Blossoms and Ballet and . . . Vignelli Grids

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Oh, we have had a busy, busy few weeks around here. Amelia's ballet school performed Don Quixote over the weekend and it was just fantastic. I'd never seen that ballet before and I loved it. Andy and I watched three performances of it (one on Saturday with Amelia, so she could see it, and two of her performances on Sunday) so — luckily, we loved it! They were looooong. Two and a half hours each. But wow, they did a great job. The costumes were just gorgeous — the skirts on almost every costume were just layers and layers of fantastic ruffles, and the colors were so pretty. Salmon, mint greens, dusty greens, mustards, reds. This ballet was mostly the big kids at the school, including all of the graduating seniors, who each come out onstage and are introduced by the owner of the school, who shared their accomplishments and got choked up almost every time she mentioned, very movingly, what she was going to miss about each one of them. Amelia's class (the "little kids" in this ballet, though the school does other performances that include even the littlest toddlers) were the "Village Cleaners" and they each got to leap over a broomstick onstage. She (and everyone) did so great and, I don't know, these ballet performances really move me, every time. It makes all of the driving and the waiting not "worth it," exactly, because obviously it's all worth everything — but we don't get to watch them dance on a daily basis anymore (no room in this school for parents to watch), so I really just love seeing these performances so much. Amelia had a great time and is sad that she'll have to wait until Nutcracker season for the next one. Maybe she'll do ballet camp this summer. 

I have been ferrying this dancer back and forth all over the place lately so my time to work has been tucked into every corner, it seems, and I won't lie — I'm kinda tired and could use some downtime. I played Pickleball yesterday and that was great.

(Amelia won a cake at the school carnival cakewalk, which was very exciting until we tasted the cake [the label from the fancy grocery store was still on it and I could see that somebody had paid $35 for it!] and it was absolutely disgusting — dry as a bone and with gluey, inedible frosting. Wah! Still quite exciting.)

I've been working on the cookbook like crazy. Every morning I get up and drink coffee in bed early, before anyone else is awake. I read stuff on my iPad and just generally surf around. One morning I read this excellent article by Kendra Aronson about her experience self-publishing a cookbook. In it she said, "Design dictates everything," and mentioned the concept of the Vignelli grid. So I watched that video and knew that, although I had been diligently making recipe lists and writing recipes into a Word document (yes, more to come on the promised style sheets discussion), the design — or my lack of any concrete ideas about it — was really bugging me. I felt like I needed to get some kind of handle on it in order to move forward, so Kendra's article came at the perfect time.

Creating a Vignelli grid made sense to me because I knew I was wanting to use a lot of my blog photos for my book. Not as the main food shots but just as supplemental lifestyle shots throughout the book. Because almost all of my blog photos (for the last ten years or so) have been sized so that they show up at a reasonable size onscreen — they are 660px x 495 px, or about 7" x 9" at 72dpi (which is the resolution used to view images onscreen). But when you print images on paper, they need to be at a much higher "resolution" — that is, they need to be at 300 dpi (dots per inch). Dots are like pixels, but for printing. Once you've resized your photo, the dots you have are the dots you have -- you can't really create dots (you sort of can, but let's just keep this simple). You can't create more dots. So resizing an image that is 660px x 495px at 300dpi brings its print dimensions all the way down to about 2.2" x 1.65". So, pretty small. Nevertheless, I have thousands of photos at this size, so they are going in the book

I decided to create my Vignelli grid out of blocks that were about this size (2.2" x 1.65"). After a lot of tweaking and watching this video I created a modular grid that was three blocks wide and five blocks tall, on a letter-sized (8.5" x 11", which is listed as one of the hardback sizes that Amazon will print on demand) document, all matched perfectly to my baseline grid. I knew about the baseline grid (basically, a design grid that makes sure that all of your type is consistently lined up from page to page) from the novel-design Skillshare class I had watched. 

So: Once I had figured out how to get this all set up in InDesign (by Googling and watching videos) I had a grid template on which I could build my design. Can you see how it works? I've inserted these sample-page screenshots so that they are quite large; click on them to see them even bigger if you'd like.

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Can you see how things, from pictures to text, get slotted into the grid? Pretty cool!

I also picked some fonts — one serif font (for titles and headnotes) called Bodoni Egyptian Pro Light and one sans serif font (for ingredients and directions) called Proxima Nova Thin. Picking out fonts gives me a massive headache, to be honest. I don't know that these will be my final fonts but I like them. I did not want a trendy display font, or a handwriting font, or a cutesy Posie-ish font. I just wanted very simple fonts that were classic and would not look dated in two years. And ones that just felt "right." Fonts are bizarre. I have to be in the right mood to think about them, otherwise my brain gets super tangled up, for some reason.

Originally, I was going to finish my whole manuscript in MS Word before flowing any of it into design. But that's really a "traditional publishing" kind of workflow. When you're doing your own design, it just makes sense to me to write directly into the design document, so that you literally are writing to fit, for the most part.  I haven't quite figured out the details yet, but plugging the recipes directly into the design is already alerting me to potential problems with that, etc., and I'd rather know now. What I've done this week is basically make an entire book dummy, and assigned pages for sections, chapters, recipes, intros, frontmatter, backmatter, index, everything. Now everything has a place, and in theory this book is 222 pages long. So we'll see how that all holds, or shakes out, as we go!

One thing I am really confused about is some of the printing details at Amazon. I can't find anywhere where they tell you whether to use jpgs or tiffs, or whether you should submit files in RGB or CMYK. I was assuming CMYK but there was some chatter online that I could find where people were saying that they strip all color profiles before printing anyway? Is that a thing? Like, when you export as a PDF does it still matter? If anyone knows, please advise. I talked to my friend who is a production director at a book publishing company and she said they submit jpgs to their printers. And I also contacted another self-published cookbook author on Amazon who said she submitted all tiffs. . . . Hrmmmm.

I'll try to talk about style sheets next time!

Thunder, Flowers, Cookbooks

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Good flowery, rainy, thunderstormy morning to you! I’m writing from here in my office where we’ve had all manner of thunder and lightning this morning. This is very unusual for Portland, Oregon, where rain tends to fall as a dull curtain of mist instead of a dramatic, rolling cacophony of sound and shattering light. I have a new app on my iPad called “My Lightning Strike” and I kept my neighborhood moms’ chat punctually informed of all nearby strikes (one just 700 feet from our house, and one across the street from Rebecca’s) because a bunch of lightning happening right as everyone is getting the kids to school is a bit stressful (and, I have to repeat, really unusual here). But everyone now seems to be safely installed wherever it is they should be this morning, and although our power just went out and came back on (everyone in moms’ group’s did as well) and the sky is dark dark dark, the rain seems to have mellowed into a drizzle, and I’m going to keep writing and saving this document every three minutes, just in case.

Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and encouragement over my cookbook idea! I’m so excited! I’ve had a busy week of running around and playing Pickleball and having lunch with someone almost every day (very unusual for me, actually [laughing]) and am just today getting a chance to catch up. But I wanted to post about some of the details of my process so far. These details will be kind of random because — it’s all pretty much happening in real time. So I’ll just jump in and get going with the first thing I did!

1. I made a very comprehensive recipe list from the blog.

One great thing about having a blog, especially having a blog for so long, is that pretty much anything that we’ve cooked in the past eighteen years that we’ve been proud of or that we eat regularly has made its way onto the blog. So I started here. I went backwards through the “Cooking and Baking” category on my sidebar and just wrote down every single thing that we had made and photographed. And it was over a hundred different things. That was pretty shocking. I put all of the names of the recipes into a table in a Word document, and organized them by categories like “Breakfast,” “Main,” “Soup,” and “Sweets.” I also kept track of the date on which a thing appeared on the blog, whether I wrote down the whole recipe or had taken a photo of it, so that I could go back and find it if I needed to.

2. I went through my recipes in my recipe box, in my little notebook, in my Paprika app, in my binder, in the stuff my mom had given me years ago, in Andy’s binder, in Andy’s handwritten notepad pages, and in some of the magazines we’ve kept since we were first married.

There were definitely a few things that in these sources that I had forgotten about and wanted to include.

3. I looked at the recipes themselves and started to think about which ones to include.

Once I had the giant list, I started looking closely at the recipes and thought about whether these were things I had made from other peoples’ recipes or whether they were my own or my family’s recipes. We immediately eliminated anything that was solidly from another person’s recipe that we make but just don’t change at all, and wouldn’t want to change. (But I was also reminded that I really loved those recipes and want to cook them soon, even if they won’t be in my book, so I still recommend doing this step!) Some were definitely in a gray area so I wanted to know what the actual copyright laws are around recipes in general and found several resources for further information:

This resource at the Copyright Alliance gives an overview.

Here is a great blog post by David Lebovitz that discusses using other peoples’ recipes.

And an article from CopyrightLaws.com.

Basically, if you use someone else’s recipe in any way (even if it’s just on your blog or web site), you definitely want to give attribution (and a link, if you’re online) to the original writer at the very least, and you will need to rework and rewrite the recipe to make it your own version of the recipe if you want to publish it. This is pretty commonsensical, but you can find many other discussions of this topic online that will help clarify any questions you have about it if you just start searching a bit.

4. So now I’ll whittle down the recipe list even more.

I think I’m aiming for around fifty recipes, which should be about half of my original list, but the number will be whatever it is. I would like to finalize it very soon so I know. I think I will do that this weekend.

5. I think the categories will be:

Breads
Breakfasts
Sides
Mains
Sweets and Other Things

I also plan to write an introduction, chapter openers for the categories, and maybe include some old blog excerpts if they are relevant. I’m guessing I will also include:

Cook’s notes (discussions of ingredients, what you should have on hand, etc.)
Resources (web sites I’ve loved and cooked from, shows about food I love, YouTube channels, etc.)
Index
Table of Contents (but will this have each recipe listed?)
Measurement conversion charts for overseas readers
Other stuff?

6. I plan to have large photos for every single recipe.

I will either re-shoot those photos (they’ll have to be verticals) or dig into my archives to look for the hi-res I have from whenever I originally blogged that recipes. And I will also be slurping up many other photos directly from the blog through the years and including them on “collage”-type pages. Those photos from the blog will print small — 2.4”w X 1.8”h at the most — because they are sized specifically for my blog, not for printing, and there is no way I could go back and resize every single one of the photos I want to include or we’d be here for years. (I will definitely talk more about photo sizing and photo considerations in later blog posts, but I just kinda wanted to write this down so I had an idea of what I need.)

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I’m not a professional chef and this isn’t a fancy food blog — I’m just a home cook who likes to cook (sometimes!!!), and has to cook most of the time, and even loves to cook occasionally, and my cookbook will definitely reflect that. This will be a book of family recipes from our moms and my dad and our grandmas, along with ones that Andy and I have made over the years, some completely original and some definitely adapted. It will be a book that represents the way we eat here, at home, in our very tiny, very un-fancy kitchen, with our little will-try-anything girl, as we make the meals that Andy and I both ate as children, and while we were becoming adults (many of my favorite recipes I started making in college!), and during the past thirty years of living and learning and cooking together with our family and friends and the people, all of you, who read and have read this blog.

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Some stuff I’ve listened to, read, or ordered this week that you might be interested in:

  • I’ve been listening to a podcast called Everything Cookbooks which is hosted by three cookbook authors named Molly Stevens, Andrea Nguyen, and Kate Leahy. I’ve listened to the first four episodes, titled, respectively, 01: Should You Write a Cookbook, 02: Do you Need a Cookbook Agent, 03: Cookbook Proposal Writing Tips, and 04: Let’s Make a Cookbook Deal.

This is obviously (so far) a podcast about publishing a cookbook with a traditional publisher, but since I’ve done a couple of books with a traditional publisher I’ve been interested in what they’re talking about and there is a lot of great information and discussion here for anyone writing a cookbook, self-published or traditionally published, I think. I’m going to keep working my way forward through the podcasts because I have already gotten some great recommendations from this one for further reading, including some books, such as Recipes Into Type by Joan Whitman (I’ve ordered it, haven’t gotten it yet) and The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gibbs Ostmann and Jane L. Baker (ordered, haven’t gotten yet).

I am very much looking forward to having those books as resources.

  • I’ve also been listening to a podcast called Cookbook Club, which is hosted by Sara Gray and Renee Wilkinson here in Portland. They pick a different cookbook every month (not all of them new), make a bunch of recipes from it, and then talk about what they’ve cooked and what they thought about that. It’s really fun to listen to and I’ve gone to the library and checked out several cookbooks they’ve used.
  • I’ve been watching Nigella Lawson’s newest show on BritBox called Cook, Eat, Repeat. I always, always love Nigella and have been watching her shows since her Domestic Goddess and Nigella Bites days, and I just love her. That’s all. I checked out all of her books that I didn’t already own at the library the other day and I just love reading what she writes. So I read them like novels, from the introduction right through.
  • Unrelated to cooking: I am also watching The Diplomat on Netflix and it’s very fun to watch although I think it’s too smart for me (I literally have no idea about half of what they’re saying, literally — it’s so fast, and I am a tired mama, and I need to watch it twice in order to figure out what the heck just happened). But I love Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell, too, and they have pretty great chemistry. (I have a soft spot for Keri Russell ever since Felicity, which Andy and I used to watch every single week. That was a pretty amazing show about growing up, honestly. I think it was really underrated.) The Diplomat is super fun to binge.
  • I also bought the book Book Design Simple and Professional by Nancy Starkman but I haven’t had much of a chance to get to it yet. I’m not really there yet, but I feel glad to have it for when I am ready.

I looked at many, many cookbooks at the library and on my own shelves for inspiration, and just thought about what I liked about them and what types of things in them I wanted to include in my book. I also thought about what I didn’t love about some of them and made notes of that. More on these kinds of specifics in future, as well.

A few cookbook editors emailed me or commented (still need to get back to you all and thank you personally — until then, thank you!) and their comments warrant much further discussion (that we will have), because they were all talking about style sheets, and every single thing they said was super helpful. I had already been thinking about style sheets (if you don’t know what a style sheet is, stay tuned — we will discuss) but their comments really stressed to me the importance of of creating a style sheet early in the process rather than later, so in my next post I will be talking all about style sheets — what they are, why we need them, and how to make one.

If you are joining me on this self-publishing adventure, please comment with a link to your own blog or  Instagram or wherever you would like to send us so that we can follow along! I will re-post all links here at the end of each post so that they are in one place. And to the people who sent emails sharing their own previously published cookbooks or cookbook dreams, thank you so much and please comment here again (in this post, so everything is in the same place) if you'd like me to share your blog (or whatever you have) with the group. I truly would love for this to be a collective experience as it really sounds like it's something that at least a few of us are interested in exploring. So whether you are at the point where you want to share, or are just following along as we go, welcome! And please don't be afraid to join in at any point on this journey. It's a big project, and it's going to take a while, so I look forward to settling in and having a great time together. XO

Making a Cookbook

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Thank you so much for the spring orders! I truly appreciate every order and every comment on my new designs. Thank you! I hope you are enjoying making them! I just mixed up some no-knead bread (pictured above) and covered it with a towel to rise for the next 90 minutes. Why did I do this? Why did I cook all of this food over the past week, and take pictures of it? Because I've decided to self-publish a cookbook and I want to include the recipes! As you do!

Are you familiar with self-publishing? Like Kindle Direct Publishing? I had never really heard of this (I'm really not sure how I'd never heard of this, to be honest) but I was immediately intrigued when I first heard about it a few weeks ago. Ever since my days working as a production editor when I first moved to Portland (and through working on my own books with Potter Craft), I've always been interested in book design itself. I've never actually done it but I've always wanted to learn it. So I opened InDesign and started playing around with it. I design all of my patterns through Microsoft Word — I'm not sure exactly why I started doing it that way many years ago, but that's just what I've always done, and that seems to work just fine. But InDesign is a really cool program and I've always wanted to get better at it, and it's what pros use to create documents like books. (You can use a bunch of other kinds of book-design-specific software, too, but InDesign is more sophisticated and gives you a lot more options.)

So I started practice-designing a novel. I watched YouTube videos about how to do this and also watched a few SkillShare classes. In the classes they were showing how to design novels using books that are in the public domain, like Alice in Wonderland and Jane Eyre. I decided to work on one of my and Andy's favorite old novels called Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith (you can see over seventy thousand fee e-books that are in the public domain at Project Gutenberg — what an amazing web site). But I realized that I really wanted to walk through the entire process — not just designing a book but actually publishing it, too. So I did some research and found out that you can publish novels that are in the public domain but if it's free content that is already available in the Kindle store, they will only let you publish a differentiated version. You can do that in a few different ways, and one of the way is by adding relevant illustrations. So I decided to do that, with my watercolors.

But then I got the idea to make a cookbook out of many of our family recipes and recipes that I have made here on the blog through the years. (I may still finish Diary when I'm done with this.) And that's when I got really excited. I started spending ballet-waiting time at the library just down the street from the ballet school, and I have been sitting there with big stacks of cookbooks in the afternoons while I wait. Cookbooks are really amazing. There are a lot of different kinds of cookbooks, LOL. I started thinking about my favorite cookbooks, and dreaming about what kind of cookbook I would make. We also (not coincidentally) looked at our budget and saw how much we have been spending on eating out, and knew something had to change — we absolutely need to start focusing much more on cooking at home again!

So all weekend Andy and I talked about our book, and I've been making lists of our favorite recipes that he and I have been making for over twenty years. I know I'm not a foodie, nor a trained cook (but my sister is, so I'm going to talk her into helping me, and my mom will be looking at all of our family recipes, too), and this is not a legit "food blog." But I looked back through the "Baking and Cooking" category on my blog and found over a hundred different things that I had cooked or baked or photographed! I had no idea how many recipes I had talked about over the years — it was so interesting to see that number. We pulled out our recipe binders and my mom's recipe box, and the tattered, stained pieces of copy paper with recipes we'd printed out that were stuffed all over the place in the kitchen drawers, and the "cookbook" Andy made for our family and friends a long time ago, and the tiny little notebook that says "Recipes" on the front that I started way back when we first got married. And I don't know, but I just got very excited.

So, yeah! I'm going to design a cookbook of our recipes and my photos and even a bunch of blog photos throughout the years! This won't be the world's most comprehensive cookbook or the most well-rounded, but I do want it to include all of our favorite family and friend-made recipes, the ones we've been making for twenty years, the ones I want to pass down to Amelia — the ones she's grown up eating and the ones I want to teach her how to cook. I want to make an e-book as well as a paperback version and a hardback version. I will ultimately list them on Amazon and IngramSpark and all of the other e-book/self-publishing outlets. I want to learn about the entire book design and self-publishing process in doing this, both so that I can gain experience and learn something new and also because I am really excited to be making a book as an author/photographer again (and this time, designer, too). I published my craft books fifteen years ago now. I mean, I actually had to look that up, and it's been fifteen years. A lot has changed. And I'm really excited to catch up with the whole industry.

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I hope you will join me on this journey and in this conversation! If you've ever wanted to make a cookbook, maybe you will be interested in going through this process along with me (cookbook-a-long, anyone?). Have any of you ever written a cookbook? Even a family cookbook or a community cookbook? Do you have any advice? What are your favorite cookbooks? As a home cook, what do you think makes a good cookbook? Please advise! I'm new!

New Designs Now on Sale, and a Spring Parade!

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Good April morning! It's a cold, wet, flowery morning here. My hands are freezing and I'm sitting on a heating pad, but outside I can see my apple tree is starting to leaf out. In that spirit, I have spring designs for you!

FullMoonPlanting for Blog

The first is FULL-MOON PLANTING. Have you ever heard of moon gardening? It's the practice of planting depending on where the moon is in its cycle. The theory is that just as it causes the ocean tides, the moon also affects the amount of water in the soil.  To take advantage of its changing influence, it is said that fruits and vegetables should be planted while the moon is waxing, and root crops should be sowed from the time it is full through its waning phase. This design is the second in my 2022-23 seasonal series, of which Evening Skate is the first. In Full-Moon Planting spring fever has taken hold, and we are busy getting the young garden ready for the season ahead by the light of the full moon. (I'm working on the next in the series right now, and it is called Summer Breeze. . . . I'll have some digitals to show you in a couple of weeks!)

This design area is a little bit bigger than my usual sizes (which I generally like to fit in 8"x10" standard frames). The design area on Full-Moon Planting is 8.63"w x by 10.5"h (22cm x27) on 32-count fabric, or 138 stitches wide x 168 stitches high. The fabric I used for these kits is Belfast linen from Zweigart in Whisper, color 786 cut to size 14" x 16" (36cm x 41cm). Please note: There is only about 2.5" extra fabric widthwise for this design, so please make sure you start your stitching in the middle of the fabric. We definitely try to maximize cutting fabric so as to have zero waste, so this design fits a bit tighter on the fabric called for. I'm starting to think that having full 3" (7.5cm) margins around the design area is a bit big, myself — it's just a lot of extra fabric to crunch up in your hand (if you stitch in a small handheld hoop, as I do) and you wind up cutting off most of it when framing, anyway.

But anyway, this design also uses DMC floss and has such a pretty, springlike palette. (Pro tip: I've never had anyone run out of floss with any of my kits [at least, not that I've ever heard about!] but if you like to stitch a lot of my kits, keep any extra floss you end up with when you're finished in a little bag. I have a palette of just over two hundred colors, but I use a lot of the same colors over and over again, so you might someday find a need for a little bit of floss in one of those colors.)

Kits include a professionally printed full-color pattern with a four-page chart, the fabric, and all the floss you need, along with a piece of chipboard that you can use to make a floss caddy. To do that, cut lengthwise strips of chipboard about 2" (5cm) wide. Mark 1" (2.5cm) sections across the top of each until you have 10 marks. Snip a ½" (1cm) -deep notch at each mark. Label each notch with the color number of the floss. Separate the colors and place the floss in your labeled floss caddy. You may have to double up in some notches. Please note, in case you have not purchased a kit from me before: We include all of the floss in one big hank of thirty-five colors that you will need to separate yourself. It is not as hard as it seems! The color chart will list a color chip, the name of the color, and the number of lengths included, and with that information you can do this within a few minutes, I promise.

The frame is not included in the kit. :) The kit is available here. The PDF pattern-only is available here with both full-color and black-and-white four-page charts. This is a big pattern. I recommend printing PDF patterns at 100% (no scaling) at high quality for best results.

Spring Splendor for Blog

This is SPRING SPLENDOR. I love this design. I just love it. It's simple yet elegant and so pretty and sweet. It's 122 stitches wide x 90 stitches high, or 7.6"w x by 5.6"h (19cm x14cm) on 32-count fabric, and fits into an 8" x 10" frame. (The frame in my photo is a vintage one I think I found on eBay or at my local antique mall — believe it or not, it's pretty easy to find a white vintage frame like this, if you like this look. Check eBay or Etsy.) This design uses some absolutely gorgeous hand-overdyed floss from Weeks Dye Works (and I honestly can't say enough about how much I love working with this company — they are some of my very favorite people in the embroidery industry, and I love using their floss). It also uses some DMC floss. Our kits include WDW floss for the stitches that call for it as well as DMC floss, and a conversion for the WDW colors to DMC is also given in the pattern itself (you'll only get the WDW floss and not the DMC-conversion-for-those-colors floss). Please note, as above, that the floss comes in a hank and you will receive a piece of chipboard in your kit to make a floss caddy. 

This design uses some "one-over-one" stitches for all of the body text (not the initial caps). That means you will be stitching with one ply of floss over one thread of fabric. This, too, seems intimidating until you start doing it, and then you will find that it's actually super fun. I used the same alphabet that I created for The Stitcher's RSVP (which is back in stock, by the way, see below) and I don't know why but I just love this font. It's just sweet and clean and also kind of modern, which I think helps keep this design from being overly fussy.

I also absolutely love the color of the fabric used, which is 32-count linen called Touch of Blue by Wichelt.

Kits include a professionally printed full-color pattern with a two-page chart, the fabric, and all the floss you need. The kit is available here. The PDF pattern-only is available here with both full-color and black-and-white four-page charts. I recommend printing PDF patterns at 100% (no scaling) at high quality for best results. 

Little Women for Blog

And last of the new designs is Little Women. This design is only available as a PDF pattern. I designed it after I saw the Greta Gerwig version of the movie is 2019 but it's taken me a while to release it, and it was my Nashville Needlework Market exclusive, so I've had to wait at least thirty days since launching it there before I was able to make it available myself. When I posted it on Instagram before market, a few people gave me suggestions for other book titles to design, and I've since designed ones for two of Amelia's and my other favorites that we've read aloud together, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. I will be releasing those later this summer and will have digitals of the designs to show you in a few weeks. I had no idea I was going to love designing book-inspired compositions so much! I love them! I really enjoy the limitations that designing to a theme imposes, and I love interpreting the elements. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this pattern, which was my #1 seller at Nashville. :) It done on 32-count linen in Chestnut from Wichelt with DMC floss and is available as a downloadable PDF pattern here.

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And because it's spring and you may be in the mood for treating yourself to a few other goodies, I thought I'd collect all of my spring designs and offerings through the years in one long spring parade of flowery things on this cold and rainy day. We still have a good supply of my favorite lotion bar, Forest Flower. Made with beeswax from local bees; coconut oil; shea butter; a touch of lanolin; and essential oils of cedarwood, Ylang Ylang, clary sage, bergamot, sandalwood, and jasmine absolute, I wanted them to smell like a walk in the woods after a spring rain.

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You might like my design for the (partial) A Tender Year series, April. I was planning on finishing this series in embroidery, but instead, apparently, I've done it in painting. Remember all of my watercolors I was doing last fall? I did finish an entire year's worth of them and will be launching a 2024 calendar later this year. But I just couldn't get all the embroidery done, so I'm hoping to finish the second six-months' of designs next year (fingers crossed; I am so busy I honestly can't find time to do it all). Anyway, the calendar, which is based on the Tender Year concept, is really pretty and I will be showing you that and maybe asking for some feedback on what format you would like to see it all printed in. More on that later. . . .

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Here is my darling Blackberries and Heather-bells, which I designed after Amelia and I finished listening to the audiobook of The Secret Garden when she was in kindergarten. She was probably a bit too young for it then, but gosh, I remember this as one of the great reading/listening experiences of my life. I absolutely love this book. Blackberries and Heather-bells has long-since sold out as a kit, but it is available as a PDF pattern. Try searching for a "6-inch Flexi-hoop" online to frame it as I have.

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Oh, Time of Flowers. Gosh, this design will always be magical to me. When Andy and I were young and first living in Missoula, I remember that someone had a sidewalk garden with a bleeding heart plant in it and it was the first time I'd ever seen one, and I was just captivated. I think of it every time I see this design.

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Whan That Aprille. Also one of my favorites (designed in spring 2021) that never really sells that well but I ask WHYYYY??? Why you guys? Why don't people like this design??? I love this design! Please explain!

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Sweet little Spring Wreath kit. People often ask me if I crocheted the little goose in this photo. I did not, but I bought it finished at the long-gone Daisy Kingdom store that we used to have here in Portland many, many years. Lord how I miss that store! Oh that store was the greatest. I still carry my umbrella I bought there for $5 when they were going out of business. I think I've had it for almost twenty years. [I checked: They closed the store in 2004. :(.]

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Things of Spring is only available as a PDF pattern, as this particular fabric I used is (naturally, as soon as I picked it) discontinued. I might suggest Peaceful Purple, which is a bit more "purple" and less pink than this but still pretty, I think.

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We still have a few Flower and Frond jewelry-making kits available. Flower and Frond was only ever available as a kit, because the directions are completely specific to the materials in the kit. I loved making these. I should find the necklace I kept and wear it today.

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Lastly, the Daisychain ABCs Sampler Pattern is always available as a downloadable PDF. It is done in crewelwork, with Appletons crewel wool, which you can find here and in other places online and on Etsy. It's kind of fun to stitch with at this time of year because it's wooly and kind of craggy and really makes you feel like you're close to the source (sheep) somehow. And sheep always make me glad it's spring.

Okay guys, I'm going to stop now and let you go. Please let me know if you have any questions, and thank you so much for your interest and your orders (in advance, and in the past) over all of these many years! Thank you for indulging my parade of past designs, as well. I get kind of emotional seeing the seasonal stuff all collected together. It gets me in the mood for the season, and oh my goodness would you believe it — the sun just came out! Wah! [Sobs, grateful tear.]

P.S. I forgot to tell you that we've reprinted and kitted The Stitcher's RSVP and it is also in the shop while supplies last!

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Signs of Spring

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Oooo, my stars, it seems I actually have a day to myself, and it’s a chess day (so I don’t pick up Meems until 4:15). I literally can’t remember the last time I had time to blog. It was probably March 1, the date of my last blog post. More like a million years ago, it seems.

Nashville is over and everything is back home except of course for the one box filled with patterns that got lost and never made it there. Lost forever, according to USPS. In the weeks since, I’ve spent the days unpacking, creating electronic orders from handwritten order forms, establishing accounts, writing thank-you emails, formatting a list of stockists, reprinting patterns and getting them mailed out to people who wanted them but couldn’t have them in Nashville because, of course, they never made it to Nashville (or, in the case of The Stitcher’s RSVP, it actually sold out, yahoo!). But, it’s all good. I think mostly everything is in hand now. Beth, Natalie, and I have not had time to have our official Zoom debrief but I’d love to do that when the dust settles. I’m so grateful to all of the shops who purchased my patterns! I have stockists now! If you have a local needlework shop of your own, stop by and see all of the wonderful things I’m sure they brought back with them. There are so many absolutely brilliant designs out there! People are just so clever and wonderful. 

Outside, the weather has been slowly but surely turning to spring. We Portlanders are still wearing our heaviest coats and standing in the rain while waiting to pick up our kids most days, but on Saturday it was sunny and in the ’70s, and the power of that warmth and light could not be underestimated. I felt reborn. A friend from my neighborhood-moms chat hosted an impromptu potluck dinner at the pavilion at school and it was just so great to be outside without coats on, eating with new friends and our families, and watching all the kids play on the playground until dusk. Dang. It really takes so little sometimes. Life has felt kind of cold and rainy and quiet and lonely lately, and I really needed a party.

We couldn’t get our yard done so we hired a crew to come and take away the piles of dead oak leaves, cut back last year’s dead perennial growth, and haul away the massive butterfly bush that bit the dust in the snow storm, and also a giant, rotting tree trunk that had been growing mushrooms and was left, inexplicably, in our driveway. I don’t even know when or by whom. (Our driveway is kind of a black hole, bordered by fences and a woodshed, and is too skinny to drive a car up, so we never have.) The guys came the same day we called, and, in a frenzy of leaf blowers (ugh, I know), rakes, and clippers, blew the whole place out. I asked that they cut all of our ornamental grasses back to the ground and that’s what they did — now the borders look like they’ve all had horrendous haircuts, and there are stray pieces of dried grass everywhere, along with some ravaged, forlorn daffodil and tulip leaves that got caught in the crossfire. I should’ve had all of this done before the new growth had started, I know. What can I say. One of the problems in our perennial borders (we have four small ones, all more-or-less identical) is that every single thing in them gets cut back to the ground in early spring. So just as spring is springing and daffodils are sprouting and things are unfurling, our garden looks bald and . . . seriously hacked. It will all fill in, I know. I hope it doesn’t take too long. It could use some compost and mulch, for sure. That would help.

Spring break is next week and I am looking forward to Mimi being home, and getting a chance to just do some fun Mimi-things — going to the mall, going to a movie, maybe getting some new clothes, playing mini-golf with Andy. We will have new designs and kits for you in early April. Everything is here, we just need time to put it all together! I will show you everything at launch, including two new digital versions for things that I am planning for summer. Ah, summer. . . .

Snowwww no!

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Oh HELLO! Hello, hello! It's March 1, oh my. March 2023. March 2023!

Gosh. I need to let that sink in for some reason.

All of you, first of all, we truly thank you for every one of your kind and gentle comments on the loss of Andy's beautiful mom. I always think of each of them as a small prayer, and each one bring us comfort, and makes us feel less alone in our sadness. Thank you so much. It has been almost a month now, and there are so many moments in the day where I just want to tell her something, or send her something, or send her a picture of Amelia, or tell her something funny that she said or did. All the little things. She delighted in every one of those things, I think. Pops (Andy's dad) got the surprise birthday gift of a new kitten from our nephew, Max, a veterinary student, and I believe he picks her up sometime this week, and we'll find out what he is naming her (he's keeping that secret for now!). There are not many days in life that are better than that first day with a new pet, and I am excited for both him and Miss Kitters, and I know they will bring joy to each other.

We got a very unexpected snowstorm here exactly a week ago, and it was absolutely bonkers for a while. I picked up Amelia an hour early that Wednesday because the forecast suddenly got very real (and my reconstructed foot does not do well on snow or ice). At 3:00 p.m. it started snowing . . . and snowing, and snowing, and snowing. By nightfall, roads were at an icy standstill; it took my friend's boyfriend almost six hours just to get across town. Andy decided to stay overnight at the hospital because the busses had stopped running up the hill. I was home frantically packing boxes for the Nashville Needlework Market, starting to wonder if everything was going to get there in time. We had a small window of about one week in which to get our stuff shipped there; nothing could arrive before February 24. I shipped the box with my stitched models on the 21st. The snow had started flying on the 22nd. By the 23rd the post offices were actually closed (along with almost everything else). By Friday we were able to get our car out and get down to our local P.O., which was mercifully open. And by this morning, March 1, sixteen of my twenty boxes have been delivered, and I am just anxiously tracking the last four, and hoping they get there by Friday, when the show starts. . . .

Normally you know I would be so into a freak snowstorm! But not when I have to ship twenty boxes to arrive somewhere across the country within a small window of time! Golly day!

Andy made it home late Thursday morning. The weather was still really gnarly — very cold and windy, and quite icy. He took Amelia sledding on Friday and then Amelia and Iris sledding on Saturday (we had no school Thursday and Friday), and then we went roller skating with our other friends Stefan and Mia on Sunday. There was a LOT of falling down, a few tears, a corn dog, some Slurpees, lots of fun. Some aches and pains on Monday!

I'm here in a quiet house today. I'm trying to plan for summer, as many summer camps' sign-ups start today. It's basically impossible for me to plan things for summer. I have no idea what's going on or what we will be doing, and I'm terrible at committing. Which, as any parent knows right now, that just won't do, because things fill up fast, and there isn't that much availability to start with, so . . . I need to pull it together. I literally look at the calendar and just blank out, and start sweating.

I have three new designs that will debut at Nashville this weekend. I will show them to you next week! I posted them on Instagram but I need to resize the photos for the blog. I will do that. Literally as soon as I got home from the post office, I started designing two new things, as well. It's funny how that happens. It's like the creative part is literally bottled until the non-creative parts are absolutely done (I had to finish the tax stuff for the accountant this week, too) and then it just comes bursting out. I designed two things in about four days. I've been stitching on the nursery rhymes design I made a few years ago (not sure if you remember that, or when I ever posted it, or I would link to the digital). I watched all of the series called Slow Horses with Gary Oldman and I thought that was really good. I tried to watch The Recruit on Netflix and it just got too ridiculous, so I stopped watching it. Andy is still watching Indian Matchmaking with me and it's the best. I love that show.

I recommend, as always, this spicy chicken and sweet potato soup, which we now make about once a week. And this winter squash and wild mushroom curry was awesome. I've also been watching Indian Food Made Easy (it's a BBC show but I watch it on FreeVee) and it has some great ideas. I haven't made any of the recipes yet but I am going to.

I hope you are all well! What has everyone been doing? What is giving you joy these days?

XO

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My beautiful mother-in-law, Suzan, passed away unexpectedly last weekend. We're heartbroken and I hardly know what to say. She and Andy's dad were just here a few months ago for Amelia's birthday, and I'm so grateful for that. It was their first visit since Covid started and it was a wonderful visit. So many things remind me of her. So many toys and clothes and books and stuffed animals and dollies and cute, purple, soft, darling little sparkly things that she gave Amelia. She was a generous and doting grandmother, endlessly patient, endlessly loving, always up for a party, truly tireless when it came to everything and anything Amelia wanted, needed, or even mentioned. They FaceTimed every single weekday during the time that Amelia was doing school at home (Sue was a retired longtime special-education teacher), reading chapter books together, Charlotte's Web and Beezus and Ramona and Little House in the Big Woods, and I never stopped marveling at her incredible patience, how she would delight in just watching Amelia play Minecraft, or play with her stuff, or just barrel around the house. She was a true ray of sunshine, with a beautiful smile, and she loved her music, her books, her crochet, and especially her family. I remember when we went to Door County on the train to celebrate Andy's parents' 50th anniversary. There was one day we were there that I had wanted us all to take the ferry to Washington Island, where I had, coincidentally, vacationed for many years as a kid. The day was so hot. It was so hot. There was a lot of walking. The island was bigger and . . . emptier, and less interesting (and fun) . . . than I remembered, and as it had been my idea to go, I was especially anxious. It was a long day, with long, hot ferry rides, a lot of walking in the sun, and a squirelly four-year-old. :) And my parents-in-law were so cheerful, so game, so willing, so tireless although they were tired, never once complaining (unlike me), always in a good mood, doing every single thing it took and more to make sure that everyone was having a good time and enjoying themselves and the world. I mean, I have thought of that day, that blue, blue water, that big white boat, that sunshine and those pine trees, their happiness, so many times over the years. It was such a total example of their good nature, their cheer, and their enthusiasm in spite of any challenges, big or small. I see so much of this in Andy. So much of this. I love and will miss you, Sue. I will miss your enthusiasm and support for every random new thing I tried, and how you always thought I was so good at all of those things. I will miss your hugs and the smell of your perfume. I will miss getting texts with different ideas of things you wanted to buy for Mimi. I will miss how you loved us, and especially how you loved your Mouse. Rest in peace, dear one. Rest.

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New Year's Sale on Dollies and Softies!

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Let these sweet dollies and softies share some love with you this winter! I promise you will love making them for yourself or sharing them with a Valentine. To ring in the start of New Year 2023, from today through the end of January all of my kits and patterns for dolls and softies are 23% off! But you must use the code "newyear23" when you checkout. (And if you want to use PayPal or ShopPay, the discount-code window will be on the screen after you choose either of those things, FYI.) Gosh, I just love all my little babies so much! I don't think I've ever done a post that has collected them all in the same place (these aren't even all of them — you can see them all here) and I mean, come on, how cute (and jeesh, baby Mimi!) are they??? If I do say so myself! Enjoy them! Lots of love, a

Happy New Year!

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Good morning! And happy new year!

My, my. Where do the days go? I've been busy as a bee. Have you ever heard of the Nashville Needlework Market? It's a needlework trade (wholesale) show that is organized by Needlework Retailer magazine and takes place near Nashville, Tennessee, every year. Needlework designers and manufacturers of fabric, floss, and supplies come from around the country (and the world) to exhibit their designs and products. Retail establishments, including brick-and-mortar and online embroidery stores, also come from around the country to shop for products to carry in their stores. This is a cash-and-carry show, so designers bring thousands of paper patterns (along with as many stitched samples as they can fit on their displays in their hotel room) and sell them directly to store owners at the show. Each designer and manufacturer gets a room in a big hotel (it's a hotel that is organized around a central atrium) in which to display their wares. Shop owners have the weekend to visit almost 150 designers' rooms, see their designs, and purchase patterns (and supplies, etc.)  Last summer I was having lunch with my dear friend Beth Twist of Heartstring Samplery who is a longtime cross-stitch designer and exhibitor at the expo. She generously invited me to share her hotel room and exhibit Posie alongside Heartstring Samplery this year. I was so excited and touched that she would offer to do that! It's too far for me to travel right now, so I have a wonderful new friend named Natalie who will be going in my stead and representing me there. She is an avid stitcher and has always wanted to go to the market, so I think it is going to work out great (though oh my gosh, do I ever wish that I could go myself — hopefully someday!).

So since it was decided that Posie would be participating, I have been working to get ready for this show on March 3-5, 2023. Early in 2020, before Covid hit, I had begun working on reformatting all of my cross-stitch patterns to make them appropriate for wholesale. Basically I needed to do several things: Firstly, I wanted to update older patterns that had been designed using my older templates so that they would all be on my new template (the one with the mint-green cover). This took a while. Secondly, for wholesale, I really needed to remove a lot of references to very basic beginner stuff, like how to do a backstitch or separate your floss. Pattern-page real estate is precious and most people who are shopping at needlework stores know how to do these things and don't need written instructions (though I do have stitching tutorials on my web site for them, just in case). Thirdly, the industry standard for needlework shops is to use black-and-white symbol charts, not color charts. So I needed to reformat all of my old charts, because even though they used colored boxes with symbols, a lot of the symbols I used were the same for different colors, so obviously that doesn't work.

I mean, it's bonkers to me that it took me three years to finish this, but it did. I have twenty-five older patterns and three three new patterns (two kits) that I will release for you this spring. Not a huge catalog compared to some designers but I am really proud of the work I've done over the years. It's been kind of an emotional experience to go back through all of these designs and revisit them again, and think about what inspired them again, and just get reconnected with them. When I finally sent all of the older twenty-five to the printers last week, I stood up from the computer and felt such relief. I am so happy to have that project finished. I'm now waiting for the patterns to be returned to me, and then we will be here stuffing 2,500 patterns into bags for the show (and I still need to send the new three to the printer).

Then this weekend I worked on framing all my stitched models. I had some of them stretched and framed but lots of them were not, because I tend to take my cover shots as just flat-lays that are stretched but not always framed. I actually really like finishing work. First, you need the right frame, and that can be sometimes fun, sometime frustrating. I tend to purchase a lot of my frames on eBay or at antique malls or Goodwill. Vintage frames can have really bizarre, nonstandard sizes, but for some reason I have been soooo lucky finding exactly the right bizarro size for something I've already designed and stitched. Many of my designs are done on 32-count fabric and work out to finish at about 6" x 8", which fits really nicely in an 8" x 10" frame, so that's pretty easy, especially if you don't mind modern frames. Sometimes I'll buy inexpensive modern frames (sometimes even plastic) and paint them with acrylic paint. Anyway, once you find your frame, you just need to make sure you will be able to drop about a 1/4" piece of fabric-wrapped foam core into it, and have it be pretty flush with the back. I remove all of the glass, backing, and any old hangers or hardware that might have been part of the frame. Once I've done that, then I can measure the exact size that I need to cut the foam core.

I measure the foam core (I buy these in bulk, but you can get other sizes, and also black) and cut it with an X-Acto knife, trimming it always about 1/16" scant to leave room for the pins and fabric to wrap around the foam core and still fit into the frame opening. Then I wrap the stitching around the foam core and secure it with 1/2" sequin pins. (For a tutorial on this, see here.) Then I add a piece of brown paper to the back with 1/2" heavy-duty double-sided tape (you can use a paper grocery bag if your tape is sticky enough — I find that double-sided Scotch tape is not) stuck all the way around the back edges of the frame. Then I add a little hanger. These D-hooks are really nice, too, and are used with picture-hanging wire. I've used those when I haven't been super lazy, and they do make for a nicer finish.

I finished eleven different pieces over the weekend and I had a whole little workshop going in my office. I watched Indian Matchmaking while I was doing it and now Andy wants to watch it with me (and I want to watch it again, so yay). At some point we all went out the antique mall in the rain to look for more frames (I still needed seven more to finish everything!) and found three great ones. I ran out of foam core, so now I'm waiting for more of that to arrive, too. But it feels good to finish all of these things that have just been hanging around, half-done, for a very, very long time.

Anyway, I'm sorry if this is sort of a boring, pedantic post about the little details, but it's literally all I've been doing for weeks and I don't even have a single other thing that I can think of to talk about.

What have you all been up to?

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My intrepid assistant, Agatha Paulson.

My Favorite Picture of the Year

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It occurs to me, as I try to resize these many photos, that I need to hurry, hurry, as the wind is absolutely howling outside, and everything is whipping around. I have The Holiday on in my office, and it's in the California part, sunny and warm — but here, oh boy, it's absolutely frigid. And from the looks of the forecast across the country, many of you are feeling a similar Arctic blast. I'm scared we may lose power, as it is supposed to start raining ice later. . . .

All of us have been home sick all week! We don't seem to have Covid but we definitely have something, all of us: fevers, mostly, though mine's been gone for several days, and lingering coughs. Lots of pajamas, lots of blankets, lots of carrying the heating pad around the house, lots of orange juice. Lots of television. Gifts have been wrapped and long-since shipped, groceries have been gotten, cards went out last week. The first half of The Sound of Music has been watched, along with several Hallmark Christmas movies, and many more episodes of Alone (season 6 now). In spite of feeling off-and-on poorly, we're having a lovely, lazy time now. The last few weeks have been just nonstop busy so in every way it feels so good to just be resting. I must say.

But Nutcracker week was so, so special! It kind of does literally feel like a dream. There is just something just so excellent about first times. Everything about it was truly magical. I think I mentioned that photographing the actual performance is prohibited, which is always so sad! But I get it. My friend Claire took the lovely picture of Amelia backstage, waiting to go on (the swish in her dress, oh my stars) and I will treasure having this forever. The rest of the pictures of her in costume are from dress rehearsals at the school, etc. The first time she walked into Lincoln Hall for the dress rehearsal on the actual stage she was bouncing up and down and she said, "This is so exciting! This is the best day ever!" It was really, really fun, watching her be that excited. Someone snuck me into the theater to watch her group onstage in the dress rehearsal (Andy and I of course later saw the actual performances, and even a few she wasn't in, but I was as excited getting into that dress rehearsal as I've been about anything in years — I later got choked up thanking the person who had gotten me in, ohmigosh — I'll never forget it — I don't even know the lady's name). Amelia had been nervous about being on the big stage, but the dress rehearsal on Monday night went well. The next night was a night off, and, she got a bit nervous again about having an audience there the next time. It was almost bedtime and I had just come upstairs. She said she was feeling nervous and I told her to sit quietly and play the music in her head and go through the whole dance in her mind. She sat right down and started to do it. That's what she is doing in this picture. She sat like this for ten straight minutes, occasionally closing her eyes, and sometimes I could see her fingers or her hand moving to music I couldn't hear. I don't even think she noticed one bit when I quietly propped my phone up and quickly snapped a picture. I've literally never seen her sit this quietly for this long (not that long but it's long for her). When she was done she just turned her face to me and gave me the biggest smile. I said, "How did it feel?" And she said, "It felt just like Monday night!" And off she went to bed like no big deal.

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I don't know, it was just one of the best moments of my own life, right then, and I can't even believe there's a picture of it. Watching her find her way, right before my eyes. It's so, so good to be part of the world again!!! My big, brave, beautiful girl, finding her way!

I wish you all, from our family to all of yours, a Merry Christmas, and a very Happy Hanukkah, a Happy Kwanza, and a blessed Winter Solstice, or whatever you might celebrate at this time of year! I'm so grateful for all of you who have been here with me through my days this year, and these many years. Thank you for your patience and your encouragement and your cheer and your always-kind words and your optimism and generosity. I know these past few years have been very challenging for so many of us for so many different reasons. I am just so glad and lucky that I have all of you to share my days with, and I cherish your attention and kindness to me in the million ways that you show it. Thank you for that, more than I can ever express. I wish you every blessing in the coming days, and a warm and wonderful start to the new year.

Love always,

Alicia, Andy, Amelia, and Agatha Paulson
XOXOX

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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