Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Red Cross Blocks

Cutting begins on the next baby quilt and the nephew's birthday block
More September deadlines looming - time for another birthday block for my late husband's nephew. He turns 18 this week, starting his senior year, applying to colleges with an eye toward pursuing a nursing career. He's been taking a few Emergency Medical Technician courses so I was looking for a way to feature that. My addled brain could only think of images like stethoscopes that I could fuse on a background, but that seemed like a cop-out. I always feel like I should do some piecing on his block, so I turned to my Electric Quilt Block Base program for help. It's the computerized version of Barbara Brackman's Encyclopedia of Pieced Patterns - a book that I own but is not as easy to search through as it doesn't subdivide into keyword search categories such as occupations to find the perfect themed block. Neither does the book offer patterns. In Block Base you can set the block size and print templates or rotary cutting instructions. I don't use it much anymore, but when I do, it is such a wonderful tool. In this case, my search on nurses popped up many variations on the red cross block. Ironic, don't you think, as this is the same block my niece-in-law wants in the quilt for her baby? Can't believe I had the answer to my nephew's block right in front of me and never made the connection.

This particular variation really appealed to me with that added detail in blue - the very school colors as the college he hopes to attend. I always hesitate when using the cutting guide that Block Base generates, sometimes double-checking dimensions, but I have yet to have it be off. It won't tell you sequence of sewing but I'm experienced enough that it's not a problem to break it down on my own. If you look closely, you can see I've penciled in some arrows on the colored printout of the block. That's a trick I learned from a book called "Press For Success" - mapping out ahead of time which direction to press seams for the least bulk. Not every seam can go the direction you want, sometimes you have to make compromises when there's more than one intersection along a seam, but it sure speeds up the process at the ironing board when you have something to refer to. This block went together well and I had so much fun getting back into some traditional piecing.

The Red Cross Block

Neither one of us quite believes that I've been making him a block for every birthday for this long. I think I meant to go to 20, but I am ready to have the blocks returned to be made into a quilt. This actually works out perfectly; if I get my act together, I can have it ready for a graduation gift, having added a block to celebrate that milestone and one last one as a label of sorts. I've kept pictures and swatches from each block to refer to each year (you can see the folder open in the top picture) in an effort to keep the blocks somewhat harmonious, no one block awkwardly sticking out from the others, but I can't be sure. I may have created a monster that will be a pain to make work, or I may have created a lovely memory of one man's life that will go together with ease. I'm really  hoping for the latter.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Occupational Hazard - Leftovers

Ok, I lied. There was one more side project to tend to before starting the next baby quilt. I had a few leftover strips from the last fabric coil basket lying on the work table and it would definitely be a good thing to use them up so I can clear just a bit more of the worktable. Besides, I needed a quick gift.

As near as I can tell, this variation on the baskets does not show up in either of my books on the subject and I can't imagine why not. Essentially, it is a plate with a bit of a lip on it - the first few rounds of transition one makes when starting up the sides of a full-fledged basket. It's a handy place to toss keys, empty out one's pockets, a catch-all for miscellany. It's quick to make and perfect for using up the inevitable extra clothesline and strips. I just love the one I made for myself from the leftovers of my first basket.

It's about 6" wide across the bottom and rises up about an inch or so. It should look good sitting next to its cousin. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

Side Project

I need to get going on the next baby quilt but I wanted to sneak in another small project before I start cutting and piecing. I wanted to try my hand at making a journal similar to the one I received from Michele in our exchange, having filled all the pages in it and needing another place to continue my musings and meditations. I'd been wondering what I could do with this small bit of African batik from my late-friend's stash, a piece I truly love but which has a waxy feel that will not wash or iron out. But that very thing could be an asset in a journal cover, and this piece was the perfect size. Michele uses felt as her base and I didn't have anything on hand big enough so got this Kunin felt at JoAnn Fabric, enough to possibly use as "batting" in small art quilt projects (or maybe just more journal covers). I didn't anticipate how much I would fuss with this over several days - it was supposed to whip up in a flash! I should know better...

Here's the whole piece of batik after quilting - you can see why this would be difficult to incorporate into a bigger project but works in something like this. I started by cutting the felt to finished size, trusting that there wouldn't be any shrinkage with the quilting, then spray-basted one side, centered it on my batik, and ran a line of stitching along the edge so I'd know where to stop the quilting. I auditioned several off-white threads, but they all seemed too showy. A brown rayon was more to my liking, but maybe erring too far the other direction. What - you can't see the quilting?

No, you can't, not unless you look closely, but you can feel the texture when holding it and I decided that was good enough.

Simple simple free-motion quilting around the batik designs, the type that creates minimal stress for me.

So here is the "inside" of the cover. You can see that this piece of fabric was just the right size, and rather than trim it to size and satin stitch the edge as Michele did, I couldn't resist that clean finish turning it to the inside would create.

Left side with fusible, ready to turn. Right side turned and fused.

Here you see I'm working with the sides, trimming the corners after applying strips of fusible on the fabric, then smoothing it over the felt for fusing. I'm trying to use up Pellon's version of Steam-a-Seam that I bought to try out while impatiently waiting for the real thing to be back in production. On first blush, it seemed to be pretty much the same, save for the plastic it is extruded on. But now having worked with it a bit more, I am finding it a real pain to use and won't be buying more. It's part of the fussiness that slowed me down on this project.

I considered trimming the corners of the top and bottom edges to create a miter but decided against it, couldn't handle more fussiness. Maybe on the next one. I just folded the ends in before turning over the felt and fusing. I was surprised to find that those raw edges kind of bothered me even though they are fused and won't fray, but nothing I could do about that now.

One last thing before adding the signatures (pages) to the inside - the closure. I found this beautiful button in my collection which came from my grandmother and mother and that I added to in my garment sewing days. I want to say it's mother of pearl but it may be abolone - I have several of them in different sizes, some with holes rather than the shank that this one has. It picks up all the colors in the batik. The elastic cord is a little pinker than what's in the batik but not enough to keep me from using it. I'll trim those ends once I'm sure I have the length right.

I had to get out my bookbinding references for a bit of review before sewing in the signatures, discovering that Michele had used a simple long stitch (one I've not tried) and that choosing a decorative thread or ribbon was encouraged for it. I scrounged around until I found this 3-ply probably rayon yarn that nearly matched that pinkish color in the batik. I loved the Antique Laid business paper Michele used in her journals and was surprised that I could find it at my local Staples store. It's a soothing buff color and my pen glides over it so nicely. Each signature has ten sheets of paper folded in half, and it is helpful to punch holes through both the cover and signatures before starting to sew.

I started with the center signature, down up down up, then snug up and knot the ends over the center. A signature was then added on either side of this one.

Here's what the spine looks like and why one might want to give some thought to what you use to attach the signatures. If you want to get fancy, there are variations on this that include a bit of weaving or knotting.

And that's that - I now have a lovely companion to Michele's journal, ready to fill with my ramblings. Working with this reminded me of how intrigued I am with this whole book-making thing, finding it hard to put it all away for another time. So yes, I will get back to making more of these or variations on this theme as there's so much to explore. But first - the baby quilt calls!  

Friday, September 05, 2014

Mickinnick Trail

I ran some errands this morning, noting not a cloud in the sky and mid-70's for temps - I simply could not justify staying inside after lunch, even though I have a little sewing project half done. I was being pulled two directions: I could get my walk in at city beach, then read some there (rather than on my back deck) and give sketching those shelter timbers another go; or I could get out in the woods again for a hike and some sketching. When I left the house, I really wasn't sure which way this would go, throwing in both novel for the beach and water and hiking shoes for the woods. Ahh, the pull of the woods was strong, even though the trail I was contemplating, the Mickinnick, is rated "more difficult." It's less than three miles away while the easier ones are farther, across the long bridge which I didn't want to cross on a Friday afternoon. I decided to drive to the trail head just to check it out. Maybe I could handle a small portion of it.

That dotted red squiggle in the upper left is my trail destination

I studied the info and map at the trail head, noted several cars in the lot, and decided to go for it. Not far down the trail I met a man on his way back out, one who looked at least my age and not decked out in hiking gear straight out of Eddie Bauer or REI.  That always encourages me - I can do this! However, the trail quickly lived up to it's rating and headed steeply up the mountain with switchbacks. I knew that half a mile up the trail was a viewing spot with benches and set that as my goal. Surely, even in my out of shape condition, I can make my way a half-mile up this trail. I did, but I was sure glad for the resting spot. I'd made about 200 ft elevation change.

Looking east - View of Lake Pend Oreille & the Cabinet Mountains

I purposely did not throw in a camera this time, knowing I would stay steadier on the hiking and observing if I were not constantly whipping it out for a shot. The view of Pend Oreille Lake was a perfect sketching subject, framed with fir trees which I now noted sported very different needle configurations, and made me rest longer than I probably would have allowed myself otherwise. So rested did I become that I decided to continue up the trail for a bit. I'm not sure how much farther I went but I think at least another half mile. This section had more flat and gentle inclining spots but then would suddenly take off at a steep climb. I have a terrible habit of pushing myself "just a little further, just up around that bend" and I was finding it hard to stop. I kept thinking that surely another bench must be coming up soon, another even better vista the higher up I went, but I finally gave in as I could feel my legs starting to complain. 

View from the 2nd bench (which I did not reach) photo from Trimbleoutdoors.com

It was mostly all downhill, but that too can take a bit out of you. I paused at the bench again, nibbling on nuts and enjoying the view, before descending the last leg to the trail head. Maybe some day I'll have gotten back to my old fitness and make it the entire way to the top (3.5 miles, 2150 feet elevation change), or at least to the second bench about half way there. But for now, I was extremely encouraged, and happy to have finally given this trail a go.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Sketching Again

With the jolt of September arriving, I'm realizing I've let a lot of things slide the last month or so, including my sketching. So yesterday I planned my walk for city beach with the idea I would also stop to sketch one of the big shelters there. It's those big supporting timbers set at angles that I've been studying as I pass by, but I'm also intrigued by the grand swoop of the roof. I had the same problem as when I sketched the train station - did not get proportions started correctly and ran out of room to get the full width of the rooflines and those timbers. I instinctive start at the top when perhaps I should start by sketching in the widest part of my subject. All part of the learning process. It was a gray day but not too cool to be in shirt sleeves. The life guards are no longer on duty and only a few people splashing about in the water, but still there are people enjoying the park. I added the bits of color once home.

I've run across another "in praise of sketching" blog post, so am sending you over there to read. It comes again from Austin Kleon but he quotes from Roger Ebert (the late film critic) and how he got into sketching, why he kept it up. Interesting to hear some of the same observations about sketching that I've heard from so many other quarters and have experienced myself, but this time not from someone who was also an artist of some kind. Here's a taste:

"That was the thing no one told me about. By sitting somewhere and sketching something, I was forced to really look at it, again and again, and ask my mind to translate its essence through my fingers onto the paper. The subject of my drawing was fixed permanently in my memory. Oh, I “remember” places I’ve been and things I’ve seen. I could tell you about sitting in a pub on Kings’ Road and seeing a table of spike-haired kids starting a little fire in an ash tray with some lighter fluid. I could tell you, and you would be told, and that would be that. But in sketching it I preserved it. I had observed it.
I found this was a benefit that rendered the quality of my drawings irrelevant. Whether they were good or bad had nothing to do with their most valuable asset: They were a means of experiencing a place or a moment more deeply. The practice had another merit. It dropped me out of time. I would begin a sketch or watercolor and fall into a waking reverie. Words left my mind. A zone of concentration formed. I didn’t think a tree or a window. I didn’t think deliberately at all. My eyes saw and my fingers moved and the drawing happened. Conscious thought was what I had to escape, so I wouldn’t think, Wait! This doesn’t look anything like that tree! or I wish I knew how to draw a tree! I began to understand why Annette said finish every drawing you start. By abandoning perfectionism you liberate yourself to draw your way. And nobody else can draw the way you do."
 Go read the entire post here, which includes some additional links.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Yes, I finished stitching down the binding, flipped over the quilt and hit "It's awesome" on the creative process scale! That light blue binding was just what this needed.

And here is why this quilt needed to be awesome; it's going to an awesome little baby. My godson and his wife did not think they could have children do to an inherited medical condition, but as you may know, some babies just refuse not to be born. This is Rohan Kai presented to me on the quilt I made in 2002 and eventually gave to his parents as a wedding gift. I had mixed emotions about seeing a baby on that quilt. Yes, I did tell them it was to be used and was washable, but when I figured out that it was THAT quilt in the picture, my reaction was, "Get that baby off that quilt before he does something on it!" Well, it IS an award-winning quilt. ;-) It made the rounds of a few quilt shows before I found out the godson was to be married in 2005. Not an original design, but out of More Vertical Quilts With Style, it was originally made for a contest promoting the fabric line "From the Mills" (hence the name). It got nowhere in that contest, but then won honorable mention in the Heritage Quilters show in Sun Prairie, WI, and was juried into the 2004 AQS Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee, where to by absolute surprise it won 1st place in its category. I just love this quilt and was so pleased to pass it along to my very special godson.

Me with Mill Stars - Sun Prairie Quilt Show 2002

So now maybe you understand why I got so wound up over Rohan's baby quilt - it has a lot to live up to!

Monday, September 01, 2014


The sound of water, be it from a stream, a fountain or waves lapping at the shore, has been an integral part of my well-being from the start. There's nothing so soothing to me as being within earshot of running water, nothing that relaxes me more than watching it move. My mind is released to contemplate, for quiet reflection, even to momentarily go blank.

The sound of the water in the video above isn't very loud, but go ahead and listen to it anyway, watch the gentle flow of water as it leaves Round Lake for the next lake down, while you think about this post from Austin Kleon's blog. It really struck a chord, this idea of what do you want your days to look like. I think most people don't feel they have a lot of control over that, what with making a living and keeping family happy. We allow others to structure what fills our days. Then there comes a time when we may find there is more latitude, more freedom to choose how each day plays out, or more radically, we defy being swept along and start making conscious choices. Either way, we may feel glad for the chance, but lost as to what it is we've been waiting for the chance to do. 

For a long time now, I've been at liberty to pretty much fill my days as I choose. Some days I do better than others, some months or years are more clear than others, some stretches feel like absolute success while others feel like absolute failure. In the rough patches I find myself longing for things I don't have, as we all do. Yet my propensity for analyzing everything soon finds me imagining what it would really be like should I get my wish, thinking about what the days would actually be like. Life is nothing if not a constant compromise, a constant weighing of the good and the bad of nearly every situation.

So as Austin says, “'What do you want your days to look like?' forces you to imagine the day in, day out realities that making such choices will present you with." Lovely to dream of living out your life on a south sea island, but in fact, would lying on the beach with no responsibility grow old sooner than later? What things would one have to fill one's day with there in order to feel happy and fulfilled? Is what we wish for in our lowest hours a reality we would truly want? It very well may be, as long as we remember that even success has its ups and downs.

Austin's reply to the question, "What is your definition of success?" is pretty spot on in my estimation: “I suppose success is your days looking the way you want them to look.” And I would add that not all days are going to look like you want them to. Some will get away from you. Some will not play out as well as you thought with what you planned to fill them with. Some will surprise you with how well they went. But isn't it lovely to turn that question of what to do with one's life (huge topic implying major decision that will make or break you) into a more immediate and fluid muse of what you want your individual days to look like?

What is your definition of success? What do you want your days to look like?