“Satin and Lace”

“How do you back your blankets?”

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

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

Why do I do this? Two reasons.

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

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

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

It happened like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thirsting for Righteousness”

Thirsting for Righteousness

[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.

“Dory Finds a Pearl”

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

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

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

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

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

“Family”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Honorarily Dutch”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Honorarily Dutch”

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

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

“A Sunbeam to Warm You”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Garden of the Gods”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Happy Winter”

"Happy Winter"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Happy Winter” (68″ x 76″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

Little Cherished One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still looking for that something-special gift?

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

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

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


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

Name That Blanket…Results!

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

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

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

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After much deliberation, the WINNER IS…

    ♥ THE CHRISTMAS RAINBOW ♥

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

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

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

A blanket for a stranger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

 

 

“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?

Annes lake IbAnnes lake IIaPhoto credit: Anne of Planting Sequoias. Used with permission.

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:

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.

Cheer for February

Gray jacket

Gray jacket

I’ve mentioned before how I harbor a quiet affection for February, the month I was born. This is not a popular stance, but someone needs to take it. Two years ago, as a birthday gift to myself, I made this green birthday sweater-coat out of felted wool sweaters, just like I use for all my blankets:

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It was such a pleasure that I decided to do it again. I purchased Burda 7700, especially because I loved View E. View E is linen! Linen lassoes me in every time! I’m a sucker for it.

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You may expect, out in Internet-land, that since I sew a lot, I’d be pretty good at sewing clothing. That’s partly true; I don’t have a hard time with the sewing. The FITTING, however, is another story entirely. No matter how carefully I take those measurements, choose the corresponding pattern size, and adjust as needed here and there, I rarely arrive at the glorious product that I imagined at the outset. I’m used to it, though.

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In this case, the jacket turned out huge, partly because of the stretchiness of the sweaters and partly because of the aforementioned fitting issues. I spent two dark days feeling my failure while my subconscious brain worked on a solution. Then I dived back in and made a fix.

We will call this an adaptation of Burda 7700 :). It’s got the asymmetry of the original — and pockets!–, but a bit lower shoulders, a straight hem across the front instead of the points, a wider hood that appears even more cowl-like in the front, and more buttons. Because I used several sweaters, each piece of the pattern is made from a different but coordinating wool.

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*[Blurry photo included so you can see this jacket’s swing — one of my favorite aspects!]

And there you go. I encourage anyone up for a little sewing adventure to try doing a store-bought pattern out of coordinating felted sweaters. The sweaters should be of similar weight and drape. You’ll need to patch each sweater together into a large enough piece of fabric to lay out a pattern piece on it. I used the same sweater for my two sleeves; every other piece is of a different sweater: the hood, the left front, right front, left back, right back — six sweaters altogether.

If you need a place to begin, here are some more patterns that looked intriguing to use or adapt:

Burda 6986, Burda 7020
Butterick 5993, Butterick 6107
Simplicity 1251, Simplicity 1719
McCalls 6517

Of course, there are also the fantastical coats of Katwise, with patterns offered in her Etsy shop.

For the love of imagination

Princess & Sunny Day

Princess & Sunny Day

When I was young, I read a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson that struck a chord with me. “The Land of Counterpane” is about a sick boy, confined to his bed, who relies on his imagination to entertain himself. (“Counterpane” is an old word for coverlet or bedspread.) 

The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

When I hung up the phone from talking to the client who ordered this pair of blankets I’m about to share with you, I realized that Stevenson’s poem was vigorously stroking its way out of the depths to the surface of my memory pool. 

∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴ ∴

Princess & Sunny DayPrincess & Sunny DayNatori siblings

Anika Yael Natori contacted me last year to ask me to make blankets for her two young children. She had seen my work in person as she is friends with the owner of Calliope’s Castle and its coordinating pillow shams. Yael told me she loved the whimsy in those.

Yael has a fascinating story, which she shares on her Josie Girl Blog. She is the child of immigrants — her mom is from Mexico, her dad from Poland. She grew up in Eugene, Oregon, with her parents and brother (“A family of academics!” she says.) A creative family too. Yael tells me as a girl she liked to make dolls and clothes while her brother would sew beautiful quilts.

After college, Yael became an academic herself and taught math for several years. She continues to tutor. This post of hers about teaching gives a glimpse of her love and enthusiasm for life and people.

Princess & Sunny Day Princess & Sunny Day Under the Sea

Yael fell in love with and married her brother’s best friend, Ken Natori. Ken is the son of Josie Natori — fashion designer, CEO, and founder of The Natori Company. (Yael blogs for the company’s contemporary Josie collection.) As Ken is now president of the company, he, Yael and their children Cruz and Zoe make their home in New York City — but take lots of trips to Eugene, where Yael cherishes her roots.

Each time I interacted with her, I caught the mix of West coast and East coast, of country girl and city girl, of down-to-earth freedom to be herself combined with appreciation for New York’s insistence to take note of all things modern! stylish! intriguing! I have completely enjoyed working with this interesting woman.

And now it’s time to turn our attention to the kids, the blankets, whimsy … and Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Yael describes 6-year-old Cruzzie as a sweet, sensitive, inquisitive boy who loves to explore. Areas of interest: planes, trains, and everything underwater. She describes her 3-year-old daughter Zoe as a firecracker with big, luscious, kissable cheeks. Areas of interest: animals, princesses, blocks, and puzzles.

When I finished my phone call with her and Stevenson’s poem was surfacing for me, all I knew is that I needed to give each child a landscape of their own to fuel their imaginations.

Yael shipped me a box of her kids’ outgrown clothes of wool and cashmere (oh, to be related to someone in the fashion world!). I have to tell you how much this box of clothes warmed my (occupational therapist’s) heart — especially the worn-through knees in the leggings. The sign of serious play!

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The scene I wanted for each child gradually came together. For Cruzzie, this is “Under the Sea”

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…An underwater scene with turtle, seahorses, whales, the bottom of a boat, fish, rocks, plants, and starfish — all under a clear blue sky on a sunny day. From the Natori stash come the striped turtle and whale bodies, the rocks, the boat and its button-portholes, and the middle strip of turquoise blue with the navy neck and edge ribbing.

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And for Zoe, this is “The Princess and the Sunny Day”

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…A valley kingdom surrounded by hills, with a princess (with cheeks!), her animal friends (including a frog because — one never knows — he may have some royal DNA), and a river meandering through the valley for farmers. (Well, I made it as a river, but a friend who saw it imagined it was a road. That’s the thing here — you can make up the story.) There is also a bridge to cross for further adventures. It’s the same clear sky and sunshiny day that Cruz’s blanket has. Because they’re a pair!

Princess & Sunny DayPrincess & Sunny Day Princess & Sunny Day
Here the Natori stash provided most of the browns, tans, grays and creams with all the sweet little details of small clothes: pockets, buttons, elbow patches, and necklines. The reds and pinks are also Zoe’s. I added sweaters from my own stash to both blankets to round out what I needed color-wise.

Natori siblings Natori siblings

Dear Cruzzie and Zoe: As you use your imaginations to play in your Lands of Counterpane, my hope is that you, Cruzzie, will “sometimes send your ships in fleets”, and you, Zoe, will “bring your trees and houses out, and plant some cities all about” … or whatever! Just enjoy. It was my pleasure to create these just for you.

[Postscript: Yael posted here about these blankets after she received them — with more pics of the blankets and her little girl too :). Thanks for the shout-out, Yael!]

Natori siblings

“The Princess and the Sunny Day” and “Under the Sea”
(each 43″ x 55″)

These are custom-ordered blankets.