Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's eve

Back in the supposedly bucolic '50s, when I was a girl living on a Midwestern farm, the only way to learn about pop culture -- or any culture, really -- was the radio. Somewhere TV had been invented but it hadn't reach our part of the country. I discovered the Hit Parade, Sinatra, Como, The Andrews Sisters, Rosemary Clooney and then there was Elvis! I discovered the Hit Parade and listened religiously, as I listened to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadasts.

This came back to me today as I listen, as I have for some years, to NY's classical music radio station, WQXR, which each year does a "classical count down" of the top pieces as voted by their listeners. All warhorses of course. Beethoven is the heavy weight winner and his 9th Symphony is always number one, usually played around about midnight on New Year's Eve. The choices change position a little year to year but it's predictable -- except this year there's no Schubert Trout Quintet and I'm very deeply disappointed.

Celebration -- as in partying -- is something I have almost never done on New Year's Eve. Sometimes I'm a bit sad that that's how my life has turned out. Mostly I am content to listen to music I love, write a summary in my diary, perhaps write some resolutions in a new diary, throw the coins for an I Ching reading -- no. I swear to you, I do not think of it as predictive. I've been throwing the I Ching for years and am convinced it is pure chance, but it is always wise. Always worth contemplating. I've read it so long, [at least 30 years] I'm deeply influenced by the Confucian translation and the philosophy of moderation I find there. I have trouble empathizing with the many people who write at length about their "quests" and "spiritual journeys". It all seems so self-agrandizing. A balanced view of the world was defined by Lao Tzu and commented on my Confucius hundreds of years ago. We don't need to reinvent the wheel; we only need to keep our eyes and minds open so we are abreast of how civilization is progressing, or more often, spinning its wheels in a mire of ignorance, greed and selfish misery.

So that is my ritual, some introspection about my own progress through life, a few moments of thinking about something wiser than I am, and much very beautiful music ... a pleasant dinner, a little Scotch and the prennial resolution to try to read 100 books this year [I'm a slow reader and don't usually make it past 70]. And the recognition that in fact this is a totally arbitrary milestone, a social construct that I can chose to imbue with meaning or not since various peoples recognize various new year's dates and in fact there is no such thing, there is just a method of counting the days. We so often forget that the days we can count will be numbered and we know now what that number will be. I think of poet Mary Olvier's live, "what will you do with your one wild and wondrous life?"

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tortoise-like Progress

Sewing, sewing, sewing -- one triangle after another -- each with nine pieces ... won't I ever be done? Just to see what the thing will look like with it's borders, I put together the strips that will be two sides. Obviously they are not yet attached to the main section nor are the corner triangles sew together or to the side strips. Nothing has been properly ironed. Visually the idea is there. The little red triangles will be less prominent because they will be sewn on and literally will be smaller.

I WILL have the border on by the first of the new year! I promise myself!! I've got to stop having so much fun with the little postcards and keep my nose to the grindstone. But really, for psychological balance, I need the immediate satisfaction of the postcards too. So I'll balance the two and keep at it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More Postcards

Quilt postcards have been around quite a while. I think it was three years ago I had an earlier fit of postcard making and made 50 mostly with intricate butterflies. My current spasm of card making is more efficient and I'm zipping right along. This spell directly relates to the selvage quilt postcard I received two or three weeks ago from Sam Furman from Perth, Australia. She used all Kaffee Fasset selvages and it was wonderfully complex. So I started with postcards made entirely of selvage also.

First I decided to try weaving the polka dot selvages. Then I made the other two just by overlapping selvage to cover cut edges but chose the print carefully. Now I'm using a small picture from a print fabric in the center and framing it variously with selvages -- more pictures another day. All these are going quickly depending on how long I take auditioning various selvages to get colors that satisfy me. That is my favorite part of all scrap quilting. I'm not a plan ahead type, I love the spontaneity.

Four or five books have been written about how to make quilt postcards and I'm sure all are good. There are also sites that have tutorials. But the method I've used the last couple days is so simply I'll just list the steps.
1- I cut a couple of rectangles of light weight interfacing about 5x7.
2- I use an old post card that is 4x6 and mark on one piece of interfacing as in the picture.
3- I chose the pieces of selvage and/or fabric, sometimes I chose all before I start to sew and sometimes I chose as I go. The selvages completely cover the interfacing..
4- I sew the selvage edge quite close to its outside covering the raw edge of the strip it overlaps, so the finished front will have no raw edges.
4. When all are sewn on, I chose a backing fabric [the write-on piece] which has a small light colored design or no design. I cut it 5x7 and lay it face down on the face of the postcard.
5- then I lay the second piece of interfacing on that. Now I have four layers.
6- The fastidious might want to pin it all together at this point. I don't bother. I turn it over so I can see the original mark on the interfacing that was sewn upon. I use this mark as a sewing line. I sew the two longer sides and one other, leaving one side [end] open.
7- I then trim the sewn sides to less than 1/4 inch and clip across the two sewn corners fairly close to stitching.
8- Then I turn it right side out. I work out the two sewn corners -- I use a chop stick to help poke it square. A knitting needle works well but I don't have any
9- I insert a piece of Christmas card cut to a little less than 4x6, between the two layers of interfacing.
10- I carefully turn in the open end and then whip stick it closed using tiny and nearly invisible stitches.
11- Then I iron the whole thing.
12- Finally I turn it over, write with a Pigma pen or a permanent fine Sharpie, the name I give the post card and my name and the date of construction. Draw a little square in the corner where the stamp can go. Viola!!! Done.
Twelve steps really isn't much; I've broken it down to tiny steps.

This could be done using a great piece of fabric, maybe with a scenic design. It could be bordered just once with fabric or ribbon. It could be embellished with button or beads but that would ideally be best done after turning it and before whip stitching it shut. There are endless other possibilities == and quite a few websites one can go to for inspiration and ideas. I'm having fun. I tend to go on little binges like this with relatively simply projects. The very quick reward of a finished product is very satisfying.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Frugulista - scrap/selvage quilting

I've been on a roll all day long making selvage postcard quilts. No photos yet as I didn't want to stop and do the whip stitching to finish the pillowcase backing and then to iron them. I made eight postcards today not only using the selvages -- many sent to me by dear friends on Swap-bot who I've never met but who are kind and send me envelopes of selvages every so often. I'm using not-"new" fabric - well actually it's all new and not been used before but it was not purchased specifically for this project. Like all scrap quilts -- which are my favorite kind -- I'm using what I have in my stash.

This is frugal in several ways. I'm sewing onto a backing of iron on interfacing that I purchased, actually by mistake, quite a while ago. Not only do I have the strips of selvage sent to me, I realized that many of the strips of fabric in my large "scrap bag" are selvage cuttings. So I went through the whole thing and took out the selvages -- also neatened a bit!... How righteous I feel!

Then as I worked I had a frugalista brain storm -- I could stiffen the post cards by inserting between backing and front, pieces of the many Christmas cards that would otherwise go into the garbage. How perfect is that!? They are a nice light weight but with enough stiffness to give the postcards the necessary oomph to withstand the P.O.'s carelessness ... I hope.

I'm really on a roll and hope to make, perhaps as many as 20 in the next week. I'll do photographs when they are finished. Meanwhile the starburst quilt is coming along -- a friend saw it yesterday and pointed out that it is a mandala and the colors are "Tibetan" -- both true. The influence of my long time interest is so much a part of me I hadn't even thought about it. How wonderful and helpful to have a fresh set of eyes.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day

No, this plate is not traditional Christmas fare. But I don't "do" Christmas. Yesterday, assessing my refrigerator I decided I wanted a nice avocado to make a salad with some tomatoes that promised they might have some tomato flavor. So I went to the local store that is a small produce store grown to almost full supermarket, and, indeed found the avocado that seemed perfect. Of course they were well stocked for the holiday and I couldn't resist the lovely pears and the cherries -- whatever south of the equator country they are from, they are really wonderful. Last week I had Queen Anne cherries that were great, these Bing cherries are perhaps a little better. And not that pricey! So for the sake of festivity I thought I'd put the bottle of wine in the photo, it's been around a while but won't be much longer, having been 1/3 emptied already.

I was deep into hermit-like quilting and straightening and dropped the idea I'd had of going to a movie in the afternoon. But I finally tore myself away and went for a walk in the sunny afternoon. The sky was a perfect, cloudless blue. I did a quick trot around the Great Lawn in Central Park -- despite the snow a few days ago, now gone, the grass is as emerald green as on a beautiful spring day, even though the temperature was only upper 30s. I'm glad I pushed myself out -- walking felt great. The park was full of people of all ages, from babies in cariages to elders in riding scooters and behind walkers. Groups strolling along, speaking all kinds of languages -- always good for my mood.

Then back to consider what to do about a quilt experiment that didn't work out as hoped -- lessons learned, time not wasted but frustration anyway. However, the straightening fit produced order out of chaos and the day was far from wasted. Also, I had a real dinner, good, healthy food. With the radio on most of the day I've had noels up the gazoo and will be glad to get back to normal classical music tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Growing/getting there

Th stack of triangles for the border of my Starburst quilt is growing. In fact this photo was taken a couple days ago and I am now within sight of THE END -- then I will calculate the total number of pieces. I have enough together to have laid out one edge, without sewing it, to see how it will go. I need 15 triangles on each side and then will need two additional ones for each corner. It's pure labor intensive, repetitious sewing. My idea -- fools run in where the cautious know not to tread. As I watch the stack of triangles grow I can meditate on the progress of my four "Paper White" narcissus bulbs. Most years I get some bulbs, usually amaryllis for gifts and send them early enough to hope friends will have flowers for Christmas. But they are usually slow. These I kept for myself and for a while thought the two shorter ones were not going to grow at all. Now that all four are shooting up I'm glad two were slower than the other two because I should have flowers for a longer time. That will be nice, especially if they have the scent I think they will. Taking a break from triangle construction I made this little raccoon from Margaret Rothe's Going Wild quilt design book that I've had for years -- and I made some raccoons before, as well as several other birds and animals from the book. They are paper pieced but are not as well planned as later books. This is for a swap and was enlarge to be a nine inch block, plus quarter inch seam allowance.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hansel and Gretel

We all know the Grimm version of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel -- why we call most Grimm tales "fairy" tales is beyond me, very few have fairies. This one has a witch and the opera has angels, well, there's the Sandman and the Dew Fairy but those were not in the Grimm version. I'm cogitating on that because I saw the Humperdinck opera on film as it was done at Glynebourne last summer. And believe me it didn't look anything like the drawing pictured here.

I had in mind to go to a film of The Nutcracker from the Kirov Ballet at 3:00 in the afternoon, but then I was sewing and listening to a Messiah performance on the radio and suddenly I realized it was five of three. Not to worry, thought I, they're showing it next Sunday also. So I went to the grocery store and passed Symphony Space which is the venue and saw that they were showing the Hansel and Gretel in the evening. I think I've seen it once and heard it a jillion times. So why not see what they did at Glynebourne?

It was wonderful in a thoroughly modern-fun way. Firstly the voices were superb, especially the two leads who blended their sopranos magically over and over again. Everyone else was very fine also. The woman who sang Hansel was brilliantly made up as a boy and had all the right body language. The brilliant Gretel was the most incredible huge eyes, as well as a hyperkinetic manner that was delightful. Although one thinks of opera singers as being people of considerable ego, the "adults" were caricatures,looking anything but attractive. The Mother was a large, slovenly lady in a thoroughly unbecoming house dress and slacks; father a bit of a drunken sot looking disheveled and unshaven. But the witch! Oh my goodness! At first appearance a big, big man doing drag that would outdo Hairspray on B'way, and on second appearance he shed is pink wig and dress and flounced about in huge bra, low slung half slip below a very masculine and somewhat hairy beer belly, plus an open wrapper. No traditional witch there; one of the most amazing displays I've ever seen in opera.

It was a fortuitous choice, thoroughly entertaining and fun. A little girl, with her grandfather, perhaps 10 or 11, who had never seen an opera before was entranced even though she complained during the intermission that she was hungry and granddad offered to leave and take her for something to eat. She chose to stay and said she was glad she did. Opera on film will never be as wonderful as live -- but it is being filmed with great skill now and shown fairly widely and will make opera available to a new generation probably in very much the same way the Met Saturday broadcasts of the 1950s made it available to this once-upon-a-time little girl on a farm in Indiana.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow day

Snow is falling as it's been doing since about ten. "THEY" say it's going to turn to sleet/rain for a while and then snow more overnight. I've been reading of other parts of the US getting blizzards and having deep cold. Well, it's not so cold but it is a day to sit in front of a fireplace and read a book -- except I don't have a fireplace. Ah, well ... I can get on with quilting. And I am.

I'm sewing the triangles that will become the border of the starburst quilt. I've done a dozen -- they take at least 20 minutes each! -- and have to do 40 total plus figure out just how to do the corners which is tricky. So this is not going to be a snap and I am already getting a bit bored and thinking what other quilt to work on now and then to break the sameness, I've got three in some form of UFO-ness. Also I have plenty of books to read and sufficient food in the house that if I don't feel like braving the wet, cold, icy, blustery whatever outside I don't have to and probably won't. Seems only right we get a taste of the bad weather others are getting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Stress Buster

Just a quick note about one of my next steps in making this Sunburst quilt. I have now 900 pieces of paper to tear off. They are easy-tear, I don't have to worry a lot about pulling and weakening stitches as with some papers. This is mindless work -- like popping bubble wrap bubbles. Which is a known stress reliever.

I understand a Japanese gadget maker has a device that can fit on a keychain which simulates the bubble bursting and immediately reconstitutes itself so you have endless bubbles to pop. Can a gadget be as pleasing as the real stuff? I also understand that at the Enclosed Air Company -- where bubble wrap is manufactured -- employees get little sheets of bubble wrap the way many peoplein other offices get memo pads at their desks. It's not available for sale .. but it ought to be.

When I think about the fascination of bubble bursting I remember a movie I saw about ten years ago set in Mongolia called East of Eden. The steppe dweller left his ger to go to town, which was a 3 or 4 day journey. He had a number ofctricity from a wind or solar generator. He left behind his wife, two children and old granny. When he returned with the TV, wife and kids were fascinated by the shows but Granny took the bubble wrap and went to sit on the step outside the ger to pop the bubbles.

NOTE: "Ger" is the round felt hut of the nomads, that is their word. "Yurt" is a word the Russians used when they controlled Mongolia. It is not used by Mongolians today.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Making Progress

I was home all day, except for a quick trip to the Post Office for some Christmas mailing. I was determined to get this central part [the 900 pieces] of the sunburst quilt together. It literally took all day but I'm feeling pleased.

I added the narrow deep orange border and an equally narrow dark green. This will be the dividing section. There will be a border [another 400 pieces] of triangles from the same pattern as the inside of the quilt -- the size of the deep blue triangles in the center, all the way around. I think I need about forty. I've had an internal argument most of the day saying, I could just add a 3 or 4 inch fabric border. But I immediately say, no, no, no. That wouldn't feel right. It will get made in the next few weeks I hope. And then, of course, it'll need to be quilted -- simply in the ditch. That makes me tired thinking about it. BUT it's not hard, just time consuming.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas and the Economy

Before our quilt guild meeting yesterday I was part of a big round table -- women, all at or near retirement age -- and someone moaned, "I'm really being careful with spending this year for Christmas gifts". Everyone nodded. The conversation went on in this vein. One woman said she retired five years ago and felt good about being able to pay her expenses and have a couple of hundred dollars "to play with." But that's not true any more and she's beginning to look around for a part time job. Others, including moi, said they planned to work as long as possible.

Said one woman, "I've been never in a group like this and talked about these things before -- sometimes with family but for this to be true for all of us ..." Yes, the headlines are very close to home these days.

There was a general disconnect as the meeting's main activity was an auction to raise money. I have in the past skipped the December meeting because it is always a fund raiser in some way and I think that is extremely bad timing. We enjoy the guild, we want to help it continue it's very good meetings [the venue is quite expensive, as would be any in NYC large enough for us] and the upcoming show is very expensive to mount although we hope to make some money from it. Still I feel December is not a time when I want to be cajoled into purchasing items for myself -- oh, all right, I did buy a coupe pieces of fabric. Still the auction was a bit forced although the donated items were very attractive and some sold for very good prices. Somehow it seems to belay the holiday spirit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lap Quilt

When I measured the quilt with the disappearing parrots on it I discovered it was larger than I thought -- so large that it would be difficult to keep it safe from becoming tangled with wheelchair wheels. So I sent this quilt or Lisa who is shown here in front of a newly decorated Christmas tree in the residence where she lives. I also sent a second one that is a bit smaller which is a picture window design with African animals in the "windows.

I add ties of grosgrain ribbon that I had that actually matched the binding fairly closely. And on the top back made a couple of loops of the same ribbon through which the long tie ends could be threaded and tied in the middle to be out of the way when the quilt is not being used with a wheelchair [ties are tied behind wheelchair when in use so the quilt stays in place] Leslie sent me this photo - which is nice. I don't have pictures of other quilts being used by their recipients.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oldie, but ...

"In the dark, all cats are black." We've all heard that. It's also the name of this quilt which I re-discovered in my weekend of closet sorting and quilt discovery. Of course I remember making this quilt and I liked it back then. I had just found out about strip piecing, which I did on the background of this quilt. I had a batch of patterns for appliqued cats which I had used somewhere else and liked. So this was the result, there are 7 or 8 cats total on this quilt. They are not meant to be immediately visible although they have noticeable eyes that draw one in embroidered in gold, green, or yellow.

I had not forgotten that I made this quilt. I took it out of the batch and put it on the bed. I think I'll live with it for a while but I might also decided to send it to Leslie who is a "cat person." She called delighted a couple days ago to say she was cat/house sitting for a week -- Okay. Those of you with dirty minds -- notice the slash there, I did not write cat house -- PUL-EZ!1 Get your mind out of the gutter.

I cannot think how to make this idea work better. Whatever design the background might be, the cats must recede into the darkness and not be noticeable except upon careful scrutiny. Anyway, the cats and I are sleeping together for the time being. It's good to review one's accumulation. I have given away quantities of what I've made and will continue to give away or swap or, perchance, once in a while, maybe sell what I quilt. Still, for me the pleasure is in the idea and then making it. And sometimes in sleeping under it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I have learned a thing or two


I have [or had] quilts stashed on top shelves of closets that I had not seen for ten or more years. During the last two days I've been pulling down bags of quilts, taking them out, photographing and measuring. A couple of quilts surfaced that I haven't seen in a VERY long time and only dimly remember making. A couple were downright embarrassing. I made THAT! Oh, good heavens! There was a reversible Amish-style center diamond, hand quilted quilt -- so bad, even beginning Amish children surely would have made it better. I must say my photograph makes it look better than it really does -- which is the opposite of what usually happens with my photography.

The heartening side is that I have learned a lot about quilt making through reading and through the doing and through thinking seriously about what I was doing. But some of the newest remind me that I have not mastered corners of the binding. My Achilles heel, along with various other weaknesses. It's been an enlightening experience. A quilt I knew was there somewhere appeared and is now the wall quilt in the living room -- not "pretty" just squares but each hand quilted in a different geometric pattern. The arrangement of colors of the squares a close approximation of an Ellsworth Kelly painting. I don't understand why a fine artist chose that arrangement [and now why the original sold for thousands of dollars]. So I'm going to give it some attention for a few weeks and see what is satisfying about these colors in a pattern I never would have, with my less sophisticated artistic eye, arranged this way. NOTE: I have been trying to move the image down to here but it's stuck at the beginning of this post. Sorry about that. At least you can see what I'm writing about.

At the same time, I've tackled the rest of the contents of the closets and now have my mailing envelopes neatly arranged by size which they weren't before. And I can actually see a portion of the floor of my coat closet for the first time in aeons [I use the old fashioned spelling to show how long it's really been].

I wouldn't call the bottom of that closet chaos but it certainly was a very haphazard collection of stuff and now makes sense and is far neater. Such order making is good for the mind, body and even soul, I think.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Finding a home for a quilt -- or two

Finding homes for my quilts is as satisfying as finding homes for a litter of puppies that you know you can't keep but they're all darling and you want them to be loved. Leslie called last evening and said one of her handicapped clients is in need of a quilt. The client is wheelchair bond and was looking shivery and chilly yesterday.

I remembered this quilt which I made last spring. I like the colors, but as I wrote back then, when I decided to jazz it up a bit with a number of fused parrots along the top, I chose ones that were too near the same colors. As a wall quilt the parrots disappear from a dozen feet away. However, it's large enough to be tuck-able around the client's legs and if the parrots are in her lap. they well be close up and personal. So as soon as I find out which blanket bag it's stacshed in, I can mail it As I told Leslie, maybe I will also discover some other quilt I have forgotten and send it along too. [Click photo, it will enlarge and you can see the parrots]

Leslie requested I add "apron strings" to the top corners -- that is pieces of binding, or maybe ribbon long enough to tie at the back of the wheelchair -- her clients are both physically and mentally handicapped so they need as much help as they can get. I think I will see if I can figure out a method with snaps so the ties can be attached to the back to avoid dangling and tangling when not in use. The idea in my mind will be worked out when I get the quilt in hand.

How satisfying to know that a quilt made just because I wanted to see how the colors and patterns would work will find a good home. Certainly I have more than enough wall quilts and plenty of lap quilts as well.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Beautiful light

Lo, many, many a year ago, when I was a high schooler who found a book or two in the local library about great artists I became interested in their miracles of perception and representation. But educating myself was difficult; there were very few books and no art museums to go to, and SOOO much to learn. Gradually I began to learn. I was about 20 when I first was able to spend an afternoon in the museum in Chicago. But even later when I had seen many of the great museums of Europe in a kind of whirlwind honeymoon/grand tour, I found I did not understand why artists seemed to make such a fuss about "light." Not just enough light but certain light. I couldn't see a difference.

Not until I went to Greece 15 or so years later did I realize you don't see light until you really SEE it. The light in Greece was different. I saw for the first time what happens when the sky reflects the blue of the sea. I was astonished. Ever since I've been looking at light. Here in NYC we have a very special and wonderful light in the autumn and winter which is especially beautiful about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. I think the word for it is "lambent." It turns gray and beige stone facings on building various shapes of pink. The above photo is not a wonderful skyline -- it's just what was visible from the third floor of the Apple Store at 9th Ave. and 14th St. It IS that afternoon light and when I see it I am enchanted.

This is a different kind of ocean light. It is early morning on Cape Cod facing the ocean. The grand house, one of many along that stretch probably from the early 20th century when there were big families with lots of servants, faces a channel or inlet and then the spit of beach on which I was walking and behind me, not very far, is the ocean. It was a calm morning, the sun had a new, just risen feeling, the light seemed to have some of the crisp air's coolness but there was a clarity that was astonishing. I truly hope the people who live in those big old houses and the one who live in a batch of much newer McMansions appreciate that they not only own prime real estate but are treated every sunny day to light many an artist has come to Cape Cod to revel in.

And, not to do with this light in particular, but the day before when Rachel and I went to the Cape Cod Cinema in Dennis where she had not yet been, we discovered that the barrel ceiling had been painted with sun, moon, stars and many Greek gods by Rockwell Kent [and apprentices]. A landmark that the Town of Dennis surely appreciates and that all theatre goer can also appreciate for while waiting for the movie to start. What a nice discovery!