Saturday, December 15, 2018

It started as a challenge

I love a good challenge. Working within limits can really bust us out of our comfort zone, but this one was kicking my butt. One of my fiber groups issued a challenge. The project was to be architectural, something man made like a building, it must include a square, circle, triangle and rectangle. And, finally, it needed to be attached to a 12" square framed canvas.

So, okay, that's not too hard, except for the architectural part. I don't do buildings. I don't like straight lines! But okay, maybe I can do a fence or a bird house on a post and build a garden around it. That could work.

At the same time, our guild, The Evergreen Quilters Guild of Green Bay, was hosting Kim Lapacek for a lecture and workshop. I'm now the program chair for the guild, so I'm automatically first in line for the workshops. Kim is a delightful speaker, we all enjoyed her wonderful sense of humor and her unique perspective in her quilts. For her workshop we chose her adorable Dresden Neighborhood. I swiped this photo from her web page. Google Dresden Neighborhood to see all of the fantastic variations on her design. (Kim is not only an excellent speaker, her workshop was one of the best we've had this year. Hire her, right away, do it.)

But here's the rub. I have always struggled mightily with copying, even when I'm supposed to copy so I can learn a technique. There's something in my nature that just recoils at the idea of repeating something that has already been done. So, as much as I looked forward to the workshop, I had a real battle going on in my head. I just didn't want to do what every one else was doing. (Now here's where I tell you how dumb that is, because every student's neighborhood was as individual and creative as its maker and we all had a blast.)

And then it occurred to me that I might be able to bend that Dresden Neighborhood into my challenge quilt. It's buildings, right? Maybe I'd just do a quarter of the circle. Maybe I could do larger wedges. Perhaps leave blank spaces for trees, or a garden or something. All the while, I'm concerned that I might become *that* student, the one that sucks up all of the teacher's time, is completely off task and becomes a problem child. No teacher wants to do that to another teacher.

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. My hammer is applique, I love to applique. Love it. So I tossed a package of Wash Away Applique Sheets, a glue stick and a magic wand in with the rest of my class supplies and went off to class without a real plan.

Not every teacher would be a gracious as Kim was about my deviation from the topic of the day, but she was almost as excited as I was to see how it would all shake out.

I kept the Dresden wedge shape and angles for the house and out house. I used the Dresden ruler to draw the basic shapes onto my template paper, keeping the wonky, stretched perspective of the wedge. The smoke is made up of circles, the top of the chimney is a rectangle. The roof lines form triangles. Because of the distortion of the shapes, I didn't have a true square anywhere, so I added in the square/triangle bead "flowers" on the out house hill. Adding hand embroidery to my machine applique technique is giving me so much joy. The hardest part was knowing when to stop.

I'm even happy with the back. I didn't want raw edges showing, even on the back, so I cut the backing fabric a bit bigger than the front, folded it over to encase the raw edge and finished with a top stitch. It gave a perfect, secure edge for stapling. I haven't decided yet if it needs a frame or will hang as is.

Being stretched and challenged can be uncomfortable, but, just like growing pains, it's worth the effort. My next challenge is designing a new block of the month for 2019. I'm still considering the possible themes, but I'm thinking winter, I have all of the other seasons covered and I'd love to do a two color quilt. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hello Friends

I'm hoping this will be like a long overdue conversation with a good friend. While there's catching up to do, it's a comfortable conversation because we both know the other wasn't really far from mind.

It's been an interesting year, interesting in the way of the Chinese curse of "may you have an interesting life". There have been some very good days, and some very difficult. But most of the days have been just the kind of comfortable ordinary we all hope for.

Shortly after my last post, my parents fell very ill. We nearly lost my mom first, and just when it was clear that she would survive, my dad became desperately ill and was hospitalized. He was soon diagnosed with metastasized lung cancer and he was gone by the beginning of July. My sisters and I didn't handle this well and we are still trying to find our way back.

I have incredible respect for the rights of others to believe differently from me. I have my own perspective on politics, as do you, and that's not what this blog is about. But I have to tell you, there are days that I am physically heartsick over the way we speak to each other. I am constantly torn between standing up to the bullying and standing back from the fray. All too often I am struck dumb by the hatefulness spewed in the name of love. This has kept me silent, hoping for the ugliness to pass and fearful that it may never.

After struggling mightily with the idea of retirement, in the end, I have found that I have finally settled into a comfortable place. At last I had the time to make the messes, mistakes and discoveries I had avoided while rushing to make deadlines. I still have moments of guilt at not being "productive" for the first time in my life, but they are fleeting and quickly forgotten as I practice a new embroidery stitch or take a stab at dyeing my own thread.

For the first time in a very long time, I have friends I can hang out with, and make stuff with, although I still struggle with the concept that the phone dials out. I am content in my studio with all my toys close at hand. What a joy to simply create for my own pleasure, with no thought to how to teach it, or sell it or if anyone else will like it.

But the teacher in me is restless. It's never been enough for me to learn something new. I've always felt that it's not really mine until I can give it away. I get such joy in sharing what I've learned.

And I've started this great big new project and I'm learning so much in the process. I keep thinking of how much I'd like to share it and then remember that the blog has fallen silent and awkward and stale. So, hello once more, my friend. Shall we begin again?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


That I needed a new sewing machine was clear. Instead of bringing me joy, I fought with and cried over that stupid Kenmore, the one that I'd paid good money for (more than $200 in 1990, a lot for the time) and expected so much from. Sewing was my haven from the insanity of raising four hyper boys, my quilts were the only thing I did that stayed done.
I asked around and everyone said I should get a Bernina. I didn't have a clue and about fainted when I saw the price tags for the first time. We were a single income family back then, more than a thousand dollars for a sewing machine was just unrealistic. But, I'm stubborn (actually, I prefer tenacious) and I had a very supportive spouse, so I started a little business of stenciling and faux painting, something very much of the times. After overhearing a quote of five hundred dollars, plus fabric (!), to make very simple valences, I hiked up my big girl pants and offered to do them for half that. Done and dusted!
My first Bernina was a used 1530, purchased in March of 1994. I was so thrilled with the precision that I took my first piecing project back to the store to show off what that magic machine let me do. They offered me a job! I credit that machine with giving me the right tool to get my career in quilting off to a great start. That machine would do anything I asked of it, leaving me free to explore new techniques and even create some of my own.
I have been trying to think of how many different Berninas I've had over the years and it made my head hurt. I've been blessed to be included, from time to time, in the loaner program, which has given me the opportunity to exploit the features of the newest machines. 
I've been a part of the Ambassador program since almost the beginning. It's a cool gig. We don't work for Bernina, but we do get perks, like loaner machines. But what I like most about being an Ambassador is having direct input on the development of new machines, their features and feet. (There are a couple of feet out there that I've had a hand in creating, cool beans, eh?) They really do listen to us (and you) as they work towards bringing new products to the market.
The old 1530 that launched my career, now more than twenty years old, is still chugging away, being loved my one of my sisters. Another sister sews on a 930 that I took in trade for teaching at a friend's shop (I really got the best end of that deal!) I helped one more of my sisters buy a Bernina of her own. (The other two sisters still have no interest in sewing, but hope springs eternal.) My two daughters-in-law, and my mom, sew on 707s that I found on ebay. (That's Amanda putting in a zipper like a pro.) Boy, those machines are little sweeties and they've been warned that I get first dibs if they ever decide to get rid of them.
If anyone had told me, back then, on the day I bought that machine, that I'd have an international career as a quilt teacher, that I'd publish several books, that I'd be on a national television show (more than once!), I would have laughed and laughed. I was just a mom who liked to make quilts, a little bit of a perfectionist (okay a lot, but I'm better now), pathologically curious, short on time but willing to find ways to make the most of those minutes. It all began with having the right tool for the job. Thanks, Bernina!
It's been an honor to be included in this blog hop. Be sure to check out the other BERNINA Ambassadors taking part. They are a stunningly talented group of crafters. (Don't quite know how I got in, but I'm going to enjoy it while I can!)
Monday March 20
Lynn Carson Harris
Kelly Ashton
Diane Doran
Melody Crust
Tuesday March 21
Kathy Delaney
Christa Watson
Mandy Leins
Wednesday March 22
Sandy Fitzpatrick
Beth Ferrier
Cheryl Sleboda
Thursday March 23
Annie Smith
Lori Kennedy
Kari Carr
Catherine Redford

Friday March 24
Joanne Sharpe
Cherry Guidry
Jenelle Montilone

Monday, March 6, 2017

Blissfully off-task

It is a true blessing to be able to say that I have very few regrets in my life. Not going to France with French club my senior year in high school is one of them. But not taking art classes in high school, college and beyond has to top the list.
I've always been creative, yes, but I've never felt like an artist. It was decided for me, early on, that my talent was being smart, so I was funneled into math and science classes, with very little consideration given to what I wanted. Shoot, I was just a kid, what did I know? I was good at math and science, who doesn't like being good at something?
There's always been a yearning, though, to be able to translate what I see onto paper with pencil and paint. But like so many, I just want to be good at it now and I'm very frustrated that I'm not. This is where I get to repeat to myself one of the mottoes I fling at my students: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly for as long as it takes. Ouch. No one likes to be quoted back!
I signed up for a terrific class by my buddy Joanne Sharpe. I've been playing along with her on her "Artfully Inspired Life 2017" workshop. It's been tons of fun, and slightly terrifying! We're making a mixed media (yikes) art journal (shiver), using tools and techniques that are solidly outside of my wheelhouse. Just to double down on the challenge, I also signed up for Joanne's Fountain Pen Follies mini workshop. I can highly recommend them!
Joanne's (rightfully so) requested that we not post pictures of the actual lessons, so what I've shown here are my version of the exercises, and proof that I am inherently incapable of actually following instructions, no matter how good my intentions.

In addition to the on line workshops, the Fiber Artisan group I've joined here in Green Bay (lovely folks, second Tuesday of the month at 10 am), is working on playing with paints and other embellishments on fabric.

Since everything I do seems to relate back to applique in some way, my project from last month is a painted background. When I can decide what color the table cloth should be I'll get the rest of it done. Blue seems to have usurped red as my favorite neutral, but I'm pushing back a little on my desire to make everything blue. I'm open to suggestions!

It's taken me quite a while to get used to freedom from deadlines, and the expectations of being a responsible adult and business owner. The time to make mistakes is a glorious luxury that I can finally appreciate. Suddenly I'm doing things badly and having the time of my life!

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?