Posts Tagged ‘quilting’

Design by the Seat of Your Pants

June 15, 2016

In the writing world, there are plotters and pantsers. Plotters know where they’re going at every step of the way. Sometimes their plot outlines are so detailed they basically just have to add a few “ands” and “buts” and the story is done. Pantsers, not so much. They start writing and see where the words take them. I am a pantser, not only in my writing but also in my quilting.

A footed flower vase and falling petals

A footed flower vase and falling petals

The gray top is one that the Progressive Party made for me to embellish. The rose petals and leaves were made by someone else, too – Bella Nonna. They’re silk, but feel like a thick, handmade paper. I won the package at a silent auction (don’t ask why I put a bid on them, I’ve long since forgotten). The bag with the rose petals was on the ironing board, which reminded me of my collection of red beads, and then I started working.

Without a plan.

That happens a lot in my studio. There’s no better feeling in the world when things go well and the project tells me what it wants. Nevertheless, to make a quilt one actually has to sew the top to a batting and backing, and that’s when things get dicey.

Handquilting with beads

Handquilting with beads

Forget the trouble with sewing the quilting lines after you’ve done the embellishment. Just marking those lines is a pain in the . . . pants. You’d think I would learn my lesson and consider the end at the beginning, but it doesn’t always work. In my writing, sometimes the end is as much a surprise to me as it is to my readers – so also in my quilting.

The good news is, my idea for quilting continues to develop. I decided to start with diagonal lines and scattered beads. I like the look, but will have horizontal lines along the bottom and vertical lines on the remaining side. Today I thought, “Self, bind it in red and add more rose petals to extend the flowers beyond the edge.” We’ll see what ideas I have tomorrow.

Beaded centers

Beaded centers

The beading may evolve, too. I thought adding a few beads to the flower centers would look nice. It does. I may add beads to all the petals. Heaven knows I have enough to encrust those things.

With any luck, the creativity inspired by this project will spill over to The Chenille Ultimatum. I’m working on the last chapters now, and the characters have been better at telling me what they want. Every so often, however, one of them throws a tantrum and decides something else is needed. Just like my quilts.

By the way, today is a palindrome for those of us who write the date month-day-year – 6/15/16. Sounds like a reason for a cake.

Luck and wisdom!

Use the Good Stuff First – Quote Challenge

September 23, 2015

The late Doreen Speckmann used to tell her quilt students to use the good stuff first. “If you don’t, when you die your family will turn that fabulous batik you’ve been saving into a clown costume.” Oh, I know all the adages about saving something for a rainy day, and about keeping special things for special occasions. That’s good advice, too, but when your sewing room is bursting at the seams try doing some projects with the good stuff.

Cram as much beauty into your life as you can

Cram as much beauty into your life as you can

You might be worried that the project won’t work and you’ll have wasted your supplies. Ann Anastasio and I taught a workshop called “There’s a Quilt in There Somewhere.” We instructed students to bring the one piece of fabric deemed too wonderful to use. The first order of business was for everyone to cut her special fabric in half. “Look,” we would say, “now you have something left over if you don’t like what you make in class.” It’s amazing how having a reserve opened up the creative floodgates.

A small luxury is still a luxury - enjoy!

A small luxury is still a luxury – enjoy!

So take that special fabric, bead collection, thread collection, notebook or china set off the shelf. Break into the good chocolate, the expensive spices, the great wine. Host an art play date or a party if you want to share, but use the good stuff while you can still enjoy it.

Luck and wisdom!

Blessed Are The Flexible – Quote Challenge

September 16, 2015

I first heard “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape” in a quilting workshop. It instantly became my mantra. I find it useful in the sewing room, of course, but also on the road (there are quite a few idiots alive today because I did not give in to road rage).

Sometimes you twist yourself into knots to hold everything together

Sometimes you twist yourself into knots to hold everything together

As an artist, I must be flexible if my first plan is more ambitious than my training. If I have a deadline, then I have to come up with a different approach to the work. If I’m not, then I get to learn a new skill. Either way, if the project is going to be completed I need to find a work-around. That’s why artists often work in series.

As a writer, I need to be flexible enough to take advantage of a new line of thought. No matter how short or long the piece, sometimes the beginning isn’t quite right once you finally get to the end. That’s why the best writers are re-writers.

Sometimes you twist yourself into knots to let things go

Sometimes you twist yourself into knots to let things go

Then there’s the experience of daily life, where things you’ve always done one way just won’t work anymore. Maybe you learned something new, maybe you changed, maybe the world changed and you have to catch up. Whatever the reason, sometimes you have to be flexible – or spend a lot of time fighting. On those days when I’m feeling cranky enough to start a war to get my own way, when I don’t want to be flexible, I remember my good friend Lorna Tobler’s advice: “Pick the hill you want to die on.”

Luck and wisdom!



September 25, 2013

I’ve been thinking about what lies underneath – what is unseen, but necessary for future growth. I wanted to show hibernation for my November calendar project. Starting with floral prints in browns and grays, I strip-pieced a base and embroidered dead plants and roots.

The earth below

The earth below

Stitches with variegated thread

Stitches with variegated thread

My idea got a jump-start with Laura Wasilowski’s hand-dyed embroidery threads.

Color + texture = fun!

Color + texture = fun!

For all the notes, sketches and supplies I keep stacked in the sewing room, my ideas are a lot like roots and seeds hiding under the ground. With the right amount of rain and sunshine, some of them poke through and flower. Others wait for the next season. It’s sort of like magic, until the hard work of growing the project begins.

Finished with fish

May 31, 2012

I only accomplished one thing in the sewing room this week, but that’s enough. Here is my Progressive fish quilt:


I might call this Fish ‘N Cat

The binding was chosen from fabric I could reach, but I think it works well.

I haven’t found my notes on the quilt yet, but it is possible that the top was started twenty years ago. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was waiting for the perfect quilting pattern to come along. In the last two decades I’ve finally learned that perfect doesn’t exist. I’ve also learned enough about machine quilting that I’m pleased with the outcome.

Here is a detail:

I still have the label and sleeve to make, but since I’ve got to show it at Challenge next week, I know the quilt won’t be waiting another twenty years to be called done. Time now for my happy dance.

This Week in the Sewing Room . . .

January 4, 2012

Although it is only the fourth day of the year, I feel as if I will never catch up. I’ve seen several blogs encouraging readers to find a word to inspire them for the coming year. Suggestions have included create, breathe, dare. I would need three words – run and hide.

There is still a path through the sewing room, and I did finish my block for the Progressive Party this week (Sunbonnet Sue on the Stripper Pole – don’t ask), so I can claim a bit of success. I had hoped to have my sister-in-law’s bag/coat finished by the end of the year – which didn’t happen – but it is coming along. I have changed the design and each step requires me to sew a little, think a little, sew a little, think a little, sew, sew, sew, think a lot, sew a little bit.

One new project will be aprons for my kids. Both of them have decided it is dorkier to go around with tomato sauce stains on their favorite shirts than to wear an apron. I started pulling out my food-themed fabric.

I know I have more, but this is what I could get my hands on immediately.

Now I need to find a hiding place. The piles in the sewing room are taunting me.

Steps Along the Way

April 6, 2011

You would think that with all the books of patterns I own choosing the right quilt design for my top wouldn’t be an issue. You would be wrong. Perhaps that is why I have a hundred unquilted tops in my sewing room.

Still, the quilt show is at the end of this month and I committed myself to three finished pieces. One is waiting for a binding, the other two for inspiration. This week, inspiration decided to pay a visit.

I warmed up on my appliqued and embroidered heart quilt. Finding appropriate backing fabric gave me a sense of power, which lasted until I sandwiched the project. No quilt pattern seemed appropriate, so I fell back on everyone’s favorite stand-by. Yes, loop-de-loops and outline quilting to the rescue. Since I’m still in process, I’ll only show a detail of the front and the backings now (which also gives me more time to figure out how to get better shots of the quilting with my new camera).

Next I brought out Taj Mahal. Since the fabric carries all the weight, I decided to do simple doodles and outlines. I showed the backing fabric last week, I know, but I’m still inordinately proud of myself for finding it so I’m showing it again.

Last of all came Dogs and Cats. This is another Progressive project, one that my husband decided would make a great couch quilt. I found a nice plaid flannel for it, and decided to try a bit more than loops and squiggles. The first motif I tried was my stylized Scots thistle, something I put on every quilt. Usually I hide it somewhere, but for this quilt I decided to be bold:

The next creative hurdle is the binding for each quilt. I’m hoping to finish that by next week so I have time to do some embellishment. I was reminded, however, that regardless of deadlines, we need to work mindfully. Thea McCurry ( sent me a terrific fabric post card.

The back reads: “This card is red – in honor of the blood we shed in pursuit of rotary cutting- skills, speed, safety!” I took this as a sign to remind my class last night about safety with the rotary cutter, but I think I will expand it for myself. No matter how much I might want to embellish these quilts for the show, it doesn’t help if I bead myself to the project because I’m not as mindful as I ought to be. As much as it is a contradiction in terms, find a way to be bold and careful this week.

The Finishing Spree

January 12, 2011

I had a deadline this week – make a tote bag for a gift. The kit I bought could be used for two totes if I altered the instructions slightly, so I did. I made my deadline, and decided to finish up the second tote for me:

Finishing something gave me such a rush of endorphins I decided to pull out some of the UFOs that were within an hour of being done and see how far I could get. First on the list was the GPS bag. My son reminded me that we make our own reality, and if I used the “getting lost” fabric that’s what would happen. My daughter said the balloons wouldn’t work either, so I used fish:

I don’t have pet fish, and I’m a vegetarian so I don’t go fishing, but I really like fish fabric. I don’t even know what kind of fish these are (trout?), but they’re pretty and they’re on their way to someplace wonderful.

Next were two chenille bags. Why chenille? My friend Ann Anastasio and I wrote a novel about quilters saving the world from space invaders called Death By Chenille. I thought it would be fun to carry copies of the book in chenille totes. They languished on my shelf for quite some time, which is actually fine because the book has languished, too (we’re still looking for an agent).

The first bag languished because I tried to make a fancier pocket than usual, and it didn’t quite work. It needed some sort of clasp to make it useful. Without realizing, I had bought the perfect clasp months ago, so on it went:

The second bag languished because it needed a pocket and after the disaster with the previous pocket I was stumped. Today, I just sewed on the first thing that came to hand and called it good.

The pocket still needs something – a button maybe – but for the most part the bag is finished. If my son is correct, and we do to some extent create our own reality, perhaps this will be End of the UFO Year, or at least Beginning of the End of the UFO Year.

Bragging Rights

November 24, 2010

The Ganesh quilt wasn’t quite finished in time for last week’s post, so here is the end result:

Done is beautiful

I am insufferably pleased with myself over this project. It was finished on time, it looks great, the friends who commissioned me (and worked with me throughout the design process) love it, and I was able to make a bag and label for it from the scraps!

Quilt trimmings on the side

Trim from the quilt on the top

So, in honor of the season, I am putting this out to the world as my Thanksgiving offering, a project of which I am proud and for which I am grateful to the quilting goddesses that everything worked out well.


September 22, 2010

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!