Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jess's Girl

Know what's amazing? When a girl you grew up with is having a baby. I first met my dear friend Jess when she was 15 years old, on the first day of rehearsals for Into the Woods. She rocked a really cool bowl cut and swooped in to take the lead as the Baker's Wife with her booming, gorgeous voice. Naturally, we were all intrigued. Over the years, I've watched her grow out of that bowl cut and into a smart, gorgeous, fashionable New Yorker. She's mean and compassionate and hilarious all at once, and she's one of my favorite people. So naturally, she's going to be a great mom.

For Jess's little girl, I wanted to make something sweet, but not too sweet, and not just any old thing would do. So after much consideration, I decided to make her a very simple little quilt and a very cuddly little stuffed mouse. (And I cannot tell you how happy I was when I visited Jess and Ryan's new apartment and found that they were painting the baby's room seafoamy blue  and wanted to decorate with pink  accents. YES!)
For the quilt, the hardest part was picking the fabrics. When I saw this pale pink polka dot, it absolutely spoke to me. The border could have gone lots of different ways...a blue stripe? A solid yellow? But no, this floral was the match I was looking for. (I may have squealed a little bit when I held the two fabrics together at the shop.)
I used the polka dot fabric for the front and back--two yards is the perfect amount for a 36" x 44" baby quilt. Just fold the fabric in half and cut it down the fold. Slip some batting between the two pieces and you're ready to pin the layers together! The actual quilting could not be easier. It's just long rows of wavy lines, about two inches apart, and to make them you just let the quilt meander back and forth as you push it beneath the foot. Once you've quilted the blanket, you add your binding and you're all set. 
The mouse doll was more of an impulse creation. The blanket needed a friend! Years ago I edited a sweet little book called Kata Golda's Hand-Stitched Felt, which features a whole family of stuffed animal projects, and the author sent me a kit for making this mouse girl. (You can buy your own kit here!) You just cut out the felt pieces and whipstitch all around them--the sloppier the better!--and then you stuff the mouse's head and body and sew them together. I finished this little girl in one night, and it was so so so fun.
The scariest part, of course, is sewing the face. But you really can't go wrong. I gave Jess's mouse girl a sneaky little smile, because I can already tell that her daughter is going to be just a wee bit mischievous. 
Finally, to top it all off, I made a gag-worthy matching card to go with the gift. I know! It was too much! But sometimes I can't stop myself. Especially when I'm happy for someone. And I could not be happier for Jess and Ryan.

Come on, December 13! Let's meet this girl already!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Art & Editing

As Robb and I walked through the Met last weekend, we started to get into that lovely hour-three rhythm, where you stop reading every placard and accept that you aren't going to see everything. We spent far too long looking at a medieval crossbow and breezed right by the Monets, not really feeling too enthused about all that pastel. Right about the time our legs were starting to ache and we were searching the map for anything that contains the words "wine" or "lounge," we entered a room packed with people on a guided tour, all of them snapping photos of this painting. 

I thought to myself, is that a Vermeer? Is that the Girl with the Pearl Earring? And upon closer inspection, she was painted by Vermeer and she did indeed seem to have a pearl-ish bobble hanging from her lobe. But that face...I felt like I would have remembered such a ghoulish little girl. I snapped a photo on my iPhone so I could do further research (over a glass of wine) and we got the heck out of that crowded room.

As it turns out, it was not, in fact, the celebrated Girl with a Pearl Earring painting (she's down below). But the styling is so similar, the turn of the face, and the streamers hanging from the crown of her head. I almost wonder if she was Vermeer's practice model. Was he just gearing up for the main event? Though no information seems to exist on who these girls are (except the more famous one is clearly Scarlett Johansson), I did find it interesting to learn that Vermeer did not consider these paintings to be portraits—he described them as tronies, which means expression. He wanted to capture the suggestion of a personality and highlight unusual features. The Met website calls her face haunting, and I would have to agree. I also love this: "The essential element in many of Vermeer's pictures—the viewer's curiosity about a young woman's thoughts, feelings, or character—is found here in deceptively simple form."
I like this "essential element" in Vermeer's paintings so much that I've decided to borrow it in my own art form. Last week, I finished writing a very long short story (too skinny for a novella, too fat for short fiction...will she settle on a size in time for prom?). The main character in this story is a very lost woman, though I find her beautiful. And as I read through my sister's edits on my first draft, I'm trying to keep the character's visage in mind. Her unusual features, her perplexing behavior, and ultimately (hopefully) her redemption. I hope to be subtle, yet colorful and full of light. It is my ultimate goal to engage the reader's curiosity about this woman's thoughts, feelings, or character--all in a deceptively simple form. For that reminder, I will go ahead and thank Vermeer.