Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year To Do List

If I didn't have a to-do list, I'd quick find some new projects. Happily I have only two UFOs and I am actively working on them. There's the shirting strip quilt that I'm quilting and will have done in a few days. And there's the hexagon cream and sage quilt that is being thought about actively, i.e., I'm not quite sure how I want to handle the borders and I'm mulling -- yes, I call that active.

Otherwise I have started two more which I will handle as I think of a favorite axiom, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." So a quilt made of 5x5 blocks, reversible, quilt-as-you go, is happening five or six blocks at a time. Likewise another Carol Doak star quilt, this one will be bed size and will also be quilt-as-you go. So far only one block is done, but, of course it's 12x12 so it won't take as many as the 5x5. And another paper pieced quilt has been on my mind for about three years which I think it's time to start, again block by block.

I like having multiple projects in progress. I also read books this way. No, I don't have attention deficit disorder, I like variety and I don't have any sort of deadlines. I always have something interesting calling to me to pay attention. Yet if something else arises -- say an invitation to a Scrabble game -- off I go with no guilt whatsoever.

I was wondering how many quilts I made this year when I was sewing this morning. The answer is I don't know. I could scroll back through my blogs and count, but I won't do that. I'll just say, enough quilts to be happy about it. Should I decide to keep a log of quilts this year? No, I don't think I'll do that. The photos of the finished ones are in the file and new photos be added as finished. I don't need to be more compulsive than that.

May the quilters who read this have a happy year of quilting, with new learnings, new challenges, new satisfactions and plenty of cuddly warmth at night.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mariner's Star #3

This is the third Carol Doak mariner's star I've just finished. I like this one best. I befuddle myself about my wobbly sense of color -- the other two are okay but they're definitely not examples of sueperb color choices -- even though I have to say as I usually do that these photographs are not very true in color. Still this one seems to work considerably better than the others.

I started another Carol Doak star yesterday, from her earlier book, 50 Stars, and I find that one fabric is definitely less well chosen than the others. Some mechanism that happens when I'm imagining how things will work together just doesn't always click. I lay the fabrics out together and stare at them, leave them, come back, look some more, sometimes make changes. But still I make mistakes. I know, I know, "to err is human" but in these cases I'm trying hard not to make an error. All I can do is keep practicing. It's only a 12x12 block so it's not a big deal in terms of wasted materials or time. It's just frustrating to be reminded of my own imperfection.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Mariner's Star #2

The second of there Mariners Stars made from the most recent Carol Doak paper piecing book. The recipient has written that she likes bright colors so I decided to use the Hoffman print fabric that is on the border and back as a guideline for bright colors. I've had that fabric quit a while and this was almost the end of it. But I am a saver and a few strips went into my bag from which to make strip quilts in the future.

The twisted trim that is zigzagged around the border is actually a kind of twine. I had a little time one afternoon in Ching Mai, Thailand and went looking for interesting fabrics. I actually didn't find any because I walked in the wrong direction from my hotel as I found out the next morning when I walked the other way. But I did go into a small shop selling crafty things. All I saw that I wanted was this twine. Several meter-long pieces were hung over a hook behind the counter. I asked about purchasing some. The owners looked surprised, but being business people gave me a price, a very low price. And I bought a hand full of pieces. When I left it dawned on me this was not craft for sale it was the twine they used to tie packages they for customers. Nevertheless I like it very much and have used it in a few quilts and still have a good supply for the future. When I travel I try to purchase things that will continue giving me pleasure, [often earrings or rings]. Then when I use them or wear them I have a moment of vivid remembrance of the store and the clerk I dealt with.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quilting Arts Book

With the mailed flyer and it's various coupons, off I went to Jo-Ann's to stock up on quilt batting. Bought two kinds, polyester, which I have nothing against, and an all natural one that I think will be nicer when I get around to the necessary great-grandson quilt, but he's not expected until mid May so there's plenty of time. Who knows, I may get on a roll as sometimes happened and make more than one baby quilt.

With 40% off, I finally decided I had to have The Quilting Arts Book, especially as I've let my subscription to the magazine lapse. It is easier to have so many ideas in one place. I sold my entire back issue set of the magazine when I moved so this replaces them. The book not only has many inspiring pictures, it also has a great deal of information about design and about techniques. I will enjoy reading it.

I'm not really an art quilter at all, except for the occasional small fit of making something for a specific reason. My form of creative expression is writing. I love the design elements of making quilts, from small to large, the color, the graphic impact and so on. This is so satisfying I am happy using purchased fabrics and designs others have thought up and written about. My quilts serve either an immediate useful purpose for beds or throws or decorative purpose as wall hangings but they're not art, they're craft. That's enough. I'll clutter my hard drive with poems, short stories, novels, and other writing. It seems a reasonable balance and I feel satisfactorily "expressed."

Friday, December 25, 2009

One of Three Mini-Quilts

I am committed to three mini-quilts for Swap-bot friends. I have done the piecing of all three, [as written about recently, from Carol Doak's Mariner Compass Stars.] To me piecing is the fun part,I love watching the pattern take shape. The quilt is 12x12, actually almost 13x13 counting the binding. This particular one got off to a bad start with the wrong color choices. After half a block I saw it just wasn't right. I switched from too dark fabrics to these and so here it is. The recipient likes blue and green; so I hope she'll like this one. I am constantly learning about color, largely about the importance of intensity or hue -- I don't have an art school vocabulary for the qualities of color but my eye is beginning to get educated. I am very happy to have a large stash so I can make a variety of choices.

I'll finish the second, and maybe the third as well tomorrow. I had only a little to do on this one so I finished it in a nice lull after Christmas festivities. Now I have two books started -- which one will I curl up with for a couple of hours? Probably first one and then the other.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas wishes

Good wishes to all who celebrate Christmas for a lovely eve and merry day tomorrow. And for the many who don't celebrate Christmas, I hope it's a peaceful, happy and very good day.

Being an early riser, I cannot stop being fascinated by dawns. The dawn below was after our big snow with a scallop of ice along the left side of the window. After a day of mixed white-out and dove's breast grey, this dawn was very wonderful.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Dawn came as late as it can, the afternoon darkness seemed to descend very early -- really breif minutes, on either end. Knowing it is the winter solstice I noticed the day's brevity. The differences are slight, I may not be truly aware of increasing daylight for a week or two but I know it's happening.

The aftermath of the blizzard was very lovely. The entire lawn was an unmarked blanket of slightly drifted white. Most of the wind came from the general direction of Canada. After the snow plow had been here and I had watched a number of people manage to get their cars free of the plowed up barriers I went out mid-afternoon just to see what barriers I would have to cross tomorrow when I'll go do errands. I have seen so much worse! I began to simply kick at the snow behind the rear of my car. Within ten minutes I had nearly flattened the area, almost down to pavement - just by kicking. When I came in I felt as though I had had a dance class workout -- very invigorated. The snow is light and fluffy still, rather dry, too. I hope the temperatures remain below freezing this week so that Christmas will be white. By then the roads will have been properly cleared - as they are not yet -- and a drive through almost any neighborhood will be tour through lights of all colors.

Light -- that is at the heart of all these winter festivals, the return of the sun after it's diminishment. We celebrate light with our own little lights artfully arranged or gaudy; the spirit remains ancient and numinous.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Day

"Snow day" -- didn't you love those words when you were a kid? As if the sky itself gave you a whole day free. I still feel that way. What will be called something like "the big blizzard of December '09" came in about midnight last night. I had just put down a book and was thinking about it when I heard a whistling wind and looked out. I slept maybe a hour and awoke to a shiny whiteness -- the security lights outside were magnified by the snow so I got up and watched it a while then, being wide awake, went back to my book for quite a while, looked out occasionally as the bush outside my window accumulated big blossoms of snow. It's still coming down, my windows are iced over outside.

The snow day euphoria has hit me. I'm playing. That's what it feels like. I need to make two small quilts for swaps, sender's choice. So I've gone to the Mariner's Compass Stars book by Carol Doak which I've been wanting to use since I bought it about a year ago. Of the 24 patterns I finally chose two and copied them. Then came the fun of pulling out my stash of fabrics with metallics -- when I bought the book I said to myself "this will be for the metallics." Choosing fabrics for each was an excuse to feel like King Midas in an illustration from a child's book -- he sat at a table making piles of the gold coins that were all around him probably chuckling "heh-heh-heh." I went through each piece -- and there are a lot, some are just remnants of previous projects, but many are FQs or half yards or more.

I've made one star already [full disclosure, I started this yesterday when I knew there was going to be a snow day]. I love Carol's patterns, I love deciding on different color combinations than she uses, I love watching the points come out cleanly, I love the visual illusion of layered triangles. I love paper piecing! I also love her paper for paper piecing, it's strong for sewing and tears away very nicely. Pictures will be taken of finished quilts -- all quilted and backed and labeled. We're never too old for fun or for a snow day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Six months, now done

Labor intensive! Yes, indeed. But I haven't been working on this Maxine Rosenthal quilt nonstop. It sat for weeks at a time while I did other quilting. However, as the second one is, as of yesterday and today, being sewn together, I wanted to finish this first, which I did early this week.

I've shown this before but it was not quilted. I've been doing that since Thanksgiving. Each hexagram in the body of the quilt has a spiral sewn free hand [by machine]. And then there were the borders. Now it's bound and labeled. The title is "Fireworks over the Forest." I thought of that almost as soon as I saw how it was forming on my design wall. Nice to have it done. I wish I had something like a large foyer in which to display it.

The next one, as shown just a few posts back [on design wall]. is light whereas this is dark. Finishing it will also take quite some time but meanwhile I can't help thinking that I very much want to do a third with a lot of bright colors. I'm starting to keep my eye open for the right fabric. I browsed through the nearby Heartbeat Quilts which has such a wonderful selection of fabrics I swoon when I go in there. At $9 to 12 a yard I can usually tell myself I don't have to buy anything right now. Really, most are such fine quilting cottons, they are worth the price. But my frugalista leanings usually win out, I get a little woozy when FQs are $2.75 each. Meanwhile I've got plenty of quilting to keep me occupied and it's certainly not time to start another hexagon quilt.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walking Down the Hall

All over the country now, in cities and villages and towns, even out in the farmlands, people are decorating their houses and lawns for Christmas, some very tastefully, some exuberantly, some ostentatiously and some so over the top it's totally maniacal. I don't know if people are being more restrained this year because of the recession or if they have the majority of their displays saved year after year.
In apartment buildings there may be as much local variation as there are out in the housing developments. The very large apartment building I lived in NYC had such a variety of people of so many religions and nonreligions that there was very little display, a few wreaths. Trees were no visible, of course, until they were discarded by the trash cans late in December or early Janaury.
In this apartment building people have displays by their doors all year round, sometimes seasonal and sometimes just individual. Now the Christmas displays are out in all their cuteness or taste -- mostly the latter. The topmost photo is of a simple tree quilted in red and white. I like it's naivette. This contrasts sharply with the very expensive silver wreath of a woman who decortes differently, and expensively, for every holiday.
Then there's terminally cute set of little critters -- are they supposed to be chipmunks? -- in a pseudo nativity scene. Perhaps burning at the stake for heresy is extreme, but incinartion of the set up would cheer me. I'd have to include the Micky and Minny that sit below the nativity, smug Mouse-ter Claus and Min-ess Claus. The actual door behind this display is outlined in twinkling lights which, happily, are turned on only from noon onward.

And, these are not all the examples. These are just on my floor and my little portion of the large H that this building forms. I have other photos too banal to even copy hee. I am almost afraid to venture beyond the center of the building to the other leg of the H or to go to either of the upper floors.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

RAK -- Wee giftie

This mini quilt is not quite 4x4 inches. Those teensy-tiny diamonds are amazing. I did not make it. It came to me as a RAK -- random act of kindness from a woman I've never met who lives in South Korea and who found this in Thailand and felt I would enjoy it. I think it's beautiful and wonderful. The edges were raw, I added the red border and put it in a small black frame which picked up so many light reflections I cropped it out of this photo. If you click the photo you will enlarge this to almost double it's real size, then try to imagine those little triangles in the border!

I love the quilt and I think I understand that woman's impulse. I have been to Thailand and I loved spending several hours wandering the night markets in both Bangkok and Ching Mai -- more enticing than any American shopping mall I know because there are mostly smaller stalls with tons of things, many handmade and many not and one can bargain. It's literally a night market, opening about 7:00 and staying open until about midnight. When traveling I have occasionally found charming things I could not resist and then at home I thought, but I don't need this, I won't use this, who might appreciate this properly? And then gifted it. Spread the pleasure. That stranger who only knows me via an internet group, was very kind and thoughtful sending this to me. The world can use all the RAKs people bestow ... it's a good season to remember that.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Birthday Celebration

Beethoven's birthday is the 17th of December. For some reason the local classical music radio station decided to celebrate it yesterday, so they played, I think, all the symphonies and quite a lot else, even including the Choral Fantasy which doesn't get played often but which I delight in every time I hear it. I found myself stopping whatever I was doing throughout the day to listen to a favorite movement. And then at 9:00 they played the 9th symphony. I had had a restless night the night before so I decided by the start of the final movement to turn out the lights and just listen -- but I fell asleep and didn't hear a word of the choral portion. Ah, well...

Why, you may wonder, is any of this important? I could just put on a CD or tape, I have both of the favorite Beethoven pieces, or listen to my iPod. Well, I don't have an iPod and my CD player has given up and I need batteries for my tape player ... anyway I habitually live serendipitiously. I let happenstance give me what comes on the radio. In fact my reason for not even wanting an iPod is that one loads it with what one knows and loves -- yes, say all, that's the point. My point then is, how do you ever discover what's new and what you don't know exists? How are you surprised and delighted by the randomness of the world? What has happened to curiosity and discovery? If I need sleep more than the end of the 9th symphony, that's what I needed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Courage, Baby!

With circles in my head, I am paging through this new book, Quilt Mavens, by Deb Karaski and Janet Mednick which is full of incredible paper pieced quilt designs, some with spiky circles some with even more impressive curved patterns. I'm not always crazy about their color choices but far from certain I could make better choices.

Sewing curves has mostly defeated me. I made some Dresden Plates back in the ancient days and they were okay -- nothing back then was great but I was getting the hang of things all on my own in the jurassic period when the current quilting surge had not yet begun. I started a Double Wedding Ring paper pieced quilt which was a UFO a long, long time when I had difficulty putting the pieces together and finally was bagged in plastic and given away. I had a very hard time with a Drunkard's Path earlier this year and turned what would have been a full sized quilt into a lap size one -- with a wide border so the number of curved containing pieces was as few as possible. SOOOO...? Dare I tackle one of the easier quilts in this book? Not at this moment but when I finish, or get well into what's in the sewing room? Challenges are fun -- except when they're extremely frustrating. Meanwhile it's better than simple eye candy, it's a call from the forests of serious quilting, "Courage, Baby!"

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Post #2 Today -- Kandinsky circles

This magnificent painting by Kandinsky is on the front of today's NY Times Science section, a long article about the circle in nature and as a design element. [No talk of mandalas but, of course they come to mind.] Isn't the picture just crying out to be a quilt? It's on view currently at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC -- and what better place to hang it? That spiral space just confirms Natalie Angier's article about the satisfaction of circles in art and nature. The colors in this painting are so contemporary, it's hard to believe it wasn't painted yesterday. When one can open a newspaper while drinking the morning coffee and come upon this -- perfect!

Yes, I too think circles are difficult to sew well and also difficult to cut accurately. But I have seen ads for a new Olfa cutting tool that makes circles of all sizes. This painting and the possibility of a quilt might mean I really need that tool. This picture, and I'm sure the newspaper picture -- since newsprint is a hardly high quality art medium -- shows the colors with the variations of tone that we see in many hand dyed fabrics. I can hardly stop thinking about this painting.

Semi-abstract art quilt

I had to make an small abstract art quilt, size to be about 4x6. I find that a difficult size although I made over 300 that size when I did a year's daily journal quilting. In that case I wanted to say one small thing to remember each day, not make any kind of artistic statement. A few I think were artistic but the majority served their purpose as mementos.

This quilt I made last weekend is named "Song of the unseen singer." Actually the bird figure seems very obvious in this photo but I think it was less so in reality. I enjoy using quilting ss an element of expression. I'm less pleased with the beading and the border is clearly imperfect. My favorite thing is the name that came to me as I was working on it. How to suggest song? Maybe I succeeded. I would have preferred to work at about 8x10. I have more of the fabric, perhaps I'll make one for myself.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Walk in the Woods

Sorry, I'm not channelling Bill Bryson, just borrowing his title. How I wish I could write as funny as he did in the first 75 pages of that book! This is hardly the Appalachian trail, it's the trail around the small Hathaway's Pond where Rachel and I often walk with Molly the dog. Yesterday was so warm and beautiful, I turned left instead of right at a stop light that lead to me home or to the pond. I think it's probably a scant mile around the pond. Obviously the autumn leaves are mostly gone from the trees and are now underfoot, making a brown-gold cushion on which to walk.

One sees more when walking alone and not chatting so I took these pictures at spots I might not have noticed if I weren't alone. There were a couple of high school age girls, probably playing hookey, and I noticed a young guy once from across the pond but didn't see him close up. Otherwise I was alone and it was lovely.

These bare tree tops aren't really bare; they have bright green tufts of something like moss growing on them -- my biology is deficient. At places it looks like green fur which gives me a Dr. Seuss feeling about the tree, as if it might be a hang out for one of Dr. Seuss's characters.

I'm taking advantage of nice weather for walks. I notice without surprise, that I sleep better on days when I've had a good walk. I totally believe in the "use it or lose it" school of physical exercise and that it's not only the mobility but the whole sense of well being that can be lost when we don't exercise. There will be fewer beautiful days -- but some will be sunny and crisp and invigorating for walking. And I hope to get out and walk somewhere on those days too.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Confession of a Fabriholic

Once I find a source of bargains I find myself drawn there like a bee to nectar. Thus I went to the far back corner of the Goodwill store where I found my bargain drapes wondering what else I could find. I have in the back of my mind that I need another table cloth or two, having only one and it being white and that means potential stains and need for replacement. What I found hidden in that corner, besides three nice Chinese blue and white rice bowls was a basket full of fat quarters -- not one basketful but several in two color ways. I chose the pastel: blue, green, yellow, orange in graduated tones with muted [mostly] patterns. The clerk said to me that the baskets had originally been sold for about $70 each. I remarked that that seemed steep but 14.95 was excellent.

I chose the one with pastels, blues, greens, yellows with nice muted designs [mostly]. I came home and took them out, ironed them flat where they had been wrinkled and arranged them by color gradation. Lovely! 24 FQs for $15 means six yards of good quilting cotton for approximately 2.50 a yard. They would certainly be $8 a yard in the store. This bounty nagged at me for about 48 hours until I could stand it no longer. Yes, other fabriholics will understand -- I felt the other color selection calling to me. How could I forgo such a bargain? Finally I couldn't. I went back, found on only two baskets remained both in the brown/green/orange color way. I came home, ironed them ... they are not as pretty as the others, not as useful, the patterns are larger and less to my taste. But they will be useful nonetheless.

So I've added 12 yards, in the form of 48 FQs to my stash. Wow -- that ought to settle the craving for a while. For a while .... I hope.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due

Here are two details from the work in progress [WIP] in the previous post. Often I do not quite know what I'm doing, i.e. I haven't defined what my action and expectation is. In terms of this quilt I haven't defined it's antecedents either and they deserve to be given credit. I called it the "hexagon quilt." I should call it my Second Maxine Rosenthal quilt. I have been inspired by One Block Wonder, her book which shows examples and gives directions for quilts of this sort. I am especially thinking about what I am doing because, as this second quilt is on the design wall, I am actually quilting #One [Ive shown it before and will show it again when I'm doing quilting it].

Maxine R. follows in the footsteps of two well known quilters, and adds her own creative approach. First there was Paul Nadelson, a true quilt artist of the first important generation of late 20th century quilt artists. [Not that they are fossils, all are still much among us and still creating]. Paula's kaleidoscope quilts were laboriously cut and sewn and became iconic -- so much so, she was copied by a carpet manufacturing company who she had to sue for the royalties she very much deserved. Many years ago I head Paula speak of her laborious construction methods -- carried out in a crowded Bronx apartment amidst all her family duties. I was in awe.

Then came Bethany Reynolds and her "stack and whack" method [it should have a copyright sign affixed but my program doesn't have one for me to insert]. Bethany is a technological creator. She made Paula's painstaking methods easier, although not exactly super easy and not as complex. I have used Bethany's books and her methods several times and I've had a wonderful time making quilts with her technique.
Maxine Rosenthal uses Bethany's cutting technique but handles the resulting kaleidoscope-like hexagons or octagons differently to create a more abstract, exciting pattern than those Bethany offers in a more traditional block quilt tradition.

And where do I fit in? I'm a quilt hobbyist who has a bundle of fun making these quilts. I love the development of the kaleidoscope patterns and then the arrangement of them in the whole. I am neither an artist nor an innovator, I am an enjoyer, a recipient of others' wonderful talents. They have enriched my free time when I sew these quilts, and have expanded my artistic ability to arrange the hexagons in pleasing patterns. Too often, I think, people like me who learn something new from either a class or a book, imagine ourselves to be artists. No, we are artisans, we are enjoyers, and we should give thanks as well as credit where it is due.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On my design wall

I have been in a "finishing" mode and only slowly putting together the hexagons for this one-square quilt. Rachel and I were shopping when she found this Amy Butler fabric and thought it would work interestingly in this type of quilt. Normally I am not a fan of Amy Butler's designs but this one offered a big pattern, really 22x22 which meant a lot of possibilities. -- The wall photo is in artificial light so it looks creamier than it is, and the swatch photo below is in natural light so the colors are truer.
I so love my felt design wall! Those hexagons are held there simply by friction, not a pin on the whole wall, I can move them around as I like. Rachel came over the other evening and made a few adjustments. It's going to hang there a few more days before I start to sew them together. There are, in fact, quite a few more hexagons, several not yet sewn together -- they are mostly the light background with little bits of design. Maybe I'll use some of them in the main design, maybe I'll make a border. perhaps only on a couple of sides ... possibilities abound. They could go on the back or they could be used for other items like a table runner or a smaller wall quilt. I really love the "what if" aspect of quilting.