A Happy Birthday

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The  most marvelous Andy Paulson had a birthday this week and we celebrated in style, picnicking at the creek and playing in the woods. A crow flew off with Amelia's entire sandwich — an untouched 6" turkey sub — right off the picnic table while we were down at the water's edge. It was actually kind of amazing to watch. He stalked it, then he took it. I was amazed that he was able to carry it. Amelia and I baked Andy a cake and decorated it when we got home. She picked everything, the colors and style and the decorations, and I just helped. We used my go-to birthday cake recipe (it's the best chocolate cake in the world, I think, if you need one) with plain buttercream frosting. Andy laid on the chaise lounge out back and read his book while we shouted hints out the back door toward him about what we were doing. "Oh, this looks good!" "Yeah! And we hope you like things that are green!" "We hope you like things that are pink!" "We hope you like things that are LURID!" He said he did, on all counts, so we carried out our plan fearlessly. Neon frosting, geranium flowers, rose petals, giant sprinkles, traffic-cone-orange powdered food coloring, and lots of blobs. I think it's one of our best ever, myself, and it was by far the most fun. Happy birthday to you, my darling, darling husband. I love you beyond words and am so thankful every day that you were born.

Thank you so much for all of your gentle and generous and thoughtful comments on my last post. I've been thinking about it all a lot and just kind of . . . absorbing, I guess. I was particularly touched by the people who said something like "well, of course you want to know these things — that's what we, as people, do." In reading those comments it struck me how, even in writing what I had written and sort of saying "oh, well, I'm not sure why this matters" in it, I was still on some level denying myself permission to be doing it. The looking. Or rather, I was trying to keep myself from feeling the need I felt to know, as if I wasn't really allowed to have feelings about it. But I think  I am. And I think that's something unexpected that I've gained from this experience: I'm just letting myself go there, and feel whatever it is I'm going to feel, or not feel, about it all. I'm encouraging myself just to be . . . human. Knowing names and dates and places doesn't necessarily answer the important questions. But maybe it is a start. It may also be the only part of the story I ever find. I don't know. I don't know yet.

Coincidentally, I started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser (which just won a Pulitzer for biography) several weeks ago and was struck by this:

Discovering how Charles Ingalls and his family came to find themselves a few miles from the shores of Lake Pepin, just a few years after Pepin County was first marked on a map, is a detective story tracking generations into the past. Pieces of the family portrait survive, but the whole remains elusive, obscured under the soot of time. It may never be complete.

That is always a problem, in writing about poor people. The powerful, the rich and influential, tend to have a healthy sense of their self-importance. They keep things: letters, portraits, and key documents. . . . 

But the Ingallses were not people of power or wealth. Generation after generation, they traveled light, leaving things behind. Looking for their ancestry is like looking through a glass darkly, images flickering in obscurity. As far as we can tell, from the moment they arrived on this continent they were poor, restless, struggling, constantly moving from one place to another in an attempt to find greater security from hunger and want. And as they moved, the traces of their existence were scattered and lost. Sometime their lives vanish from view, as if in a puff of smoke.

So as we look back across the ages, trying to find what made Laura's parents who they were, imagine that we're on a prairie in a storm. The wind is whipping past and everything is obscured. But there are the occasional bright, blinding moments that illuminate a face here and there. Sometimes we hear a voice, a song snatched out of the air.

That said, this book is so depressing, I must confess. A lot of it is about Rose, of whom I knew nothing, and now I sort of wish I knew less. (I haven't even read all of the Little House books themselves, but Mimi is super into the junior versions of them right now, so there has been a lot of prairie talk around here lately.) I'm on page 347 of 515 of Fires and although I don't like it very much I can't seem to actually stop reading it. But when I do finish it I plan to read something utterly trite, so please feel free to recommend all manner of beach-reads because I'm all over it.

Andy made bangers and mash with brats for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, and Mimi and I finally did wind up making the rhubarb pie. If I could pick my wedding dress over again I'm pretty sure I'd pick this one:

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Princess Caroline's in 1978 (I think). From the pictures it almost looks like it has a gathered — like, elastic! — waist. I would totally do my hair like that, too.

Some of my new labels for stitch markers, lotion bars, and yarn should be starting to be delivered this week. I'm ridiculously excited to see them, and to launch these new things I've been working on for what feels like forever now. Andy and I drove out to pick up my very first wholesale order of bare yarn a few weeks ago, and I've been dyeing it little by little when I have time. I will tell you more about it as soon as I get myself organized enough. I went to a really fascinating lecture the other night about the state of the wool industry and our place in it given by Clara Parkes. I learned so much and I have so many more questions. There is so much more I want to know. I feel like I'm at the very beginning of a whole new phase of my creative life, and it is quite thrilling. And a bit overwhelming, honestly.

I also have finished stitching my next cross-stitch design, the third in my little series of seasonal pieces this year. This one is called "Summer Storm" (at least, that's what I'm calling it so far) and if I can collect myself enough to take some pretty pictures of it in the next week or so, we'll open pre-orders sometime in June. If you're not finished with Time of Flowers, don't worry — it will be several weeks before the fabric arrives and we have time to pull floss, etc. But still, I want to mention it because yes, there are two more in this seasonal series, this summer one and then one I'll do for the fall. And because the Time of Flowers fabric has been discontinued, we will probably do around five hundred of these next two and then call it good, and I don't want you to miss out.

I'm almost done with my Flax Light sweater I'm making for Mimi, and I've started a knitted dress for her that kind of looks like Selekjolen by Hoppestrikk. I wasn't able to find the pattern for it, and then when I did find it it was in Danish. I bought it, hoping to figure it out, but instead I just kind of started winging it. When I tried it on Mimi she told me she liked it while at the same time ripping it off her body as if it was on fire so, might not be worth starting over. . . . This is how kid-knitting is lately. I knew this day would come.

Shine Bright

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I had such a wonderful Mothers' Day weekend. It was filled with sweetness and food and family and fun. Amelia's birthparents and -grandparents and -siblings were all here on Saturday and it was such a perfect day. On Sunday we went to brunch with my mom and sisters and brother-in-law and nephew and had a great time. It was alternately busy and relaxing, and included lots of pampering and lots of playing and, best of all, lots of snuggling with my baby girl, who's no longer a baby but still loves to cuddle and have her back rubbed and hold my hand and give me Eskimo kisses and look into my eyes to see what color they are. I return every gesture in kind, a thousandfold, and thank the heavens above for giving me the gift of her life and love. She is the sweetest, most darlingest, most lovable, lunatic of a creature and oh I love her so much!

Life with a five-and-a-half-year-old is filled with the usual prosaic sort of chaos. There is constant climbing on everything, falling off of everything, interrupting you talking to them with some random completely bizarre talk of their own [indicating they're actually not listening to you whatsoever], playing "kitty" with totally realistic and seriously terrifying meows, refusing to sit on those automatic-flushing toilets in restaurants or stores [I hate those things!!!], climbing trees that are too small, climbing trees that are too big. Always running or otherwise crashing through every place. The other morning I was about to get in the shower and I asked Mimi if she wanted to get in. She likes to shower at the pool but she's only ever taken one shower at home, preferring the bathtub here. But this time she said yes. We have one of those corner, capsule-like showers upstairs; it's a standing shower but also has a little cedar bench for me to sit on. So I'm sitting on my bench and holding the doors open for Amelia to come in. She's standing outside the shower trying to decide if she wants to, sticking her hand into the water and yanking it back while I am saying with, admittedly, some urgency in my voice, "Come in if you want to. Water's getting all over the floor." Shower doors still open. Her standing there, reaching vaguely toward the water with her toe. Then her hand. Then her toe. Hand. Me: "Do you not want to?" Her: "No, I want to!" Me: "Okay, well, decide, so I can shut the doors either way," and as I'm saying this she apparently decides she doesn't want to and instead turns quickly on her heel and starts to tear out of the bathroom, only to wipe out on the wet floor and face-plant into the wastepaper basket and the dog's water dish. Wailing. Tangle of arms and legs. Bathmat bunched. I come lumbering quickly (oxymoron) out of (still running) shower, dripping more water everywhere, to help her up. She stops crying abruptly, apparently having remembered something else she wants to do. Exits. I climb back into shower and sit down and crank the water up, almost as hot as it will go, face in hands, steaming water streaming blissfully and finally over my head. Thinking: "God. It's only 6:32." This, and things like this, all. day. long.

Other moments, reading together, snuggling together, her sweet drawings and her forty-five stuffed animals (I protest), her singing to herself and talking to herself in the sweetest voice, her good nature and her easy smile, her smushing my face so hard to her own face that I can't breathe, her spontaneous hugs, her head against my chest, her "shop" in the window of my studio where she sells 6" pieces of yarn, her trying to write words, her love of Dairy Queens [sic], her portraits with big earrings and big smiles, her outfits (for Blue Day, White Day, Pink Day, Pick-Out Day), and her spiderwebs of yarn/embroidery floss/tape measures wound between table legs and drawer pulls. All of this sweetness. It's everything, everything to me.

I didn't bake any pies for Birthmother's Day. I wanted to, and had wanted to get up early and go to New Seasons (grocery store) all by myself and get ingredients and bake them that morning. But instead the pies you see above were baked by New Seasons bakery. I was too tired to make them because I wound up staying up late the night before, having finally, after about a year of searching, found my dad's birthparents — or at least the two people who I am pretty much 100% sure were his birthparents — on Ancestry.com. It was a total coincidence that I found them in the very early morning hours of Birthmother's Day (which is, if you weren't sure, the day before Mother's Day), but I had gotten a few very important DNA matches with close relatives on Ancestry within just the past couple of weeks and I knew I was close to figuring it out. When I did, when that last puzzle piece in the form of a marriage certificate between the two families whose names just kept showing up in my ghostly family tree, I actually got lightheaded. It was late at night and I was in bed in the dark, looking at my iPad, and I swear I literally heard something in the universe go click.

Sophie. Veronica. Manda. Anna. These are the names of my father's birthmother and -grandmothers and -great-grandmother that neither I nor he (he passed away in 2000) ever knew existed. Well, surely I knew they had existed — somewhere in my rational mind I knew that someone must have existed. But really, more frequently, I felt like maybe I had (mostly) fallen straight out of the sky. Until last year, I only knew one-quarter part of even just my biological ethnicity. My dad's was entirely unknown, and my mom's mother's was unknown. Or rather, we thought we knew, based on names (Lucile DuMont sounds French, doesn't it?) and legends (Italian, Italian, Italian). But we were wrong. I'm Croatian and Polish on both my mom's side and my dad's biological sides, with 1/8 English from my mom's half-English (not French) mother.

It's hard for me to explain why any of it even matters. I mean, I honestly don't exactly know why it matters now. Most of the time I'm not thinking about it. I'm living my life in the present moment, chasing my little butterfly as she zooms around on her scooter and brings me dandelion bouquets eight times a day and nose-dives into the dog bowl. But I always wanted to know how I got here. How we got here. I was always interested in history. I was always interested in geography. I was always interested in peoples' stories, and I always felt like I didn't truly know any of my own.

It goes deeper than that, though. In researching my family's history, in discovering just how many people in how many different families on how many different sides and for how many generations were keeping secrets, I can see that the legacy of . . . confusion . . . sadness . . . loss . . . insecurity . . . and even anxiety . . . around these mysteries runs deep, and also lasts for generations. It has certainly affected my family, and my sisters and me, in ways I'm only beginning to attribute. Eight years ago when Andy and I began the process of becoming parents by adoption, we always knew that in the best-possible-case scenario we wanted a local, open adoption, and we are lucky enough to have that. I don't talk about it that much because it involves so many other people, and their stories just are not mine to tell. But every single part of it, even the hardest parts and the hardest days, has been a total blessing (even in the days before Amelia when, oh trust me!, it didn't seem that way at all). I think, in life, you can try to mitigate the losses and maximize the gains. And what we have all — Andy and I, and our families, and Amelia's birthfamilies — gained from loving Amelia and loving each other is so profound it still regularly brings me to tears of gratitude and joy. How lucky we all are to be in this together! I think it's pure magic.

I obviously cannot and would never presume to speak for any other adoption experience or decision. People have very strong feelings about these things and I have the absolute, utmost respect and deep reverence for that. But I'm just telling you how I feel, and how it's been for me (and Andy), and how Amelia's birthfamily tell us it is for them. We'll always encourage Amelia to express how it is for her, especially as she gets older and is better able to articulate her thoughts for herself. All of us want so badly to be the best moms (and dads, and grandparents, etc.) we possibly can be. And for me, that effort is starting to include truly examining my own feelings about my own growing-up in a cloud of secrecy. Finding real names of real people who lived and breathed and gave life to the people who gave me life is an effort to peel back some of those layers, and let in the light. So that I can shine bright for my beautiful baby girl.

May Days

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It's a cold and chilly day today, and I love that. This morning Amelia and I were up before dawn. We started the coffee and then sat out on the back porch and listened to that one bird who always seems to sing the loudest. Actually, he sort of is the only bird within hearing distance. Way far off we can here other lone birds singing the same sky-lightening song. Amelia lay, wrapped in her comforter, looking up at the sky. I sat and drank coffee and watched the silhouettes soften into colors. I relished the quiet, save for the bird song. These days our property is drowning in noise from two major construction projects going on separately at each of our closest neighbors' houses. It's literally been almost enough to drive me out of my mind. The noise is shockingly loud and maddeningly constant. And I mean constant. They seem to howl in stereo. Or actually more like call and response. East-side starts, then stops. West-side starts, then stops. East-side starts. West-side starts. Guys talking on one side of the fence. A radio coming from the other side of the other fence. Passive-aggressive construction-dude conversation with new roofer guy: "Okay [skeptically]. If that's what you want to do. . . . Which [incredulous] one do you want? But that's gonna . . . uh . . . o-kay [majorly skeptically]." They all seem like nice-enough guys but uuuuugh. Shush. We can barely hear ourselves in the house. Nail guns. Power saws. Hammers. Compressors. Giant machine noises. Nail gun, nail gun, nail gun. Nail gun nail gun. Power sawing. More power sawing. Fourteen nail guns in a row. Are you annoyed yet? Welcome to our house! It's hard for me to think, I apologize. It's all been going on for weeks and it will be going on for many more weeks.

Inside it's really not that much better. Everything's fuzzy around the edges and needs a good cleaning. Dog hair, dead flower petals, sticks, dead bees. Puzzle pieces, dirty boots, a couch that looks slumped and weary. Andy went back to work today after having two weeks off and I confess to breathing a sigh of relief. When I'm alone in the house I go into a weird, efficient cleaning trance, wiping down crumby counters, sweeping dirty floors, picking up every last ponytail, straightening pictures, dusting surfaces, secretly tossing the kid-drawings that just don't make the save-cut. The list of chores I made went to the second side of the paper. Maybe it's not as bad as I think. I don't know. It does bring me a sense of accomplishment and peace to check things off the list, I must say. It doesn't take much to get it all to a good place but it does take some, and when there are a lot of people in the house I feel like I can't do it. I have a much lower tolerance for disorder than my family. But things are coming together!

Birthmother's Day is Saturday and we are having a party here, so I'm baking pies. I'm thinking coconut cream and banana. Maybe rhubarb if I can still find it in the grocery store. Or maybe chocolate cream? I would love to do one of those super fancy pie crust things that you seen on Pinterest all the time, with the cut-outs and the flowers, etc. Isn't this one so pretty?

I have things I want to write about but I think I'll be able to write more next week, when it'll hopefully be just a bit more quiet. Wishing you all a very happy weekend with lots of love and peace in every way. XOXO

Here We Are

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I want to redo my office soon, so I took some pictures of some of the pictures on my bulletin boards. Baby Mimi!!! So cute I can't even stand it. Aaaaaagh. And darling Audrey. XOXOXOXOXOX

Spring is heeeeeeere, and with it days in the 90s and nights in the 40s. Broiling and then freezing. Andy had a cold, then Mimi got the cold, now I have the cold, and Andy's poor mother has been visiting this week, right in the thick of the coughing, sneezing, and nose-blowing. And copious amounts of complaining. Boy, is she a good sport. She does not have the cold. Fingers crossed. We are having a lovely visit in spite of the gnarly sinuses and it's flown by. Everything in Portland is blooming right now. Tomorrow is our school's May Day dance and I'm hoping for warmer weather so that the children can dance outside instead of in the church basement due to cold and rain.

I've been sewing a lot, working on a pattern for a knitting project bag. That's it, above. I have to say, it's been really fun trying to make something with a very specific function in mind. I've made three so far and I think I've got it down. There is a pocket on the back side for you to keep a pattern in, and three skinny pockets next to that for DPNs or crochet hooks or pens. Inside there is another pocket with three grommets to thread your yarn through. I'd seen this on several project bags and it really was thrilling to find that it works. Cool! Right now I'm sourcing leather and hardware and zippers so that I can offer little packs of those things, along with a pattern for you to make your own. More info on this to come, as usual. But it's happening, and it feels good. I do love it when a plan I didn't even know I had comes together.

I made kind of a yummy pasta recipe, adapted from the New York Times cooking app. It's a classic you've probably had.

Pasta, Prosciutto, and Peas (adapted by me from the original by David Tanis)

1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 heads of fresh broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 lb. rigatoni
4 slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch ribbons
1 tablespoon finely cut chives
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Put crème fraîche, cream and butter in a wide, deep skillet over medium heat. Turn off heat as soon as mixture is hot, and stir to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and a little nutmeg.

Plunge broccoli boiling water and let cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a mesh spider or slotted spoon and add to cream mixture.

Drop noodles in boiling water and cook until almost al dente. Add peas to water with pasta.

Drain pasta and peas and add to skillet. Sprinkle with prosciutto and chives, then toss gently to coat with sauce. Divide among warmed bowls and serve immediately. Pass grated Parmesan at table.

Do you remember the sideways sweater I had started for Amelia a few weeks ago? I frogged it. I had dyed the yarn myself and couldn't get the vinegar smell out of it and it was annoying me. I don't use vinegar anymore (I use citric acid). I let her dye some yarn and I dyed some yarn and I started this same sweater again, alternating stripes of each of our yarns (hers is the pink, mine is the green). It's such a great sweater for TV watching. It's hard to find sideways sweater patterns like this that aren't in French. (This one is from DROPS, but a lot of this style are French.) I might write one for sport-weight yarn, maybe without the peplum. In all my spare time. But I think it would be pretty easy. It's kinda funny because the very first sweater I ever "favorited" on Ravelry was this one. And I still love it.

I think I'm going to try to get Andy to do a video of how I dye my yarn now, which even works with kids, to show you how I do it and how you can, too. Our ten-year-old neighbor was over one afternoon last weekend and I helped both girls dye their own yarn. And WOW do they ever have different personalities and learning styles. It was really fascinating and mildly freaked me out. B was careful and a bit anxious, Amelia was like a runaway train. Keeping them both on task at the same time was a serious learning experience for me. They are five years apart but get along really well. Anyway, it was a lot of fun to do and would make a really cool project to do with a small group for sure. I'll put that on my list. We'll see if Andy can make a video without setting it to ear-shattering heavy metal. Or maybe it should be set to metal. It's not that rad, but he can probably find a way to rad it up.

Spring-a-ling

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Halllllooooooo out there! Sorrrrrry it's taking me so long to do anything lately. I feel like I'm slamming around my life like a pinball, actually. This reorganizing thing is no joke. I've barely scratched the surface but . . . it's happening. Bit by bit. Andy and I are each trying to dig in to various parts of the house and come up with better systems. Then Amelia comes in and, tornado-like, wafts kiddo-debris from corner to corner: ponytail holders and Calico Critters and tiny bits of paper and pop beads. Bunny slippers and miniature Legos and a tennis ball and her collection of toothbrushes. Dried-up flowers and pieces of grass and wooden spoons and teaspoons. Puzzle pieces and straight pins and stickers and porcelain bells and brass bells and bathing suits and toy-veterinarian check-up cards and peg dolls and seed packets from Burgerville. Typo-correction tape. A slide whistle. A wind-up ladybug. A rhinestone tiara. A feather. A Saltwater sandal. More beads. It's as if a fire-hose filled with stuff from the bottom of every junk drawer and toy box in the world let fly its torrent of glittered swag upon the house all at once. And then, with a whoosh, she is off, and on to something else.

* * *

I had a friend once who said she didn't like spring. It was too much. Too dramatic, too capricious, too beautiful, too heartbreaking. Too gushing with promise, too inconsistent, too intense. Too beautiful. Too heartbreaking. It made you want to cry for the fragile, fraught, barely there-ness of the world, the newborn leaves, the colors more almost-colors than colors. The buds more pouf than plant. And as far as I know, she'd never been to Portland. Good thing. She probably would've screamed.

* * *

At home, I make lotion bars and twist wires into stitch markers and dye piles of yarn. I'm not sure what I'm doing but I think I'm planning to sell all of these things eventually. Aren't I? It seems there's nothing else to do lest the house be further taken over with mountains of lotion bars and mini skeins. I apply for wholesale accounts and think through tin sizes and sketch out packaging concepts. I bombard Andy with my every thought and question: Can you try this lotion bar? Do you like Ylang Ylang, or cedar? Cedar? Are you suuuuure? You like the cedar? You like them both. Do you like this color? You do? You don't. You do! Look! I made a stitch marker! I made five! I made fifty-five! I know! I made a hundred and fifty-five! No, maybe just fifty. It feels like a hundred and fifty-five! Yes, I'm still winding yarn. Now I'm dyeing yarn. Now I'm drying yarn. Now I'm winding yarn again. Let's make spaghetti! Will you make some spaghetti? THANK YOU HONEY!

I really want to do all of these things. I'm enjoying the experience of learning new things and developing new ideas so much I can't even believe it. It's been so long since I learned how to do new stuff, it seems. It's really exciting. We cleaned out our office closet and I went to Ikea to get a shelf on which to store my yarn supplies and lotion bar supplies. While at Ikea it started to pour. Andy was home with Mimi — it was early one Saturday morning and I was just planning to run out there quickly, alone, and get the job done. I enlisted a generous passerby to help me lift the giant box (it was more giant than I was expecting, and I was determined not to have to bring it back into the store to have it shipped) and slide it into my car. I pushed down that middle thing in the back seat and the box slid through the hole with not an inch to spare. Determination. Rain whipping. Windshield wipers going wild. I made it home and Andy put the shelves together for me and I think I was grinning the entire time I loaded them with bare yarn, my beeswax, my electric griddle (that's what I cook the yarn on), my tinfoil roasting pans, my food coloring, my dishpans. It was thrilling. I have a closet! My very own closet of stuff for my new hobbies, dream-scented with clary sage, jasmine, cedar wood, Ylang Ylang, bergamot, and beeswax. Opening it is like walking into another world.

Mimi wears her Thousand Tiny Tulips sweater from this post, a bit more than one year ago. I let her dye her own yarn the other day and she wants me to make her something with it. But what? Sport weight, about 430 yards, I think. I need to look for something. The weather is warming. I'd better be quick. . . .

Cross Stitch: Some Explanations about Counts and Fabrics

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Hello, dear friends! I'm knocking things off my list today. I've wound yarn, made stitch markers, taken pictures, and gotten all of the second-batch Time of Flowers kit orders out. Whee!

The PDF-only option for Time of Flowers is also now available and you can purchase it here.

Pattern Cover

This pattern is a digital download, and will be made available via a link on the screen immediately upon completion of payment. A link will also be sent (automatically and immediately) to the email address you use to order the pattern. Please save all downloads like this directly to your hard-drive in case you need to reprint in the future. As always, if you have any trouble, please let me know!

I'm sorry it has taken me so long to write this little informational post for you. I've been meaning to do it for ages. I get a fair amount of questions about substituting fabrics for my cross stitch patterns, and I'm going to try to break down a few of the options, and make things like stitch counts and fabric counts more clear than they perhaps might be to you right now. I'm going to take a lot of the information in this post from a tutorial that I wrote several years ago that you can always find on aliciapaulson.com; if you haven't read that and you're still finding yourself confused by this, give that a look and then let me know how I can help clarify further.

But, generally:

Counted cross stitch is not worked onto fabric that has been pre-printed. Counted cross stitch uses special fabrics that are called evenweave fabrics. These fabrics are woven so that they have the same number of warp threads (or, the threads running lengthwise through the fabric) and the same number of weft threads (or, the threads running crosswise, from selvedge to selvedge). In counted cross stitch (and from here on out, I'll just call it cross stitch) you work each stitch over the grid of perfect squares made by the warp and weft threads of your fabric.

Cross stitch can be done on different kinds of evenweave fabric, including evenweave linen, some woven ginghams, Aida cloth (which has a very ponounced grid that helps you see the holes into which your stitches go), waste canvas (which is a removable grid you temporarily apply to a piece of non-evenweave fabric that helps you place your stitches), and various other types of fabrics made especially for cross stitching. The fiber content and type of weave of the fabric you choose to use is largely a matter of personal preference. I use linen fabric for my kits (and the samples I've made up for my patterns), but a lot of people ask me if they can substitute Aida cloth. And the answer is: Yes! You can! I'll explain further.

What really matters is the "count" of the fabric. Thread count refers to the number of warp and weft threads per inch in the woven fabric. Stitch count refers to the number of cross stitches per inch you will have in your finished design. Aida cloth, for instance, is labeled according to stitch count; 10-count Aida cloth gives you 10 stitches per inch. Evenweave linen, however, is labeled according to thread count; 28-[thread]-count evenweave linen will give you a stitch count of 14, since cross stitch on this kind of linen is worked over 2 warp threads horizontally, and 2 weft threads vertically.

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Look very closely at the photo above and you can see the crossed stitches going over 2 threads in each direction.

To work designs in cross stitch you follow a chart. Each colored box (generally with a symbol in it) on the chart represents one set of crossed stitches. Each set of crossed stitches is relative to the other stitches in the design, so you're only ever "counting" a few stitches away from the last stitch you just made. Each color on the chart represents a specific color of six-strand embroidery floss. A color key helps you define each color of floss.

TutorialChart(If the chart is too small for you to see comfortably, just enlarge it on a color copier. A good full-spectrum lamp is a must in dim light. I use this particular Ott light and I love it. When I'm not using it I fold it up and drop it down behind my side table and I never have to look at it. I used to have a big, huge gooseneck Ott light and I much prefer this tiny one; for what I'm doing, it works just as well, and in a small house is a better fit.)

"Count" is very important when choosing fabrics for cross stitching because the number of stitches per inch can drastically change the look of a design. In general, fabric with a lower stitch count will produce a coarser looking design, where the crosses will be larger and more pronounced. Fabric with a higher stitch count will produce designs that are smaller and finer. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to show you some different samples done on two different kinds of fabrics (Aida and linen) with different counts. So let's look at the first one:

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This one, as indicated, is stitched on 8-count Aida fabric. Aida fabric is a good choice if you are a beginner to counted cross-stitch, or if you've struggled with evenweave fabrics in the past. If you look closely, you can see that the stitches are made directly into four little holes in each of the corners of a "square" space. Each square space equals one square on your chart. The holes are very pronounced and much easier to see than they are on linen.

Linen normally doesn't come in a stitch count this big (or, in other words, in a number this small — remember, stitch count number refers to stitches per inch; the lower the number, the fewer stitches per inch. The fewer stitches the stitches per inch, the bigger those stitches have to be). Eight stitches per inch is really quite big, but I wanted to use it to show you exactly how the same design translates into different sizes using different count fabrics. Here's the same design on 14-count Aida fabric:

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Notice that the size of the scissors is fairly consistent here, but that the teacup is significantly smaller. Same design + different stitch count = different size finished piece. To see the same design on 28-thread-count linen (which, if you remember, is done over 2 threads, and so is actually 14 stitches per inch), regard this one:

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See how those last two, even though they are on different kinds of fabric, are the same size? That's because they both have the same stitch count at 14 stitches per inch.

My seasonal series (both First Snow and Time of Flowers, and the upcoming designs for summer and fall) are all done on 32-count Belfast linen, which has a stitch count of 16 stitches per inches. Compare this to previous samples:

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A bit smaller than the 14-counts.

A word about embroidery floss: All of the designs that I write patterns for that are worked on 28- or 32-count fabrics use 2 plies of floss per stitch. To separate plies, you simply take your length of floss by the middle and gently work the 2 plies away from the original 6. Some people even separate the 2 plies away from each other to sort of plump up the thread, but I don't. I don't like the way it looks. That's just personal preference, so do whatever works for you.

Now, here's something important to remember: Let's say that you want to stitch Time of Flowers but you don't want to do it on the fabric that I've used. That is perfectly fine, but let's look at something real quick. Please notice this line on the front cover of the pattern (and all patterns should have a line that reads very much like this on them):

Finished size of design area: 6"w x 8.5"h (15cm x 22cm); 101 stitches wide x 136 high on 32-count fabric

This means that, when finished, the width of the stitched area will be 6 inches, the height of the stitched area will be 8.5 inches on 32-count fabric. If you decide to use a different count fabric, you will need to recalculate the finished size of the design area. To do that, work backwards. Take the number of stitches the design is wide (101) and divide it by the stitch count of your fabric — let's just say you're going to use 8-count Aida.

101 stitches divided by 8 stitches per inch = 12.625 inches wide
AND
136 stitches (width) divided by 8 stitches per inch = 17 stitches high

Seeeeee how much bigger that difference translates to, in terms of the overall design? You're going from a 6" x 8.5" design that will fit into an 8" x 10" frame to an almost 13" x 17" design, not including ANY margins around the design area. That's a pretty big difference, so you just need to pay attention to that count. You can do any design on any fabric you'd like, but do make sure that you know how big the finished design area will be.

When you're purchasing fabric, you always want to make sure that you've got about 3" of extra fabric around each side of the design area. This allows you to easily mount your fabric in the hoop while you're working and also gives you enough space around your design area to stretch the fabric when you frame.

There are lots of places to purchase cross stitch supplies on-line. I know that Aida actually makes a 16-count fabric in Sea Lily (the color of linen I used for Time of Flowers) that can be purchased here. If you're local, I highly recommend you go out to Acorns and Threads sometime and visit Jeannine and the ladies there. This is such a gorgeous store with some of the best customer service you will receive anywhere, for anything. This store is a true local treasure, and it will inspire you more than I can say.

Did I miss anything? Please feel free to ask about anything that's unclear! Let me know!

Getting There?

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Whooooosh! That was spring "break." Yes, it almost broke me! Firstly, when I scheduled the shipping of kits, I forgot that spring break was the same week. Secondly, I thought, up until 8:00 this morning, that they went back to school today, but they don't. (Thank you, Joyce.) Thirdly, I did assemble and ship all of the Time of Flowers kits last week, and the last batch is going out to the post office today. And fourthly, the house is trashed. Like — I don't even know. It looks ransacked. I was going to clean it today while Mimi was at school but, as above, it's still apparently spring break until Thursday, so no go. Also, broken dryer that has finally bitten the dust, so: laundromat. Etc. Life! :)

Nevertheless: THANK YOU GUYS for all of the Time of Flowers kit orders! Oh, my heart swells when I pack the orders. So many familiar names, year and year. I'm so grateful to you for all of your support. Thank you. I have 56 extras that are in the shop right now. I will be working on my cross-stitch post and releasing the PDF-only option later this week, when Mimi does actually go back to school and I have a minute. But for now I truly hope you enjoy working on these kits and I sincerely thank you so much for your orders and your interest. Summer and fall designs are swirling around in my head and I have loved every minute of working on this series so far, with more to come.

Also swirling around in my head are . . . I don't know . . . a million things. Andy took a week off a few weeks ago and completely cleaned out our basement. It (and he!) is spectacular. Next up is my office and our "annex" office, which is where I store a lot of Posie stuff, including floss, yarn, fabric, packing supplies, works in progress, so much stuff. I've kind of been in a state of . . . I don't even know what to call it. Sort of a mania, I think. I'm changing as Amelia changes, I think. Her independence literally grows before our eyes. And as it does, I'm discovering new things for myself, as well. It's a seriously exciting time, but it's also, like, weirdly uncomfortable. I have a million ideas I want to pursue, but I need to totally reorganize my office first. The things in these small spaces that once served me — really, for the seven years (I think?) since we last re-did the office — just aren't serving me or my current interests right now. So I want to repaint (what color?) and remove things that I'm just not working with currently, and move in the things that I am working with (yarn, dyeing supplies, new doll ideas, etc.). This feels like a huge job. I'm reading the tidying up book and I'm all-in on it, conceptually — it's literally just a matter of finding time. And reimagining a space we've lived in for eighteen years without a major reorganization. So, it's almost like my brain is reorganizing and my space is reorganizing as I prepare for what it will be like to have Amelia go to kindergarten next year. I want to make all of these changes good for our whole family, you know what I mean? And I want to start thinking about it now, and working on it now, so that when we all get to that place next fall we are feeling good and excited and ready for the next phase. I can see that part of me has really been flying by the seat of my pants since becoming a mother, and honestly, I'm ready for things to feel a little more . . . dialed in.

Have you experienced this? I don't even really know how to describe what I'm feeling. I know this is abstract. It does have something to do with the fact that our child is no longer, like, pulling tablecloths off the dining-room table and can, instead, run her own bath. . . . You know what I mean? There's more time to think of things, in a way or, at least, I can see that time coming. . . . Tell me what you think.

***My mom has an incredible blooming yard as well as three chickens, so we have fresh eggs constantly and they are delicious. I love eggs! Also, we went to see The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show by the Oregon Children's Theater and we loved it. Highly recommend for this age.

Spring Things

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Oh, lovely spring. I love spring. Cold rain, squelching lawns, worms and robins, daring daffodils. Magnolias are so gorgeous (at first). I'm watching for the grape hyacinths, which I love. At school there's a regular blooming hyacinth in the foyer. Its scent instantly takes me back to the hyacinths that Andy used to buy for me twenty-five years ago, when we were first living together in Missoula. Spring comes late in Missoula. Very late. But we often had a grocery-store hyacinth blooming on our table and that scent is so pleasing to me. I need to get one for the house.

I've been dyeing a lot of yarn and I love it so much. I reeeeeeeeeeally love it. I'm finding my way into it and learning so much. I wish I had more time to do it right now but it really takes a lot of time. I made all of the yarns in these pictures except the ones in that basket of yarn and granny squares (though I did dye the yarn for the one on the very top; and to those who have asked, the pattern for that square is linked to in this post). I've been knitting up and crocheting up some of my yarns to see what they look like in practice. It's SO EXCITING to see them worked up. Concurrently, I'm knitting up all of the garments I've designed in the past for my stuffed animals and getting ready to send them, along with the old patterns and some new patterns I'm working on, to the technical editor. Among other things, she's going to review everything for consistency and style as I plan to reissue all of the old patterns and the new patterns with new pictures for my girl dolls when they come out this fall. To that end, I'm working on some patterns that I'll work up specifically in these yarns I'm dyeing and offer small batches of mini-skeins made just for these dollie clothes. The skeins will be in sport-weight only, about 25g each, which will knit up almost everything in the collection (though a couple of things, like the tiny dress and the tiny hooded coat will need two skeins). Anyway, I don't know. I have plans. My little head is swirling with plans and ideas.

I'm so happy this has come into my life at this time. It's really resonating with me on so many levels and I don't even know why. This month is the 20th anniversary of my accident and I'm so grateful for all of the things that my disability has brought into my life. It's seriously thrilling to be learning something new. I have so much to learn and I am loving every minute.

Our last two cones of floss we need for Time of Flowers are arriving TODAY. THANK GOODNESS. We need to get on it! Once alllllllll of the floss has arrived today, then we can pull it. Once all of the floss is pulled, then we package and send. It should go fast once it's all here. So start watching for your shipping notices next week, and give them a couple of days to register within the USPS system before trying to track them. It's all happening, finally, and I thank you for your patience. I have my design for the next kit (for summer) all finished and my sample fabric has arrived for it so I'm ready to start stitching on that soon. I've finished all of the samples I want to show you for my cross-stitch post, and once we get the kits out I will write that post and make the PDF-only version of the pattern available as well.

Do you remember this little sweater I made a million years ago? I'm making Mimi another one with my yarns, above. This type of sideways sweater has always been my favorite — I think it's such a cool way to make a sweater!

***Oh yes — I forgot to mention again — yes, we will have approximately 60 more kits to sell beyond the original pre-order group that is now sold out, but I want to wait until all of the floss is pulled for the first group so that I make sure we have enough to sell immediately. If we don't have enough floss, I will just have to order more, which is not a big deal but will take a bit longer and I want to make sure I can give you an approximate shipping date before I release them. But as soon as we pull floss, I will know, and I'll make an announcement here. Thank you!

How did it take me so long to try dyeing yarn???

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Well, helloooooo. How are you? I've been here, there, everywhere, and nowhere. I had a fit in my office and tried to clean it, and it feels better. Andy took the week off and is going to clean out the basement, which is long overdue. I finished gathering my tax data to send to my accountant. I checked in on our last two back-ordered cones of embroidery floss for Time of Flowers kits and found that although they'd been ordered by me four weeks ago, the sales rep hadn't actually put the order through. This, or something like it, literally happens every time. Every. Time. Luckily, the cones had already come in on their own, or something, and they are shipping them out to me today. :/ The printed patterns are due to arrive here on Friday. So if those look good and the cones arrive next week, we'll still be on schedule to ship out of here at the end of the month. The fabric is all cut and waiting. I'm planning to write my cross-stitch post next week now that I'm kind of caught up with my other stuff. And, yeah. The usual. Life.

I made Amelia some pretty legwarmers from the Rambler legwarmers pattern by Derya Davenport, and the yarn is Eden Cottage Yarns Tempo 4-ply in Antique Rose.

In the kitchen, I bubble wool on the stove and make pretty colors. This has cracked open a whole new world for me. Andy backs up and watches the whoosh of my enthusiasm take over the house. I read probably twenty online tutorials about how to dye yarn with food coloring. Here's how I wound up doing it: I soaked a few mini-skeins (about 25g each) of sport-weight natural wool (and some was white angora yarn I'd had hanging around for years) yarn in water with a a few glugs of vinegar thrown in. (Disclaimer: I'm not precise about any stuff like this — I just go for it and see how it goes, FYI.) I whisked some Wilton's gel food coloring into a little pot of water on the stove, with some more vinegar. I moved the yarn into the dye pot and heated it up until it was almost simmering. Then I let it stay that hot for a while, until the dye was "exhausted." Do you know what that means? It means that all of the color has moved into the yarn and the water has turned clear again. Completely clear. It's really cool. Then I took the yarn out of the pot with tongs and let it cool down. They say you're supposed to leave it in the pot to let the water cool down, but I didn't do that. I couldn't figure out why you would have to do that, but maybe I'm missing something. Then I washed the wool with a bit of Dr. Bronner's soap and rinsed it (gently) and hung it to dry. I felted some of it in my impatience. Basically you want to not shock the yarn with drastic temperature changes or a lot of agitation. It also kind of depends on what kind of wool you have. The wool I got at the Pendleton outlet store, which they use to bind the edges of their blankets, did not want to felt much (though they insisted that it wasn't superwash). The Brown Sheep Nature Spun sport wanted to felt like crazy and did, when I wasn't careful.

I also made some speckled yarn by flinging cake sprinkles and dry Kool-Aid and other drinks powder at the damp yarn and then microwaving it. You can lay down some Saran Wrap and then dot the yarn with dye on a toothpick, or shake on some cake sprinkles, or drop on some food-colored powder, and then wrap it all up and microwave it for 30 seconds at a time until it is steaming. A few minutes. People say that sometimes the yarn burns, but mine didn't. Take it out, let it cool, then wash the candy off. Some of the dye colors struck and some didn't. I think I might not have had enough vinegar for some of the sprinkles to strike, though when they did it was great (and the Kool-Aid has citric acid in it, so that acts as an acid to help bind the color to the yarn). It was a fun experiment. I have so many plans to do some more. The fun thing about it is that all of these dyes are food safe, so you can just play around with them in your kitchen. I have no interest in doing other kinds of more complicated dyeing in the house, but just this is so much fun. I have an entire box of cake decorating supplies, so it was really simple to just start trying things out.

The dollie ballet sweater, above, is the Pendleton wool and I love it. It's a bit sticky to knit with but I think it's making brilliant doll sweaters. They're quite sturdy. I was going to do it in angora, but for several reasons I think I'm going to stick with wool. At night I'm in the process of re-editing all of the Little Animal Family knitwear patterns and designing new items for the new dolls that I want to launch this fall. I will be carrying a new line of sport-weight wool (Maine Line from Jagger) in a gorgeous palate for these patterns, and I'm also going to offer up some of my own hand-dyed yarn in mini skeins wound just for these patterns I've got planned for the dolls. Anyway, stay ye tuned for more on this in the coming months.

This soup was literally the best soup I've ever had in my life. You wouldn't think so, but it really was. I served it with the Anadama bread from Little T bakery and, wow.

Roasted Carrot, Parsnip, and Potato Soup
Adapted slightly from original recipe by Martha Rose Shulman for The New York Times

1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and cut in 3/4 inch pieces
½ pound (2 large) parsnips, peeled, quartered, cored and cut in 3/4 inch pieces
1 medium or large red onion, cut in large dice 1 medium (about 6 ounces) Yukon gold potato, quartered
6 garlic cloves, in the skin
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or broth, enhanced with a couple of extra teaspoons of Better than Bouillon chicken stock concentrate
Chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, tarragon or chives, for garnish
Crème fraîche for garnish (DO NOT LEAVE THIS OUT — it is amazing with this soup)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan or a baking dish with parchment or foil. Toss vegetables, including garlic cloves, with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread in baking dish or on sheet pan in an even layer and place in oven. Set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir vegetables and turn heat down to 400 degrees. Roast for another 20 to 30 minutes or until very tender and caramelized on the edges, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. You should have about 4 cups roasted vegetables. Put them all in your big soup pot.

Hold garlic cloves with a towel so that you don’t burn your fingers. Squeeze out the pulp into the pot. Add the chicken stock and blend all with a stick blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper and heat through. Serve each bowl with a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs and if you wish, a swirl of crème fraîche or yogurt.

 

***Time of Flowers is sold out right now, though  we will have 60 more kits to put on sale as soon as I count up all floss we have left and let you know if we can ship at the same times as the other kits, or if these will be shipping a bit later than the original 400. Thank you to everyone who has ordered!

***Oh — and the PDF Only option for the Time of Flowers pattern will also be available in a couple of weeks, as well. I'll let you know. Thank you!

Spring Snow

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Ohhhhhh, it was wonderful. It's always like a dream. Just when I thought our chances for snow were gone for the season, we had a few of the most beautiful days I've ever seen. The first day, it had been lightly snowing without sticking most of the day. Around dinnertime, though, I looked out the back door and saw flakes as big as feathers. I've never seen such big snowflakes. They fell and fell, into twilight and through the night. It piled up. Sunrise was every shade of pink and white. I stood in the front yard in my nightgown taking photos at dawn. The day was like a dream. And then it all melted in a rush. By the following day, everything was gone. Spring snow. It was perfect and unexpected and even better for that.

Thank you soooooo much for all of the Time of Flowers kit pre-orders (and other orders)! I'm so happy with the response and thank you very sincerely for all of your orders. Right now we have 63 Time of Flowers kits left for pre-order. Andy cut fabric this weekend and we could even have another sixty extra, based on how much fabric we received, but I want to wait to make sure before I add them to inventory. I'm so glad that all of the numbers worked out okay. I always make my best guess on this stuff and this worked out just fine, which is such a relief. I get very stressed.

So, things are on track, fabric is getting cut, floss is on its way, the pattern just needs a final proofing and then it is off to the printer, and everything's well in hand. I even designed the next kit, for summer, last week and I'm hoping to start stitching it later next month. Yesterday, though, I was back to working on my new dolls and all of their MANY new outfits. I am hoping to have all of those launched for the fall, FYI to those who have wondered. This is going to be kind of a massive project for me, which will include reissuing a lot of the older clothes patterns separately from the animal patterns, either bundled or completely a la carte so that you can get lots of new clothes patterns for your doll when the dolls are launched. Today I'm trying to finish the ballet wrap sweater, now that Amelia is back in school (they had no school for conferences week last week), and will try to source some angora yarn for my shop. I'm going to start carrying a whole new line of yarns (still sport-weight wool, but in a really pretty color palette) for all of the new knitting patterns, too. Anyway, rambling again, but I have a ton of things on my mind, I'm sorry.

Anyway, I'm chipping away at everything, including the cross stitch tutorial I promised (the fabric for my samples for that post is on its way, too). Thank you again for all of your sweetness and and kindness and enthusiasm. I honestly can't express how much it means to me. I hope you know. It means so much. Thank you.

***I wish I could remember where I got the cookie cutter, but I can't! I searched my Etsy purchases and it doesn't look like it's in there. I got it online somewhere but I'm not sure where. I'm sorry. :(

About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Photography

Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.