Digging Deeper with Jessica Lewis Stevens

In our Digging Deeper series we introduce you to some of the contributors in our upcoming issue REST. We hope you enjoy this behind the scenes look at how some of the pieces came to be, and the stories behind these inspiring makers, doers, and dreamers.

Find Jessica's piece "Wholesome Winter Cakes" in the HANDS section of Issue 24 :: REST.

Whether you are quilting, knitting, crafting, or baking, you are a maker of all sorts! Tell us a little but about how you developed this lifestyle.

I’ve come to making much of what our family needs by way of both necessity and curiosity in nearly equal measure. Living frugally means making frequent decisions about what and how much and from whom to purchase nearly anything we need or would like, and when comparing quality, value and cost, as well as standards for ethical production, the solution most of the time is to make it, whether it’s a wool sweater for the baby, a blanket for the bed, or really delicious sourdough croissants. Beyond meeting our needs, I have always been fascinated with the old ways of doing and making. I studied bookmaking and traditional letterpress printing before immersing myself in working primarily with fiber, and it has instilled in me a reverence for analog craft and design. I could read book after book about the history and heritage of quilting and never tire of it. It’s this intersection of meeting our family’s needs, reverence for quality craftsmanship, and sustaining personal interest that drive the work that I do.

We featured some of your recipes in TRADE and now are excited to include a collection of cake recipes in upcoming issue REST.  Where do you draw inspiration for your recipes?

I draw my inspiration from the seasons here in Vermont, from the foods that are available to me locally to the way a flavor combination makes me feel on a cold day. I love baking with traditional ingredients that are available to me where I live, and I enjoy the anticipation of looking forward to next sugaring season to make maple pudding or the first beets to come up in the garden for making chocolate beet cake; waiting for our neighbor’s cow to calve so we could enjoy that golden butter in our pie crust again. I also love baking for my children, and in doing so I enjoy creating recipes that are wholesome without being restrictive, and those that allow for their participation in the process, whether it’s cutting crackers out with a favorite cookie cutter or smelling each warming spice as it goes into a chai-scented cake.

What projects do you have in the works?  What’s next for you that you’re particularly excited about?

The near future holds many small things to look forward to – a birthday quilt to make for my oldest, a bread share I’m starting in our tiny rural town, finishing the first sweater I’ve knit for myself, my ongoing after-the-kids-are-in-bed research on traditional New England food ways. It seems my plate is often full of many small things to come together to make a big, satisfying life.

As you know, the theme for this issue is REST.  How do you find moments and ways to pause and pace yourself in work and life? We’d love to know what the idea of “rest” conjures up for you. 

Rest is the perfect theme to settle into the winter season with. The rest that comes in this time of year allows me to step back from the busy work of gardening or dyeing with blooming plants or making applesauce and sauerkraut to enjoy doing everything just a little bit slower. Cooking big meals slowly in a warm kitchen, stitching quilts and knitting extra mittens, those are the sorts of projects that fill me up, and I look forward to this season all year long when rest comes in the form of slow and meaningful work.

You can find more from Jessica, at sugarhouseworkshop.com