Archive for June, 2008

We live in what used to be a distinct small town outside of Baltimore. In the 18th century Richard Caton, the son-in-law of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the longest-living signer of the Declaration of Independence, was commissioned to develop a tract of land along an old Indian trail that became a major road to the West, to the town of Frederick. At first, this Frederick Road offered only a rest stop for travelers, but the rest stop attracted other businesses and became known as Catonsville.

The location was a beautiful hilly, wooded area near the Patapsco River that attracted wealthy Baltimore families who built large, handsome summer homes to escape the city heat. As transportation between Catonsville and Baltimore improved, with a train, then trolley cars, and so on, the summer homes became year-round homes. More businesses were created to serve these new permanent residents and the workers they employed. For a mile or so, Frederick Road became the Main Street of Catonsville, and Catonsville, with its variety of residents, businesses, churches, fire department, and schools, became a small town in the 19th century.

Today Catonsville is indistinguishable from Baltimore City. It has been absorbed into the city. But the small town quality remains, with many stately homes on large properties still occupied and a thriving Main Street along Frederick Road.

For 61 years Catonsville has held a Fourth of July celebration–a day full of family activities, a major parade in the afternoon, and fireworks in the evening. This event draws large crowds. More than a week before the parade, people who live along Frederick Road, the parade route, stake their claims to viewing sites. For a mile or more along the road, in the residential section just beyond the commercial area, people put out lawn chairs as place-holders. Sometimes there are a dozen or more plastic chairs in a row. Some people stretch ropes between poles to indicate their claim, and others put out trash cans or spread plastic tarpaulins and other articles to hold their area. Those items sit along Frederick Road until after the parade, and apparently there are no thefts!

As we rode home from the restaurant at 8:00 last night, I shot this view of one family’s reserved viewing site for the big parade a week from now, next Friday.


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Last night Ernie and I celebrated my birthday by going out to dinner, a rare event for us. But first I opened my gift–two courses from The Teaching Company: Particle Physics for the the Non-Physicist and String Theory, The DNA of Reality.

Ernie and me, ready to go.

At 71

We went to a Greek restaurant and began our meal with a mezze–spinach pie, hummus, taramasalata, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, tzatziki, cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and peperoncini, with Greek wine, of course.

A real treat!

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I thought I would show you the back of this block so far. All the gold metal threads that cannot be stitched through the fabric have to be couched in place, each little piece. Then the two ends have to be sunk through the fabric with a big crewel needle and anchored with stitches on the backing. Here you can get an idea of what’s involved. The end of each thread must be anchored so that it will not be accidentally pulled out.

If you’d like to see some close-ups of the details, I’ve posted them at Flickr. Here’s one of the seam treatments I finished.

More about it at Flickr. If you click on the image, it should take you there.

As I’ve gone along, I’ve made a number of changes to my original plan. I’m at the stage where I’m not sure I will be pleased with the results of these changes. The original image is still stuck in my head. But maybe it will turn out all right in the end.

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Meanwhile, I have made a little progress on my S block. I won’t tell you how many hours this small amount of work took. Here’s the center patch, finished.

And here are a few more details–some basic seam coverings and a flower motif.

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For those of you who are interested, you can read my 17-year-old grandson’s response to my essay here:


The IB classes he refers to are International Baccalaureate courses.

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When my grandson asked me what the feminine qualities mean to me, I responded that I had been thinking, reading, and writing about this topic since I was 14. It has been a big issue in my life. So I wrote him a short essay in response.


When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s (I was 13 in 1950), being a woman and femininity were considered to be synonymous, and it mainly meant domesticity and subordination to men. Women were expected to be wives, mothers, homemakers, as well as attractive to and attentive to men. Women were expected to WANT to be and to ENJOY being “feminine” in these ways. Other options for women were extremely limited. Let’s just consider bright, healthy, educated, middle-class, white women in this discussion—women like myself and, I assume, your female friends. Such women were rarely admitted to PhD programs or to professional schools (medicine, law, business). If they had to work for a living or if they chose to work outside the home, they could be nurses, teachers, secretaries, laboratory assistants, and social workers. Otherwise, they could be volunteers in the community. Women in professional or management capacities were very rare, almost invisible. Woman’s place, in those days, was in the home.

The role models I had growing up were first, my mother and maternal grandmother, other female relatives, and family friends. My mother and grandmother were contented women who created happy family lives. They were wonderful mothers, wives, and homemakers who always seemed to enjoy their activities. I grew up in a very nurturing home. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to have children as well-cared-for as I was. I wanted to create just such a good home life.

At the same time, I was attracted to women who did unconventional things and I read every book (the handful that existed) about such women. I wanted to be like my mother, yet I didn’t want to live my mother’s limited life. I wanted a different kind of role model.

In my teens, I wondered whether I had somehow gotten the wrong genes, because I had so many characteristics that were not considered feminine. I was a leader, not a follower. I had courage. I was strong-willed. I spoke out. I knew I was smarter than most of the boys in my classes, but I pretended not to be so that I could be popular. When I went to Goucher, which was a women’s college then, I saw women in leadership positions; and in all-girl classes, I could express myself freely. I felt liberated. But I still wanted to be a wife and mother. I loved biology in high school and chemistry and physiology in college, but I chose not to be a science major because in my sophomore year, I was already pregnant and married and knew I could not spend the required hours in a lab.

What I discovered after having four children and keeping house, at home almost all the time, with virtually no time to myself, (doing exactly what I thought I wanted to be doing), was that I didn’t like being a wife and mother and homemaker. I didn’t like taking care of young children. I hated housework. I cooked and sewed because I had to. I didn’t like being dependent on a man. Therefore, I believed that I was not a “real” woman. Becoming a mother made me (at times) sorry I was a woman. Once again, I thought there was something wrong with me.

That’s the beginning. If you’d like to read more, you can find it here: what-the-feminine-means-to-me2

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Having finally finished the gold purl S (22 hours), I’m now working on the satin stitching of the flowers of the motif. I’m working with Chinese Eterna 12-ply stranded silk floss. Can you see how fine the silk is in this shot of it with a strand of DMC cotton floss above it?

Here is the first flower in process. What you see mainly is the cotton padding. I had just begun to cover it with silk.

I’m using three strands of silk in the needle for satin stitching over the padding, which is two strands of DMC cotton floss. To keep the threads separated so that they will lie smoothly, I’m using a Japanese laying tool, the tekobari.

After I bring the thread up from the underside, I smooth it with the tekobari, separating and aligning the strands.

Holding the thread with the tekobari, I insert the needle over the padding stitches.

As I slowly pull the thread through the fabric, I guide it with the tekobari. Here the needle is under the fabric.

You can see that the thread is held by the tekobari until it is completely laid in place. I’m doing it this way to achieve the effect of Japanese flat silk–a smooth finish with no separate strands visible.

I’m sorry the shots are so fuzzy. My husband was trying to get as close to the work as he could. Folks, THIS is slow cloth!

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