“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.

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 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.

 

“Easy Together”

Easy Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve smiles.

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Easy Together

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

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Easy Together

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

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Easy Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easy Together

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

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Easy Together

“Easy Together”  (60″x75″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

 

 

 

 

“Baby in the Badlands”

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It all started with their love of raptors.

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Kristen and Lori, wildlife biologists, best friends, and now sisters-in-law (they ended up marrying brothers), met while working on a golden eagle project together in the Badlands of North Dakota.

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Badlands

When Lori got pregnant with her second child last year, Kristen (a Green Sheep blog lurker for over a year) wrote and asked me about the possibility of making a Badlands-themed crib blanket. Both families still live in North Dakota. Now, Lori and her husband are ranchers there.

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Badlands

The closest I’ve come to where these two met was the South Dakota Badlands on a family car trip in my early youth to see Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Crazy Horse, and the Corn Palace. That was a long time ago! So I relied on Google Images to feed my imagination. Kristen steered me away from the stylized, filtered photos toward the natural ones. What an astounding landscape!

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Badlands

Kristen, who has been a sewer since age eight (“I learned from my mom and in 4-H!”), requested blues and browns to echo that landscape. I headed that direction and soon realized I needed to somehow represent the Badlands’ fascinating geologic formations. Two striped sweaters were perfect for the project. I also knew from the beginning that there must be a golden eagle coasting on the air currents above the land.

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Badlands

For Lori and Baby Owen, who arrived just last week, here is “Baby in the Badlands.” Welcome, little one! May you come to love the land and its creatures as much as your momma and your Aunt Kristen do. And Kristen and Lori, may your friendship continue to be a blessing that binds you and your families in wonderful ways :)

“Baby in the Badlands” (45″ x 52″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home

“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.

Celebrating Ellie

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This week, I got to hold tiny Ellie. Ellie is just a newborn but she has already accomplished a great feat: she tenaciously stayed put through her momma’s 16 weeks (!) of pre-term labor — including DAILY contractions. She did her family proud by not appearing until well into Week 39 … on Thanksgiving Day. Amazing. For all this and more, I present —

 /\/\/\/\/\/\/\   a few celebratory chevrons!   /\/\/\/\/\/\ 

It just seems appropriate.

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[Hyacinth Quilt Designs was helpful to me in learning how to plan out the stripes for the chevrons.]

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Welcome to God’s beautiful world, little Ellie! And congrats and love to Lori, Steve, and Aiden :).

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“Celebrating Ellie” (~40″ x 40″)

This blanket already has a home.

“The Twain Shall Meet”

Marriage.  It doesn’t just bring two PEOPLE together. It brings two families together. Two histories. Two sets of memories. Two world views.

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It brings together two ways of being, which in their new consolidated form sit on a continuum somewhere between Extremely Similar and  Extremely Dissimilar. (Amen??)

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Today I introduce you to Lori and Steve, a Norwegian girl and an Irish boy who have 11 years of marriage and a son and a life together.

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Where do these two weigh in on the Similarity Scale? They love to be outdoors and to exercise. They share their faith in Christ and have similar values. They enjoy being busy. They are gracious, hospitable and gentle. And how are they dissimilar? From Lori: she is always cold and he is always hot. Steve likes spicy food and Lori, not so much. He likes gadgets, she could care less. She keeps things clean, he likes his piles.

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After considering having a blanket and a story of their own, Lori presented me with some sweaters — sweaters that hold memories for them but that they simply never wear. (This is the perfect project for The Green Sheep. I love solving this “problem”!)

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In the days when Lori and Steve were dating, Steve had an opportunity to travel to Ireland with his parents. In retrospect it turned out to be a specially momentous trip because Steve’s father passed away later that same year.

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While in Ireland, Steve and his dad golfed on a beautiful course at Ballybunion. (You must click on that link if you are craving green and nature right about now!) Steve brought home a wool golf vest. The logo from that important day became a cornerstone of the blanket.

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He also brought home a thick, heavy, beautiful brown Irish wool sweater. But I mentioned he gets hot? So Steve’s brown sweater, too warm to wear but perfect for a blanket, builds the crossroads where these two have met. The leaf shapes scattered throughout are directly from the Irish crest for this couple’s family name.

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Lori also had a sweater from her pre-marriage days that she had been saving.  Hers was from Minnesota — but the black-with-red-and-white trim unfortunately kept throwing off the balance in the blanket.  So, as per Lori’s initial request, I stuck to coordinating with the couple’s bedroom colors instead, with the cream and the grey. If I couldn’t use her sweater, though, what could reflect Lori in the blanket?

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For her, there is the iconic Scandinavian metal button,

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a little extra bling, and, most importantly…

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…some proud Viking representation :). These horns make the blanket’s second cornerstone.

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It was a pleasure to create this for you two, Steve and Lori. I hope you enjoy it for many years to come. And, quite appropriately, Happy Valentine’s Day to you and to all!

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“The Twain Shall Meet” (74L x 60W)

This blanket was a custom order.

“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.

Pillowcases for a Princess

In January, I posted photos and related the story of Calliope’s Castle. My latest project is a companion piece: pillowcases of a sort. They are actually flange-less shams, meant for completing the scene more than cradling the head :)

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When I finished the queen-size blanket, there were so many great sweaters left to work with that this was simply the next logical thing to do.

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I laid out the fronts first, choosing some apricots and greens.

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I had to start with all fresh sweaters and wasn’t able to pull in anything but the teeniest of scraps left from creating the original blanket. I had used every bit of those earlier sweaters!

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Then four cream-colored cardigans of Calliope’s presented an idea  for the backs of the pillowcases — they could serve as the closures…

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…making the pillowcases fully reversible.

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And so the backs got a separate set of colors to tie them in: pinks, green, and creams.

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I was able to add in some meaningful little details from the sweaters themselves:

the ballet slippers,

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the painter’s palette,

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and the sweet neckline of Calliope’s own little-girl sweater.

Queen-size pillowcases (20″ by 30″ each)

This is a custom order.

“Rainy Day”

I’ve had the sweaters for this blanket matched up for some time, just waiting. Even before they were a blanket, I thought they were comforting together —  like being indoors — cozy, warm, and contented — on a rainy day.

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Just about the time I put the blanket together, my daughters put together a book they had worked on through this semester for my younger daughter’s watercolor class. The assignment: to paint a series of paintings as illustrations. Daughter #2, the painter, asked Daughter #1, the writer, if she would contribute poems to this project. Their collaboration took its final form as this book.*

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They created a painting/poem pair that fits so well with the spirit of a rainy day that I asked the daughters if I could share their work with you.

They said yes :)

Here is “Early Spring,” a painting by Hope Olson, and “If Only,” a poem by Grace Claus.

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Hope's rainy day watercolor

“Early Spring”

(Painting reprinted with permission of Hope Olson)

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If Only

(Reprinted with permission of Grace Claus)

On a day like today,

inspiration is nowhere

to be found. It has stolen

like a fox into the woods

and has curled up beneath

a silent bush, damp but

asleep while the rain slaps

the leaves, weaves between

branches, slips down

trunks, shoots, roots,

and seeps into the soil.

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If only I were a fox

and could leave this stale,

drowsy house, sheltered

from the rain, and let

one immaculate drop

startle my shoulder,

bead against my fur,

and disturb my sleep.

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Proud momma? I s’pose you could say that :)

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I could’ve tied this all together better if I had had a cloudy and dreary day to shoot these pics. How did I miss all those cloudy, dreary days?? Even the turtles at the local park came out to sit in the sun.

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Anyway, to me, the cream-colored squares in the blanket are like two windows, letting in wan but welcome light. Up close, you can see scrabbling vines “outside.”

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The gray wool with the diamond pattern is sprinkled with a handful of clear sequins, looking like little raindrops balancing atop the wool.

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This blanket is very cozy, cushy, and a nice throw size. In person, the colors are absolutely gorgeous together. (It’s difficult to capture that aspect in these photos.)

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“Rainy Day” (58″ x 74″)

This blanket has already gone to a good home.

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On a Day Like Today

(“On a Day Like Today” by Grace Claus; illustrated by Hope Olson)

“A Quiet Creature” (the hummingbird blanket)

My friend Gloria is a sweet fan of The Green Sheep. Along with choosing a blanket for herself, she has let me have fun designing for her grandkids (see 11, 12, Dig and Delve and I Love Minnie). Once, when she saw a small baby blanket I had made in purples and greens, she said, “You can make an adult-sized one of these for me!”  I kept my eyes open for more of those colors.

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Months later, with a nice collection of hues, I contacted Gloria to see if she was still interested. Yes, indeed, she replied. Her email contained a little postscript with a smile: “I like appliqués. I especially like flowers or hummingbirds.”

Just in time for hummingbird season, here is A Quiet Creature.

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“A Quiet Creature” (the hummingbird blanket) (60″ x 75″)

This is a custom-order blanket.

“In Argyle Style”

Today’s post will demonstrate my six degrees of separation from this blanket’s theme. From four different angles.

Today’s post is just silly.

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1. I am Scottish on my dad’s side — The argyle pattern comes from Scotland — The area of Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland, is the birthplace of the Scottish nation — From within Argyll comes the Clan Campbell, and argyle is their pattern — Unfortunately, I am not a Campbell.

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2. The sport of curling comes from Scotland — I’m a little Scottish, as I mentioned — AND I have been curling, once — My husband once worked with a manager, Ken, who was Canadian. Ken rented us some ice and split us up into teams so everyone could have a try — I was not very good at helping the stone along with my broom, but I had fun — I still accidentally call the curling stone a “kettle” because of that distinctively shaped handle on top.

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3. In the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Norwegian men’s curling team wore argyle — They did this, of course, because argyle comes from Scotland — As I have mentioned, curling comes from Scotland too — I am Scottish on my dad’s side — I married a Norwegian — We watched the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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4. I like plaid — When I was a girl, my mom made me a circle skirt made of plaid wool — Plaid originated in Scotland just like argyle — Those Scots have some mad fabric skills — I’m working on some fabric skills of my own — I may have mentioned: I’m Scottish on my dad’s side.

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Here’s what I hope you actually learn from this post (beyond exposure to my terrible six-degrees-of-separation reasoning): Joan finally made something masculine! This is large and manly, comfy, cozy and definitely big enough for two. And am I alone in thinking lovingly of Charlie Brown when I see that zig-zag pattern above?

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“In Argyle Style” (Size: 70″ x 86″)

(This is no longer available for sale.)

“The Pond”

It’s true what they say about fish, I think, and about water and ripples and quiet babbling — babbling of the watery sort, that is.

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(I have been known to babble to myself on crazy-busy days at our rehab clinic. In our back office, we have 14 therapists and 2 student interns — plus SIXTEEN DESKS in a room the size of a large living room. It’s no wonder! That, however, is not the babbling I mean.)

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Fish and water are able to lend their sense of peace and calm, quiet and order to our racing minds and bodies. Contrast the soothing, gliding movements of fishthrough water to the hurried, harried, schedule-bound movements of us racing out the front door to our next important thing.

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I’m convinced I have a sort of homing device inside that is always seeking out calm: the quieter place, the isolated sunny spot on the grass, the good book to carry along. I fully believe that our minds and hearts and souls need it.

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So grab a blanket, find a pond — even an aquarium! — lay out in the grass or at home on your sofa and soak up the soothing calm of the fish and the water. You may find that a nap will be in order. That kind of peace is a godsend.

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“The Pond” (Size: 58″ x 72″)

 (This is no longer available for sale.)

“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.]

J Loves J (and vice versa)

Some friends stopped over recently to choose a blanket for a wedding gift. They picked one they had eyed before: The Painted Piano. (You can see my first post about it here.)

They brought along the wedding invitation, designed by the creative she of this beloved couple, and on its cover was this sweet and simple declaration of true love:

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How could we pass that up as the perfect way to personalize this blanket??

So congratulations, Jimmy and Jenny! May you have many wonderful years together! And while you’re at it, I hope you bring this blanket along to:

have a summer picnic upon,

cuddle under on a wintry movie night (warm it up in the dryer first!),

cover your honey when you find him/her napping on the couch.

I guarantee you: the longer it’s around and the more you use it, the cozier it becomes (kinda like marriage). ENJOY!

The Painted Piano, with monograms (51″ x 65″)

This item has been purchased.