The Artist's Garden Tea Cozy

Sandra Pearce 2004

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Originally from England, I am a watercolor artist and gardener (I can remember helping my father and uncle in my grandmother's Victory Garden). I now live in the tall-timber woods in the Pacific Northwest, painting and gardening with raccoons and deer among other critters, and assisted by a giant Siamese who loves to sunbathe on freshly turned soil which I have just seeded or cultivated - in between catching moles and other rodents.

Fir trees dominate my garden vistas, with some maples and Indian plums at the edges. Deep in the woods are ferns, Oregon grapes and salal and in the spring, trilliums in white, pink and burgundy. Thistles and wild grasses grow tall in transition areas and wild blackberries abound.

Two giant Sequoias, a holly and two Norway spruces provide summer shade for Adirondack chairs and a hammock. Plum, apple and cherry trees provide wonderful dappled shade for outdoor dining. Sweet peas and strawberries do well here - protected along with my must-have vegetable garden by an eight-foot-tall deer fence (built by my dear Bob).

Under my windows grow fragrant bluebells, narcissus, lilac and phlox (unfortunately a deer favorite). The entry is lined with boxes of dusty miller, snapdragons, petunias, lobelia and alyssum, and hanging baskets of lobelia, petunia, lemon gem marigolds and alyssum. There's a pot of mint just outside the door, handy for a quick pinch to add to boiling new potatoes or iced lemonade. An assortment of bird feeders, birdbaths and houses attracts more varieties of birds than I can name, even with my field guide. Blocks of hibernating orchard mason bees hang near the fruit trees, promising to pollinate all those spring blossoms. And at dusk two haunting and fascinating little bats flutter overhead, devouring mosquitoes at a rate of several hundred per hour.

A circle of mature rhododendrons has been transformed into my secret garden - just the sort of place you'd expect to find fairies. Here grow butterfly bushes in purple and yellow, flowering tobacco, foxgloves, coral bells, lungworts and fragrant and culinary herbs that the deer do not usually find attractive: bee balm, salvias, artemesia, lavenders, mints, rosemary and thymes. Two rhubarbs take sunny spots, their red stalks growing long through upturned bottomless flower pots; the large crinkly leaves are a nice addition to the garden. Wild strawberries weave their way through, blanketing bare spots at every opportunity. Hollow tree chunks provide homes for toads and lichen-covered rocks, blue fescues and mossy stumps complete the effect. Varieties of creeping thymes carpet the entry through the small arbor, over which clambers a yellow trumpet vine.

A rustic bench nestled under a rhododendron is the ideal place to sit and read or just meditate - hypnotized by the dancing bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. An old birdbath provides refreshment for my tiny visitors. Just beyond the secret garden, the creek rushes wildly after it rains or as the snow melts.

The house is circa 1935, with red-shingle sides and white trim. A wood-burning fireplace insert keeps me toasty-warm. On rainy winter evenings I enjoy crazyquilting while sitting by the fire with tea and Sam (the cat). Sometimes I hand-piece the project just so I can stay by the fire with my blanket, daydreaming while sewing in my lap. (Have you ever sewn your piece to your lap blanket? More than once?) What a pleasure it is (sometimes overwhelming), to begin poring through buttons and beads and ribbons and threads, searching for the perfect embellishments for the newly pieced project.

The first crazyquilt project I actually made for myself and kept is a tea cozy. (I do enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea on a cold rainy day!) My painting and gardening experiences came together in this crazyquilt cozy. I wanted to feature the lovely Southern Belle and the garden fairy, so each became the inspiration for a side.

Fabrics range from cotton prints to home decs to ties. The tiny cheetah patterned fur was left over from a doll's purse. The fabulous blue and green brocade was once a dress - it will make an exquisite mermaid's tail one day, don't you think? Embellishments include buttons, beads, charms, laces and hand-colored lace, ribbons, threads, couched knobby yarn and silk ribbon embroidery. I constantly try to play print against solid, shiny against matte, smooth against fuzzy and to balance colours as I go.

The 9- by 13-inch cozy has a green cord edging and a sturdy satin ribbon loop at the top. Two thick wool layers for lining are excellent insulation - the cozy keeps my tea hot for ages. The green and pink floral chintz used for lining. It can be hand washed.

Side 1: The belle has silk ribbon roses embellishing her dress, and a silk ribbon hair scarf. She stands on a carpet of ruched organza ribbon grass. She appears to be daydreaming; the sweetheart sentiment has me wondering if her beau is away? Her upturned palm cried out for a blossom, so I mounted a cascade of silk ribbon embroidery flowers on a post at the end of a lace "fence."

Other motifs include a teapot, embroidered parasol, evergreen shrub and vines. The black (aurora borealis crystal) spider hangs from his web into the next patch below, as spiders often do.

Side 2: The fairy's gaze said to me she was enjoying a lovely garden (English cottage - what else?!), so she wanders among pink hollyhocks, yellow foxgloves, blue delphinium and pink roses, with tiny pink blossoms on the ground. Two tiny spiral shells from a necklace became snails on the ground (no garden is perfect). A blue-flowering vine climbs an embroidered trellis and pink wisteria drips from above.

This (rhinestone and crystal) spider hopes that the yellow butterfly will flit into his web (I hope it does not). The red and brown paisleys on the right are both sides of a tie.

Since I have traveled halfway around the world to land in Oregon, I added a map fabric and decided it looked like an Old World map, so I stitched a red dotted line for a trade route. The trade stops are marked by red rocaille beads, and include a shell and pearls at the beach for the pearl trade, clear rocaille beads near a lake for the diamond mines, antique gold beads for the gold mine at the pass, a leaf for tea or tobacco along the river route and actual brown seeds that represent coffee beans as the route continues inland.

I must admit, sometimes I think my imagination has a mind of its own.

About the Author:

Sandra Pearce is originally from England: she now lives in the northern Oregon Coast Range with Sam, Lord of the Realm (her cat). She enjoys watercolor painting, gardening with her sweetheart, Bob, and many other creative interests.

Sandra learned to sew and embroider her first year in school (as all girls do in England) and has practiced these skills on and off all of her life. As a child she always collected interesting little things: pebbles and feathers and sticks and anything else that caught her eye. Those urges still run strong, but at least now Sandra has some idea of where her  treasures may be utilized. Today the hunting mantra is: "Can it go on a crazyquilt project?" The answer is almost always "Yes!" of course.

Sandra always admired Victorian crazy quilts, but the overwhelming inspiration came from watching Judith Baker Montano on HGTV's Carol Duvall Show. The freestyle application of beautiful print and rich tactile fabrics, sparkly beads and luscious silk ribbon embroidery combined art and gathering beautiful things for one fabulous result. Sandra made one tiny landscape and one tiny seascape and was hooked. She spends much of her spring and summer daylight hours gardening and painting, but those long wet winter evenings and weekends are ideal for crazy quilting by the fire.

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