Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CELEBRATE FALL WITH A LEAF-STENCILED TABLECLOTH




Almost every homemaker has sets of decorations that are displayed and used on certain holidays during the year. And, for most of these occasions, the table is the showcase of holiday decoration, and that means there will be a special tablecloth, napkins, and a seasonal centerpiece.

The month of September doesn’t have a widely celebrated holiday -- in the U.S., at least -- that is known for special decorations, but it is an important month. It is the official arrival of fall, and that heralds a beautiful season. Nature puts on a special show as the leaves change color from green to bright shades of orange, red and yellow. For some people, it’s also a much longed for time of year, when most of the hard work of gardening comes to an end, and there is a huge bounty of food to be eaten, canned, and stored. And, for others, who aren’t farmers or gardeners, it still means that certain favorite foods such as apples, plums, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, are now available in abundance and, for a short time, are well within our food budgets.

The fall air, at least at night, is crisp and invigorating. This invites us to make ourselves comfortable by putting a fire in the chimney -- if we are so lucky to have one -- or at least turning on a little heat and taking a short break, sipping hot tea or cocoa.

And there is a great earth holiday that can be celebrated – it’s the fall equinox. Here are some of the facts about this day, just in case you haven’t thought about it in a while.

The fall equinox, or Autumnal Equinox, happens in September. This year it’s happening on September 22. It can also occur on September 23, depending on year-to-year variations in the tilt of the earth’s axis. On this day, there are approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. (The same thing occurs in spring with what’s called the Vernal Equinox.)

If you decide to celebrate the month of September or, more precisely, fall equinox with family and friends, you can use this occasion as a day of thanksgiving. Why wait for two more months and the “official” Thanksgiving Day? It’s a great moment for thanking God for the bountiful harvest. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a farmer or not, there are always many things to be thankful for -- like getting through the first two-thirds of the year, hopefully with everyone in good health; the glorious colors of the trees and beautiful harvest moon; and the opportunity to share some time with loved ones.

If your event is to be a special meal, be sure to have someone say grace before eating or, as an option, stand around the table in a circle, holding hands, with everyone saying some words of thanks. If you know from experience that your guests are shy about praying aloud, or if you’re not sure what their reaction might be, you can ask them to write down what they're thankful for on brightly colored paper in the shape of fall leaves. The leaves can then be taped in a circle on a wall, so that everyone can have a chance to read them sometime that day or evening.

My handicraft challenge to you is to celebrate this September and the coming of fall by making a special tablecloth. You can call it your fall equinox tablecloth, if you like. Tablecloths for the fall season generally include the colors of autumn flowers and leaves -- deep reds, sunny yellows, orange, brown, copper, and gold. If you manage to finish your tablecloth in record time, you can also make some matching table napkins to go with it.

Here’s the tablecloth that I’ve begun and hope to have ready by September 22. Yours, of course, can be simpler or more complicated than mine.

I’m working on unbleached muslin. It’s rectangular in shape, as is my table, and just large enough for the top of my table with about 10 inches hanging over the sides. I like unbleached muslin because it has a “natural” look. Burlap would be another natural-looking fabric, but you can use any material you like. I’m stenciling leaves in fall colors in a random pattern in the bottom 8 inches of the four sides of the tablecloth. (For simplicity, I didn't try to show the leaves in a random pattern in my drawing - just in the corners of the tablecloth. You could make yours either way.)

There are just two stencils, and they are simple oak and maple leaves that I downloaded from Clipart, available on the Internet. The leaf shapes were then cut out of heavy cardboard, using a cutting tool. The colors of fabric paint that I‘m using are dark red, copper, and brown, and I’m applying the three colors at random, using a small paintbrush.

To keep this project fast and easy, I’m not stenciling any pattern in the center of the tablecloth. When I finish the stenciling, I’ll crochet a simple shell-stitch edging around the tablecloth, using copper-colored thread.

If the tablecloth you want to make has a more complicated pattern or involves a shaped border, you may need to make a chart for your stenciling on graph paper. That way, you can check to see how to fit your design to the tablecloth edges, according to your needs.

I plan to celebrate this fall equinox with a social evening, as outlined above, with my husband and a few neighbors. I’ll put my finished tablecloth on the table, along with a fall flower centerpiece. Knowing from past experience, I’ll be just lucky enough to complete the work by midnight, September 21, and won’t have time to make matching napkins. But I can still use solid colored table napkins in a fall color and promise myself to make some napkins with a leaf-motif for a later occasion.

(Note: I hope you will plan a special gathering to celebrate the beginning of fall. Even if you can’t finish your leaf-stenciled tablecloth by September 22, you can still celebrate. You know how to set a great looking table with what you've already have, to which you can add a fall-inspired centerpiece. And, with a big effort, your new tablecloth should be ready by Thanksgiving. It’ll look equally great on the table for that occasion!)

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