November, 2009

Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking (or Small Gift Box) Stuffers

Monday, November 30th, 2009

The holiday season is officially upon us. And while I intend to do tons of my own crafting to fill stockings carefully hung by chimneys, I’ll admit that I’m not going to have time make everything myself. Here are some little gifts that pack a big old punch, all reasonably priced and ready to ship. They’ll make lovely gifts for anyone on your long and jolly lists.

I love these sweet but practical handmade coffee sleeves from The Doe and The Mouse. They are the perfect thing to give your favorite eco-loving caffeine fiends:

coffee sleeves

Any compatriot with a vivacious fashion sense will love the sparkling pieces of wearable fruit from Glitterlimes:


You can never have too many bags, especially when they’re as cool as these gorgeous totes. Each one is hand printed using wood blocks from Ramshackle Press:

crab tote

Your hotblooded sidekicks will love a pattern tank top from Mike Perry:

pattern tank

And your favorite person of letters will love to write notes of  thanks on these vintage wallpaper notecards from Sydney Designs:

vintage wallpaper cards

With so much to do over the holidays, it’s nice to know you can take care of some of your gift-giving needs by supporting other crafty artisans.

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Quilting For Peace: Q&A with Katherine Bell

Monday, November 16th, 2009

quilting for peace cover

I recently had the pleasure of reading Katherine Bell’s inspiring new book, Quilting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time. Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang, it is part quilting how-to book, part galvanizing guide to creative charitable work. Nearly every page features a moving story, either of the generous artists who have founded these charitable groups, or the positive impact that a quilt had on an individual or community’s life. In our fast-paced 21st century world, making a quilt for someone is a profound act. Quilts fulfill an age-old need to provide warmth, but they do much more than just that. They show their recipients that they are loved.

I highly recommend Quilting for Peace to any crafter, whether you are an avid quilter or a would-be quilter. The instructions are clear, the photos are beautiful, and there are patterns for every skill level. And the stories of these grass roots organizations making a difference with needles and thread will motivate you to start crafting for your favorite cause.

Pick up your copy of Quilting for Peace at your local bookstore or online:

A few copies of Quilting for Peace will be available for random giveaway in the next month, so check out the STC Craft/Melanie Falick website:

Katherine was kind enough to speak to me about her book. Read my questions and her thoughtful answers below.

qfp_kid quilt

How did you find out about the quilting groups profiled in the book?

I found out about almost all of them online.  Quilters have been going online to find each other almost since the beginning of the Internet, so nearly all the groups I profiled have websites.  Some, like the Heartstrings Quilt Project (, organize themselves almost entirely online. One exception is the Sunshine Circle, a quilting group in rural Iowa that started in 1912. Most of the women in the group now are at least second-generation, and they’re in their seventies and eighties. I lived in Iowa for a couple of years, and while I was there the University of Iowa Press published a book about Iowa quilts by Jacqueline Andre Schmeal. It’s gorgeous, one of my very favorite quilting books. There’s a chapter in it about the Sunshine Circle and I called Jacqueline and asked if she could put me in touch with them.

 For me, the pleasure of crafting is amplified when it’s done in a group. In addition to the charitable nature of the groups profiled in your book, they all share the draw of community – be it an online community of fellow crafters encouraging each other, as with the HeartStrings project, or a community of neighbors, as with the Sunshine Circle. Do you think that quilting is inherently community-oriented?

Well, a lot of the history of quilting in America is certainly collaborative.   Hand-piecing and hand-stitching a quilt could take hundreds of hours, so neighbors would get together to finish each others’ quilts.   And though there’s something meditative about spending time by yourself at your sewing machine, it’s nowhere as satisfying as working together with friends on a project.  

One of the things I love about hosting Crafternoons is the intergenerational aspect of the gatherings. Did you find that the quilting groups had diverse age groups? Did you meet many teenagers or children who were avid quilters? If so, who introduced them to quilting?

Some of the larger organizations like Quilts for Kids and Newborns in Need have really diverse volunteers, but the close-knit groups I encountered tended to have members of similar ages.   I did meet a few extremely dedicated and creative young quilters, like Casey Ehrlich, a high-school student in Massachusetts who started Blanket the Globe, a quilt project to inspire kids to think about global warming.  

Your book is so thorough – it seems to cover every charitable quilting group out there. Were there any small quilting groups that you heard about but were unable to profile in the group?

Oh, there were lots.   I had to cut a few essays at the last minute.   I’m planning on writing about those groups on my blog at
One of the things I love most about pieced quilts is the “waste not, want not” philosophy that they embrace. Do you think that the frugal, eco-friendly nature of quilting is part of what makes it so popular?

I’m sure that’s one reason for its recent comeback.  Like the trend toward local, artisanal, organic foods, it’s a reaction to everything being mass-marketed and chemically treated and disposable.   I think it’s also a reaction to how virtual our lives have become.  When you’ve spent all day on the computer, it’s incredibly satisfying to create something as tactile and individual as a quilt. 

My mother taught me nearly every crafting technique I know. Who taught you how to quilt, and what is your favorite type of quilt to make?

My mom taught me to piece and tie my first quilt.  After that, I’ve mostly learned on my own, with the help of a Singer paperback about machine quilting from the eighties.   I love to make pretty simple old-fashioned quilts that include a lot of different fabrics.  I always fall for housetop quilts and sawtooth stars.


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November/December Crafternooniness

Monday, November 9th, 2009

November and December are gearing up to be the Crafternoon-iest months of the year. I’ve got two ‘noons each month in NYC, each with a completely different theme, and all of the delightful details are below.

Saturday, November 14th – Handmade : Crafternoon at the New York Public Library
Time:  2:00 to 4:00pm
November’s Handmade: Crafternoon will be all about basic book making (both sewn bindings and not). Along with my co-host, Jessica Pigza,  our special guest will be the amazing, prolific artist Mike Perry. He will share his book arts expertise, and we’ll have lots of supplies on hand to share so that you can make your own handmade book!
Location: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building , 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum (Room #227, located in the northeast corner of the second floor)
Admission: FREE
Sunday, November 22nd: Second Annual Charitable Crafternoon at WORD
Time: 2-4pm
Join me for an afternoon of crafting for a good cause. Crafters of all ages are welcome to help us make Thanksgiving cards and decorations for the food pantry at the Greenpoint Reformed Church.
Want to do some crafty homework? Donate a handknit or crocheted hat, scarf, or pair of mittens. And we’ll have some yarn and knitting needles on hand if you need to add a few rows to a scarf or a pompom to a hat.
Location: Word, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY
Admission: Please bring two cans of food or a handmade winter accessory to the event. And feel free to bring other snacks and beverages to share with your fellow crafters.
Saturday, December 5th: Holiday Ornament Extravaganza at SpaceCraft in Brooklyn
Time: 1:30 to 3:30
Join me for an afternoon making ornaments for all the things in your life that need festive decorations. We’ll be crafting up some clothespin ornaments and adorable Christmas bagels, too, in the warm and cozy Spacecraft space.
Location: Spacecraft, 355 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Admission: $5
Saturday, December 12th – Handmade: Crafternoon at the New York Public Library
Time: 2:00 to 4:00pm
Join us as we welcome Heather Ross, author of Weekend Sewing and two other textile mavens: Denyse Schmidt, author of Denyse Schmidt Quilts; and Liesl Gibson of Oliver + S, will all be on hand to talk about their creative work. And as usual, we’ll have lots of Library books to look at, as well as a spread of materials on hand so you can get started stitching if you wish.
2:00 to 4:00pm
Location:Stephen A. Schwarzman Building , 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Margaret Liebman Berger Forum (Room #227, located in the northeast corner of the second floor)
Admission: Free

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Farmshare Love

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Oh, the sad truth of the East Coast growing season comes to roost. Our wonderful farmshare (aka  CSA or Community Supported Agriculture program) is over for the year. On October 24th, we picked up our last generous share of veggies from Hearty Roots Farm, fruit from Montgomery Place Orchards and eggs from Tello’s Green Farm.


We worked our volunteer shift at Red Shed Commununity Garden in Williamsburg, restocking the bounty as needed and reminding people to take the knobby celery root


The sweet butternut squash


The pungent garlic


The fluffy heads of lettuce


as well as apples, honey, eggs, leeks, parsnips, mustard greens. (I might be forgetting other good things, as there is always an amazing bounty to collect, so it’s hard to remember everything. )

When all of the shares were collected, we boxed up the leftovers up for a food kitchen nearby. Then we stacked the empty plastic bins, composted the spare leaves and folded up the tents for next time.


I love being a member of a farmshare and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to support small, local farms. We know the people who grow our food, and we are always inspired by the abundance, the variety, and the quality of the produce we receive.

If you are interested in becoming a farmshare  member, check out this website, Local Harvest: Key in your zip code and find out what farms have CSA programs in your area.  Then next year around this time we can commiserate about the end of the growing season. In the meantime, I’ll just drown my sorrow in butternut squash.

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