Thursday, January 29, 2009

At long last, tatted hearts!

Boy, am I proud! Take heart (no pun intended), would-be tatters, the fog does eventually clear and you can make pretty things, too. (That message was especially for you, Angela.) Giving credit where credit is due, both patterns came from the book "From my Heart" by Betty J. Goetgeluck. They are called "January Hearts" which I find entirely appropriate, especially since it took me a good chunk of January to make them. And while I'm handing out kudos, thank you, Stephen, for lending me the book.
DH and I used the ice and snow outside as an excuse to linger a little longer over coffee yesterday morning--I took this picture after spending at least an hour perusing a book about cathedrals and another about impressionism. I wish I were a painter; I love this still life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Heart Decorations, Part 2

Well, I got back to work creating heart patterns in crochet, and I came up with these two.

Then I decided we needed a tatted heart to go along with all the crocheted ones, and I made one, but it's not ready for prime time yet.

I found a set of heart-shaped cookie cutters at Wal-Mart and used one of them to shape a needle-felted heart that is now hanging with the others. It looks a little like an air-conditioning filter, but I like it with the pale winter sun shining through it. Here's a picture of the view out the art center door now--it needs a few more hearts, but it's getting there.
You might notice that the purple tatted heart is no longer there. That's because it looked more like a skull than a heart. I might bring it out again for Halloween!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ellie Mae's in Solsberry

I had heard that there was a new shop in Solsberry, Ellie Mae's, that had been opened by Marcy Heshelman Cook, so my mom, my aunt Bert and I set out this morning to investigate. I've known the Heshelman family since I was in high school; several of my siblings and I were members of Future Farmers of America under Gary Heshelman, and I babysat for the Heshelman kids one summer when Marcy was about five. They are a fine family and the kids never caused me any trouble. But I digress.

Ellie Mae's is in the cutest little white cottage right on Main Street in Solsberry. I wish I had taken a picture for the blog; I vowed I would but then forgot as soon as I saw the place and couldn't wait to check out the inside. If you are looking for a "Made in Indiana" gift, as I was to send to DD in France, this is the place to go. Bert bought a fab hanging oil lamp made from an old bottle and my mom picked up a jar of preserves, but I was too busy to notice which kind, because I was scooping up cranberry bread mix, scented soaps, local organic flour and the softest turquoise gloves (to match the coat I showed you in December--I have expensive leather ones but they are getting a bit ragged). There were tons of other things worthy of perusing; rag rugs, butter-soft bathrobes, cute pajamas, personalized cake pans and lids (I took the flyer and can't wait to have one made for DS), lots of jellies and jams and baking mixes and fun stuff. Check it out.

We worked up an appetite with all that shopping and chatting with Mary Alice, so our next stop was the Corner Cafe on highway 45 near that triangle where 45 meets 54. Lunch was likewise entirely satisfying; Bert and I had a beef-rich patty melt sandwich and my mom had the grilled tenderloin. We finished off with peach cobbler and ice cream and left the place feeling extremely well-fed, Indiana-style.

Before returning to the castle and the financial aid applications for DD that have been driving me so crazy, we spent a little time at Bert's admiring all her handwork. She's an accomplished stained glass artist and after seeing all her beautiful things, my mom and I are both itching to try it out ourselves. Lucky we found a teacher and have a class scheduled this spring! Bert also has a couple of new quilts nearing completion, to add to all the gorgeous ones on the beds in her house. I left the place thinking, someday, when the dust subsides, maybe my house will look that nice...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hearts Inspire

Hearts always make me happy; over the years I have acquired a collection of stuff-paper-cloth-stickers-ribbon-metal-wood-ect.Why, so I can make Valentine cards to send to friends. I started doing this yearly when my three daughters decided they wanted to do Valentine cards with Mommy;since then I still do it cause it is fun and I always have my eye out for blank cards on sale, stamps, glue,
lace...above all words and friends to share the fun with- you know chocolate-wine-giggles-creating!!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Heart Decorations, Part 1

I saw a Valentine's Day decoration on that involved making hearts from two layers of waxed paper with crayon shavings in the middle--you run your iron over the waxed paper (through a regular piece of paper so the wax doesn't come off on your iron) and the colors all melt together and look really pretty, at least if you believe the picture on the website. I wanted to make some waxed paper hearts to hang on the door of our center, then I thought, "But Rowena, you can crochet some beautiful ones!" I hate it when I get like that, don't you?

So I looked for materials. The only thread I had was purple, and that didn't belong to me, but I had held onto it since the tatting class my mom and I had taken with Stephen last year, and he wasn't screaming for it, so I figured I could use it. I found that I don't own any crochet hooks small enough to crochet with the purple thread, so I decided to tat a heart instead. I found a tatted heart pattern in "A New Twist on Tatting" by Catherine Austin, and got busy. The instructions for the three motifs were easy enough to follow, but I didn't understand the instructions for the border at all, so I just made it up as I went along, and you can see the result in the picture. Not exactly a heart, but kind of pretty.

So I went to Ben Franklin in Mitchell (see previous post) and bought three balls of thread (Aunt Lydia’s, made in India)—one red, one dark pink and one light pink—and two crochet hooks. I spent about an hour looking for a suitable crocheted lace heart pattern on-line before giving up and asking my mom. Now you should know that my mother is a master crocheter who probably crocheted her way through the delivery of all nine of her children and owns every crochet pattern ever published. She couldn’t find a crochet lace heart pattern, either, but she did find an actual heart, which she donated to the cause so that I could copy it.

Well, that heart was done in microscopic thread with a hook that would be at home in a dollhouse. I copied it with my Ben Franklin thread and after the second row it was obvious that if I kept at it, I would have a tablecloth. At this point I told myself, “Just make something up!” And here’s the result. Not bad, huh? Unfortunately I didn’t write down what I did, so the red and dark pink ones will be all-new adventures.

Some Good News

There's a nice new cafe in Bedrock. Some of you may have noticed that the old BRI headquarters on 16th Street west of the square, formerly Churb's Cafe, was showing signs of life. I stopped by the Side Street Cafe yesterday and was impressed with the clean, continental look of the place--except for the absence of cigarette smoke, it felt like a cafe in France or Italy. The owner, Arlisha Charles, was very friendly and we chatted while I wolfed down biscuits and gravy, my favorite breakfast. I'm looking forward to trying it out for lunch as well, and one of the many coffee variations on the menu. Living so close by may not be good for my waistline!

I finished the last two quilt blocks last night and am undergoing a sort of withdrawal. I still have a lot of work to do on the quilt, but cutting those little 2" squares and arranging them into blocks had become my favorite pastime. Thanks to DS, whose math is better than mine, I now know exactly how many squares are in the quilt: 2,688. In anticipation of completing the top, I investigated batting and liner fabric at Ben Franklin's in Mitchell the other day and was impressed with the selection of materials available. I love Bloomington as much as anyone else, but it's great not to have to drive 20 miles to find things. The Sewing Center right here on J Street is another excellent source for quilting fabrics and tools, although they don't sell batting. I found replacement blades for my rotary cutter there and met an interesting textile artist at the same time, so that's another nice destination for a downtown walk, when the temperature rises again. (-7 degrees this morning; can you believe it?)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A few things never to declutter

This is the time of year when I am naturally drawn to sites like and, that preach decluttering, simplifying one's life, etc. Taking down the Christmas decorations and making lists of New Year's resolutions can put a person into a cleaning, sorting, discarding frame of mind that is very useful when applied to things you really don't need or want, like old newspapers (piling up in one of the cell blocks as I write), magazines (piled in the dining room since Thanksgiving awaiting my dear brother's taking them to a doctor's waiting room that supposedly wants them), or outgrown/unwanted but still serviceable clothes (DS grew five inches last year and is picky about what he wears; there's no point leaving the stuff hanging in his closet when someone can use it).

I was interested to read recently that had received some angry mail attributed to the economic downtown. Unfortunately, none of the hostile posts made it onto the site, so I don't know what reason the writers gave, but I imagine it had something to do with the need to conserve all available resources as we go into the Great Depression Part 2. Now, even though I support the principles of decluttering in general, I started thinking about the things I have never been able to get rid of, and thinking that maybe it's not so bad to hold on to certain things that I haven't used in years. Here's my list. Add to it if you want.

1. Scraps of fabric, yarn, and trims: Self-explanatory. Creativity starts with raw materials. The best raw materials are those that don't require a trip to the store.

2. Used clothing in fabrics you love: I have a couple (okay, more than a couple) of outfits made from the most wonderful fabrics--a hand-dyed green and black silk dress with broad shoulders in the size I wore in Bonn in 1987, a tie-dyed raw silk in shades of spring green from my Djibouti years, 1996-99, and a red tartan plaid wool jumper that I wore often in Tbilisi, with bright red platform loafers, to the horror of my chic Georgian colleagues, I am sure. These will not be released to the universe; they will be recycled into something fabulous. Someday.

3. Old sheets, men's shirts, and other woven cottons: I have used all three in my quilt. Items too faded for the quilt get ripped into strips and crocheted into a round rug for DD's round bedroom (take a look at the picture). The rug is thick and heavy and will be impossible to clean, but it makes me happy just to look at it--I see DD sitting on the floor in our sewing room in Tbilisi, her slender shoulders bent over that rug with a big wooden hook, a basket of rag balls nearby. Sheets also are very helpful in protecting floors and furniture during painting, sanding, grinding and other dirty renovation activities, about which I could write a book.

4. Gifts from people I love: I know lots of declutterers will disagree with me on this, but if someone gives me something, I cherish it, especially if it is handmade. It doesn't matter if it isn't something I would have bought or made for myself; the point to me is that by having that item I have a permanent reminder of that person. I still have every outfit my mother made my kids when they were little.

5. Stuff I made in the past: Some years ago, in a fit of clearing space for the new size I had become, I gave away a beautiful pale gray cabled vest in expensive Shetland wool that I knitted while living in Mainz, Germany in 1983/84, and I still regret it. It would look so cute on DD now. Most things I kept, and I even exhibited one (my prom dress) recently. Somehow the word "heirloom" didn't resonate back then the way it does now.
6. Blue and white dishes: They look so pretty; how could I part with a single one? There was a time when I could hardly pass a piece of blue and white English ironstone in an antique store without bringing it home. When we were evacuated from Bangui, for a while it looked as if we might have lost everything, and I wasn't worried a bit about those dishes--I knew I would have a good excuse to shop for more.
The challenge in holding onto too much stuff is finding it. For our last exhibition I wanted to include a table scarf crocheted by my mother's mother, who died before I was born. I searched through box after box, every box in the house, I'm sure, and it never turned up. I'm sure I'll find it when I look for something else, though, and when I do it will be Christmas all over again.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Southern Indiana culture

When I was overseas working for our government, I spent a lot of time promoting American "culture" and answering questions about what it was and wasn't. Most of the people who thought they didn't like American culture, I discovered, were actually opposed to the idea of a global culture, much of which isn't really American. For example, Britney Spears is American and she is also a part of global culture. The Harry Potter books are globally recognized but they are not American; J.K. Rowling is British. Japanese cartoons are available to every kid in the world who has a television and a satellite dish, and some people don't even realize they are Japanese.

I found common ground with these people by explaining that I, too, and many Americans, are not that crazy about global culture. What I like, and promoted overseas, were those elements of our culture (like bluegrass music or the Gee's Bend quilts or the writings of John Steinbeck) that come from a specific place and time in our country's history. When we started the art center here in Bedford it was with the idea of promoting local artists and the continued development of our unique southern Indiana culture.

So what IS our culture? Quilts, for sure--my grandma made them and your grandma probably did, too, and so do we. Crocheted doilies, but not just doilies--collars, christening gowns, afghans--crochet seems to have been in our culture from the beginning, but it developed, and continues to develop, over time. Limestone--Bedford, also known affectionately as Bedrock, was built on it. The work of southern Indiana carvers and stoneworkers adorns buildings both stately and humble here and around the country. I felt a special connection when I took the kids to the National Cathedral in Washington knowing that my grandfather cut some of the stone used to build it.

The food of our area deserves its own paragraph. Persimmon pudding--I've never had it outside of Indiana. Brown beans and cornbread. Biscuits and gravy have a wider following and may not have originated in Indiana, but both my mother and grandmother made them, and DH, not a native Hoosier, has come up with his own wonderful version.

Music--when I was a kid and my parents told me "Stardust" was their song, I didn't get it. To my child's ears it sounded slow and meandering, without a catchy refrain. Now I'm old enough to love the song, and young enough to play it over and over on that marble contraption at Wonderlab in Bloomington. If you haven't tried it, I recommend it. You might have to elbow a couple of toddlers out of the way, but it's worth it. Nothing says Bloomington, Indiana like "Stardust." Folk songs that my dad used to play on his guitar for us all to sing at family reunions, like "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." I've never heard that song anywhere but at family reunions. To tell you the truth, I never really liked it; it's sad and I don't like sad songs, but it's ours, anyway.

Our upcoming exhibition of Janet Foster's work really celebrates what is great about the southern Indiana out-of-doors. I'm not giving you any hints, although there's a tiny example at Janet zeroes in on what is unique about our landscape and the people who make their lives here. Please join us for the opening if you can--Friday, February 20 at 5:00 p.m., and sometime during the exhibition if you can't.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Let's Celebrate Three Kings' Day!

Lady Mudwerkes, let's have our own little arcane celebration of the arrival of the Magi. And anyone else out there within easy driving distance of Bedford, too. Tomorrow, around lunchtime. Give me a call (606-1758) if you're in.

I'm working on a quilt that I started in Georgia a few years ago. It's a postage stamp quilt, and I decided to make it queen-size so that it can actually be used on a bed (mine and DH's), so as you can imagine it is taking a while. I get distracted from it all the time (see previous posts), but my first New Year's resolution, ahead even of losing the weight I found since returning to Indiana, is to finish it. I'll post a picture when the blocks are all complete and sewn together.

I was trying to remember whatever prompted me to begin such a time-consuming project. I was asked to give a presentation in the spring of 2004 at an American Studies Conference at Tbilisi State University, and since quilts had been such an important part of my life, I chose to do the presentation on quilts. I had a few wonderful examples with me in Georgia, including two by quilting genius (and my sister-in-law) Kay Capps Cross (you can see her work at, and one by my daughter Isabella. I had a poignant story to tell about DH's rescuing the two quilts my grandmother made me in the middle of a military mutiny that reduced Bangui to rubble and forced us to flee that African city with a single suitcase. To complete the presentation I went on line and found some pictures of all the major American quilt designs, and there were a couple of stunning postage stamp (i.e., made from tiny pieces) quilts. I was obsessed with the possibilities--a way to create something beautiful and use up the tiny scraps I had collected over the years. And so I began a project that has given me countless hours of pleasure, in the downstairs sewing room in Tbilisi, and in the upstairs sewing room in Bedford. And I still haven't run out of scraps, although I'm constantly looking for new prints to salvage, just to keep things interesting.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Just for the record hardly anyone celebrates the visit of the Three Kings any more but the offical arcane name of the holiday now means inspiration.
By the way your gift here is still waiting for you!!!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Christmas, part 2

At the same time as I was waxing eloquent about making Christmas last, my colleague Stephen was taking down the tree in our art center. It turns out that very few people in Bedford subscribe to the "Twelve Days of Christmas" concept, beginning December 25 and ending just before Three Kings' Day, on January 5. Most of my friends here regard the Christmas season as beginning the day after Thanksgiving and ending on December 25. Stephen even joked that he always thought "Boxing Day" (December 26) was so named because it was the day you boxed up all the decorations and put them back in the attic.

The whole idea that the Christmas season has been adjusted to match shopping (and selling) habits I find more than a little annoying. I have nothing against putting up decorations the day after Thanksgiving, which more or less corresponds to Advent, but taking them down on the 26th of December just reeks of "What is Christmas when all the presents have been opened?" More, so much more.

The lights in front of the old jail are failing in big chunks, leaving some strangely-lit shrubbery, but they'll be on every night until January 6. Unless the poltergeist agrees with Stephen and Tonie.