29 October 2010

wabi sabi

If you've been here long, you'll know I find this concept fascinating and helpful as I think about my quilts.  Whole Living has an article on Wabi Sabi this month (thanks to Pat Sloan for pointing this out!)  Luckily, the text is available online (click here).

I don't agree with everything that Roberts says.  As one commenter on the article wrote, the article has some half-truths and misunderstandings, such as when Roberts suggests that failing to clean up after her child is wabi sabi.  The commenter says,  "clean the fingerprints and, as you do, appreciate the uneven texture of the wall. Then you will be practicing wabi sabi. Leave the dirt on your wall and you are simply making an excuse for laziness." I agree.

Also, Roberts's assertion that, "Nothing about nature is linear or symmetrical or impervious to decay," makes me think she failed a lot of science classes. 

Regardless, it is an interesting read.

To me, wabi sabi cannot result from laziness or neglect or a desire to be imperfect, but rather a different way of thinking about what perfect is and a desire to work with nature rather than against it. 

To me, the shed above is not wabi sabi, it is run down.  But imagine if the boarded up windows were  given new glass and the flora was trimmed back...then the variations in the tin and the slight waver in the roofline would be beautiful and the shed would be wabi sabi. 

I have looked at the books mentioned in the article, including Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers and The Wabi-Sabi House  though I prefer this children's book Wabi Sabi  and have been trying to sort out what book or articles (if any) they use in Japanese Studies programs because I suspect  that they wouldn't have the weird Western framing that continually makes false binaries of perfect/imperfect  maintained/neglected symmetrical/natural. 

27 October 2010

What’s cooking?

Thanks for the Hash Brown Casserole recipes!
I was astounded to see what goes into those things: most have several kinds of cheese + sour cream + butter + condensed soup. I’m too cheap and calorie-phobic to follow these recipes!   I’m going to experiment with a roux to see if I can make a healthier, cheaper casserole.  I’ll report back.

Lurky came over to work on her quilt, started back in March. Why has it been so long?  Well, Lurky is a bit of a world-traveler and spent the summer in Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia, then returned stateside just to find herself with wedding after wedding to attend.  But, she’s finally back to living like a (relatively) normal person, so on Saturday she came over to my house to work on her quilt.

Since I’ve discovered that it isn’t possible to share the sewing machine, ironing board, and cutting board, I had set another project for myself:  switching the rooms around in my apartment.

You see, I really want to move, but I get a great deal on this place and don’t expect to be in this city much longer, so the best financial decision is to stay put.  However, as much as I know I can’t afford to move this year, I was still desperate for a big change in my living environs, so I decided to swap the office and the living room.

So, now my office is going to be in the middle of the house and the living room at the front.  This is the desk in its new location.

In its new location, the living room has a perfect spot for a design wall—previously, a heating vent was set to cause trouble!

In the “new” office, I’ve resolved to paint the walls.  These walls were white when I moved in, then purple for a few years, then I covered them in whatever I could find in the basement when I tired of the purple (ceiling paint mixed with ? cup of the latte color from the “new” living room.)  I’m thinking I’ll go with green next.  Any votes on these colors?

Okay, back to Lurky, look what she brought me from Indonesia!
Tjanting tools for batik!

Lurks took a class on batik in Indonesia and when she said she wanted to buy supplies to take home, she was put on the back of a moped and taken out into the countryside, where she purchased these tools directly from the guy that made them.  Awesome, right?  There are three different sizes of opening for making lines, dots, and fills.  I’m excited to try them out!

It worked really well to have Lurky sewing in the kitchen while I moved furniture around because she now has the basics down and just needs occasional reminders/consultations.  And since I took frequent breaks for chatting and tea, we kept each other company pretty seamlessly.

Slowly but surely, Lurks is making a fabulous quilt!  If she's lucky, I'll have the sewing stuff and design wall set up in the living room soon...she's about ready to put these blocks together!

21 October 2010


My friend D-Bomb moved to Nashville earlier this year and I took advantage of a two-day break in classes to visit him.

Seeing as he's been a craft-night attendee many times over, I insisted that we craft at some point over the weekend.  On Saturday night, we went to All Fired Up! and painted some pottery.  You can bring beer and snacks!

I have to say, while painting pottery was never on my bucket list, I had a great time picking colors and a bowl to paint and putting it all together.  The bowl is still in Nashville getting fired, which will make the colors look like their proper selves (it is supposed to be orange, not peach!) and once it goes through the kiln, the bowl will be all shiny and happy.

D-Bomb made this:

 Because D-Bomb is all about the maize and blue...
We did some other artsy stuff.  We went to see the Chihuly exhibit at Cheekwood.

And we went to a small town craft fair.  I bought only a jar of Pumpkin Butter at the fair.  At another booth, I had found a gorgeous print, but felt compelled to put it back when I saw that the vendor was also selling the Confederate Battle Flag.  Now, I know it is impossible to say definitively what a symbol--particularly such a widespread symbol--means, but why, given that it means treason or racism to so many, would anyone want to peddle that particular symbol?  Needless to say, I had some "oh, I guess I'm a Yankee" moments while in Tennessee.  But, I also had a really great time and ate more than my share of Southern Food.  New favorite: Hash Brown Casserole.  When I find the right recipe, I'll let you know. 

I did eventually procure a lovely print.  D-Bomb and I went to Hatch Show Print for some letterpress goodness.

I got a print that says "Party this way" with a picture of a pointing hand.   I'm going to frame it and put in my office, pointing to my bookshelf because I'm Just. That. Nerdy.

Also, we went to a fabric store for like 10 minutes one morning.  I'm making a maize and blue quilt for my Grandma because (a) she's awesome (b) she loves those Michigan Wolverines and (c) she has moved to an assisted living facility--something that has been long overdue--and amongst the few things she has with her are every handmade thing I've made for her in the last few years.  Aw, Grandma! 

So, I was on a maize and blue fabric mission and found some beautiful out-of-print maizes! 
Random treasures are the best reason to pop into fabric stores when you are out of town.  I even found some Yoshiko Jinzenji fabric at half price (and that stuff is hard to find at full price!) 

Anyway, I've still got a ways to go on the maize and blue fabrics, so if anyone can think of fabric lines to look for online, please let me know.  I've visited the local shops and used the sort-by-color function at the online stores that have it, but that's only turned up a few prints, so recommendations are appreciated. I want to get the hue right, but value can and should vary.  That Moon Pie pictured above has the right hues.

Alrighty, back to work for me!

14 October 2010

Bean Bags

Almost everyone who comes into my office asks about my little pile of bean bags.

These little beauties are an essential piece of my ability to stay organized.

Since my job requires me to tackle several large projects at once, working on each one separately and incrementally, I often have about six piles of papers and books going.  When I put a bean bag on top of a pile, it is like putting a lid on the project for the time being.  And having the bean bag on top of the pile stops me from adding random things (the mail, things from other projects, etc) to the stack.  Sometimes I add a post-it note next to the bean bag to remind myself what comes next in the project.  I almost always move the stack to an open piece of shelf so that I can have a clean desk, which helps me to focus.

Want to make some?  Here's how I do it:

1.  Round up some scraps of fabric. 

2.  Iron the fabric.  with bigger scraps, fold them in half length-wise, right-sides together, and press the fold.  with smaller scraps, pair them up and pin the right-sides together.

3. Trim the fabrics down to something rectangular. If you are using lighter weight fabrics (voile, some chambrays) you may want to double-up the fabric or cut a piece of muslin to the same size to use as a liner.  If you wanted to use the bean bags in a "toss" game or let a shild play with them, I would definitely double-up the fabric.

4. Sew around the edges of the fabric as in the picture below, taking extra care with the corners and leaving a 1" opening.

5. Press the seam on the side with the opening open.  This will help you get a neat edge in step 8.

6. Turn the bags right-side out, gently push out the corners (I use a pointy chopstick).

7. Fill with dry bean or rice.

8. Hand-stitch the bean bag closed.

9.  Enjoy!

06 October 2010

Eggplant Parmesan

I love fall for many things, amongst them: I consider it the season of eggplant parmesan.

Why? Because it is cold enough that you don't might turning on the oven.
And its warm enough that grilling eggplant outside is still pleasant.
And eggplant is still readily available, as are decent tomatoes.

The eggplant parmesan that I grew up eating was nothing like lasagna, so I am always surprised when I see eggplant parmesan served in dense slices, smothered in red sauce. This is how I picture eggplant parmesan:

I make eggplant parmesan following a recipe that my dad has always used. Though, it should be said, he microwaves, then slices and fries his eggplant, whereas I just slice it and grill it.  I love the taste of eggplant off of the charcoal grill, plus it is less fatty to prepare it that way. In addition, I like to grill bread (pizza crust really) to serve at the meal, so I do use up the charcoal.  Plus, I have one of those cheap charcoal chimneys that makes it easy-peasy to get the grill going.

Back to the bread:  do you see that liquid in the pan above? It is one of the best tasting things ever, and having fresh bread to soak it up is heavenly.  I use this pizza dough recipe.

As for the eggplant parmesan recipe?  I've got that right here...

Eggplant Parmesan
adapted from  "The Paupers Cookbook" and Rossie's Dad

5 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
black pepper
2 medium eggplants
1 pound mozzarella***
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling


(start the grill, preheat the oven to 325)

1. Slice eggplants into 1/2-inch thick rounds, brush with olive oil. Grill both sides until cooked through and slightly browned.

2. Wash, seed, and finely dice the tomatoes.  Drain in a colander for 20 minutes.

3. Remove tomatoes to a large bowl and mix with basil leaves, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, one teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon pepper.

4. Spread half the tomato mix in the bottom of a lasagna pan.  Then use all the eggplant to make the next layer.  Top eggplant with slices of mozzarella cheese.  Lastly, spread the remaining tomato mix on top.

5. Bake at 325 for 45 mins.  Serve with Parmesan cheese.

***I think this might be really good with ½ ricotta or feta and ½ mozzarella, including a layer of mozzarella on top to get all crispy and brown.

02 October 2010

Look mom, long arm!

I was originally scheduled to have my first long arm lesson at the end of August.  Because of my dog's illness, I wasn't able to attend on the scheduled day.  The folks at Monarch Quilts were very understanding and I took my lesson on Friday.

As it turns out, half of the lesson is spent  learning how to mount the quilt onto the frame.  I guess that makes sense, since you don't have to baste the thing!

In the above picture, I'm stitching using a pantograph.  Basically, after putting everything into position, you stand behind the machine, and look at a laser which is pointed at your pantograph (circled in red below).  You trace the design on the pantograph with the laser.

Once I've got the hang of using the machine with pantographs I will take a lesson on doing free-motion quilting on the machine.  When you free-motion quilt, you use the handles circled in green below and actually get to look at the needle and the quilt-top as you go.

This is what I really want to do, since (a) I usually prefer quilting that has a relationship to the patchwork, rather than an all-over design and (b) every pantograph I've seen is way too smooth and cute for my taste.  I can deal with it for the time being...maybe...or maybe I'll draw my own wabi sabi pantograph.

I will definitely be needing some practice.  Here's my progress so far:

You can see that I'm twitchy and tense!
I did 6 short rows in total, this is part of the 5th and 6th.  I improved a bit.

Monarch Quilts provided the fabric and let me take it home in order to get more pictures, then bind it.  It will be going to Project Linus or a similar charity.
I did not choose the fabric, but at least I got to pick a binding that makes it a little more cheerful.