Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We Cut the Tree

We Cut the Tree
L. Theil ã 1984
We started cutting our own Christmas trees in 1978, the year that Ben was born. That was the year after Dad brought home a tree so dry it shed needles when you touched it. By the time we took it out of the house after the holidays, that tree was down to bare branches.
The next year our neighbor said that he got fresh cut trees at a farm up the road in Zelie. It sounded like a good idea to us. My mom was real glad to stay home with the baby that year because she liked the quiet time for her and Ben.
She went with us the next year, though; and we all went every year after that. Tree cutting is somewhere three boys and a girl and a mom and dad can go with very little aggravation. We didn’t need special clothes or a fat wallet.
If my mom had her way we would have spent a bundle on big pine wreaths and yards and yards of pine garland. Dad always said, “Not this year.”
The tree-farmer displayed the greens in the barn where he sold perfect pre-cut trees. There was a pot-bellied stove for heat. Those greens looked so nice and fresh and natural on the barn siding walls. Mom wanted some every year, but she was always so mellow from being with the trees that she didn't let waiting until next year bother her.
Another reason we liked to go together to cut down our tree was that if my little brothers, Paul and Ben, decided to take a screaming fit, nobody cared. There aren’t too many places that you can go where a screaming kid won’t be an embarrassment. But there wasn’t much for Ben and Paul to carry-on about at the tree farm. A kid’s got a lot of freedom in a field full of pine trees.
We dressed in boots and socks and scarves and long underwear and sweaters and knitted hats and mittens. Mom wore jeans that she filled too-well with high cordovan boots and her old band jacket. She loved that jacket; she said it was very warm. Alisa, my older sister, thought Mom looked like a refugee from a class reunion with "Neville Band" written in big gold letters on her back.
Alisa looked more stylish in her not-so-stuffed jeans and her matching mittens and cap. Paul and Ben wore everything in the closet. Mom took an extra hat for Dad. She had a fear of frostbite, with good reason. Tree hunting is cold work.
At the farm we climbed out of our warm car in front of a big barn where a parade of tractor-pulled wagons hauled tree-hunters into the fields.
We got to pick our own bow-shaped saw from a rack in front of the barn. Those saws were sharp and could cut a tree fast. After choosing a saw of a color acceptable to everyone, we piled onto the hay bales of a departing wagon. Off we went with the wind stinging our faces, hearts singing.
We had to scrunch together to give all the tree hunters room. I liked that because it was warmer. Ben and Paul had a fight about who would carry the saw. My mom was in favor of my dad carrying it.  But my dad had a better idea; he let me carry it.
We were pulled across the road and onto rutted lanes of frozen mud dusted with snow. the tractor stopped often to disgorge tree-cutters. We debated whether to get off at each stop. Close to the end of the loop around the field, Dad said, “This is it,” and we all hopped off and started wandering around.
Mom immediately went into a trance communing with the trees. Alisa and Dad and I made an honest effort to find a perfect tree. From past experience we knew that a perfect tree would have a straight trunk that was no bigger than the hole in our tree stand. One year Dad had to cut twelve inches off our tree before the trunk was small enough to fit into our tree-holder.
Paul and Ben searched for little trees for their bedroom. Paul found a little one that he mooned over adoringly. Dad said, “Next year.”
When one of us found a promising tree everyone gathered for a consultation. Even if it was close to perfect, we never cut the first tree. Mom said, “We’ll come back to it.” But we never could find it when we came back. I though of marking the trees we liked with toilet paper. I was daunted by visions of a whole forest of trees festooned in white.
We wandered around until none of us could feel our toes and then we found a tree quick. It was always perfect.
Paul adopted a branch that he insisted on taking with him for his room. The kid never gave up. We caught the next wagon passing by and hugged our tree all the way back to the barn.
Dad paid for the tree by the foot. He had it wrapped in twine by an ingenious machine that looked like a cone with a wire-whip inside. The farmer hooked the trunk of the tree with a chain that mechanically pulled the tree backwards  through the cone. Our tree came out the other end wrapped up tight in twine, ready for transport. It was a neat trick.
Paul asked the farmer to twine-up his branch for him. With a line of serious tree-buyers waiting for his services, the farmer took the time to run Paul’s bough through the machine. That kid was a charmer. Mom’s eyes were misty when Paul showed her his wrapped-up twig.
Dad put our tree on top of the car rack and everyone grabbed a spider-leg. The spider was an eight-legged elastic tie with a hook on the end of each leg.
Everyone helped.
Everyone pulled.
Everyone yelled.
“Get in the car,” Dad growled.
Mom hustled the little kids in and Alisa and I continued to argue over the spider with Dad.
“Do you think it will blow off?” Mom asked.
“No,” Dad answered as we drove off.
“Can we put the tree in a bucket” Can we have cocoa? Can we have cookies? Can we set up the train?” Paul and Ben looked forward to the next events on the agenda.
“Shut up,” said Alisa.
“We’ll see,” said Mom.
"Merry Christmas," said Dad.

UPDATE Dec. 28, 2016: Free ebook of "We Cut the Tree" available from Blurb.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Felt cup-cozy with gift-card pocket

Alisa gave me the most wonderful gift this holiday season -- a how-to for Appleton Dance!

Felt Cup Cozy by Alisa

Go to your favorite coffee shop and pickup your favorite drink and a cardboard cup holder. You'll need the cup holder for a template and you'll want refreshment during the project : ) Starbucks sells small-size giftcards that make a nice addition to the cozy if you are making it as a gift.
Step 1
Pick two colors of felt and lay them out wrong sides together. I used craft felt that was 50% post-consumer plastics, but wool felt would be wonderful. Using cardboard cup holder as a template, outline the shape on the felt.

Step 2
Pin felt to keep it from shifting and sew around inside of outline. I like zigzag, but any stitch would work.
Cut felt along outline using straight or pinking shears. Add any additional 'quilting' or stitching.

Step 3
Use your drink as a guide and pin felt cozy together.

Step 4 (optional) 
If you are going to make a pocket for a gift card, mark lines on center of pinned cozy. Unpin loop and stitch thru both layers.  Carefully cut single layer of felt to open pocket. Repin cozy in the correct size loop.

Step 5
Use velcro, snaps (or ribbon ties) to close the cozy. I used fabric glue because I'm a minimalist : )


Friday, July 2, 2010

Small tote with zipped pocket

Small tote with large outside zipped pocket
I bought a cheap fabric tote at Oliver T's on Hill Road in Grand Blanc and liked it so much I wanted to replicate it for a goodie bag gift for an upcoming getaway weekend with friends. I liked carrying the tote because I could put my money and phone, etc in the large zippered outside pocket, but still had room to carry a book, and other bulky items in the pouch. I plan to add photos to the directions below, but in case experienced seamstresses want to give it a try right away, I've listed the unillustrated directions today. Photos added 11/16/10.

General instructions:
Use 1/4 –inch seams.
Press after every stitching.
RST = Right Sides Together.
WST = Wrong Sides Together

Materials and equipment:
Cut two outside tote shell pieces each 14 inches by 22 inches.
Cut two tote lining pieces each 14 inches by 22 inches.
(Stack all four pieces and cut a U-shaped piece 7-3/4 inch wide by 9-1/2 inches tall out of the top center of all four pieces. Save two cuts for inside pocket.)
Cut two pocket pieces (of contrasting fabric if desired) each 14 inches by 8.5 inches.
Matching thread for construction; contrasting thread for topstitching if desired
One 14 inch zipper
One large drapery tassel
Zipper foot

Prepare lining using two tote lining pieces:
Make inside pocket from two of the U-shaped pieces cut and saved from the lining or tote shell fabric. With RST stitch around curved edge of pocket. Turn right side out and hem straight edge top 1/4 inch. Press and topstitch. Center pocket on right side of tote lining piece, decorative top-stitch to lining around curved edges.
With RST, pin and stitch sides and bottom of two lining peaces leaving a four-inch opening in one side seam to use in turning tote. Do not stitch tops of handles.

Fold birds’beak in bottom seam and stitch across about 1.5 inches long seam to form square bottom corner. Repeat for other corner. Trim beaks. 
Put tape around end of drapery tassel cord to prevent unraveling, and cut to 3.5 inches from end of tassel. Stitch cord to center of back lining with cord end toward outside of seam and tassel hanging toward inside of lining. Pin tassel down to keep out of the way. (Photo shows method using a hair elastic to use as a closure around a button, instead of a tassel closure.)
Set aside while preparing outer tote.

Prepare outside tote shell:
Using zipper foot, install one side of zipper in right side of outside pocket piece. Press seam allowance and zipper tape to inside of pocket.
Turn under top of pocket lining piece 1/4 inch, press. With WST pin pocket lining to pocket piece right under zipper. Stitch lining to top of pocket over zipper tape by hand. (below)
Flip pocket toward top of tote with zipper face down on front of tote piece. Using zipper foot, stitch the other side of the zipper tape to the front of the tote. Stitch edge of zipper tape flat on front of tote. Flip pocket down and press.

With RST, pin two tote shell pieces together and stitch along both sides and bottom of tote. Press.
Fold birds’beak in bottom seam and stitch across about 1.5 inches long seam to form square bottom corner. Repeat for other corner. Trim beaks.
Turn outside tote shell right-side-out.

Put tote together:
With RST, insert outer tote shell into lining, making sure that the lining pocket is on the opposite side from the outside pocket of the tote shell. Pin along the U-shaped curve of one side of the tote.
Stitch and clip curved seam. Repeat for second U-shaped curve.
Turn through hole in side of lining.
Stitch turning hole in lining seam closed.
Tuck lining inside outer bag.
Pin along U-shaped curved seam and decorative topstitch near edge of curve, leaving 1.5 inch UN-topstitched at tops of handles.
Fit ends of handles together and topstitch closed.
At top of handle, fold edges to middle and topstitch down.
Flip tassel to front of purse. Or stitch button to middle of front to use as closure with hair elastic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gwen Frostic, April 1, 2010

Artist and poet Gwen Frostic (1906-2001) lived and worked in Benzonia, Michigan, not far from the great lake. She said:
A tree each year, at the end of all the twigs, will form new buds. The limbs will grow a little longer and the tips of the branches will remain forever young. The same way with you. With each day, you reach a little further, each day you learn something new, the tops of your mind will remain forever young -- no matter how many years you count on your birthday. Quoted from The Life & Wisdom of Gwen Frostic by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sheryl James (Sleeping Bear Press, 1999)
I stopped by her studio on April 1.

Her shop is closed.

But her spirit haunts the site.

And the branches remain forever young.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Materials display for personal enhancement

A good friend saw a magazine story about a jewelry designer who displayed her raw materials on a huge board so that she could see at a glance what was available for her creativity. My friend decided that she could do the same with her costume jewelry collection so that she could easily choose appropriate accessories as she dressed for work or play. She made this jewelry board and mounted it in her clothes closet. Here is how she described her process:
  1. I used a 24x36" oak framed bulletin board from Staples, under $30
  2. cut a remnant from 'Warm and Natural' quilt batting to cover the front inside the frame and tacked it down in a few spots around edge with a staple gun (
  3. cut a rectangle from leftover black satin that was about 6 inches bigger than the board.  Covered the batting with the fabric and stapled the fabric to the backside of the board. (Satin may not hold up to multiple pinholes; directions I've seen online for this type of thing, recommend linen or another loose weave fabric.)
  4. used two monkey hooks to hang inside closet (
  5. hung jewelry from T-pins
  6. added two LED touch lights to the inside of the closet to give some additional light (  These lights aren't very bright, and don't really help much.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Valentine totes!

Alisa and I made this cute variation on Martha Stewart's felt shopping tote featured on page 42 of the January 2010 issue. You can download a full-sized PDF file template of Martha's felt bag from her website. Alisa and I made a couple of the totes out of gray, wool felt. The full sized bag is 16 inches wide and 27.5 inches high including the long handles. Alisa pinned on one of her felt corsages that we made at Christmas time and it looked really cute.
  • For the Valentine's tote, I reduced the pattern size to 12 inches wide by 18.5 inches including the handles. The pattern piece is shaped like a square bib with long straps that you stitch together to make the tote handles.
  • After cutting out two pattern pieces, stay stitch 1/4-inch from the curved edges of all four handles, using a decorative stitch if desired.
  • If you want to applique a decoration on your bag, cut out your decorative felt pieces and stitch onto the front of one side of your bag.
  • Then pin the two bag pieces together and stitch all around the U-shaped outside edge of the sides and bottom of the tote.
  • We used a decorative zig-zag stitch in a contrasting thread color for all of the stitching.
  • Then overlap the handles of one side of the bag and securely stitch the handle ends together.
  • Repeat for the handle on the other side of the bag.
  • Pin a felt corsage on the front of your bag, if you didn't sew on an applique.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cotton chenille

Alisa and I took a class in making cotton chenille scarves from Cindy Jones at Lake Street Mercantile in South Lyon, Michigan on Sunday.

We each bought our own Olfa Chenille Cutter and a yard-and-a-half of cotton fabric. We cut five-inch-wide bias strips about 40-inches long, stacked them, and sewed 3/8-inch channels down the length. You really need a walking foot for this job.
We made our scarf double-sided by stacking seven layers of bias strips with a slightly longer piece in the middle position to act as a foundation for both sides. Then we used the chenille cutter to slice three layers open in all the channels on both sides of the foundation, leaving the center layer to hold the scarf together.

Once the scarf is washed and fluffed dry in a dryer, the bias frays and creates the distinctive chenille nap.

Cindy showed us a cute baby blanket that was chenilled on one side only. The stitched channels create a quilt effect the un-napped side. Lots of interesting patterns and textures could be created using this method -- just make sure to stitch and cut on the bias of good quality cotton to achieve the best effect.

There's a nice basic how-to for chenilling at Quilt Bus.