Monday, March 31, 2008

Six Little Words

Pat has tagged me for the six word memoir. Since this has turned into an office day with no studio progress to show, I thought this would be a good time to share what I've come up with. (Yes, I'm still a bit intimidated by the current project so the paperwork thing, though necessary, is a bit of a dodge. If yesterday's post about it sounded a bit unfinished and had no pictures, that's because I hit a wrong key which sent it to publishing before I was ready. Go here to read the fully edited post.)

First, here are the rules for this tag:

1. Write your own six word memoir;
2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like;
3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere;
4. Tag at least five more blogs with links; and
5. Don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Pat came up with some pretty cool ones here, so set the standard high. Reducing my thoughts to a restricted length has always been a challenge, but one I see as an excellent exercise. I've been fiddling for several days to come up with a good set of six, something I wouldn't mind carved into my headstone. Among the almost but ultimately rejected:

Without peaks, valleys, life's a bore. Yeah, cheated with that contraction. It's hard to stick to 6 words, especially when you're as verbose as I am.

The next one is something I've been fond of saying for a long time now: Adversity builds character - enough character building!

That was more of a rant, though. What better sums up my life? How about: Loved, laughed, created, lost, carried on. A little somber, resigned, not really what I feel about my life, although it is accurate enough.

And then it came to me as I was thinking about advice I might pass on to someone struggling with the same issues I once did at a younger age. Here's my final six word memoir:

Life is fluid; never say never.

And now to pass it on. Consider your self tagged Pamdora, Nikki, Wanda, Sally, and Margaret. You all impress me as pretty good wordsmiths.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Limited Progress

I didn't get as much done on my March Take It Further Challenge yesterday as I had hoped. Best laid plans and all. Half an hour shoveling the 6 inches of snow that fell overnight, an hour on the phone with a friend who's call I'd been looking forward to for several weeks, and then finding myself being intimidated by this quilt. I've been carrying the idea in my head for so long that now I was ready to make it reality, I was spooked by its emergence into the real world. I suddenly had to figure out the proportions of the trunks to match the size of the background remnant, and everything was so much bigger than it had been in my head. I thought I could at least dive into the making of the lichen, but that too was intimidating me.

So I circled for awhile. I gave the trunk fabric a good pressing. I found my water soluble stabilizer and hoop. I consulted my journal quilt notes for how I'd handled the stitching over fused applique technique I plan to use again here. I hunted around for thread to use for the lichen and detail on the tree trunk. The threads I thought I'd use (the ones in my head) weren't right at all, but other options soon presented themselves. The texture on the trunk isn't so much grey/black, I realized, but shades of dark brown. Something laid out here will work. I'm definitely going to have to make up a sample to try these out.

I thought preparing the sheer would be a no brainer. I've tried out the Misty Fuse enough that I was confident about using it here. Black Misty Fuse under black sheer, right? So why is the extruded web showing through? Should I have used the white instead? Doesn't the package say how perfect it is for sheers? I've not heard any talk of this shadowing and am just thankful that if it continues to show once fused to the background, it will not show much and will look like it was meant to be that way. Would appreciate any insight on this from experienced users.

Well, with that little surprise, I decided to go to the computer and print out my photos to have as reference in the studio. Obviously, my head is less than accurate these days. I printed both color and enlarged black & white versions. It was starting to give me an idea of the size the trunks need to be. Then, just for fun, I tried a copy setting on my printer I've not tried before: Poster 4. This takes an 8-1/2 x 11 page and automatically enlarges it to print on 4 separate sheets that can then be pasted together to make one large poster. I ended up with something larger than what I need, but I think now between the one slightly too small and the one slightly too big, I can sketch up the right size.

I'd hoped to get the trunks cut out, but I still felt too unsure about the sizing, so I decided to tackle the thread lace process to make the lichen. Here you see the Sulky Solvy stabilizer hooped, and I've drawn some guideline shapes on it with a Sharpie pen. I set the machine up for free motion stitching. Not wanting to lose momentum, I didn't look for instructions on making threadlace, but relied on my memories from a class I'd taken quite a few years ago. As I recalled, one needed to stitch the outline first, then start stitching within the shape, making sure to overlap stitches to lock them together. Otherwise, once the stabilizer is washed out, the shape will fall apart into so many strands of thread. The first two I stitched a grid within the outline, then started working overlapping circles over the entire area. I wasn't sure I was remembering that grid thing right, so on the next one I just started doing the loops as soon as the outline was stitched. I was having a terrible time keeping my rhythm and the circle motion going in the same direction. It was one of the few times that speeding up the machine actually seemed to help.

Once I'd filled the stabilizer with my shapes, I unhooped it and cut away as much of the excess as possible. Then it was dump my stitching into cool water and let the stabilizer dissolve while I walked the dog. This is when you hold your breath that the stitching really does hold together...and it did! Here they are drying on a paper towel.

And here are a few of them after completely dry. My - I did a really good job! I'm very pleased with how these turned out - much better than my previous efforts. That was really all I could handle for one day, and it was nice to end on a successful note.

Friday, March 28, 2008


Yes, folks, the daffodils got the memo about spring, but apparently the weather systems did not. Here are my stoic little daffodils, bravely pushing up buds and shrugging off a new 4 inches of snow a few days ago. It has not all melted, and the real storm is due to hit tonight. Good grief - we could have another 10 inches by tomorrow afternoon. The shovel is still on the porch, but I really didn't think I'd be using it again. I want to boycott! It may be the perfect day to spend in the studio working on the March Take It Further Challenge.

With that in mind, and since it's Friday, I was in a mood to straighten up the studio rather than get to work on a new project. There's always much to attend to once a project is finished: leftover fabric to put away, patterns and templates and notes to corral, documentation file to fill out. I discovered I needed to print more of the documentation envelopes, took time to do the math that would tell me material costs and a set a selling price. Busywork in a way, but a somewhat enjoyable transition that clears the decks to make room physically and mentally for the next round of work. I didn't, however, think it would consume nearly 3 hours, but that's how behind I get on the little stuff, how much time it takes to do record keeping. Do it now or do it later, either way, it's not going away on its own. Doing it now gives me the freedom to work unencumbered tomorrow.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Take It Further Challenge for March

Yesterday saw me sewing the sleeve and inking the label info on my February Take It Further Challenge as well as hitting it with a lint brush and giving it a final steam. After a quick photo session today, it and another quilt got packed up and shipped off to the show in Wisconsin. Just in the nick of time, I can start on the current month's challenge.

March's key concept is quite simple: to notice the little things, the small moments, the details in life. Pay attention to the tiny details because sometimes the small things become emblematic for something larger. It immediately appealed because it will allow me to use this challenge in the way I'd originally envisioned - not to generate new ideas, but to be the catalyst for working on ideas sidelined for one reason or another.

The pictures above and to the right are ones I took shortly after I moved to this property. Working with a digital camera has helped me see differently, see details I think I was missing before. The small detail I noticed while zooming in to capture the texture of this tree trunk was that there was an underlying peachiness to its color. I wasn't expecting that. I was thinking white and grey/black and noting the green from the lichen. The peach was a surprise.

I knew I had that peach in my stash. I had a piece of autumn leaf fabric leftover from Wisconsin Memories just big enough for a background to the trunks. I thought I could incorporate a black sheer that I'd stamped with willow leaves. I laid it all out together...and never got any farther. The reasons are several: it was no longer fall, and I found I didn't have the same drive to work with that color palette as I had when all the world outside my window was full of it; I'd have to work with soluble stabilizer to create thread lace representing the lichen - a method I'd tried only once before with limited success; other projects rose to the top of the priority list.

I never moved my little stack of fabric from the work table, just kept piling other "great" ideas on top of it. As I've worked my way down the pile recently, it has felt like an archaeological dig. I've made it down to fall 2006 again, and this challenge, to notice and work with the tiny details, is pushing me to finally proceed with this quilt. Perhaps it's just as well it was put on hold. I've gained new information and skills since conceiving it that will make its making easier, or at least go a bit more smoothly. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Belated Happy Easter

Look what the Easter bunny brought me - a niece and these beautiful tulips! Well, they are both beautiful, and as if you couldn't tell by the picture, their presence over the weekend made for a delightful celebration of this time of rebirth and hope. I noticed this morning that even my reluctant daffodils finally got the memo that it is spring and have pushed up the buds that will soon provide some much needed color outside.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thoughts about the Studio

"Choosing the Colors"
Charles Courtney Curran
circa 1923

I noticed not long ago how very small my studio is. I don't know why it came as such a shock. I've been working in there for well over a year, through all four seasons and their change in light, air and visual qualities. Perhaps I noticed because I have a sudden urge to expand my time and the type of work I do in it? I'm brimming with enthusiasm and ideas again and the room no longer seems large enough to contain it?

I've had my ups and downs with my studio. Most of the time it acts as a haven, a place to go to escape from the realities of life. Then there are those times when it feels like a war zone where nothing is going right. To enter the room is to do battle with a project that refuses to resolve itself. But I've had a new insight of late. My thoughts had wandered to why I had such a desire lately to work in there. It is so drab outside, I noted, but the studio does not have to be drab. It is full of color and shapes and ideas, not stagnant like the dirty snow, the grey/brown landscape outside my window. It's cold and dank out there, warm and inviting in the studio. I found myself likening the studio to a cocoon at times, protective while something beautiful grows and matures inside it.

Now there's a lovely thought, I decided. The cocoon of my studio nurtures and allows me to struggle and change and make something quite different from the parts I start out with. And then I can emerge like a butterfly, perhaps to the surprise of those who thought they knew who I was and what I was doing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Just Around The Corner

My surface design list was recently discussing cheesecloth as a resist, something new to me. Wouldn't you know I'd run across another reference to it shortly thereafter. These Easter eggs are dyed, then wrapped in cheesecloth and dabbed again with a different color dye. Click on the picture for a larger view where you can read the instructions.

I have company coming this weekend, so have spent much of the week getting the house presentable. I approach housework the same way I approach most things in my life - put it off until it no long involves a few hours but a few days. It's not so much the cleaning as the picking up and putting away. Stuff sits for as long as it does sometimes because I'm not sure just where to put it. Now that it must be moved, I catch myself using the studio as a dumping grounds (or holding pen) for the stuff I can't make up my mind about. When I have time to be in the studio again, I'll deal with it even if only to relocate it to yet another holding area.

This periodic enforced straightening is a good thing. Some of the stuff, like my crate of painting supplies, actually has someplace besides my kitchen counter to reside. I guess I hope if I leave it out, I'll actually get back to painting sooner than if it goes back into the cupboard, but that's rarely the case. Other things need to sit for awhile for me to see I don't really need them, or to hit upon where they can be stored so as to be accessible, yet not in the way, filed but not so well as to be forgotten. Over time many decisions take care of themselves, especially when I can't for the life of me think why I saved this or that in the first place.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What do you do....

...when you realize too late that you should have added a border? I may have been second guessing many things on my February Take It Further Challenge, but whether or not to border it was not one of them. The question was whether or not to add a binding, or just face it so the whole thing floated in space as it was doing in my head. I should know by now not to trust the visions in my head. Here is where it started yesterday:

I'd found a solid Kona cotton for the binding that I felt would help eliminate the washed out feeling I was getting when looking at the quilt. As it turned out, as soon as I squared up the piece, removing that lighter backing that had been turned to the front, it immediately looked more saturated. I had also worked out that I'd been comparing the reality to my original vision of a night sky. No wonder this medium valued blue was striking me as washed out. With the addition of the quilting lines, I'd moved from night sky more to flowing water. At any rate, I knew I had to retrain my thinking and assess the piece as it had evolved. I felt it needed a little sparking up still, and thought adding a piping in red between the top and the binding would help pull the piece together. This addition of piping in the binding is becoming a sort of signature look for me, I realized.

I cut my piping the width of the seam allowance plus 1/8 inch (what will be exposed beyond the seam) times two (since I will be folding it in half). I don't add any filler to my piping, although you certainly could. I cut it to the exact length I need for each side, press it in half, pin it in place and sew it on with a slightly narrower seam allowance. Then I sew on the binding.

In this case, I'm doing a 1/2 wide single fold binding (the Kona cotton is a bit heavier than most and for anything other than a bed quilt that would get a lot of wear and washing, a single layer of fabric for the binding works fine). It is cut 2-1/4 inches wide and sewn on with a half inch seam. When the piping was in place, my initial reaction was that I might have been just fine adding a red binding as the red seemed to enclose the design and accentuate the batik showing through the cutouts. But the addition of the navy seemed an even better ending. It was when I laid those wide strips over the piping that I first got the sinking feeling that I should have added a border to this design. Here is what it looked like before turning the excess binding to the back:

And here it what it looked like once the binding was turned and pinned to the back:

While I think both work, I think the wider surround of blue makes a tremendous difference to how the piece works. But I don't have the time or patience to fiddle with it right now. I've committed it to a quilt show back in Wisconsin (really just for fun, not for competition), and it needs to be mailed off next week. With company coming in between, I really don't have time for the fix: prepare an extension of batting/top/back to be butted and zigzagged to the quilt edge, apply something to the border fabric to both stabilize it so it doesn't need quilting and to keep the join from shadowing through, and then probably apply a facing. So I am going ahead with stitching down the binding to the back and putting on a sleeve. If when it returns, I am equally bothered by the way it looks and motivated to put in the extra time on it, I will undo the binding and add the border. Oh, my, just looking at these pictures confirms my suspicions of what I really should do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St Patrick's Day

I'm purported to have some Irish blood in me, so I dutifully don something green on this holiday, make sure there's Guinness in the frig and try to think of a meal that is somewhat Irish in nature. Tonight I'll be having cabbage rolls...

The quilt is one I made for a friend's little girl. This friend married into a very Irish family (her husband's name is Shannon O'Toole, and even the dogs had Irish names), so it was appropriate to make this traditional Irish Chain pattern for little Riley. It includes a shamrock print and has shamrocks quilted in the open areas.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Minor changes

I'm not keen on change. Once I have things set up the way I want them, I seldom want to fiddle with them. So when blogger announced their great new upgrade to make customizing the basic look and content of my blog easier, my initial response was, "No thanks - happy with the way it is - don't have the time to mess with it." But after doing a little research, I agreed that it would be nice to have an easier way to add links to my sidebar, which I have not done for some time. And maybe some of the new additions would be nice. But not if it's going to take me a lot of time.

Today, I felt I had the time to explore it, and there was much less involved than I anticipated. I've only made a few insignificant changes to the look, so it probably is still a "boring old blog" in look. However, I have added Lisa Call to my sidebar, and will assess what else might be of interest to my readers. Would adding a label list link to the sidebar be worthwhile or a distraction?

I like the grouping of the archives much better. I chose a less stark font for my header and changed the color of the post date heading from blue to teal. Big deal. Maybe I'll find a few more tweaks that the casual viewer wouldn't notice, but just like a quilt, I will know what I've done to make it look a bit better.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Going in circles...

...and that's a good thing. No matter how hard I try to foresee what will happen with each step of a quilt, invariably there will be some factor I haven't taken into account. With my February Take It Further challenge, I failed to consider that because the top blue fabric was not dyed through and through, the edges of my cutouts would show some white. Also, the Misty Fuse I used to hold the top to the batik underneath does not secure the edges in the same way as fusibles with adhesives. Thus there is more potential for fraying of raw edges, and in this case, the frays often were white threads. Something would have to be done to secure those raw edges.

Part of me was hoping I'd not have to quilt around the cutouts at all, but once the other quilting was in place, it was obvious that they needed quilting down. However I chose to do that would double as an edge finish for those less than perfect cut-outs. At first I thought a satin stitch would be the thing, done in a cotton embroidery thread to match. However, when I tested my theory on the sample above (far right circle), I didn't like it. Too heavy handed and too difficult to follow the edge. I tried a variation that varied the width of the stitch, thinking it might soften the effect, but it was no better (to the left of the satin stitched circle). I was about to go back to the satin stitch on the real thing when it occurred to me that a simple zigzag might work. I tried a 2 width, 2 length and it was perfect - easy to maneuver and nearly invisible, just what I wanted (left circle). Click on the picture for a larger view. Here's the back where the stitching is easier to see:

And so today I went round and round my circles and ovals. Going in circles can be a good thing! And it was a good thing I didn't use the satin stitch. Some of the cut-outs had little space between them and I would have been satin stitching over satin stitching in many places. That would have been a lumpy mess.

Theoretically, this is done, except for finishing the outer edge. However, it feels like it needs something to spark it up. It looks a bit washed out (although it looks fairly saturated in the pictures I've posted here). I'm wondering if I can dab some paint or stamp something over it to give it some depth. That's a scary prospect for me, but I have my little sample to try it out on. I also thought I would face this rather than bind it, but now I'm thinking it needs a binding in a slightly darker value to give it some presence. I've pulled a few things to try, but I don't think I have what it needs. This may require a trip to the fabric store...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Moose Alert!

I've seen plenty of footy prints and other signs that moose have been ambling about the property, but have failed to actual see any until this morning. I was on the phone when this big thing passed by my bedroom window. By the time I raced to retrieve a camera, said moose had ambled to the end of the driveway. Checking traffic, it decided not to cross the highway, but took off along the fence down toward the slough. Whew - how exciting!

I resumed my conversation, only to find myself Oh-My-God-ing once more as another moose ambled by. This must be the mate to the first. He also didn't care for the traffic and came back up the driveway, across the yard and over to the mountain ash to browse.

In the process, he stepped through the flower bed along the foundation of the house, sinking a hoof a good 6 inches into the muddy ground and narrowly missing this daffodil shoot. Eventually, he ambled off across the field.

I finished my conversation and was about ready to head outside with the dog when, yet again, a moose passed by the bedroom window. Ah - the mate that had headed toward the slough was back and looking for Mr. Moose. When I was sure they were good and gone, we checked it all out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In Praise of Subtle Sophistication

"...classic Shaker furniture is typically mischaracterized as 'simple.' In fact, it is not simplicity that epitomizes the Shaker style, but sophistication, albeit sometimes manifested in very subtle ways."

The Shaker Aesthetic Reconsidered by Robert W. Wilkins, January 2008 issue The Magazine Antiques

Monday, March 10, 2008

Personal Aesthetics

I've had to neglect my blogging a bit along with some studio time, (paperwork issues now blessedly resolved), and only now have something worth showing. I truly thought I'd have my February Take It Further Challenge quilted, if not fully finished, by the end of last month. I failed to account for how long it would take to pull threads to the back, knot them and bury them between the layers. There weren't as many quilting lines running edge to edge as I thought; once they were done, I was relegated to many lines ending (and sometimes starting too) at a previously stitched line of quilting. To give you an idea of the time it takes to bury thread ends, I finished the quilting today in an hour, not every line needing to be treated to this method; it took me nearly twice as long to get those thread ends tended to.

An acceptable solution to the more time consuming method I chose is to gradually reduce the length of the stitches to almost nothing as you approach the end of the line, then snip the tail close to the quilt front and back. But I've never liked that look, even when done by top notch quilters like Diane Gaudynski. It's taken me a long time to accept that I don't have to do it that way, that my personal aesthetics incline towards a different look. There are times when I'd be willing to use it, but on this particular quilt, I know it would have bugged me no end. Aesthetically, even-length stitches throughout was the look I felt was best, and I was willing to sacrifice speed for aesthetics.

I find it ironic that in an endeavor that is all about individuality and originality, so many of us continue to be influenced by what the majority seem to be doing. How often have you caught yourself wondering, "I'm I doing this right?" Do you involuntarily find yourself rehearsing rationalizations for why you are choosing a certain method or material, as if you will have to defend yourself and your choices? Are you brave enough to break away from the pack and court your personal aesthetics?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Studio Garb

What do you wear in the studio? Over the years, I've discovered that there are certain things that work better than others. For instance, I've learned to avoid loosely knit sweaters if I'll be working with pins; those round heads can too easily catch as I'm running a pinned section through the machine. It's disconcerting to find pins missing and work shifting, and then try to find where along a sleeve they may have caught. I'm also careful about garments that might transfer fuzz, like chenille sweaters. If all I'm doing is selecting fabric, or cutting, it probably doesn't matter, but if I'm doing anything else that might bring the garment in contact with fabric, I choose something that won't transfer lint.

Beyond those two things, comfort is probably the most important. Will the pants I have on start to bind after sitting at the machine for an extended length of time? Do the sleeves stay up when they need to? Am I warm enough or too warm? Does the bulk or fit of the outfit begin to hamper my movements?

Sometimes it's a matter of just feeling good. I've had this sweatshirt for years, and from the first time I put it on, it made me feel good. It is slightly over-sized, but not sloppy big. The fabric is just the right weight and doesn't stretch out of shape. I can wear a turtleneck under it in cooler weather, or wear it alone when the temps are nicer. It's a neutral color and doesn't show the dirt readily. It's my favorite travel outfit when I'll be driving for hours, with or without the dog. It's not too bulky to throw a jacket over when getting out of the car, and just right for in the car. I put it on and think no more about how I look. And as I said, I always feel good when I wear it. Don't know why, but I do know that if I think I'm going to have a fun upbeat day at home, or need to feel that way, I invariably grab this sweatshirt to wear.

I had one of those days last week. I don't really think of this as studio garb. It strikes me more as Saturday-not-working garb. But I really felt I needed the boost and wore it anyway. It worked its magic, didn't steal any pins out of my work and left no debris behind. I moved easily, was just the right temperature and found I was working with a smile on my face.

No doubt, if Stacy and Clinton of What Not To Wear fame were to go through my closet, they would tell me to ditch this. They don't approve of garments advertising anything. They'd gasp at the small spots of something red I'm unable to get out of it. They'd dis its fit no doubt. You can do better, I can hear them say. Sorry - perhaps I can, but in this case, I don't think I need to. I love this sweatshirt and they can not have it!

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Weather Dog Says...

That, of course, is a reference to a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode called The Weather Lady. We found we couldn't resist saying that when we'd let the dog in to find her back covered with snow. Well, here's my weather dog telling me winter's not quite over. So for Wanda and LeAnn and anyone else out there who was jealous of my signs of spring, you need not be. It snowed all day, at times the flakes were very large, and there's probably three inches out there this evening. As you can see, even without the new snow which the weather dog is standing in, I still have plenty of snow lying around.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Thank Goodness!

Other signs of spring? I've spotted the High School track team running on the bike path...