Just a few things in the basket…

The gloves are from a pattern in the Winter 2012 issue of ‘Knitting Traditions’. I modified the left palm to have a heart and monogram and turned the pearl-stitch ‘ring’ into a spiral knitted in green.

When I was in Texas this last Autumn, my mother gave me the gift of a spinning workshop at the Kid and Ewe wool show in Borne. It was loads of fun and I learned how to spin (a little bit) but haven’t had much time to practice since I got back. Before Christmas I spent most of my ‘wool time’ making these gloves for my husband (about which he is beyond happy):

Meanwhile, my bags of ‘fluff’ and spindle were languishing in the project pile. So, yesterday I had the luxury of sitting by the fire for half a day spinning and I managed to come up with a little ball of brown yarn which, together with the ivory coloured yarn I spun at the workshop and some blue that my mother made and sent me last year, I decided to work into a cozy collar. It’s almost finished so I’ll post a picture soon. Meanwhile, my little girl is photo crazy and took 10 pictures of ‘mamma spinning’ of which I found two that are in focus! Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen what fabulous fiber art my mother does, go take a peek at her blog http://sarazmuz.blogspot.it.

 I’m excited to say that I’ve also found a local wool supplier for both fluff and un-dyed local wools in nearby Biella where they are working to save the traditional local wool industry. I wish they had more than the title in English but the pictures are pretty!
Biella The Wool Company

The Singer is Dead, Long live the Elna

I was in the middle of working on a new, bias-cut handkerchief dress – out of a fabulous marigold yellow, cotton-silk voile that I found for 3 euro at the thrift store – when my husband came into the room where I was pressing open seams to say the dreaded phrase:

“There was smoke coming from the motor of your sewing machine so I turned it off and unplugged it before it caught on fire.”

…sigh. With only the back pleats and the hem left to do it was a frustrating development. Besides, I loved that Singer. My husband bought it for me (at the same thrift store) for 25 Euro and it had been a real workhorse for the last 5 years, zig-zagging through jeans with holes, sewing up dolls and clothes for the girl, and straight stitching through a fair number of skirts, shirts, and my first try at pants from my own pattern.

I tried to think positive, this was an opportunity to look for a more versatile machine that would work with knit fabrics, had newer feed dogs and perhaps even a presser foot that would not always send the fabric off at a slight angle. I live in the land of Necci…there was bound to be a cheap used one out there on ebay.it, right?As they say in this country, “Eh no eh…” The only used machine in my budget (less than 100 euro including shipping costs) was an Elna Lotus SP35. She just came yesterday and here she is:

It took me some time to get both the lower and upper tension harmoniously adjusted to work with the fine voile – I’m glad to say that it came with both the original users manual and the sewing guide which both helped me fine-tune the tension and introduced me to a whole new realm of Italian sewing terms. What can I say? Sturdy, light-weight, quiet and with a sensitive pedal. I’m looking forward to experimenting with knits and in the meantime, I finally finished the dress!

I hand ‘pick-stitched’ the back pleats.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors

I’ve been working on some pages for the “Sketchbook Project 2013” that are a visual way of digesting my experience as an emigrant from Texas to Italy. Click on the links in the captions below each image to read the essay/story that goes with it and find links connecting the images with poetry.

Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: Embellished Errors – (Pax Texana)
Pax Texana (detail)
Cultural Atlas of a Displaced Life: El Pescador / Fingerprint:Ring

A whole new page…

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I work alongside my husband, contemporary artist and furniture designer Matthew Broussard, both as a partner in building bespoke furniture and as a studio assistant for his artistic projects. I sand, gild, apply fine finishes and, the best part: spend lots of time talking about painting compositions, production methods and how to get from concept to completed project. You’re welcome to take a look at our latest projects on the newest page that we’ve made HERE.

Matthew working on his latest commission “Citta del Sole”

 He writes: 

City of the Sun – a painting

by Matthew Broussard on Sunday, July 8, 2012 at 2:02pm ·

City of the Sun

This painting takes its name from Tommaso Campanella’s book, written in the sixteenth century, in which Campanella describes an ideal city, an ordered, just, and poetic society.

The image is of a piazza that was built by my daughter with wooden building blocks on the floor of our room. I was struck by this act of ‘tracing’ a city both conceptually (she explained in minute detail the reason behind the placement of each block) and as it is realized, even in the adult world. From philosophers to urbanistic experts and the ordinary city-dweller who lives in the midst of it, everyone has their own concept of what the city should or could be.

How am I doing? Sew-sew…

Pair of palazzo pants that I’ve finally finished
Second of two shirts I’m making for Matthew

 I have been sewing like mad lately. I finally finished the pants pictured at left and I’m wearing them! They’re really comfortable and great for hot days when one’s legs are not ‘summer perfect’. Made in cotton sateen, they’re a cinch to iron after hanging up to dry.

I have almost finished the second of two white shirts I’ve been making for my husband this summer. I decided to do the pin-tucks by hand on the second one and then made the mistake of hand-sewing the top-stitching! Now I have done all of the top-stitching  by hand so that it has continuity but…whew it’s a lot of little stitches.

Detail of pin-tucks on shirt

 Meanwhile, I realized only this morning that the girl’s kindergarten had sent home a list of ‘stuff to get’ for the summer session, one of which was ‘uno zainetto’ (aka a little knapsack). I hated to spend yet another 10 euro on some made in china nylon thing that would fall apart after 30 days (or the zip wouldn’t work or, or, or…). So, I made this little knapsack from a dress that my mother had made for her when she was three. It was nice to re-use this fabric for Robin Kay because I have a hard time giving away things that my mother made for her and, darn it, she keeps getting bigger and growing out of them anyway!

Cute little knapsack I made for my daughter to carry her things to ‘summer school’

So sew…that’s been my pile of projects lately (now that it’s too hot for knitting).

Mini-Cowl from Mamma’s handspun yarn

My mother, who you can find over at saramuz, sent me some of her beautiful hand-spun yarn for my birthday. You can see her blog about this yarn and the Hill Country wool market HERE.

I played with it for a few hours, mixing it, doing stockinette stitch and garter stitch until I decided on a mini-cowl based on the one they have attached to the hat in Lynne Barr’s Reversible Knitting.

I knitted it up on #15’s (US) and it made up in about 7 rows of circular stockinette which rolls to show the purl side. I love it! Simple and a nice extra warm something with no dangling ends that have to be kept from falling into the soup (or the dishwater). In our climate where I don’t go out without a coat, it shows above the coat collar, doesn’t come loose or get caught in the zipper. Thanks Mom :)!

Flowers…and more flowers!

portrait of a lady 
Jan Joseph van Goyen

Had a great birthday weekend in Milan! The city has so much to offer even if it’s spread out from one neighbourhood to another. After our trip to the Pinacoteca di Brera where I got an eyeful of wonderful paintings. Matthew did most of the  girl wrangling so that I could look in peace while she had a tour of fancy chairs with velvet cushions. Some of the most engaging paintings were the smallest; I loved the portraits by an unknown Venetian painter that were over to the side of the door in room 20. Trying to look at a notebook sized painting by Brueghel, I had to keep slipping my glasses up and down to see it, I really felt like an old lady! Next to it was this jewel of a Dutch seascape:

After the museum we stopped for a glass of wine and then went on to see our friend Renato at Mint Market, the beautiful home/beauty/flower store for which Matthew designed the furnishings. Renato was just finishing up with some customers so we ordered aperetivi from the bar down the street (one of the pleasures of the city is that, if they know you, the local bar will deliver cocktails down the street to where you are). While we were waiting, Matthew said, “Did you see that bouquet of white flowers?” pointing to a stunning arrangement of roses, broom, miniature lilies and fresia that was as big as our daughter. As we walked over to admire them he said, “Those are for your birthday.” I felt like an actress who’d just won an Oscar without having done anything to deserve it!

My birthday bouquet from Mint Market

 As a testimony to the quality of the flowers at Mint Market, these survived being carried through the very crowded Milanese metro three times, a night in a warm apartment and a 2 hour train ride before I took this picture!
Mint Market’s owner, Renato Baldini, is a truly lovely person. He gave my daughter Robin Kay a splendid bouquet of sunset coloured runculus so that she would feel special too:

Robin’s Runculus and my Cake

Then he let her help carry the flowers in before closing the store. He also gave me this elegant hyacinth so that now the whole house feels like spring right in the midst of winter.

Hyacinth bulb waiting to open

Olive oil from Sicily: a mouth full of flowers and memories.

A summer long, long ago on an island not so far away my husband and I were working with a friend to renovate a house just outside of the town of Marsala in Sicily. The client put us up in an apartment nearby and provided us with olive oil in 5 litre jugs. There was a grove of orange and lemon trees on the property and open-air market two days a week. I would ride there on a borrowed bike with an orange crate wired to the back to carry the produce. Much to the dismay of our friend I did so in a skirt; he said that would attract the wrong kind of attention while I felt it would somehow keep the erratically driven cars from crashing into my erratically piloted bicycle. As far as I’m concerned, my strategy paid off.

It was the end of June and cherries were in season. I bought them 5 kilo at a time; Matthew and I ate them on the roof of the apartment in the cool of the morning while looking out over the suburban rooftops and antennae, towards the sea where we imagined we might glimpse Tunisia.

It was gloriously hot and we ate lunches of melon with prosciutto crudo and sandwiches of fresh tomato and buffalo milk mozzarelle and basil grilled in the skillet. All of it with this olive oil that densely green, perfumed and which tasted like a mouth full of flowers.

We left Sicily in late July having visited Trapani and Palermo all too briefly; having watched Italy win the world cup on the television in a barber’s shop where complete strangers had invited us in to watch and then joined in the explosion of jubilation in the streets that followed. On the way back north, with us we carried 5 litres of olive oil, it didn’t last long enough.

Olive oil is to Italians (and some ex-pats) as chilli is to Texans: everyone has an opinion. Tuscan oil is best, but no, the stuff from Abbruzzo is just as good and less expensive; still, others prefer oil from Umbria or even as far north as Lago di Garda where a microclimate allows olives to survive the cold winters. I’m a solid fan of Sicilian Olive oil although I have to say that I’ve bought jars of olive oil from Trapani at the supermarket in hopes of recapturing that mouth full of flowers and found it light and bland. We’ve made due, enjoyed other lovely olive oils from other parts of Sicily, and lately had some nice oil from Lazio.

Matthew is working again with that same friend, this time designing a staircase for an apartment in Milan. He came home for the weekend of the Epiphany with this:

My mouth is singing flower songs. Orange blossoms tumble in with memories of rooftop cherries, summer swimming in crystaline, warm water and platters mounded high with fresh, steamed mussels. It’s hard to imagine a lovelier way to start the new year.

I wrote a suite of 4 poems about this experience, you can find some images and the audio HERE.

How to choose wood or pumpkins…

I’ve learned two things since coming to Italy that make the cold weather more tolerable: how to pick pumpkins that are just right for cooking and how to select firewood. In case you need to know…

Pick a pumpkin that seems heavy for it’s size, the knobbly ones are the sweetest. You can’t carve them for jack o’ lanterns but they make mouthwatering risotto that will make even a 4 year old ask for a piece of bread for ‘la scarpetta’

On the contrary, firewood should be light for its size…weight is not an indicator of density but rather an indicator of how wet and/or full of sap the wood is. Wet or green wood is not useless, it will slow down an overly hot fire if you have a closed wood-burning stove.

 Now, if you feel like settling in to a nice cosy dinner for two by the fire, here’s the pumpkin risotto recipe as taught to me by my sweetie:

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Pumpkin Risotto for 2
1 small knobbly pumpkin cut into ½ in. chunks – approx 2 cups (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine)
3-4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
olive oil
½ onion finely chopped
2/3 cups of arborio rice (or other rice for risotto)
1 heaping tablespoon of butter
¼ cup grated Parmesan
if you can find a good, small knobbly pumpkin (not the big smooth orange ones which tend to be watery and tasteless) cut it into cubes, 1.5-2 cm. put a small pot of good broth (Chicken or vegetable) on the burner and in another, medium sized saucepan simmer half a finely chopped onion. when the onions are almost transparent put the pumpkin in there (for a risotto for 2 people, you’ll want about 2 cups of pumpkin. (if you can’t find a good pumpkin, butternut squash is fine) once the pumpkin starts to soften, it may soak up all the oil from the onions, at which point, add a ladle-full of the broth and simmer until it’s all soft but not completely pudding. throw in 2/3 cup of rice for risotto: vallone nano, arborio etc.) and stir continuously into the pumpkin, so that it soaks up all of the oil and moisture from the first simmering. then pour in a ladle of the broth at a time, and continue to stir evenly as the rice soaks up all of the liquid and cooks together with the pumpkin, making a creamy, starchy glop. it should take about 35 minutes to get the rice to the point where the pumpkin is almost completely dissolved into the orange gloppy mass of rice,but the individual grains of rice are still “al dente” under your teeth. it usually takes about 3 cups of broth. when the the rice is still a bit terse but has made a lovely creamy goo around itself, turn off the heat and add an abundant tablespoon of butter and about 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan. stir it all together well and let it sit while you prepare the table (5 min. is perfect)
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