Lilacs and Chaos

When the chaos in my mind and in my sewing room reaches the breaking point, it helps for me to get out and smell the lilacs.

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This is my favorite time of the year.  The promise of warm weather, the anticipation of wonderful, summery things.  Those last few days before the kids are out of school, when expectation runs way ahead of itself.  Lemonade and carnivals and rides on golf carts.

Green leafy things and colorful blooming things, and thunderstorms and sprinklers and fresh sweet corn and tomatoes.  Farmers markets, and sandals, swimming pools and vacation adventures.  Road trips and plane trips and hikes in the woods.  Barefoot feet and long conversations on patios, decks and kitchen tables with air conditioners humming.

Trashy novels with no deep meaning, except maybe a lovely or surprisingly sweet ending.  Grilled chicken and kabobs and sun on my painted toes.  Lawn mowers and bicycles and screen doors.  Red, white and blue, or basically white with any color.

Big juicy watermelons and fruit salads for breakfast with a warm croissant. Sunsets and bug spray, sparklers and beach towels.  Water slides, hoses, and ice cream trucks.

Parades, tears, laughter, dirt.

Lilacs open the door to it all.

Sewing room chaosMy sewing room is in chaos.  I have at least 3-4 projects running simultaneously.

But all is well and all will be well.

The lilacs are in bloom.

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Daffodils Should Rule the World

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They’re stunningly gorgeous, reliable, and resist pests.  They require very little maintenance and they promote peace.

They don’t feed the hungry, but most world leaders don’t either.

Yes, daffodils should rule the world.

Until the peonies and irises come along, and then the duties will be shared.

But for now, we live in a daffodil world.

I started a couple of years ago with a cheap bag of bulbs from Costco. It produced lovely little yellow daffodils.  So the next year, I turned to a catalog and purchased a few more varieties.

Now I am hooked, and these quiet, yet lovely little early risers of spring are enough to give me signs of hope every year.  They cautiously poke from the ground when the frost is still in the air, when flurries are still flying, having full trust that the 70 degree weather will appear. And it does.

dafodils2daffofils3daffodils4daffodils5daffodils long shotBut look out daffodils, the hostas are not far behind, and I hear they are willing to redefine world order.  They are fresh and green and itching to unfurl.  Uh oh. Peace out.

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Needle Punch Felting with Machine Embroidery

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I’ve been playing with wool lately, and was reminded by the upcoming Bernina Inspirations class, that I can do needle punch using my machine embroidery.

For anyone who is a Bernina software user, Designer Plus allows you to do needle punch.  All you need is the needle punch accessory (which you can use with or without embroidery).

needle punch toolWhen you set up your machine for needle punch, you need to do a few things:

  • Inset the needle punch needles in your needle holder in place of your regular needle.
  • Change your stitch plate (there’s a special one for needle punch) and be sure to tell your machine that you made the change.
  • Put on the correct needle punch foot.  This not only helps to glide over roving and other wool or fabrics, but it also keep your fingers away from those needles.  You’ll often want to hold the roving in place to keep your design intact.
  • Completely remove your hook system, not just the bobbin.  Take everything out, and close the bobbin door.
  • Turn off your top and bottom thread sensors.

needle punch feltingIn the software, you literally just go to the Digitize toolbox, click on the PunchWork icon and digitize a shape.  Any shape.  And the software will generate one thread color to outline the shape, and then fill it with needle punch.  It’s amazingly easy.

I digitized the shape of this tree, measured it out and laid out the roving within the parameters of the shape.

And then I watched the machine do all the needle punch work.  Pretty impressive.

However, I did follow along with my fingers positioning and re-positioning the roving to be sure it stayed where I wanted it to be while the needle was punching.

Next, I layered an embroidery design on top.  Since I had gone with a tree shape, I was reminded of the tree of life embroidery design in the Sepia Petals collection from OESD. I ended up using the tree background file.

The result was interesting both visually and texturally.

Still exploring my love of wool.  It’s freeing and almost unpredictable as an art form or craft.  I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.

If you are interested in learning more about Bernina Embroidery Software or needle punch, think about attending your May Software Inspirations at your local Bernina dealer.

You just never know what you’ll be inspired to create!

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My Love Affair (with wool!)

wool trees 5I’m not really used to working with wool.  It really doesn’t behave like cotton.  Yet, its rich textures have just been a delight.  I love the way thread sinks into it.  I love the way thread can sit on top of wool, as well.

It inspires me.

I’m also a fool for anything hand-dyed and much wool is currently hand-dyed. (And not cheap, I might add.)

wool trees1This project really has been one of texture.  I experimented with a number of different Aurifil threads, but kept falling back on a nice 30 weight in different shades of neutrals.  It has just enough substance to show up, but is not so thick that it starts to cause problems in the machine.

wool trees 2I wanted this to feel a lot like a walk in the woods near the house. Twisty, gnarly branches — barren, waiting for spring.

Here’s a peak at the back side of this project, for those of you who appreciate a look behind the scenes.  I think it’s every bit as interesting as the front, maybe even more so.

wool trees backI have done some projects with wool and roving before. This floral below was one of my favorites. Something about wool is much more free-form for me than rigid piecing in cotton.

You can read more about the roving project here.

If you find you are interested in experimenting in wool, there are plenty of places to start.

Wooly Lady has joyful patterns and plenty of hand-dyed wool.

Sue Spargo also has a lot of hand-dyed fabric and beautiful threads for hand embroidery.

Need to get the creative fires burning again? I recommend a quiet little rendezvous with a few different shades of wool…ooh la la.

Final piece.

My Obsession with Trees

I didn’t realize it until I tried to describe some of my projects to someone, and all the ones that reflected my own art and not just a pattern designed by someone else, usually included trees.

And if not trees, then at least something that grows in the ground.  I can’t tell you what it means, except that I have a deep longing to connect to the earth.

I recently pre-ordered a book that has apparently been wildly popular in Europe:  “The Hidden Life of Trees — What They Feel, How They Communicate — Discoveries from a Secret World, ” by Peter Wohlleben.

An article from the NYTimes  profiles the German forest ranger’s book.

I’ve always known that the natural world — birds, animals, trees, gardens —  have more to teach us than we ever give them credit for.  In the woods, I learned to listen, and look…much more than I ever do in my daily busy-ness.

Art is a struggle.  We are reaching, reaching, always striving to capture the thing beyond ourselves.  I do believe that trees (as well as the rest of nature) try to teach us something. When I break through the barrrier and discover the lesson, I will let you know.

Until then, like most of us, I continue to be a student.

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Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.

Multi-hoop project is quilted, bound and finished.

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Missouri Star Quilt Company Birthday Bash

Guess where I was last weekend?  Guess where we brought 43 of our best friends?

Our shop organized a bus trip to Missouri Star Quilt Company and it just happened to be the weekend of their 7th Birthday Bash!  What a wonderful time we had — wonderful weather, great people and fabric, fabric, fabric!

Missouri Star Quilt companyAs you can see, the tiny town of Hamilton was hoppin’ the weekend we were there!  MSQC sponsored events like layer cake walks, a Pinata (filled with Aurifil thread, no less!  If you want to see quilters really go at it, dangle some Aurifil in front of them!)

Local vendors were out, with the local Lions Club fixing hot dogs and sandwiches on the grill, antique shops and 77 cent fatquarters, which MSQC kept filled to the brim!

They actually have 6 quilt shops in town, and if you’re thinking about making the trip, I will give you some tips along the way!  Here are the six quilt shops:

  1. Main Shop, has modern fabric, notions etc.
  2.  Mercantile has reproduction.
  3. Sew Seasonal had, you guessed it, seasonal fabric…every holiday you can imagine.
  4. Novelty. A whole shop of it.
  5. Solids and modern: think chevron fabric, Moda bella solids, Robert Kaufman, Stonehenge, etc.
  6. And the JCPenney shop carried wool, Snuggle, and other basics, as I recall.

We had a trunk show with Jenny Doan, host of MSQC tutorials. And may we just add that she is just as delightful in person as she is in the tutorials.  No difference!

msqc1IMG_4310She does the show with her husband, and the two of them are such a great partnership!

msqc3Some teensy little tidbits from Jenny:  this turkey MAY appear in an upcoming pattern and tutorial.

She also mentioned that they will soon be opening another 6 stores!  (Likely within the next month or so! (The new stores will include a machine shop, a wool specialty shop and one store with all wideback fabric!)

My tips for making this trip:

  1.  You won’t find any hotels in Hamilton, but you could consider their retreat center.  For us, the sleeping arrangements were a little too cozy and dorm-like for a bus load of folks. And the retreat center only holds a maximum of something like 37 people?  Not sure about that number, but not enough for us.  I HIGHLY recommend (and so does MSQC) GuestHouse Acorn Inn in Cameron, about 10 minutes away. It was clean and comfortable and the breakfast was outstanding…real eggs!  If you have a group, call the manager ahead of time to make arrangements, they are very accommodating.

2.  If you have a large group, by all means, set up a trunk show with Jenny…she’s a hoot and it’s wonderful!  Yes, there is a fee, but well worth it.  Call the store and tell them you’d like a trunk show.  They will put you in contact with the right person.

3.  Make arrangements for your group to have a meal at Blue Sage Restaurant in town. No kidding. Just do it. The food is fabulous!  Our group thoroughly enjoyed it at the end of a bustling day! The chicken pot pie is amazing. Just sayin’.

msqc4msqc5Had to share with you some of the murals MSQC had done in the town.  They are just beautiful.

msqc2IMG_4351IMG_4374IMG_4360This small town experience is one to be savored.  Take your time and enjoy your surroundings. I know our group really enjoyed themselves (and they MAY have purchased a little fabric too.)

Shipshewana Dreamin’ – Part 3

Don’t worry, this is my last post about Shipshewana.  I’m not a travel brochure.  But it was a peaceful getaway not far at all from home and so I just wanted to share.

I had the opportunity to meet an Amish woman who sells hand-quilted Amish quilts from her basement  —  some of them she works on herself, some of them she contracts out from others, and some she sells on consignment.

(An aside: the stark contrast between an Amish basement and my own is embarrassing. Hers was empty, with a few things on shelves, not a dust bunny or piece of anything unnecessary in sight.  Mine is filled with boxes from outdated electronics, old toys, old furniture, old books, old pictures.  What a cluttered, junk-filled life we live. )

Here are a few of the quilts she showed me.  This is just a sampling as she had many more. Make sure you scroll to the bottom, because at the end is an absolute masterpiece.

While she gave me permission to take the pictures and put them on a blog, she did not want her name given.  “What if someone sees a quilt and cannot live without it?”  I asked, in my total blundering non-Amish way.

She smiled and gave me a card.

So if you cannot live without one, leave a comment and I will privately give you her info. The prices are very reasonable for the amount of work.

While I did purchase a piece from her smaller-sized collection, everyday I think about driving back out to get the whole cloth quilt.  And who knows?  Maybe she already sold it.

But we can all still appreciate it.

This is one she did herself.  She pieces by machine and quilts by hand.

This is one she did herself. She pieces by machine and quilts by hand.

SHe chose the colors for this, but asked others to do the piecing and quilting.  She said she's not good at curves.

She chose the colors for this, but asked other Amish women to do the piecing and quilting. She said she doesn’t like curves.

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Hand appliqued and hand quilted.  A beauty.

Hand appliqued and hand quilted. A true beauty.

This one is a masterpiece.  She told me an Amish woman in Pennsylvania gave it to her to sell on consignment.  It is a whole-cloth quilt, and the hand quilting is so perfect it almost made me cry.

This one is a masterpiece. She told me an Amish woman in Pennsylvania gave it to her to sell on consignment. It is a whole-cloth quilt, and the hand quilting is so perfect it almost made me cry.

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THe whole quilt was for queen size but with overhang, so very large.  the entire edging was in scallops with these lovely feathers.

 The edging was in large scallops with these lovely feathers.

 

 

Shipshewana Dreamin’ – Part 2

My first stop of the the day was Yoder’s Department Store which opens at 8 am.  Honestly, they have a TON of fabric, and every book, (including modern quilting books) imaginable. I love this place.

yoders3 yoders4I had vowed to myself during this whole trip that I would only purchase items unique to the area.  I love Moda fabric, but I can get that at home.  So I began hunting for “local” goods.

First thing I ran into was this display of reproduction toweling.  I could purchase by the yard and got myself a vintage-looking design.  They had some very cute tablecloths in carriers that looked like handbags and I’d really like to use the toweling to make a handbag…add a little ricrac and I’m good to go!  Also in the display was a special edition “Yoder’s 70th Anniversary” hand towel.  While waiting in line to check out, another woman told me she was going to use hers to create a quilt around it.  What a great idea!

yoders2Of course, I purchased a little bit of anything that had some local charm.

yoders1Do you collect Row by Row?  Get your Shipshewana version at Yoder’s.

rowbyrowNext stop is the Davis Mercantile where you can find many stores, but I just had to see the famous Lolly’s Quilt Shop.

lollysLolly’s is another wonderful place with everything you could want or need — current fabric lines, reproductions, batiks galore, and plenty of solids, books, patterns. Found a wall of Kaffe Fassett florals, with an opposite wall of all his colorful stripes.  Really the largest selection of Kaffe I’ve ever seen.

Lolly’s has a “sister” store downstairs at the mercantile, called Cuddle Corner.

Don’t miss it.

I was amazed at the wonderful things being done with minky!

cuddlecornerFresh textures, colors and patterns…all in minky!  If you have a baby in your life, you need to stop here.  You won’t believe how soft and cuddly this stuff is.  If you’re like me, you’ll want one for your own home for winter snuggling.

Special tip from the gal at the counter: a stretch needle works best with minky.  We have this discussion at work from time to time…what needle for minky?  This gal says stretch is best and I believe her, but I will try for myself as soon as I sew up my quilt.

cuddlecorner2cuddlecorner3Around every corner in Shipshewana, you’ll find merchants that are selling hand-quilted quilts.  Having done a bit of this, I fully understand the time, effort and work that goes into these kinds of handmade masterpieces.

wallofquiltsIn the next post, I’ll share a few Amish handmade quilts I was shown when an Amish woman showed me the quilts she sells for herself and for other Amish women from her home.

Hint: absolutely breathtaking.

Shipshewana Dreamin’ – Part 1

I recently made a road trip to Shipshewana IN…someplace I had wanted to visit for a long time.  I was not disappointed.

My trip overlapped the annual Shipshewana Quilt Festival by one day, but to be honest, I avoided the festival.  I spend a lot of time with quilters at work.  I’ve been to expos and festivals.  What I really wanted to do was experience what was truly unique to Shipshewana.  (Don’t worry, of course I visited the quilt shops…more to come on that!)

rearviewmirrorIt’s Amish country as you may very well know.  I was careful not to take any pictures of them, but they do not mind a pic from a distance or shots of their homes or buggies. ( I asked.)  I took several carriage rides and asked many questions.  They use cell phones for business and rely on solar panels and wind turbines for electricity although many of them also have propane or natural gas at home.

Spending time in this pastoral setting really reinforced to me the hazards of modern living: speeding cars with impatient and intolerant drivers, over-reliance on technology, and the toll the lack of fresh air and exercise takes on our modern bodies. All Amish, at least those in Indiana, ride bikes or take the carriages.  Horses look healthy and are a way of life for them.  So many Amish live and work in the town, I really expected them to hide from tourists.  But frankly, they are friendly, willing to talk about their lifestyle and very open and gracious…but private where any person or family would be private.

The way they decide whether or not to tolerate a technology is whether it will reinforce or tear down the community.  Cars will always be out, because it is a way for anyone to escape community rather than build it.  Same with TV’s and computers and phones.  But they live in a real world where they have to make a living so cell phones for business or compressors to help milk the cows are tolerated.

I took a tour of an Amish house, sat and ate a home cooked meal with a family, saw them milk cows, toured the farm and was genuinely warmly welcomed.  I visited the Menno-Hof, a guided tour museum of the history of the Anabaptists.

This farmhouse actually looks a lot like my grandparents’ farmhouse in Wisconsin.

farmhouse1garden1Look at this garden!  Every farm had a beautifully tended garden like this…not a weed in sight. Ever.

shipshewana1The town of Shipshewana is charming by any standards, with local restaurants and shops. I’ll give a rundown of some of the quilt shops in the next post.

In this photo, the carriages were parked at a house funeral for a well-known elderly gentleman.  What a lovely site.  And life goes on.

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