Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bring On the Party

It just feels like a holiday when people start cooking favorites and the big puzzle comes out on the card table. 

Our family is all getting together over New Year's Day.  Our fairly quiet house turns into a buzz of food preparations and rituals of competitive board games.  Some people relish an afternoon nap and a good book.  It is vacation time for everyone and rules are usually kept at bay.  With everyone living busy lives, family time at home is a good time to just BE. 

Before everyone comes home, we rush around to try to be certain there are enough towels, clean sheets on beds and plenty of food in the frig.  Making sure that while things may not be perfect, there is some order to the house.  Then they descend on the house and it is like a truck dumps off mounds of their lives on the house.  A funny ritual but one that no one seems to mind.  Laundry baskets of gifts and extra clothes for sledding line the foyer.  Extra dishes in the sinks and on the counters are reminders of many extra snackings.  Tape and wrapping paper line up for the last-minute-wrappings.  The piano and guitar will be pressed into regular service throughout the next few days as Christmas carols share the stage with renditions of all levels of classical and rock and contemporary music.  The drum set will even brought in to bellow and drive the dogs crazy. 

Then there is the newest family pet as our daughter received a miniature schnauzer as a Christmas present.  Three dogs in the house is making for full entertainment.  

Hoping your New Year's Eve and Day are times of rest and opportunities for finding much to celebrate...whether it is a quiet evening alone or time for a loud party, I hope it is a time to find moments of gratitude for 2009 and heady anticipation for 2010.

All the Best to You, jill

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dance of the Contemplative Snowflake

Snowflakes are falling with a lazy pace on the Iowa landscape.  I doubt it gets much more idyllic than this.  As I watch their peaceful decent to earth, I am reminded of the calm that I can keep this day if I am mindful of the pace I select.

Typically the day after Christmas is bedlam for Americans flocking to scoop up bargains on holiday decorations, wrapping paper and make their returns.  This has never been my scene of choice.  I usually have been at the retail store as the clerk and have never seen (first hand) the mayhem.  In fact, December 26 (or through the end of the year) is usually marked with a season of joy for us as our customers come in laden with gift certificates that filled their stockings.  Anticipating a new start to sewing, they enjoy the chance to think of their loved ones and select tools and treasures as expressions of their love and the anticipation of creating.

The days that follow Christmas for us are also a time for our friends to reclaim their freedom.  The weeks coming up on Christmas usually start with casual choices of gifting.  Few choose the bedlam that obligation presses on everyone as they rush through the list of things to be done and gifts to be wrapped.  The arrival of the actual holiday is usually a huge relief as there is no more that can (or should) be done in that moment. 

For today, while a good many of our staff continue to enjoy their time at home, I will join the staff at Pine Needles to meet up with our customers...get a chance to meet their visiting family members and relive their gifting experiences.  And for today, I am going to take a lesson from the snowflake dancers...taking my time to enjoy the ride.

All the Best to You...jill

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stockings by the Chimney...

This was the year for new Christmas stockings and of course (today) was my day to sew them.  Nine new stockings ready in a few hours.  They are my fat quarter stockings. A fun place to use my decorative stitches, each stocking takes four fat quarters, then one fat quarter will make two cuffs. 

Our family isn't all getting together until New Year's Day.  But, I am sure Santa will be doing some stocking stuffing tonight.

The boys were disappointed that the stockings didn't have names on them.  I told them that they can go stocking diving and decide which ones they want tomorrow.  Gee, I hope Santa has a sense of humor and brings the girls' stocking stuff and forgets the boys' stuff until our family get-together.   I have it on good word that Santa didn't need coal this year at our house.  

Wishing you a joyous and peaceful Christmas.
All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wants and Needs

13. Listen to Christmas music if you want or listen to the Stillness if you need.

BTW--There is still time to order Christmas in A Small Town.  Hands down.  This is the best, best, best Christmas music I have heard in a long time.  For my friends who aren't sewers, you don't have this music yet at your house and you deserve it.  I plan on listening to this into January.

Early in their lives, we started a practice with our kids of talking about wants and needs.  It was never an attempt to deny but rather to help them to see that in their lives, their needs are often met and they get to enjoy some (or many) of their wants.
None is more stingy than he who is stingy with himself; he punishes his own miserliness.  If ever he is generous, it is by mistake; and in the end he displays his greed.  In the miser's opinion his share is too small; he refuses his neighbor and brings ruin on himself.  Sirach
When the boundaries of wants and needs are identified, contentment and ambition seem to take their appropriate positions in our lives.  While I grew up in the peace and love generation, I am not necessarily of the mind that pursuing our wants is evil.  I think there is plenty of room for healthy ambition.  In my own life, my ambitions have afforded me experiences and chances to be with people I would have never met had I not pursued some of the desires of my heart.

The key to a good balance between wants and needs seems to be ample gratitude.  Regardless of your history,  all of us can get a dose of setting aside grousing and practicing gratitude.  Simple things like refusing to pass on gossip and refusing to tolerate or pass on whining and complaining can change a good deal of our own practices.  See the BEST in other people.  This is not to say we ought ignore shortcomings or character flaws, rather we should expect the best and let people know we see the best in them.  While it may not always change them, it will change your own heart.  When your practices change, your heart changes and your attitude follows.

This started off with choosing something simple as how you spend an hour or two today.  Do you need stillness?  Do you want peace?  Both can serve you well in so many ways.  If we are stressed in these days before Christmas, we ought remember that we are the ones who choose to embrace that stress.  See the best in yourself and realize that giving a happy person to the people you love is likely better than all the details you think you forgot to finish up at this moment.

All the Best to You, jill

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Don't Hinge Your Happiness On...

12. Don't hinge your happiness on finishing EVERYTHING.

We are about as happy as we choose to be. Perhaps the greatest reason for most distress at Christmas time is that we often have leveraged too much perfection on December 25. The ads, the greetings, the media, our neighborhoods all shout out that this must be a perfect time of year which renders us to consider that we must be broken because we don't feel quite so jolly.

For those of us who sew or create gifts and decorations, we put a little more pressure on ourselves because we are fairly sure we can create more happiness for ourselves and others because we possess these specialized skills. We need be aware that the pressure towards perfection is the same core of much unhappiness. Consider how many times we have heard (and try to believe) that money can't bring us happiness. Yet, many still try that route. The same is true of our creativity and yet we try to create happiness with our hands and our skills. While noble and honorable and inspiring, creating and crafting can only bring happiness if they are equally distributed.

Creativity is like painting a room. You might get the room painted and find great satisfaction in that but the process of painting spills on us too. There is great satisfaction in looking around a freshly painted room. That satisfaction is compounded when we are scrubbing the paint off our own hands and pulling speckles out of our hair. Each time we look around the room, we critique our work and either give ourselves some praise or chide ourselves in the details we missed. Yet, had someone else painted the room, we would not feel the same sense of satisfaction or the comfort of knowing we saved some money or shared our skills. In fact, many of us are far less critical of someone else doing the same taste than we are of ourselves.

As the holidays loom close, keep perspective. Do not hinge your happiness on finishing everything. A friend told me that her kids all were traveling to other places after spending Christmas Eve together. Her plan for Christmas Day is to take out her sewing machine and work on some embroidery. While that doesn't sound like everyone's liking, she is looking forward to a quiet afternoon with her sewing machine humming along. For my part, I have held contingency plans for gifts for months. I would like to think I could get these things done but am perfectly content with being a good shopper. Besides, since half the people in my family are sewers, I have perfect gifts wrapped up for them. They don't really know that I listen all year long to their wishes. If you don't have sewers for relatives, trust me....they do still like to have a nice pair of scissors, a gift certificate from Pine Needles that they can pick out the fabric for new pillows for their home and a date for lunch when you go on your shopping trip.

As for family isn't getting everyone together until New Year's Eve and Day. We will just pretend that is Christmas Day for us. So....the new stockings that everyone is asking for are still in fat quarters. If they don't make it to the mantle by New Year's Day, I am sure no one will pitch a fit!

All the Best to You, jill
P.S. I dedicate this post to my son who is celebrating (really celebrating) his 23rd birthday. I am so proud of you that you have figured out what to the core of real happiness is. love, mom

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tip from Olive

11. The moment you get anxious about getting it all done, set it aside. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and look at Christmas lights.

We all know too well what holiday anxiety feels like. It is that panic as we count the days off. The sound of Christmas music that brought joy now is like a ticking clock. We count our hours in quantities of things to be done. We try to find relief reading email or keeping lists. None of it seems to help much as the feeling of dread is now compounded by feelings of guilt for wasting time.

Before you go running off in panic, take a lesson from Therese's dog, Olive. When Olive comes visiting at my house, she makes NO apologies. She grabs the best chair in the house and perches there for the day. She watches the fireplace and enjoys the sunshine in the windowed room of her favorite chair. Her sister (my dog Macy) is all in a quandry as Macy tries to pry Olive out of her chair. Trying to hoist Olive into a game of "dog tag", Macy will taunt and nip and pull at Olive. But, Olive refuses to be swayed by the stress of Macy's prodding. Olive has calmly embraced the comfort and ease of her favorite chair. This is not say that Olive Schnauzer won't eventually be convinced that a rousing game of tag with Macy is great entertainment, but that wise little pup will embrace the best of the day from the best chair even amid the yipping of her playmate.

Grab a cup of cocoa of tea or even water and watch the day for a bit. Start recounting reasons to be happy and what brings contentment and joy. Such "exercise" is usually all we need to be motivated to get back on track or to stand back from some things unnecessary. How much anxiety each of us embrace or set aside is entirely a choice.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Practicing Kindness...

Treking along on the path towards Christmas, I have more to share with you....
9. Plan to not finish things you aren't inspired to finish.
10. Be kind to yourself.

While I wrote those two suggestions in this order, I think if you read them as "Be Kind to Yourself and Plan to not finish...", giving you the WHY before the action.   Forcing sincerity is rarely effective.  Life is just too short to waste time and energy being bored. It is true there are things in life we must do regardless of how inspiring they are.  And at times, the discipline of some practices afford us the chance to do more with our lives. I may not like to exercise but staying physically fit affords me better health and more contentment and happiness with myself and my ability to function. Being disciplined in finishing my assignments at work gives me peace and some sense of semblance and structure that I have more freedom in my life.

Forced responses in our creative and personal spheres are not respecting our personal inclination and our goals. 

Projects of obligation are a real creativity killer. I am not the same person I was ten years ago. When I pull out a project that is ten years old that is neither finished nor motivating, I need take a clue and move on with that project.

There likely is someone else out there who will find it much more motivating than I was able to maintain in my travels with that project. It may be that the project was just doomed to failure from the start. While I could detail projects that could fill a U-haul trailer (take your pick the size of the trailer) that I have passed on or recycled or just freed into the universe, I am taking this time to simply say, BE KIND TO YOURSELF. You need not justify these choices. You need to have enough respect to yourself to really appreciate your journey and to appreciate that you have the right to embrace pure joy in your creative travels.

Being kind to ourselves not only involves keeping down the clutter of an overly sensitive sense of obligation to our begun-projects but also to accept that we deserve the big crayon box. When I was a 1st grader, I realized that some of my peers had the BIG BOX of crayons. You know the ones with the sharpener embedded in the side of the box. The scent of the box fills my memory as much as the magic of the colors. Of course, I had to settle for my box of 24 because that is what the list said and since I was one of three children within four years in my family, it was good to get the 24 crayon box. I was as grateful as could be but was always tickled to sit near someone willing to share a fuschia crayon with me now and again. I read the names with as much joy as I envied the colors.

So this year for Christmas, I got myself the BIG BOX of Aurifil. I love to machine applique and am very prone to run low on the exact shade I need. I am a thread conniseur about shades of threads (when it comes to my own work). I can visually spot the difference in color to the point where I can scarcely substitute a color. When at Fall Quilt Market, I nearly fainted when shown the Aurifil box of 216 threads. I got my own box and have spent a good amount of time savoring my big box of crayons. I actually am planning applique projects just so I can use all the colors!!

Santa has been good to me. My favorite thing to remind my friends of is to think the best of everyone around you. I know my sweetheart would want to think of such a perfect gift. Santa will be wrapping up my BIG BOX OF AURIFIL and putting a card on it that says, "Love, Henry." He will be so proud of himself for thinking of this one. (We make this all too hard. How would he ever know I would want a big box of thread?!) Perhaps, you need to go online and get yourself a box. You have been a very good sewer and deserve your own big coloring box.

All the Best to You, jill

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Realistic plans

Time is getting close and you have a stack of unfinished projects yet to be done. Suggestion #8. Plan to wrap up some of the patterns and fabrics without finishing them.

When you do this, I like to wrap them all up and then keep track of what is in all the packages. That way if I have a bit of time before the gift giving time, I can come back, unwrap one and sew it up and re-wrap it. Sometimes just being able to set aside some of the wrapping of gifts reduces just enough stress for me be inspired to get sewing again.

For today, set aside some time to wrap up as much as you can. Do NOT struggle with guilt about this. Going out and making decisions and finalizes what you wanted to sew for your sister was a big enough consideration that you shouldn't be bothered with guilt. If your sister is lovely enough for you to have wanted to sew something for her, she WILL understand that you thought of her lovingly. If she is the type to chide you about your unfinishedness...well, you got the wrong gift for her and you ought to just click on this link....and get her a gift card at Pine Needles that she can sew for herself. Nothing sarcastic about that. Just teaching you to be more kind to yourself and to inspire others to share your joy!

All the Best to You, jill

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Present to ME!

Oh my, Santa has come and brought me a little face my sewing room. After wrangling for far too long, I asked Santa to put new flooring in my sewing room. With the generous help of some darling elves, we muscled all of my sewing stuff and other stuff out of the family room to make way for the installers.

The best way to lessen your stuff is to sort it out. I cut up fabrics into bits and pieces...charm packs, jelly rolls and even recycled a wanna-be chenille blanket into some fabulous ribbons for Christmas presents. Found all the "lost" books I had and re-organized my patterns in such a way that I can actually see them.

When I get my Koala Studios set up with their under-shelving units, my collections of publications and what-nots will live there. I loved working on the Koalas while I waited for the flooring and am so anxious to install the shelving kits to make the MOST of them.

I have shared the room with the pool table, an air hockey table and TV. My sewing area sits between the TV viewers and their chairs. That WILL be changing. I can't hear myself think when they are trying to hear the TV over my sewing! I am thinking speakers behind their chairs. And, after wiggling audition settings around and around the room, I have convinced them that the air hockey table is just one surface too many and should go into a another room of the basement. Yippee. I think I am as happy for that as I am the new flooring.

Of course, sneak peeks around the corners where I shoved stuff indicates that much will need to be put away before my room is ready for guests. My sewing companions will be home in the next ten days. But, that is also why I stuffed most of it into closets and boxes. Labels would have been a good idea, but since I didn't do that, I just reach what I can and quietly accept that I will find the rest sometime...and it will be like finding a lost diamond!
All the Best to You, jill

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 15 Minutes Table Runner

To help you with your holiday preparations, I am offering you PERMISSION.
7. Change up your routine of when you "allow" yourself to sew. Let yourself sew at unconventional times to reduce stress.

How do I find time when I so many things to get done??

Give "The 15 Minutes Table Runner" a chance. Truly, these will go together so fast even you will be amazed.

Step #1:
Start with 3/4 yard cuts of two fabrics. This will make TWO table runners. Cut 10" wide and then a 17" wide piece will remain. Make sure cuts are perpendicular (straight with the selvage). This might mean that you will have trimmed down each piece a bit in the width.
Step #2: Sew the 10" wide strip and the 17" wide strip together with the right sides together along the right side length of the fabrics.

Step #3:
Pulling the left sides together with the right sides together. This will be reaching the 10" piece to the other side of the 17" piece. Sew together, creating a tube. This may look unbalanced, but it is correct.

Step #4:
Turn the tube right side out.

Step #5
Spread the tube out on an ironing board, distributing the border evenly on both sides of the tube.

Step #6:
Press the "borders" measuring to maintain an even width on each side of the center piece (striped fabric in the photo). The "borders" will be approximately 1-3/4" on each the left and right side of the center.

Step #7:
Trim selvages off both ends of the tube. Be sure the cut is perpendicular to the sides.

Step #8:
Fold the tube in half lengthwise, matching the border pieces.

Step #9:
Sew the ends of the folded segment, back-stitch at the beginning and end. (Option: this could be sewn as a french seam: sewing the wrong side first with a 1/8" seam and then turning to encase the seam by sewing right sides together with a 1/4" seam.)

Step #10:
Turn points on each end of the table runner right side out and press out the points. You may have to do some trimming at the point to get crisp points.

Step #11
Back of the runners will have a band of the border. Press well.

At the points of the table runner, you can add buttonholes and attach tassles. Consider monogramming the ends of the runner.
Options: Cutting the strip in half after Step #7 and finishing each end, you can make two placemats of the strip width. You can use a cutaway stabilizer, Decor-bond™ or batting to add more body to the table runner. Try decorator fabrics for more stability. I prefer a cutaway stabilizer such as OESD Fusible Polymesh.

Download a copy of the pattern by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Twinkling Spirit

At Christmas time, we often get so caught up in the shoulds of the world. We think we should make sure that everything is done and we should make sure that every detail is "perfect." The holiday isn't about perfect. It is about joy and celebration. Taking time to rest, to think, to watch and to just "BE" are the best ways to reduce stress.

It is so important that you make your gift-creating time work for the person you love and for you. Celebrating that person while you are creating is healthy and doubles the joy of giving. I stress making things very simple when we are in these last days before gift-giving time not because it is easy or because I am lazy but rather because it is a time to give ourselves tender care as well as to share the gift of sincere and generous giving, not a spirit of bitterness.

5. As you sew, think about the person you are sewing for. This is the gift to YOU.
6. Savor every moment of sewing.

Nice picture of most of our staff from our Christmas Party. Along with being a sharp-looking bunch, these are some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with. They give so much of themselves to help our customers be inspired and they inspire each other. What a great gift to enjoy in one's workplace.

On Sunday, we had a great time celebrating with our customers at our annual holiday party. If you missed it, you will want to make sure you mark your calendar for next year. Not only did we have a great time but each person got a gift of a FREE premier embroidery design collection or a $50 gift certificate to use on any kit in the store. So, if you were at the party, be sure to bring in your ticket and get your gift. As for the 2010 party, watch for it to be held in mid November. We are going to move it up to better fit your calendars. It will be a Sunday afternoon again from 3-6:00. We had great food and a lot of fun. Everyone got to participate in fabulous specials. All attendees can still use their specials on the kits through December 31. If you want to see some of the projects we shared, stop in and check them out in our downstairs classroom. They are amazing!

Go to our web site to collect a FREE copy of the pattern of an easy and quick table runner. You can truly make this one in less and 30 minutes. We have 3/4 yard cut kits for this one in the store. You will find that you can get THREE table runners out of one kit. WOW! The kits we have made up are from Figgy Pudding, Winterscapes, City Girl Holiday, Snow Show and more. These work out to about $6 a runner. You can't beat that one.
(FREE PATTERN....Just Click on these highlighted words and you will go to our web site where you can download the pattern as a pdf)

All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Then I Will Be Happy

As we trek forward towards Christmas, I am continuing doing my best to help you to keep the holidays less stressful.

4. Prioritize what would most make YOU HAPPY to get done.

I think in respect to my shortcomings, the one thing I do very well is choose happiness and know that it is MY responsibility to maintain my happiness. Regardless of your history, your life story, your pain, you alone are responsible for your own happiness. In fact, I believe that anyone who has grown up with a less than perfect family, hit all the walls, suffered all the agonies of the world are BETTER EQUIPPED to be happy than most people.

It pains me listen to a litany of all the things some believe they must do for the holidays. If you put the phrase "...then I would be happy," after each of the things you think you MUST get done in time for the holidays, you will hear how absurd it might be. Let's give it a try.

•Send out Christmas cards to 250 people...then I will be happy.
•Bake cookies for all the people who don't really like me but is my chance to suck up to them and hope they will like me....then I will be happy.
•Stay up all night making a dress for my co-worker's grand-daughter's boyfriend's niece that she can wear it to a Christmas program that I won't attend....then I will be happy.
•Over-extend my credit cards to impress my family and friends with my generosity and stress myself out for three months while I try to figure out how to pay the bills...then I will be happy.

Sounds pretty absurd.
I am not thumbing my nose at anyone's traditions, but it is important to note that none of us can or should try to do it all.

Sewing little things for my family and friends with no pressure...DOES make me happy. I think about the people receiving the gift and the joy they will have using it, wearing it or just seeing it. The most simple gifts make them happy because I put a lot of thought into what would bring them joy and I gave it because I loved making it for them.

I have been visioning a Christmas stitchery made of one of my favorite machine embroidery collections. As the snowstorm built up yesterday, I took out one of my very favorite fabric collections and picked threads to go with this collection. While I am writing this, my embroidery machine is diligently (and happily) stitching out the designs. I am stitching these out for my family. They love decorating at Christmas and the thought of the joy it brings them makes me very happy.

My husband loves getting Christmas cards. Sending a Christmas letter is important to him and working through that process makes him happy. I help him because seeing him delight over Christmas cards makes me happy.

My SIL, Sally shared with me her memories of baking cookies for Christmas with her sisters. Her eyes twinkled as she told me the story. Imagining the joy of her re-telling and how she has brought this tradition to her six sons. I am sure Sally had times she had to drag the boys through it; but watching how kind and loving her boys are, I am confident that Sally's happiness was transmitted to them in the joy of giving at Christmas. Each time I share cookies that Sally and her sisters have lovingly and lavishly brought together at the holidays, I think of Sally's happiness and my heart is warmed.

As you consider what traditions you carry with you at this holiday season, only choose that which makes you happy. Your love and passion will be evident in these things. Before you delve deep into any "hafta do" or "oughta do" or "should do" projects today, sit back with a warm cup of cocoa or tea and think about what brings you happiness and watch the ought and shoulds take their proper place...NOT in your life.

Happiness is a choice!

All the Best to You, jill

Monday, December 7, 2009

Be Fair To Yourself...

Among my list of things to keep in mind with holiday sewing, I have listed one of my toughest lessons learned...."3. Be fair to yourself in time evaluation for sewing." Not respecting ourselves enough to say "no" to some projects, even if the "no" is to ourselves is neither noble nor healthy. Many of us possess a very unattractive martyrdom over what we will sew for others.

Much as I would love to sew pajamas for some children for Christmas, I don't think I can absolutely get it done. I have bought the fabric for the flannel pajamas to fit the children I am thinking about for NEXT Christmas.

I confess, I have been very guilty of buying into the notion that unless I make it at the last minutes of December that it isn't quite like "giving" a project. However, over the last couple of years, I have made projects that I know are things that our kids have admired. As I made them or as they discovered them, I have kept note of the ones they love. I don't do things even and "fair" at every holiday. They have never complained that one year is their clothes year and someone else's toy year. It just depends on their personality, where they are in their lives and what we truly feel called to give them. So, I am very excited to have some special projects set aside for the kids this year. (I can't tell you what they are because sometimes my kids read my blog!)

My family will appreciate a well-rested and composed mother and wife more than a bunch of handmade gifts that I tried to squeeze into the holiday plans. When I suggest a handmade gift at this late date, I am not talking about a bed-sized quilt. Placemats, handbags, aprons, pillows, flannel lounge pants, pajamas and pillowcases are the perfect fare for the season.

I am presently working in 3/4 yard cuts and having a blast with them. I will be showing these things at our coming Holiday Party on Sunday, December 13. It is amazing what one can do with a well-coordinated set of fabrics. This kind of sewing will be fun to create and fun to give. I hope you can come and party with us!

When I look at the projects to be done, I make an estimate of time as uninterrupted time and then I add a couple hours. If I get more done faster....bonus. If not, I don't stress about it. Be sure to leave time to do your wrapping. I also wrap things up as I finish them and am so excited because this year, Moda has made up wrapping papers to match a couple of fabric lines, including Figgy Pudding. Stunning stuff!

When I suggest being fair to yourself, it is not only a time constraint but also a creativity constraint. Last year, Therese spent a couple days making cake balls for Christmas. I think I enjoyed watching her pour her heart into this project as much as she enjoyed creating these beautiful and delicious gifts. Joel helped her out and it was such a treat to watch them have fun making the treats. Their efforts were giving themselves the gift of making that which they truly wanted to do. While the cakes were beautiful and delicious, I would hope they can only do them in the future if they enjoyed doing them. This is the definition for being fair to yourself. Christmas is a time for gifting. Gift yourself with the care you well-deserve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Give You Permission

Rather than grab onto a sullen pout that the calendar is running faster towards Christmas, I take some serious steps that have served me well. Keep in mind that I wasn't born with these techniques but rather I have had to cultivate them, born of frustration and exhaustion.

Are you a kindred spirit? I believe so.

Before we get started, let me give you permission. You are the person who is usually sewing out of love for the recipients of your gifts. Some people buy out of love for their recipients. One is NOT more noble than the other. Each should be an expression of our heart lest it be falsehood to gift in any other manner. Give yourself permission to not sew for anyone you don't love...truly!

1. Before starting any creative projects, put away all the distractions from your creating space.

For some of us this will entail whole cleaning. I recommend that you figure out what you can do in less than half a day. Your inspiration area may never be ready to be featured in "Where Women Create" or "Studio". The goal here is to make it so that you can function.

I recently purchased new Koala studio pieces (which I love, love, love). I am having my flooring worked on in a few weeks. It would be a ridiculous choice for me to work on re-decorating and putting my stash of stuff "away". So, I have stored it in a couple closets. To get through Thanksgiving, I first dumped it in the areas. All the while, I sort out things for donation or for dumping if it isn't inspiring me any longer. Out of sight. Out of mind. (Take that how you wish.) Last week, I started digging through the stuff to find the things I WANT to work on. I set aside anything that is beyond my ability to finish in this short time.

And repeat: I sort out things for donation or for dumping if it isn't inspiring me any longer.

2. Set out all the things you would LIKE to get done for the holidays.

I stacked the things up that I WANT to sew. I went to the store and bought the colors of fabrics that I really want to sew for my loved ones. I have been petting the Figgy Pudding fabric at the store. I know I have some very special people in my life who are going to love these fresh new things. It is time we all quit thinking it noble to refrain from sewing with what inspires us in the hopes that it will inspire us to want to sew the ugly stuff we are hanging onto in our stash.

And repeat: I sort out things for donation or for dumping if it isn't inspiring me any longer.

I made sure to add some new patterns that inspire me. When I brought it home, I made a list of what I want to get done. Went to bed. Wake up and remove the unreasonable things.

As I sort through the projects, I remember the stuff that I have in my stash that will help this project. I find piping and plan to use it all up (because I know I will lose it and forget it later).

As I dig through that older stuff, I sort out things for donation or for dumping if it isn't inspiring me any longer.

Depending on my mood, I will decide my course of action. Respecting your patterns of behavior, you need to decide how you best function. For me, when I am tired, I can't sit a long time lest I get sleepy. So, I like to stand and cut. I put in a good movie and start cutting out everything. I lay out two or three projects that when I am more up to sewing, I can just sew.

If I am ready to sit and sew, I will pull up Pandora on my computer and listen to music and sew and sew and sew.

Start asking yourself about when you are most productive. I find that late at night and early in the morning are my best times. I also respect that sometimes I need a 20 minute rest in the afternoon. This may not be a nap but rather a time to just enjoy quiet and not doing. When you start practicing these disciplines that respect your own style of creating, you will find that you not only are more productive but also are much less frustrated. Giving your creativity as a gift should benefit the recipient but also the giver. Give yourself the gift of PEACE.

All the Best to You, jill

Sunday, November 29, 2009

How Creative People Survive the Holidays

While Christmas is looming around the corner, I would urge you to do one thing that will make your holiday season better all the way around. Don't sew anything for anyone that you don't truly in your heart want to do. We are all pretty guilty of this and are oft well known for burning the midnight oil to finish up those projects in time for gifts. I look back on family photos from Christmases past and see the kids in nice hand sewn clothes, and I have bags under my eyes from trying to get them sewn in time to get the cards out in the mail before Christmas. Crazy. For sure! However, over the weekend, Therese was going through the trunk of little dresses and suits that I'd made over the years for our children. Listening to her delight over her favorites and tell me how much she loved this one and that and how she remembered family events and how special she felt wearing her new clothes...well, I think it probably wasn't so crazy after all. That the kids loved the feel of new clothes that were handmade gave me a lot of joy. I clearly remember being happy the whole time I was sewing for them. They would check on the progress of their things.

I now think it wasn't the sewing for the kids that sent me over the edge but rather all the things I tried to sew for everyone else. A family friend often had me making curtains for her home. After the third bedroom, I tried to let her know that it was really hard for me to do this with my young children and asked if she could just order the curtains from the Penney's catalog that she had me working from to redesign her curtains. She was indignant and told me that she would think I would have wanted to earn the money being I have a big family. Little did she know, I charged just a pittance because I was doing more of a favor for her since she wanted to save money from buying them in the catalog. I was charging her less than she could order them. Boy, that was a lesson quickly learned. (On top of that, I never remember telling her I needed the money because I had a big family, her assumption was in error.) What I "lost" in earnings was gained in wisdom that has served me well for a long time.

I clearly remember when I stopped trying to sew for everyone and do everything at Christmas time. It really hasn't anything to do with age or ability but is the stuff that I pass on to our children and anyone who will hear. The holidays are no longer stressful to me because I reduced my stress level by making a conscious choice to better care for myself. I love the holidays because I do what I want, create what I want and ignore the rest.

Following are the key elements to surviving the holidays with less stress:
1. Before starting any creative projects, put away all the distractions from your creating space.
2. Set out all the things you would LIKE to get done for the holidays.
3. Be fair to yourself in time evaluation for sewing.
4. Prioritize what would most make YOU HAPPY to get done.
5. As you sew, think about the person you are sewing for. This is the gift to YOU.
6. Savor every moment of sewing.
7. Change up your routine of when you "allow" yourself to sew. Let yourself sew at unconventional times to reduce stress.
8. Plan to wrap up some of the patterns and fabrics without finishing them
9. Plan to not finish things you aren't inspired to finish.
10. Be kind to yourself.
11. The moment you get anxious about getting it all done, set it aside. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and look at Christmas lights.
12. Don't hinge your happiness on finishing EVERYTHING.
13. Listen to Christmas music if you want or listen to the Stillness if you need.

If you forget these lessons, keep coming back the next couple of weeks. I will be your sewing cheerleader and remind you of what you are trying to accomplish.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ain't No Mountain High Enough...

...No Valley Low keep me from sewing!

A few weeks ago, Henry and Joel brought in my new Koala sewing studio to my current sewing space. Since I was gone when they did this, they "stacked" all the notions and fabrics and stuff on the pool table and any horizontal surface to move the old stuff out and make room for my new and fabulously beautiful studio. I have done my best to not wait until it is all in place before I started sewing. If I wait that long, I'll be a wreck.

Plus, you know how it goes when you get new furniture. You measure and vision and are sure it will work this way and then it arrives and it has the wrong "feel" in that configuration. So for the past two weeks, I have moved these four fabulous pieces around my sewing space. I have tried nearly every configuration, drawn it out and dreamed about it. I go to sleep thinking, "if this piece is here and I move that there...." A couple of times I got up and went to my sewing room in my pajamas and started re-arranging furniture.

Most of the time I kept shoving stuff around and moving stacks of books, patterns and notions around. Knowing that if I start putting it in the drawers, I won't have a good feel of where everything goes until everything is sitting where I want it. And, even with that I can't set it all up because in early December I am having the carpets cleaned. It will all be upended again!

So why the hurry to do anything? It is my dream space. It is my getaway and all it does right now is scream "Get Away!" With Thanksgiving coming, I don't want our guests to enjoy every notion, thread, fabric and publication I have ever purchased being spread out all over the pool table and the air hockey table. (Those are my room companions.) Feeling the crunch of time, I decided to implement plan B. That would entail shoving stuff into storage. Since the closest storage is the room for the house electrical, that seems obvious to me. I am sure my husband Henry will veto it when (and if) he sees it. Nonetheless, in the relief of having some of the mountains of stuff out of the way, I visioned a new way for the sewing room to sit. Poor Johanna (my 17 year young daughter) got recruited for yet another move around the sewing room. She has her own studio piece in the room; so, she is a bit motivated to assist me. And magic happened! I had been trying to take up as little space in the room to save space for a TV for Henry and ample space for the kids to play pool and air hocket. Then it dawned on me...this is really my room and I am just letting them share it with me. So, I spread out a bit more and found a lovely configuration to the room. I selected the studio pieces that my family can all sew together when they come home at holiday times. With the newest piece from Koala, I have a cutting station that can also be fitted into TWO sewing spaces. I absolutely love these pieces. They are heavy critters but they are so manageable and functional. I selected the tallest pieces of them that I could have ample shelving for my publications, fabrics, notions and even my knitting stuff. I also like the higher height with the adjustable foot rests. On top of that, they are so pretty. Mine are the cherry finish. When I get the room all "set" and decorated, I will certainly share those pictures. However, I always think it is great to share with my friends the process pictures. The pictures in progress should make you feel a little better about your creating space.

The process is what is the most fun and the most invigorating. The product brings closure and sets balance for me. However, it is the process that gives me the energy and the inspiration to go. That I get so excited about configuring my sewing room gives one a glimpse of how I think. Imagine what happens when I vision sewing and creating?!

A couple of my favorite magazines Where Women Create and Studios by Cloth, Paper, Scissors really speak to the creative in each of us. I study the way the rooms are set up and love to see personalities blooming from those spaces. Not usually highly stylized spaces many are so functional and normal....perhaps tubs for fabric, recycled dressers, shelving units borrowed from other places. Each of them speak of functionality and comfort for the designer. Then today a home design magazine came in the mail. While beautiful spaces with large open areas, I kept wondering where their "stuff" was. Where do they keep the magazines they are studying? Where are the notes, the artwork and the creations of clay from kids and grandkids? I wonder if they keep boxes of special things to sort and study. While I need enough order to find my things, my spaces are combination of who I am, who I was and who I love.

Occasionally my daughters will tease me about things mauve and blue or the many hand-woven basket, but I just cannot part with things that still have function and still bring me great joy as I remember their childhoods of growing up in a house of country blue and mauve and a lifetime of collecting their things and my things in baskets handmade by friends. With age, I just get more and more sentimental. However, just as it was when I considered the space I should take up for my creating time, I am old enough now to relinquish any sort of modesty about being inordinately tidy or organized. I doubt I will be much remembered for someone else's vision and will be more likely remembered for the passion for life that I have.

Affording ourselves a space and time and freedom from serious restrictions on our creative expression is the best form of self-care we can enjoy. Cultivating a healthy amount of self-expression and an avenue for us to keep touch with who we are is the most life-giving thing we can do to afford us each the chance to better serve others and to become who we are called to be in our daily walk.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I need a sewing day...scratch....MONTH...scratch....LIFE

Having been on the road the past six weeks for work and family, I have been too long away from home and my own sewing room. The nice thing is I have had a couple of chances to quilt and got a bit of escape. Problems and worry just melt away when I machine quilt. I know this isn't so for everyone but for me, it is like a child with chalk and a blank sidewalk. What makes it easy for me isn't that I have a natural bend to it but rather complete abandon. I don't get all hung up about if there is a "right way" to quilt. In fact, if there is a "right way" I am sure to find a new path.

I have great appreciation for quilt masters. I am transfixed watching Karen McTavish dance the needle across her quilts. I am in awe to watch the details of Diane Gaudynski's work and am always thrilled to see my own replicas when I use an embroidery machine with her designs. While at the AQS show in Des Moines, I got to spend some time watching Marilyn Badger and the easy conversation of how she enjoys her APQS and the new cruise feature.

While on retreat, I got back to my Red Silk quilt. My rendition is from Terry Atkinson's Happy Hour book, called Snap Shots. I love this quilt and loved it more as I quilted it with one of my new favorite that is variagated. I love silk thread anyway and variagated is beyond my wildest dreams. I FINISHED my quilt in a day and quilted it such that the rectangles "popped." Let me know what you think. I love it!!

When I was a younger soul, I longed to be an artist. I have no regret even though I am not living in Paris as a starving artist. My life, my creative journey, my passion, my family and friends are so much more than I envisioned. Life is always a surprise and an absolute joy to me. My Red Silk lovely is my expression and MY dance. Give it a try. Red Silk kit is a collection of fat quarters that will take you to a new place with your imagination!

I have been asked what am I going to do with my Red Silk Dance. I am not really sure what that means. Red Silk Dance has done so much for me. I smile everytime I see it. I loved every minute of sewing it. I even love the pictures of it. Do you think anyone asked Vincent Van Gogh what he was going to do with his painting Starry Night?

There need not be a practical side of my sewing. But, if one needs to justify it, I would suggest that Red Silk Dance makes me happy, brings me joy. So, it is better than medication!

All the Best to You, jill