Saturday, February 28, 2009

Exercise routine

This is so good I have to share it -- and I thank regular reader, Sam, known as Sunnysidey, for a blog link that I am filching this exercise routine from. I really believe in giving credit where it's due. A little bell in the back of my brain tells me this is not a brand not routine.

Stand comfortably in a place were you have plenty of room on either side. When you are entered and balanced, lift a five pound potato bag in each hand. Hold your arms straight out in front of you; hold the position for a minute -- or try to. Work up to a minute during repeated daily sessions if necessary. You will be able to hold the bags a bit longer, if not every day. every week with regular practice. When you reach a minute try to work up toward a minute and a half. When that is possible change to ten pound potato bags. Again work toward a minute and eventually toward a minute and a half. Change to fifty pound potato bags. This will be easier than perhaps you expect.

When you reach this pinnacle and can hold the bags for a minute and a half, add a potato to each bag. Continue in increments as before. This exercise is not restricted to the young and fit.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Last Several Hours

This morning I decided to put the pedal to the parquet [as it were] and finish this quilt! Of course it took longer than I expected. I just can't stop being astonished that what seems like a little simple sewing is going to take as long as it takes. But, the last side of the border was quilted and the binding cut and machine sewn to the back, hand sewn to the front -- I had the illusion while hand sewing that the thing was growing extras and stretching itself like so magical beast. The hanging sleeve is on and the label -- although I've got to write on it. There are some tag ends of thread to cut off, seems like no more than fifteen minutes, half an hour at most -- so it'll probably take an hour.

And the word is "Nevermore." Yes, The Raven and I agree, what's done once does not need to be done again. There are, of course, many other projects waiting in the wings.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quilting the quilt

This is a flame lily, it grows like a week in the Okovango Delta.

I've spent a fair amount of time on quilting the starburst quilt for the upcoming show. This quilt is not about quilting, it is about piecing -- SO many pieces [over 1200, as I've written before]. But of course it needed to be quilted. I'm using clear nylon thread on the top and grey-blue on the back that almost disappears against the commercial batiked backing. I'm mostly quilting in the ditch producing texture, the sense of ridge and furrow, not an addition of pattern which would be entirely too much, I think.

It's a lot of sewing but the piece is only 40x40 so it is easy to handle under the sewing machine and already has its own body from the narrow strips and the small but numerous seam allowances on the inside. It has been easy to get into a meditative, very pleasant work pattern. I have only one side of the border yet to quilt and then I'll put on a binding -- I've just chosen from my stash a deep green. I'll make bias strips and only a small amount of it will show on the front.

So that will be done and then I'll do the "Lemonade" quilt, possibly in various sizes of circles to offset the squareness of all the pieces. In that one the quilting will be important. That will be a very different quilting experience. I do agree with those who mumble the platitude, "variety is the spice of life." Indeed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Lemonade Quilt

For those old enough to remember the late '60s and early '70s, the time spawned various slogans. My favorite was and is "Give a damn." Others will remember "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." About then I had a bag from a fabric store that said, "When life gives you scraps, make a quilt." This quilt will be called The Lemonade Quilt because it's been a tart couple of weeks and I could use some sugar. No, real sugar on hand so I turned on the creativity tap and have been immersed in piecing this quilt from the shirting pieces mentioned in the last post.

This was pure, spontaneous piecing, the sort, I think, the women of Gees Bend did when they had a bag of scraps. I had no pattern, but wanted to make squarea of various sizes. I wasn't sure how the various sizes were going to fit together but I had an ah-ha moment: they didn't have to exactly fit I could fill in with pieces of the striped fabric. Which I did here and there. Several truisms arose as I worked. One is, every idea is subject to change. Above was a layout partially sewn on my Design Purple Fleece Throw [replacing the nonexistent design wall some quilters enjoy having in their more spacious abodes].

Another truism of spontaneously made quilts of multi-size squares is: you'll need more than you think. If you're making a traditional quilt of single size squares some simple multiplication will give you the number you need. Not so here. Of course, yet another truism is: it will take more fabric than you thought. It did but I had sufficient. I even have two pieces left which are not the strict stripes that will make the backing. And all this for $10.00! Below is a partial picture of the finished top.

And below here is a detail from the center of the quilt. Obviously I still need to add batting and the backing and then quilt it. That will make a big difference. And I'm fairly certain there will be many shirting buttons added as well. So the amount of time needed for completion stretches out ahead of me.

The creativity tap has run dry for the time being, run dry. I have a couple of quilts that need finishing touches. The reversible one a couple posts back only needs tiny touches. The show quilt is only half quilted so will take at least a whole afternoon and then the binding, hanging sleeve and label have to be added. Meanwhile there's a bird's nest of bits of thread all around my sewing area that I have to clean up and some general straightening is in orer. I have a satisfying feeling of getting something accomplished.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

shirting Quilt Blocks

The usually wonderful scrap/share table at Saturday's Empire Guild meeting was unusually loaded with lots and lots of at least quarter yard cuts of shirting stripes, solids and such. I bought a sizable bundle largely because a few months ago I cut a picture out of a Fiber Arts Magazine of a shirting quilt making interesting squares of the strips. I wanted to do something of the sort. Above is some of what I've done in the last couple days -- only a start -- only a hint of the idea that's in my head. Such ideas are subject to minute by minute revision so I won't go on about the variations I have in mind when I move on to different strips, so far these are all from the same stripe in different color ways.
I'm enjoying this. I'm reverting to that high school girl who so enjoyed geometry classes. I suppose playing with stripes is the visual equivalent of making puns in writing, very, very low on the totem pole of accomplishment. But it's fun and there's the constant challenge of sewing the long bias cut diagonal seam to make the stripes match, usually accomplished, sometimes just impossible at the very center. As it progresses there will be more pictures. One little thing I'm pondering: will there be a way I can incorporate those simple shirt buttons of which I have many, many, of course, mostly white? Stay tuned -- tho' this is hardly a cliff hanger.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quilt almost done

Apparently it's becoming a "thing to do" -- I mean having quilts at a wedding for guests to sign instead of a guest book. I think it's a super idea. I was asked to make a quilt for an early summer wedding and asked to use "red and black". How do people sign on red or black? And it just doesn't seem very wedding-like to me. So this is what I came up with Black, sure enough but red in its light and bright pink ranges.
Then to comply with the bride's request the back is all in reds except for the black border. (Edit) The former pictures were in such bad color I decided my camera battery might be too low to do a decent job, so charged it and retook the pictures which are better although the reds of the back still have too much yellow. It's really much more cherry red.

As always -- my theme song -- quilting is much more labor intensive than seems logical. I'm still fighting jet lag and have been up by 4:00 each morning for over a wee and have spend a few hours each morning putting this together always expecting to get much further along than I actually did. But as of now, there are only clean up things like tread clipping a few places and fixing a couple of spots, then a hangng sleeve and label But what a lot of tiime a one patch, apparently simple quilt took.
This is a reversible quilt for which I used Sharon Pederson's book, as pictured below. She spoke to our guide a year ago and I was intrigues with her method. It's easy but also arduous. I've never been nuts for a stained glass effect but in this case it turns what would be a somewhat mundane set of squares became more interesting and I mean above and beyond the interlocking squares pattern.

Now I can finish quilting the sunburst for the quilt show and move on with new or UFO projects ... I suppose I shouldn't even think "new" but I do have a new ideas that I want to try very, very soon -- like maybe tomorrow. Thus do older UFOs settle into the dust.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Central African Textiles

I hoped to find some cotton print in the town of Victoria Falls to bring home and use. It was a smaller town than I expected but definitely a tourist town. I quickly saw some rather nice shops [and did not venture into the local free-for-all market where some of our group were trading their tee shirts for carvings. I found attractive table cloths and place mats, interesting woven and fringed fabrics for sarong-style skirts and one canvas pillow cover that I liked very much. Above is a detail showing the guinea fowl design which the very nice clerk told me is a potato stamp. I asked her if there were any way to purchase some of the fabric and explained that I am a sewer. [Below s the whole pillow top]

The woman was a little stunned that a tourist would like a piece of fabric that wasn't made into something useful. I kept emphasizing that I am sew and like to make my own items. Finally she said that although she knew nowhere I could purchase fabric she makes pillow covers at home to make extra money and if I wished she would bring in a couple of pieces she had not yet cut. If I were going to be around the next morning we could discuss the pieces. I emphasized that I liked the pillow cover a lot and would probably purchase it. And yes, I had until about 10:30 the next morning. She was not the shop owner, that was a man who was stationed near the cash register.
From what I saw it was clear the fabrics of south-central Africa were not like the ones NYC vendors sell which are mostly from West Africa, mainly Ghana, Mali and Senegal where they have a lot of kente cloth and the bold colors most of us think of as "African textiles"

The next morning I went to the store and the clerk showed me the two pieces of cotton in the pictures here. They are the same stripe, as you see, one in browns and one in blues. The design is "African" -- and were certainly made for tourist trade. The woman showed me a couple of others she had already cut up to become pillow covers, they were attractive but almost cliched -- animal prints of no special distinction.

I am accustomed to bargaining but by then was so aware of the neediness of most Zimbabweans that I didn't want to dicker with her. She would not ask a price. I considered the pillow cover which I intended to purchase, then asked for a discount on it; then gave her, for her pieces, the full amount of the pillow plus the couple dollars she took off so that she got more than the shop in that transaction. At the moment I don't know how I will use these stripes, it may take a while but I'll remember that very nice young woman. I am sorry I didn't ask to take her pictures.

Interestingly there were many sidewalk touts, and there were, stationed near our hotel, uniformed men with badges that said Tourist Police. The accompanied any single woman who was braving the streets. They chatted in a friendly way and waited outside of a shop to escort me wherever else I might want to go. Of course they hoped for a tip and got it. For we American tourists southern Africa is "easy" because English is a second language nearly everyone speaks. Casual conversations are easy. In the bush camps the whole staff had been taught that we tourists would like to chat and they were always ready to tell us where they lived and simple things about their families or their ambitionis and so on.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

local African crafts

When in the wilderness, the bush, as it's called, what chance would a tourist have of learning about local crafts? More than might be supposed. An intentional side effect of such tourism is support of the local people -- rightly so. I admit that on some trips I have not been very happy with high pressure trips to Turkish rug factories or Peruvian alpaca sweater outlets. These seemed to be thriving businesses anyway. But in this part of low income Africa I did not mind that a group of local women came to our camp with many baskets and spent a half hour explaining the process from stripping the fibers and soaking them to the many kinds of local plants used for dyes. The photo I took didn't turn out. The baskets were handsome, intricate and hte colors restrained.

At another camp we visited a village and were taken to a market that, in fact, set up for us -- full of the usual carvings, baskets, and such -- some very attractive although I felt they made specifically what they had learned sold to tourists, the elephants and giraffes in wood, the printed placemats, etc. This was in Zimbabwe and the people were not only desperately poor but caught in an inflationary political situation that makes America's current economic crisis seem unimportant. I walked through the market and saw nothing that did not look familiar. Much was highly competent and attractive but all seemed cliche.

In a different vein we learned about a more ancient and important craft -- home building. We visited Headman Johnson of a village near Hwange National Park. The main house in the photo had packed clay floors, built-in benches around the sides -- it was not quite round, more oval; it had a thatched roof a few inches above the walls,to allow for ventilation. The walls as in the picture were a rather elegant three different earth shades -- they were made of mud gathered from different termite mounds. The termites make huge mounds, up to 6 or 8 feet tall sometimes. They merely displace the earth as they make labyrinthine tunnels. Why termites choose a particular place, I don't know but it may have red dirt or gray dirt or brown dirt and when it has been chewed up and compacted it makes a clay-like mud. The house builders then simply make the first third of the house one color,then another and another. The result is very pleasing. The wall above Mr Johnson's head, made of an even darker gray, has molded in shelves. See termite mounnd photo I'll add at the top.

Finally more of the always wonderful animals, in this case a herd of wildebeast. The wildebeast remind me of our American bison, only with a much more athletic body. A very young wildebeast is in the foreground. We actually saw one that seem so recentl born it was not yet walking -- it seemed to have been "dropped" just when the mother went to the pond to have an evening drink.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Variety of views

Here's a variety of photos that will show some of the variety of experiences this Africa "safari" trip brought. When I travel I always discover a richer variety of things to enjoy that I had expected. Would anyone ever guess that I'd be at a lodge in the marshy Caprivi delta in Namibia where guests were allowed to walk about at night only with a guard and yet go to dinner and find the napkins on the table folded like flamengos? There it is! Gorgeous.

Here are a group of village women dancing. I didn't particularly want to take a picture of their backsides but I did want to show the wonderful variety of the prints of their skirts. This was at a "set up" village where visitors were given demonstrations of "typical" life. As a tourist I'm not fond of these unreal experiences but still they weren't faking the kinds of clothes they wore nor their inherent beauty.

But, of course, the most stylishly "dressed" beings in Africa are the elegant animals, zebras' effortlessly chic in black and white strips, giraffes gorgeous in their spots and the many antelope more than brilliantly hatted with fantastic horns.

I've been off line a few days, thanks to a dead modem and then to a new and "improved" one that took some 4 hours of tech support to install! I hope I'm back with no further problems and can post a few more of my pictures and write a bit more before I go on with the quilt project I tackled yesterday -- one previously cut out and waiting for attention.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Group travel

Pictures here: a sunset cruise in the delta between Namibia and Botswana. Half the group in a safari vehicle [Land Rover], then a giraffe and, on right, the topmost third of a second one]

Many people avoid group travel as if it were a social faux pas. I've found group travel, usually in situations where I will be assigned a roommate [to avoid single supplement charges] economical, socially responsible and fun. True not everyone is compatible and, indeed, the larger the group the most likely there'll be a rotten apple or two. For years I've chosen groups of no more than 16, often less. This particular group was 15, I doubt I've found long term friends as I have on some other trips, but this sort of safari, in fact is only possible for me [financially certainly] as a group.

The organization is Overseas Adventure Travels [OAT] this was my fifth trip with them. They take some 20,000 people to Southwest Africa every year. They own 8 or 10 safari camps in the four national parks we visited. Each employs 15, or more, local people, our overall guide, as well was a native of Zimbabwe. The construction and maintainence of the camps also contributes to the local economy as do visits to local markets. OAT is part of Grand Circle which has a foundation that contributes to local schools [which we visited]

The standards of accommodations are almost embarrassingly luxurious; we have ample hot water, very clean accommodations, well prepared meals often served with flair and beauty. The staff are trained to be friendly and open; and mostly it does not feel forced. And we have extras like ability to charge came batteries, some have a pool, some have mosquito nets, all have anti-mosquito spray and sun block.
For these countries tourism is a major industry and keeping their national parks safe from poachers, keeping animals free and balanced is important.

Does this make an artificial experience? Of course! We don't live among wild animals, we look at them in their natural habitat to return to a sense of wonder at the variousness and strange harmony of hunters and prey. What I saw was as natural as it gets today. One of the lions seen in the wild had radio collar. The animals are priviledged and endangered citizens of the world in their way -- as are we in our way. Being among them, driving through their bushy, or marshy habitats, so unlike the gray, concrete streets of my city, is to experience an alternate reality. Speaking for myself -- I didn't get a strong sense of others' sensibilities -- I have an altered sensibility.

Back from Africa

A wonderful time, a frustrating time -- to visit Southwest Africa and look for wildlife in four national parks [in Botswana, Nanmibia, Zimbabwe] which is what I've just done for two and a half weeks. Wonderful because it's spring and the animals have babies. Above are lion cubs and below is a baby elephant. We saw baby impala, giraffes, wildebeast, cape buffalo, zebra, baboons ... I'm probably forgetting some. Perhaps animal lovers all know this, in fact, perhaps I read it and forgot. The wonderful local guides/drivers explained that the animals, mostly herbivores that live in herds, especially, are synchronous in that the females go into estrus with a week or so of one another -- then the dominant male is VERY busy and possibly the many bachelor males have an opportunity too. Then all the babies are born within a week or so of one another. The herd stays around the babies, protecting them during the period when they are tiny and easy prey for the big cats, jackals, even the big eagles.

Because it is spring, and the rainy season babies were in every herd/ They were darling to see, most less than a month old but capable of leaping or running. Baby baboons clung to their mothers. All the babies had moments of sheer play. Also because it is spring the grass is very green, abundant, and some kinds are very tall. This is wonderful for the animals to hide in, both prey and preyed upon -- and we humans have a hard time finding them.

Finding some was so hard we failed. Of the big five: elephant, cape buffalo, lions, rhino and leopard, we saw all except leopard. At one camp leopard prints were found quite near our tented cabins. That day we searched the area where the leopard was thought to be -- probably with babies -- but it was very grass and the bushes were in thick foliage. The vehicle I was in spent a morning and an afternoon hour searching the area and the other vehicle did the same, but Mama Leopard and Kittie was never seen. By the way, "bush" really means bush, not savanna or forest. There are some tall trees [many dead from having their bark eaten by elephant] but most growth is bushes not more than 10 feet high either close together or with open spaces between.

I'll come back to different aspects of the trip in future posts. For now I'll just add that the drivers/guides, all local men plus one very competent woman, were expert spotters and extremely knowledgeable about wildlife, birds as well as animals. The vehicles were the open safari trucks with a canopy over the top and seats in raised tiers. Getting into them was a serious climb. Roads were dirt and deeply rutted whether in soil or sand or mud. All vehicles we used were Land Rovers that were almost amphibious, I couldn't believe some of the puddles -- almost ponds -- we drove through. At one marshy area each of the two vehicles, in turn, got stuck. But the driver and his helper got us out very efficiently. I have great admiration for all the people who made the trip fascinating and usually comfortable. It WAS the rainy season and we all got more or less wet -- well, drenched -- a couple of times. Just part of the adventure.