Monday, September 13, 2021

A Pilgrimage

A friend told me that the Baltimore Museum of Art was hosting an exhibit of Gee's Bend quilts, and I knew I needed to see these quilts in person. This is my third fall with the big kids' sports laid over top of the garden and preserving, laid on top of regular family life which keeps me hopping to begin with. I'm in survival mode right now, but I was determined to see these quilts. I did!

I love these quilts for their beauty and seeing the artistic decisions the quilters made in the urgent utility of using what they had and keeping their families warm.

They remind me of the wholly practical approach my Grandma Weaver had. No time for fussy stitches, matching corners, purchasing coordinating fabric or enough fabric so the whole quilt was the same. That pragmatism is beautiful to me on its own. "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." 

The exhibit notes also explained how the Gee's Bend quilters received Martin Luther King Junior in their isolated community three weeks before "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, and how they leveraged their quilting fame for racial justice and voting rights after that. And now I connect to the quilts through that lens, too. After George Floyd's murder in May 2020, I began a personal journey of education and activism regarding systemic racism. 

I have mixed feelings about the Gee's Bend quilts (and Amish quilts) being displayed in art museums and called art. Certainly I agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these quilts are stunning. However, I think of art as made to BE ART. The people who make art think of themselves as artists. They should get paid for that and recognized as artists, and note "artist" as profession when they fill in that line. The rest of us who make beautiful things, accidentally or on purpose, I want respect for us, too. I'm quibbling with art museums being the highest standard of respect for beautiful things. 

It's similar to the mindset that truly beautiful rooms and homes are the ones showcased in magazines. I reject that - those places are often showcases that simply photograph well, not homes where people are happy, industrious, and engaged in life. 

How can we respect the quilters of Gee's Bend, the Amish quilters, the everyday quilters like me? We are often the homemakers whose unpaid work in running our homes and raising children and the like is not counted as economically significant or valuable. And the quilters of Gee's Bend have the added layers of poverty and Black skin as well. It's a lot easier to take the quilts from Gee's Bend and exhibit them in an art museum, to say they are "eye-poppingly gorgeous" (New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, 2002) than it is change attitudes towards poor Black female homemakers. 

 There were only five quilts in the exhibit. I stood in front of them and cried behind my mask (useful for that, isn't it?). And then I drove home and got out my own needle and thread again. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Madras Skirt I Wanted to Wear On Vacation

In June, I was packing for a family trip to Niagara Falls and the Finger Lakes in New York when I realized I did not have a fun skirt I wanted to wear. (Related blog posts I have toyed with writing: Why Do We Get Tired of Our Clothes? And what can we do about it? Also, Why Do I Loathe Packing So Very Much? Really, why? Maybe I should find out why some people enjoy packing to shed some light on my loathing?)

It was late at night and I was not nearly done packing, but the ding-dong pandemic has ridded me of some pragmatism, so I went immediately to my fabric shelves to see what was "fun." Madras! And also unbelievably soft with the wonderful intersections of colors creating new colors. I googled "madras skirts" and spent some daydreamy moments in our trip designing the madras skirt I wanted. 

I found an image of a Ralph Lauren skirt that fired my imagination, so I modified a simple wrap skirt pattern I had to add the ruffle and make a tie closure instead of a button. I inserted some pretty little scraps in the ruffle and tie for the patchwork fizz I like, but then when I saw the ruffle in the mirror, I unpicked the biggest pieces and took them out. Just didn't like them - patchwork can be so surprising. I left the smaller pieces intact. 

I had enough madras left to squeak out a tank top (another Sorbetto tank). I love wearing the skirt and tank together for a dress look, or mixed with other shirts and skirts to hopefully avoid clothing boredom. 

The madras is a dream to touch. Truly the best thing float off sticky sweat in hot weather. However, it is really lightweight, almost delicate, and I did not add a pocket to the skirt because I was unsure it could handle the stress on the seams. I also could not quite figure out where to slap a pocket on a wrap skirt. Bummer. I really rely on pockets.

Back to packing: I have noticed that it does bring my clothing collection into focus when I pack for a trip. Suddenly I see that I have tons of navy, or that my tank tops are stretched out and sad, or that my favorite sandals need to be replaced soon. Or that I want a fun skirt! So that is a good thing I can focus on for future packing. . . 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Exactly What I Want To Eat

 I am slow to acquire cookbooks, although I do read a lot of cookbooks. I want cookbooks that I really use a lot. After checking out Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark from the library over and over, I bought a used copy this winter. 

Summer Vegetable Salad with Tapenade

No exaggeration, I have cooked 1-2 recipes from Dinner every week since then.

I love the concept: each recipe is meant to be dinner and she suggests side dishes if you want some ideas. Very few of the recipes require time ahead of time for marinating or something. Most of her technique is unfussy or flexible where it's unusual, and she's not bossy or snobby. Most of the food I've made has been delicious and creative and very more-ish. Melissa Clark's pantry is pretty similar to my pantry, apparently, and she has new combinations and suggestions that we have loved. Only a few dishes were just average or more work than I care to do for supper. 

Chilled Cucumber & Corn Soup 

The suggested Avocado Toasts to go with the soup

Some of our favorites are Coriander Seed Chicken with Caramelized Brussel Sprouts. . . Roasted Carrots with Walnuts, Feta, and Dill. . . Fresh Corn Cakes with Tomatoes and Fried Sage. . . Watermelon Gazpacho with Avocado. . . Mediterranean Tuna & Olive Spread. . . 

According to her website, Melissa Clark has over 3 dozen published cookbooks. I'm amazed. How does she have the time and talent to produce such excellent, diverse recipes? I'm a huge fan!

What's your go-to cookbook these days? 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Old Sheets, New Jammies, New Curtains

 I save sheets that have a stain somewhere, a rip, or whose partners were worn to shreds. I use sheets in sets, pretty much, so the orphan sheets go into my fabric stash. 

I made pajamas for myself with a sheet from a Tommy Hilfiger set I bought for Genevieve when she graduated to a big bed. So, that would be about 12 years old now, and that speaks to the quality of the namebrand in this instance. I had a pair of pajamas from Old Navy clearance a few years back that were so floaty and cool, I laid them down on the sheet and used them as a pattern. I also used a length of cotton eyelet to fancy them up a bit.


Then, the new bedroom needed some curtains.  I had a lot of fun treating myself to fabric from Spoonflower.

But here's a little word of caution: this was my first time ordering fabric from Spoonflower. I bought 8 yards of their petal cotton, giving myself 2" to spare with all the seam allowances included. I prefer this kind of no-waste sewing because, even though I adore patchwork, my piece bag overfloweth and there are only so many little piecey projects one house needs. 

But when the fabric came, there was a wide white selvage on the sides and both ends. I expected selvage on the sides, but not on the ends! Uneasy, I measured the whole dang yardage and discovered it was 6" shy of 8 yards. When I contacted Spoonflower help in a froth, she said that 1-4% shrinkage is within the range they stated on their website and also that the fabric is cut and measured before the dyeing/printing process and it shrinks after that in its mordant process. She indicated if the fabric was unusable that they would give some kind of refund/discount, but I did not feel right about doing that because I did indeed use the fabric and the shrinkage was what they stated. I did suggest to her that they clarify when the shrinkage happens - as part of the manufacturing process, even before the washing the buyer is going to do at home.  Never have I done measuring and math for shrinkage of commercial fabric I have purchased and washed, but any shrinkage always seemed negligible. Please note that I am not mad at Spoonflower, just newly aware of the differences in purchasing from smaller companies.  

On the plus side, I do not have one single shred of this fabric left over. 

I made the narrowest possible hems on the tops and bottoms, and cut the height as skinchy as possible. I think they turned out well! I used old white sheets as the lining fabric. I do find old sheets really useful. 

What do you do with old sheets? 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Kale-Sauce Pasta

I found this recipe in The New York Times a couple years ago and it has been in regular rotation ever since because
1. It is delicious.
2. It is easy.
3. It uses pantry staples. 
4. It's a complete balanced meal if you need it to be. 
I've used it as a side-dish to fish or grilled meat. Here we are having cold grilled turkey leftover from a birthday dinner. It's great for using up scrappy pieces of kale and if the stems are not too thick, I don't even bother stemming the leaves anyway.

 I've used all kinds of pasta to make this. Sometimes I increase the sauce amounts to use a full pound of pasta because my people eat a lot of food these days. 

I'm also cooking outside on a single-burner induction cooktop to keep the steamy heat out of the house. I keep hotpads and an extension cord right in the drawer there. 
I've made this in kitchens in summer vacation houses - just check first that there's a blender or something like it.  
Kale-Sauce Pasta

1. In large pot of salted boiling water, blanch 1/2-1lb. kale, thick ribs removed.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in small pan and gently over low heat cook 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely. When I can smell the delicious garlic scent and small bubbles are forming around the pieces, I pull it off the heat. Definitely do not let it brown!
3. Pour garlic oil with garlic in blender. 
4. Fish kale out of water with tongs and add to blender. 
5. Add 1/4 cup hot kale water. Add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan. 
6. Puree. It will be a lovely green!
7. Cook 1/2-3/4lb. pasta in the same hot kale water. 
8. Mix kale sauce and hot pasta, adding freshly ground pepper to taste, as well as more salt and Parmesan as desired. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Summer Clothes with My Small Pieces

Last winter when I was sorting fabric, I realized I had lots of small, pretty pieces, approximately 1-2 yards. More than I would ever need to make Phoebe little girl clothes (and have you seen her recently? She's basically a grown up). 

I printed out the Sorbetto tank top pattern, and was pleased with the resulting tank top (made that laborious pattern printing, taping, cutting process worth it). 
This summer when I pulled it out to wear it, I really wished for a dark denim skirt to go with it. I had another small but pretty piece in my stash, wouldn't you know. So I made a little denim skirt, shorter than I would normally wear, but it was a small piece after all. This is the same pattern I used for my yellow skirt, different view. 
 I used a navy calico inside the waistband and at the hem for a private pretty for me, but also to stretch the denim as far as possible. I always put pockets in the clothing I make, but I literally had a few scraps left from the denim piece. I held them up to the skirt a couple different ways and just made up a pocket! I top stitched the heck out of everything with red thread, and I am really happy with this comfortable skirt. Bonus: it matches the Sorbetto tank! 

Genevieve floated the idea that maybe I could make her a denim skirt and I was all, well, you look in the fabric cupboard and see what you find, but I am sewing down my stash, so good luck.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Our Really Big House

 Living in close quarters through a pandemic changes how we think about our houses, doesn't it? I always liked the open floor plan of our first floor - made it easy to supervise little kids, seemed light and open.  But in the pandemic, we realized we didn't have doors to close on spaces when a number of us needed to be on separate screens, on separate Zooms (oh, Zoom, how we hate and need thee). 

My husband and I crunched the numbers and decided to take over the rest of the second floor apartment. When we bought our three-storey house, each floor was an apartment. When Genevieve was a newborn, we renovated the house to add interior stairs and create a first floor apartment for us that included part of the second floor. Over the years, we have gradually nibbled away at the second floor apartment until 2 weeks ago when we swallowed it entirely. 

Glory be, we added another bedroom, a family room, and a bathroom! Now our girls have separate rooms, which is a wonderful development in their relationship. Now I have an actual desk in our family room instead of just a drawer next to the dining room table. 

It feels incredibly luxe to not have to wait for someone else in the bathroom, to have masses of storage in the new bathroom, to have a second fridge in the apartment kitchen (and sink and stove, but the fridge is what I immediately put into use). We even have a second staircase to access our new space. 

It's disorienting, honestly. The first night in the new bedroom, I kept worrying about my babies, spread out all over this huge house. I'm still a little puzzled about how much desk stuff to take up to my desk and how much to leave in the dining room, which I have realized is the nerve center of the house.

We had to acquire some more furniture and organizing things. I did my best to buy second-hand items from local sources. The way I see it, not only is this cost-effective, but better for the planet than manufacturing new (cheaply made) stuff that is shipped from everywhere. But oh my, I am also now experiencing the big-house effect, where I have doubled the bathroom equipment, added more bedroom furniture for Genevieve, and considering how many duplicate desk supplies I need upstairs that are already in use at other desks. We have another air conditioner in a window, too, now, which I recognize as really helpful in our swampy summers, but hate the enlargement of our carbon footprint. Living in small spaces makes us efficient, for sure.