February 28, 2015

Taking on Tatting

     I learned to knit as a child, at about seven or eight years of age. From there I gained the confidence to learn how to crochet. I had my grandmother to sit beside me and show me how to manipulate the yarns while she entertained me with her stories about her sons going off to war and her beloved home in Canada. It was not until I was an adult, after my grandmother was sadly gone, that I decided to learn tatting. I found a little booklet in the five-and-dime store for fifty-cents and was fascinated by the doily on the cover. I bought a metal tatting shuttle and hurried home, pushing my children in the stroller. I was loaded with ambition and visions of a home filled with elaborate lace. Armed with only the tatting booklet and too much overconfidence, I was soon frustrated and disappointed.

     Tatting is one of only two crafting ventures I have ever taken on that I have found truly daunting. The second was trying to build a ship in a bottle. That was a total failure and I still keep the empty bottle as a reminder that I cannot do everything I imagine. I gave up on ships but I tried again with tatting. And then I tried again. It was not until my third attempt that the little light went on and I understood how it worked. I now apply that lesson to all of my needle crafts. From tatting I learned that, without understanding the rationality of what you are trying to make, you will be lost and frustrated. It takes more than just using your hands.

My empty ship-in-a-bottle bottle:

     When you tat you form a loop around your fingers and the stitches must slide along that loop. Once I understood that, it was not long before I finally managed to get my fingers, and the thread, to cooperate and I was making simple tatting lace. Then, past the confines of frustration, I found I loved tatting and I have made dozens of tatted items over the years including tatting tools and toys that make the work even more enjoyable.
     Tatting is beautiful, inexpensive to make and wonderfully portable. It can fit into your pocket and with nothing more than a tiny ball of thread and a shuttle you can have it at your fingertips to enjoy anywhere. It is magical to see it being done. The movements of tatting are graceful and ladylike. The French call it frivolite, or frivolous. I think it is the perfect description since I always feel a bit frivolous whenever I tat.
     I loved it so much I began taking on more elaborate patterns and projects. I bought old tatting booklets from flea markets and graduated from heavier bedspread weight cotton, like is used in finer crochet, to threads more like those you use in your sewing machine. I got bold and entered an international tatting contest. I read the rules and submitted my entrance forms and a handkerchief I had made with a very fine, wide tatted edging. To my shock and dismay, I was disqualified. They told me that the work I submitted was not something that was produced recently and was a piece that was likely made in the 1800's. By the time I submitted thread samples and the remnants of the fabric I had used to make the handkerchief to prove I had made the piece, the contest was over. The judges sent me a letter of apology and a pair of hand forged scissors from an artist in England that fit into a reticule, which is a little hanger to put around my neck. I didn't get the thousand dollar grand prize but I did get the satisfaction that I must be a damn good tatter.

My "disqualified" handkerchief:

     Over the years I have made edgings and doilies and earrings. I have collected shuttles from the simplest two-dollar plastic, to intricate brass and silver collectible antiques. I have used every one of them in at least one project. No two shuttles feel exactly the same. Some glide easily through the loop of thread but are not heavy enough. Others have nice weight but get caught as I work and that can be frustrating. Tatting, like many kinds of work, is always best with good tools.
     So today I will share some pictures of some of my tatting projects and a few links to projects and other wonderful tatters who make lace and tools. There are plenty of videos online that teach tatting, both the method done with a small, leaf-shaped shuttle and a style of tatting done with a long thin needle. I have done both. I prefer a shuttle for the firm pieces and the fact that I can use longer runs of thread. But needle tatting is fast and fun. At the end of this posting are several places where you might find inspiration.

     Thank you for visiting!

My first tatted doily from the five-and-dime booklet with my first shuttle and the hand forged scissors:

Some tatted projects:

  The lower blanket has tatting. The upper one is a crochet edging:

Some of my shuttles:

Where I keep my tatting supplies:

This is a wallet from the dollar store I gutted and turned into a tatting wallet:

Here is a tatting press. It's a great tool for keeping your lace flat while being stored. There's a link at the end of this posting to the designer's page:

With a drawstring tatting bag. The link to the pattern is below:

Some great places for tatting goodies!

Please come again and feel free to comment or share!

February 21, 2015

Itty Bitty City Kitchen


 It's February again, as it was when I first began this blog. I am back in my kitchen doing a bit of cleaning on a very dreary day. I can hear the ice tinkling against the window panes and the trash bags in the mudroom can go out to the garbage cans after the freezing rain stops.
   I have been asked several times by friends to do a posting about my kitchen counters. Unfortunately I don’t have good "before" pictures of the counters but I will do my best to describe how I did it and I did take pictures this morning.

     The counters were originally Formica. Well, they still are,  though you wouldn't know it now. They were a sea green with an all-over pink design that looked like ice-cream jimmies. They were also badly stained and the smooth finish was ruined. In the long run that turned out to be to my advantage. I bleached and soft-scrubbed and cleaned but all the work only seemed to make them even uglier. I needed another solution. Fortunately this happened not long after I had fixed the living room fireplace.

     The fireplace brick had been painted white and I wanted a more natural finish. I had done that Z-brick in a previous house. They are thin bricks that you can stick right to the wall for that bricky look. I didn't want to Z-brick over the fireplace so I thought I might strip off the white paint. 

     After spending about an hour with deadly chemicals and only getting one brick done I knew I had to come up with a better idea. Paint. I think that paint is the best decorating medium ever. It’s fairly inexpensive considering how much impact you can get out of a $30 gallon. So I set to painting the brick. I painted the mortar parts a dull grey then I got a heavy paper plate and poured brick colored paints onto it. I added red and brown acrylic paints and I used a big firm sponge as a brush. I dabbed the paint onto the bricks for a textured effect, adding different colors. In the process I ran out of the bit of black I was using and found an old can in the garage. It was not until I poured some into my paint mix that I found it was an oil based paint. Since oil and water do not mix the black pooled up in little puddles. This turned out to be a happy accident when I dabbed on the sponge. It created the look of those little moldy type spots you often see on old brick. I was very happy with the fireplace transformation and when I went to do the kitchen I decided to try the same thing.

Fireplace before and after:

 More recently:

      For the fireplace it was easy to get a brick-like effect. It was, after all, brick. It was rough and separated by mortar and there was only so much I had to do to fool the eye. On Formica it was very different. Undeterred, I plotted creating some texture and something that looked like mortar. I got together my brick colored paints, a firm painting sponge, a ruler and a couple of spackling knives, wide and narrow. I also mixed up a tub of plaster-of-Paris and got a tongue depressor and a softer sponge and went to work. Anywhere there still was any shine on the Formica, I gave it a light sanding.

 The original green Formica:

     I smeared the plaster over the backsplash with the big spackling tool until it was in a nice even layer. Then I took the ruler and used the tongue depressor to make the mortar lines. It was a pain but when I got to the counter surface it went much easier. I did not strive for perfection since what I was after was an effect, a bit of Trompe-l'œil, which basically means to fool the eye. It only needed to get that brick feeling. On each ‘brick’ I put a light layer of plaster and dabbed it with the textured sponge to make it a little rough while it was still damp. I didn't want it too coarse, since it was a counter, so on the level surfaces I did not make it as rough.

     Once I covered all the Formica I was ready to start the bricks. I painted on the small wall on the left side and stepped back. I hated it. It looked fake and junky and it made my itty bitty city kitchen look like a cave. It was time to regroup. I noticed that on the right side, where the white plaster was unpainted, it looked dull, but fresh and bright. I put away the colored paint and ran out for high gloss pure white.

     Now, this fix was only meant to be temporary until I could get a real kitchen counter like everyone else. That was a long time ago. I have come to like the finish. Once a year I take everything off the counters and put on a fresh coat of paint and February is a great time to do it. I’m shut indoors and the air is very dry. I use outdoor paint to withstand any water and since I never cut or prepare food directly on the counter anyway, I don’t worry about eating paint. It scrubs up nicely and always looks fresh.

     I have seen many different counters online. Those from the folks who use painter’s tape to stain a faux butcher block finish on solid wood to magnificent counters covered in polished pennies set in resin. Wherever you take it, I hope that, if you hate your kitchen counters, you are inspired to roll up your sleeves and make that counter into something original that you love.

Please come visit again soon!

February 14, 2015

The Need for Valentine's Day


      A human being has some very fundamental physical needs that must be met in order to stay alive. We need air and water, food, shelter and clothing. But we need more. Human beings need to love and to be loved by others. In the beginning of the bible there is the story of Adam and Eve and we have had matchmakers throughout recorded history. If our physical needs are not met we die. If our emotional needs are not met we do not thrive. We feel empty and discontent. We look to fill those needs in clubs and groups, in sports, in our pets, on the movie screen, in books and in music. We may find fulfillment in a cause, in religion, politics, cults, online or in coffee houses. Love is a natural human drive and there are experts who tell us it is mandatory in order to live a happy and healthy life. It happens between lovers, between a parent and child, in a family, and with a friend and a companion.
     I wonder sometimes if love isn't the most difficult need to fulfill. Water is water and food is food, and they are simple needs that can be satisfied in a direct way. Love, though, is complicated. It can even be difficult to define. We need it, long for it and sometimes fear it. Finding and maintaining love can be trying and complicated and sometimes, just when we think we have at last found it, it slips through our fingers and leaves us bitter and hurt. To love that first time, or the thousandth, you must just close your eyes and let your heart jump in. Love is risky business and it means taking on a very strong emotion. 
     But then, when that moment happens, when you see the light in someone’s eyes, when you hear that perfect laughter that touches your soul, when you taste that first kiss, something happens. Something greater than fireworks or the world around you going silent and blurry. You know then that the thirst deep inside of you is quenched. You know that basic need has been fulfilled.
     And so we celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday built around love. It bears the name of a saint and the legend says he was imprisoned for performing forbidden marriages for Roman soldiers who were not allowed to take a wife. It is a holiday that is loved by some and despised by others as an affront to living single. It may be commercialized and romanticized but it honors the most basic human compassion. In the Fall we rejoice in the harvest, happy that we will survive the winter. On Valentine's Day let us celebrate the need we all have for one another and make our hearts a cornucopia filled with love.

Happy Saint Valentine’s Day.

February 7, 2015

My Mom


      It is said that children learn by example. They learn to shout when they are called with enthusiasm, or with anger. They learn peace in an environment of calmness. From a parent, a sibling, a neighbor, a friend and from everything they see, they are constantly learning. And such is the way I remember learning myself as a child, an observer in the classroom of life. I can think back now and remember my past as if I am looking through a window. I cannot change that past but years later, I can see from a different perspective how and what I learned.
      I was the eldest of what eventually became a family of six children. My father went out to work and my mother, who seemed perpetually pregnant, stayed at home. She took in ironing, from bachelors mostly, and spent her days drinking Tab, which may have been the first diet soda. Her ironing board was equipped with a spring on the side that jutted straight up into the air, hovering like a long antenna and it kept the cord for the iron up and out of the way. Always nearby was a bottle of water with a shaker head and she’d use it to scatter drops of water over wrinkled clothing. In those days the laundry came out of the dryer wadded in little balls. She’d roll the dampened clothes into tight logs and shove them into large, zippered bags. From there they would go into the big freezer in the garage to await their turn with the heavy electric iron to be efficiently pressed. And there was an order to be followed when ironing a man’s shirt: collar first, then cuffs, yoke, lapels, sleeves and body. On the back of every door was a rack that held hangers filled with ironed shirts. At the end of the day some happy bachelor would retrieve them, although for the life of me I never remember seeing anyone picking anything up. It was southern California and I suspect we were shuffled outside, as we often were.

      My mom watched soap operas in the afternoons. The little planes from the local airport would drone in the warm sunlight and she’d try to convince a young nurse on General Hospital that she ought to marry handsome Doctor Hardy. It cracks me up that I remember his name.
      When she wasn't distracted by the romance of the soaps she'd talk to me, on rare and wonderful days when I would sit there on the scratchy sofa and listen. She told me about being a telephone operator, before she married. She described the long rows of women who took the phone calls and swapped out the wires. The supervisors wore roller skates so they could move quickly from girl to girl and keep the calls moving along. She loved being an operator. She was open and friendly and outgoing, much like my youngest daughter. In those days, as I remember, she was full of life.
      She also loved to people-watch. Next door to the Vons' market in Santa Monica was a Baskin-Robbins where they had black licorice ice cream and café tables outside. Sometimes we would sit at the tables over ice cream and watch people go in and out of the market. We saw a lady with purple high heels that were so tall she could barely walk and another with hair so orangey red it nearly hurt to look at in the bright sunlight. She would laugh with delight at the varied ways people found to express themselves and I never heard her say anything mean spirited. It was more that she loved the differences in people and in my home town they were certainly different and probably still are.
      By the late sixties the cyclamates in her beloved Tab began to eat at her insides and she was sick until the day she died. It took her life and, long before that, her spirit.
      I look back at that time now and see how very young she was. At thirty-two she had much more life to live and each year of my own life I am more aware of that fact. I watched my father go nearly mad with six children to support and no idea of who any of us were. He had been living the life of the men of the time. Long before couples said “we” are pregnant, men like my father worked and played and lived very separate lives, away from home.
      Once she was gone I watched the glue of our family turn brittle and break away. All the while I learned. I learned big lessons like how precious life can be. I carry that lesson with me every day of my life. I struggle to understand how people can take a good day and spend it wastefully or being bitter. It’s made me pack up when I was unhappy and find something better with the time I have. Lessons are like that. They work in funny ways.
       I learned to find delight in people. Spirited people in purple high heels. And I learned that we should not be afraid to laugh at ourselves.
      I also learned to survive. I had to. At thirteen I was not prepared to make my own way in the world but I did. I knew in my heart what was really right and what was really wrong. I did many naughty things like all young people, riding that grey area of the mischief of youth in the tumultuous and magnificent 1960's.
      I learned about love and a broken heart, and over the years I learned that hearts can heal. Maybe every hole cannot be filled but other spaces can and that helps the empty spaces grow smaller. Given the chance I'm sure my mother would have wanted to love much longer and with all of her heart.
      And because my dear mother was not allowed more love and more time I treasure it all for her. For her, and for myself, I hold every moment dear and give it all the happiness I can. I love you, Mom.

Thanks for visiting. Please come again.

February 4, 2015

Selective Service - The Challenge


     While I was writing The Secret of Stavewood, the folks who print my books converted from word programs to PDF files. What that meant to me, besides learning a new format, was that I could add art and illustrations to my books. If I wanted to I could use an unusual font. Then, I thought, why not two unusual fonts? Why not two different handwritten style fonts like one would find in letters? And so my creative snowball started rolling.
      As a result, the hard copy, paperback version of my latest effort, Selective Service is unique in its presentation.
    Once I settled on the idea of writing a book that was exclusively correspondence between two people I then had to choose a setting. I have read and watched many documentaries on the History Channel about World War II but I realized I knew very little about the First World War. So it was time to learn about something new. I watched an excellent, three-part series that explained how the "Great War" began and later evolved into the second world war. Since I enjoy writing in the time period of the turn of the twentieth century I decided to go with World War I.
    We all know that with great concepts  come great challenges, but some  are not immediately obvious. In my first thoughts I pictured my loving couple writing back and forth to one another in the same way I do when I exchange letters with someone, which I still do, even in the age of email. When you correspond you write in turns and have a conversation, but this was not realistic in the context of Selective Service. In 1918 the mail moved slowly as a matter of course, but even more so during a world war. There could be no steady back-and-forth conversation. Their story had to be told through letters that arrived late or out of turn or two and three at a time. Thomas wrote while crossing the United States, the Atlantic Ocean and then half of Europe independently of Clara’s input and Clara would write of home without hearing from him sometimes for over a month.
     It was challenging when I “put pen to paper” as they say, because when I sat down to write that first letter from Clara it really hit me.
    When Clara writes the words, “You ask that I write to you every day of the goings on at home but already I find I am struggling to relate any news you might find interesting,” it was a part of myself beginning to see the challenge of this novel. I was trying to tell a story, a story of two people caught in the horrors of war. One from the front lines and the other from home, each facing the heartbreak of war in a completely different way. I could only tell it in letters from only two people's points of view and both in the first person.

      The adventure I had writing Selective Service is finished and it is now out in the world. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing this novel. I highly recommend you enjoy the book in print, the old fashioned way, to appreciate the personality of the two different fonts.

     In my next books I return to my more familiar format with a saga in the same style as the Stavewood stories, called Whetstone. It is a series of three novels which will be released simultaneously. I hope you enjoy that collection as well.

      Thank you for your visit!