Homemade Hygge

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We have daffodils! 

Well today is April 1st and the Winter Storm Warning just expired for our neck of the woods.  However, a look outside shows the “wintry mix” continuing unrelented.  Despite the fact that it has officially been spring for a few weeks, Southwest Colorado is apparently still making up its mind between the seasons.  Such is life down here where the last 3 Memorial Days have been snowstorms.  I like to think of the positives to all the moisture:  that our well will not run dry, that we will not experience horrible wildfires and that one day soon we will have a week of solid sun to rejoice in.

This year the new buzz word around design and house circles has been hygge (hoo-gah), a concept very loosely translated from Danish to mean “coziness in life”.  There are dozens of books and blogs espousing how living a life full of hygge can bring greater happiness not only through a long winter but throughout the year.  And the Danes should know, they are consistently ranked one of the happiest countries every year.  So in the spirit of embracing hygge, here are some of the ways I’ve adopted the concept for my own home.

One :  Quilts
This means both the creation of and use of quilts.  Winter is the perfect time to spend a lot of time on the sewing machine.  I get the majority of my quilting done during the cold months because when the days are long and the weather temperate, I am outside enjoying nature.  Winter is the perfect time to wrap up in the all of the quilts.  Quilts adorn our couch downstairs and make a huge difference in warmth on top of our duvet cover in bed.  We do our best to keep our energy costs low, and quilts can warm you up fast and free.  In short, quilts make winter tolerable.

Two:  Books
Books, like quilts, are a year round activity.  But in the winter, there are days when you’ve finished a round of shoveling and you get to just be for a few hours with a good book under a quilt. Winter is a great time to read those big books, the ones that are 500 pages plus because you are home so much and you don’t have to cart them around.   You can lose yourself in a book without that feeling of indoor guilt, the feeling that the weather is so nice you should be doing something else.

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Three:  Warm cute socks
When it is cold out warming up your feet is a great way to feel cozy all over.  Winter is when I break out the hand knit socks lovingly crafted by my boyfriend’s talented grandmother.  Warm socks and slippers are the simplest way to feel toasty on a cold day.

Four:  Big warm drinks
Last fall I got a newish espresso machine from the thrift store for $5.  In the warmer months, I don’t want a big drink in the morning but come winter, especially on weekend mornings, I like to sit with my big drink and just savor it.  Typically my weekday mornings do not allow for this luxury as I leave the house at 6:30, but the weekends are for indulging in a big drink.  Also, hot chocolate with a shot of brandy is the most amazing thing after a long session of shoveling.  Especially once you put on warm dry socks and sit under a quilt.  (There is obviously a lot of overlap here.)

Five:  Sleeping
Animals can hibernate, why can’t people?  With the dark days, there is no guilt in getting in some extra sleep.  Winter is a time of respite and rest for the natural world and it should be for us too.  Some nights, the 8 pm bedtime is simply the best.

Six:  Cooking with and without a crock pot
Winter too is the time where we bake more bread, cook those labor intensive meals and eat heartily.  Cooking encompasses a good part of our household entertainment in the winter.  Also, we recently procured our first crock pot (also at the thrift store and also for $5) and that thing is a total miracle.  It is so wonderful to put stuff in and come home hours later to a meal already made and a delicious smelling home.  We have made some incredible meals in the crock pot:  pot roast, pulled pork, various chilis, posole, Tikka Masala, chicken burrito bowls and whole turkeys.   I like to prep all of my food the night before so that in the morning, I can simply dump in all of the chopped ingredients and head out the door with minimal effort. The crock pot has certainly made our winter much more tasty.

Seven:  Fake candles
I remember when battery operated candles came out and they looked so fake.  Well a mere few years later and thanks to the advancement of LED bulbs, I am officially a fan of fake candles.  I managed to get all of ours at the thrift store and they give off a pleasant light.  I have a set in our bedroom and on super stressful days post work, I like to lay on the bed with the candles aglow and my Himalayan salt lamp lit and do some deep breathing/meditation.  I call this my drama detox and it works.  The faux candles make the house feel cozy without a ton of effort.  Also, they are safe.

Eight:  Showers at night with lavender
We get a very early start in the morning and many mornings, our routine also involves shoveling.  I began taking my showers at night and it totally changed my mornings.  Suddenly I was not having wet hair and feeling further behind in time.  Also, showering at night feels like a good way to end the day, to rinse away the past.  I like to sprinkle a few drop of lavender oil on the bottom of the tub to help relax me even more.

So these are the primary ways I’ve incorporated hygge into our home to make the winter more enjoyable.  The true concept of hygge can be translated to be year round and I am certainly looking forward to embracing it with backyard bbqs and long weekends curled up in the tent.  It is very easy to embrace the seasons and make all four cozy and happy.

2017 Resolution Review

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Taken January 2, 2017

In January of 2017, I committed to the intention of using what I have.  Almost 2 months in, here is what I’ve accomplished so far with my commitment.

I resolved to use more of the food that I have before I go and procure more.  This has been relatively easy because I have a lot of good ingredients at my disposal in both my freezer and my pantry.  I think the stand out freezer concoction thus far was a wild turkey posole.  (Posole is a southwestern stew with hominy.) We had some leftover frozen turkey from Thanksgiving, a batch of hominy left over from previous soups and some frozen red chile paste.  I added some fresh onion and spices and let this simmer in the crock pot for a few hours.  It was a great meal and came entirely out of my freezer.  We strive to never waste food so my resolution hasn’t been too revolutionary, but it is a great way to challenge yourself.  We call these meals “Iron Chef”  challenges because you take the random ingredients you’ve got and you can come up with some pretty awesome things — often a one-time meal that can never again be replicated.

As much as I love and patronize my local library, I have really enjoyed grabbing books off of my shelves that I’ve collected over time.  The majority of the books are ones that I have picked up at the thrift store for less than a dollar and they have provided me with hours of enjoyment.  I now have these books in a read stack that I am either going to donate back or pass along to friends for reading.  It has been great, especially during this winter, to be able to peruse my own library, grab a book in my PJs and cuddle up on the couch under a quilt.  I used to keep all of my books carting all of them around proudly for years, but now I am happy to let many of them move on to another house and be used instead of just stagnant on an overcrowded shelf.  A couple of years back, I started a book journal where I write down every book I read.  I do some commentary, or I jot down poignant passages, but this journal has in a sense been able to replace my big stack of books.   I’ve also opened up my cd binder and pulled out some real gems to listen to instead of just defaulting to online radio.  It’s amazing how music can make one so nostalgic and also how it can create a certain mood.  I’ve been experimenting with quilting to different music to see if it impacts the way in which I quilt.  So far I do not have any definitive proof that music effects my stitching, but this has been a less than rigorous examination of this correlation.

 

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A back-up baby blanket

I have been very diligent with the use of materials I already have.  I found 4 skeins of yarn that were given to me as a gift that I am making into a very simple blocked baby blanket.  I made so many baby blankets last year that it seems pragmatic to have an extra one lying around for a future gift.  This hasn’t challenged my knitting skill set in the least, but it is a project that uses materials I already own.

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Free motion on ikat

I have been more successful with trying new skills and using up materials in my quilting.  Part of this education has been through my monthly art quilting group.  This group challenges me to think outside of the traditional and to try all sorts of new techniques.  (All of the skills I’m learning is an entirely different blog post/posts.)  One project I made is a baby quilt for my cousin out of ikat fabric in my stash wherein I quilted two identical yards together without any piecing or blocks.  This is the same idea as the quilt in a day, but this time, I free motioned around the ikat pattern in the blanket and it took me more than a day.  Because this fabric was so dynamic, it is hard to tell the level of detail that was involved from afar but it was a great practice project for me to get more comfortable with free motion quilting.  I have also made 2 very different log cabins out of scraps.  The smaller of the two is made entirely out of scraps that I had lying around and did not cut — I simply laid them out and let the design be very organic.  This quilt got sent to a friend living in the Baltics who longs to build her own tiny log cabin out of reclaimed materials when she gets back to the States.  Her dream was my inspiration for the quilt.  My second log cabin is very measured and based off of a pattern that uses 1-inch scrap pieces.  I’ve made several of these and always enjoy how the randomness of scraps creates an entirely different quilt each time.  This quilt will be heading north to Alaska where a couple of dear friends are moving for work (and adventure!).  I could easily make dozens more of these projects and still have remaining scraps of fabric.  Also, because of the size of these quilts, I’ve been able to use leftover batting scraps stitched together.  All three of these projects were made without spending any money.

We have been ever grateful for all of the time we are able to spend enjoying our nearby public lands.  Lately it has been mostly nordic skiing, but we have also enjoyed some crisp late winter hikes as well.  We are both stewards of our public lands and hope that the access to these precious resources never changes.  However, in this uncertain time, we have realized just how important and necessary this land is to us and we are taking full advantage of it while land still remains public.

So far, this intention/resolution/commitment has been a good challenge and a relatively easy mindset for me to adopt.  I am still buying fresh groceries, and I still spend money at the local quilt shop and thrift store, but it is very comforting to know that everything I need, I already have.  I do not feel limited by my intention in any way and the more I practice this habit, the more I have ingrained this practice into my everyday mindset.

A Goal for 2017 and for Life

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Looking Ahead and Beyond

We are in the midst of the constant barrage of New Year’s resolutions — to be thinner, wealthier, more youthful appearing.  Everywhere you look or listen, you can be promised that 2017 is the year that you become a better self.  And while I think that self improvement is very important, I do not believe that we all have to strive for the aforementioned ideals.  I am all for bettering my health and boosting my savings account but I think that the New Year’s resolution as such sets many people up for not succeeding.  In my first yoga class of 2017, my teacher brought this up:  the difference between a resolution and a goal (or intention).  With a resolution, it is as if you feel that you must absolutely fulfill this one thing, without any room for being human.  With a goal, you set up for something that you work toward over time.  With this difference in mind, I have chosen to work toward a goal for not only 2017, but for the rest of my life.  It is simply to use what I have.

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A Creative Closet Door

This goal may sound simplistic but it is actually quite expansive.  For starters, as a creative person always striving to learn more and try more, I have decided that instead of taking on new hobbies I am going to use the skills that I have and build upon them.  This means learning more complicated knitting techniques including sweaters, socks and lace.  It means learning new quilting techniques and retaining them, especially all of the different things I’m learning in my art quilting group. (Side note:  the above picture is of our new “closet door” made from blocks I’ve had sitting around since a defunct block of the month club 3 years ago.  These were just sitting in a box until I decided to unearth them and use them.  Now every day we no longer have to look at our clothes, but instead this nice piece.)  This includes utilizing my newly remodeled sewing room as my own creative space, a luxury that not many people have.  I am going to keep on taking pictures and learning from experience and library books.  I know that in delving deeper into the skills I have instead of getting involved in another hobby that I only know and don’t excel at, I can still learn and experiment with the solid foundation I already possess.

Using what I have also extends to the kitchen.  Before I make a grocery list based upon we’re craving and what’s on sale, I will first visit our pantry and our freezer.  I will shop from home before I shop from the store.  Fortunately for me, this is pretty easy because we have a freezer full of Hatch green chiles and Olathe corn and a pantry full of basmati rice, Anasazi beans and home canned tomatoes and pickles.  We are fortunate to have food security and we can easily supplement what we have and make nourishing meals.  Chances are that some of our recipe experiments will be flops and that is okay.  It will allow us to use our creativity in the kitchen instead of simply relying upon the grocery store.

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The Household Library/Staircase/Rock Collection

My goal includes using all of the possessions I currently have.  I will wear that nicer dress to work more just because I can.  I will wear the jewelry that I have, wear the (old but functional) cashmere sweater on the weekends and read all of the books I own.  I have books on my shelf (well, stair landing) that I have been carting along for years.  It is time to grab those and curl up under a quilt!   I’ve also been listening to some of my old cds (remember those?) and it has been really fun.  It is amazing how many lyrics I remember from things I’ve had for 10 or 15 years.  I will burn the candles at a Wednesday night meal because what I have is meant to be used.  I will grind up the fancy coffee on a weekday morning.  It is easy to see our stuff as precious and forget about the original utility of our things.  As a continually striving minimalist, I don’t want to have things that just sit around, I want everything in my house and my life to have a purpose.  If I find something that no longer serves a need (I believe Marie Kondo calls this “sparks joy”), then it needs to go someplace else.  I want our home to be full of only the things that are used and that add to our lives, nothing that has long since served it purpose.

So, my seemingly simple goal to use what I have is actually a very large and overarching lifetime enhancer.  It will be something that I work towards in 2017 and probably for the rest of my life.  It is a goal that can be added on to and one that also allows for me to be the human that I am.

The $1.25 Quilt Top

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Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.

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25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.

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Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.

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Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.

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Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

Same Quilt, Different Fabrics

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The PBQ

Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.

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My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.

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The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.

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Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.

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The original pea quilt

A Quilt in a Day *

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The finished project

 

* Okay, so this wasn’t pieced but it was quilted — and completed — in a day!

I have been on a baby blanket binge lately; it seems as if everyone around me starting having babies at the same time.  I have spent countless hours knitting blankets in the yurt and on my lunch hour but when I found the above fabric (11 yards for $8 at the thrift store, thank you very much!). I knew that after so much knitting, I wanted to try something different.  Conveniently my newborn niece has a room decorated in green and raspberry, so this bright fabric is perfect.

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Basting away

I have done a few quilts with free motion quilting and want to do more to perfect the skill.  It is intimidating to take a pieced top that you’ve spent oodles of time and money on and essentially practice quilting it.  This project seemed like a good opportunity to get some practice in and have a quick baby present made.  I started by basting the two pieces of fabric and batting with multitudes of pins.  Once the piece was basted, I was ready to sew.

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And we’re quilting

The nice thing about practicing on a blanket of this size is that you don’t have a lot of excess fabric to move around and impede progress.  Compared to the other quilts I’ve done, this was finished in a matter of a couple of hours.  Tuned into a jazz station, I let the music inspire my swirly stitching pattern.  Also, because the blanket is two sides of this strong fabric pattern, I didn’t have to worry about any stitches that were less than perfect being blatantly obvious.  I finished up the project with some complementary bright pink binding and by the end of a weekend day, I had a completed blanket and felt more comfortable with my free motion skills.  With 9 more yards of fabric to go, I think that a few more of these will be in my future, probably for charity but perhaps as back-up gifts for the when the next round of babies strikes.

 

 

 

The Simple Joy of Binding

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I know that this may sound strange to some of the quilters out there, but I find great joy in  binding my quilts.  After all of the (countless) hours of cutting and sewing and quilting are complete, finishing the binding of a quilt by hand allows the quilter the opportunity to test the quilt out (if working on your lap) and to savor the accomplishment of a another big project well done.

There are so many modern techniques that we employ today:  machine piecing, fancy rulers, long arm quilting, that binding by hand seems to be one of the few traditional techniques.  And yet this is the one time where we really get to sit with our completed piece and be with it before it goes to a new home.  Binding is like the grande finale when you get to see all of your effort come together into something really unique and special.

Despite the fact that I nick my thumb constantly and must steer clear of citrus for days after hand binding, I relish the time to just be with the quilt.