Object Lesson

There are times when I realize my life isn’t about me, it’s about being a valuable object lesson for others. Today is one of those times.

My friend Evelyn Judson is visiting. Some of you may remember her quilt Storm at Sea in Quilters Newsletter Magazine (Aug-Sept 2009). Evelyn is a fabulous quilter, and an organized one. She actually finishes quilts in a timely fashion, and her studio is usually tidy. I told her that I had been writing about cleaning my sewing room for a year now, and she admitted to me that when her studio gets out of sorts she motivates herself to clean by telling herself that her space is starting to look like my space. She knew I would take the revelation in the proper spirit – and she also reassured me that I am making good progress in my quest to organize my work area.

However, even after a year of hard work there is still a long way to go, so instead of showing you my stuff I’m going to show you Evelyn’s. In case you missed that issue of QNM, here is her Storm at Sea:

This quilt was seven years in the piecing (by machine) and two years in the quilting (by hand). It is amazingly complex and subtle. Here is a detail:

The quilt is also huge – king-size at least. Here is Evelyn with something not-so-huge:

This is a journal quilt from her trip to the Virgin Islands. It is a detail of a turpentine tree, a beautiful coppery plant that she will revisit in a larger work in the future. The piece was created so she could experiment with blending colors of paint sticks.

Evelyn’s work is always stunning, both her traditional pieces and her art pieces (if you get a chance, visit her website at www.evelynquilts.com). She has great technique and color sense, and she is a very good teacher.

She is also a good friend. I value her advice, and treasure her compliments, about my quilting. So I don’t mind being an object lesson – better pick up now or your sewing room will get as messy as Lani’s – because she was truly impressed with the progress I’ve made. It’s enough to keep me going for another year battling clutter.

Charms for Removing Obstacles

I brought out a panel of Ganesh, a project I’m working on with friends. One of Ganesh’s attributes, so I’ve read, is that he is the one to clear away obstacles. As you can see from the panel, the first obstacle is going to be making this panel straight enough to add some borders.

I’ve been told you can sew a quilt into submission, iron it into submission, or quilt it into submission. We’ll see what works with this little critter.

As I was thinking of solving problems, I started thinking of all the little charms and totems I’ve used in the past to guarantee good luck. I realized I have all sorts of brick-a-brack that could be used as charms, like these little carved animals:

This is supposed to be an armadillo. Don’t ask me why it has red eyes. The next animal should be more obvious.

These little guys have been sitting on my sewing room shelf so long I’ve forgotten when I acquired them or why. I suspect they were gifts, and since I still like them quite a lot the gift was successful even if I’ve forgotten who the giver was.

I do remember when I acquired my own personal herd of elephants:

These tablecloth weights leaped off the shelf and into my shopping basket years ago. The children were little and I envisioned many picnics with dangling elephants. Well, we had the picnics, but always on the ground, never on a table. My little herd is still as bright and shiny as the day they came home. So perhaps the good luck was for them – to stay intact and together.

I’ve been staring at the wonky Ganesh panel for some time, and finally called for help. My friend came up with an idea that will probably work, and so I’ll perform the very best charm to ensure good luck – I’ll get to work and soldier on until the obstacle is removed.

Crafting with Mom

For as long as I can remember, my parents have always done a project when they’ve come to visit. One year they helped us build a fence, another year a bookshelf in the kitchen. For many years, my mom helped me process the apples from our Granny Smith tree. This year, however, is the first time she and I have ever done a craft project together. For the past week we have been busy with a Christmas project – and having the time of our lives.

We started out with beads that I inherited from my mom’s father. I think he used them to make flowers and stars, but since I don’t have any of those I can’t be sure (I have a lot of his woodworking projects instead). Mom saw the beads and the gears started turning, and before you knew it we had a box full of decorations.

She also brought a fabric project that she had discussed with me before she came out. I told her I had a tote bag full of Christmas fabric just waiting to be turned into something beautiful. Here she is with the works in progress:

I can’t show you the finished projects, (a) because none of them are quite finished and (b) because they’re for Christmas and I promised I would keep some details secret. Nevertheless, I want you to know that I am doing something, because my great plan to have Mom help me clean the sewing room was sidetracked. I can’t honestly say things are much worse than they were in the sewing room, but as you can see, they aren’t any better:

Still, I’ve had a great time doing this project with my mom, and she’s enjoyed working with some of her stuff, some of my stuff, and some of her dad’s stuff. We’re creating 3-generation heirlooms, getting them done before Halloween, and enjoying every minute. I can’t think of a better Christmas miracle.

Another hole on the shelf

Sometimes, baby steps really do lead to major changes. Mom arrived with great plans for Christmas ornaments that we could make together. She brought out her prototype, which got us to brainstorming, which led us to visiting the local Christmas shop, which brought us to a second project that uses up beads that I inherited from her father. In fact, she has made so many ornaments that I was able to clear out one of the two chests of beads that has been living on that shelf for years.

Empty space makes me giddy, so much so it took an entire day before I was sufficiently clear-headed to decide what should go in that space.

At first I thought I would move some bins from the closet, but they were stacked three high, and I couldn’t fit an entire column on the shelf. Then I thought I would move a plastic tub from under the sewing table, and shift over a column of bins from the closet to that space. But the project bags stacked in the tub weren’t easily accessible under the shelf.

That’s when I discovered that I could move a complete column of bins under the sewing table and still have room for the tub.

Clearing those bins from the closet encouraged me to tidy a few stacks, moving the odd item here and there. Then I discovered a bin of Christmas ornaments that I had forgotten about. Some items in the bin are complete ornaments, some are pieces of table decorations, others are bits and pieces that were meant for another craft project. So, that’s what went in the hole on the shelf, and here is the closet floor space that I recovered.

I still have remnants of Ft. Longshore to clear out, and I will have to sort through the newly discovered Christmas bin, but each inch of floor space is a very sweet victory – even if I’ve only recovered enough room for a baby to take a few tiny steps.

Cleaning for mom

My mom is coming to visit. She keeps a very tidy home. She knows how to organize and keep up with the organizational scheme. She has a house chock-a-block with clean flat surfaces.

Luckily, Mom loves me despite my not having a cleared off counter top to my name.

Still, before I ask her to help me in the sewing room (and believe me, I will) I wanted to make one more push on my own. With the help of my good friend, Linda Ballou, the scrap box under the window is empty. Well, it was empty – it’s full now, but full of project bags. Linda cut all the scraps into usable squares for my class kits. I took project bags that had been stuffed in corners and stacked them neatly in the box. This is progress.

You might notice those two bins under the box. They are filled with bits and pieces of things that might be useful someday. For the time being they’re going under the box. No, it isn’t quite organizing – call it a tactical retreat – but they are out of the way and that’s good enough for now.

I did attack a pile of pre-quilted samples. They were left over from another project. I decided I would use them to practice making woven fabric bowls.

What I learned is that Basket Weaving 101 is harder than you might think.

Finally, I pulled out my collection of Australian-themed fabrics and started on my next Challenge project. The assignment is Dream; I’m going to experiment with some 3-dimensional embellishments, such as the patches sticking out from the center. Those aren’t markers for another row – those are going to be panels that open and close.

I had hoped to show my mom a tidy, organized space when she came for her annual visit, but at least the room is in better shape than last year. Also, every mother loves knowing her children still need her, so I’m going to ask Mom for her advice. She may throw up her hands, she may laugh, but she’s going to be here for two weeks – and I think she’ll take the challenge.

Bait and switch

Remember those four unfinished tops that I pulled out for the Challenge project? Remember how I went on and on about finishing them? Would it surprise you to learn that all four of them are back on the UFO pile?

The day for Challenge Group kept creeping closer, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with those tops. Luckily, there is a never ending supply of well begun but not close to half done projects in my sewing room, so I used two other ones instead.

The first was a block from a previous Challenge project on the theme of home. This block didn’t play nicely with the others I made, so it was put aside until I could make more just like it for a spring table runner.

Since I had to finish a UFO with a twist, I interpreted the instructions literally and twisted (OK, folded) fabric for prairie points. My quilting grandmother had an inordinate fondness for prairie points which I seem to have inherited.

Then I spied another half-completed project – a stack of friendship blocks from 1988. I know this because at least one block was dated as well as signed. My husband had been encouraging me to make a new cover for my computer, one that would extend over some of the auxiliary devices settled into the tray on either side of the keyboard, and these blocks were the perfect size. Also, I had just read Susan Vallallo’s “Beaded Binding: A Sparkling Finish” in the November 2010 issue of American Quilter, so there was my twist.

Detail of beaded binding

Completing these two projects didn’t put a tremendous dent in my UFO pile, but after over a month of not accomplishing anything at all in the sewing room I am thrilled. So much so, in fact, that I tidied up a few of the piles, rearranged a couple of others, and recovered another six inches of open floor space. When quilting consumes your life, it’s important to take joy in the little (really little) things.

A Schedule Derailed

This wasn’t going to be my most productive week in the sewing room. I pulled out boxes of fabric and knew they would take more time to organize than I had. Deadlines for other projects sat on the calendar, glaring at me. My to-do list ran to three pages.

You’re waiting for the punchline, I know you are. There isn’t one.

There is, however, good news to share which has nothing to do with my sewing room. My friend Ann Anastasio is co-producing a quilt retreat next May. It is called Art Quilt Santa Fe, and will be held at the Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino (near Santa Fe, New Mexico), May 1-6, 2011. The featured teachers will be Michelle Jackson and Linda Schmidt.

Ann Anastasio was my first quilt teacher, my first friend when I moved across country for my husband’s job, and still a good friend even though she moved half-way across the country for her husband’s job. Organizing a quilt retreat has been a dream of hers for years, and I couldn’t be happier that she and another friend have finally achieved their goal.

The website for the retreat is http://www.artquiltsantafe.com. There are links to the teachers’ websites, as well as to Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre (www.brokendishesrepertorytheatre.com), which will be performing at a gala banquet during the retreat. Broken Dishes is Ann and me.

Broken Dishes was my dream come true. When I’m not quiltiing I write stories, and I had always wanted to perform as well. Ann suggested we entertain at guilds, and with another quilter friend, Evelyn Judson, we started singing, dancing and telling stories about quilts. Evelyn then moved (also for her husband’s job), but Ann and I kept performing.

Many of my finished quilts were created for Broken Dishes programs or workshops. The chances of my finishing anything skyrocket if I have a deadline, and there’s nothing like planning to show off your work in front of other talented quilters to keep you moving forward! Here are some of my favorites:

The Birthday Button Cake
The Guilt Quilt
Plate Tectonics

So, my cleaning schedule got derailed, but life is still good. Next week, I hope to make more progress in the sewing room. Who knows, someday I might even get that room organized – then I can start on my writing area.

In my writing cave


My next Challenge Group project is to finish a UFO. What a daunting assignment – first, to only choose one when I have so many! Second, the reason I have so many UFOs is that I really don’t know how I want to finish them. If I knew, they would be done.

Since today is the first day of autumn, I considered pulling out a fall-themed project. This is the first one that came off the stack.

I started the project for the Progressive Party. The ladies in the group put in everything but the last triangles, turning it on point. I did that myself because I wanted the center block to be upright.

It’s a lovely quilt, but since I’m not sure what I want to put in those big, scary, empty triangles I took the next quilt top off the UFO stack. This turned out to be if not fall-themed, at least using some fall colors. It’s sort of an end-of-summer, beginning-of-autumn, but-don’t-let-the-weather-gods-know-or-they’ll-make-it-rain quilt.

This one was left unfinished because I thought it needed some applique. I don’t know what kind yet, so I brought out the third top on the stack.

The fabrics sat quietly under the ironing board until one day when they demanded to be put in a quilt. They weren’t choosy as to the pattern, so I just kept cutting and sewing until I reached a convenient stopping point.

Now, we all know that convenient stopping points are not the same as completed tops, so on the off chance that one of the fabrics left in the pile will start yelling at me to use it for a border, I brought out the fourth UFO.

As I recall, the pattern came from a previous Challenge Group assignment. It is one in a series of dolphin quilts, and it really needs a border. Or at least I thought it needed a border when I folded it up and put it on the UFO pile.

So, now I have four candidates for the assignment, and still no idea how to finish them. At least I have two weeks before the group meets again. With any luck, you’ll see a picture of an actual completed quilt in the beginning of October. Or not. At any rate, Happy Equinox!

No is a complete sentence

The week came and went, and although I made some progress clearing things out and away, it wasn’t enough. I almost, but not quite, reached the same level of tidiness I had achieved before the summer began. It all became a bit wearing and I started whining at a meeting – about the sloppy state of affairs in my sewing room, and around my computer, and the rest of the house. The ladies who listened patiently to my complaints – quilters all – then shared their stories. At the end, the wisest of the group said, “No is a complete sentence.”

We were in awe. Oh, the dizzying freedom that comes with saying, “No, I didn’t get it done. No, I’m not going to do it. No, I’m not going to take on another project. No, I’m not going to explain, apologize, or negotiate.”

Well, of course, the next morning I realized it isn’t quite as easy as all that. Then I thought of all the other wise sayings I have collected over the years, some in tee shirt form, some on tote bags, some on scraps of paper that I will some day make into tee shirts or tote bags.

Here is one of the earliest:

In case you can’t read my handwriting, the note says, “Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.” The note is very faded, but very true. Experience is wonderful, and we will make the same mistakes over and over. I will, at least, because I have.

This next one follows in the same vein:

This one says, “Time is the best teacher; unfortunately, it kills all of its students.” There are so many things I need to learn, and re-learn, and never enough time for it all. This goes beyond learning to make perfect points on demand, or learning to check all the boxes on the computer screen before I hit the “accept” button. I long for the day I learn to keep my mouth shut when my kids tell me about issues in their lives that aren’t mine to solve, or the day I learn to smile and agree that something should be done about the crisis of the day without volunteering to head the committee (perhaps I should have the title of today’s blog tattooed on my palm).

Although I will grind my teeth over the state of the sewing room tonight, tomorrow I will go in and try once again to tame it. Perhaps it is part of being a quilter – there’s a wellspring of optimism we all have that keeps us trying to create, trying to invent, trying to improve. And so I end with the latest addition to the collection of useful phrases:

Biscuit Month

I have a calendar of food holidays, like corn chip day (January 29), waffle day (March 25), and spumoni day (August 21). There are also food weeks, such as fig week (November 1-7), and entire food months. September is biscuit month.

The obvious way to celebrate food holidays is by making the food, but I don’t fancy making biscuits for the next thirty days. However, I woke up to the realization that I have never made a biscuit quilt. Like coming to an intersection and suddenly remembering that in the two decades you’ve lived in this town you’ve never, ever turned left here, the desire to do just that is overpowering. I also thought of all the odd scraps I’ve got, and decided a biscuit quilt would be a good way of using some of them.

I took the first two scraps that came out of the bag, and made a tiny pouch. The instructions I found call for a 4″ square and a 5″ square, but I thought that sounded kind of clunky. While I’m not a big fan of rules in quilting, I have found that smaller is often prettier (I’ve also found that almost everything looks better on point, but that’s an adage for another day).

This is where I started
The pouch before turning

Sewing the tiny pouch was easy, stuffing it was another matter. I couldn’t find the bag of fiberfill. It’s there, in the sewing room, I know it is. I can hear it laughing at me. So, I took a scrap of batting from the trash, sliced and diced it, then filled the pocket.

My first biscuit

So, there you have it – or there I have it, “it” being another project. If I don’t find the fiberfill, I may turn my biscuit into a pincushion. Or a base for a clutterfly (I haven’t forgotten about that project, even if I haven’t done anything with it). In the meantime, there’s always next March – noodle month. Imagine the possibilities.