Thursday, December 23, 2010


The bathrooms are clean, the vacuuming is done, the guest room prepared, and now it's just cooking and lots of good conversation!  My daughter and her husband will be arriving soon.

The gift bags are all made again this year:
and that's about all the sewing that's been done around here for the past few days.  But I love those bags.  Not only do they save paper, but it's so easy to wrap those strangely shaped presents for grandchildren, and I don't need boxes for clothing.  Just stopped in to our local quilt shop, Needles, to stock up on their Christmas fabric sale for next year's bags, although some of them do come back.  

And this year we even have a low-carbon footprint Christmas tree since Tom and I cut one we planted over ten years ago.  Unfortunately, it was about as far away from the house as we could get so we had to drag it downhill, across the creek, and then drag it up hill again with the help of a sled and a little snow.
It couldn't have grown any bigger.

So Merry Christmas to you all!  It's time to celebrate!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pushing the Limits

When I began dyeing, one of the few rules that I heard from many sources was that dyes needed warmth to work and therefore the room temperature should be at least 70 degrees.  My dyeing "studio" is in the unheated basement, where, even on the warmest day in summer, the temperature rarely reaches above 68, so I have already been fudging on that requirement a bit.  But normally as the weather turns toward winter I reluctantly curtail my dyeing activities and focus on turning that fabric into quilts.

Last winter, however, I discovered snow dyeing, which involves pouring dye solution over snow-covered fabric, which I am fairly sure is nowhere near 70 degrees.    And so late in November this year, with a few free hours, I decided to see how hard and fast that temperature rule for regular low-immersion dyeing was.  The temperature in the basement was below 60 while I was working and was around 50 by the time the fabric was finished batching.

To complicate matters further, I decided to play with some overdyeing and folding so here are some of the more interesting results:

These were two old dyes: first a dark brown poured over a diagonally folded piece of fabric and then with fabric folded on the other diagonal. a deep yellow.  The  dark brown turned a little purple but was still an interesting color and the yellow seemed strong even with the colder temperatures.
I loved this piece.  It was the last minute attempt to use up an end of fabric that I had cut off one of the larger pieces and to use up that dark brown dye, this time used with a greater concentration than the yellow piece.  I simple folded the piece quickly, dumped some dye on it and let it sit--and got lots of little texture bits along with the stripes.
Then I tried some shibori.  When I had done shibori before I had chosen a wide diameter piece of PVC pipe, carefully wrapped one layer of fabric around it and sewed it together so that it fit tightly around the pipe, and then scrunched it, but I had read about just folding the fabric, wrapping it around a pipe as many times as it would go and then scrunching.   My wide diameter PVC pipe had disappeared with some plumbers who were working in the basement a few months before and I only had a smaller pipe so I wrapped and scrunched, then poured dye around it.  And this was the magical result.  This was old dye, however, so I decided I had to try this with some newly mixed dye concentrate.  And here is the result of that:
The final analysis:  first of all, there were too many variables for this to be truly a scientific experiment, but nevertheless, working in cooler temperatures produces usable, interesting fabric so my dyeing season is definitely longer than it was.  I am hoping to have some time to dye this week after the nighttime temps have been in the teens and single digits for a number of days and the basement is even colder.  Then again the dyes may work when it is that chilly, but I and my fingers may not.  

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


My plan was to take a picture of the Doodle Square display from a better angle before the opening Friday evening to replace the picture in the last post, but five minutes after I got there to help set up the refreshment table, the first of the early birds asked if they could just look around, although they knew we weren't officially open yet, and that seemed to open the floodgates:  the gallery was busy all evening.   The same thing happened on Saturday morning so there was no time to take--or remember to take--pictures.  By the time things slowed down at the end of the afternoon this is what the Doodle display looked like:

I sold some other pieces, including my little Celtic butterfly, Féileacán, and the person who bought it liked the name so I guess it wasn't so pretentious after all.  It was quite a weekend, followed by two glorious days of quiet quilting on Sunday and Monday.

Monday, December 6, 2010


That Celtic knotwork butterfly that I took to Ireland with me is now bound and officially complete.
As I was preparing for the upcoming exhibit, I was scouring the house for any new work I could add to my share of the show and came upon this little quiltlet. Not too many people had seen it since it didn't make it into the September guild show so I decided to add it to VESTA, and then, instead of putting Not for Sale on it and sending it off in January,  I priced it and indicated the money I received for it would go to the Alzheimer's Quilt Initiative for Alzheimer's research, since its original destination was Ami Simms' online AQI auction.  

I had named it Féileacán, the Irish word for butterfly.  Too pretentious for a 9" x 12" wall hanging?  Perhaps.  But I have great fun naming quilts, sometimes in the middle of making them, but more often near or at the end of the process.  Although some quilters eschew (another pretentious word but I love saying it--sounds like a sneeze) naming their work--the traditionalists because they feel their work is too utilitarian to be named, the nontraditionalists because they feel their work transcends the need for any name other than "Study" or a number, I like names because they add yet another dimension to the work.  

There are pitfalls to naming, of course.  A name can actually limit an interpretation of a quilt, pointing in only one direction so it is tricky to find a name that says something significant about the piece without limiting the ways a viewer can connect with it.  And I have to admit that often when I go to shows I try to look at the work first before I look at the name so I can react to the piece before I get that little nudge from the artist.  Sometimes I nod agreement with the title--Oh, yes! Perfect choice--but other times I go back and look again at the work and see something more, something subtle that I missed before.  Then, of course, there are those names that elicit only puzzlement--Huh?  Where did that come from?

Anyway, this little quilt is stuck with the name Féileacán.  You may see it in another incarnation as I prepare for classes next summer since I may add this to the patterns for the Celtic knotwork class I teach.  And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The VESTA show is officially up.  We got it done in what looked to me like record time, finishing up by 3 in the afternoon.   Since we are a disparate group of artists who, for a number of reasons, may have more or less work on any given year, we always worry that we won't have enough "stuff" to fill the space, but this year we had no problem.  The gallery is full of beautiful things--baskets, oil paintings, photographs, weavings, magnetic paper dolls, cards, scarves, hand-fired glass beads, jewelry, lace, pastels, silk flowers, and, of course, art quilts.

Displaying my Doodle Squares presented a challenge, since I wanted to indicate that many of them were double-sided.  I finally decided on hanging a few from a small, interestingly shaped cherry tree from our woods and putting the rest on the wall behind.

Friday night is the opening reception, which continues all day Saturday, so once again we will be watching the weather.  Right now we have picture postcard scenes out all the windows with a couple of inches of snow sitting on top of mud from the two inches of rain we had overnight.  It will be interesting if it freezes tonight.

Friday, November 26, 2010


On Monday VESTA, the artists' group I belong to, sets up its annual month-long exhibit at the local art and cultural center, and so I am busy with preparations, the non-creative part of being an artist.  I don't have that many pieces in the show--just nine smallish wall hangings and quite a few doodle squares, but the number of things that must be done seems to keep multiplying.

Yesterday I discovered one piece without a hanging sleeve and another without a sewn-on label.  Then there are the hanging tags for all the doodle squares that must be made and attached and, after I decide what to put on each wall label for the bigger pieces, including a price for those I am selling, I need to print them and cut them up.   I am, of course, still binding a couple of doodle squares. And I want to photograph all the pieces just in case any of them goes home with a new owner.  And the list goes on.  I haven't even mentioned the time spent helping to set up the show.

There is a certain amount of excitement to all this.  The exhibit opens the weekend of our local Dickens of a Christmas celebration, when three blocks of Main Street are closed off and hordes of tourists as well as current and former residents descend upon our small town. The art center is at the edge of all this activity but still benefits from the increased numbers of people.

Since sales are far from guaranteed, money is definitely not the force that drives me to put in the hours of preparation.  So why do I do it?  Perhaps a strong case of egotism, a desire for attention?  Always a possibility, but I can think of many far easier ways to get attention.  And since I usually have to take a couple of deep breaths before I even show my work at the guild meeting, I am not sure I am that intent on trying to grab center stage.  But, although I am not usually trying to convey a message, there is a certain amount of communication involved in my quilts, perhaps of the beyond-verbal variety (or sub-verbal, if you prefer), and that happens more easily if someone actually sees them.  So an exhibit like this with all the time it takes can be a natural part of the creative process--at least as I am looking at it today.  Now back to sewing on that sleeve.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I have been working regularly on two projects, but by the beginning of last week I realized I was dragging.  On my way toward the stairs to my workroom, I would notice the computer and check e-mail, even though I had done that less than half an hour before.  I even spent one morning getting a window open and washing the accumulated dust and spiderwebs off a storm window that hadn't been cleaned in--well, let's just say a long time.

I'm liking where these projects are going so I was certainly not ready to abandon them, but I kept thinking about the most flamboyantly colored and most unstructured of those art quilts I had seen at the Packwood House, and these were far from what I was working on.  One section of one of the projects--that one I am working on now--involves lots of little pieces in various shades of gray, and I had worked with a lot of gray this summer in my chickadee quilt.  While the other project was more free form in conception, the execution of it requires some concentration and detail work. I needed some color and some freedom!

So I went in search of a good background--a deep purple hand-dye seemed appropriate, put it up on my working wall and then started cutting out variously colored roundish shapes.

I have no idea where exactly this dotty piece is going at this point, but I smile every time I pass it, and I am not only back to working on my other two projects as well, I am working on them with enthusiasm.  It's amazing what a little color will do.  By Friday I even had to force myself to take a break to vacuum and finish putting a meal together in preparation for dinner guests that evening.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something Old Something New

No, it's not a wedding, but I got to satisfy my love of art quilts and antique quilts this week.  On Monday I attended another session of a quilt study group I have joined, hosted by the Packwood House Museum in Lewisburg, PA, about an hour and a half from where I live.  The Packwood House has acquired a growing collection of old quilts, many from the nineteenth century and most probably from Pennsylvania.  At the study sessions several old quilts are brought out, spread on a prepared table and we talk about the pattern, color, stitching, binding, batting (if we can see any), possible age, and anything else that seems appropriate.

This week we began with a peek at a dazzling pieced silk quilt from possibly the 1840s--too fragile now to even take out of its box.  Then we got a good look at a crazy quilt from around the 1890s and this was a beauty.  The range of fabrics kept us busy for a long time.  My favorite was an ombre that shaded from almost white through a pink to a darker red but also moved from flat weave to a fuzzy weave that looked almost like fake fur.  Didn't know there was fabric like that at that time.   There were tiny paintings on pieces, embroidered silhouettes and animals, initials to wonder about.  And of course, the traditional spider for good luck.  This quilter was taking no chances because, as one of our leaders warned us, the quilt was "crawling with spiders."

Then on to a patriotic quilt of appliqued tan eagles around a red medallion center--not a very striking quilt until one of the leaders reminded us that the tan was probably green, which, because of the fugitive nature of the dye had lost its blue component and turned tan over time, and this was actually a traditional red and green quilt.  And so the afternoon went.

In the morning I had gotten to feed the other part of my artistic soul.  The museum was featuring an exhibit (click on Artists Series) of art quilts from two local art quilters, Paula Swett and Cathy Stechschulte, as well as part of a small travelling exhibit from Studio Art Quilt Associates, and I arrived early to spend some time with these quilts before the meeting.  Paula Swett plays with line, color, and quilting stitch to create glowing masterpieces.  I particularly like the piece she made from a vinyl tablecloth that had for years protected her table as she painted.  She cut it into strips, wove them together and then sewed them into a totally abstract piece complete with pearl cotton quilting that demands your attention.   Cathy creates layers on cloth with dyes and silk screens and thermofax that look three dimensional from a distance.

I have no photographs to show for my day in Lewisburg since photos were not allowed.  I could have taken a  photo of the outside of the museum, but I didn't think of that (probably just got a D- in blogging school for that oversight).  But the whole point of that day, of my driving for three hours, is that virtual reality has its limits.  Looking at a picture of a very old quilt is just not in the same category as standing over it, touching (albeit with white gloves) this fabric that a quilter worked on 150 years ago, or spending time looking for the place where she joined the cording that she used instead of binding.  And a photograph can never replace being in the presence of fabric art where you can see how moving closer or further back changes what you see in the piece or how the light changes the texture of the piece as you change your position.

All of this is not a startling new discovery on my part.  In fact, it's probably been said so much it's become a  cliche, but it doesn't hurt to reexamine the cliche, particularly in a world where people are equating online access to information with knowledge and, even worse, with wisdom.  Sometimes you just have to be there--and spend some time there.

And if you are still spending time reading this, thanks for the company.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


It's raining in northcentral Pennsylvania--one of those cold, constant November rains.
And while I am not motivated to take the dog on her long walk of the afternoon, I have been motivated to quilt.  My husband teases that my studio is actually our whole house, which is not exactly true, but, when I think about it, every room except for his study and the guest room has been the site of some quilt-related activity--and even the guest room is a great place to store quilts when it's not in danger of being used.  

Today, since one of my projects involves a lot of hand sewing of bias strips, I am seizing the opportunity to work in one of my favorite spots: a bay window that takes up one wall of our dining room.
Years ago we picked up an old rocking chair that ended up in that window.  It has gotten older and uglier over the years, but fits the space perfectly and circles on its base so that you can turn to face the room or to look out at the valley and fields outside.  It is also perfect for handwork.

In the summer the angle of the sun is such that it doesn't heat up this area, and it is the next best thing to being outside to sit here and work with both windows open on either end.  One of the things my aging eyes love about this spot is the light, and, even though my quilts are a bit different from theirs, I feel connected with all those generations of women who quilted with natural light.  

These windows face south, however, so in the fall and winter, they do their job of heating the house as the sun moves further and further into the dining room.  You can have too much of a good thing, and the sunny days become too hot and glaring to work in this space.  It's one of those paradoxes that I need light to follow the marking lines but too much light obscures rather than reveals.

Today the light is perfect, and I am enjoying sitting quietly with Terra, as I slowly move this quilt along.  So I will return to my work, and, if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Something New

In one corner of what I call my workroom, where my working walls are, was my old cutting table--a small teacher's desk made out of oak that we had picked up years ago at some sale or other.  The top was big enough to accommodate a large 23x35" cutting mat, and, while I often wished for a bit more space so that the folded yardage would not slip over the edge, pulling the end I was cutting with it, I made do.  There just wasn't room for a larger table in that room if I wanted any space to step back and look at what was on the working wall.

Then there was the height issue.  I'm 5' 2 1/2" and so I like a low counter in the kitchen to cut veggies or knead bread dough on, but I was leaning over too far to cut for long periods of time on this desk.  Yes, I could have put something under the legs, but I just never got around to finding that perfect gizmo that would be the right height and would be stable as well.

Then in August as I searched for fabric paints at Joann's I happened upon a cutting table that could fold up and roll into a corner; it was on one of those Joann super sales and I couldn't resist.  It sat for a long time in its box leaning on my workroom wall as I figured out what to do with all the stuff in the four desk drawers, a formidable task.

The assembly process was not an easy task either, and I am glad my husband was eager to take it on.  And here it is with lots of room on its 36x59 3/4" top for holding that extra yardage or whatever else I need to put on it:
Yes, I could have straightened up a bit more to take the picture, but it is a workroom.  That outer leaf goes down very easily by sliding the two front legs in toward the center so most of the time it looks like this:
It can fold even smaller into a 36x16" size but it will no longer roll.  It  turned out to be a bit high for me--no heightist comments here please--but eliminating the wheels made it just right.  The individual little feet are adjustable, however, a real advantage for eliminating wobbling on our less than level farmhouse floors.

Not only did I get a new table out of this but clearing out those desk drawers forced me to take the time to organize the shelves in that room so that things are much more findable.  And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The work I just finished is a quiet one.  It doesn't have that visual impact that draws you from across a room.  First of all, it is small--just 9 1/2 x 21 1/2 inches.  The fabric is some of my less dramatic snow dyes and the pattern depends mainly on machine quilting and hand stitched pearl cotton.
I got the idea for this piece from one of my Doodle Squares.  I was just playing with filling the center groups of curved parallel lines and liked the final pattern--looked like hills or perhaps plowed fields or a contour map.

So I pieced the background and quilted three slightly different-sized squares and filled them with the curved parallel lines using a different variegated thread in each.  Using three different skeins of Laura Wasilowski's beautiful hand-dyed pearl cotton, I added V-shaped stitches to the top, little French knots with tails to the second, and then  random short straight stitches to the bottom square.

Obviously there is change going on in this work.  Seasonal?  Low to high elevation? My daughter said it reminded her of cherry blossoms.

This little wall hanging looks better up close and personal in real life.  Hmm.  And what does that mean?   I like looking at this piece, but is it of lesser value because it is not as photogenic as other works?  My immediate answer would be:  of course not! but perhaps the question is something I should keep in mind for a while as I look at other quilts. 

Anyway, if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Blank Wall

Often when I am quilting I am working on several projects at once with each at various stages so that I can move from one to the other according to the time I have available or my inclination.  On a particular day I may not have the energy or hours it takes move a design along, but I could easily do some stitching in pearl cotton or sew on a facing.  This system also makes the transition from quilt to quilt easier and avoids that emotional valley when a major project is over.

But in my rush to complete the two pieces for the guild exhibit I lost sight of the big picture.  For a while the excitement of hanging the show and then the subsequent opening distracted me from those final stitches that I had put in two major pieces and from the blank working wall looming in my workroom.  I kept myself busy during September on a small piece that was a joy to work on (more about that next week), but as I started to sew on the facing, I became aware of that gray, slogging feeling whenever I thought about quilting (which I do quite frequently) that made climbing the stairs to my workroom too much of an effort and made many mundane tasks like pulling up the green bean plants or cleaning the bathroom preferable to planning a new project.  And all those rich colors on the hills around me didn't help.

Years ago when I first felt this, I was in denial--even when my husband commented that I was a bit testier than my usual testy self, a comment I am sure I greeted with equanimity.  How could finishing a quilt, which I was supposedly doing for "fun,"  affect my outlook on the world?  But it has happened often enough that I recognize it as real now.  Guess I am emotionally tied to the feel of fabric in my hands and the zing of making something I saw in my imagination take shape in the tactile world. I am sure one of my psychologist and/or medical friends could start talking about addiction here and is it possible that the urge to create, discover, invent is a cousin--distant cousin?--to addictive behavior?

Anyway, I am happily engaged in a new project now, running up and down stairs from sewing room to workroom and have added beginning yet another project to my to-do list before I get too far along on this one.

If you are still reading, thanks for the company--and I'd love to hear about your feelings at the end of big projects.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Have you ever seen a shy chickadee?  I haven't.  I have admired their fearless spirit combined with a large dose of curiosity and a cheerfulness that is undiminished even by an empty bird feeder.  They are tiny birds with a commanding presence, due as much to their coloring as to their personalities.  That strong black and white head atop all the gray on the wings and the ruddy blush of their breast makes them stand out in any season.  And I had thought for a long time about how to use that color and that ceaseless activity as the basis for a quilt.

Last summer, spending a lot of time sitting around recovering from foot surgery,  I began to try some sketches for a block that would abstract the essence of a chickadee. My attempt was not to imitate reality here but to capture the idea of a chickadee, which as the blocks repeated would merge into some kind of pattern.

When I finally got a sketch that looked good, I redrew it as a block in Electric Quilt so I could play with various layouts, finally settling on a basic layout and as usual leaving the ultimate color and detail choices to the fabric phase of my design.   And here it is:
This is the quilt as it hangs, complete with large label, in the Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild Exhibit 2010, proving that I did get it done in time for the show, (but just barely).

You may notice that these are not square blocks set on point, but diamond-shaped blocks so that the birds change shape depending on whether they are oriented vertically or horizontally.  But I liked the setup with the birds on the outer ring taking off in all directions as chickadees do and the birds turned toward the center disappearing into a crisp black and white pattern surrounded by an interwoven ring  (had to get interlacing in there somehow) formed by the wings. 

I chose commercial black and white cotton, particularly since I know how hard it is to dye a strong solid black, but I set about dyeing some gray gradations for the wings--and found how many different shades of gray exist.  Chickadees are neither green gray nor blue gray but a middle of the road gray gray that I finally got after several failed attempts.  That ruddy blush on the breast was even harder to capture.

With the fabric ready I began to contemplate actually piecing this block and realized it was an excellent candidate for paper piecing--another good reason to have drawn the block in EQ6 because I could print out multiple copies.  I divided it into sections, figured out the order of stitching, dealt with the problem of the set-in seam at the bottom of the head section and made a test block to see if my plans would work.  Soon--well, actually a few weeks later, I had twelve chickadee blocks up on my working wall begging for a suitable background.  

I had been envisioning a sort of free wheeling background, some sort of random curving patterns to contrast with the very symmetrical, structured blocks, but when I tried a corner of this I realized that the contrast was too great and the result was chaos rather than contrast. Instead I chose the more orderly curves that you now see, but that still provide a bit of contrast with all the straight lines of the central part.  I ultimately decided to use two gradations of grays in the background with the middle sections being just slightly lighter than the corners.

The quilting is a mixture of machine quilting and randomly stitched hand quilting using pearl cotton that also provides some texture contrast with the highly structured birds.

And then there were the edges.  I decided not to face the quilt because I wanted to keep those tiny yellow points very sharp and finally (you can read the story of the binding fiasco here) chose a black binding.  It's official name:  A Toccata of Chickadees.

If you are still reading and have not given up on this long listing of details and gone off to make yourself a cup of tea, then thanks for the company!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Challenge

For each show the Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild exhibit committee comes up with a challenge for the members and this time they chose a great one:  create a quilt that is less than 36" in any direction and is "Out of the Box," i.e., it cannot be a rectangle or a square.  The result was a lively potpourri of styles and shapes, with several members using the challenge to try a technique totally new to them or to just design their own free form wall hanging.  Pictures are no substitute for seeing these works in person, but pictures will give you an idea of what the challenge section looks like:

I was one of those members who chose to do something entirely new--a quilt that moves and changes as the air currents spin the individual pieces and as the viewer changes his or her perspective.

I call this Turn, Turn, Turn, for obvious reasons and it measures about 30" x 32".  I had wanted to make a kinetic quilt for years and had been sitting in a Thai restaurant over a year ago, waiting for Tom to park the car and staring at a chandelier made of off white disks hung on strings that moved when the air conditioning came on.  --Ah--I thought--I could perhaps use the same concept to create a quilt with different parts of a pattern on long strips--  When I began to think about the guild challenge, it seemed the perfect opportunity to see if I could actually create such a quilt.

The project began with my drafting a variety of designs that would create a new design when flipped from one side to the other and deciding which ones created some kind of harmonious pattern.  Of course, the process of selecting colors was the same as in any quilt, but here my procrastination paid off as I had some beautiful fabrics that I had bought at the Lancaster quilt show that had been sitting on my buffet for a few weeks because I loved looking at them.  One was a hand-dyed fabric from Ghana that complemented a deep emerald green and a deep teal that had been hand woven in Bali and had the sheen of silk even though they were cotton.  I added a couple of  other batiks and I was on to solving the batting problem, since my usual cotton batting would not supply enough shape.  Luckily I had made fabric bowls a few years ago and so decided to try Peltex, a perfect choice, since it provided some stiffening but I could still stitch through it.  

After some trial and error, I managed to successfully sew the back and front onto the Peltex and the designs even matched up.  As I finished my fifth strip, however, I began to worry about the next step.  How would I mount these to make them turn.  Would they turn?  Would they line up enough to make patterns?  Before I invested more hours and more of that wonderful fabric, I had to find out.  After running heavy quilting thread through the top of each, I taped the thread to top of a doorway and stood back to see what happened:

They lined up beautifully and turned now and then in the breeze from a ceiling fan!  This was getting exciting. I now had the energy to finish the other fourteen strips.

Of course, when they were done and I had added some beads to the bottom of each, I had to jump the final hurdle:  how to mount all of them so that they could hang on a wall.  I finally decided on a piece of wood about 1 1/2" square with two small hook and eyes screwed into the top to which fish line would be attached. On that I stapled more Peltex that would be sturdy enough to hold the thread.

To cover the wood and Peltex I quilted another piece of the Ghana fabric and then confronted another moment of truth:  Would it hang on the wall?
Indeed it did!
And here is one last alternative view at the exhibit, since this quilt does look different every time you see it:

And if you're still with me, thanks for the company!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Pictures at an Exhibition

The Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild Exhibit 2010 opened with a crowded gallery last night.  This is a shot down the left side in the quiet before people starting arriving.  And the next one shows the center grouping:

To be successful, an exhibit like this takes a great deal of work and many volunteer hours.  None put in more hours for this show than Susan, the exhibit chair, who, with her great organizational skills, managed to keep all the plates spinning, the committees on target, and everyone reasonably happy throughout the two years of preparation time for this event.  She was aided by a number of generous hard workers in our guild.

But the big percentage of the success has to be attributed to the quilters willing to put their work on display.  For some this is easy; for others of us it is difficult and the more of us we put into our quilts the harder it can be to send them out there for all the world to see and comment on.  

So here's to the hard work of Susan and all who helped her and to the hard work and courage of all the quilters whose work is on display.   Together we all made something beautiful!

Friday, September 3, 2010


I have not done very well this week in terms of my resolution to post more frequently.  But I have a very good quilt-related excuse.  This has been the week for hanging our local guild's biennial exhibit.  Unlike other quilt shows which are often hung in large gymnasiums or some kind of community center, ours began twelve years ago in the Gmeiner Art & Cultural Center, a local community art gallery, and has stayed there ever since even though the guild has grown considerably in those years.  The space is limited, but makes a beautiful backdrop for all the richness of color, texture, and pattern that the quilts bring.

Since the show is open to any of the members, now numbering almost 150, it is always a bit of a nail biter to see if we will have enough room.   As usual, I, with the help of five other members, was given the task of somehow fitting the quilts into the space and making it somehow look like these very distinctive quilts settle into some kind of flow and rhythm.

And this year, as usual, on Monday morning as I moved quilts around into a possible progression before the rest of the hanging committee showed up, I was convinced that we would not have room to hang all the first choices (We guarantee each member that we will include her first choice in the show).  But this year I was convinced more strongly than in other years because, as the guild has grown in numbers, members have also grown in skill or at least in the confidence to take on larger projects so that we had very few small wall hangings this year.   But as usual, by the end of that day, we had found a way to get all the first choices in and, by the end of Tuesday, we had  a good percentage of the second choices as well.  And the show looks good!

I did remember to bring my camera with me, but my attention was definitely on other things besides taking pictures.  So you will have to imagine a space filled with piles of quilts, ladders, long poles for the quilt racks, and rods for hanging quilts on the wall that gradually becomes more coherent.

Tonight we party!  The Mountain Laurel Quilt Guild Exhibit 2010 will officially open and will remain at the Gmeiner all month.  And I promise pictures after the opening reception--as well as some details about my two quilts that are hanging in the show.  And if you're still with me this time, thanks for the company.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Venerable Bead

There are no groups focusing on art quilts (however you define that term) in our rural middle-of-nowhere area.  So when I was invited to join VESTA, a group of professional artists and craftswomen, a few years ago, I jumped at the chance.  And one of the advantages of such a group is that each member brings skill and expertise in a different medium or technique.  Yesterday our monthly meeting took place at the home of a member who has been creating beautiful glass beads, and she had promised to demonstrate the process.  

Now I have an overactive imagination when it comes to disasters and so when she turned on the propane and explained she had to pep it up with oxygen, I was looking for how close I was to the door and already seeing the place in flames and the ambulances on the way.  And when she warned us that heating up the glass too fast made it explode into flying splinters I decided this was not for me.   But after she successfully created a jewel of a bead and turned to encourage one of us to give it a try, I found myself stepping forward.  

Making a bead involves keeping a glass rod turning over a flame.  You can't stop because the glass blob will follow the laws of gravity and drop off.  At one point I had to turn the glass rod and heat up another metal rod on which the bead will be wound, all the while keeping my fingers out of the flame.  In other words, I had to expose my lack of coordination to the entire group. Can she walk and chew gum at the same time?  Somehow the glass blob made it successfully onto the metal rod and I produced a reasonably round gleaming purple bead.  Flushed with my success I agreed to do another one, which immediately proved the first had been a fluke .  I managed to transfer a quite lopsided blob to the metal rod and had to work to get it evened out.    

And then, since no one else was leaping up to expose themselves to danger and ridicule, Kathy insisted I do a third.  Even bigger one this time, she said.  I was beginning to feel the rhythm of this but those shoulder muscles I use in FMQ were beginning to ache and so my last bead was indeed bigger but had some roundness issues.  
Certainly not enough beads to embellish a quilt.  But I gained an understanding of and an appreciation for the skill it takes to make even a simple glass bead.  And I have always loved the way light and glass produce magic.  Thanks, Kathy!

Oh--the title.  There was a medieval historian named Venerable Bede, who seemed to take himself way too seriously, and I always wanted to use his name in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.  So I can cross that off my life to-do list.  And if you are still with me, thanks for the company!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ireland Project

As part of my planning for our trip to Ireland in May I knew I had to include some handwork for those long hours on the plane and on the bus as we traveled from site to site.  Celtic knotwork seemed an appropriate project, and when the chair of our upcoming guild exhibit announced a second challenge to make a 9" x 12" quiltlet to be sent to Ami Simms' Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative auction, I thought this would be the perfect combination.   The title of this part of the exhibit is "Ties That Bind" and we had to include part of an old man's tie in the piece (that's an old tie, not necessarily an old man), but that would be simple.  I had long wanted to design a butterfly in knotwork so I set to work:
After a few day's erasing and redrawing, I had a workable pattern for the forewing and smaller hindwing.

Before we left, I had sewn down one side of the strip on a good potion of one forewing just to make sure there weren't any surprises in the turns or points or the sewing down of the bits of black silk tie in the background.  My supplies would be limited by space and all those airline regs. I could cut thread with a dental floss container, but probably not fabric.  I made and wrapped the bias strips around a couple of empty spools, packed extra needles, stowed my scissors in my checked bag, and I was ready.  Unfortunately, I took no pictures since making sure I packed enough underwear for two weeks with no laundromat was more of a priority at that point.  

I did manage to get quite a bit accomplished on that relatively sleepless night flight over the Atlantic, but I had not counted on a small bus bouncing, hurtling, and swaying down what looked to me like one-lane roads that had two-way traffic on them.  No way to do delicate handwork here.  And the trips were relatively short anyway.   I got a little done in the evenings and on the plane and car trip home. 

With the help of another long car trip to Boston, I declared both wings complete by late July and I threw myself into creating a body (more silk tie).

Although this is not realistic, I kept feeling it needed antennae so those appeared (pearl cotton), and I added some color before I began to think about the quilting.
By this time it was August and I had two other quilts to finish for the exhibit.  Something had to go and so my butterfly, which I have named Feileacan (Irish word for butterfly),  is sitting on top of a pile next to my ironing board.  It will eventually go to Ami Simms but is not going to make it into the guild exhibit that opens September 3.  Sigh. . . .

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh, Shoot!

That's what I would often say--or something less printable-- when I was trying to photograph one of my quilts to send to an exhibit somewhere.  Since exhibiting my quilts has not been a major priority in this year of experimentation, I have not had to confront my ineptness in this area--or bring up my usual complaint:  why should a quilt be judged on the basis of  a quilter's skill in photography or her ability to hire a professional photographer?  Not only is professional photography expensive, but here in rural northcentral Pennsylvania there are no local photographers who have experience photographing quilts.

Nevertheless after getting several e-mailed calls for entry for a show I had gotten into a few years ago, I began to get the urge to attempt the process again.  But one of the quilts I wanted to enter I had tried to photograph before, had even had a friend photograph it who has won so many awards for her photos that she might as well be called a professional, and neither of us, either with indoor lighting or outdoor, could get the color true on the photos without a color adjustment in Photoshop Elements.  And the rules, as they so often do, clearly state:  "Images cannot be enhanced in any way, including color correction."  I have a penchant for purple, you see, and it seems that purple is very hard to photograph; it turns blue or gray.
Okay, I said, this is my year of learning.  Let me confront my ignorance and see if I can learn something.  I had known about Holly Knott's website for a while and her tutorial "Shoot That Quilt!" that steps you through the process of photographing a quilt.  So I actually sat down last weekend and read it, bought some of the lighting hardware at our local Dunham's Do-It Center (I tried Walmart but I'm glad to say the reflector lamps were too cheap and wouldn't hold steady on the posts), ordered the bulbs she recommends online and made do with 150 watt regular bulbs for this session since of course the deadline was today.  Took about an hour total of my time putting everything together.  Well, part of that hour included Tom's time since he has a new drill he wanted to use to put the screws in.  And I now have better and more reliable lighting than I have ever had before.  Two of these less than elegant gizmos can light a quilt quite nicely.
Along with a talk at our guild meeting at the beginning of the week that just happened to be by local photographer Caleb Williams, she gave me confidence to play with the white balance on my camera.  I learned another technical term--bracketing (taking an underexposed, normally exposed, and overexposed set of three pictures) and tried that, feeling proud of myself that I had figured out one more thing about my camera.  I couldn't tell from the camera screen how correct the color was so  it was quite a surprise when I downloaded the photos to my computer and there was my quilt looking reasonably like it should, without any color correction needed.
The next hurdle was the 5 x 7 inch format required.  I might have been able to squeeze this into a 7 x 5 but had no idea how to fit this vertical image into a horizontal space.  In Gloria Hansen's book, Digital Essentials, which has become one of those what-did-I-do-before-I-found-this books in my library, I discovered the specific steps I needed to resize the image. 

So I made the deadline for the entries. Even though the photos are a bit better, that's little guarantee that the quilts will be accepted.  The one above, which is called No. 61,  is one of my favorites because it captures so many meanings for me.  I created all the fabrics for this piece--the background is painted with Setacolor and sun faded, and I dyed the deep purple and red to fit the project.   I love the contrast of texture and color and movement.  But it's small, only about 36 x 26 inches, and  it is certainly not as flashy as so many of the quilts are these days.  We shall see what happens.  And if you're still with me, thanks for the company!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Week's Resolution

I have woefully neglected this blog in the past few weeks, but it is Monday, the beginning of a new week and I have resolved to be pay more attention to journaling my quilting journey.  Since this blog focuses--or tries to--on quilting/art related topics, I will not tell you about one of the big distractions from my quilting last week:  an energy-filled visit from our 2 1/2 year old granddaughter and her parents, which of course involved preparing a house full of pointed quilting tools as well as dust in corners I normally don't notice.
Even this was quilt-related, however, since I was forced to take some time out to organize fabric and rulers, and I also had a great talk about the meaningfulness/usefulness of art with her mother. 

I also taught two classes, the first on making labels using a computer printer and the second on dyeing.  Great people signed up for them so there were lots of questions and a good bit of laughter.  And I thoroughly enjoyed both.  The dyeing class was somewhat dependent on the weather, since it was to be outside, but that Saturday morning dawned beautifully sunny and refreshingly cool--a bit too cool for the dyes, but I managed to get things warmed enough that they seemed to work fine.   I often get too involved in the classes to remember to take pictures, but I did record the final exciting moment of truth when the iron reveals exactly what the fabric will look like.

And I have been quilting, just not writing about it.  Our local guild's biennial exhibit opens Labor Day weekend and I have been hard at work trying to finish two quilts.  I realistically abandoned a third that was just not going to get finished by the deadline.  And I am on to the binding at last on one:
Binding should be easy, right?  But even here this quilt gave me a challenge.  I had decided not to face it because I had triangles going right to the edge and I felt they needed something beyond to finish. 

I finally decided that binding it in the dark gray would finish the edge but not call attention to the binding.  I had dyed almost all the fabrics for this quilt and had found that gray was much more challenging than I thought.  It was very easy to get a gray with an obvious green or blue cast and this was not what I wanted.  Finally I got the perfect color for the body of the quilt but then decided the best color for the border would be gray.  Not enough dye left, of course, so I had to put a quick order in to Dharma and then kept my fingers crossed that the mix of dyes would work again.  It did and I thought I had used most of that fabric up creating the border.  But now there was some perfectly good dark gray that I could use as a narrow binding--or so I thought.

I set about squaring up the quilt and measuring the binding strips and sewed the first side on.  Luckily I decided to check things out before starting the next side.  My binding, which had looked fine in regular light, had a slight but definite greenish cast in bright, clear lights when it was attached to a whole side.   Not acceptable.  You'll have to take my word for this because I could not get the contrast to show on a computer monitor.   Not only that, I had stopped the quilting about a half inch below the binding, thinking it would be a nice contrast but it looked unfinished.  More free motion quilting was called for! And that meant more squaring and measuring. . . .

After a day of depression and questioning whether this ornery quilt was worth it, I sat down to add the quilting and a wonderful thing happened.  I found myself having a good time.  I am still not satisfied with having complete control over my stitching--no Diane Gaudynski in this house!--but I have done enough of it with all those Doodle Squares that I can get in the flow of it and have fun.  I knew that free motion quilting was not as stressful as it once was, but I would never have thought that I would look forward to that part of the quilting process.  

Black seemed to be the best choice for the binding and, as sometimes happens, it was good that the gray did not work out because the black provides a better frame for all the movement in the quilt.  Of course there is still the hanging sleeve and the label as well as a bit of hand quilting to do yet, all of which take more time than they look like they should.  But this quilt looks like it might make it for the show.

My second quilt is very experimental and difficult to photograph.  I am still not sure whether my planned hanging system for it will work, but more about that later. . .  And if you're still with me, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Last week I escaped the heat by retreating to the basement to do some dyeing.  I did some gradations--tried a new yellow that produced a rich, lovely gold that I will definitely use again, dyed some purple because I can never have enough purple and then I decided to play.  I tried some folding, tighter and more regular folding than I had done before and here are a couple of the results:

I don't really have anything to say here, although you can see that beautiful yellow in the above piece.  I just thought these two needed something to separate them.  
The next day I finally got around to trying out a flour resist.  Remember that flour paste you might have made as a child?  Well, this is very similar, except you smear it all over a piece of fabric, let it dry and crack, and then put dye on top of it.   Here is the result.  It is not the prettiest fabric I have ever dyed, but I am intrigued by the patterns created by the cracking and will definitely try it again to see if I can work up to something I have a little better control over.  I might even find a full description of the process somewhere, since I was making some of this up as I went along.
You can click on the image to get some more detail.  Part of the learning experience was realizing that leaving the flour resist in the basement over night while it was drying was not a good idea.  A very small critter--probably a field mouse--paid a visit and left tiny footprints in the flour goo and sampled it in several spots, memorialized by the bigger splotches of dye on the fabric.

While I was waiting for the resist to dry, I searched out my Setacolors, painted a half yard of fabric, put it out in the sun, and swirled it to see what would happen.  I brought it in after about an hour, ironed it to heat set it, and, as usual, magical things had happened.  It is definitely a favorite!

Now back to those quilts I must have finished by the end of August.  And if you are still reading, thanks for the company!