Dahlia daydreams and a little bit of printmaking

dahlias by ephpyle

If you’re addicted to looking at flower photography on instagram like I am, you’ll know it’s still dahlia season. (See #dahliaseason.)  My own garden dahlias disappointed me this year. I picked up the plants at a local garden center without paying much attention to the variety and I ended up with these short, mottled white and magenta flowers.(above) They still look pretty enough, but I found the high contrast of bright pink and white together a bit jarring and I didn’t like the way they looked with other flowers.

dahlias of 2014 by ephpyle

In past years, I’ve grown softer pink and yellow dahlias, like these flowers from 2014 (above and below).

bright dahlia by ephpyle

So, I’m already dreaming about what I’m going to plant next year. So far, I’m thinking about ‘café au lait’, ‘apple blossom’, or some type of pompon dahlias like ‘Eveline’, all pictued below. (Photos are not mine – they’re from wikimedia commons, details and links at the end of this post.) If you have any particular favorite dahlia varieties to recommend for growing next year, I’m all ears.

My daydreams also led me to make some dahlia-inspired white line wood cuts.

dahlia white line print by ephpyle

Clearly, pink dahlias have been on my mind. I wanted these prints to be softly colored but now, when I look at them in comparison to photos of real dahlias, they look positively washed out and I’m not sure what I want… Other than to grow more and different dahlias next summer.

dahlia white line print 2 by ephpyle

Photo credits for dahlias I’ve never grown:

Cafe au lait dahlia:  Mark Twyning (Marktee1) via wikimedia commons

Dahlia ‘apple blossom’ : Mark Twyning (Marktee1) via wikimedia commons

Dahlia “eveline’ : Mark Twyning (Marktee1) via wikimedia commons

Hello, September!

new england wild flowersHello. Its been a while. Turns out, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was going to spend a lot of time on instagram, rather than blogging. I hope you had a lovely summer. Despite my silence here, I had a wonderful summer, filled with garden puttering, flowers, plenty of beach time, and a few fun projects.

cosmos wreath

I did a little bit of silk screening, and some more white line printing.

succulent white line prints

I developed a temporary obsession with seaweed.

sea weed collage from bottle branch

I enjoyed a Japanese wood block printing class, as well as a trip to Japan. I am a lucky girl, I know.

This summer also felt transformative. I spent some time thinking about where to go with my creative endeavors, and where to go with this blog. I’m still figuring those two things out, but for now, it feels good to be back. I hope you had a wonderful summer and thanks for sticking around!

lilliput zinnias from bottle branch

Making the most of summer abundance and instagram

plum island phototaker ephpyle

Every summer, I  develop an obsession with Instagram. Last August, I found myself rising early to catch the morning light, planning family outings to picturesque locales and filling my instagram feed with landscapes.

This summer, the photography passion has returned, but instead of landscapes, I’ve been focused on flowers and gardening. I’ve been snapping photos, editing photos, posting photos and dreaming of photos of flowers, plants, gardens.

gathered bouquet ephpyle

I cannot stop thinking about how to best capture my garden flowers in bouquets…

hydrangea and ferns ephpyle

… in styled scenes…

dramatic flowers ehpyle

…in dramatic lighting…

garden puttering ephpyle

or on site, in the garden.

I am astonished at how many hours I can fritter away snapping photos of flowers and plants, dreaming up creative projects, and quite honestly it makes my head spin. I’m happy to know I’m not alone, as, photographer Kim Klassen recently posted. Kim suggested it might be the longer days. I wonder if the lush, vibrant plant growth and bright summer light stir something within us, a primal need to make the most of the abundance of summer(For me, it might also be related to my children being off at camp for a few weeks, but that’s so… practical.)

My current instagram obsession has pushed some of my other projects to the back burner, but like all true summer romances, I know it can’t last. For one thing, I’m taking a printmaking class next week. That should help shift my focus if nothing else. Until then, see you on Instagram!

stewartia blossoms ephpyle

Giddy with garden flowers


I’m giddy about gardening right now. I feel like the expression “embarrassment of riches” was coined for me, for this afternoon, when I came home from Maryland, with an arm full of hydrangeas, and found my yard still filled with peonies.abundant flowers 2015

What lush abundance! What a thrill it was to to gather these flowers together. I also cut a few scabiosa, but my clippers never made it near the foxglove, mountain laurel, or other blooms that had popped open in my abscence. I put down those clippers and went to find my camera instead.

pale pink peony

I frittered away far too much time taking photos of flowers this afternoon, but it was fun. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos half as much as I enjoyed taking them.

blue hydrangeas

I’ll probably post a few more photos of these beauties in my instagram feed, because, like I said, I’m delighted, enamored, giddy with garden flowers. Join me there!

peonies and hydrangea

more pink peonies


Confessions of a lucet owner

using a lucet

Have I told you I’m the owner of a lucet? Probably not. It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in conversation. Or blogging. Also, it’s not exactly the coolest subject. But here it is – a simple little tool used to make cording.

On a trip to colonial Williamsburg last summer, I first caught site of a lucet, alongside thread winders, knotting shuttles, and other nearly-obsolete notions. Like this 18th century ‘pocket book‘, I knew I had to give the lucet a try.

I bought mine here, and struggled with various online tutorials to figure out how to use it. (If you ever find yourself wanting to learn, I liked this tutorial.) Most recently, I used my lucet on this embroidered felt needle book.

needlebook and needles

If you’re a regular reader, the embroidery will look familiar to you. This one, I made for myself, so I could throw out the plastic bag I’ve been using to store embroidery needles.

I jumped into the project without fully planning it. In the end, I had managed to design and execute the entire needle book without considering how it would be held closed when not in use. That’s where the lucet comes in.

needlecase with button

I found a button to apply to one side and then used my lucet to make a little cord loop to go over the button. So there you go, it might be a bit frumpy and obscure, but that little lucet came in handy after all.

needlecase with needles

Tutorial: bargello needlepoint iphone case

bargello iphone case completed

Finally! I’m posting a detailed tutorial on how to make a needlepoint iphone case. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know I have a thing for hand-stitched iphone cases, and it won’t be a surprise to know I recently made yet another one.

This phone case was a present for a beloved babysitter and this time, I took photos of the process. Now, several months later, I’ve finally managed to edit the photos and string them together to make this tutorial.

If you’re here because you’re a loyal reader, friend, or possibly because you’re my mother, you are excused from wading through the rest of this post, which will consist of diagrammatic photos and pragmatic text on constructing a phone case from needlepoint canvas. (Thank you for reading! I promise to try for something more entertaining next time!)

If you’re here because you want to see how to make a phone case like this, please, read on!

1 iphone case tutorial

Start by cutting two rectangles of needlepoint canvas. I cut mine rougly 8 inches by 5 and a quarter inches. This includes extra canvas to hem the edges.  I like to use interlocking canvas, but if you want to know more about canvas types, here’s a little description of a few types of needlepoint canvas typically available in the USA.

2 iphone case tutorialCut notches in the corners and then fold over the edges, lining the holes up.

3 iphone case tutorial

Stitch down the folded edges, but be careful not to block the holes since you’ll be stitching them later.

4 iphone case tutorial

Then, stitch away with you favorite needlepoint pattern. I copied this bargello pattern from a piece I made last year: you can read more detail about this Jonathan Adler inspired pattern in my “Beginner’s Bargello” post.  I like using a bargello because you don’t really have to worry about the number of squares in the canvas, or finding an exact center to begin stitching.

5 iphone case tutorial

Make sure the patterns on the two sides work together, since they’ll be connected in the end. In this case, I made the halves mirror images of one another. But it might also be fun to have them be related but different, like same exact pattern but with the colors switched around.

6 iphone case tutorial

Once the two needlepoint canvas sides are stitched, Its time to sew the lining in. Cut two rectangles of lining material the same size as your stitched panels. (I used wool felt.) Then use regular thread to baste the lining panel to the stitched canvas along the edges. Don’t worry if this stitching is sloppy – you’ll cover it up in the end.

6.5 iphone case tutorial

The next step will be to apply binding material. I used 1″ red wool twill tape for this piece. I’ve written before about the reproduction needlework at Colonial Williamsburg, and how it inspired me to seek out natural materials. I found this wool twill tape  at William Booth, Draper, though I might also try Wooded Hamlet Designs another time.

7 iphone case tutorial

Starting with what will be the upper edges of the finished case, pin strips of binding along the edge, leaving a few inches sticking out on either end.

8 iphone case tutorial

Stitch this binding down, making sure the binding tape covers the unstitched white canvas along the edge.

9 iphone case tutorial

You can see that I wasn’t too particular about the extra length of binding. I probably could have saved a little material by allowing only an inch on either end.

10 iphone case tutorial

Next, tuck the binding ends in between the lining and needlepointed canvas. (You may have to undo a little of your earlier basting – I did.) Make sure it folds more or less symmetrically so it looks intentional, rather than haphazard. Sew the tucked end firmly in place.

needlepoint phone case tutorial

You’re almost there! Once all the ends are tucked and sewn, its time to sew the two sides together with the binding tape. First, take the two sides of the phone case and sandwich them together, with the lining inward, and needlepoint canvas on the outside. Then, you’ll need to pin the binding tape around the outside edges, covering the white canvas edges of the needlpoint. The starting end is a little bit tricky. (Shown below.)

12 iphone case tutorial

Take one end of your roll of binding tape and notch the corners. Not shown: I also ran a few stitches through the end to prevent raveling.  Pinch the two havles of the phone case tightly together and take your folded binding tape end, and wrap it around the two sides, with the notched end folded to the inside. Be sure to line the top of the folded binding tape up with the tucked corners of the top bindings. Pin that in place but don’t start stitching yet. Its super thick, as you can see, so I used a safety pin to keep it in place while I pinned arround the rest of the edges.

13 iphone case tutorial

Wrap the binding tape around the two halves of the piece, pinning it in place as you go. I used safety pins for the corners and straight pins for the sides. Repeat the same folded over end and pinning at the other top corner. (Described above.) Once its all pinned, you can stitch the binding down. Make sure your thread goes through all four layers – Needlepoint canvas, lining 1, lining 2, and needlepoint canvas 2. Also, make sure the binding edge reaches the stiched canvas edge so that the white edge of canvas doesn’t show through. It can require a firm hand, but you can do it!

14 iphone case tutorial

Now, there it is, almost done! There are lots to ways you could finish it off now, but I’m going to share what I did.

15 iphone case tutorial

I always like to have a loop for a caribiner clip, so I can clip my keys to it and clip it to my purse. I made one here with a double strip of binding tape, sewn together and then sewn into the top opening. I used a double strip because in my expereince that is the thing that wears out first, especially if you like ot have it dangling from a clip a lot.

16 open phone case

While sewing in the ring, I also sewed the opening shut at that point and a tiny bit at the other end, so the opening would not be the full length of the case. I hope that will keep a phone from falling out.

Now comes the only part I can’t remember – what I used as a closure. To hold it closed, I sewed either a few snaps or some velcro just inside the lining. Either would work just fine.

There you go, one iphone case complete. I hope you’ll give it a try!

bargello iphone case completed for pinning



Summertime white line prints

white line printing

I’m so excited to share these new white line prints, and I’ll be the first to admit that they are a little outside my usual range. Usually, I’m mucking around in natural greens and brown for plant-inspired printing, so I must have been craving the simple bright colors, just as all of us have been craving sunshine after a long cold winter. IMG_0771

Working from old instagram photos, I chose two beach-related shots. Can you tell I’m ready for summer?

beach umbrella

First, I carved and printed this simple beach umbrella photo. Carving so many converging lines has some challenges, but I’m happy to say I persevered. I particularly like the mottled effect the printing process left in the sky section of the print.

white line print beach umbrella

This same effect also enhances the look of the next print I worked on, of these vintage-y, semi-rusted beach buckets. I was really happy with the way this print was coming along, and even posted my progress on instagram.

white line printing buckets

When it came the background, though, I lost my way. In the photo that inspired this print, the buckets sit on a painted step, but I wasn’t sure that would read very well in the print, so I split the background with an arbitrary horizon. Bad idea.


Thankfully, I didn’t actually carve the area around the buckets, so I can change it on my next print. Still, I have to figure out how to treat that background. I have some ideas, but I’m all ears if you have any suggestions.

Springtime garden dreaming

native withch havelJPG

Hello. It’s been a while.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been busy. I’ve been attending year end performances, cleaning out the garage, transporting children, filling out permission slips, trying to get a squeaky faucet fixed, and so on. And, of course, I’ve also been busy in my garden.

I started seeds, watched them grow, carried them in and out of the house to harden them off, and now, just this week, planted them outside.

I pruned a dozen inkberry bushes and then luxuriated in the resulting clippings and their glossy foliage and even made a wreath from the cuttings. Sadly, the wreath was a failure, as it turned brown about 24 hours after I hung it in my house, and before I took a photos of the final product, but the project was fun.

I’ve been Instagraming the flowers that have emerged in my garden and trying not to get too excited in anticipation of the ones I hope will bloom soon. (You never know when tragedy may stike in the form of a garden pest.)

I’ve been puttering, planting, and scheming about how to keep the rabbits from eating everything that’s not contained in the fenced enclosure around my vegetable patch. I’ve been thinking about moving some ferns and what to plant in their place.

may apple flower

I’ve been admiring my mayapple which came back five times bigger this year than last. In short, I’ve been happily caught up planning and dreaming in my garden, caught up in the spirit of spring. Happily, I am now caught up here on my blog as well. Happy spring my friends! I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

hot pink peony

Books that changed me: Sula by Toni Morrison

classic books on shelf

Are you a re-reader? I don’t think of myself as one, but  along with my book club, I’ve re-read a few classic books: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and The Great Gatsby. We plan to read more.

After recently writing about five novels that changed me, I decided to embark on a new, more personal re-reading project. I’m re-visiting books that mattered deeply to me in my childhood, adolescence or young adult life but might not be quite so well known and/or universally loved. (In other words, books I might not be able to convince my book club to read along with me.) I’m calling this project Books that Changed Me.

When picking a list of  books that changed me, Sula, by Toni Morrison was at the top of my list, but when I tried to recall details, I realized how little I recalled of the plot. I only remembered how I felt transformed when I read it as assigned high school summer reading, circa 1987. Sula would never have made it into my hands without a nudge from school. Yet, the book affected me so powerfully that I felt dreamy and disconnected for weeks. When I read Sula it was like someone took the cover off the sky, filling it with a new kind of light. Seriously.


So, earlier this year, I dove into re-reading Sula with great curiosity and anticipation.

Sula tells the story of a poor black community in an Ohio town in the 1920’s and 30’s, focusing primarily on two childhood friends, Nel and Sula. They sustain a deep friendship filled with dark secrets and unspoken connection, until Nel marries and Sula moves away. Their friendship becomes more complicated in adulthood and without giving too much away I’ll say that in the end, Nel is filled with both regret and longing. It is not really a happy story, yet there are moments of humor, poetry and transcendent truth.

More than anything, Sula transformed my 15-year-old world through the breathtaking beauty of the language. It may have been the first book I read for the writing as much has for the next plot twist. I swooned over lines like “when the day broke in an incredible splash of sun,” or this description of Sula’s eyes, “Her gold-flecked eyes, which, to the end, were as steady and clean as rain.” I still swoon.

In my recent re-reading, I was particularly struck by the descriptions of Nel and Sula’s early friendship: “In the safe harbor of each other’s company they could afford to abandon the ways of other people and concentrate on their own perceptions of things.” Morrison conjures the secret, timeless world of childhood, and first steps towards separation. On the same page, she writes “… toughness was not their quality – adventuresomeness was – and a mean determination to explore everything that interested them” and conveys the sense of discovery and tentative joy that goes with those pre-adolescent forays into independence. (It also made me think of the “like a girl” campaign.)

In re-reading Sula I was also struck by the darkness and sadness of the story. Awful things that happen in the book – deaths, betrayal, abandonment. Sula is filled with hints of magical realism and melancholy truthfulness; it is an examination of the limitations of human relationships, the closeness and distance that lies between even the most intimate of friends and lovers.

And of course, this book is also about race. Sula chronicles indignities that Nel, Sula, and other poor, black characters face, though it is more than a chronicle, it shows how race is part of the fabric of the characters lives: “Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white or male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be.”

old photos summer 1987
My world in the summer of 1987. Working at the beach, a hiking trip, reading.

No doubt, reading Sula as an adolescent cracked my privileged world open. When I think of the experience, I think of this TED talk by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, on The Danger of a Single Story. Before reading Sula, I read a lot of 19th century British novels, with governesses, genteel parties, and usually a marriage proposal. Sula provided me with another story, another narrative, and allowed me to see into another, very different world.

It was no different in my recent re-reading. Only this time, it was like returning to a familiar place. It all came back to me- the one-legged matriarch, the harrowing escape from school bullies, the humiliations of segregated train travel. I’d held onto the vivid characters and scenes all along, and they glowed like jewels in my memory. They were only waiting to be stitched back into the whole magnificent novel.

morning reading sula

Whew! That was a long post. It’s hard to write breezily about a book like Sula. Thanks for sticking with me. I do hope to continue this series of Books that Changed Me. Next up is The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a Newbury Award winning YA book, which promises a less wordy post.

I also hope you’ll tell me what books resonated deeply with you in your early years. In other words, what books changed you?