“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.]

“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″)

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.”]

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.

“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.

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!

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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.

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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.

Welcome, sweet one, to this amazing world.

Miri

Pardon me, I’ve been away doting.

Miri

Miri

Our granddaughter decided to make her way into the world on the iciest day of this winter season — thereby managing to keep her parents at home for the entire event. She is precious. She is beautiful. She is well-loved.

There are many things I will want to say to her, read to her, sing to her, and hope for her as she grows. But for the time being I simply want to welcome her to this amazing gift of a world which is now hers to experience.

Welcome, little sweet pea. We are so happy to be on this adventure with you.

 

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.

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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

*
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.

Yellow Roses

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.)

Yellow Roses

“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! —

Irish Blue

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. —

Irish Trio

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. —

Irish Grey

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

“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.

“Baby Goes Hiking”

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In my (other) job as an occupational therapist, I have incredible co-workers. I have mentioned this before. Not only do they give their all for our patients, they do some pretty fascinating things when they are not at work.

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One of our physical therapists, Mike, along with his wife Annie, runs marathons, competes in Ironman triathlons, and flies to places like Vermont for long weekends of bike-riding in the mountains. These two love to be active. Their dog Maple goes along whenever she can.

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So, several months ago, Mike and Annie casually announced they were going to have a baby. (Honestly, they do all their spectacular things quite casually.) Then they painted their spare room with fir trees and forest creatures and things from the great outdoors. And in that span between announcement and baby, I could think of no better idea for this pair than a blanket with a tree, a path, and a puppy, all just waiting for baby to join them.

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On the day we had planned to throw Mike a shower at work — with a good three-ish weeks before baby was due to arrive — Mike was instead over at the hospital encouraging Annie through the last part of a very long labor. And that evening they welcomed little Owen into their family.

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Congratulations to Mike and Annie on the birth of your son! Maple, get ready for your playmate. May you four enjoy many, many amazing adventures together ♥ .

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 “Baby Goes Hiking” (37″ x 39″)

This blanket already has a home.

 

 

“Tiger Tracks”

While the weather can’t make up its mind these days — a regular occurrence for northern Illinois — fall is definitely pressing in to push summer on.

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When I retrieved the newspaper this morning, I noticed the trees across the street turning mottled yellow-orange. It surprised me with all the heat we just had.

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On a recent evening walk, my husband and I saw geese overhead, soundless this time but for their wing strokes. And this weekend, we’re driving up to Wisconsin for a 30th anniversary gift to ourselves. I look forward to see the coming of autumn there too.

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While mother nature’s delivery of fall can lag and tease, there are two other things that escort this season DIRECTLY to us without messing around:

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SCHOOL

and

FOOTBALL.

Can I get an “Amen!”?

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So I’ve got a combo pack for you in today’s blanket. It was custom-ordered by a mom who was thinking of those two things when she imagined this gift for her son.

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Laura found The Green Sheep online. She asked me to design something for her son Bennett who was about to head off for his freshman year at University of Missouri. Her first child, going off to college! She wanted something special to send with him, something school-related, something sports-related.

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Here’s the Mom low-down: Bennett loves sports. He finished high school on the varsity baseball team. He loves hanging out with friends. He likes the sciences and is considering how he might use that in his future.

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Bennett also had his heart set on Mizzou and was eager to get there. So Mom Laura decided to go for the Mizzou theme and mascot: the Tigers. Then Laura decided to give me a jump-start on this blanket — she did the resale rummaging herself to find the right school colors: black and gold. She loved it!

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“Tiger Tracks” is a BIG blanket, big enough to be a bedspread for a dorm bed or to be available as a throw for a college-sized guy.

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For Bennett, I hope your freshman year is nothing less than GREAT! (For a perfect start, the Tigers football team is 2-0 so far!) For Laura, I saved a tiger paw to make you a potholder — a small tangible reminder of your son, who, though several hours away, is always in his mom’s heart :)

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“Tiger Tracks” (70″ x 93″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“Fullness of Peonies”

It’s been my delight in recent weeks to create another “legacy blanket” from, as it happens, another beautiful Irish sweater.

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The pieces with the diamonds (above) and the chevron (below) — that’s the Irish one.

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Each time I work on one of these blankets (like hereherehere, and here) I am moved by the complexity, wonder, and organic force of legacy within a family.  I hear about these things when an individual brings a sweater and says, “My dad passed away, but I’d love to have his wool sweater put into a blanket for my mom. Will you do that?”

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Mary, one of six kids in her big, lively family, found my work online while exploring what to do with her late dad’s sweater. She emailed, asking if I could make a blanket for her mom, Barbara. I replied (“Of course!”) and asked, as I always do, if I could briefly interview her by phone about her parents.

This is one of my favorite parts of the process. It’s where ideas begin to germinate.

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Mary not only talked with me, she sent a couple photos of her parents’ den, a long-time favorite hang-out of the entire family. WOW. A picture and its thousand words cannot be beat. I particularly fell in love with a sepia-toned vintage map of Europe above the red couch, hung next to a classic print of a horse and rider.

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The blanket took its shape around what I learned of Mary’s family, her mom, her dad, and that welcoming den.

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Mary’s dad, a college professor, became a US Congressman in the ’60s and moved his family near Washington D.C. He and his wife not only raised their family and served their state and country together, they co-authored books! There’s a lot to admire there.

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Barbara is a capital-G Gardener, with related offshoot activities: she has led garden tours as a docent and helped launch (I believe — my notes grew sketchy here) a neighborhood garden club. I got the feeling she loves to be around both gardens and people.

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Confirming my suspicions, her daughter reported that Barbara adores having a house full of people :)

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And so it came together: the neutrals to match the masculine sensibilities in the den, the flowers to match the warm red furniture, the fullness of peonies to match this mom and her family full of generations, interests, activities, loves,…legacy. To Barbara, Mary, and the family: I hope this blanket represents your family well :)

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“Fullness of Peonies” (55″ x 70″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“Calliope’s Castle”

Last May I received an email that started a surprising and rewarding venture toward a blanket like I’d not made before. It opened like this:

“Hi, Joanie – I have an 8-year-old daughter and over the years she has accumulated tons of beautiful wool and cashmere sweaters. When she was four I asked Caroline Unruh to make a patched blanket out of my daughter’s old sweaters and the result was spectacular. I can’t seem to find Caroline now, but I found you! The next batch of outgrown sweaters is ready. Is this something you do? “

Since, as I wrote previouslyCaroline Unruh unknowingly gave me my start in sewing with wool, I considered this a huge honor! But there was that little question in the back of my mind: How does such a young girl end up with multiple cashmere sweaters?? I was soon to find out…

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The client and I began an email exchange followed up by a phone call, and I learned that this little girl is so fortunate as to have a New York fashion executive for her momma! Ah, the pieces fell into place. I soon received the client’s box. This is corny, but I felt like a youngster on Christmas morning as I opened it. I had never seen so many beautiful sweaters all in one place.

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Since I had several custom orders already lined up, I had to put this project on hold for a bit. But my mind was already at work on the puzzle before me: What to do with an entire rainbow of colors? I’m accustomed to working with 1 or 2 centerpiece sweaters provided by a client, but this was completely new territory.

One afternoon as I once again pulled the sweaters from their box and considered how to incorporate as many as possible, I realized that their colors reminded me of the illustrations in a book of poems I read to my daughters when they were little. I got out the book. I got out a couple other children’s books as well for inspiration.

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And when I got to this book of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by the wonderfully talented Lisbeth Zwerger, the ideas started triggering like explosions in a high-scoring game of Bejeweled. Especially when I saw the page below. For I recalled that Calliope, the young owner of the sweaters, enjoys making things by hand (a girl after my occupational-therapist heart!). And one of those things is CASTLES.

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Yes! A fruitful idea! I don’t know if Calliope’s parents chose her name for the Greek muse, but I did feel grateful that some muse had finally tapped me on the shoulder :).

As I worked on the blanket, I frequently recalled my own daughters’ imaginary worlds when they were young — “I wish I could live in the Berenstain Bears’ treehouse!” “Mom, will you build blocks with me? Let’s make a house with a zoo next door.” “I want to live in England someday!” Oh, wait. That’s what Daughter #2 says now.

Guided by a clear idea, I plowed ahead, working out what I saw in my head. It meant I had to devise some new ways of putting the wool pieces together to create the hills and the clouds. Thankfully, I hadn’t promised the completion of the blanket until fall.

I did make the deadline, although admitting to that suggests a certain amount of lameness, doesn’t it, since I didn’t post it until now. Ah, well.

I added Calliope’s initials to the castle doors just before sending the blanket to its new home. For the font, I adapted PR Celtic Narrow by Peter Rempel — appropriate for a castle, I think!

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Calliope, I hope you continue to use your imagination for years and years, all through your life. It’s a precious gift we humans have, one we should never outgrow!

“Calliope’s Castle” (86″ x 95″, for a queen bed)

[This is a custom-ordered blanket.]

“The Spruce Tree”

A blanket isn’t really safe in my hands until, well, until it’s out of my hands. Exhibit A:

I createdAsleep in the Meadow with a summer sun in the sky. It was light and airy.

As I pulled it out now, with thin autumn light at the windows, I had a completely different vision. I had to follow through. Let me introduce “The Spruce Tree.”

Evergreens have been a frequent backdrop in my life. I grew up in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains where we’d go sledding every winter – under the pines.

As a teenage counselor at summer camp, on another California mountain, the butterscotch scent of Jeffrey Pines intoxicated me.

Here in northern Illinois, a stately blue spruce on the corner of our house silently protects us in inclement weather. This blanket is in honor of all these lovely trees.

“The Spruce Tree” ( 54″ x 68″)

This blanket is no longer for sale.

“Pumpkin Patch”

I’ve seen some crazy lovely pumpkins this fall. These sat at the back door of the Wisconsin B&B where Elder Daughter and I stayed on a weekend art studio tour:

Stagecoach Inn

The pumpkin in the lower corner looked like it had empty peanut shells stuck all over it. But it didn’t.

And these colorful rows of pumpkins were at an apple orchard my Hub and I stopped at in northern Door County while camping at the end of September:

Gorgeous gourds.

All of these colors inspired my new blanket, “Pumpkin Patch.”  (I’ll be bringing it to this weekend’s holiday open house!)

I had this blanket, minus its appliques, along for the college campus modeling session:

This is Younger Daughter, above, studiously observing the boys’ apartment building and, below, meandering in the garden. What are we paying for again?? Just kidding.

Today, back at home, I added the finishing touches: leaves drawn from a pumpkin vine (although I took some liberties with their color).

Our leafy yard made a good backdrop today!

And finally, I captured a shot of “Pumpkin Patch” and “Night Garden” together, keeping sweet ones warm after a rain:

“Pumpkin Patch”  (70″ x 82″ )

(This is no longer available for sale.)

Holiday Open House!

 

You are invited to a

 

HOLIDAY OPEN HOUSE

EXTRAVAGANZA!!

Sunday, Nov. 4, from Noon to 4 p.m. in Arlington Heights, IL  (email greensheepjo [at] gmail [ dot] com for the address)

 

Participating Vendors include: 

Bob’s Wine Bottle Lights

Embelysh Inc.

Marcia’s Cards

M.E. Designs

Mini Massage by Back In Balance

Peace Beads

RL Photography

The Green Sheep

Usborne Books

Willow House  Jewelry by Sara Blaine

Willow House Style For Home 

Zee’s Tees

My friend Kathy, who I met over a Green Sheep blanket, is hosting this wonderful open house in her own home. I’m honored to be a part of it! If you live in the area, please come. Email me at greensheepjo [at] gmail [dot] com to get the street address. There’ll be refreshments and raffles in addition to a wide assortment of gifts. You’ll find great ideas for family, friends, teachers, hostesses, and even you. We’re all working hard to put on a great day for you!