Monday, January 30, 2012

More Pillowcases

I made another set of pillowcases like the ones here.  This time I used #3 cotton crochet thread and a US size E crochet hook.  

I used a soft green polka dot for the back and a yellow rose for the front (I'm loving yellows right now).

A closer look at the edging:
A gratuitous crochet shot ;)

They are a belated gift for my mom.  I hope she likes them.  They sure were fun to make.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

While I love to read and watch movies, the older I get the more I enjoy nonfiction.  I've always loved nature shows -- growing up my family always watched 'Wild Kingdom' before 'The Wonderful World of Disney.'  I love to read essays, memoirs, biographies, travelogues.  And my husband and I (really, our whole family) love to watch documentaries.  We just watched 'The Cave of Forgotten Dreams' (although I have to confess my husband slept through part of it).

In no particular order (and with the important caveat that you need to make your own decisions about what is appropriate for your family), here are some documentaries we've found interesting:

'Alone in the Wilderness' -- beginning in the late 1960s, a man documents his solitary life in the    Alaskan wilderness

'A Man Called Pearl' -- a man in SC creates an extraordinary sculptural garden (FAVORITE)

'Ferrets:  The Pursuit of Excellence' -- bizarre, but fascinating

'Grizzly Man' -- a self-appointed grizzly ambassador.  very sad.  Be prepared.

'Into the Wild' -- kind of the opposite of 'Alone in the Wilderness.' also very sad.  Again, be prepared.

'Supersize Me' --  a man spends 30 days living on McDonalds food

'Spellbound' -- backstory of the National Spelling Bee

'The King of Kong'  -- Donkey Kong championship

'Darkon' -- live action role players

'Hands on a Hard Body' -- this is hard to find, but it's about trying to win a pickup truck (Love it!)

'Good Hair' -- Chris Rock on African-American hair care

'Is That Skunk?' -- on skunks

'The Meerkats' -- my ten-year-old's favorite

'Cave of Forgotten Dreams' --1990s discovery of fantastic cave paintings in France

'It Might Get Loud' -- rock guitar

'Wordplay' -- crossword puzzle fanatics

'Buena Vista Social Club' -- underground Cuban musicians

'Rush:  Beyond the Lighted Stage' -- backstory of the rock band Rush

'High Lonesome' -- beautiful movie about the start of bluegrass music

'Buck' -- horse whisperer

'Winnebago Man' -- tracking down a TV pitchman.  FOUL LANGUAGE alert, but interesting.

'Who the #$%% Is Jackson Pollock?' -- a woman seeks to find out the value of a painting

'King Corn' -- the turning of agriculture into a monoculture

'Forgiving Dr. Mengele' -- a Holocaust survivor's quest of forgiveness

'Jesus Camp' -- kids at an unusual summer camp

'Herb and Dorothy' -- a modest couple collects modern art

'Kon-Tiki' -- the original footage of an experimental voyage across the Pacific

'This Is It' -- Michael Jackson

'Jonestown:  The Life and Death of Peoples Temple' -- Guyana cult

'Riding Giants' -- surfing

'Collision' -- a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson

I've not personally seen these, but they are recommended by my college and teenage sons:

'Ultimate Predator' --  a real-life Tarzan

'Surviving the Cut' -- marines

'Restrepo' -- US soldiers in Afghanistan

'Bigger, Faster, Stronger' -- steroids

I'm interested in seeing:

'Gasland' -- controversial drilling in Texas

'Food, Inc.' -- thinking about our food supply

'Waiting for Superman' -- education

Most of these can be found on Netflix.  Feel free to make your own suggestions.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Beth at Love Laugh Quilt has been hosting a Pincushion Parade this week, so I thought I'd participate.

Here's my main pincushion.
This was made of scraps from a dress and jacket I made my daughter years ago.  It is my favorite one because I love red and yellow and I loved that little dress.

Here's another, also made out of scraps from clothes I made her.

I do like this happy bug :)
I love creative pincushions but there is a limit to how much work I want to put into one.  These are super easy -- I got them from a tutorial here -- I just used a lid from a chocolate milk canister (an oatmeal canister lid would also work) as my template.  I had ambitions of making a pile of them and giving them as Christmas gifts -- one of these days I may still do that.

If you have greater ambitions than me, there are lots more wonderful ideas at tipnut. Or if you've already got one to share, join the Pincushion Parade yourself!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Vintage Sewing Machine Love

Since I've been working on more pillowcases this week, I thought I would talk a little about sewing machines.

My mom has a blue Singer sewing machine from 1965, which her mother-in-law forced my dad to buy for her because for too many years she did not have one herself, and had to sew for others in exchange for the use of their machines.  It is not a fancy machine, but my mom has sewn THOUSANDS of miles on it and it still works great.  In all these years and with all that sewing, I think it has been in the shop once.  My mom's experience gave me a great respect for older machines.

The sewing machine I had -- a 1966 Singer Touch and Sew -- was only one year newer than my mom's, but unbeknownst to me that machine marked the beginning of some unfortunate design changes, and it had to go in the shop all the time.  The nylon gears finally crumbled away about three years ago.  The cost of the labor to have it repaired was prohibitive, so I began to research fixing it myself.  In that process I inadvertently got sucked into the vintage machine subculture -- which is populated by some very helpful people:)

After joining some yahoo groups (in particular, vintagesinger and wefixit) and asking some questions, I decided that instead of trying to fix my old machine I would see about getting one that had consistently good reviews.  Lo and behold, on my local craigslist there was a Singer 401 from 1956!

A young man was selling it.  It had been left behind by the former homeowners.  He knew nothing about it and it needed some work, so I offered what I thought was a fair price and brought her home.  Over a period of several weeks, I cleaned her up (like a lot of mid-century items, lots of nicotine stains), ordered a few parts and installed them, basically just fiddled around with the machine.  I did finally take it to my local sewing machine repair shop just to make sure I had everything set right.

Now I did not have a lot of prior experience working on sewing machines, but there is a lot of good information and also good resource people in these yahoo groups.  The internet has made it possible to learn how to do so many things that would have been virtually impossible before. So I was able (with my on-line connections) to get her in good shape, oiling all the necessary places, figuring out problems, taking things apart and putting them back together.
A peek into the side above the needle
And in doing this, I have found out something about myself:  I really love mechanical objects.  I love the fact that it is possible for them to work as good as the day they were made, I love the design that went into them, I love figuring out how the parts work together.  I think this is part of why I loved the movie "Hugo", with all its clockworks and other inventions.
Such modesty!
The Singer 401 was a top-of-the-line machine in its day --  it says so right on the front of the manual! --  and it has a lot of great features:  adjustable needle position, adjustable pressure, adjustable stitch length, adjustable tension on the thread and the bobbin, ability to sew two threads at once, quite a few decorative stitch options, etc. There are lots of newer machines that don't have all these options.  Plus I love how she feels -- plastic machines do not compare to the solidity of metal.
Some of the stitch possibilities
She came in her own desk.  The desk has a formica top and the machine folds down into it to make a flat surface.  I've thought about repainting the desk, but I really can't think of anything that would be an improvement, so I'll leave it alone.  I love having my machine in the desk, though.  The flat surface is so nice when you are sewing.  Also, it has a knee lever to make it go.  There is a foot pedal I can put down on the floor if I choose, but I actually prefer the knee pedal.

There are two storage drawers in the desk.  In the top one I keep my extra feet, bobbins, sewing machine needles, etc.

The bottom drawer has other sewing machine accessories:  extra discs (which change the stitch patterns), a buttonhole attachment, and a monogram attachment (which I haven't used yet).  I like collecting all the available accessories :)

I'm not a person who really names her appliances, but if I do give her a name, it will be Cordelia because I bought her on Cordell Street.  Do you like how she looks?  I admit, after my mom's pretty blue machine, the two-tone beige and cream had to grow on me.  But after all the loving care I've put into her, I love her.  I love her quirky good looks and all her knobs and levers.  And I mostly love her because she does just what she is supposed to do, and does it well -- sew.
My lovely Singer 401

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Flowers (from several years ago)

Our winter so far has been very mild, with quite a few beautiful sunny days.  Our grass is far greener now than it was in the severe heat of this past summer, and so far the frost hasn't yet killed off many of the plants.  Still, in winter I often need a little cheering up.  And flowers (even photos of flowers) make me happy, more so the older I get.  And.....these photos were wasting away in my computer files, so I thought I would pull them out for a general spread of cheer.  We usually plant a mix of Texas wildflowers, and every year the mix turns out a little different, you never know which flowers will do the best.  These pictures are from our first efforts, probably around 2007.
Texas paintbrush

Bachelor's Button/ Cornflower

Shasta Daisy

Drummond Phlox

Toadflax (I think)


African Daisy

African Daisies and a Bluebonnet

As far as flowers go, these are all on the more humble side.  "And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." -- Matthew 6:29 KJV

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Smokehouse Quilt

My dog Penny taking a rest

This quilt rested on the foot of my bed all summer.  It is a scrappy bow tie quilt -- a lot of the family quilts are bow ties, it must have been a go-to pattern.  While it is certainly nothing fancy, this worn little quilt is in relatively good condition considering the circumstances of its rescue:  the quilt had been nailed across a window in the smokehouse behind my grandmother's house, and it had been there for YEARS and YEARS and YEARS.

See the holes?

A smokehouse is a little wooden shed where meat can be cured.  In my grandparents' case, it was primarily hog meat.  When I was very small, they still had cattle, and one of my uncles was a hunter, so maybe there was some venison or other game, but mostly it was hogs.  My papaw raised a few hogs every other year.  He would butcher them and cure the meat, enough for them -- and they always had people coming over to eat -- and enough to share with the five grown children's families.  I never helped them really, but I remember going down with my mom so she could help make sausage and other meats (which they canned).  The smokehouse was mostly for curing hams and sides of bacon (or what we called "streak-ed meat," which is similar to bacon).

Anyhow, the smokehouse hasn't been used for anything but storage in a very long time.  My cousin was cleaning it out and took the quilt down from the window.  He was going to throw it away -- it was so dirty -- but my mom said no, she would take it home with her.  She washed it, and it actually turned out to be a nice little quilt, the kind that feels good over you when you're sleeping.  (Side note here:  I cannot find a batting that feels as good as these old quilts which were just lined with spread cotton -- they are soft and slightly fluffy, not thin and stiff like a lot of newer quilts.)

When my family visits my mom we have to sleep all over the house, and on one of our visits Mom gave this quilt to one of my kids to sleep under.  I noticed it since it was new to her, and Mom said if I wanted it I could have it, so I brought the quilt home with me.

The quilting is pretty basic, and the scrap placement sometimes makes sense to me and sometimes doesn't.  In some ways it's a utility quilt, except I know that it took a lot of careful work.  I wonder what the scraps were from -- maybe some grandma or aunt's dresses or an uncle's shirts?  No one knows who the maker was, but I am assuming that it was someone who was somehow related to me.  That thought makes the quilt even more comforting to lie under.

I have not repaired the holes.  The binding also needs replacing.  There are lots and lots of projects on my "should do" list ahead of this one.  But I go ahead and use the quilt because I think if I had been the one to make it, I would like to know that someone -- especially someone from my own family -- is still enjoying and appreciating my work all these years after I'm gone.    
 Penny enjoying a rare moment in the quilt

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Homemade Gift Love

Our family had a good, fairly quiet Christmas.  I spent most of the week between Christmas and New Year's sick with a cold and didn't accomplish much.  But the weather was lovely (70 degrees Dec. 30!) and so by Saturday we had all our decorations down, including the outdoor lights.  I still need to find a box for my wreath, though.

This Christmas I only made one homemade gift:  a pillowcase for my youngest son.  I used this tutorial and fabrics I already had on hand.  I had to brush up on my rusty embroidery skills to do his name.  There is a new pillow inside the case, too.  (Both the pillow and pillowcase were on his Christmas wish list:)

My daughter, on the other hand, gave EVERYONE in our family something.

Lovely wrist warmers for me (directions are here).  I can attest that you can wear these and still crochet or write, and for some reason it is often my wrists that are cold, so these really work.

See,  I'm still working on my ripple blanket
Socks for my husband (these are my daughter's first pair of socks!!):
These are spiral socks
Slouchy hat for a brother:

Stuffed mouse for another brother:

Pajama pants for the two oldest brothers:

AND a Christmas stocking for a friend:

She's already got her plans for next this year.  People, she puts me to shame.

I look forward to sharing what we make this year, and I look forward to being inspired by all of you fellow crafters out there -- we love to see what you are doing, too!