Hand Quilting Takes Time — Nevertheless, I Persisted

I started this quilt in 2014.  My original estimate for getting it hand quilted was 4 months. 4 years would have been much closer.

It’s not that I didn’t know it would take work.  Each block was about an hour…no matter how efficient I got at it, I had to re-thread a certain number of times, turn the whole quilt, shift positions, etc. It took an hour no matter how much I tried to reduce the time.

My husband approached and asked, “So if you’re going to quilt by hand, why do you have an expensive machine?”

Please.  Between the time I started this quilt and the time I finished it (yikes, I still need a label!) I completed countless other projects using my “expensive” machine.

Still, I don’t regret a single minute of the hand work. I listened to podcasts, I watched my DVD’s of Downton Abbey. And sometimes, I just sat quietly and used it as a meditative practice.

Why do anything by hand?  Why bake bread when you can pull it off a store shelf?  Why paint a picture when you can capture it all on a cell phone?  Why talk to anyone in person when you can text? Why walk down the street, for heaven’s sake, when you can get in your car and be there in no time?  Why grow a tomato at home when you can get it at any store, or, more virtuously, at the farmer’s market?

I’m not old-fashioned. I love my technology.  I use it to the hilt. While I’m typing at this very moment, I’m also listening to Harry Connick Jr on Pandora. (OK, maybe that’s a little old-fashioned.)

But doing things with our hands teaches us something.  It teaches us patience.  It teaches us that all the products around us take energy, resources and time to produce.  It teaches us to respect process, and maybe, just maybe, to recognize our culture’s love of instant gratification.

If someone had told me when I started this quilt that I wouldn’t finish it for three years, and along the way I would face life and death and sorrow and joy and pain and frustration, I would have told them no thanks. I want things to stay peaceful and uneventful.

Instead, I put it into the stitches.  That’s what we do, you know…those of us who try to do things by hand from time to time.  We put the tears, the laughter, the anger, the frustration, the love, the humility and all the emotions right there into the work.

But I don’t have to tell you that. If you’re a quilter, you already know it.

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…

 

A Little Lace Goes a Long Way

I have this stash of lace from my mom, that I keep in the basement, well-protected.  I never know what to do with it, but it’s always in the back of my mind as a resource.

The other day I purchased a (very) cheap sweat-shirty looking top on sale at a discount store where I normally buy groceries. So you know the price was right.

I wore it a few times before I started to get an idea to “cuten” it up a bit.

I ran downstairs to my stash of lace and found something perfect. I added it around the bottom of the shirt.

This took MAYBE half an hour.

It’s cute, right?

That’s when I got out the ruffler and decided to try ruffling the lace a bit to create a flower pin to wear on this shirt (or any other for that matter). I adjusted the ruffler to take a small “bite” so that the ruffle was soft.

You can see that it forms a natural curve and so I then proceeded to sew it onto a piece of wool I had around.

Really, this is very easy and fun stuff if you have the right tools.

I added a button and hot-glued a pin-back onto the back.  Pin-backs are widely available in places like JoAnn’s, Michael’s, etc.

To summarize, everything that’s needed for a project like this:

  • Lace
  • Ruffler foot (or needle and thread if you gather by hand)
  • Basic sewing supplies
  • A round piece of felt
  • A button or another cute center (silk flower?)
  • Pin back
  • Glue gun

This looks adorable on a handbag, a headband, a jean jacket, anywhere! You can also ruffle some fabric and create another look.

Have some fun…I highly recommend a ruffler foot for your machine.  They haven’t changed in years, and I wrote about it here.

So take a break from quilt blocks and try something new!

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.

 

So You Think Improv is Easy?

When I was in college, I found myself in an Improv class.  I’m sure I wanted to take some sort of communications credit and the class was full, so in order to fill the elective, I took the only other alternative:  Improvisation.

I was terrified.

I prayed that the class would be an intellectual discourse on the history of theatre, comedy, acting etc. Nope.

The teacher asked us to introduce ourselves in this way:  The first person just had to say his name.  The second person had to say her name and the name of the guy before her.  The third person had to say her name and the name of the two people prior. You can see where this was heading.  Twenty-six people in (of COURSE I sat in the back), we were all giggling awkwardly, and, I’ll be darned, even the last person remembered everyone’s name. (Now, if we got up and moved around, or…heaven forbid…changed clothes, all bets were off.)

Our next task in the class, was to gather in a large circle. One at a time we each had to pretend to open an umbrella, hold it over our heads, and close it again.  Simple, right? The first few people did the obvious.  Then one person added a shake before they closed their “umbrella” and it suddenly seemed more real.  The next person added a twirl over her head, and before you know it, we were all really seeing each others’ umbrellas. Adding little tiny details mattered when it came to believability.

For our final grade, each person had to produce a skit.  It was the student’s responsibility to:

  1.  Describe a scenario.
  2. Cast characters from within the class.

That’s it.  The skits only lasted 5 minutes or so, but I never laughed so hard during finals as I did during that class.  Something about Improv brings out the silly in people.  It’s like playing, but it’s a lot more about interaction with others.  One of the main tenets of improv is you must always accept another’s reality. So if someone says “What about the kids?”  you can never say “We don’t have any.” (This example is taken from the book “Something Wonderful Right Away” by Jeffrey Sweet.)

All of this brings me to improvisational quilting…or improvisational piecing, which comes first. I wanted to do something freeing, use up some fabric and make something that has not been done by anyone else…at least not in the exact same way.

In order to do this, I had to set up a couple of rules for myself, much like the final in my Improv class:

  1.  I had to use the colorful jelly rolls of ombre fabric.
  2. I am not allowed to square everything up into even-sized blocks. It has to be more free-flowing than that.

That’s it.  Those are my two rules.

As you can see, the fabrics themselves have movement.  The colors are cheerful and I had plenty to work with…at least to start.

I can safely say that I have no idea where I’m going with this.

But I love it.

The challenging part comes in the curves and Y-seams.

If you’re not used to sewing curves, it can be daunting as there are just so many variables to keep nice and neat. It takes a little bit of thoughtfulness.  Just like improv acting.  Go with it. Try it.  Don’t say no to the crazy seam.

It might just create “something wonderful right away.”

 

 

Kraft Tex, Transfer Artist Paper and Living on the Island of Lost Tools

Me: “I’ve lost my mind.”

Husband: “Now what?”

Me:  “I no longer know what I own. And even if I know what I own, I can’t find it.”

Husband: …(no response)

Me:  I’ve looked everywhere for my edge punch that I bought last year to do favors for Auntie Geri’s 80th.”

Husband: “OK. You know you just haven’t looked deep enough. We’ve been through this.  It’s in a bin somewhere. It’s in a shoebox in a bin. It’s in a plastic bag in a shoebox in a bin.  It’s in a paper bag in a plastic bag in a shoebox in a bin.  Look deeper.”

I hate it when he’s right.

When I went back to the place where I would put it away NOW if I had it and looked inside a few bags…there it was.

My main sewing machine needs a new part, so I am working on some sewing-related projects (even though I have another machine that works just fine.) Above, with the “Martha Stewart” logo is the punch I could not find.  She doesn’t make it any more, so it’s not even available online anywhere that I could find.

Been playing with both Kraft Tex and Transfer Artist Paper to make cards and Valentines and to just see what I can do with the combination.  Both are readily available online and I’m sure your local quilt shop can get them in too.

The beauty of working with these products is:

  1. Kraft Tex doesn’t fray at the edges, so it doesn’t need any finishing.
  2. It’s washable.
  3. So is anything that’s been transferred via the Transfer Artist Paper.
  4. TAP can be used on cloth, wood, glass, basically anything you can iron …and on Kraft Tex too.
  5. I can sew on any of this, and I can mix in some card stock tools like the paper punch.

So conceivably, I should be able to wash any of these finished cards.

This  little cherub is from my own photography.

This one reminds me of the scene from Holiday Inn, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart…” Free clip art is all over the place for Valentine’s Day.

And in this one, I used some free vintage art and added a pic to personalize. A good place to try is thegraphicsfairy.com.  I think this one will end up as this year’s Valentine. It will fit perfectly into one of the lace envelopes I recently created.

On this card, the transfer of our pic was on top of the first transfer, and I probably would not recommend that. I should have used a graphics program for that work and only transferred once.  Still, the photo looks old and worn and I love it.

Hmmm…so when I throw all these in the wash, they should come out whole.  I know that they will soften and get a little wrinkly like the Levi jeans tag.

Even so, I can’t wait to play around with this more. I’ll share some after a washing…should be interesting!

 

Freestanding Lace for the Holidays

freestanding laceI found these wonderful designs on Urbanthreads.com.  I immediately thought of Valentine’s Day, although these were likely meant for the Christmas Season.  I have not yet whip-stitched these together, but I love the look of them.

If you are not familiar with freestanding lace, a lot depends on the density of the designs and the stabilizer you use.

I used OESD Aquamesh, 2 layers for each piece.  Each envelope has 3 pieces.

freestanding-lace-4You can see the double layer of washaway stabilizer in the above photo.  Each section of the envelope took at least an hour to stitch out, so be sure you start with a full bobbin, a well-oiled machine, a new needle and plenty of thread.  I matched the bobbin thread to the top, using Isacord on everything.

free-standing-lace-2There were two different envelope designs to choose from, one was roses, as shown above.  The other was holly leaves, and I stitched that out in red.  Both of the envelopes I stitched were about greeting card size.

But I do have a smaller size design that would be perfect for business cards or a gift card.

freestanding-lace-3Once the design was complete, I trimmed away all the stabilizer, leaving 1/4 inch or so around the outside.

drying-frestanding-laceEach piece gets rinsed in warm water.  Some people recommend filling the sink and letting the lace soak.  That will work, but I usually keep the warm water running and rinse it thoroughly until all the stabilizer has dissolved.

The design needs to dry overnight, and I use a piece of florist’s styrofoam as a base, and flatten each design and pin in place.  This prevents any curling as they dry.

After that, it’s just a whip stitch to assemble the front and the back, and then the top to the back.

I had the most fun searching for just the right button for each of envelopes.  I plan to make a few more…I want the rose design in red. (Shhhhh…I think that’s part of this year’s Valentine’s Day gift.)

knitted-scarfFinally, I thought I’d share my scarf, which is moving along nicely now.  In fact, it’s probably twice as long as this photo shows…but not quite long enough to be complete.

The scarf will also have to be gently washed and stretched flat to dry. That way it will hold the shape.

If you enjoy designs from Urban Threads, you’ll get a kick out of their new holiday Look Book.

They also have their own line of fabric from Spoonflower now.

I actually have created my own fabric on Spoonflower with some of my black and white photography.  But I’ll have to save that for another post once I come up with how I’m going to use the fabric!

Designers Have Finally Discovered Wearables

For a number of years now, I have been following this industry.

I love wearable technology.  For starters, I have a fitbit on my wrist at almost all times. For someone who has a data obsession to begin with, there’s really nothing better than having  a constant flow of data. About myself, no less.

But beyond that, I have been keeping an eye on all wearable technology.

If the truth be known, we haven’t really found that huge breakthrough that brings it all mainstream and into the lives of every human being.  We are getting close, and this is my favorite time in any industry…when the possibilities are endless.

I was working in the field of marketing and advertising when the Internet came along.  I begged, pleaded, talked to superiors, made presentations, wrote papers, power points, sent emails telling anyone who would listen that this was the future of retail.  The future of basically everything.

The early reaction from executives…yes many VERY highly paid executives…was that the web was a passing fad.  Seriously.

But not everyone felt that way, and when more voices chimed in, things began to change.

I feel the same about wearable technology.

We basically have no idea where any of this is going, but it’s going somewhere. Now is the fun part..where all the entrepreneurs get to try things, where the experimenters get to experiment.

Last year, I made a vest using Adafruit’s circuitry. Here’s a link to the end result, but if you want to see the whole process, just click “previous” on the post and it will take you backward through the whole painful journey. (FYI…I wasn’t a STEM student…when I grew up STEM was part of a flower).

But now.

Ah, but now, people like Karl Lagerfeld are on board.  His whole spring 2017 fashion collection had a technology theme.  But my favorite is the large clutch.

I had to laugh at the reaction of the crowd.  Once you’ve built something, it’s not hard to understand how it’s done. But before, it’s a mystery held only by physicists.

The latest thing I’ve seen is this bag from Lisa Perry and Leo Villareal.

Again, it’s another bag that lights up, but trust me LED lights are fascinating to watch, and they are very bright.  We humans are so attracted to bright, shiny, flashy things.

Not everyone is working with the blinking lights though.  Here’s a great article from WIRED magazine about high tech fabric that helps to cool you down during a workout.

But by far my favorite so far has been this lovely fiber optic Cinderella gown from Zac Posen.  So lovely.

I haven’t given up on any of my sewing, quilting and embroidery.  But if I were ever to start over, this would be my new field.  Who knows?  I might have a third act left in me!

‘Tis the Season…Or is it?

rosesRunning around doing errands yesterday, I stopped in my tracks.  I pulled the car over and began to take pictures.  It’s a miracle.  Who sees roses this beautiful at Thanksgiving?

I did what I always do. I documented it.

The weather has been very disconcerting.  It was the warmest Nov. 17 in 40 years.

I remember being in Miami during the holidays one year.  It must have been around 20 years ago now.  I was about 2 blocks from South Beach, and we had been doing a photo shoot. But we wrapped a bit early and I had a free evening and found myself…midwestern girl…in a Walgreens in Miami Beach a couple of days before Christmas. I had received a call from friends who had gone sledding and skiing and were spending the weekend in Wisconsin.  Could I get home in time to meet them there, they asked.

I wandered the aisles, listening to the holiday music, taking in the lights, the decorations.

I was so lost.

I couldn’t imagine anyone being able to celebrate the holiday without at least the CHANCE of snow, and a cold breeze and a winter coat.  Walking outside, I was greeted with the soft warm breeze, and the tealest of teal ocean colors. It was breathtaking.

But not Christmas.

I had that same feeling again today, even though I am playing holiday music. The weather report calls for storms tomorrow and snow flurries on Saturday.  Maybe then, just maybe, things will start to feel a little bit more normal.

I have been working on the knitting that had me turned inside out.  I spent 45 minutes just studying the scarf, trying to recognize my mistakes.  Finally, in what seemed like a breakthrough, I realized that I was not paying attention to the wrong and right side of the pattern.

Once I had it figured out, I decided to continue and not rip out the incorrect stitches.  I decided that this scarf would be a great reminder of a difficult time.  Things leave scars.  My scarf would have a scar.  It’s not horrible.

right-side-knitting-mistakeAs you can see, on the right side of the fabric, it’s hardly noticeable.

wrong-side-knittingThe wrong side is much more obvious.  I decided that I didn’t want to go backward.

The only way to continue is to go forward.

I think I just might have a scarf by the time the snow falls.

And it’s time to get back to sewing too.

 

War and Peace and Knitting

War and Peace and KnittingRight before my mom went into the hospital for the last time, I began reading War and Peace. Honestly. I was about..oh, maybe 100 pages in. I had it at the hospital with me.

That was last February.

(I should mention that I love the Russian authors.  War and Peace is one of the great Russian novels that I haven’t read yet. Tolstoy is very different from Dostoevsky, but if you are looking for characters that embody the totality of the frail human condition, you can’t beat the Russians. They understand pain.)

Anyway, after she died, I put the book down and couldn’t look at it again until summer.  At that point I decided to throw it into a box headed for charity. Then I fished it out again. Then threw it back in. Fished it out. I wasn’t ready to walk away completely.

So it’s been sitting on my bedroom floor ever since.

At that same time last year, while in the waiting room at the hospital, I also started knitting a red scarf.

Now you should know a few things:

  1.  My mom taught me to knit.
  2. I am not very good, but find it very relaxing.
  3. I do OK with a simple pattern, but I don’t really know how to un-knit if I make a mistake.
  4. I made a mistake.

Not right away, you understand. I didn’t make the mistake in February.  Like War and Peace, I put the knitting project down and couldn’t look at it again.

The day after the election, I picked it up and tried to knit.

But I did it wrong.  Somewhere along the line, I was supposed to knit and I purled.  And where I was supposed to purl, I knitted.

An experienced knitter would know how to go backward, to reverse the stitches and fix the problem.  I can remember hundreds of times when my mom would rip the yarn out. But I am afraid to do that.

I am afraid I won’t be able to pick up those ripped stitches and continue.

I am left with something that feels like garbage and I don’t know how to fix it.

If I could go back in time and change it all, I would. If I could just abandon both projects I would.  But something in me longs for continuity, for clarity, for perseverance, closure, fortitude and maybe just a teensy bit of hope.

Now what?