It is Raining, It is Pouring, All the Cats are Snoring

Hi Gwendolina,
I am sitting here in semi-darkness listening to it rain, and rain, and rain. The cats are beginning to ignore me when I open the door. My plants are taking on too much water despite my emptying their swimming pool/pots. On the positive side, I have had plenty of time to do inside projects.

First, the update on the sewing room. Dad finished the last piece for the room. Now that the desk and filing area is done I can move the paperwork off the dining room table. You may recognize the recycled legs on the desk. Over the years a once lovely sewing cabinet has met a series of unfortunate accidents. Most of which required a modification in one piece of it or another. I have never had such bad luck with any other piece of furniture. First the top was badly damaged by water. A fall into the corner of the top accounts for one of the scars on Carl's forehead. Then the iron treadle mechanism served for many years as a base under the round table top. That table was our first kitchen table and ended as the homeschooling table. All the time the treadle wheel was under that top I imagined little fingers pinched in the working fly wheel. I think the ability to make that wheel spin was irresistible to little kids. The iron base was broken during our move last year. So Dad thought he would use the legs in the desk design. I like how the legs make the desk look more delicate. The treadle wheel is now disabled in the garage. I think the wheel and basket could have a new life too. Any suggestions?

I am impressed by your new successes in gardening. Your tomatoes are going to be good in a few weeks. I have two potted tomatoes on the deck that are outpacing Dad's tomato in the garden. I think I may win the early tomato derby. You also seem to be well able to grow microbiotically! Is your sponge to the healthy stage yet. I love how the sourdoughs fill the kitchen with prebread smell. Just after I read your entry I heard a story on the TV about the wild yeasts used in the making of tequila. I thought of you. I think your breeding ( or does one just multiply) of yeast is more expedient. They said it takes around ten years just to grow the Blue Agave that tequila is made from. Though I did like the suggestion made by this grower http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=12017. Are you thinking of improving your stock?

Because it is raining and Dad is traveling I have time to watch old movies while I stitch quilt squares and frog that summer tank. I saw a movie I highly recommend. It is the Chinese movie "The Road Home". This movie is the gentlest story of the love a young woman has for a man in her village. The photography is breathtaking. It is also a superb depiction of the rural life of that time, a living history acted out. I need to see it again just to catch all the textile references and demonstrations shown during the story. I had watched about a half hour of the movie before realizing I needed to be more observant. The people of the region knew how to keep warm in their heavily quilted clothing. I almost missed the heavy felted boots for winter wear. They also showed the repair of pottery in a way I had seen demonstrated on Martha's show a couple of years ago. I hope you can find a copy locally.



Stalking the Wild Yeast

Hi Mom,

Here's my horticultural riposte to your (gorgeous) lily of the valley trapunto:

The first little green tomatoes are growing on the grape tomato plant! The hot humid weather has kickstarted all my container plants. It's becoming quite the jungle on the porch, thanks to the plants from Julie this weekend, and me moving all the houseplants out there.

One of my colleagues gave me a huge plastic pot into which I can transplant the other tomato plant, in exchange for a little kickback of fruit once it is producing. Are you as surprised as I am that I'm suddenly into gardening? I want to weed, I want to water, I'm not killing things right and left. It's as if you planted little sleeping gardening cicadas in me 13 or 17 years ago, and this is the year they wake up.

Besides the cultivating, my theme for the summer so far has been things that are free. Until I find a summer job (I'm looking! I'm inquiring! I'm making phone calls!) I have a lot of free time. I'm also trying to cut expenses by doing things that are free.

Free knitting, for example, otherwise known as stash knitting. This little project is knitting with stuff that isn't even yarn. It's the ball of nylon potholder loops from my last post, (idea thanks to [of course] this book), the primary-colored, loopy-fringed Goofus to your elegant, prim trapunto Gallant.
I also recently ran out of yeast. Is there a free solution to this? I wondered aloud yesterday. The weather has been too warm and humid to not be making bread - my kitchen IS a proofing box. I thought about experimenting with leavening with salt briefly, but decided, as quaintly old-timey as salt-rising sounds, to try making my own sourdough starter. It seems a bit more reliable once it's going. Behold:

The theory of making one's own sourdough starter is simple: mix flour and water, hope you trap some interesting yeast and lacto-baccillus from the air in it. The pickier online sources advise using wholewheat flour, and bottled, non-chlorinated water, all carefully temperature-regulated. I haphazardly used the whitest of white flour, cold tap water, and initially stirred with a metal spoon (another no-no). Nevertheless, by noon today the starter was already pretty bubbly and sour-smelling, and had a thin layer of hooch on top.

Apparently it can take days for the first bubbles to appear - my starter seems to be precocious, probably thanks to the afore-mentioned incredible humidity and general aliveness of the air right now. It smells nice and sour already. These symptoms put it pretty squarely in the "barely living" category. This may sound rather dismal, but in the world of sourdough starter, barely living is slightly alive, which is what I want.


PS - did you or Dad ever make the Cabbage Kuchen from Laurel's Kitchen? I'm thinking of making it tomorrow.


A Beginning

Dear Gwen,
You and Katie have asked what is my first project. Last year when Carl and Katie were married I promised Katie a quilt. I had already chosen the pattern and some of the fabric. And as a preview I showed her the cover of this book . Her quilt will be the one shown on the cover. It is called "Spring Irish Chain Quilt". The pillow shown is actually the Lily of the Valley center for 12 squares in the quilt, surrounded by the Irish Chain. Each of the L. of the V. squares is created in trapunto. This is the first project in which I have tried this technique. The square is actually composed of 2 layers of fabric. The top is the quilt fabric you will see in the finished top. The second layer is a Swiss batiste I purchased from a company in Louisiana. The motif is traced on to the batiste and then hand stitched through both layers along the design lines.
This first picture shows the front of the block. Photo credits belong to Dad. (He has a much better understanding with the new camera.) The color is very true in this picture. The second picture shows the trapunto a bit more clearly. To make the raised area yarn is slipped between the two layers. Each area is padded just enough to raise it without distorting the fabric. The instructions suggested using polyester thread to outline the motif. I thought about this for a total of 2 seconds, deciding that trapunto is a much older technique than the invention of polyester thread. So the traditionalist in me picked up the 100% cotton thread and began to stitch. In all fairness the suggestion of polyester thread was made to address a problem with the trapunto technique. As you manipulate the yarn into the areas the cloth does get stretched, resulting in the chance an outline stitch may snap. I have not had any problem with the cotton thread. Some instructions suggest a polyfill for the trapunto areas. I chose wool yarn. The first choice was the fluffy, delicate one on the left of the picture. It worked quite well except that it showed through the top fabric darker than I liked . So choice number two was the better yarn. The wool yarn will felt together over time and not migrate out of the channels and areas.

The next series of pictures shows the filling stitch in the trapunto areas. Working on the back side (batiste side) the threaded needle is slipped carefully between the two layers of fabric. The next stitch starts in the exit hole of the first stitch so that the yarn is drawn through the two layers. I continued working this area in a straight line until I reached the other side. Then I pulled out the needle and clipped the yarn close to the fabric. I worked in the ends of the yarn and closed any holes left in the batiste. Each area of the trapunto requires a few lines of wool to fill it completely.
This block seems to show a little distortion on the bottom edge so I will go back and remove a small amount of yarn from the fill in the center leaf. This should relieve the tension in that area and allow the fabric to flatten.

I am so excited to start this quilt. It incorporates an element from your quilt ( the similar piecing technique of your double nine patch) and motif quilting as in Carl's quilt. Dad suggested I make a quilt for us for my next one. It would be a nice way to celebrate our 30th anniversary in 3 years. Isn't that just the way it is....you get started on one and you have the next one simmering on the back burner.
love, Mom


Trekking on. . .

Dear Mom,
While you and Dad have been finishing and moving and organizing and entertaining, I've been wrapping up the monthlong party that has been this year's family graduation party season. You guys missed a good party. I missed a bit of the party because of forgetting the time change. Whoops! At least I was not alone - some of our other relatives made the same mistake.

Back home, I've been startling the yard bunnies.
Isn't it cute? There's a nest of them (or would it be a warren?) living somewhere nearby. I see them in herds, ranging across the yard or parking area, fearless and a little scrawny-looking.

I've also been making stuff, mostly inspired by these two bloggers' book:

Actually, I've been making balls of stuff to then use to make stuff. On the right, a Rag Ball. Surprisingly dense and heavy, it would be excellent for throwing. On the left, nylon-potholder- loop yarn. I had a bag leftover from the compulsive potholder making days of yore (yore was orchestra tour, spring 2004). I whipped out one final cotton one, then used the nylon loops that came with the loom to make this very satisfying chain. I'm not sure how far it will go for knitting, but it is very pleasing to look at and set in different places about the apartment as is. Sort of knotty, bright installation art. Would also be fun to chuck at someone.

And I finished the second sock. This was the best picture I could take by myself, and I just realized it I dorked it all up by folding the cuffs down.
The yarn is Trekking XXL, the pattern is pretty much the sock recipe from this book, with a few idiosyncratic twists like continuing the ribbing through the toe, instead of switching to plain stockinette. In retrospect, this makes for an unusual looking toe. But since it doesn't really feel weird, and there are no gaping holes, I'm leaving them as is.

So, what are you going to make first in your new sewing room?

Love, Gwen


Thank you for your patient waiting for the room update. Your Dad has been working on the components virtually nonstop. He had a little rest waiting for the polyurethane to cure. Didn't he do a splendid job?
I am slowly sorting through 25 years of sewing and craft supplies in a attempt to reduce the accumulation. How many buttons does one person really need? And the Operating question at the moment is if I will use it in the next 6 months. I know that this is usually stated as "Did I use it in the last 6 months." Though that question does not seem relevant to someone who thinks quilts made out of vintage fabrics are fabulous. I must admit I have held onto a piece
of fabric bought in the 1970's. Through the years this fabric was to be a backpack, a pillow top, a seat cover, a notebook cover, a pillow top again, and most recently a purse. I think I will hold on to it a while longer and see what it wants to be next.

In this picture you can see empty cubes above the work surface. These spaces are reserved for the fabric with potential. The scraps are an easy save because they become quilts. But the larger yardage exists as a promise to the future.
Ruthlessness will be called for. I think I will wait until tomorrow....