Friday, February 26, 2016

A nomad returns, bold yet weary.


This road-weary traveler is home. And though Spain is a wondrous country I yearn to explore in greater detail, there is much to be said for the comfortable familiarity of home. A bed that knows my body, a french press that gets my morning brew right every time, and perhaps most importantly, routine. I spent much of my 20s resisting routine for fear that it made me dull and unadventurous, less of the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl I always and forever aspire to be. My thirties brought the clarity that helped me shed all the unnecessary pretense, and I now know I do much better when life is mostly predictable. (But only in the coolest of senses.)

Because of a work obligation, I arrived in Spain a day later than the rest of the group. Portland to Chicago, Chicago to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Malaga and a taxi ride to Marbella. I traveled alone for the entirety of the 15 hour trek, and found the relative solitude to be refreshing: an opportunity to refocus my brain from life stress to vacation. There was movie watching and embroidery and reading and thoughts of the future. I rather enjoyed the opportunity for reflection; it's not often that I am able to separate myself from the status quo while simultaneously pondering it. (Side note: Mario said a youngish woman doing embroidery on an airplane is akin to wearing a I ♥ Portland t-shirt. Ha!)


From there it was cultural exploration and socializing with Mario's coworkers and clients. We dressed up for fancy dinners, which only happens enough for me to vaguely remember how to put on tights and not break my ankle in heels. I never quite adjusted to the 9 hour time difference, which meant my exhausted bones would lie awake until 2 or 3 in the morning reading. I'm so thankful I hastily snatched The Miniaturist off our bookshelf on my way out the door. I am totally riveted which kept me mostly sane during those late nights.

After a few days in Marbella, we made the trek to Barcelona where Mario taught an international class for a couple days. There were additional social obligations, of course, but the vibe was decidedly more relaxed. I spent those days exploring Barcelona on my own: riding the subway, taking a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus tour, and wandering the historic streets of the city with camera in hand. I plan to give each city a post (or two or three) of its own in the near future.


Two hours of sleep in 36 hours, jet lag that never resolved itself, and concern about our child's lack of submitted homework during our absence caused a fight of epic proportions in the wee hours of our last night in Barcelona. (In the realm of marital discord, this one ranks in our Top 3 for sure. It turns out chronic lack of sleep + social exhaustion + mother-in-law frustration is the recipe for brutal, unabashed honesty. Hashtag real life.) Then there was an altercation between two cab drivers vying to transport us to the airport at 4a: shouts cast in rapid EspaƱol, two hotel employees who watched rather than helping, and a rare glimpse of Mario's anger for the second time in just a few short hours as he tried to help me remove one driver from my personal space. And though the trip was altogether glorious, we departed with little black rain clouds over our heads.

Despite a 10+ hour flight in tight surroundings, we managed to maintain our cool and even shared a laugh or two along the way. (Especially when Husband epically spilled cheese pasta down the front of his shirt and attempted airplane bathroom hand washing.)


We landed in Vancouver, BC and goodness that place turned everything around for us. I'm here to tell you the stereotypes about Canadians being friendly are totally true, as in TSA and customs agents smiling pleasantly and making conversation friendly, and two 30 minute chair massages + two medium Orange Julii later, all was right with our marriage and the world in general. Also, the Vancouver airport has a creek running through it and copious amounts of real foliage and a Victoria's Secret in the event you neglected to pack enough vacation lingerie. I am on the brink of applying to grad school in Canada because I think it might just be my spirit country.

And while I'd love to say my sleeping patterns are peachy-keen and Kiddo's homework is all caught up, I'd be lying. Because life isn't a package that can be wrapped up so succinctly. Overseas travel has a fascinating side effect I often forget: it makes you realize the world is enormous, your problems are small and yada yada yada life is too short to be spent living an inauthentic life. Barcelona has buildings, still very much occupied, that were built centuries before the Puritans settled Boston. There is a cathedral that has been under construction for over 100 years. Our lifespans pale by comparison and yet I'll fret over the 30 minutes it takes to get my tires rotated? The culture is steeped in tradition and belief and it became abundantly clear that I am sorely lacking on both fronts.


This trip made me realize that I want to experience more of what the world has to offer. I want to learn Spanish through immersion, to understand different cultures with real depth. I want to live an authentic life doing whatever it is I'm meant to do, and I'll only find out what that looks like if I start experimenting. After all this time and energy pursuing a singular focus, on any given day I'm no longer 100% sure what my future looks like anymore. I'm less sure than I used to be, that's for sure. But for the first time, I'm not freaked out about it. I realized the only way to know is to shed all those preconceived notions of what my path should look like and start experimenting outside the safety of my self-constructed bubble.

Upon waking the morning after we returned home, I decided to make a genuine attempt at improving my work environment. I composed and constructed a carefully worded email to an antagonistic coworker and cc'd our supervisors. It was bold and decisive and as soon as I pressed "send" I felt relieved and proud as opposed to nervous or anxious. This was a huge leap, though long overdue, and gosh does that feel good. I will complete my requisite 2000 patient care hours in late summer, and I've already starting considering what is next. This essay, which I first read many months ago and have reread many times since, sits in the back of my mind with near constancy. Every time I read it I think, go radical all the way, too, Sarah.


So goes the tale of a woman's trip halfway around the world and how real life managed to find her there. Which didn't rob Spain of its magic or me of my wonder. Life experiences, good and bad, are priceless. And you know what? The unexpected perk of jet lag is the ability to wake naturally at 4a. I'll tell you right now, joining the world at that hour is actually kind of awesome. It gives me 2.5 hours to catch up on my blogroll, make lists, eat a good breakfast, and hang out with my husband before leaving for work. I feel like a superhero at 4a and I like it so much I'm currently brainstorming a plan to make it the norm. Because I'd really like to cross "Become a morning person" off my Bucket List.







Thursday, February 11, 2016

An Ode to Embroidery



I've talked a lot lately about my newest hobby, embroidery. Famously stereotyped as a pastime of the elderly, there are a lot of things I like about it, but most specifically its simplicity, portability and economy. It's something I can do while watching television with the boys or to wind down before bed; I can learn a new stitch in minutes (there seems to be an endless number of stitches which means room for growth and challenge); and it's the least expensive hobby I've ever taken on (I have a laundry list of past hobbies, so I'm somewhat of an authority on these things—just ask my impossibly patient husband). You can bet I'll be bringing a couple of embroidery projects along to pass the time on my 15 hour journey to Spain tomorrow. (I'm getting restless just thinking about it.)

In the interest of efficiency, I decided to compile all of my embroidery must-haves and favorites in one place, rather than continuing to dribble the information throughout many posts. This is a semi-comprehensive list of the people, places and things that have made embroidery my favorite hobby so far. (And the one I actually see myself doing long-term.)


Fabric // I use primarily linen, which comes in a wide variety of colors. It has the natural, rustic look I favor, as does a heavier weight muslin. Just beware that not all fabrics are created equal. For instance, I bought a whole yard of linen fabric for a larger project, but once I got started I realized it had too much give and the fabric began puckering around the heavily stitched areas. (It also wouldn't stay taut in the 14" hoop.) Now I give any fabric I'm considering a rub between my fingers and a little tug before purchasing to make sure it will hold up. This is not to say you can't use regular cotton fabrics! Many of my favorite embroiderers on IG use patterned cotton fabric for some of their simpler pieces. But for what I'm doing I prefer a neutral palate and sturdy fabric, and linen + muslin check all the boxes. All of my fabric has been purchased at local sewing shops, but you can get it at any place that sells fabric. Because I buy small quantities (1/4-1/2 yard, typically), I don't mind paying a bit more to support a local business. Bolt Fabric Boutique and Modern Domestic are both awesome Portland fabric shops.


Thread // Most of my embroidery thread is DMC brand purchased at JoAnn Fabric. I'd love to buy local on this front as well, but smaller shops don't tend to carry the full array of colors. That being said, my local craft store sells Sublime Stitching's thread which is lovely. (I have several of their color packs.) But when I take on a project with a bunch of the DMC numbers listed in the instructions, it's more efficient to go with a big box store. In addition to regular thread, DMC also makes specialty threads like glitter, metallic, and color variation. (The color variation thread is my favorite...it creates a lovely depth of color, especially on leaves and flowers. And although beautiful, glitter/metallic thread is kind of difficult to work with since they are prone to snagging. I'm hoping the thread conditioner I found at a local fabric store will help.) I've also picked up no-name packs of embroidery thread at Fred Meyer when I needed some basic colors in a pinch and they work just fine. I am starting to branch out creatively, and less likely to follow the original color scheme, so I like having a wide selection of colors at my disposal. At 40 cents a bundle, it's still very frugal. (True story: Husband picked up a ton of embroidery floss at a weird estate sale he went to recently. I'm talking a basement full of doll heads weird. They smelled a bit funky and need to be wound around some bobbins, but it has been a great contribution to my collection. He's pretty stellar, that guy.)


Needles // Clover Gold Eye needles for the win.

Hoops // Local craft stores, mostly. I've picked them up at JoAnn's, which is close to my house, but they are actually more expensive there than at my favorite Portland-owned shop. I've found Amazon is not great price-wise, but there are websites that offer them in bulk for cheap. I just don't need that many at one time. I stick to wood hoops because they go with that whole organic theme I like, and I typically pay a buck or two each depending on the size.


Scissors // The first time I took an embroidery project out of the house, I dug out the old portable pen scissors I've had since my 5th grade cross stitch days. (similar) Before that I'd just used the nearest household scissors. The pen scissors were understandably dull, and kitchen scissors cumbersome to carry around, so I sought out a pair that could be sharpened so I may have them for many years to come. I settled on Gingher's 4" embroidery scissors with a leather sheath, which I purchased locally. Owning a good pair of scissors I can tuck in a ziploc with a hoop and some thread has been nice. (Side note: according to TSA guidelines, scissors with blades under 4" are permitted past the security checkpoint. Mine are 4" total. Even so, I haven't decided if I want to take them halfway around the world next week and may instead opt for a cheap pair of round tip school scissors. That overly cautious rule-abiding 5th grader lives on.)


Pattern Transfer // There are a lot of ways to transfer an embroidery pattern on to fabric, tracing being the most common. When I was first learning to embroider by making 3" Christmas ornament hoops, I used my sliding glass door as a light box and traced the pattern onto muslin using a classic water soluble blue fabric pen. It's cheap, easy and simple. However, once my projects got larger and more complex, that method became time consuming and wrought with issues (a circular wreath pattern whose ends didn't match up when I made my way around because the fabric had shifted, for example), and linen isn't easy to see through. I moved on to tracing over a lampshade, but that can get too hot and didn't always work, either. I even had my very own DIY light box fail. Then I learned about water soluble fabric stabilizers and all was well with the world. I will still trace with a fabric pen for small or simple projects, but never again when it comes to large or intricate patterns. I simply print my PDF pattern onto Sulky Fabri-Solvy paper, peel off the backing, and stick it to the fabric. When the project is finished, I remove the fabric from the hoop and soak it in tepid water for a few minutes. The paper dissolves and any lingering pieces stuck in detailed areas gets gently wiped away with a clean toothbrush. I almost gave up on a project I really loved because I couldn't find an effective way to transfer it. (I recently picked up a pack of DMC's embroidery tracing paper which I thought would be good for smaller projects, but I haven't tried it yet. The Amazon reviews aren't instilling much confidence.)

Patterns // I definitely have an embroidery "type": woodland creatures, whimsical themes, and vivid colors. When I stray from this, my interest in embroidery wanes. Fortunately Etsy is chock full of super talented illustrators, embroidery artists, and cross stitchers that create and sell unique patterns. Bonus: PDF versions means instant gratification—no waiting for a pattern to show up in the mail. Some of my favorite sellers are...


littledear // Aimee Ray's book, Doodle Stitching, has been on my shelf since 2008, when learning to embroider was just a pipe dream. It's been my go-to for learning basic stitches along the way. I completed her Ship in a Bottle and Cuckoo Clock hoops and enjoyed every minute spent stitching them. (You can see her sketches, handmade embroidered dolls and little felt critters on IG. They are, like, totes adorbs.)

Satsuma Street // Although I primarily focus on embroidery, she has the most incredible cross stitch patterns I've ever seen. Her "Pretty Little" series featuring cities around the world is just, well, gosh.


Bustle and Sew //  Their Alice in Wonderland White Rabbit hoop is the large, detailed pattern I've alluded to several times in this post, but it is hands down one of my favorite designs ever. I came to realize I simply needed a little more experience and better tools and now I'm ready to tackle it. Also, I'm going to work it in sections using a smaller hoop for better fabric tautness. I can't wait to see how this one turns out. It may just be my embroidery opus.


cozyblue // Her designs are sweet and simple and I absolutely adore them. I've made her Sea Captain, Crafty Fox, and Bunny Boy so far. She's my go-to when I want to get back to basics because her patterns embody everything I love about embroidery.


Sublime Stitching // This brand has just about everything: thread, patterns, tutorials, textiles, and tools. I've picked up packs of their iron-on transfers locally and also ordered some PDF versions from the website. (Many of her other products can be found at local craft stores as well.) I used her Christmas Time and The Black Apple characters for some of my ornaments and was so happy with how they turned out. Her patterns tend to be edgier than most, but I like them for their uniqueness and ability to lend themselves to customization and artistic interpretation.

iHeartStitchArt // I'm a big fan of her simple flora + fauna designs. They remind me of vintage nature books, of which I'm particularly fond of. The monochromatic feel of white stitching on dark fabric is so lovely.

jennyblairart // She incorporates pretty bits of fabric into her designs, a skill I'm eager to tackle. On my short list is her bear and bird pattern.

HugSandwich // Her pop culture cross stitch patterns blow my mind. Totally amazing. Kiddo finished a little cross stitch kit he picked up in Seattle a year ago and decided to move on to her Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy pattern. I want to make all of these. (Harry Potter! Alice in Wonderland! He Man! Gah!)

She only sells finished hoops, but Sarah K. Benning is my embroidery idol. She freehand sketches directly onto fabric with a pencil and creates insanely beautiful designs.

Femmebroidery's wildlife hoops are gorgeous! She was my motivation for learning how to embroider flowers. I am crushing hard on her embroidery skills. Cinder & Honey is another crush. (IG is chock full of inspiring embroiderists.) (Is that a word?)

Tutorials // I'll be honest, when I picked up my first hoop I was a total novice. I had no idea what even the most common stitches were called, let alone how to do them. Now I have a decent skill set that allows me to tackle most designs. And when I don't know, there are a zillion how-to guides and books at my disposal. Some good websites for help are Sublime Stitching, Purl Soho, and DMC's website. Most often I just google "xyz stitch tutorial" and there are always a plethora of websites and YouTube videos eager to show me the way. (True story: I desperately wanted to learn how to make the incredible 3D flowers Maria uses on her hoops but had no idea what they were called. I googled every possible word combination that included "embroidery" and "flowers" until I finally figured it out. In case you're wondering, it's called the "woven spider wheel stitch" and it's rocking my world.)

In the realm of books, there's the aforementioned Doodle Stitching series by Aimee Ray which are really helpful and align with my whimsical style. I also own Storyland Cross Stitch by Sophie Simpson which I absolutely love. Woodland creatures for daaaays. (I just discovered she has another book, Secret Garden Embroidery, which is going into my virtual shopping cart posthaste.) I don't own Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, but it may make its way to my bookshelf. It looks pretty darn comprehensive.


Organization // Split strands, ratty piles of unraveled skeins, lost DMC numbers... the embroidery floss struggle is real. To keep my supplies (mostly) wrangled, I bought a wire basket during our trip to Seattle. (similar) It houses a small, flat plastic tote full of miscellaneous supplies, extra hoops, fabric, and a plain manila folder which holds my printed instructions/patterns. I purchased plastic bobbins and enlisted the boys in helping me wind the aforementioned thread haul Husband bought me. (This will take a while.)  I did the same with all the skeins that have come undone. I use a fine tip Sharpie to mark the DMC color number in the corner of the bobbin. Hopefully this will help curtail duplicate thread purchases. Eventually I plan organize them by color for easy access, though this is certainly a long-term goal.

Are you still with me? Oh, good. This was a doozy!

Have tips, tricks or favorites? Share! Also, embroidery + a rambunctious feline friend? A practice in patience, for sure.