Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pay Back

One of the great things about putting in all those sleepless nights trying to get babies back to sleep and then worrying about them as teenagers is that after they are all grown up they sometimes give you great gifts.  About a week ago I got a birthday present in the mail from my oldest daughter, Emily, and her husband.  Now my birthday is in the middle of March, but, since I did give my youngest her quilted graduation present until four years after the event, I won't quibble about timeliness.

Inside the box was a strange yellow contraption that when I unfolded the goose-type neck took on the aspects of a lamp with no cord.  Instead a removable solar panel was embedded in the base.

With the push of a button I get a great focussed light that I can put anywhere and that I can take with me anywhere.  What an incredibly clever and useful gift!  So far I have not had to recharge the solar battery, and Emily tells me she gets over eight hours of light on a charge, which means I take the little solar panel out and put it in a sunny window for a few hours.

Unfortunately, this light comes from Ikea--and we live inconveniently far from any Ikea store up here in the hills of northcentral Pennsylvania.  It's called a Sunnan, which may be Swedish for "lamp" for all I know.  I have already used this Sunnan several times, plopping it down on the table next to me when I needed a more concentrated light for a while and it folds down absolutely flat so it is eminently portable.

Thanks, Emily and Jim!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

To Post or Not to Post

About a week and half ago I realized that the best way to apply a heavy perle cotton to an appliqued piece was to couch it and I spent a thoroughly pleasant hour couching veins on a leaf by hand--my first experience with the technique.

I had such a good time I decided to do a blog post about it, but life kept me from getting to it for a couple of days. And then I spent a frustrating time last Monday trying to get a good picture of the leaf.  Couldn't get the lighting right and so the color is still not even close to accurate.  But it gives you an idea of the couching, which involves laying a heavy thread or ribbon or whatever on top of the fabric and attaching it by stitching a thinner weight thread across the top of the heavier.   I love the texture the couching creates, which could be emphasized even more for another situation by a thread that adds another accent color.

And I have the courage to post this even after the meeting of our quilt guild  (did I really almost type guilt guild?  Freudian slip territory there), where the program dealt with what judges look for at quilt shows..  The very knowledgeable and informative speaker was able to come up with all sorts of areas where a quilter could go wrong, guaranteed to give all us obsessive perfectionists nightmares--or maybe just jaw pain.  Now the quilt that this leaf is part of is purposely loose:  the straight line of the center vein is one of the few straight lines on the quilt, and that was by accident.  I didn't want the veins to perfectly match and so I drew them by eye.

But the next day when I was looking at the pictures I had some moments of hesitation.  The old refrain of "maybe it's not good enough"  began to play in my head.  But this time I realized that that refrain is asking the wrong question.  I should be asking myself if the work is good:  does it do what I want it to do.  Do all the elements come together to create a whole that is pleasing to my standards, not to my imagined idea of what someone else might want.  I also realized that the inverse of "it's not good enough" is "it's good enough."  Nobody wants their work to be good enough; they want their work to be good or maybe meaningful or maybe even spectacular, but "good enough" does not provide much inspiration.

So that's my couching story.  You can congratulate me on my first attempt or quietly find something wrong with it or, if you are an old pro at couching, wonder what all the fuss is about over one little leaf, but if you're still with me, thanks for the company.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Beautiful Old Lady

Several of my friends seem to be having birthdays around this time, including me not too long ago, and of course the issue of age keeps coming up, usually in the form of some kind of well worn joke.  It was even a main topic in my book group as we were discussing The Madonnas of Leningrad, a novel about a woman slowly being lost to Alzheimer's, whose youthful memories as a docent helping to save the art at the Hermitage during the siege of Leningrad in WWII become more real to her than what's happening now.

So I had to smile when I saw the pear tree on our back hill blooming her heart out.  This tree was very old when we moved in more than twenty years ago.  We can't believe that she hasn't blown over in some storm because her trunk is now hollowed out at the base so that the bark and that thin layer of xylem and phloem I remember from biology class is about all that's holding her up.  She may not last another season, but, by golly, while she's here, it's spring and she is going to put on a show.

So here's to all of us who are another year older.  Hope we can create as much beauty as this tree when we are her age.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I know it's spring and I'm certainly not trying to make time go any faster, but I just finished up a piece that I started last fall and that I titled "Fall" as well.  This piece actually began at a guild tea last September, where I was one of the lucky winners of a door prize.  Most, perhaps all, of the door prizes were fat quarters and there nestled under many tiny florals and civil war reproductions was this piece of obviously hand-dyed fabric.  I still have not figured out who donated it, but it must have been created by a guild member.  It was filled with wonderful splotches of deep reds and greens and browns.

As I was on my way home I was already planning to use it to make some kind of autumn tree.  It soon merged with an idea I had put in my sketchbook about using the Robbing Peter to Pay Paul block, otherwise known as the Drunkard's Path, to give the idea of the crown of a tree.  But I only had a fat quarter so I was not sure it would work.  I settled on three-inch blocks and hoped my rough calculations were correct enough and I would end up with enough blocks to make a suitably sized tree crown.   And sure enough I made it stretch, with just enough left over for some colorful leaf litter on the "ground."

I decided on a split background of gold and yellow from my own hand-dyes to give that golden autumn glow.  But the first big experiment on this piece was the trunk.  I set myself the task of creating some trunklike fabric with some texture to it.  So I began by ironing Mistyfuse to the back of a grey and a darker brown hand-dye, slicing them up into thin undulating strips, then weaving them loosely together and ironing them to a brown.  And you can see the result.

The other big experiment was the amount of quilting on this piece.  I had decided to do diagonal lines, but felt that straight lines would be a bit too static.  So I decided to practice my FMQ and quilt lines close together that danced a bit here and there.  The result was little puffs of fabric sprinkled over the background.

I ended up adding some pearl cotton quilting at the base of the tree:

The whole quilt measures 30" x 27".  And now, aside from the label, it is finished in the 78 degree heat of this April day.  And if you're still with me, thanks for the company.