Richard and family, I pray this blanket can be a comfort to you all and bring a sense of nearness to your wife and mom. I was touched by the love in your family and am so glad to have had the chance to make this for you.

(For readers, here are some fun blanket details: The colorful sweaters belonged to Anne–the green, the blue, the mottled blue and the multicolored one. The buttons are from the green sweater, and I included two pockets of the mottled blue. In the end, Lori chose three yellow roses for the three grandsons whom “Mom thought the world of and who felt the same about her.” Finally, the bumpy tan under the roses with its braid pattern was difficult to sew over but I love the contrast it offers. As my husband pointed out, “It looks like brambles behind the roses” — those rough patches in marriage and in life that make the sweet part even sweeter.)

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“Yellow Roses”  (58″x75″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

 

The Irish Trio

Irish Trio

In time for St. Patrick’s day: The Irish Trio.

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These three blankets belong to The Green Sheep Legacy Collection, as they commemorate the life of a loved one who has passed away. They are made in warmhearted memory of Mariclare  — with her great love of Ireland in mind — and will go to her two daughters and granddaughter, as a gift from her son John and his wife Maureen.

Irish Blue

Mariclare was actually a step-mom to the four children she raised, but I only bring up that small detail in order to tell you her story. Mariclare gamely married Jack, a widower with four children — two boys, two girls — between the ages of 7 and nearly 1. Jack had tragically lost his first wife to brain cancer on the very day she gave birth to their youngest, a baby girl. This was the needy young family that welcomed Mariclare. To these four children, all grown up now, she has simply been Mom. Her daughter-in-law calls Mariclare a saint. She may not have been as well-known as Saint Patrick, but she may have been just as crucial to one small family in God’s great kingdom!

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Mariclare’s family contributed a lovely cream-colored Irish afghan of hers for the blankets. That beautiful afghan shrunk to a very small size, causing me to cut its knitted cable and basket-weave stitches into long strips rather than the rectangles I usually employ for blankets. I added in a Celtic-design sweater I’ve been saving, with chains of Celtic knots, to tie the trio together as well.

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Here is “Irish Blue.” The cream pieces from Mariclare’s afghan are a geometric echo of the Irish knotwork against a rich deep blue background. Blue was St. Patrick’s color! —

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Irish Blue

Irish Trio

Irish Blue

Irish Blue

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Here is “Irish Cream.” In this, the afghan pieces– they are the ones that are contiguous from one edge of the blanket to the other — are part and parcel of the cream body of the blanket. —

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Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

Irish Trio

And finally, this is “Irish Grey.” The creamy afghan stripes and the shamrock complement the subtle greys really beautifully. Very restful. —

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Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

Irish Grey

For daughters Ann and Kathi and granddaughter Maggie, may these blankets be loving reminders of  your precious mom and grandmother. Your family is grateful to you for all the care you gave her.

The Irish Trio (each approx. 52″ x 68″):

“Irish Blue”

“Irish Cream”

“Irish Grey” 

The blankets have already gone to good homes

“Sunset with Flowers”

Sunset with Flowers

Sunset with Flowers

I’ve mentioned before here and here and here that you just never know how a blanket might change before it’s out my door. I’ve got another example of one today, with the change done at the invitation of a customer.

I originally made this as  “Box of Chocolates” (posted about here with unfortunately overexposed photos) and enjoyed the results with its unique abutted edge. Many shoppers have shown interest in it, but in the end I would generally hear something like: “I love it, but don’t know what my husband would think of the pink.”

Sunset with Flowers

This recent customer was looking for an item for a February fundraiser and thought the colors perfectly appropriate. As appliqués are her favorite part of Green Sheep blankets, she requested one and left its subject matter up to me.

So now, shifting the scene from a box of candy to wildflowers at dusk, this comfy blanket has become “Sunset with Flowers,” giving it a welcome vibe indeed.  May it do its fundraising part this Friday for an organization important to many young lives (St. Peter Lutheran School of Arlington Heights, IL) and may it bless the new home where it finally settles :).

Sunset with Flowers

Sunset with Flowers

Sunset with Flowers

Sunset with Flowers

 “Sunset with Flowers” (55″ x 66″)

This item is no longer available for purchase.

 

 

“Heart[h] and Home”

Early last year, in the middle of a terribly hard time in her life, Susan lost her mom to cancer. I honestly have no words to put to such a difficult thing. I love this friend and ache for her loss.

Time and the hand of God have been at work in the healing process, and last fall Susan called me after finding some wool sweaters of her mom’s. We met over sandwiches, Susan passed me the sweaters, and asked if I’d make two blankets — one for Susan and one for her sister Cathy.

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To help me with the design plan, the sisters shared particular memories of their mom, Chris: She liked to read. She made popcorn in a pot on the stove. When they lived in Westport, Connecticut, she packed picnic dinners for the beach. She planned many camping trips to Maine’s Acadia National Park. She loved her grandkids and got “grandma” time with all of them while her daughters worked. And she loved blue and green.

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Susan’s family moved several times in her growing-up years, and what Cathy and Susan remember above all is Chris’ devotion to her family and to making a home for them, wherever the family found itself. Susan noted, “She wasn’t exactly crafty, she didn’t really have hobbies, and — even though she loved having Thanksgiving — she wasn’t even a great cook. But she was always there for us. That’s what I think of when I think of my mom. She was there when we got home from school, every day. That was really important to her.”

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Chris kept her own wardrobe neutral, and such were the sweaters she left behind. Susan provided me with three sweaters in different shades of gray (one with sweet pale blue snowflakes) and a fourth one, cream, from Marshall Field’s that Susan recalls her mom wearing more than any other.

I decided to anchor those three grays at the heart of each blanket and surround them with Chris’ favorite colors. I would have the cream encircle and embrace the whole, like a mother taking a child in her arms. Finally, I would add a heart: such a simple symbol but unrivaled in representing the depth of love of a mom for her family. I laid out the two sister blankets as mirror images of each other.

And they were all ready in time for Christmas. For Susan and Cathy, with love ♥

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“Heart[h] and Home” 

Two blankets, 59″ x 76″ each

These blankets already have homes.