Friday, October 29, 2010

I Learned to Crochet When I Was 10

Thanks Mom! Learning to crochet was just the beginning of my lifelong foray into crafts that require needles.  Big needles, pointy sharp quilting betweens, hooks, bamboo or steel needles, I need them in my world.  My mom, who is also known as Dr Roberts, passed on her passion with needles to me.  She is a higly-skilled seamstress, and she learned in Catholic boarding school, of all places. For much of my childhood she made my clothing on a burgundy and silver sewing machine from Montgomery Wards. I learned to sew on that machine as well.  I was pregnant with my 2nd child, Zach, and we went out, bought patterns, and because of her great teaching skills, and my comfort with creating, I made a maternity outfit that day.  I bet a couple hundred garments came from that machine.  At some point, she began to put tags in my garments because none of my friends ever believed that she made my coat, she made my ball gown, that she made my velvet knickers and the satin clutch that perfectly matched my outfit.  

A few months back, needing a new project to inject a bit of creativity into my world, I decided to crochet myself a bag to hold my yarns. Because of the years and the familiarity of my fingers with needles and hooks, I picked up some new wools by Debbie Stoller and cranked out this bag in a day or two.  I realized just how lucky I was to have the inspiration when I was young.  Train up a child in the way he should go....if you know any Hebrew, you'll know that that type of training means to guide a child in the way he's naturally bent.  And when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs, 22:6, KJV.  And I'm 42, a mom of 7, and I still see that I have hundreds of stitches yet to learn, many sweaters, quilts and dolls are yet to come from my needles. 

My mom, Romaine, as she's also known, crocheted when I was young. I vividly remember the green and ecru baby doll blanket she made for me. One day I saw her pick up the hook, and I hadn't even known that she could do that!  Somehow, through the magic of genes and osmosis, I began to crochet. She didn't teach me, per se, I just kind of caught it from her.  She also has done, and whatever needlework my mom does, it is done with perfection, macrame, knitting and needlepoint. Her needlepoint is worthy of any museum display. My children have their stockings needlepointed with Santas so detailed, you'd think he'd just hop off the mantle....the stockings are lined with poi de soie, and back with ultra suede.  What a joy it is to fill these dynamic stockings with candies and treats on Christmas Eve.

In the last couple years, I decided to become a 'real' knitter like my mom, not just one who makes patternless scarfs and hats, but I want to make any item I see so I needed to delve a bit deeper into the knitting world.  (*note - you can join Eliza-Jane and me on Thursday nights at Borders Books in White Flint to knit w/my Meet-Up group and at The Yarn Spot in Wheaton)  My mom is my inspiration to me to continue to make my work "handmade" versus looking homemade. This is what she always told me.  "Take the extra time to block your work," she would say, "you spent all that time making it, make sure it looks great!"  "Iron those seams" and "Install that zipper properly".  My mom's work is always impeccable and the example I needed to inspire me on to greatness.

And my mom is the reason my 5 girls can all do something with needles.  It is my rule and requirement that these girls acquire skills and make projects in several disciplines.  Some of them may never sew or knit or crochet perpetually like my mom and me, but learning these skills are the perfect learning mechanism to train one's hands and brain to accomplish anything.  Learning to knit socks will join my girls with women and men of the past who never imagined a walmart with zillions of choices of knitted objects.  A genuine satisfaction comes from the knowledge that most folks today can't even begin to know a knit stitch from a purl, much less realize that the fibers their garments are made from originated from either an animal, a worm or a factory.  Because of my mom, my 11 yr old, Eliza-Jane, sees a shawl in the store window of H&M in the mall yesterday and immediately imagined what size needles were used to obtain that gauge, are there in any 'yarn-overs' in the pattern....she sees herself not only knitting that garment, but spinning the fibers first.  My mom sat Eliza-Jane down when she was 8 and guided her little hands to understand the basics of knitting.

Mom, you rock. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Orange Bouquet has a Serious Story

Sometime early Summer I planted one of my favorite flowers in the universe, Tithonia (Tithonia diversifolia) or the common colloquial name, Mexican Sunflower.  It is a glorious specimen, the cultivar I planted has blooms a minimum of  4 inches across, and because of its native country of origin, it needs little water. Tithonia diversifolia is very hardy, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds like nobody's business, and grows enough flowers to make a bouquet weekly.  The flowers are not known for their aroma, but the smell is soft and distinctive, and can add a nice scent to a small room.  I have grown Tithonia in years past, so I thought nothing of it, took no special care or anything.  The seeds germinated easily and the plants grew in the starter plastic food container I use.  After a couple weeks, I decided to plant just two Tithonia seedlings in the garden because I expected them to be 6 feet tall and as wide, and space was diminishing in my beds.  And I was right about the space they'd occupy.  They grew tall alright, and then they grew and grew and grew.  I actually began to wonder if someone was sneaking some seriously off-limits chemical fertilizers in my natural organic garden while I was sleeping because by month three, the taller of the two was 11 feet high!  Whoa Baby!  I was getting my vases ready for some real lovliness to bring in to decorate my kitchen.

Despite this record height, though, and unfortunately for the flower-loving soul that I possess, there was only foliage.  Thick and lush foliage albeit; it testified heartily to the copious amounts of horse puckey I'd put in that earth, BUT not one single, solitary bud.  Pooh.  I waited another month. Pooh.  I waited patiently.  Then I waited really really Paaaatiently.  I was rewarded with better character for it and nothing but even lusher leaves and a ridiculous stem, the likes of which I'd never seen, almost as thick as my wrist.  I began to visualize my orange and glorious Tithonia flowers after being picked in an artsy glass vase on my nightstand. I would water those plants a bit extra each time I was in the garden.  I caressed Tithonia's fuzzy leaves.  I told her that she was exquisite, unique, just the most elite shade of green ever. But still, Pooh.  Nada.  Mrs Tithonia understood 'nada' because she's from Mexico.  The worst part for me was that with a plant that huge, one can only imagine how many flowers it could hold.  It was tortuous. 

One day a brisk windy storm came through, and Mrs Tithonia fell over almost like Goliath;  that's how big she'd become.  By this time, I wasn't actually all that sad.  I had begun to berate Mrs Tithonia at times; I had now given up hope on seeing any Tithonia flowers for 2010.  I noticed that at the base of the fallen 'trunk', the roots came through the earth in a circular plate, at least two feet in diameter. Wow! It looked just like the base of the trees one sees toppled over when the power goes out, pulling up the earth along with its exodus from Mother Earth to keep itself company I suppose.  And I was sad to notice, still, not one single flower.  I couldn't figure out what had happened.  I have an uncanny way of recognizing seeds, so I knew that I had definitely planted the Tithonia variety, which come to a triangular point at one end, and have fuzzy bristles at the other. Perhaps, this was some sort of hybrid, accidentally packaged up?  I was desperate to find Mr. Burpee seed catalogue's express direct hotline to figure this thing out. 

Perhaps my Tithonia flower could be in a record book?  "Tallest dang useless flower to never grow a single solitary flower" would be the proper entry if Guinness should ever call.

Five months had passed now, and I had planned to chop up the foliage and trunk-like massive stem of Mrs Tithonia for the compost pile come November when - OH GOLLY GEE - and lo and behold, this very week, this very late in October, my fat, mutant gargantuan Tithonia plant was covered with blossoms!  My Summer Girl walked all around that sad giant plant as it lay down on the Fall rested there as if it needed to languish a bit to finally bloom (maybe that was why?) and Summer Girl counted 23 flowers, huge and sunny in color, looking like the tastiest shade of bright lollipop orange, with over 100 buds ready and waiting their turns to burst open. Those buggers are waiting to put on a show for me!  Despite the roots uncovered to the air and the prone position of that 11 foot tall plant, it is blooming right now crazily.  Suppose I should call Mr. Burpee now?   Usually in the Washington, DC area, we get the first freeze a week after Halloween, but there have been years when my flowers continue to bloom until almost Thanksgiving.  I am hoping that this will be one of those years.  I plan to cut luscious bouquets, ambrosial and touched by God, daily as new blooms open so that I can enjoy every picture perfect blossom for as long as possible.