“All Things Bright and Beautiful”

Our bright and beautiful world welcomed a new little one in July!

Baby Selene joined her parents, a sister and brother
…and a pretty fun group of neighbors who decided to celebrate her arrival with a baby blanket.

And more: In true Chinese fashion (going back to the year 960!) Selene’s grandmother joined the household for a month to give Selene’s momma Alice a big postpartum hand—otherwise known as 坐月子 (zuo yue zi), literally “sitting the moon” (or, less sentimentally, as confinement.) Even the blanket gift delivery was obliged to wait until confinement was over.

My sleuthing informer-friend provided some family background in order to prep for this custom blanket:

Momma Alice is Taiwanese-American. She has fond memories of watching Mulan for the first time with her family as a young girl. She works with a non-profit organization to keep women who are at-risk or in crisis safe and supported. She has family nearby. And she’s a new mom of three!

Photo source: Walt Disney Studios

Dad Jamie served in the Army, earned his MSW and now works with veterans through the VA. He’s adventurous and a little daring. He also likes educating himself about child development and ways to thoughtfully help his own kids grow to be great adults.

I spy a great deal of brightness and beauty right in Selene’s family. So much care-giving to others!

The line “All Things Bright and Beautiful” is from Irish hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander and was written in the mid-1800s. (She also wrote the Christmas carol “Once in Royal David’s City” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away” for any of you who remember hymns from your childhood.) Her first verse is the most familiar:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

The words gained longevity when author James Herriot titled his autobiographical books about being a veterinarian in the English countryside with phrases from Alexander’s poem. British television furthered our familiarity with it by producing films and TV series of Herriot’s stories.

It seems like Alexander’s simple expressions touch something fundamental within us. Whatever one believes about the origins of things (granted, my thinking aligns with hers), I venture to say we all deeply appreciate these very good things: wisdom and wonder, great and small creatures, and beauty, color and light.

Just one particular element was requested when this blanket was commissioned: “Make it pink and cream.”

Just one thing! But did it happen here? Not exactly. Because the sweaters were insistent (as they usually are) about choosing their own buddies.

The body of this blanket began with the purplish-pink of Mulan’s magnolia tree. At that point, those magenta sweaters called for peach for the border. (You’ll likely recognize the purple-orange complement.) It was a good call. Finally, for counterpoint to the sweet pop-art flowers in the trim, I chose big, bright flowers for their centering visual weight.

Other pieces of interest are:

* a tiny pocket for tiny fingers, treasures, or messages
* two curved necklines, backed with contrasting fabric
* a preserved curling edge of a sweater
* several small sweater pieces stitched on top of the blanket’s border for greater texture
* all those cables!!

Congratulations, Jamie, Alice, Stella and Apollo! May you enjoy your family’s brand new gift: Selene.

 And welcome, Selene! May you see brightness, beauty, and all manner of other wonders in this world around you as you grow.

© Joan Olson
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” (36×36)
Felted wool sweaters

The Mouse Hole

Remember those clever mice who helped Cinderella sew her ballgown? I’m not Cinderella and I haven’t been working on a gown, but I too was recently charmed by the help of a small creature on a sewing project.

A devoted client asked if I could repair her grandson’s blanket. “He’s like a little mouse!” she said. “He nibbles all around the edges!” Indeed, I found and darned many tiny holes in his Mickey Mouse blanket. (This mouse theme, so apt.)

Here’s the original blanket, below, back when I just finished it nearly 4 years ago. You can find the story of it here.

But there weren’t only tiny holes; there was one large hole chewed/torn in the stretchy black striped border. For that hole I needed a better solution than darning.

Here’s the gap, about 1″ in diameter. I took this photo just after I made a simple, loose backstitch around the hole’s circumference to stabilize the edges and keep it from stretching larger.

The day she dropped off the blanket, my client threw out some great ideas for covering this bigger hole: “How about a band-aid appliqué?” I love it! And yet I could not get the picture of a nibbling mouse out of my head. I thought it would be sweet to give Mickey some company. So I sketched out a few critters and settled on one.

I traced the drawing onto fusible web, then realized the sewn-in label right next to the hole in the blanket would not allow for the “high alert” tail. I drew a more relaxed version that would fit.

For scale, here’s the little mouse, looking at the hole he’s about to assist in the repair of. He’ll be flipped the other direction for the actual application.

I chose a tan fabric for him that blends with the already-existing colors in the blanket but doesn’t match them completely, in order to honor his own, Johnny-come-lately, disposition. After top-stiching detail onto him, I ironed him into place and pinned a black backing fabric to the patching area so the hole would be covered from both sides.

Here he is after the zig-zagged application:

And here’s the reverse side:

I trimmed off the extra black fabric from the back for this final shape. The silhouette blends in nicely and will keep that hole completely covered.

It’s entirely possible this may not be the laaast repair of this blanket.

Maybe I need to be ready with some extra appliqués…
a band-aid,
a chunk of cheese,
a mouse trap?

(Just kidding.)

Anyway, here are the new buddies, ready to get back to Theo’s house where they’ll be well-loved some more.

Greta’s Blanket: A Girl and a Pearl

Our second granddaughter turned 1 last month. In the weeks leading up to her birthday—and with (coincidentally!) a visit cross-country to her family for that very date—I knew what time it was.

Time to make Greta her very own blanket.

As was true for our first granddaughter, I had to wait to know this little one awhile before attempting to create a blanket for her. (Her sister Miriam’s blanket is here.) Blankets always begin with mulling over ideas, images, sensations. And so it was with Greta’s.

My inspiration for Greta’s blanket began first of all with her smile. It is big, bold, ebullent and endearing. Most stunning of all, it appears immediately when a loved one enters her line of sight.

Next was her name: Greta, a short form of Margarethe or Margaret. It means “pearl.” The Bible talks about the pearl of great price, and I knew this was one reason her parents had chosen the name.

Next: what colors look good on her. This girl has her dad’s features and her mom’s coloring—blue eyes and light hair that’s already showing the red glints of her mama’s copper-colored hair. I automatically started turning over in my mind the greens and goldens that her mom looks great in. But when I pulled up the family photo stream just to check, I was surprised to find Greta is in her niche in bright pink and navy. Apparently her skin tone is cooler than her mom’s!

Once supplied with several thoughts to get the project rolling, I found the right colors in my stash and got started.

The color arrangement came together easily. And I knew I wanted to put a pearl in the center somewhere, but where and how? As I played with different ideas, and especially with oyster sketches, I discovered something very close to a “G” for Greta in the upside-down opened oyster. What better than a sweet cipher right there in the middle of her blanket?

And so it all came together. I finished in time for our trip, and Grandpa and I were able celebrate  that amazing first birthday in person. (And eat scrumptious homemade birthday cake!)

The following note accompanied the blanket. It’s for later, when Greta’s language skills are a little stronger and this precious girl begins to mull over the things of life herself:

Sweet Greta,

You are a little small for some of the symbolism in this blanket, but your name is so wonderful it couldn’t help but show up here. Your name, Greta, means pearl. Your dada and mama told us when you were born that their prayer is you would come upon the MOST precious, valuable pearl—that’s Jesus!—and want to know him more than anything else.

So there, in the middle of your blanket, is a pearl in an oyster. And if you turn that oyster upside down, there’s a secret “G” for Greta.

We love you more than words can say, Greta, and pray this same prayer for you. Happy first birthday!

© Joan Olson
“Greta’s Blanket” (35″x36″) 
Felted Wool Sweaters

Janja’s Christening

Last weekend was the christening of little Jane Elizabeth. She was baptized with the name Janja, a Croatian word meaning “little lamb.” Janja is also the dear woman Jane was named for.

When Jane’s mama asked about a special blanket for the occasion, she had already searched this website and found the blanket I made for my own granddaughter’s baptism. What a pleasure it was to recreate this sweet lamb!

There was a small but meaningful bond I had with Jane Elizabeth as I worked on this for her—for my “maiden” initials (pre-marriage) are JEM too.

Blessings on your christening and most especially on your life, Janja. Such a wonderful name you have!

© Joan Olson
“Little Janja” (38×40)
Felted Wool Sweaters

“Jonathon’s Bear”

JUNE. Spring turns to summer and school is out. Gardens shoot forth new growth where there was none. There are graduations and weddings and births. And so much celebrating!

So much NEW.

I deem it an entirely appropriate time to share a new baby blanket.

This one’s for a little guy who is still on his way. When he arrives, among the many loving arms awaiting him will be those of a particularly playful roly-poly polar bear cub.

For the record, cubs think waiting is hard.

Writing this made me think of Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne and a poem (of course!). Here is the last stanza of Milne’s “Us Two.”

So wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
“What would I do?” I said to Pooh,
“If it wasn’t for you,” and Pooh said: “True,
It isn’t much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. “That’s how it is,” says Pooh.

Jonathon, may your life be full of people friends, animal friends, and some toy friends too.

They’re all terrific.

“Jonathon’s Bear”
38″ x 39″
This blanket has gone to a good home.

 

“Do you teach how to make blankets?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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