Thursday, February 28, 2008

Quilting Samples

Quilting commenced on my Take It Further Challenge for February today. I don't always take the time to sandwich up a duplicate sample to test thread and stitches. Sometimes I can get by with checking tension and thread color along the edge where I've allowed extra batting and have turned the backing to the front or scraps of fabric used in the top laid on that extra batting. It's not an exact test area, but often times close enough. In this case, I needed a larger area with the top fabric showing to test the thread colors. I needed to test tension going through the extra top layer and its fusing. I may need to test stitching around the openings of the reverse applique. For all these reasons, I needed a quilting sample. Here it rests on top of the real quilt.

This isn't terribly big, and it may be difficult to see the different threads. The two rows directly around the circle arch are done in blue Madeira Rayon thread; when I stepped back, it didn't show at all. The rows above are a Sulky variegated metallic thread - greens and violets; it showed but I just don't think I want sparkly stuff on this. The rows below are the King Tut variegated blue cotton thread. Its change from light to dark blue with some purple thrown in echoes the mottling in the blue fabric, so I decided to go with that. After quilting about half of the quilt, I'm second guessing that decision, but going ahead anyway. The marking lines are making it hard to tell just what's going on, giving me the sense that I should have gone with a darker, heavier thread.

Speaking of marking lines, I gotta tell ya, I'm lovin' having a road map to quilt by. All the thinking about where the stitches will go is already done and there in front of me; I just stick it under the needle and go. I started with the walking foot, quilting the lines that go pretty straight across the top. I accidentally got going on one that ended in one of the tight swirls, where I thought I'd have to freemotion stitch. Oh, do I love this pivot feature on my Viking Sapphire! Every time the needle stops in the down position, the presser foot raises slightly. Maneuvering around those curves is not as cumbersome as I thought it would be. I think the feeddogs will stay up.

Here are some old quilting samples that double as batting samples (measured before and after washing to verify shrinkage and to test the overall look provided by the particular batting). These were rare cases when I had either extra pieced sections or extra fabric I felt I could spare for a big sample.

Monday, February 25, 2008

My 75 Cent Find

I had it in my head that my appointment was at 11:00. My hairdresser always runs a little behind, but she was just beginning a cut when I arrived. Mmm. After a few minutes, I decided to consult my calendar to see if I'd gotten the day wrong. No, right day, wrong time - my appointment was for 11:30. Luckily, the salon is in the same block with a thrift store, so I buzzed on over there to see if there were any silk ties. This is the first time I've found any to buy since arriving in Idaho; the last ones I bought at Goodwill in WI ran me between $3 & $5 each, which I thought a pretty good deal. Deal, shmeal, THIS is a deal! Seventy-five cents each. The one in the center is my favorite.

I always enjoy reading the labels - I'm searching them out anyway for fiber content. I was surprised that so many of the polyester ties had a little bit of silk blended with them, maybe 10%. I don't remember running across poly/silk blends before. But I limit my purchases to 100% silk so passed all others up, although there were a couple of poly ones that were a temptation, especially the Liberty of London one.

The one on the left is "Cocktail Collection" made in Mexico. I don't think I've run across Mexican silk ties before. The next one is "Enrico Coveri" made in the USA of imported silk. My graphic one is "Louis Roth" and proudly states that it is hand made in Korea. Next up, a "Secours" (in Grecian-looking typeface); the lining as well as the outside is 100% silk (often the lining is acetate), and it is hand made in Italy. I have several Italian ties in my collection. Finally, the last one has lost its brand label, but the little one confirms that it too is all imported silk and "hand sewn in the USA."

I know of at least one manufacturer still making neckties in the United States, XMI in Chippewa Falls, WI. (Follow the link if for no other reason than to drool over the model on the home page & fashion book.) This little town is about 15 or so miles from where I lived for awhile, and I taught quilt classes at a shop there. In fact, that's how I found out about XMI. Two of its employees signed up for one of my classes, and I heard them chatting about the finicky sewing machines they dealt with at work. I was dumbfounded when they told me they made ties. Later, a lady in my Baltimore applique group traded some swatches of silk with me, noting she'd gotten a big bag of these off-cuts from the factory. I about fell over - factory where? Just up the road. It seemed such an unlikely place to find such a company whose product is actually quite well know and sought after all over the world. We're talking rural backwater here. I hope they can survive the onslaught of Chinese imports - there's very little manufacturing going on in this country anymore.

In spite of my good intentions, and many subsequent trips to Chippewa Falls, I never did make it to the XMI factory outlet to take advantage of an inexpensive source of high quality tie silks. And I've not run into any XMI ties at the thrift shops - I think guys hold on to these. Another one of life's "oh, well"s.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fancy Duds

This is Lady Diana Cecil, Countess of Oxford, in an early 1600's portrait attributed to William Larkin. A close-up was featured on the cover of the December 2007 issue of The Magazine Antiques, so there was no missing what is going on with her dress. What exactly IS going on there? The front of the skirt and the over-sleeves appear to be slit, but obviously not left with raw edges. I want to know how they did that! I don't know a great deal about period dress, but still, I found this both fascinating and bizarre, especially for the time period. Any specialists out there that can enlighten us?

The article featuring this painting, by the way, was about the evolution of the wearing of rings. This portrait was chosen to show how a valuable or too big of a ring was secured by a cord tied to the wrist so it wouldn't slip off and be lost. The original oil painting is part of the Suffolk Collection on view at Kenwood House in London. Click on any picture for a larger view.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Meditative Work

Thanks for the comments on my Take It Further Challenge project for February which I posted about here. I'm glad you found it interesting and not perfectly obvious that I was working with an image from a rotary phone. I'm not surprised that hoof prints came to mind. The more I worked with it, the more those straight-on dials looked like horseshoes to me.

Once again, I am opting for closely spaced parallel lines for the quilting. I'm growing very fond of them, and feel each time I use them, I'm building on the idea, not just repeating what I've tried before. They are not unlike the echo quilting found in heirloom antique quilts. No wonder I'm drawn to the modern version. Perhaps my grounding in traditional antique quilts also explains why I'm more apt to pick a color of quilting thread that blends rather than stands out. I think that's where I'm headed here with this one. I think the middle thread is going to win out - a slightly variegated King Tut cotton thread - but I may throw in a few lines of the solid rayon too. I'm planning to sandwich up a sizable sample to try them out on.

I've started marking in my lines with a soapstone marker, using my mock-up on the full-size pattern as a guide. It's reminding me of that zentangle thing, very meditative, very enjoyable. I know, I know. Most machine quilters would not bother to do this, but just freely go for it. But I am not that confident. I've had to rip out too much stitching because I thought I could quilt from the image in my head. These lines take some unexpected turns, and I'm much more comfortable with a good road map to follow. This is part of my resolution to not be bullied into doing something I'm uncomfortable with or can't execute with the expertise I want just because everyone else is doing it.

I am going to have to make a decision though. Am I brave enough to try quilting all these lines with the feeddogs down? I certainly won't be able to manipulate around those tight curves in the centers of the dials with my walking foot. Yet I'm very concerned that the long straight lines and larger curves be smooth; I can't always maintain that smoothness when I have to stop with the needle down to rearrange my hands and the quilt. And I sometimes lose my concentration and veer off the line in an unattractive way. I may use both - use the walking foot on the lines that it can handle, then switch to free motion for the tighter areas.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Can You Guess?

My piece for the February Take It Further Challenge is far enough along for me to show. The color palette for the month was very tempting, but only because it immediately reminded me of the colors predominant in Civil War era quilts. It made me want to dive into my stash of reproduction fabrics and whip up a little traditional quilt typical of the mid to late 1800's. But then, that wouldn't be taking if further, now would it?

So I considered the key concept with a sigh: What are you old enough to remember? Lots of suggestions were made, mostly involving technology, but also about lifestyles and world events. I'm old enough to remember a lot. I sighed because the mention of all these things left me stuck with a mental image of photo-collaging again. Also not in keeping with the take it further spirit of the challenge. There's gotta be a better way to interpret this stuff. Or maybe I should just go back to the palette.

But lo and behold, while messing around on the computer, these thoughts on the back burner simmering, an image flashed into my head. A thing had surfaced as what I wanted to work with, and along with it, an abstract way of presenting it. Now I'm excited! So have you guessed yet from the picture above what it is that I'm old enough to remember?

I'm really hoping it's not totally obvious that my thing is the rotary phone. Back in the late 1950's, your phone was provide by and the property of the phone company. It came in one style and one color: basic black. It had no switch for silencing the rings, or volume control for the earpiece. It was permanently wired into the wall - no little clippy thing to unplug. I seem to remember my father referring to it as "the black monster." He hated that thing - I think because the ring was so loud and startling. He didn't do well with suddenly sharp noises because of his work underground in the mines. Down there, a sudden sharp noise could be the sign of a cave-in or air-blast, and survival meant reacting quickly. So the phone set off that flight adrenaline just when he was trying to decompress from a harrowing day's work. I also suspect he hated it because the phone calls were seldom for him - a little jealousy there.

When the idea of a rotary phone came to mind, it was that dial that flashed across my imagination, floating off into space. I have to admit, I miss dials. I rather dislike all this punching of buttons to adjust things where you want them. A nice turn of a dial so easily controls where you want to go with your adjustment. Even though there is no dial on today's phone, we still say "dial the number" and "wait for the dial tone." Give me back my dial!

I decided to work just with the circles - the finger holes - of the dial. I wanted to capture a little perspective by showing the dial at various angles. I went in search of pictures of rotary phones (I hate to admit, but it's been so long since I've seen one, I was a little unclear as to the configuration) and was delighted to find a good variety shot at the different angles I needed. Here are three I downloaded from the web:

I took them into software to reduce them to line drawings, printed them out, then used my printer to enlarge by 150, 175 and 200 percent. I figured that should give me plenty of sizes to work with.

Reverse applique seemed the easiest way to approach my design idea. I traced the different sizes and angles of dials onto freezer paper and cut out the finger holes to make templates.

Then I took a big piece of newsprint and started arranging my dials, tracing from the templates. When I got an arrangement I liked, I went over the pencil lines with a Sharpie pen, picked out my top fabric and transferred the design. Here you can see I used my big window in my studio as a lightbox.

I cleaned up the tracings where necessary, fused Misty Fuse to the back and cut out the circles. This was time consuming, but not nearly as time consuming as hand appliqueing would have been. It was not an unpleasant task.

I auditioned several fabrics for underneath - what would show through the holes in the top - but kept coming back to this wild batik. You can see my cut-up top with the Misty Fuse on the back scrunched up there at the top ready for tryouts. I really love doing reverse applique over a multi-color fabric like this. If you don't cut openings before layering, then the result is a surprise, as in this piece I reverse appliqued by hand. In this case, I had a little more control because I could move the top over the fabric to find the effect I liked best, but still, there's that element of surprise. I suppose I like having so much of the color placement decision making done by the fabric and not me!

Once I was happy with the placement, I fused the two layers together and began contemplating a quilting pattern. Since I had a full size pattern at my disposal, I played around with it today, drawing potential quilting lines across it. The ideas have flowed so nicely with this project, which is why the joy is back.

To see the February palette and full explanation of the key concept, go here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


"How long did it take?" which the only appropriate answer is "Who cares? I enjoyed every minute."

I must admit I've been struggling off and on with attitude for quite a few years. I think there was a time when I really did enjoy every minute spent on a quilting project. Then I entered a phase where almost every minute was enjoyable, and a few tasks just necessary evils. More recently I might be caught thinking "How long did it take? It took frickin' forever, a lot of which was just plain unenjoyable drudgery." I always wonder how I reach that point, and just as quickly wonder how I move back to the feeling of joy.

I'm in the joy zone at the moment. I'm still having to focus on paperwork, but I realized I couldn't do what I did last week - deny myself creative time every day in order to get it done. Instead, I'm determined to make time for the studio each day, and for me, the best way to do that is to put my studio time first. I have enjoyed my daily 2-1/2 hours, and am training myself to quit thinking - oh, I only spent 2-1/2 hours. No, I'm thinking instead, Wow, I got a whole 2-1/2 hours in today!

I've had a real need, a real drive to work on my current project It's that thing I read all the time about artists who can't wait to leap out of bed in the morning and go to the studio. I haven't felt that way in months. I've been very good at finding many other things to do before going in there. I've not looked forward to some of the things waiting for me in there. What makes this current project different?

It might be that I'm mostly in my comfort zone. I'm envisioning, solving, working my way through processes that I feel competent at and truly enjoy. Yet it's not all fun and games. It has been work, but not drudgery. I've kept a bit of challenge in it so as not to lose interest. I think that was the problem when I found myself disenchanted with the traditional quilting that I started with, that became my forte. I'd tried just about everything I wanted to, and found myself a bit bored and unchallenged with what I was working on. Everything about the art quilt was alluring and exciting and new. It was a reason to continue learning.

I've been able to bring a lot of my traditional background along with me into the art quilt world, but much of it I've had to jettison, or at least rethink. I went from confident and sure to questioning and unsure. My grandiose visions got slapped down enough times to make me gun shy. I've not been at this long enough to build up a string of successes to leave me self-assured. I'm ignoring how very long it took me to reach that sense of competence in my traditional quilting. I think I should be there now without having put in sufficient time and educating.

I picked up my knitting needles last fall for the first time in years, knitting prayer shawls in a pattern so simple I hardly need look at my hands. I found it surprisingly soothing, calming, the way hand quilting used to be. While journaling, I observed that rather than focusing on my art quilting, I'd been going off on tangents, like the knitting. I noted that the knitting "has absolutely nothing to do with anything - just pure enjoyment of the fiber, the pattern, the hand movement." Ouch! As quickly as I thought it, I realized this is what working with fabric and my quilting used to be. But lately it had become uncertainty, pressure, constant critiquing and criticizing. Great expectations and greater disappointments. No longer simple, but complex.

What I really want to do, I suppose, is meld the two worlds together, not start over. I've begun to to identify what parts of the process really do appeal, make me lose all sense of time when involved in them, and I'm figuring out how I can adapt my skills and strengths from the traditional side to this more contemporary one. I need to find a happy medium between simple and complex, continue to explore and learn and grow. But most of all, I need to find the joy again.

The joy has returned this week. Let's see if I can maintain it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Signs of Spring and Getting On With It

We've had nearly two weeks of temps slightly above freezing and no more sticking snow which means we are experiencing a sane and slow melt to the snowpack. In a way, it's a little sad seeing those big snowbanks shrinking so quickly. We put a lot of sweat into building them - it'd be just fine to revel in the fruits of our labors a bit.

However, the last few days I've noticed things that are sure signs that spring is just around the corner. Bits of bare ground are emerging, Mr. UPS and Mr. FedEx have donned their shorts, and a bird left droppings on my car. The moose have come down from the mountains and are strolling around town. (This picture taken by a friend near his house - I've seen tracks but not the actual moose.) Oh, yes, and the dog is shedding her winter coat all over the house at an alarming rate.

As for getting on with it, I've been dealing with nothing but paperwork this week. I hate that, but to be honest, it had piled up to that extreme because of procrastination - not taking those steps lined out in my previous post. Most of it had to do with putting together an entry packet which took a lot longer than I anticipated, especially since I kept changing my mind about my second submission. Some people may be able to whip out bios and descriptions at will, but I find it takes me a long time to craft a well-written 50-75 word explanation of a quilt...and I had two of these to write.

Artist biographies can go out of date rather quickly, so I anticipated I'd need to make some changes in mine. I was surprised that my revision from last year was still good. Rather than just print it out, I found myself thinking I could do better with the information there. Let's just take that little bit out, rearrange the wording here, tighten up the writing. I thought of better ways to describe things, consulted a thesaurus, rethought how I wanted to present myself. Before I knew it, I was seriously questioning everything in it and wondering if I should mention some things I'd left out. (Not unlike how I approach some of my quilt projects.)

I thought about the purpose of a biography, and realized that often the information that ends up in one is there to legitimize oneself. Who is this person and what makes her think she has any right to be here? I really think I was responding to that question when I drafted my first version of a bio some 6 or 7 years ago. Now I realize that all I need to do is present my history, my background as it relates to me now. I do not have to divulge everything I've ever done. And I don't have to overstuff it with accolades. The bio is not the place, necessarily, for that. How many people are going to take the time to read through all that anyway? Hit the highlights, perhaps remain a bit of a mystery, and invite the reader to learn more in other ways - an artist statement and resume, for instance.

I let the revised bio sit overnight, reviewed it in the morning and printed it out. Packet complete, I hand delivered it in the afternoon and felt a huge sense of release. My personal triumph over procrastination got me caught up enough to allow for some guilt-free studio time today.

I'm not ready to show you what I'm working on yet. While attending to the paperwork, my mind has been working out my idea for the February Take It Further Challenge, and today was all about sizing patterns, cutting templates and finalizing placement of the motifs in the overall design. January's challenge still languishes, but I'm quite excited about this current one. Wondering if my rendering of the concept is either too obvious or too obscure, which is why I don't want to share until it's done. Rest assured, I'm not procrastinating!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Good Housekeeping Magazine has an excellent article in this month's issue on one of my favorite subjects: Procrastination! I could easily title it "Everything I know about procrastination but conveniently forget." You can read the article in its entirety here. It elaborates on these six ways to stop procrastinating - all things I've tried and know to work, if I'd just stop procrastinating and use them...

  1. Replace the finish line with the starting line, or stop looking at the enormity of the entire project and just concentrate on taking the first step to start it. If you slip up, just start again, remembering that big projects are just a series of beginnings. Boy, that is so true of making a quilt.
  2. Run a dash, or commit to just 5 minutes to do nothing but work on the task that had you stalled, then quit. It's easy to convince yourself that you can handle 5 minutes of the most horrible task. But as the article points out, often once you get going, you find you don't want to stop and you put in much more than your 5 minutes. This is like the advice to go into the studio everyday and do something, anything, doesn't matter what, for a few minutes. It gets me past that block that makes it hard to open the door, and one thing very often leads to another until time has flown by and lots has been accomplished.
  3. Skip grandiose goals, or don't let making to-do lists and planning become substitutes for real action. Oh, yes. I spend so much time getting organized, prioritizing, worrying, anything but beginning. Sometimes a little organization is beneficial, but as they say, sometimes it's just more procrastination that escalates the paralyzing fear.
  4. Keep distraction at a distance, or remove yourself from the temptations that eat up your time. Let the answering machine handle any phone calls, don't take a side trip to the computer to check e-mail "real quick," or make one quick phone call first. Just "turn down the noise" and focus on your task at hand. There'll be plenty of time to do those other things later.
  5. Schedule fun first, or as they say, "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." They refer to "procrastination-induced cloud of guilt" that we let overshadow our lives. Oh, yeah - guilty as charged. Life has to be a balance of nose-to-the-grindstone and stress-releasing play - a reward for all that hard work and a rejuvenator. So while you are scheduling that work, don't forget to schedule in some downtime as well. It will give you extra incentive to get that work done!
  6. Defang your fear, or ask what's the worst that could happen, then figure out how you'd cope with that. Theoretically, this exercise will make you realize that no matter what, your life won't be over. By facing your fear and devising a safety net, you allow yourself to stop worrying and start working. I'm all for being prepared for every contingency, mostly because I don't like to be caught off guard. But I've had a hard time using this mentality with my quilting.

One can feel quite a rush when overcoming procrastination to move forward on something. Today was one of those times for me - I finally sat down and reworked my pricing formula. This has needed doing for longer than I care to admit. I'd avoided it because it necessitated me making a decision, which you know I hate doing. It meant doing a bit of research, a bit of guessing, and especially it meant emotionally detaching myself from my work and valuing it more than I have in the past. I finally came up with something that gave me comfortable figures when applied to a variety of pieces. Oh, the sense of relief! No more guessing! Now I have the tool I need to finish filling out some entry forms which I've been putting off completing...

Monday, February 11, 2008


This is for my friend, LeAnn, who keeps pointing out to me the ads for Mark Lipinski's "Katmandu" line of fabrics. "What do you think of this," she asks, "fabric designed specifically for embellishment?" I'm not sure what segment of the quilting population this is aimed at, but my inital reaction has been, "clever marketing ploy." LeAnn recently pointed out that Keepsake Quilting catalog has put together a "bead palette" to go with the fabric, another clever marketing ploy. At a different stage in my creative journey, I'm sure I would have bought some of this fabric and given it a try. Now I simply say: Interesting but not my cup of tea at the moment (although that beading palette did tempt me).

Then I remembered I'd done something like this exactly four years ago. Pictured above is my journal quilt I dubbed, "Aboriginal Comes to America" which showcases a swatch of Australian fabric. Not knowing what else to do with this quirky little piece, I hit upon using it as a beading sampler, and used Rachel Clark's method of "reading the fabric" to determine what beads to put where. This was so much fun, and also proved to me that every color is important; I'd nearly given those orange beads away, sure I'd never use them on anything. (Click on the picture see the details better.)

It's the same principal as the Katmandu fabric, really. Below is one of those ads so you can compare my version to theirs. And of course, you don't need to use Katmandu fabric; any pattern that speaks to you can be beaded and embellished to your heart's content.

I should note, while the ad shows embellishing the fabric using a hoop, I embellished mine after layering with batting and backing. The beading took the place of any quilting stitches, and I did not need to hoop it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Spring Tonic

After digging out the shoulder in front of my mailbox so the postperson will deliver my mail, I took off on the first round of errands in a week. We didn't get any more snow last night or today, thank goodness, and it is so much warmer that the last that fell is compressing to something manageable. In town, the gutters were clear so there wasn't the standing water in the road like last week, and front loaders were transferring the mounds of snow from parking lots into dump trucks to be hauled away who know where.

Everyone else in the area seemed to have the same idea. The grocery store was absolutely packed, as if finally, we all got dug out and needed to take advantage of the break to re-stock and just do something besides plow and shovel. I couldn't believe how good it felt to have a day out again. Besides the grocery store, I made stops at the post office, the bank and Coldwater Creek. I can always count on them to give me a breath of fresh air, a hope of spring, a tropical palette of colors to savor in February. I was only returning an item and exchanging another, but I'd seen this jacket in the catalog, and loved it when I tried it on. I have an artist reception coming up in April, and anticipated the usual wardrobe crisis. This, I think, is just the answer.

What would you wear to an artists reception where you are one of the featured artists?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

It's All About the Snow

Sorry to bore you, but snow is on the agenda again today. Five more inches fell overnight, and this is the wet heavy "spring" stuff. I find I need to hit the shoveling in two stints. The front gets shoveled in the morning, and the back in the afternoon. The only advantage to that today is that I caught a beautiful sunset - lovely pink sherberts where the sun hit the top of a snow-covered mountain. Unfortunately, my batteries died just as I was trying to capture the cool colors. Jesse was getting impatient anyway.

Just had to show you how, in spite of the extra help digging out the back, the snow has finally stacked all the way to the roof by virtue of what has slid off it and it no longer has any place to go. Some pretty omnious stacks are still waiting to slide down. While more snow is expected the next two days, there's also rain and 40 degree temps in the forecast. Yup, this is gonna get messy.

I got a little nervous when I realized snow was stacking against the studio window. So I crawled up the bank a bit and shoveled out what I could. Remember my bedroom window? The snow is nearly halfway up it now. The shot below is looking out the other side of my studio, onto the back deck. It's getting darn right claustrophobic.

I'm trying to force some daffodils for my own sanity, but even they're having none of it - maybe I keep my house too cool. Maybe they just know...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Grid #4: Off the Grid

I had an uncharacteristic burst of creative energy today, in spite of an additional 6 inches of snow that fell yesterday. Perhaps it was because Grid 4: Off the Grid was done (except for sleeve and label), and while shoveling around the car, I realized I could prop the quilt attached to a foam core board up on the back bumper and get the shots of it I needed. My quick photo session was followed by a little straightening of the studio and a little work on my TIF challenge.

Thanks to you who took the time to tell me what you thought about my loopy yarn dilemma. Some artists don't like to ask for opinions, fearful of being unduly influenced by others. I, on the other hand, appreciate them because they often help me clear my head. Sometimes I just don't have the confidence to trust my instincts. Other times I can't see the forest for the trees. Occasionally, someone's insight will unblock me, even if I don't actually use their idea. Actually, I'd made up my mind before I read any of the comments. When I viewed it first thing yesterday, those darn loops irritated me even more than the day before. I knew they had to go, or at least be corralled a bit. But before I got to stitching, I checked to see what you had to say.

Wanda said she liked the loopy yarn because it softened the whole piece. And that is what I didn't like about it. I didn't want this piece softened any more. She also mentioned that the loops reminded her of freemotion loops. This piece is not about free motion anything. It's about breaking away from regimentation and about minor imperfections. The loops were too round and perfect where they lay flat against the quilt top. I think that's what was really bugging me, their symmetry along the edge of a piece representing a break from symmetry.

Carrie noted that the yarn didn't show up much in the full picture, and the piece seemed to be missing something. Linda also keyed in on the thinness of the yarn, wondering if the addition of another yarn would help (a thought that occurred to me as well). Both these comments reminded me of why I decided to use the two yarns together in the first place. My cotton painted yarn didn't come out as dark as I had hoped and really wasn't thick enough to go it alone. I was hoping this other yarn would help darken things up and add some interest and volume. But yes, it is so very thin that it didn't do that very well. I was also reminded of my original intention to couch these yarns using the same blanket stitch that I used on the flap. It was supposed to tie the whole thing together. Adding that stitching would help add color to the edge and get those loops under control. Annabelle came right out and said she didn't like the loops. Thanks! I like blunt criticism, and she nicely tempered it with the observation that it's all subjective and I'm probably the only one who knows if it's right.

What I did was a bit of a compromise. I didn't eliminate all of the loops, but I did stitch down most of them. Those that I missed, I pulled under the sideways stitches with a tiny crochet hook. Any that still bugged me and couldn't be pulled under got trimmed off. There! The difference may not be obvious to the casual observer but I feel much better now. Note also that I left a couple of strands hanging in the lower right corner - off the grid. The piece measures about 17-1/2 inches square. Click on any photo for a larger version.

As for my TIF challenge, I've given up on coming up with any grand innovative ideas and decided to just finish it out per my original, if predictable, thoughts. I'm back to fussy cutting, which I don't mind so much. And of course, as I sit and cut and consider my piece, ideas are starting to come. I'm not going to force this - it feels like it wants me to do lots more, truly develop it into something. A month is obviously not enough for this piece.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Grid #4: Almost There

Just when I make up my mind about one thing, another question arises. This is a quick picture of what I thought would be the finished Grid 4: Off the Grid. But now I don't know if I like the way the yarn looks around the outside of the quilted part. I've lost the clean lines and look with those little circles of yarn. I need opinions - please comment away!

Let me back up and talk a bit about how I got to this point. The "border" is really a separate piece that I call a mount: Decor Bond is cut the exact finished size and fused to the fabric which is cut larger to include a seam allowance. I've tried something different here, only fusing around the outer edge so that I can cut away the fabric in the center, exposing the Decor Bond. Not only does that save a bit of fabric, but it allows me to attach the center of my quilted section to the mount by fusing, not stitching. Wouldn't want it pooching away from the center when hung.

Then I cut a backing a hair smaller than the fabric for the front, fuse a strip of Wonder Under to the wrong side where the sleeve will be sewn and cut a slit through it. This will be my opening for turning and the sleeve will cover it. The front and back are then sewn right sides together around the outside using the edge of the Decor Bond as a guide. Corners are trimmed, the piece is turned inside out, corners poked out and edges pressed so that the backing rolls to the back and can't be seen from the front. The back is smoothed in place and the slit fused shut. The mount is now ready.

I don't believe I mentioned that I quilted the main portion without backing. The Warm and Natural cotton batting is durable enough to run through the machine, so there was no sense in adding another layer. When I centered it on the mount, the batting gripped nicely. Still, I felt I should secure it before putting it back under the machine, so I used a little glue baste around the edges.

My plan was to couch the two twisted yarns along the edge of the quilted section which would at the same time attach the top to the mount. I decided a better plan would be to zigzag the top in place first with clear thread, then glue baste the yarns before couching them down. I'd applied Fray Check around the edges of the painted fabric before layering for quilting, knowing I'd not be trimming much, if any off. What I forgot was that when I trimmed away the excess batting, I'd be clipping the quilting stitches too, and they were not secured. You can see how some of them started to unravel. So I put additional Fray Check on all the ends and hoped the zigzagging and couching stitches would keep all thread ends in place.

I made a sample to try a couple of ideas for the couching. I didn't like the look of the zigzag with the clear thread at all, and the blanket stitch with the purple thread changed the whole nature of the yarns, flattening them down and obscuring the fuzzyness of the commercial yarn. Well, heck, I thought. I was going to glue baste the yarn anyway. Why not just glue it on with a permanent glue and forget about the couching stitch? So that is what I did.

And now I'm not sure I like the look. I can lasso those curls of yarn, I think, with the couching stitch - that's what was happening on my sample here on the left. The left side is couched with the clear thread and zigzag, the right with the blanket stitch.

I'll let it sit overnight, hope a bunch of you weigh in with your opinions, and make up my mind later.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Wil has tagged me - wants to know 7 weird or random things about me. You may be sorry you asked! The complete rules of the tag are as follows:

1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Post 7 (weird or random) facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know that they have been tagged.

Weird is one of those subjective things. What I think weird you may think normal, and vise versa. So I'll let you guess which of these are weird and which random.
  1. I subscribe to Roadracing World (a motorcycle magazine) and pretty much read it cover to cover. I used to be a biker babe, as the picture shows.
  2. One of my first jobs was clerking in a drug store near the UC-Berkeley campus. Fridays were big days for condom sales. Said condoms were kept behind the counter. We took great delight in watching the young college men squirm getting up the courage to ask for our assistance.
  3. I've lived at 18 different addresses in 4 states.
  4. I've been to Mexico and Canada but nowhere else outside of the continental U. S.
  5. But I dream of going to New Zealand someday. Ireland would be nice too.
  6. It's not so much that I'm not a cat person, as I'm so darned allergic to them. Sometimes just the cat dander on someone's clothes can set me off. And some cats don't bother me much at all. Go figure.
  7. As much as I rail against technology, I am totally addicted to my computer and blogging.

Ok, seven people is a lot to tag. My apologies to anyone who may have already done this or does not participate in this sort of thing. If you decide to do this, great. If not, perhaps some new people will discover your blog:

Valerie at Dyeing 2 Sew

Bernadine at Fabric, Dye and Threads She hasn't posted for awhile, but should. She is a fine artist and I miss seeing and hearing about her work.

Linda at Occasional Jottings

Nikki at Art Quilt Play

Alan at The Adventures of an Eccentric Artist

Sandy at Dangling By A Thread

Wanda at Exuberant Color - one of the most prolific quilters I know!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Snow Pictures From Another Time

I mentioned that I've been remembering stories about my hearty ancestors who homesteaded in South Dakota. Here's my grandmother commuting to her teaching job sometime in the early 1900's.

I found this picture of their typical mode of travel - this one was labeled "Big snow of 1915." They were off on a round of visits to neighbors and relatives.

These last two are from "The Blizzard of 1949." By this time, my grandparents had moved into town and my grandfather had a rural mail route. He had to use his own car and according to the caption, also dug out the mailbox you see pictured below. That certainly doesn't happen any more! Compare these to the pictures of my big snow and mailbox here.

Adding Text, Adding Understanding

I printed off a version of my mother's portrait today - one that I'd added a green mottled border to. I planned to print off a plain one as well (I've got two thoughts on how to work the portrait with the pansy fabric), but got sidetracked with an idea for using some of the words I talked about in this post plus a few more I stumbled upon this morning. If only I understood how to use the more complex functions of Corel Paintshop Pro; I ended up spending the afternoon experimenting, stumbling, reading the help text and experimenting some more. I finally stopped when I figured out how to make the layer with the words transparent. Click on the picture for a larger view.

Not sure if I'll actually use this version, but at least I tried it out and I have a slightly better understanding of working with text in this program. I think I'm gaining a better understanding of my feelings for my mother too.

Bringing in the Big Guns

This may be the last of the snow pictures for awhile - we can hope. The little weather icon has quit fantically flashing at me every time I turn on the computer. We must have gone a good week under one kind of storm warning or another, and the weather alerts were SOOO afraid I had no idea what was coming. While it snowed today, it wasn't anything that piled up. I took this picture of the back of the house to show how close the snowbank is getting to the eaves.

My guy showed up today, shovel in hand, and went to work. After 3 hours, he finally called it quits and it was worth every penny I paid him. He knocked lots of snow off the roofs (they are metal, Wanda, which explains why the snow slides off), widened some of the paths and dug out the back so Jesse can reach all parts of the fenced yard now.

This is looking from the side yard toward the house - the route that has been blocked for quite a while now. No longer.

I swear, the calendars are taunting me. January showed snow scenes not unlike what's outside my window. When I flipped them over to February, they think it's spring. Tulips and daffodils adorn one, dogwood in bloom and leafy birches create a woodland scene sans snow on the other. It struck me the same as when I bought postal stamps during the height of the snows after Christmas; the clerk handed me a book of bright flowers. "You're joking, right?" I asked. "No, wishful thinking," she replied. Very wishful thinking, I might add.

Friday, February 01, 2008


"...I don't invent the whole of the painting; on the contrary, I find it readymade - but to be untangled in the real world." ~ Vincent van Gogh

Today I was ready to do something, anything in the studio. I only had a bit of damage control to take care of on the snow front, and it has been discouraging to see January pass into February with two projects not completed as planned.

The shoveling I did still left me a little tired, so I started by grabbing my thesaurus and the journal I started for the Take It Further Challenge. I have not been able to get anywhere with this idea based on the key concept of "feeling of admiration." The only thing I feel is stuck. Previously I thought something might jog loose if I listed other people I admire and why. No luck. Brain couldn't think past Mom. So I concentrated on the "why" instead of the "who." Still stuck and this is ridiculous, I decided. So I started with words on her headstone, keying in on "teacher" and "advocate." I pried a few other words out of my memory and have been thinking about it off and on all week.

Last night I came up with another word I really liked: gritty. But I still felt pretty stuck. So today, I wanted to record "gritty" before I forgot it, and pulled the thesaurus to help me pin down some words for concepts I was having a hard time reducing to one or two words. I started scanning the category section in the back, hoping something would break my thoughts loose. It indeed helped, and now I have a list of maybe 30 words to choose from. Part of me wants to add these to the quilt while another part of me is afraid that is too predictable and trite. We'll see.

So when you think of the attributes of someone you admire, are they all positive ones? I surprised myself a little by jotting down "imperfect." But truly, one of the things that made me appreciate my mother more than ever was when I discovered an awful thing she'd done in her youth. She hid it from me, I'm sure because she didn't want me to think it would be ok to do the same. On the contrary, knowing she had made this mistake and not let it totally destroy her life gave her more credibility when she'd warn me not to do this or that, and definitely made me admire her more.

And then there was the positive attribute that I realized I didn't necessarily admire. What do I do with that?

Some words assigned to certain categories surprised me. Do you think of gentleness as being a sign of weakness? I certainly don't. My mother had her gentle side, but I don't think for a minute you would consider her weak.

I also felt my memory of Mom hazy. Whether that be the passage of time since her death or just my own state of mind and tiredness, I'm not sure. I jotted down several things that I thought described her, then put a question mark afterwards because I wasn't sure. What am I remembering here?

I didn't have any breakthroughs today, but at least I sat in the studio and did something on this challenge. I also cut some Bubble Jet Set treated cotton and ironed it to freezer paper, ready to print off my portrait. I decided to leave well enough alone and add no more quilting to "Off the Grid" which allowed me to square it up in preparation for attaching it to its mount. Time to get moving even if I'm not sure where I'm headed.

Views Out My Windows

For those keeping track, another 1-1/2 inches fell last night - a pittance. This is the view out my bedroom window - yes, the snow has piled up about a foot above the window sill.

This is looking out the utility room door, across the deck, at the snow piled up outside my studio window. I haven't been able to open this door for over a week.

Here's that same utility room door, taken from the kitchen. That's the escape route off the deck that I so diligently shoveled last night only to have it fill up as you can see.

Here's another shot out the kitchen window. I'm bringing in the reserves tomorrow - someone to help clear some of this out for me. I've met my match! Can barely toss the snow over those banks. And it's heavy as the dickens.

Here's the other door onto the deck. I was amused by the icicles which have to change direction as the snow slides and curls off the roof.

I haven't checked today, but as of last night, the major pass between here and Seattle had been closed 32 out of 36 hours because of avalanche danger and control. Two cars were actually caught in an avalanche, but were dug out safely. We're talking Interstate 90 here. As you can see, I've been dealing with my own avalanche problems!

Last Night

I cleared a path out the back for the dog before dinner last night, and within the hour, it was filled with snow from the roof. So I ended up escorting her out the front when she needed to go out. Remember me saying that the snow from the roof slides a foot or so before it drops off? Well, I'm sure my mouth was gaping open when I saw how far out this batch had slid. I'm guessing that is between three and four feet. How does it do that?

This picture was to show the overhang, but it also shows my nicely shoveled exit off the front of the porch.

A few hours later, there was a disconcerting rumble (actually, I'd been listening to them all evening). Here's what it looked like when I peeked out.

Chunks continued to fall off this front portion all day today. Here is a particularly big piece.