Wednesday, December 31, 2008

October Take It Further Challenge

Yes, you read right - this is October's TIF challenge piece - well I TOLD you I hadn't been good about keeping up. The theme for October was "to think about your textile work space. How do you feel about this space? What role does it play in your life?" Read more about the challenge them and alternate color palette here.

This wasn't too hard for me - my "textile work space" is usually a mess, piled with good intentions, inspiration, works in progress, ideas I don't want lost, but which get lost all the same in the chaos. Sometimes the chaos bothers me, other times it motivates me. Sometimes the work space feels like a refuge, and other times a war zone. I envy those with larger spaces, better storage systems, more design walls, better lighting, but in reality, the space works, although sometimes a little awkwardly. I often do an exercise I call "clearing the decks" when I've been bad about putting things away and realize my actual table work space has been reduced to the size of my cutting mat. But about mid-year I decided I didn't want to do that anymore, because that just puts things out of sight and out of mind. I decided I'd rather clear the decks by actually working on the projects piled up there. It's been a good plan, although it hasn't freed up space as quickly as I thought it would. So the studio, while getting better, is still a bit chaotic.

The basis for this piece is the result of wanting to keep using up small pieces of fabric from my string drawer after I completed the blocks for a string quilt. I discovered I had a lot of strings that were actually too short for these blocks, but that still felt too big to toss. I was in the mood for mindless sewing so thought I'd try what I've seen so many others do - randomly sew pieces together until I had bigger pieces of "fabric" that could be worked into a project.

It did not go well. I've never had much luck at this random stuff and the little pieces I was ending up with were not pleasing me at all. I go back to it now and then, having left everything piled on the floor around my sewing table, but it has been really frustrating to see it working for others and failing for me. I guess that's why I keep pecking away at it, sure that at some point it will work, if I just keep at it. In reality, though, I determined that the reason this random stuff doesn't work for me is because of what I start with. That drawer is representative of all the fabric fads of the last 15 years, has pieces both given to me, bought by me and scrounged by me. It comprises fabric from all the things I've tried over the years while I learned about quilting, my preferences, my style. I'm still experimenting, but I must admit I'm narrowing my focus these days. A lot of these fabrics don't sing to me anymore. No wonder I'm not happy seeing such a disparate range of fabrics side by side.

I didn't think the above piece was too bad, but I didn't want to keep adding to it - it's postcard size - yet it needed more. It was when studying it that I realized that it reflected the state of my studio and my quilting history. - a real hodgepodge. In it is commercial fabrics from my earliest quilting efforts, reproduction fabric, batik, my hand-dyed fabric, scrapbag fabric, fabric from a guild project, leftovers from garment making. I'm still holding on to all these different styles of fabric in my stash, even though I rarely use anything but the batiks and hand-dyes anymore. I can't let go and they are part of the chaos in my studio and in my head as I work.

I decided what the piece needed was a bit of sheer fabric with stars because that's the other thing about how I feel about my work space. In there I may have moments of clarity, even the occasional flash of brilliance, have even had moments of stardom - but most of the time I feel like I'm working in a fog, unclear about direction, and when I find direction, unclear about execution, how to proceed.

So I think this little piece is a good way to end up the year. It has told me something about myself I needed to see and make some strides to remedy. I need to keep working diligently to reduce the studio chaos and refine my focus. I can't quite bring myself to say I should let go of some of these fabrics I rarely use anymore. Maybe I just need to find a way to use them up, knowing I won't replace them the way I replace the hand-dyes and batiks. Almost anything can be used as backing, for instance.

By the way, I used a binding on this postcard, which went a bit better than the satin stitched edging. Still, it seemed to take longer than it should for such a small piece. Guess there's no truly quick way to cleanly finish an edge.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Snow

I spent most of yesterday in shock as I looked out the window at near white-out conditions. Thank goodness the maintenance people showed up to plow - They usually only work on Tuesday and Wednesday so I felt really lucky. There was still that 9 or 10 inches of snow from the weekend which with warmer temps started to reduce itself into a mucky mess. And then this new 4 or 5 inches of fluffier stuff on top of it. I poked my nose out late in the day after it had stopped and felt sorry for the trees that had just shed their mantle of snow. Here they were all covered again.

What actually pulled me outside was a glow that looked like a sunset - sure enough, an eerie color tinged the clouds.

No sewing to report - just shoveling, bill paying, thank you note writing, running out for New Year's Eve supplies between storms and tidying up in the studio. I have a long way to go to get my end-of-the-year cleaning done, but I am making progress every day. It won't be done by January 1 but maybe by the end of the weekend. I'm hoping to fit in some sewing tomorrow. And my frame for Balance Check finally arrived today - maybe I'll tackle that tomorrow as well. Really wanted that one all wrapped up before 2009.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December TIFC

I have not been good about keeping up with the monthly Take It Further Challenge. However, after shoveling a bunch of snow yesterday, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon of hand sewing on a project designed to fulfill December's theme of generosity. It just happens to also match the alternate color scheme: 2 reds, 2 greens and a gold - Christmas colors. I've been wanting to work with felted wool and recently ran across these two patterns I'd pulled from Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting magazine, especially designed for felt. Seeing those patterns again reminded me I'd intended to use the poinsettia one for this December challenge. Better get with it!

In the picture above, the pattern on the right is the older of the two, a little needlecase. My muddled mind remembered the poinsettia on the left decorating it, not that star. The poinsettia pattern is for covering the top of a round box or for applying to homespun to make into a pillow. I decided to let my muddled mind have its way since it was the needlecase I wanted to make, not a box or pillow cover, with a poinsettia, not a star adorning it. Both directions suggested making freezer paper templates - you can see I've traced the applique pieces onto scraps of freezer paper. The needlecase pieces I could cut with a ruler without templates. The 4 pieces of felted wool were a gift; the roll of felt behind them is some I just recently bought so I'd have the second shades of red and green for the project.

Freezer paper really sticks well to this wool which surprised me. I tried tracing around the template with a Sharpie pen but then found it hard to cut out the shape eliminating all the black ink. So the rest of the applique got cut out with the freezer paper still on. This really pointed out how uptight I am and prone to working to exacting methods. I needed that reminder that in applique one does not have to be so perfect. I guess I was afraid the freezer paper would pop off as I cut (it didn't) or that I'd accidentally cut into the template (since it didn't have to match anything I could stay away from the template edge). The entire poinsettia design was a little big for the needlecase, so again, I had to loosen up and experiment with placement until I found something pleasing that fit.

Glue stick worked like a charm to hold the applique pieces in place. I found sequin pins easier to use for holding the curve of the stems in place. I expected all the applique to be done with a buttonhole stitch (more muddled memory), but instead, I was instructed to whipstitch with matching embroidery floss; the other pattern suggested using pearl cotton. I have no pearl cotton on hand and in spite of having what I thought was a lot of embroidery floss, the only matching color I had was gold. So I used my YLI Heirloom 100 silk thread which DID match.

The lining piece has a separate rectangle whipstitched in the center - it holds the needles. Here you can see the matching embroidery thread. Sew a snap on either end to hold the case closed.

The handles are just a strip folded in half and whipstitched together. They are pinned in between the lining and the outside once all the applique is done & french knots added to the center of the flower (one can also add beads). All is held together with (at last) the buttonhole stitch done with three strands of embroidery floss.

I'm very pleased with how this turned out. These two shots show front and back when the case is folded up.

I definitely want to do more of this, can see how my favorite beader, Mary Stori, was seduced by it, and really need to get her book about beading on wool. I'd be interested to know how others approach working with wool felt, too. I'm particularly curious about whether I should worry about how badly the dye runs in all the pieces I have, and if so, how to make it colorfast.

You may be wondering how this all fits into the theme of generosity. The challenge said, "I want to ask what is the idea of generosity to you...think about what it is to give..." It's the wool itself that makes me think of generosity, for it was a most generous gift from a friend who took note of my stopping at a vendor's booth to finger the wonderful stuff, remembered me saying how I'd like to try working with it some day. Of course, for me someday was going to be when I got around to felting some of the wool yardage I have left over form my garment sewing days. I think she knew that would likely not happen soon. Her generosity, her gift has allowed me to stretch myself and in turn make something that I will give away. Generosity begets generosity and a gift ask nothing in return. The pleasure is in the giving and true generosity considers the needs of the recipient, not the giver.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Now I AM Snowed In

It was with shock that I looked out this morning to 9 inches of fresh snow. Guess I should have believed the weatherwoman last night, but she's been so vague lately. When she says "1 to 3 ft of snow in the mountains" you don't know if she means on the passes or in the valleys. It's getting dark now, still snowing and at last check another 2 inches had fallen. This is wetter stuff than we've had previously - I didn't even make it to the mailbox with my shovel before giving up. It was when I hit that extra layer of salted sanded muck the plow throws up on the shoulder that demoralized me.

Three cheers for the postperson! She'd proudly announced earlier that she would not be thwarted by the snows this year, having purchased a 4-wheel drive rig. True to her word, she forced her way partly up the driveway to deliver some packages. Now I have in hand my 2009 calendar from my store. As with the greeting cards, the clarity and detail of my quilts on each page is stunning. If you haven't settled on a calendar for 2009, perhaps you would consider hanging mine - A Year of Quilted Birch Trees.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More "Knick Knack Sacks"

I made these Wednesday, and think I may have this out of my system now. At least, I've made up the ones I had fabric set aside for on the end of the work table. Still some zippers down there, but I think I'm putting it away for a later day. Yeah! A tiny square of blank space on my table!

The one on the bottom is the larger size and the only one of the three made to pattern specs. I soon realized that I could adjust the measurements to suit my taste as long as it worked with the length of zipper on hand. The one on the upper left is perhaps my favorite, both because of the material and because of its size. The one on the right, though smaller, is still a good size, and used the vertical dimension of the larger sack.

The back of that one is a small piece of fabric that was part of a dye discharge experiment. These were squiggles of bleach drawn on with a laundry bleach pen. The lining of the other one is a piece of fabric I marbled with less than stellar results. But it works ok for a lining.

As I worked through these, I remembered that I once thought these would be perfect places to showcase small pieces of specialty fabrics like the dye discharge and the stamping I've done, and also might be a place to lay down lots of threads - either with couching or just rows of decorative stitching. But I was feeling rushed and not in the mood to play with threadwork on my old cranky machine. My "good" machine is still hanging out at Viking - no word on its progress, but I'm hoping the delay is just that they are really putting it through its paces, maybe even tearing it down like a car engine, to track down its problem. I still have plenty of things not requiring its presence to keep me busy for awhile.

As for today? Had to dig out the part of the driveway next to the hwy, push the 5" of snow from yesterday off the car and shovel a bit around it too so I could go mail a pkg, go to the bank and pick up some milk. Sundries before settling back in for the weekend. No desire whatsoever to hit the studio - just want to finish my Richard Russo novel.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

For BC & Mad Max

Mmmm...perhaps I AM getting snowed in. And me without a nice bottle of brandy...Merry Christmas all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like....

...last winter! I have not had much desire to capture the snow we've gotten the last week or so primarily because I still involuntarily shudder at the thought of it after what we went through last winter. However, worried friends have called to check up on me, ask if I merely need to recycle last winter's pictures to show what's outside my door right now, and frankly, we are getting off easy. Compared to Spokane (just 90 minutes drive southwest) which got a record 23-1/2" in 34 hours, we got a mere 7 inches, and only had about 7 inches prior to that. The big pain has been the extreme cold and high winds whipping things up. That has tempered the last few days so I really can't complain.

I didn't actually expect to wake up to several inches of new snow, though. I thought that was coming later in the day. The mountain ash so laden with snow was too much of a temptation to capture.

Here are some other shots around the place on this Christmas Eve. Have a merry one!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ghost of Christmas Past

I have a filing system for ideas & patterns pulled from magazines, but the system sometimes breaks down. Such was the case when I went to find the pattern for making the folded ornament in the previous post. I have a three ring binder devoted to Christmas patterns and cross-stitch ideas. The cross-stitch is in the same notebook because so many of the Christmas ideas are actually cross stitch. Before being totally turned to quilting, I did a lot of cross-stitch and enjoyed doing the little Aida cloth card inserts at Christmas time. At some point when I realized I was doing more quilting than anything, I went through my manila folders and envelops (which was my idea of organization back then), and started separating "craft ideas" and "quilting" into separate binders. (The knitting & crochet stuff was few enough to remain in a manila envelop with the box of yarns). Since I had so much devoted to Christmas, I decided to group it together, regardless of the method to make it. So I was pretty surprised to get through the entire binder without running across the ornament pattern. (I tracked it down two binders later.)

Talk about a walk down memory lane! I still like so many of those cross stitch patterns that I can't bear to toss them, even though I doubt I'll use them (but you never know). A few of the ideas, like the yo yo garlands though, were easy to pull and toss - never going to do THAT one.

Tucked away in the front cover sleeve were some envelops, one of which held a freebie I'd sent away for in 1994! This was during that first year in Wisconsin when I turned my back on all other needlework and became serious about learning the craft of quilting. I'm sure I was scouring every magazine and sending away for anything free, yet I'd never done anything with this. What was in there?

This is what was in there - A Stitch-Thru tear-away stencil, two pieces of star fabric and directions for making a quilted ornament, compliments of EZ International. Gosh, I wondered if the company was even in business anymore. A google search sent me to a Wisconsin company NOT dealing in quilting supplies, but I did track them down, now going under the name of EZ Quilting and still offering free patterns on their website. It doesn't appear they offer these tearaway stencils anymore though. I chuckled that the fabric was my signature teal color; I'm sure it came prior to my obsession with teal. I decided against tucking the contents back in the envelop and back in the binder and worked on the ornament today.

The instructions tell you to layer the two fabrics with a bit of batting. I used a scrap of dense polyester that when I took a suit tailoring class many years ago I was told was called "fleece." Then place the see-through stencil on top and secure with pins in each corner through all layers. I couldn't resist centering the stencil over a star.

Then it says to freemotion quilt the design following instructions on "the last page." Those instructions consists of:

"Free motion quilting is the stitching technique used with the Stitch-Thru Stencils. By lowering or covering the feed-dogs on your machine and attaching a darning foot, you can hand guide the stitching around the design without turning the whole quilt. Stitch-Thru Stencils have continuous line designs and directional arrows which lead the way."

Well, this WAS the early 90's when free motion quilting was a bit in its infancy. If you look closely, you can see there are hearts where the stitching is to start and stop. Continuous, eh? Hardly!

I decided to use monofilament thread in the bobbin and Sulky Sliver silver metallic thread in the needle. I've used stitch-through stencils of my own making before, and while they seem like a good idea, I find it a little hard to see what I've already stitched, tricky to adjust tension I difficult to remove. Still, this is pretty nifty with an uncomplicated design.

The stencil material is stiff and a bit plasticky. It reminds me a bit of a paper piecing product marketed by Zippy Designs, Easy Piece. (Mmm - a google shows Zippy's web address no longer good and although I found Easy Piece in an on-line store, there's a note there that the paper mill that manufactures this paper is no longer making it. I'm beginning to feel very old and out of touch...) It has the translucent look but not the feel of wax paper and does break away from the stitching lines cleanly, especially when the tip of a seam ripper is run underneath it.

Once quilted, it's time to trim away the excess about 1/4" from the outer quilting, using either pinking or regular shears. Then they get fancy will ideas for finishing techniques, which include zigzagging the outside edges (which is what I did), gluing or hand-sewing lace and beads around the edge, doing a hand-sewn buttonhole stitch, and, if you used cotton batting, brushing the edges with a stiff brush to create a "soft antique country look." Finally, thread cord through a point to make a hanger or glue it onto a paper towel tube that's been painted or covered with matching fabric. I did some backstitching at the end of my zigzag edge finish, then left the thread ends long enough to knot to form a loop. Ho, ho, ho!

Monday, December 22, 2008

From Holiday Mode to Holiday Mood

I needed a small hostess gift for Christmas day, so just for fun, I decided to make one of these folded ornaments. This fabric is one I got in a guild Christmas fat quarter exchange - so not me. Serves me right - if I remember correctly, my contribution to the exchange was a very old print foisted on me by my mother-in-law after making wreaths one year. However, this snowman print works up nicely in these ornaments and I love the buttons I found in my collection handed down to me from my grandmother and mother. Yes, I made more than one, because I am now thoroughly in a holiday mood, can think of a few other people to give them to and was motivated to use up this fabric. Three was all I could get out of it and now I'm wondering what or what will I find to do with the 4 or 5 inch strip and a few scraps left?

I have what now seems like a ridiculous amount of Christmas fabric in my stash. The stack I pulled to choose from was at least 8" high - most of it quite beautiful. I'd been buying pieces here and there like one does, but then I got a chance to buy a huge bundle at quite a discount so I went for it. I don't remember now if most of those are fat quarters or 1/2 yards, but I'm pretty sure my intention was to have plenty to choose from when I got around to making a Christmas quilt. Have the pattern, background fabric and a fabulous border print all set aside. Plaids in reds and greens as well ready to mix in with those Christmas prints to make a scrappy holiday throw. I'm guessing these have been waiting at least 4 years for me to get to them. I still want to make the quilt, still think I will some day, but as I look at that stack of Christmas prints, I know I won't begin to put a dent in them with that one quilt.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Present to Self

Here's what I did in the studio today. Not much but one more thing that's been hanging out on my work table waiting for attention. This picture shows a purse I crocheted a few years ago when I first discovered the Sari silk yarn. One skein was plenty for this simple bag. I lined it with the dragonfly batik fabric and included an inside pocket for those little things one doesn't like floating loose in the bottom of one's purse. Unfortunately, the pocket was too small.

When I found the pattern for the "Knick-Knack Sack" I intended to make one to slip in this purse to hold those little goodies. I made samples in both sizes (see the first one I made here), then never got back to making one with the dragonfly fabric...until today. The lighter batik is what I decided to use for lining. I had to dig a bit, but I found the pattern and zipper along with some WonderUnder cut to size on the far end of the table behind a stack of fabric and pages pulled from magazines. I definitely have to do some filing next week!

I was reminded about the "sack" because the purse has been in my studio waiting for me to shorten up the strap - it keeps stretching under the weight of what I carry in it. Actually, I hadn't used it much both because of the stretched strap and the need for the little sack. With the strap fixed, it made sense to get that little bag made.

Here you can see the lining. The pattern suggests making the outer pocket in a contrasting material, but I chose to use the same fabric as the rest of the outside. I cut the pieces such that plenty of dragonfly would show. This bag finishes to about 5" by 4' and actually is a smidgen small for my needs. But if I put some things in it and the rest in the lining pocket, I think I can get by. I now remember what those notes on the pattern were all about...I was supposed to experiment with sizing this bag between the pattern's small and big size. I have plenty of both fabrics; maybe I'll give it another go. In the meantime, I'm better off than I was.

Note: This bag does not easily slip in the purse since the lining is cotton and so is the bag. I see the virtue of using satin linings in my handmade purses in the future. Also, this smaller size's outer pocket is perfect for business cards and my small tracfone fits nicely in the main section. Perhaps that is the use it is destined for someday.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Mode

I've written the last Christmas card...except to you my readers, so here it is - Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays! I feel a bit of freedom in my grasp. The picture above is actually a card I received from the Salvation Army. Aren't all those curves the best? What a graceful reindeer!

To be honest, I haven't done anything remotely creative since I finished up the Redwork Quilt last Saturday. Once that deadline was met, it was definitely time to switch into holiday mode. The week's been spent writing on cards, wrapping a few presents for shipping, digging out the car to take said presents to the post office during the window of opportunity between the winds dying down and the next storm,
digging out the car from that next storm, cleaning out my desk, cleaning out my e-mail files...Seriously, I find the end of the year much more conducive to a round of "spring" cleaning than spring. It seems an appropriate way to wrap up the year and start the new one with a little less baggage...freedom.

The holiday mode has also been partly vacation mode too. I haven't felt much like "working" in the studio, haven't felt much creative urge, have had no inkling of what I'd do if I went in there. I keep remembering all that free time during school breaks both growing up and when I worked for the schools, time I spent reading, knitting, playing outside in the snow (not shoveling it), doing the opposite of whatever my daily routine/job was. I keep catching myself wanting to recapture that time so I've been shunning my "day job" of quilting. But with the Christmas preparations wrapping up, a bit of guilt has crept in along with a feeling of being at loose ends. I vowed I'd do something in there today and settled on sewing the sleeve on the NY beauty tie quilt. I've decided not to add any more beads so it was time to sleeve it and get it hung. Time to quit avoiding the studio.

It was only after I went in and got going on the sleeve, while hand stitching it to the back of the quilt that I realized being in there felt like refuge again (see here for a post about the different feelings I can have in the studio). It pleased me that the aversion was gone and made me think about why that was. I decided it was because the sorts of things needing immediate attention in there were not creative activities, but follow-up activities, those things that need doing once a quilt is "done." Besides the sleeve, I subconsciously knew I had some documenting to catch up on and straightening up to do. Why I was avoiding it I'm not sure, because once the sleeve was on, I wanted to stay in my refuge and do that follow-up stuff. It was no different than the cleaning up I did in the office all week. The end of the year is a great time to sort and toss and reassess and plan. Suddenly I was grabbing a scrap of paper to write down all the things crowding into my mind that I wanted to attend to in here these last few weeks of the year, including a few creative endeavors. What a lift! Freedom!

With the last Christmas card in the mail, I recaptured some freedom - and freedom is my resolution word for 2008 so it felt very good. With my short time in the studio today, I gained a little more freedom, plus a short list to direct me for gaining more. None of it feels at odds with my wanting to stay in vacation mode. It feels like the perfect way to let the year run down and get a head start on the new year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quilts as depicted in paintings

Also in the November 2008 issue of The Magazine Antiques is an article on genre painter Seymour Joseph Guy which includes this 1867 painting called Making a Train. If you click on the picture, you will easily see why this painting caught my eye.

Advances in photography have made it possible for quilts and quilting to be well documented in the 20th & 21st century. It is rarer to find photographs showing quilts prior to 1900. These often show up as staged backdrops or as part of a family's treasures being recorded along with family members. I don't know how often quilts showed up in paintings though, so I was interested to study the pattern here and the details of the fabrics as rendered in this oil painting. I just wish I could see what's going on in the center of the quilt!

It's much easier these days to find quilts featured in paintings and prints, thanks to the popularity of quilting itself. Diane Phalen is one of my favorite artists specializing in this (her work available in prints, notecards & calendars), but there are many more. Google "quilts/paintings" and you will see just how much is out there right now.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Demuth & O'Keeffe

Red Poppies by Charles Demuth, 1929 Metropolitan Museum of Art
"I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers."
Georgia O'Keeffe

If you can get your hands on the November 2008 issue of The Magazine Antiques, there's a great article in it about the artistic relationship & friendship between Charles Demuth and Georgia O'Keeffe: Reflections: Charles Demuth and Georgia O'Keeffe by Mark D. Mitchell. Of course, I am familiar with O'Keeffe,(although I admit not with some of the work shown in this article), but not Demuth. The article explores their friendship and how they influenced each other's work. In this day of so much emphasis on copyright issues and making original, not derivative work, it was interesting to be reminded that mingling with other artists, admiring other's work, sharing ideas and styles has not always been seen in a negative light. These are sometimes tribute to the admired artist and sometimes a bridge leading to the discovery of one's voice.

The article includes some quotations that resonate, including the one above and this one from Demuth addressing his skepticism of written descriptions' ability to replace the act of looking at a work of art:

"To me words explain too much and say too little. Paintings must be looked at and looked at and looked at - they, I think, the good ones, like it."

Both quotations speak to issues I hear being discussed among art quilters as well as artists of other mediums.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Antique Quilts at the MAC

If antique quilts hold a fascination for you as they do for me, and if you are going to be anywhere near Spokane, WA between now and May 17th, don't miss the opportunity to see "Quiltscapes" at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. They are putting on display 43 of the 150 quilts in their collection plus making available a PowerPoint presentation featuring all 150 quilts. The oldest quilts on display are dated 1820. I suspect this is an exhibit not to be missed. See more about the exhibit including pictures of quilts on the museum website here. Read the newspaper coverage with pic here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cold Snap

Winds still howling today and the little bit of shoveling I did to get out to the paper box convinced me I didn't want to work on the car. It doesn't look like much (and indeed, there isn't a great deal of snow) but if you've ever tried slogging through a shoveling drifted snow, you know what a chore it is - compacted and heavy. I caught a ride to church with someone who's Outback lives in a garage - now I know that if I can get a run at it, I can get through it, but the angles all wrong the way I'm parked. A little clearing of snow first appears in order. Or...I keep thinking if I wait long enough, maybe the wind will blow all the snow off the car making my job easier!

Did you spot the frost on the window in the above picture? The inside of most of my storm windows have frosted over (old rental house, with leaks I can't begin to seal up), but this one was clear until this morning. Look at these lovely feathers that emerged.

Isn't nature just wonderful and full of surprises? Wouldn't these look beautiful on a quilt? Click on the picture for a larger view.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Redwork Cross II

The Christmas music came out as background for finishing up this second Redwork Cross from the book The Quilted Cross by J. Michelle Watts. We certainly have the weather now to warrant a few Christmas Carols. Thanks, Canada, for sending the storm that dumped our first measurable snow of the season followed by an arctic blast! I'm not sure how much snow we got yesterday afternoon into this morning - the winds have been blowing it all over the place at a steady 25 mph and have succeeded in drifting my driveway shut - but I think it is about 6 or 7 inches. They'd warned we could get as much as 18 inches, so I'm not going to complain. However, I WILL complain about the steadily dropping temp which is due to bottom out at one below tonight and not get much higher than 6 tomorrow. We'll be cracking open the taps and keeping the heat up a bit tonight.

This shot shows the hand quilting. If I can get out, this will be auctioned off at church tomorrow. It is about 14 x 16 inches. For comparison, go here to see the first rendition.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Log Cabin

I was very pleased at what I got done yesterday - a combination of scheduling and putting my head down. I finished the hand-quilting on the cross quilt and it will be bound and sleeved tomorrow. Then I quilted this baby quilt in the afternoon - something that surely wasn't on my radar before last Sunday.

Actually, the baby quilt is a sample from a class I taught back in Wisconsin. I stitched in the ditch by machine along the sashings, then added ties in them and the blocks. I knew this minimal quilting would never do if the quilt was ever washed - I'd used a cotton batting requiring quilting no farther apart than 2-3 inches. But I was making a point to my class and that's the way it ended up.

I rarely get the chance anymore to go to a baby shower so the quilt has languished in a storage bin. And then Sunday I was invited to an impromptu shower for the daughter of a church member who had just arrived from Florida, baby in tow and not much of a winter wardrobe for her. I had a lot of self-imposed deadlines this week, so I wasn't sure I could find the time to finish the quilting. But I did, and I was pleased that I pushed myself a bit to get it done.

Yes, Virgina, you can add quilting after the binding is on. The ties acted like safety pins, and I marked a simple diagonal grid with a ruler and herra marker. This is a good quick method to mark straight lines, the herra marker leaving a crease visible on most fabrics and nothing to remove afterwards. Are the lines perfectly spaced? No. Are they perfectly straight? No. Does it matter on a baby quilt? Not really. If perfection is your aim, this might not be the way you want to go, but if you are looking for quick and easy, and have some corners to use as guides, this works slick. These lines ended up being spaced approximately 2" apart - perfect. If I'd had more time, I might have doubled the number of lines, but 2" was adequate and doable in the hours I had.

As for the quilt itself, I call these "casual" log cabin blocks. The casual part comes from the fact that making these blocks can be approached "casually" because there's so little precision involved. Fussy cutting the center square from novelty fabric takes a bit of precision, but after that, just sew a variety of widths and angles of strips round the center square. Keep adding strips until the block is large enough to square up to 9-1/2" (or whatever pleases you - you might start with a larger or smaller center square for instance). Make sure the center square is NOT centered in the block when you do this squaring up. This adds to the "casual" flavor.

I think these blocks look good separated by a a wide sashing with corner stones and a 1/2" wide binding. For these 9 inch blocks, a finished 3 inch sashing is a good balance. Diagonal grid quilting is a good choice although an all over freemotion design would work well too. Here's the first one of these I made, using a small piece of crow fabric for my centers.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Concept of Retreat

I was perusing some book reviews recently and ran across an interesting concept, definition really, of retreat - not the cut & run kind of retreat we Americans are so often hearing discussed these days, but the sort of retreat where one takes a break from the world to focus on a particular subject. The book in question happens to be a religious one, The God of Second Chances by Erik Kolbell, but this matter of retreat as highlighted in the review* resonates with the artist in me.

" In [the chapter] 'Retreat,' Kobell reminds us of the importance of making time and space in our lives, not so much for removal from our everyday activities but for making retreat a habit of the heart...

It's almost too late to rest after we discover we are spiritually exhausted...We need to 'anticipate our needs before they are upon us' and to 'reach for that [deep] breath before we are winded." (Emphasis is mine)

It may be too late to take that deep breath in preparation for the often wild and exhausting holiday season, yet maybe we should try anyway, especially if artistic expression is in jeopardy. How many of you have experienced that deepest of exhaustion that robs you not only of the energy but the desire or ability to do your creative work?

We make many excuses for not taking breaks to rejuvenate. We often let others make us feel guilty when we do. This last quotation from the author should give you heart:

"We do not retreat to avoid our responsibility to creation but to better assume it."

Retreat is NOT a dirty word. It is NOT a luxury. Go RETREAT!

*This review is by Lois Sibley as printed in the November 2008 issue of Episcopal Life Monthly

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New Items In My Shop

It wasn't diversions or distractions that slowed down my progress on adding this calendar to my shop, but huge files and slow dial-up service! Oh, if Santa would only bring me high speed internet access for Christmas... Anyway, it features 12 of my birch tree inspired journal and art quilts and may be purchased here.

I also added this porcelain tree ornament featuring detail from my "Angel of the Rock" art quilt, now in the collection of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church of Sandpoint ID. Click here for more information.

See this post to read about other items recently added, or just go to
to see what else I have to offer.

It's a great relief to get this done. Now back to creating!

Friday, December 05, 2008


My stitches came out today (the ones in my mouth) and I got a clean bill of health from the dentist - hooray! I'll be eating normally in no time. On the non-hooray side, my Viking Sapphire still has its little problem when I free-motion stitch (discovered as I was quilting the last round of postcards) so is returning to the company for another try at fixing, or to be replaced. I'm leaning towards replacement myself, but I imagine they will keep working at it instead. My patience is running thin. So it got boxed up and dropped of while I was out today. Another hooray - the dealership is located in a small mall which makes lugging the machine to the store a pain. But there's a service door that he uses when you pick up a repair, telling you to pull right up to the door. My plan was to pull into the firelane, call him on my cell phone and tell him I was sitting there waiting for him to get the machine. Instead, he was already standing there having a smoke break - hooray!

The indulgence part came between the dentist appt and the dealership. I decided to see how close I could park to the downtown Coldwater Creek store - usually I can't get within a block. To my delight, I found an easy to slip into spot right in front of the store. Karma, I decided, good vibes radiating. With coupon in hand, I scored on a few gift items and a hat for me and was on my way. Oh, but I was right across the street from a Hallmark shop and in need of a small 2009 calendar to carry in my purse, so I zipped across to see what they had. The only thing remotely like what I was looking for! Well, this is just too good. I decided to walk down the block and treat myself to a stroll through the artist co-op. So many lovely things to fill my senses, and a lovely artist on duty willing to chat about woven bead jewelry (her specialty) vs beading on textiles (which she had tried with a most unsatisfactory result). I didn't purchase anything, although I was tempted by a bowl which felt wonderful cupped in my hands and sporting a glaze in my favorite browns. Another bowl I do not need, but this one would certainly fit in with the rest of my collection.

I haven't had anything to show these last few days - I'm quilting the border of the redwork cross quilt (see previous post) when I'm not working on Christmas cards. I stood far too long at lake's edge yesterday as an ever changing sunset tinted the water pink and made me wish I had my camera with me. The picture above was taken two years ago and shows a bit of that tinge I saw yesterday. I haven't been down there for awhile, and it was so beautiful that I decided it was an indulgence I could afford. The preparation of the calendar I hoped to have ready for my cafepress shop by today turned out to be more involved than I anticipated. Lots of thinking through of how I want to present the images, what text to add, composing the cover. I'm just now ready to start the scanning and tweaking. Maybe before weekend's end, if I don't fall prey to indulgences again! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Redwork Embroidery - Old and New

Here is my redwork cross, all bordered and basted and ready for hand quilting. It doesn't show in the photo, but the border is marked in white Nonce pencil.

Last year, a friend gave me some old quilts and a box with grandmothers flower garden blocks in it, knowing that no one in the family was really interested in them, but that I had an interest in studying and preserving antique quilts. One of those quilts was this amazing redwork coverlet. (click on any of these photos for a larger view.)

A few weeks ago, she came to me saying she'd found more blocks while rummaging around in closets. I expected more of those hexagons for the flower garden blocks but instead, she handed me a plastic bag with 33 redwork embroidery blocks! I was astounded. There are no two alike, and as near as I can remember, they do not duplicate any in the coverlet either. They look to be by at least two different hands, and most of them are very finely done. The quality of the muslin backgrounds vary, some have yellowed and have brown spots, a few have frayed and are barely big enough to contain the embroidery.

I'm not sure what I'll do with these, but I am fairly sure I do not want them to go back into hiding for another near century - I'm guessing they were done around 1900. I'm tempted to divide them up into themes for small wall quilts. They need to be seen and shared.