Books: fabric and other art

Where books and reading are concerned, this is one of those split-personality times. On my dad's oak drafting stool, where I usually keep my library books, is a pile of quilting books, a couple of books on handcrafted fabric gifts, and the big thick Martha Stewart book on fabric arts. I had such fun sewing and quilting our Christmas gifts this past year, I'm already looking for inspiration for next year.

On top of the stack is the next novel on my list, John Sandford's "Storm Front." I'll get to it soon. I got a little sidetracked by the autobiography of Ann and Nancy Wilson, called "Kicking and Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock & Roll." I picked it up off the Choice Reads shelves at the library, and I'm completely hooked.

My other pile of books is on the floor, leaning up against the mission oak cabinet, anchored by my dad's stool. It's a collection of a dozen books on watercolor painting. I've yet to put brush to paper, but I've browsed through dozens of books, and have identified the style of watercolor I most admire (and hope to master one day). My favorite landscape painters are both British: Geoff Kersey and David Bellamy. Their books are wonderful, and they both have websites (and both have painting tutorials, to help inspire other would-be painters.

Besides these artists, I also take inspiration from my friend, Linda. She picked up a brush a couple of years ago and jumped right into acrylics, and has painted some beautiful landscapes. Each time I visit her, I come home ready to try. Lately I've been carrying a sketchbook with me, and although drawing isn't my strong suit, the practice is giving me confidence to think there might actually be an artist somewhere inside me.

Winter in Ellensburg | EJ header

I've been waiting for snow at home, and a chance for a snowy photograph for my blog header. But instead, I found this scene at our friend's place in Ellensburg. They've been stuck in the same foggy high-pressure zone as we have been, and with their much colder temperatures, the fog freezes to all the shrubs and trees and pastures. I bundled up and walked the property with my camera one morning, and loved the contrast of the frozen golden grass against the dark trunks of a windbreak of pines.


The value of fog

As I drove to the library today, looking at the trees in the fog, fading off into the distance, I had one of those "ah-hah" moments. I was on my way to pick up a stack of watercolor books, so I was thinking in terms of how to paint what I saw, rather than how best to photograph it.

And I realized that fog lets you see in terms of values. With colors muted by the fog, and the shapes of things accentuated (or muted), it's a great time to see things in a painterly manner. You can clearly see that the closer trees or objects are the darkest, and have the most color and distinction. The trees in the background are indistinct, just vague shapes, with the branches at the skyline the most defined.

This isn't a great photograph for illustrating what I saw today. It lacks the clear distinction of near through far. But you can see how the close trees (the tallest) are most defined at the skyline. When I take a better example, I'll post it.


Paradise in January

It's still foggy at home, foggy in the valley, foggy foggy foggy. But Mt. Rainier is in the bright sunshine, just begging for visitors. And since our Aussie relatives were craving snow, and it was a good day to go exploring, we headed south.

We were pretty sure we'd find bare roads, and we did. We haven't had much snow yet this year, even in the mountains, and the road crews haven't had any trouble keeping up. We had lunch in Elbe, and drove up to the park gatehouse late afternoon, pass in hand. The ranger informed us we had just enough time to park and walk around a bit, but cautioned us to head back by 4:30, as they'd be locking the Longmire gate at 5:00.

So we thought we'd have the place to ourselves, and were surprised to find the parking lot full, and loads of people having fun on cross-country skis and snowshoes, and families pulling their kids around on plastic sleds.

The hill above Paradise was dotted with color, so many bright parkas in every color you could imagine, the kids yelling in delight as they swooped down the sledding channels.

Were Natalie & Anton happy with our snow-finding roadtrip? I think these smiles tell it all!


A fabric box for coasters

When looking around the internet for ideas for fabric boxes for my sewing room, I came across a cute little folding box, and thought it would be perfect for holding coasters. I've seen quite a few similar boxes, each with their own special touches, but the basic concept is the same.

The little box is easy to make, and it's the perfect size for the 4.5 in. finished coasters. It's made from an 11x11 in. square of fabric, with a 3-in. square piece cut from each corner. This makes a finished box that's big enough to hold up to 16 coasters.

The box is also simple to assemble: Layer the outside and lining pieces, right sides together, and stitch, leaving a 2-in. opening on one of the sides. Clip the inside corners, trim the outside corners, and turn it inside out. Press it, topstitch it, and press it again. Mark the button locations on both corners of each tab, stitch on your choice of buttons, then add a length of narrow ribbon or embroidery floss to the left-hand button of each tab.

To form the box, just hold adjacent corner pieces together and twine the floss around that pair of buttons; I like to use a figure-8 pattern. Leave the ties long until you've assembled the box, then trim.

On the first box I used mismatched cream-colored buttons, which looked really cute. And I added little metal heart-shaped beads to the ends of the embroidery floss, to give the box a bit of bling.

On the second box, I added interfacing to make it a bit stiffer, and pressed a crease between the bottom and each tab to make a more defined box shape. I chose dark gold and forest green beads to go with the coaster colors, and used matched buttons so the beads would take center stage.

If you'd like to see how I made the quilted coasters that went into this cute little fabric box, you can find more information here. I hope you have fun making these... I sure did!


Quilted coasters

These quilted coasters (and a box to keep them in) were so much fun to make! It's such an easy project, and I love that these can be made any way you like: from simple pieces of fabric, or quilt blocks, or crazy pieced squares.

Mine started with 5-in. squares of fabric, which finish to 4.5 in. coasters. One side is pieced or crazy pieced, the other side is a simple square of fabric. I used muslin for the foundation, and chose scraps of fabric that I thought would coordinate with my sister's living room colors. There are lots of good tutorials on foundation piecing, so I won't explain the process here, but it's very easy to do... and a bit addicting! After I made a set for my sister, I made another set for a friend, and plan to make a set for myself.

Make however many blocks you wish, then choose a fabric for the back. You can choose all your fabrics before you start, but I like to wait until the blocks are completed and pick something that complements each pieced block. You'll need a 5-in. square of each fabric.

I interfaced the pieced blocks with fusible fleece. Just cut a 4.5-in. piece and place it, fleece side up, on the wrong side of the pieced block. You need to press it from the fabric side, so flip fabric & fleece over. Be sure to read the directions that come with the fleece, as this interfacing is affixed differently from other types of fusible interfacing.

Once you've attached the fleece, pin the block right sides together to the backing fabric (a pin at each corner is enough). I recommend stitching from the fleece side, to keep the block from shifting around under the needle.

Leave a couple of inches open for turning. Press the block to set the stitches, then trim the corners. Turn the block right side out. Use a chopstick or crochet hook to poke each corner out. You want them to be uniform and as sharp as possible. Flatten the seams and press them, turning the opening in to match the seamlines. Topstitch about 1/8 in. from the edge.

Next comes some simple quilting, which will hold the layers together and give each coaster a unique look. For a quilt block or crazy quilted block, you can stitch "in the ditch" down each seam line. Or you can quilt an overall design on each coaster, maybe an X from point to point, or a star, or a spiral, or parallel lines, or whatever you wish. I chose a neutral thread so the stitching stands out, but also because I didn't want to keep changing thread colors. They'll look great any way you decide to finish them.

I also made a fabric box to keep the coasters in, and think it turned out really cute. This is a really fun project. The coasters are easy to make, it's a great way to use up fabric scraps, and a set of coasters makes a really nice gift. My notes about the fabric box can be found here.


Frozen fog

Ellensburg was shrouded in fog, just like at home.
Friday was our annual Christmas in January with our best friends.
Comfort food and a warm fire, with cats to cuddle... a perfect day.

On Saturday, we all dressed for a very cold Winterhop. 
The beer was good, but we wished there had been snow.

After dinner, the girls bundled up and took the dogs for a run.
There were white fog hats on all the hills, and the pine
boughs and bare branches were encased in foggy ice.

It was magical. 


Random thoughts

Fog all day, never burned off
A clean house and a healthy cat
We're all set for Christmas in January
Another armload of books arrived from the library
Felt and embroidery and lots of ideas for next Christmas!
Natalie and Anton arrived from Australia
Dinner at The Mint, then home to crash
Life is good.


A new week

It's been a wild couple of days. Yesterday we got an inch of rain, high winds, sunshine, clouds, thunder & lightning. Over and over again. Thirteen days into the new year, and we've already had more than 2.5 inches of rain.

Cooking with Davey every night has been more fun than I knew was possible...  choosing what we'll cook, sharing tasks, talking over how to improve a recipe the next time. This is one part of our life I never imagined we'd share.

I'm digging deep in my closet, to find clothes that fit better. It's sad that my newest jeans now hang off me, but it's a good kind of sad. I hung onto some favorites from my slimmer days, and am more than happy that they fit once again.

Today I started a letter to my cousin, who never fails to send a quick note at Christmas, and who shares a birthday with me. It's a special bond that I treasure. One of my goals for 2014 is to write more letters the old fashioned way, and it's fitting that my first is to her.

In three days, my youngest niece arrives from Australia. She and her boyfriend will be in the States until next fall, skiing and rock climbing and hiking their way around the west, and I'm so looking forward to their visit.

And I'm still waiting for winter.


Wine cork birdhouse

This very cool birdhouse was in the window at a winery we visited recently, and it's a perfect project for me. I've made cork trivets for just about everyone I know, and even after I make a wreath for the wine cellar, I'll have hundreds of corks to spare.

There were two small houses, one made from natural cork, the other from synthetic.

The corks lining the walls are cut in half lengthwise and nailed to a wooden birdhouse.

The roof shakes are slices of cork, and the perch has been carefully trimmed to fit the curve of the cork wall.

The chimney is a champagne cork.


Discover... a new winery

Our friends have been raving about this little winery they discovered in tiny Plain, WA. It's close to their weekend getaway, so that made it even better. They even joined their wine club. So we were definitely intrigued. And since we were planning to spend a few days with them over New Year's, we made sure to check it out.

Plain Cellars is a nice, inviting place with great reds, a friendly owner, and beautiful artwork (their daughter is very talented). The only thing missing today was the winery dog, who was up at the house with the winemaker.

It was a great place to spend some time on a chilly winter's morning. Jules and I admired the artwork and the cool cork-covered birdhouses, then joined Dave and Jim at the tasting counter and sampled their very good wines... and joined the wine club. We're particular about our reds... so this says a lot. It will definitely be a stop on our next visit, along with Plain Hardware and the Old Mill Cafe.


Make me smile

James the cat headed for bed before us last night, to claim her favorite spot between the pillows. She doesn't have to fight for the place anymore, now that she's the only cat in the house. But habits die hard, and her wanting to be in this place made me smile.

Here are some other things that brought a smile to my face today.

Knowing that "weekend" is no longer in my vocabulary.

Lovely, misty, winter rain, the clouds lying low over the hills.

The huge woodpecker that claimed the log suet 
feeder, to the dismay of all the small birds.

The big stack of new quilting books waiting for me at the library.

The sight of mothers with pre-schoolers at the library,
sharing their love of books with their kids.

Smoke rising from the chimney as I came home, and
knowing the house was toasty and warm on this rainy day.

My quilting studio with all those lovely fabrics, just waiting for the next project.


Fourteen in 2014

I'm playing along with this brainchild of Kim Klassen:  to jot down a list of fourteen things I'd like to see happen in 2014. I firmly believe that writing them down is the first step to achieving any dream, so here goes:

Discover more of the country through the lens of my camera
Take a long MX-5 road trip with my honey
Do as much fly fishing as possible, in as many places as possible
Spend more time with family, especially my beautiful nieces
Volunteer at the local historical society
Eat healthier and exercise more
Smile more, and learn to let go of things outside my control
Be a tourist in my own town, and visit the local landmarks I've never seen
Ride with Jessica, and rediscover my love of all things horsey
Work on my photography bucket list
Take a quilting class... maybe even join a quilt guild
Frame my photographs to hang in the house and the cabin
Write more letters... the old fashioned way
Take one of Kim's Photoshop Elements classes


Down time

Five days with friends near Lake Wenatchee
A shared cat to cuddle, to help us get over losing Phoebe
Good food, good wine, laughter and fun
Lost big at Mexican Train, won big at Apples to Apples
Electronic jigsaw puzzles with Kasey, pretty cool
Lap swimming and the heat of a sauna, back and forth
Chocolate coconut porter at Icicle Brewing... oh, my
A fabulous Latin restaurant in Leavenworth... twice
A new winery in Plain... great red wine, and we're now members
Sitting in my favorite window, catching up on my blog and journal
Watching the temperature drop, waiting... hoping... for snow
Eight inches of snow at Stevens Pass made for a beautiful drive home
All in all, a relaxing, comfortable, splendid time.


Rolling hills | EJ header

I love the rolling hills of the Palouse country of Washington, with its contours and curves and the occasional fenceline, all of which lead your eye through a photograph and provide so much interest. We're all waiting impatiently for snow to cover the landscape, and soon these contours will be softened by snow, the fence a stark black against white. I can hardly wait.


Goodbye, Phoebe

She reached the end on Monday... nearly 18 years of age, a good life. She came into our house as a rescue cat, and became the instant alpha cat, straight to the top of the heap over Tigger (an equally small brown tabby), Annie (a huge calico), and Muffin (the matriarch). Dave fell instantly in love with this lanky, athletic Russian Blue cat, and was the most hard hit by her death.

Phoebe | May 1996 to December 30, 2013

We will remember her strong personality and insistent meow, her feats of grace and strength (jumping up to the top of the wall-mounted kitchen cabinets comes to mind), and her antics... leaping four feet straight up in the air when startled, or endlessly chasing the laser dot of the cat toy. I will remember this beautiful and loyal cat who followed me wherever I went, who loved to lie down on the keyboard as I worked, and whose favorite spot was on the back on the couch, with her front paws and head on my shoulder.

We will miss her.



For me, 2013 was a wonderful year, full of contentment and exploration, with lots of family time and time with friends, time at our rustic lakeside cabin and our almost 100-year-old farmhouse, time on the road, exploring the back roads and the scenic wonders of the Northwest.

2013 was:

The first full year of retirement.
The year of dSLR ownership (but the fifth decade of shooting with an SLR camera).
A great year for family, especially lots of sister time.
The year of multiple road trips through the Northwest (but not enough time in my MX-5).
A year focused on creativity, with lots of quilting and sewing projects.
The sixth full year of writing a blog, one of the most satisfying parts of my life.
The year I finally learned the joys of fly fishing.

So for 2014 I've chosen "Discover" as the word to guide my journey. It just seems appropriate for me. I love how you can can discover a completely different view of the world, just by looking at it through the lens of a camera. How you can improve your eye for photography by looking at a beautiful photograph, trying to figure out how they shot that scene. How you can discover a completely different view of the people in your world, by looking at them from a different perspective. How you can take a close look at handmade goods and figure out how they were made... and how to make them differently, to put your own special touch on them.

So this year my goal is to pay extra attention to all that's new and unique in the world around me, to discover the beauty... and always making sure to look through the lens of my camera. I'm looking forward to the journey.