Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Last Project

I was too smug about getting presents made and mailed for arrival by Christmas. In the midst of writing on cards, I realized there was one more person I'd intended to send a basket to. I should have checked my list twice! It goes to the family that sent me the Trader Joe's goodies and I knew it would be ok if the "little something" I'd planned to put together for them was a tad late.

I thought I was done with oval baskets after the ease and success with which the last rounds ones went together, but I was also sending along some books. An oval basket might fit in the box better.

Here's the fabric that went into it - the leftover tiger lily fabric strips from the last basket-making binge and a fat quarter of reproduction fabric that at this point looks unlikely to make it into a quilt.

Perhaps because of its smaller size, this oval basket did not give me the trouble the previous ones did. I am very pleased with how it turned out.

Still, it's more difficult to keep the wonkiness out of the oval bowl rims than the round ones for some reason, but I suppose it's mostly noticeable to me. This one measures about 8" x 6" x 2-1/2" high and was perfect to hold 6 of the cranberry streusel bars I made yesterday. It fit nicely in the box as planned, and I raced my belated Christmas package to the post office this morning so that it would be on its way before year's end.

And now with package off and blog posts caught up, I'm ready to settle in with some champagne to greet the New Year! 

It Was A Lovely Christmas

I was all prepared for a quiet Christmas by myself, house thoroughly cleaned, decorations out, music playing, menu planned, shopping done, with several days to spare. And then I got a call from a nephew who moved to the Seattle area earlier this year. Was I busy? Could he come spend Christmas with me? We'd talked about him getting over here to see where his dad and I grew up, this part of Idaho he hadn't seen since a visit as a child. Just 5 hours away and the weather looked like it would be fine for driving so over he came. We've not had the chance to spend much time together over the years so this was such a gift to have a few days, just the two of us, to get to know each other better.

And it seems we have a ton in common, including sitting by a lake to think and meditate. When he told me about stopping to do that on his way home from work, and none of the people he works with quite understanding that, I knew I had to bring him down to city beach and show him my spot to sit and contemplate (which I blogged about here).  Yes, it was overcast and pretty chilly! I noticed in the background he caught the big shelter I sketched back in September.

He also brought a present of a novel which he thought I'd like since it is set in Seattle, WA - a place I've visited often. Actually, I think he got it because he fancies I'm like that dame on the cover - must strike a pose with my cigarette holder before I settle in to read it!

Others remembered me this holiday with lovely little gifts. Food is always a safe bet, my sister-in-law knows, particularly as the nearest Trader Joe's is several hours away.

My brother passed along this mammoth 6-cd set of carols he received when donating to NPR. It's a nice addition to my collection.

A cousin surprised me with this set of Prismacolor pencils. She's been paying attention on Facebook and my blog! This will be perfect to throw in with my sketchbook when I'm out urban sketching.

And then there's this from a dear friend...delayed gratification as I nurture these amaryllis bulbs to bloom. I am so looking forward to that burst of color while winter still has me in its grasp.

Of course, there were many cards that arrived leading up to Christmas Day. I set them out on a big trunk in my living room where I can enjoy the many varied designs and messages. Without Christmas, I fear I'd lose this at-least-once-a-year contact with faraway family and friends. This was indeed a lovely Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

To my faithful readers and friends:

May you be where you want to be, with the people you wish to be with, enjoying a peaceful and blessed holiday.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice

2014 Winter Solstice card by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
I'm not generally a solstice celebrator, but when Susan Gaylord announced she had extra greeting cards to give away to the first 20 readers to e-mail her, I jumped right on it. Susan has developed a distinctive look to her calligraphy, and she often chooses quotations I am not that familiar with but that resonate all the same. So I asked for a card, not knowing what it would say or look like or even if I'd be quick enough to receive one at all. In turn, this over-sized postcard arrived in my mailbox yesterday with a sentiment that couldn't be more timely for me, one to take into the new year to sustain me. Perhaps it will sustain you as well. Hope you have enjoyed the winter solstice and its promise of days filled with more light.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's getting closer...

Things remain a bit quiet in the studio, now that the few gifts are made, wrapped and in the mail. The work table became the wrapping/shipping center, with bits of gift wrap, ribbon and labels still scatter upon it. Clothesline lies pooled under my sewing table, leftover strips huddle in small piles on the table - the odds and ends of the basket project which tantalize me since they are just enough for some small lipped plates. But the Christmas preparation is only partly complete. Any sewing will have to wait for cards to be written and the rest of the decorations to be put out. There may even be some cookie baking before I'm done!

It's a good time to let one's mind wander, to reflect on the past year, especially the fruits of one's artistic labors. Will it be simply "carry on" when the holidays conclude or is a major overhaul in order? With two projects in process, I'll be carrying on at least until they are done. At the moment, I can't really see much past them. I may revisit some ufo's, especially one that is not all that far from being done. I got a little stuck on it, then unexpectedly spent 3 months away from home, and upon returning moved on to other things. But it is worth figuring out the last bits, and I'm hoping to find the frame of mind to do that.

I will leave you with a couple of thoughts to ponder as you wrap up the year and contemplate the next. First is from an interview with artist Mary Whyte who had this to say about what she tells students they need to have to become accomplished artists - these three things (with my own thoughts in parentheses):
  1. Something to say (I've always referred to this as having a vision)
  2. The ability to say it (I'm thinking probably not just via skill and technique)
  3. The courage to do it (I've seen how easily we can talk ourselves out of believing in our vision and skill)
I think this sums it up pretty well. Personally, after years of producing both traditional and art quilts, I still know I have things to say and usually the skills I need to say them (and if not, the persistence to learn the skill I need). But that last one can trip me up, even with all the confidence I've gained through doing and exhibiting (leading me to think I should consider "fearless" as my resolution word for 2015). Perhaps that's why this quotation attributed to art critic Robert Hughes is so comforting to one who often doubts.
"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt; perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."
And with that, I must get back to my holiday preparations. Since actual quilting has been sparsely represented lately, I will leave you with the only Christmas quilt picture I could find - one I made for my mother-in-law from a pattern & fabric she'd bought, then decided she didn't have the oomph to put together. You can see detail shots on this blog post.



Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh what fun!

Working down my November list, I switched back to baskets this week. Nothing fancy, just sticking to the basic formula for a round basket with slightly angled sides. With a Christmas jazz station playing in the background, it was most delightful to sit at the machine, wrapping fabric strips around clothesline and zigzagging the coils together. So relaxing...

I started with the blue bowl since I had that fabric set aside since my first foray into these baskets. These two are ones I can't foresee working into any quilts, so no hesitation on my part cutting them into strips. It still fascinates me how these prints transform.

It went without a hitch and I was so pleased with the result. That's saying something because I usually find some fault, something I've miscalculated that doesn't ruin the final result but leaves me a little disappointed. Not so this time, so I dug into my stash for candidates for the second one. Both of these are lovely fabrics, a quarter yard or less, that probably came in a scrap bag purchase. At the time, I'm sure I thought I'd eventually work them into something, but now I know they likely will not. So it is both fun and gratifying to find a way to transform them into something useful.

So what's with the mason jar, you may ask? I bought some short ones to fill with goodies instead of the standard 8 oz jars so they would fit inside a basket like this. The baskets are about 4-1/2 inches across at the base and 3-1/2 inches high - perfect!

Monday, December 08, 2014


This is my small town post office, barely wide enough to accommodate two lines of customers on either side of a lengthwise counter (one coming, one going), or for someone to lean over to retrieve mail from the boxes that line each wall without bumping that counter or blocking the path. The clerks have a very cramped space in the back but they maintain their cheer for the most part. Post offices like these are a gathering spot for locals, to share news, gossip and talk politics. The clerks are often long-time residents of the area, if not the town itself, and so can be an invaluable source of information beyond postage rates and delivery times. It was this realization that led me to ask my postmistress if she knew what that boarded up building along the highway used to be, the one I sketched here. She pondered a few moments, getting it straight in her head what I was referring to, and was pretty sure it used to be a bar, until it got so rundown it had to be closed. "With living quarters above," I asked? "Yes," she nodded, "with living quarters above." It makes sense and now that mystery is solved.

We got a bit of snow last week, just an inch or so, so I was surprised to hear the unmistakable sound of snow shovels and took a look out my upstairs window to see who was being so industrious. Indeed, the lady across the street was clearing her driveway. I didn't see any kids about but apparently some had been busy. A closer look and I spotted quite the snowman next to the freshly-shoveled driveway.

Rather thought that hat a bit brilliant. Can't figure out what they used for hair or for the mouth and eyes for that matter. But what a cheery addition to the neighborhood!  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Photos on Fabric

I've been working up a journal to give my hair stylist for Christmas. She's an avid huntress who did not have the best luck this year. I'd told her about the issue I ran into when thinking to use my moose photo on a padfolio with the nose ending up on the flap and...oh no - the moose's rear on the front cover. She laughed and thought that might actually be fun. I came up with a different solution and this moose on fabric has been hanging around the studio ever since, waiting for a place to be used. It was sized almost perfectly for a journal cover and I knew if I gave it to my hair stylist, the moose's rear on the back cover would only make her smile. And perhaps she could use it to keep track of her scouting and weather, her successes and failures. Using the same formula as here, I added a strip to the bottom to make it long enough and fused it to craft felt. This was printed out on muslin and lacked the extra stability that the heavier waxed batik had. I was hoping the fusible web would rectify that. And because I didn't have the extra I did on the other journal cover, I planned to satin stitch the edges. If you click on the picture, you should be able to see I've started "quilting" by outlining the moose in dark brown thread.

Because it is fused, I can get away with less quilting. And there's a limit to what I want to add. Some might go whole hog and thread paint over the entire moose, but that seems redundant to me - why would I want to cover up the detail on a photo that printed so clearly to fabric? I settled for adding some bushes which because of how heavily the snow was falling did not show up much in the photo. But a couple did - and they really were red - so I extended them across the piece. I also used the alphabet function on my machine to customize the cover.

The cover still was pretty flimsy, so I started looking for a fabric to line what would be the inside cover cutting it twice as long as needed so I could create a pocket front and back. Again, I used fusible web to adhere it to the felt, then turned up the excess, pressing the fold at the bottom.

Then the top was folded back down even with the bottom to create perfect pockets. A little basting glue along the edges held it in place for the satin stitching of the edges all round.

Since making the last journal, I've picked up a few tricks for low-cost bookbinding tools. You can buy or make a piercing cradle - a v-shaped contraption for holding your folded signatures while punching holes along the fold. Or in a pinch, you can use an old phonebook to cradle your signatures. And you need an awl to punch those holes (and if I were making lots of books, I'd no doubt invest in one), but you can also use a push pin or a long thick needle. I have some doll needles I bought for thread basting on someone's recommendation, but they turned out to be too big for that. I'd been thinking about trying one for piercing although the needle might be tricky to hold onto. Then I ran across a tip that suggested protecting the point on an awl by sticking it into a wine cork before putting it away. Hmmm - could I embed the other end of my needle in a cork to make a handle? Indeed I could! A champagne cork has a comfortable rounded top that feels good on the palm of my hand.

So here's the finished journal, with signatures sewn in with the long stitch again, using an off-white/grey yarn (you can see some of it along the left in the pic above). If I'd had the right color of red, I might have used that but I think I like this more unobtrusive color better. The button is out of my several generational collection and has a woven patterning that makes it a little more special.

There's a lot of discussion currently about the use of photos in quilt art, including the same issues being brought up about wholecloth painted quilts. Why print a photo on fabric and add stitching instead of printing it on photo paper? Why paint on cotton and add stitches rather than paint on stretched canvas or watercolor paper? I've always been conflicted about the use of photos on fabric. I've seen it masterfully done, where the photo is first manipulated or where its image us used much like a patterned fabric might be. But untouched photo to fabric incorporated into a quilt? I think there has to be a very good reason, and that adding of stitch can be quite tricky to pull off well. Which is why this moose never made it into a quilt for the wall, although I'm sure I could have surrounded it with pieced blocks or an appliqued extension of the landscape and on some level it would have worked. However, used as a journal cover, with accents of stitch, makes a certain sense. Still, I rarely do this, feeling more comfortable using manipulations of my photos rather than realistic images.

Where do you come down on this issue? Do you use photos printed on fabric in your work? If so, I'd love to see how you do it. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Back to Work

Miniature sample of Eisenberg Fountain design
The studio hasn't seen much of me the last few weeks it seems. And now I'm facing down some Christmas gift-making deadlines with no work space if I don't finish something. Besides no table space, one machine is set up for quilting on the shibori piece while the other is set up to work through construction issues on the wall fountain piece. Time to free up some space. Yesterday I finished putting together the puzzle-like pieces of the fountain sample, first finishing up the "quilting" (pleased with the straight line section, cascading section needs some work), then holding overlapped sections together with glue baste so they could be stitched together. I'm really going to have to be careful to allow plenty of extra for those overlaps and be very accurate in my cutting, I now see, as well as watch my values to ensure good contrast between the different sections. I still have questions about the stitching along turned under edges and am still pondering how to apply the backing, but those can wait. As I've said before, I am so glad I chose to do this sample before committing to the really big piece. I've saved myself countless headaches. And now I have one machine freed up.

Overcoming the fear of over-quilting

But it's not the machine I need for the gift item I want to finish before next Tuesday. So today, it was the Shibori piece that got attention with addition of more quilting lines along the Shibori pattern, this time without the copper thread added in. If you recall, I'd stop working on this because the first lines of stitching not only were more glittery than expected but also appeared to cause the Shibori patterning to be lost. I lamented that I was stuck and disheartened. But since then, I've become unstuck and am now encouraged. I'd left it on the table, had studied it numerous times until I remembered what I'd told my art group - that I was going to put lots of quilting in that water section so the texture would read rippling water. And yet, I did what I so often do when beginning the quilting process - I stopped for fear that more quilting would make it worse. No no - in this case, lots of quilting makes it better. There's just enough sparkle and rippling I think. So this too can be set aside for later, freeing up not just the machine but a place to put my cutting mat. There was even time to start that gift.