“Satin and Lace”

“How do you back your blankets?”

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

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

Why do I do this? Two reasons.

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

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

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

It happened like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

“Bora Bora Blue: The Sea Beckons Her”

We recently drove downstate to a revered Italian restaurant in a tiny Illinois town (the town of my mom’s roots) to attend a surprise birthday party. The surprise had been in the making for MONTHS. (The family who held the secret together may swear off surprises completely, so difficult was it to keep all their white lies straight!)

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Susan (guest of honor) and her husband drove in to this well-loved home town from their current home in Colorado. Here, let me try to give you an idea of what Susan is like: Feisty! Red-head! Vivacious! Loves to dance! Tall and elegant! Loves people! Loves an adventure! Those words would be ineffective without their exclamation points. That’s just the way she is.

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Naturally, among the top contenders in my mind for a gift for her was a blanket. I chose a lap blanket for this occasion.

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For a starting point, I asked her husband, “What is her favorite color?” His answer: “Well, she doesn’t have just one. But she loves the color of the ocean. Bora Bora blue!”

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“Directions: Open mind, pour in bora-bora-blue color plus all listed adjectives. Stir thoughtfully and allow to settle.” With just a bit more work, “Bora Bora Blue: The Sea Beckons Her” was cooked up. The red-headed mermaid begged for inclusion and then took off for warmth and adventure…and some dance-able Tahitian tunes.

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Did we surprise Susan? Only she knows for sure. If the party itself didn’t surprise her, the sweep of people there did. We came from different parts and eras of her life. We came from eleven states and from coast to coast. The emotion most clearly evident on her face was: “Oh. my. gosh. All these people came?!!…for me!?!!”

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We did! [exclamation point] !

We came because we love you! [exclamation point] !

Happy birthday, Susan!

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“Bora Bora Blue: The Sea Beckons Her” (49″ x 40″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

“A Pair for Notre Dame”

I have some trouble getting excited about football. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s my languishing competitive spirit. Or maybe the transient population I grew up with in Southern California (weak loyalties) or the fact that Los Angeles had NO football team in my entire young life. Or maybe my dad’s soft spot for baseball?

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I know. It’s a weakness of mine, especially here where I’m surrounded by Bears fans and Packers owners. BUT. I DO have a ton of enthusiasm about staying WARM in wind-whipped stands during those chilly football months.

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Judi, who knows a couple of die-hard Notre Dame football fans, came to me with an armful of sweaters and a question:  Would I make lap blankets for this Fighting Irish married pair? Ohmygoodness, what a great idea.

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So I came up with a his and a hers, not identical but certainly mates.

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His has the bold letters, gold edging, and inset striped blue/gray pieces (above).

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Hers has the shamrocks, green edging, and the blue/green basket-weave pieces.

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(I had a terrible time with the exposure, trying to photograph these in our early December snow. It did not do justice to the sumptuousness of these colors together!)

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Finally, I love this tidbit of sentimentality: the blankets contain a sweater from Judi’s brother’s own days at Notre Dame years ago (left side of the photo below, under the shamrock). Come fall, it’ll be taking its place in the stands once again, to cheer on the team and keep fans warm. Go, Notre Dame!

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A Pair for Notre Dame” (each lap blanket is 36″ by 48″)

This is a custom-made set of blankets.