Friday, February 17, 2017

Busy girl

I don't know whether I feel like a new woman, or my good old self, or if it's just the sun coming back after the darkness of winter, but either way, life is good. After a couple more doctor visits in January my heart has been declared healthy, the new arteries are fully compensating for the one that was lost. The irregular heart beat was found to be benign, and has been decreasing in frequency. Best of all, I'm off the strongest of the medications. I feel like the fog has lifted.

Even though I've been ignoring the blog, I've been a busy girl. I knit a bunch of stuff, fingerless mitts and socks, for my kidlets, which went off to their new owners without photographic documentation. I've been embroidering like a mad woman, and I'm taking a couple of online classes about art journaling. I've even been doing a little bit of applique, which I'll show you soon.

It's been a lot of fun to be "off task" for a while. I've had time to reacquaint myself with hand embroidery. The local embroidery guild has made a crazy quilt to raffle as a fund raiser. It was such a joy to work on that I almost went into mourning when I finished my block and had to turn it in.

We were each given a base block, already pieced, to embellish. Since this is way outside my normal comfort zone it was both scary and exciting to make the decisions for each space. I've been pouring over books on crazy quilting for ideas.

The hardest part for me was knowing when I had done enough. I think my normal style is a little spare. I like space. But spare is not commonly associated with crazy. Overall, I am rather pleased with the outcome. The block holds its own with the rest of the blocks. I'll be sure to post a picture of the full quilt when I get one. It's stunning.

I had originally planned to do a long post with little bits of everything I've been up to, but I've reconsidered. It's time to jump start the blog, get back into the swing of things. I've even started booking workshops again! Just wait until you see all of the neat stuff I have to show you!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My new normal

Where do I start? That's always the problem, isn't it? If I knew where to begin I'd have begun long ago. It's true of so many of the things we want to do. Big deals rarely have obvious starting points. Sometimes there are so many "but firsts" to get in line before actually beginning that finding the beginning is almost impossible.

On the day in early December that I had planned to be attending the annual Bernina Ambassador Reunion I instead found myself being admitted to the hospital. The Reunion is seriously fun. It's two days of learning all sorts of new techniques and features of the newest Bernina sewing machines. It's also two days of networking with other professionals in the quilting industry. It's hard to measure which aspect is more pleasing.

I had been working like a fiend to finish the quilting on Christmas Yet to Come for the Reunion's show and tell. If you don't mind my saying so, it's a spectacular quilt and who doesn't love drawing gasps of delight from an audience? And this audience contains some of the brightest stars of the industry (how I got in I'll never know, but I'm forever grateful for it), we all want to show ourselves at our best.

Meanwhile I've had this thing going on in my chest. You may remember that I had a heart attack last March, the 7th to be exact. (The symptoms started right after the final episode of Downton Abbey aired, feel free to draw your own conclusions.) They put in a stent to open a blocked artery, congratulated me on getting to the hospital so early that no damage was done to the heart muscle and sent me off to have a nice life. Which I happily did, until September.

It started with an occasional, weird thumping heart beat, something I've never experienced before. Nothing dramatic, really, just a "hmm, that's different" sort of thing. With a shrug of my shoulders I remembered that I had a regular check up with the cardiologist coming in a few weeks and it's probably nothing anyway.
The thumping continued, becoming more frequent, and soon came to include some mild versions of the symptoms I felt at the time of the heart attack. So, onto the treadmill for a stress test. Yeah, there's something wrong, but nothing remarkable. New meds. Reaction to new meds. Other new meds.

The morning of the Reunion I awoke with jaw pain. I as I lay in bed I came to terms with missing the Reunion, the two hundred dollar non-refundable hotel room, had a small pity party complete with ugly crying, and then called the cardiologist. By the end of the day I was in the hospital and scheduled for another catheterization. A blood test showed that I wasn't actually having another heart attack, but the cath was the next right step to figure out what was going on with me. The head cardiac care nurse came in to explain the procedure and, in a very round about way, that my tests didn't show any serious problems and this was all probably in my head. I told her I've been in my head and it's not there. I've done anxiety, and this isn't it.

This is what's called burying the lead. I've finally, all these paragraphs later come to the point of the story. There was something wrong with my heart, something very wrong indeed. The stent had closed with scar tissue. I once again had a complete blockage of my right coronary artery, exactly what lead to the heart attack in March.

If you'll forgive my language, this was a serious WTF moment for the doc. My own cardiologist wasn't available to do the cath, so one of his partners did it. They were so surprised by the finding that they called my doc to the operating room, saying that he had to see this!

By all rights, I should have had another heart attack, but it seems that during all those weeks of weird thumping and all, my heart had been busy creating its very own bypass system, growing tiny new arteries in place to compensate for the big one closing. I am absurdly proud of my creative, industrious little heart.

I must give props to my doc, and also to the head cardiac nurse. My own doc took my discomfort very seriously and scheduled the tests. The nurse came in the following day and congratulated me on knowing my own body, acting as my own advocate and insisting on care. I guess this is a pretty rare situation, so, once again I get to serve as a warning to others.

So, to my new normal. I've been adjusting to even more new meds, these are targeted to help the new arteries finish their growth and completely replace the artery lost to the blockage. I'm still living with the thumping, and side symptoms, and while they've only abated a little, they're not so scary. The worst had happened, the artery is closed, and I lived anyway. I have to decide if I can live with this as my new normal or face other, more specialized procedures, possibly, ultimately, bypass surgery. It's been a lot to process. Adapting to new medications is always a challenge for me. A part of my brain seems to be focused on those new arteries, encouraging them in their work, leaving me distracted and turned inwards.

For all of its challenges, 2016 will go down as the year I lived anyway, twice. It seems clear to me that there is something yet that I'm meant to do, and I'm hoping and praying that I don't figure it out anytime soon. For the past couple of years life has been something that's happened to me, I've been pretty content with rolling with the punches and waiting to see how it all works out. Lately, though, I've been thinking it might be time to pick a direction and get going. I mean, seriously, if you don't know where you're going, how can you tell if you're making good time?

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Craftsy Challenge

Who doesn't like a challenge from time to time? A few weeks ago, Craftsy (my favorite place to find online classes on all things crafty) sent out a challenge. They had a handful of these t-shirts in size ginormous left over from an event. What to do with them? They challenged us, a group of Craftsy teachers to find a creative use for them. They sent me two, but I greedily set one aside for a sleep shirt, and set out to turn the other into something interesting.

I spent a long time thinking about how to use the fabric, but what I kept coming back to was how stretchy it was. I also wondered how creative it would be to use fabric as fabric, not so impressive, eh? The more I looked at it the more it looked like yarn to me.

So I cut it into noodles. Oodles of noodles. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I let that stew for a while. (See what I did there?) I was extra careful to cut the fabric in a spiral so I'd end up with one long strand.
Then I stretched the strand into worms. In the process all of the seams let loose. So much for one long strand! What surprised me was how stretchy the worms remained. I had thought that the worms would become stable lengths, but no, they still stretched like crazy.
My first thought was to knit them. I cut the strands as narrow as I dared thinking I might turn them into fingerless mitts. It quickly became clear that I wouldn't have enough to knit up much, especially while hanging on to the second shirt. (If I had come up with an idea that was super cool and needed the other shirt, you bet I would have cut it up.) The strands were also knitting up very densely and still super stretchy. Hmm.
Perhaps I could weave the strands. This was interesting too, but also very stretchy. I kept thinking that it would be silly to make something that didn't take advantage of the stretch. And then I remembered that I know how to crochet.
It's a market bag! The strands had to be knotted together so I decided all the ends would be a design element. I used the collar for the strap. It doesn't look like much lying there.
But does it ever expand! This is a fraction of what it will hold. Honestly, I don't think I have the strength to carry it filled. I like how it sort of cradles the contents which will make it easier to manage bulky items. I think it will be terrific when farmers' markets come back around. It will hold produce nicely, and it's machine washable! So, tell me, what would you do with t-shirt?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

First Love

One of my earliest memories is learning to embroider. That little hoop immediately felt at home in my hand. French knots, stem stitch and lazy daisies seemed like little acts of magic. I might have been the only kindergartner with a thread stash. (That's my name tag for the embroidery guild above.)

Since then I've spent a life time exploring other fiber techniques, anything involving a needle and thread. But embroidery has always called to me.
It's been rather a joy to have time to revisit my first love. Designing and stitching this little pillow had me giggling for days. (Easily amused, but then never lacking for entertainment.) For so many years I've been all about machine work (not that there's anything wrong with that!) Hand embroidery seem like a distraction.

The local embroidery guild has been a wonderful discovery. We're working on a crazy quilt as our fundraiser for next year.

My style tends to be more clean, less fussy than the exuberant excess of traditional crazy quilt design, so it's been a challenge for me to up my game. This block is my first, made as part of a workshop for the quilt guild back in March. I can see now, looking at it here, that it's not quite as done as I thought. That "B" looks awfully lonely over there, perhaps I could add some beads in the background.

This is my block for the embroidery guild raffle quilt. I'm just getting started, but loving the process. I do love swirly, curly things. There will be a button bouquet in the center. I like the green rick rack, but the black embroidery has to go, not enough contrast with the busy fabric in the lower right corner.

Turns out embroidery is playing a role in the new applique book I'm considering. The Wash Away Applique sheets threw open the doors to all sorts of easy, elegant, effusive embellishment. (How's that for a book subtitle?) But there are decisions to be made before I can really go forward. More on that in the next post. Meanwhile, I'm off to stitch with the crazy quilters.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Going up?

One of the crazy things about our backyard is there is no easy way to get to the top. It's a fairly steep hill, with a four foot high retaining wall. It's wonderfully private. There's a nice flat spot near the top that will make a lovely spot for reading or coffee, but only if you have billy goat in your ancestry.

Last summer we still owned the house in Saginaw, so our budget for improvements was pretty limited. This summer we had a little more to play with, so the first thing we did was cut a staircase into the wall. Of course, I'm using the royal "we" here. I think up these crazy things and Kent is a willing participant.
Aren't they wonderful? It was decided that the new railroad ties needed to be stained to match the existing ones and Kent set out to accomplish that one morning while I was out. He said he knew pretty much at the first brush that the color was wrong. But the color had looked right in the store, so maybe he needed to do more just to be sure. After a while, even though he was convinced that the color was wrong, he had already done so much that he decided he might as well finish. Luckily he ran out of stain.

I had to laugh. We've all done it, haven't we? We push on, even though our gut is telling us we're on the wrong path. The rationale can be so silly: we bought a whole gallon of the paint, the store for replacement is closed, it will quilt out. Pretty soon we're so far in that going back seems impossible. So instead of trusting ourselves enough to quit at a false start, we plow on until there's no way to redeem the project. Not only is the project spoiled, but we had a miserable time doing it!

We don't know what to do next, it's a good quality stain, even sand blasting hardly made a dent. I'm hoping that a little weathering will do the trick. Because I'm an incorrigible optimist I'm hoping that an answer will present itself next spring when the snow thaws. Keen eyes will notice the stone stairs going in at the top of the hill. There are a few more steps to go, but by next summer we'll be able to easily get around in this crazy, vertical garden.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fall in Love

This is my latest quilting project, I'm calling it Fall in Love. It will be a small wall hanging, about 18" square, I think, The background hasn't been decided yet, so that may change.

Choosing fabrics and color theory seems to be something that either terrifies or mystifies many quilters.  I know I can over think myself right into paralysis. Any time I try to study color I'm stumped by the terminology. I'm a scientist, not an artist. Color theory seems like alchemy to me.
But then there's tenacity I've mentioned. My response to the question "can I?" has always been "how badly do you want it?" So, I've been working out a system to make color (fabric) choices easier. Using just five values (Light, Light Medium, Medium, Dark Medium and Dark), I've marked up my templates in preparation for fabric selection.
The entire piece is considered when making the value choices. The decisions about where the shadows and highlight fall are all made before I start cutting the individual shapes apart. This means that I can work on one leaf at a time, working out the fabric choices for each segment of a leaf without worrying about any other piece in the quilt. This is so much more manageable, don't you think?
Having sexy batiks like this is my stash means that I really only needed two different fabrics to make this green leaf. The templates were already marked for their values, (light, medium, dark), so I just needed to find those values on the fabric.
Notice how the left side of the applique is lighter, brighter, while the right side becomes darker? It's a simple matter of using value to guide my fabric choices. Value does all the work while color gets all the credit. Next I'll share some tips on machine stitching the piece and adding even more dimension.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Well, hello!

They say that good friends can be apart for ages and just pick up where they left off when they finally get together again. I've found it to be true. So, my good friends, it's lovely to see you again!

I've been quiet these past months for several reasons. It's been a time of reflection, of where I've been, where I am and where I want to go. I'm still struggling with the idea of retirement. I desperately miss teaching. But I've also come to enjoy the luxury of doing what ever I please instead of chasing the next deadline.

It's been a time of exploration. Green Bay has so much to offer. I've become a serial joiner. I'm like the proverbial bad penny, showing up at any fiber related group that will have me. What a joy it's been to commune with spinners, weavers, knitters, embroiderers and lots of quilters. I've been playing with some of the artsy-fartsy stuff I've been collecting over the years, saved for the day when I had more time.

It's been a time of frustration. While I refuse to allow this blog to be political, I am passionate about the direction our country is going. I hate the name calling, the haughtiness, and general disrespect people have for folks of the opposing point of view. How will we ever be E Pluribus Unum if we can't even speak civilly to one another?

I'm frustrated with the constant "look at me, look at me!!!" that the quilting industry has embraced. The marketing part of my job has never been comfortable for me. I've always wanted my work to be my voice, not my ability to garner a zillion likes on Facebook.

I've been reminded lately, of how very contrary I am. I almost named my business "The Contrary Quilter". The more I am told that I must, I should, I can't, the more I respond with I won't, you can't make me, and just watch me prove you wrong. On the one hand, tenacity has brought me the success I've enjoyed. But stubbornness is its evil twin and can get me into all sorts of trouble.

It's been a time of growth. I've been making things. Over the summer I've dyed things, pounded flowers into fabric, strung up a few beads, colored on paper and fabric, just to name a few. It's crazy exhilarating to spend an afternoon exploring a new technique and then be able to carelessly toss the results away, making it all about the process. But most importantly, I've made some friends.

In my next post (which I am writing in this same sitting, not in another three month), I'll show you my progress on the autumn quilt shown above. It's part of the direction I'm exploring for my next big thing.

Thanks for waiting for me, I've missed you.