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.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The day I came back to life

We all have those pivotal moments in our lives that we can look back on and see exactly where our path changed. I had a moment like that back in the fall of 1993, as clear as the ringing of a bell. I was working on a quilt, using a crappy sewing machine that fought me on every stitch. Quilting was my haven from the hectic life of raising four rambunctious boys, it was the only thing I did that stayed done. I loved everything about quilting, especially the math-yness, the puzzling out the numbers of yardage, pieces to cut, the order of construction. Kent found me sobbing in frustration as I ripped out again, a seam that my machine couldn't manage. Somehow, in that moment, I knew that quilting was "my thing", it was going to be "my thing". Because he believes in me more than I can ever understand, we figured out how to get me the machine I needed (a used Bernina 1530), and, well, here I am today.

For twenty years I knew who I was and where I was going, and I was making good time. The boys were growing up into fine young men (much to my relief) and my career in quilting was successful beyond my wildest dreams. Opportunities weren't just knocking on my door, they were pounding and I said yes, come in, have a seat, make yourself at home. It was exciting, fulfilling, challenging and meaningful.

And then the wheels came off in a slow motion crash and burn. There wasn't any bright moment of enlightenment, but a slow dawning that I was tired and unhappy. I felt pigeon-holed, trapped by my own success, and that I had used up all of my smart words. So I stopped saying yes to everything, and finally stopped saying yes to anything. This was supposed to make me happy.

Instead, I found myself in this weird sort of limbo. Having this luxury of time, but without focus, feels rather self-indulgent and wasteful. Don't get me wrong, I've been having all sorts of fun being off task. There are knitting groups, embroidery guilds, fiber artisan groups, spinning groups, and quilting guilds galore. I've joined them all, met some really terrific people and learned some wonderful stuff.

At the same time I've come to see that this life of going with the flow doesn't really suit me. I'm just too young to be this old. I've realized that I have a few words left that someone might yet like to hear. I've remembered that I get to be in charge of who I am and where I go, and I have mad skills!

When I look back on this time, twenty years from now, I want to see this as the day I came back to my life. I'll see all of the growth that came in my time off, even the time that felt wasted because it taught me what feels restful. I'll see that the path wasn't straight, that I often didn't even know where it was going, but I still went, and darned if I didn't make good time.

Maybe it's silly to think I can look back from the future, but I'm going to go with it. How else do we find purpose and direction for our lives? All I know is that I've flunked retirement. Watch out world, I have no idea what comes next, any more than I did in ninety-three, but I just know it's going to be awesome.

Monday, March 28, 2016

About the yellow

There was no doubt that the applique needed some yellow. It was always just a matter of how the yellow would get there. Originally I had intended to embroider simple flowers, just lazy daisies, in several shades of yellow pearl cotton. I even stitched a few in place. But it just didn't work for me.

I decided to just stumble ahead and hope that an idea would present itself, and it finally did. I've been trying to be less literal in my applique design. I think my science background just hungers for accuracy. But my flower garden isn't a faithful rendition of any real flowers. I could call them zinnias, or cottage roses and you'd probably go along. And all those circles I like to toss in, what are those supposed to be in real life?

It occurred to me that if random circles are okay, perhaps commas could work. It's a shape that I like a lot. It's the shape of a single feather in traditional quilting. It's a paisley, or a petal. They have a bit of motion, with that little curve by the point.

So, out came a scrap of Wash Away Sheets.

I used a pencil to sketch out the shapes, using the original placement lines for the embroidery flowers to suggest the size. (I've traced over them with sharpie here so they are easier to see.)

Working with the same fabrics from the yellow pieced block, I made up a few, just to test out the idea, and I liked it!

Since I figured I'd roughly need about six thousand templates (slight exaggeration, it's actually closer to a hundred), I recreated the shapes using my Silhouette and let the machine do the cutting.

Yeah, that's a little bit of yellow there. I didn't plan, just made an assortment using three different yellow fabrics and three different sizes of commas.

So, I'm busy stitching down commas. My literal brain really wants to add a couple of green lazy daisies to the base of each comma, just to give them a place to grow from, you know? But I'm resisting. At this point it's hard to tell if what I'm adding is improving the design or just a ploy to prevent me from finishing.

Thanks so much for all your kind comments and concern. I'm feeling terrific. I've worked through the shock of having a heart attack, which is something that happens to other people, and celebrating the extra time I have been given.