And So This is Christmas…

And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.   –John and Yoko

Bah Humbug.

Sigh.  This time of year I don’t want to hear any more holiday songs. (Unless of course it’s “Celebrate Me Home” by Kenny Loggins, which I can listen to over and over and never get tired.  Here you go…a crazy live version.)

Not to be confused with Same Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg, which I listen to for one week every year (between Christmas and New Year’s) and tolerate for its simple wistful loveliness.

But John Lennon haunts me.
Every year at this time, he asks what I have done and reminds me that I’m another year older. And the haunting part is that he’s not. He is timeless now, with his music still playing everywhere.

What HAVE I done? What have you done?  The only thing I have to show for this past year is my work.  So here’s a little gallery of this last year’s finished projects.  And some that might be not-so-finished.

“A very Merry Christmas. And a Happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.”

 

What Inspires You to Create?

You’ll find no shortage of social media out there:  Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter.  Every single one of them is loaded to the brim with lively “inspiration.”

People tell me, “It’s where I go to get good ideas.”

Yet, social media is a double-edged sword. So many things come our way to discourage us on our way to creativity and inspiration.

Short list of inspiration-killers:

–Someone will always be better than you at whatever it is you want to pursue. They have more time, more money, more resources, more experience, or more years of life ahead of them.  And let’s face it, they often have better ideas.

–You’ll waste time on social media.  Yes, you will see pretty things.  But you are more likely to get discouraged than to be inspired. It’s the nature of the beast. (By the way, that’s also the reason that new studies are showing that the more time kids spend glued to their phone, the more likely they are to become suicidal.  This is especially true for teenage girls.  Don’t think adults are so very different.)

–Life gets in the way. We’re busy and pre-occupied with raising our children, working, caring for other family members, getting side-tracked by every day chores, like home repairs, grocery shopping, health issues (our own or that of loved ones.)

So what can we do?

Some ideas:

  1.  Take a walk in nature.  Get to the woods, the trees, a botannical garden, your own backyard, a local forest preserve, any place not overly occupied by humans.  Notice the birds, and the other tiny things. The change from flower to seed, the turning of the seasons, the smell of the air, the sky on any given day. Listen. Is wind rustling? Which birds do you hear? Are you near water?  Crashing waves or trickling creek? Is it starting to freeze? What patterns do you see?

2. Visit some place new. Extensive travel to other countries is fantastic, but we’re not all willing and able to do that. I recently drove a half hour from home to a tiny shop that sells Polish Pottery.  I’d never been there. The owner was a bubbly young lady, and had just moved into a new building.  The shelves were filled with bright, cheerful pottery, hand made by women an ocean away. Lovely.

3. Learn something new. This could mean anything for you. Attend an exhibit. Take a class at the local community college or park district. Or easier yet, read a book.  I recently saw a statistic that said that 30% of college graduates never read another book once they finish school.  80% of families have not purchased or read a book in the past year.  How is this even possible? I’m not entirely sure I believe the statistics but the trend is discouraging. We already know that reading books makes people more empathetic. Where are we headed?

A book suggestion to get you started:  Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson.

It’s a peak into his journals and famous works, as you also travel through life with someone totally committed to his art. Think you already know everything about him? I bet you don’t. Some of his geometric studies would make fantastic quilt patterns. Granted, he lived in a time when diversity, architecture, aesthetics, craftsmanship, and great art were all honored and appreciated at the highest levels of society.

Let us recommit ourselves to advancing the arts, in ourselves and in our society. Get out into real life. Experiment. Enjoy a visual and auditory feast.

And step away from social media for just a bit. It will be there when you come back.

I promise.

Of Endings and New Beginnings

The quilt shop where I worked closed this week.

I don’t think very many people understand what a small quilt shop does for a community.

Yes, we sold machines and fabric, notions, patterns, doo-dads and what-nots.

But that’s not what a quilt shop is all about.  We also provided support.  And inspiration.  And education.

And friendship.

We loved our customers and became close.  And they came to visit us when they had enough of the outside world, when they needed a place to unload, to unburden, to be among like-minded people.

We celebrated with them and mourned with them. And they with us. We all grew together and processed life through cloth and fabric, needle and thread.

The purchases?  They were just an extension of all that wholeness. We didn’t close because we weren’t doing well.  On the contrary, the shop was doing great.  But sometimes life intercedes and the owner was unable and unwilling to deal with the crushing demands on her time from her home life and work life combined.

I could go on about the number of quilt shops in this area that have recently shut down, or the economy, or the aging of the quilt-making market.  But I know better.  I’ve been around long enough to see that to everything there is a season.

I was fortunate enough to work there from the time that my son started first grade to the time he entered high school.  What a season!  From crayons to perfume…or deodorant, in this case.

I know that these things are cyclical. The market will re-emerge in a different way. Our customers will find their way to new and exciting shops and relationships, and the world will keep turning.

I will never stop sewing. In fact, I have some new and interesting plans for this blog. Endings provide the catalyst for new beginnings. Stay tuned.

Straigh line quilting on domestic machine

Here’s the quilt I was working on from my last post.  Completed, just need to add the label. Crazy squiggly lines through the color, straight and narrow through the grey.

The ombre blue on the back turned out to be exactly what I wanted.
Ombre modern quilt back
Colorful binding signals the end of this project.  But we never really finish our work as quilters, or as artists. We’re always ready for the next project.

I’m ready. Are you?

The Times We Live In

The Inspiration

When I had the privilege of hearing Bill Kerr from Modern Quilt Studio speak last year, someone asked the question, “What makes a quilt modern?”

Bill’s answer has stayed with me ever since.  He replied, “It reflects the time we live in.”

I thought a lot about that lately, and it came to mind again as I worked on my latest quilt.

An extended family member is suffering from a heroin addiction. He’s 23 years old. (Close family).

Unless you live under a rock, or unless you have your head buried in the sand, you know that this country is in a crisis.

  • Addiction is the number one killer of those under 50 years old in America.
  • This is the worst overdose epidemic in our country’s history–mostly heroin and fentanyl.
  • In 2015, more people died from drug overdoses than from gun homicides and car accidents COMBINED. And that number has exponentially risen since then. (nytimes).

I don’t want to go into the heartbreak that opioid addiction brings into a family, or the destruction, or the loss of trust and money and emotional fortitude.  No, those are just side shows to the vice-like grip of tragedy and despair that accompany a person with an addiction.

He told his mom that the world is grey, and only appears in color when he is on the drug.  All of this is likely a symptom of underlying depression, but reaching it is difficult through the fog of substance abuse disorder.

The Quilt

Awhile ago, I began working on an improv quilt.  It was basically chaos, and felt like 2017 to me. Layer on top of that the never-ending chorus of my family member’s opioid treatments, shaky and hesitant recoveries, disappearances, and temporary relapses, and “chaos” becomes the perfect description.

But hope lives.

And I found myself creating a quilt for him, made of this crazy, chaotic improvisational fabric. It was interspersed with grey, reflecting the many times he has been through rehab.

But the main message of this quilt is one of hope…for my family member and for all those suffering from this disorder.  This cheapest of all street drugs will not get the last word.  The rest of us surround him with belief that this can be overcome, knowing full well the difficulty.

The Details

I don’t know how others design quilts, but I find that I don’t “think” in software. I have to grab a notepad and sketch it out. I add measurements as I go along.

Next, I took the improv fabric and positioned it under some of the grey to see if it was going to work.  I love that the sun was pouring in as I worked.

I’m pleased with the way it’s turning out.

I’ll be using the serger to piece the back in a beautiful blue sky ombre with splashes of color.

It’s the goal…a blue sky goal and a life of color, on the other side of the grey.

In the big picture, the grey and the colors of anyone’s world mix and mingle back and forth.  The world is not always in glorious color for any of us.  Sometimes it is the grey that provides the relief in order for us to carry on.

If you or someone you love needs help with substance abuse disorder, here are a few resources I follow on twitter to provide support and ideas.

Brasstacksrecovery.com

Shatterproof.org

Facingaddiction.org

Recoveryanswers.org

In the meantime…

…hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (romans 8:24-25)

Chasing Cats with Machine Embroidery

Doesn’t everyone have a Halloween tree?

It’s a silly thing, I know. But we get a kick out of it.  I make all the ornaments in machine embroidery as in-the-hoop projects.

First, the actual embroidery design is stitched out.

A placement line is stitched, so I can see where the backing will be placed. Before the backing, I tape down a ribbon for hanging. Then the backing is laid down with right sides together.

The backing then gets stitched down with an opening at the bottom which allows for turning the item inside out. Once the backing is stitched down, I can take the whole thing out of the hoop and trim 1/4 inch around the outside, clipping the corners, and turn it inside out.

Just add a bit of stuffing, stitch up the bottom and you’re done! Three at a time at this size. When I make them even smaller, six at a time is just as easy!

Finished and ready to hang on the tree.

I hope this gives you some ideas for the holidays. Happy stitching!

 

Women, Sewing and Art

We had some family in from out of town this week, and a day-long trip to the Art Institute of Chicago was on the agenda.

Let me start by saying that I checked with the information desk and they had no problem with me taking a few pics and posting them to a blog.  So that’s what I did.

As you know, the Art Institute is an overwhelming and inspiring experience. After a bit of roaming, I came across a painting of a woman sewing. On a whim, I took a picture.

(Just as an aside, I hate when I see people running up to a painting and taking a picture.  That is not how it is meant to be enjoyed. Look at it. Study the brush strokes. Discover the color palette. Contemplate it. Enjoy it. But whatever you do, don’t run up and take a picture and then run to the next.  That’s silly.  Lecture over.)

That said, I decided to record what I could of women sewing.  A few samples:

Renoir was the first I happened to see. It’s lovely…with such movement.  I did, however, study her hands.  What was she sewing that was so bunched up?  That’s not really how one would hold something for embroidery or detailed stitching.  Though her right hand is perfectly positioned to pull a needle through the fabric, her left is a bit awkward.  The white lace near her left arm is, I suspect, entirely an afterthought.  Go ahead, hold your finger over that piece of white lace. The whole painting recedes into mid-tones. While it is still gorgeous, it lacks enough contrast to draw your eye somewhere.  With that touch of white, your eyes go directly to her work and her hands, and it even lights up her face.

This one is done by Camille Pissarro around 1895.  Titled “Woman Mending.”  I studied her hands once again.  She might very well be sewing.  Or she might actually be knitting in some way.  Her project is rather amorphous.  Yet, I recognize her expression.  I have the same one when I’m trying to figure out what I did wrong.  After these two paintings, I started to wonder if male painters truly understood in any way how women work. They recognize that women are doing SOMETHING with fabric or yarn. The detail is so precise in every other aspect…down to the carvings on the leg of the table.  But what this woman is actually doing?  Based on this painting, it’s a mystery.

Ahh. Diego Rivera, 1936.  The Weaver.  As we move into the 1900’s, we see that women’s work becomes a bit more of a fascination.  It’s not just pretty things in a young woman’s hand, but a skill, a craft.  He even pays homage to her by including the tools of her trade. He admired this woman, I’m sure of it.

This last one I saw was from the 1800’s, St. Rose of Lima. She was a patron saint of the Dominicans, and the story says that she embroidered to raise money for her family and for the poor. In this painting, she is creating the symbol for Christ. (This pic is taken from a pamphlet I brought home from the museum.) I love that her work is clearly shown, and that her sewing was her employment.

I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through the Art Institute. If, like me, you haven’t been there in over 20 years, I encourage you to visit again with new eyes.  While you’ll see plenty of women as subjects — in portraits, as madonnas and mothers, lovers and muses — these are the women I found that had a project. A purpose.

A reason to create.

 

Dueling Woolies, and a Couple of Tips

I’ve been working on these two wool hand embroidery pieces. One is for the shop, the other for home.  By the time I finish them, I will either have gotten wool completely out of my system, or I will have started a dangerously addictive habit.  I really like working with wool and have learned a couple of things.

(An acknowledgement of the patterns:  The first comes from a Moda book called Moda Mini Marvels. The second is a Wooly Lady pattern called Kaleidescope. Sadly, it no longer seems to be available.  But check out their site as they have many more patterns and kits that are similar.)

 

 

 

Tip Number One:

Use a long-arm stapler to attach the pieces of wool and hold them in place while you stitch.  Seriously. Skip the fusible. Skip the pins. They add bulk and distortion and take all the fun out of the smoothness of attaching wool to wool.  I  was struggling with it and our tech came over and said, “Do you want to know what the Australians do?”  Now, honestly, who doesn’t want to know what the Australians do. She suggested the stapler and I was struck by the simplicity and brilliance of the idea. Why didn’t I think of this?  Try it.

Tip Number Two:

You need this tool.  Clover Press Perfect Roll & Press. Your local quilt shop will have it and if they don’t, ask them to order it!  If you ever do piecing, this is one of the best investments you can make. I work in a quilt shop and try a lot of tools.  I like them for different things, and we all get addicted to different gadgets…it’s part of the process.

But the project I’m working on requires 1 in. half square triangles, finished size 1/2 in.  I need 84 of them.  That’s a lot of sewing, cutting and pressing of tiny pieces. But this little roller works SO WELL!  I did not need to use the iron once…it lays the seams so flat. Get it, try it, find out for yourself.

I continue to carry on, with more fun projects on the horizon.  But I find that at this time in my life, a little handwork is cathartic and soothing. I like my wool to be bright and cheerful, but who knows?  That can change at any time.  When all is said and done, we’re all evolving, aren’t we?

If I Were Tolstoy’s Editor

“We are forced to fall back upon fatalism to explain irrational events (that is those of which we cannot comprehend the reason). The more we try to explain those events in history rationally, the more irrational and incomprehensible they seem to us. Every man lives for himself, making use of his free-will for attainment of his own objects, and feels in his whole being that he can do or not do any action. But as soon as he does anything, that act, committed at a certain moment in time, becomes irrevocable and is the property of history, in which it has a significance, predestined and not subject to free choice.

There are two aspects to the life of every man:  the personal life, which is free in proportion as its interests are abstract, and the elemental life of the swarm, in which a man must inevitably follow the laws laid down for him.”  –Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

I did it.

I finished reading War and Peace.  And I loved it.  (You can read about my failed start.)

In fact, after reading it, I was tempted to go back and start re-reading from the beginning, in order to capture more of the nuance, the brilliance of Tolstoy’s staging, foreshadowing and character development.

The book is 1386 pages long. And I would not cut a single word…except possibly one tiny little change.

If I were Tolstoy’s editor, I would have asked him to leave out Part Two of the Epilogue.  I can imagine the conversation between the artist and the editor:

Tolstoy: But I wasn’t finished!  All of this NEEDED to be said!  It’s the entire reason I wrote the book!

Editor:  My friend, the story was over.  Leave the rest to the reader. The novel is magnificent.  In their thoughts they will ponder your piece of work for years to come.  They will write books themselves about your epic.  Let it end.

Tosltoy:  I will not.  I insist on the last part.

Editor:  What if we include it at the end as Part Two of the Epilogue…a kind of Author’s Notes?

Tolstoy:  Hmmph.  Whoever heard of Part Two of an Epilogue?

I can imagine this conversation going on for many months.  I recently read somewhere that it took Tolstoy over a year to write the opening scene.  (It introduces many of the characters.)

I find it hard to believe that anyone living today could weave such a tapestry of thought. The best-selling novels currently in production, while gripping and suspenseful, take me about 2-3 days to process.  War and Peace took me 3 months.  I savored it.

On the cover of the book, Virginia Woolf writes, “There remains the greatest of all novelists–for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?”

I am afraid very few readers take the time to read novels like this any more.  Do kids still read this in high school? When I tell my own friends or acquaintances that I have just finished War and Peace, in the hopes of meeting someone else who may have read it, I am met with raised eyebrows and shaking heads.  They back away slowly.  The general consensus is that I either have nothing else to do with my life or that I am just plain weird. Now it’s possible that I am weird, but I assure you, I have many other things to do in my life including working, raising a teen, caring for an aging parent.

As Churchill once said, “Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

Celebrating art is life for me. I do it in between trips to the middle school (and sometimes read in the middle school parking lot). I create in the evening, and at work.  I think of things to make while lying in bed, in the shower, preparing a meal.

What is life if not to celebrate art and the work of fellow artists and artisans?

By the way, I finally finished the red scarf I started well over a year ago.  It’s not a masterpiece.  But it was made with patience and persistence.  And I eventually gifted it to my sister, who accomplished a huge goal.

Bravo. Prodolzhat…

 

The Trouble with Wool

The trouble with wool is…

There is no trouble.

Sorry.  It’s just lovely to work with.

Let me take that back.   The trouble with wool is…

It interrupts all the other projects I absolutely have to get done (because I’m sick of looking at them.)  I found a new project that just fascinated me because it is fairly complex.  I never start with an easy project.  I fall in love with the idea of a project and find out as I go along that maybe I bit off more than I can chew.

But this particular one is lovely.  Shown below is just the start of some of the pieces.

This pattern is from Wooly Lady.  The instructions suggested copying everything onto freezer paper, tracing it, ironing it onto the wool, cutting it out and then peeling away the paper.

I bought the whole wool kit from Wooly Lady (not cheap, OK?) I found that I just did not have enough of the fuscia wool.  So I substituted a rich red, which I think will be just fine.

Here is the whole thing cut out and pinned down.  I realize that I will have to take it apart in order to start stitching, but of course, I really wanted to see the layout. I wasn’t going to fuse anything down, but soon realized that the pins will cause distortion, so I’ll be using Misty Fuse to hold down the pieces while I stitch. I’ve never tried it on wool, but I think it’s all I’ll need, since everything will be stitched in place.

So after all that cutting, the fun begins. The pattern calls for a blanket stitch on basically everything, with some decorative stitching throughout.

Can I finish in time for spring?  I certainly hope so.

What do I still have to complete?

  1. My splendid sampler quilt.  I still have some blocks to do, even if I skip some.  I have ordered the book and am waiting for it to come in.
  2. My queen size hand-quilted quilt.  Yeah.  What was I thinking?  I am not Amish.  I will never be Amish. But it sits on the floor in my sewing room taunting me. The truth is, the quilt is more than 2/3 done.  A little bit of effort would get me over the top.
  3. My improv quilt.  At least I have a good idea as to how to finish this.  All I need is another 15 hours a day, and the energy to fill those hours.
  4. My knitted scarf.  Oh, so close!  Just a few more rows and cast-off!  Geez, I need to just DO IT!

As all quilters know, I have  another 10 projects in bags and containers that I have never started. Those new placemats for spring and summer?  I’ll probably squeeze them in.  A simple Magic Inch quilt from those fantastic people at Modern Quilt Studio?  Yeah, I can get that done in no time.  The cute throw pillow idea I just saw while out shopping this morning?  How easy is that in machine embroidery! And I’m getting sick of my old pillow cases and duvet cover…those are fast and easy…

The trouble with wool is…probably me.