Monthly Archives: February 2016

exquisite

Last weekend was a fairly quiet one. M and E headed out late Friday afternoon for a weekend camping trip with E’s Girl Scout group. That left me and the little one and a pretty open schedule. We filled them with a lot of extra reading – we’re on our second round of Ivy + Bean books (in a row), and she just can’t get enough of them. On Friday night, F was out like a light by 7:00, and I spent several hours working on the garage plans and elevations. Saturday was so, so cold – we headed out early for my yoga class, and then we ran a couple of errands (with a side activity in the lumber department at Lowe’s). After her last indoor soccer game of the season, we decided to venture around to some garden related shops around the area. I was looking for a hanging planter for the aforementioned toothbrush holding, and maybe we were also looking for a spot of spring at the same time. We struck out at a few places – some had closed early due to the really cold temps, but we had fun browsing around at K.Hall Designs where I didn’t find a hanging planter, but I did find this lovely vase. We also ran into one of F’s teachers there, so that made the afternoon really special.

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We treated ourselves to some ice cream (which I always crave on cold days – I know that seems weird), before heading home for dinner and some Mancala and more books. By eight o’clock the house was quiet, and I turned to the sewing machine that used to be my grandmother’s, and I got to work.

I’ll post more about this project when it’s complete, but I wanted to write a short post about the beginning of it first. A sort of Valentine to my grandmother; a bit of a love letter to myself.


Her sewing machine has been idle for many years now, and I will admit that I’ve been reticent to open it up again. I think I was afraid of what I might find – that it would overwhelm me, or that I’d attempt to start it up again and it wouldn’t wake up. That I’d have to take it in for service and pretend like I have any clue about what I’m doing with such an amazing machine. I’ve done some minor sewing projects over the past few years, but I knew Momaw’s machine was the Cadillac. I was intimidated by it, and I let it sit for years because of this.

I’m not sure what convinced me to tackle that fear last weekend, but I did. I had empty hours ahead of me, and no reason not to just dive in. I opened the manual, and started at the beginning. Reading every step two or three times before attempting anything at hand. I completely expected some sort of snarl each point along the way, but there were none. Every piece was stored where it should have been, everything in its place, working, functional, beautiful. Only the bulb didn’t work – I ran upstairs and borrowed the lamp from E’s desk, and got to work.

Each time I turned the page in that manual, I’d catch myself holding my breath. And then I’d tackle the next step, smooth as can be. Eventually I turned off all the background noise in the room and in my head, and I set to work. I sketched out my plan, I vacuumed and mopped the floors meticulously, and then rolled out the bolts of fabric from the kitchen to the dining room. I made the first cuts around 10:30, and then I was committed. I worked until the wee hours of the morning. I couldn’t stop.

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I wonder if there was a moment when my grandmother knew that she was closing up that machine for the last time. She didn’t die a sudden death, it was a slow decline that was difficult to watch. As a child, a teenager, an early adult – I can’t remember a single visit to her house when she wasn’t, at some point, in her sewing room. She always had projects going, organized stacks of materials and copious notes, written on paper scraps, tucked into the piles for safekeeping. At some point she turned off that machine for the last time. I’m not sure what her last project was, I know she had dozens of unfinished projects. She never ran out of ideas or drive. She just ran out of time with a cooperating body.

I know it was late in the night, and I was alone with my thoughts, and those two things alone can turn the ship towards nostalgia with little effort. But I felt like she was there, troubleshooting any issues before they arose, urging me forward, confident that I could study enough and figure it out. And I did.

The machine is a dream – I’ve never sewn on anything like it, anywhere. The drapes are not perfect – I’ve adjusted my original ideas many times in my head over the years, but I’ve adapted those into something I’m pretty proud of. I could have hired someone else to make them. Honestly, we could have skipped them altogether. But this idea was generated somewhere in my head around the time when she was leaving us, and it’s never left. I took a few classes, I made lists of supplies, I’ve read countless books and articles and tutorials about the process.

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When I made that first row of stitches on the hem at a few minutes past midnight… it’s hard to explain how that felt. I tried to explain it to M when he returned home. The word I kept thinking of was exquisite. It wasn’t me, it was that machine. I merely offered the steady hand, which wasn’t even that steady. Exquisite made me think of this part of her obituary that I wrote –

Jo was a gifted artist, particularly with textiles, and graciously shared her numerous talents throughout her life with family, friends, and the many church homes served by Jo and George. She was exquisite in every sense of the word, and she leaves a lasting legacy of a beautiful life and a life made beautiful.

The house was quiet, but I wasn’t alone. The end product will not be perfect, but I will never forget how I felt when I pressed that pedal and laid down that first tidy row of tiny stitches.
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Another post I wrote about my grandmother, and sewing.

shades of blue

Painted Frames 1

The girls and I made these sun prints a few years ago, out of objects we found in the jungle that is our backyard. I loved the way they turned out so much that I wanted to get them framed – mostly to protect them while I figured out where I might use them. I bought these so-so frames, mostly for the white mat and glass and protection factor. The profile didn’t do much for me, but they were safe and we boxed them up and sort of forgot about them.

Painted Frames

We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about our backyard these days (!), and we’ve also been cleaning up and working through some smaller projects in the house, and I remembered these sun prints in the process. M brought the box up from the basement and I unwrapped them. The prints themselves still look great, but the frames were really uninspiring. I don’t like the white at all – I might like it if it were a really thin metal frame (like my favorites here), just a thin profile line at the edge. But I laid them out for a few days to just think about it a little more.

I thought some contrast might actually be nice, and I wondered about trying a slim black frame like the one I just used on E’s VW print upstairs. But I still wasn’t feeling it. I thought about a custom frame in an indigo hue, but there are six frames and that was really going to add up. I did get some gift certificates for framing for Christmas, but I’m working on the big portrait wall in the stair hall, and I just wasn’t sure about committing that kind of money to these prints. I’m a little unsure how these will fare as the years go by – even with the UV glass that these frames have. But if they do fade or I tire of them, I’m not really sure what I’d do with six custom indigo hued frames in the futures.

Turns out M was wondering about blue frames too, so then we wondered if painting the existing frames might do the trick. Seemed like a better use of framing funds – I just went to Art Mart and looked at the dozen different blue options and picked the one I liked the most – Montana Black, Color: Space

Painted Frames 2Untitled

I didn’t want the frames to be a really bright blue, I was looking for a neutral blue that worked well with some of the darkest areas of the prints. Last weekend we had nice temps, so I applied two-three light coats on each side of the frames before bringing them inside to cure for a couple of days.

Painted Frames 4

I’m not really thrilled with the way the colors are rendered in this photograph, but, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, the light is really tricky right now. In person, I love the way these turned out. The prints still stand out, but the frames really make a difference, particularly when these are grouped on the wall. This weekend I’m going to mess around with some layouts in our room, and try them out in one of them.

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The color of the frames is almost indistinguishable from the color we’re leaning towards for the master bath. When I hold the frame up to the blue walls, it nearly disappears. the spray paint has just a smidge less green in it than the paint swatch, so I might end up color matching the formula of the spray paint for the room. It’s such a lovely muted indigo in person.

We’ve got another small repair / painting job in the master bedroom – but we need for it to WARM UP before we can get to that. Once that’s done, I’ll take some good pictures of that room, and how it’s looking these days.

random lately bits

It’s been a very white and gray week. It’s early morning as I type this. I’ve been trying to take some photos of a project, but the daylight is bright and flat at the same time. It just keeps snowing, but not in joyful amounts, just in the kind of amounts that snarl rush hour traffic and pack down firmly onto the streets, rutless. I only have a few spare moments, but I thought I’d at least start to write a bit under the original title of “random lately bits”. I have lots of little, insignificant things I’m thinking about, but these days are long long long, and I hardly get the chance. When my alarm goes off before six, it takes an extra mental push to both acknowledge the next seventeen hours, and to embrace all that will transpire during them.

M slips out of bed long before me, and my body wakes to his absence just enough to burrow into the warm spot he leaves behind. I stretch out in a diagonal swath across the bed, into my favorite position, face down with my toes pointed to the floor and just hooked over the edge of the bed. I used to be afraid of things, animals, monsters, stealthy criminals, under my bed, just waiting for an exposed ankle to attack. I’m not nervous about those things anymore. I always slept on my back, head slightly elevated and facing the door, ready. No longer, not when I can slide out of a warm tub and underneath a down comforter, stretching my arms alongside my ears until they brush the bars above my head, hooking my feet over the opposite end of the mattress, face planted into the sheet until I’m forced to turn to the side for air, a reluctant concession. He’s nearly silent in the bathroom in the morning, and I’m nearly asleep, but awake enough to think about what’s changed in me. I’m curious about how this fear escaped me. This is not the sort of thing I’d be curious about in the middle of those seventeen hour stretches, but only in the still dark thirty-six minutes of extra sleep stretching I get once the muted sounds of water and fan mix in the adjacent room.

I settle on two possibilities before drifting back into a half-sleep. The first is a theory about forbidden pleasures. I didn’t fully appreciate how delicious it felt to stretch out across a bed in any fashion until I was unable to do it for the better part of a year. For weeks following my surgery I was limited to one uncomfortable position, and I remember waking every few minutes to shift an inch or two. It was not unlike those nights when I was carrying my girls, limited to lying on one side, and then shifting, hourly, to the other one. For now, at least, I’m free to occupy as much or as little space as I wish to in those sleeping hours. I will not surrender one ounce of that freedom to the creatures under the bed.

The second possibility is deeper, and perhaps too strong a dive to make when I still have twenty-two more minutes before the quiet whirr of the second alarm static – the radio never stays properly tuned to a station these days. I wonder if I’m no longer scared of the unknown lurking just under the surface because it’s no match for the real fear I’ve met, or if I’ve just resigned myself to its randomness, relinquishing control I never had. I ponder both ends of this thought sequence before employing the yoga techniques I’ve been practicing for just over a year now. It’s habit now, but it took me months to connect that practice to my own bedtime ritual. Why did it take me forty years to master the art of shutting everything off, step by step? I relinquish everything, surrendering it all for sleep that comes quicker now than it ever has. Is that a form of prayer, or merely a deliberate relaxing of the jaw? I think it could be both. I’ll take it, either way.

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I started this post as a reflection on the early morning February light, and planned to tie it into the photographs of a small project I recently finished in our bedroom. But the paragraphs kept writing themselves, turning away from the photographic challenges of blogging in the early, stolen moments, towards the thoughts that swirl before that first bit of light hits the corner of this bed I’ve still claimed for eleven more minutes. I can save the indigo hued sunprints for tomorrow. I’ll delete the photos now from the end of this draft.

Maybe it’s just February, a month of juxtapositions. The month of love and letterpressed cards. And the month when everything turned upside down. Love can do that flipping, but fear is more precise, more practiced at it. Maybe that is what I know now, and why I stretch into this void, still warm, and stay there for six more minutes before launching into the next seventeen hours. Forty years minus three of them, to know that this sequence is on repeat for as little or as long as it is, no more, no less. I nestle into that last thought, the one about relinquishing control I never had, and it makes the stretch and the warm spots all the sweeter. Often we meet in the middle, between the two whirrs of radio static, early and later, both of us giving up something on each side of it. Because it’s February, and the light is slow, and this space is warm, and it’s the month of love and fear, and the stretch between the two is delicious.