December 23, 2008

Never again

It is with great joy and relief that I announce the completion of this commissioned quilt. I took it on just before conceiving and now, a mere two weeks shy of my due date, every last stitch is done, it is washed, and I can lovingly place it in a box to New York.

Except for the left edge at which the quilting puckers inexplicably, I am pleased with this quilt. It is very graphic, with a clean design, but still incorporates random piecing which I do so love. I used a vintage quilt top off of eBay for the back and in some moods I think I like the back better. Oh well.

Working on this quilt taught me a lot. Namely, that creating for someone else who is paying you and has a say in the design is wayyyy different that working on what you want, when you want. When the person you're creating for happens to be the founder of Etsy who also commissioned several other quilts on the same theme at the same time, this artist's capacity for self doubt may be amplified beyond all expectations.

Strangely, of all the quilts I've worked on, this one evokes the most stories for me: my first pregnancy, my grandfather's death, my sewing machine's leave of absence. I think I even became a little superstitious about the "protective" theme of the quilt and though I could have completed it a month or so ago, I have managed to hang on to it until the very end of the pregnancy. Maybe I wasn't ready to let go of it's protective powers until baby was full term.

When I couldn't work on this quilt it tortured me. My Etsy shop essentially died in the process, since I didn't feel I could post new sewn items while months overdue on the eye quilt. When I thought I could complete it over several weeks my asking price seemed fair. Now that it has taken me several months I know my labor (mental and physical!) was worth three times as much, or more. In the end though, I had money for fixing the broken sewing machine and getting a stash of cloth diapers together for the little one. And I learned something very important - I'd rather create for me than someone else. I guess that's a good thing for an artist to be clear about. So thank you quilt, for teaching me so much. I hope your new owner appreciates you.

November 30, 2008

Where Mama's Been - Quilting!

I don't know if I can express my delight at having finally completed this Old Mac Donald group quilt. This quilt got me stuck so many times. The baby it was made for is almost 13 months old! One problem I encountered was getting utterly stuck on the back. Nothing seemed right. I finally decided to do the free pieced letters, but that was basically making two quilts. Another excuse for the long gestation of this quilt is that my Bernina was dead for about 5 months and the Singer won't free motion quilt (yet). Bernie's back now though! She is a little more finicky about tension than previously and many swear words were uttered during the quilting process.

It felt so good to give it to my mama friend today. Everyone did such a great job on their squares, and in the end I am really proud of it and know that it's a one of a kind piece of art. She tells me her son loves it when she sings "Old Mac Donald" so it is worth all the extra effort for that backside. When quilting I used a pale green thread in the bobbin. I really liked not having to change the bobbin thread when I changed the top thread. It made things go much quicker. My favorite detail is the use of the inset yellow squares with tone on tone four patches. I liked quilting these in the close-set lines, this is something I picked up from flickr quilters!

And yes, there is more quilting news to come. Having one's due date approaching can really get a quilter moving on her WIPs! All this work on quilts for others has me just wanting to sew for myself for a while.

November 09, 2008

Where Mama's Been, Part 2

First I need to brag about my awesome maternity costume for Halloween - I thought for a long time before settling on the giant eyeball. It was so easy to make, easy to change into, and got the smiles and laughs that I hoped for. Bonus, this counts as a belly pic!

Now to continue recapping summer: when we got back from Burning Man I slid seamlessly into a new obsession: prepping for babe. Admittedly, this natural and necessary obsession continues. But it was at its worst at the end of September when I realized how very difficult it will be to keep us in healthy dinners come the holidays and the arrival of our little one sometime around then. I decided we could make meals and freeze for later. I could hardly sleep for planning and plotting shopping trips, recipes, cooking. I went on a three week cooking and freezing adventure and have hardly cooked dinner since then. Despite having eaten out of the freezer for the past month it's still got 2-3 weeks worth of meals to give!

I'm really enjoying not having to think about dinner much more than putting it in the fridge the night before and putting it in the oven and setting the timer. And now that we've figured out what recipes work and what don't, I plan to do another major cooking weekend after Thanksgiving to keep us from living on pizza and burritos when bebe shows up. Favorites so far: stuffed peppers, chicken pot pie, moussaka, stuffed shells and any of a number of chicken breast recipes.

And then of course there was learning all about cloth diapers and madly planning which styles we should try. Reading reviews, making lists, comparing costs, ordering from assorted online retailers. When the diapers showed up in their boxes and bags, I had to spend about two hours fondling them and snapping/unsnapping/velcroing/unvelcroing the things over and over. For some reason I haven't managed to take a picture of these.

Finally, I've been combing the kids resale shops and buying colorful baby clothes. I've been scouring Craigslist for a co-sleeper, searching high and low for a vintage dresser/changing table (found and found!) and turning my penchant for reconstructed clothing towards baby hats and booties.

See you next week for my final installment of Where Mama's Been!

October 31, 2008

Where Mama's Been, Part 1

Three month end of summer hiatus to the blog, huh? My apologies. I have an alarming tendency toward serial obsessions.

Let's start with the first. The end of August took us to the middle of the desert for the Burning Man festival. I mean, what woman halfway through her pregnancy wouldn't want to freeze on the ground every night, sweat the entire day and eat out of a cooler for a week? We really did have a great time, with me and my pudgy getting self always at the back of the pack slowing everyone down. It was over this week that hubby felt the little widget kick for the first time, what a sweet moment.

We (hubby and I and the friends we traveled with) built our own yurt, under my direction. Planning that bad boy took the better part of my brain for three weeks and threatened marital stability (let's just say neither of us is used to me being in charge of a construction project). Eventually though, a pile of wood, bamboo, rope, canvas and bungees became our portable home for a week. I was, and am, immensely proud of this achievement. How many people can say they have a yurt in their garage??? If you want to build your own yurt, I came up with our plans using these instructions and this immensely helpful yurt calculator.

The yurt was 14 feet in diameter, 8 feet at its highest point, and 5.5 feet at the outside wall. It barely budged in the strong winds toward the end of the week. It cost about $300 to build, including all the bungees and canvas. It took two dedicated weekends from the four of us. We used 1x2 from the hardward store, nylon rope, recycled 2x4s for the door frame, and a 4x4 for the top ring. The only specialty tool required was a radial arm saw. The rest was done with a drill and our hands! Our friends took care of making the cover, which was a beast. Thank goodness, I would have drowned in all that canvas at my sewing machine.

The view up at the ceiling was so peaceful, especially at night. Check out the solar night lights casting their subtle warm glow!

July 27, 2008

Welcome Mattie

My sewing drought is over, with this new acquisition, a newly serviced 1951 Singer 401A Slant-o-matic. I'm calling her "Mattie". Mattie is a real powerhouse, (just like Bernie will be again when I find a sewing machine surgeon I trust!) although it seems she has something against free motion quilting. We'll see if the thread stops breaking when I change the needle later this week. Luckily, my commissioned quilt doesn't require free motion work so I am finally working on that again.

Don't you love the details on older things? It is strange getting used to the different pedal on this machine and the new "rhythm". For instance, where the Bernina stops stitching immediately when my foot comes off the pedal, this one slows down to a stop more gradually.

I hope to have a post with that eye quilt completed this week. Besides being motivated by the new machine, the time has come to start building a yurt to shade my preggo self, (and my campmates) at Burning Man next month! We went to Burning Man last year and I'm so thrilled we've decided to go this year. Mattie showed up just in time to sew some canvas covering for the yurt and some crazy costumes for the festival!

July 21, 2008

Garden Bounty

My first big harvest of the year! The beets are ready, the first beans have ripened and the potatoes waited in the dirt for me to find them like little red jewels. Everything tastes so fresh and delicious. And cooking with garlic I grew myself is divine!

This is my first year in my community garden plot and I'm learning a lot about the space. It came with a mature grapevine arching over the plot. It shades about half the growing area! And what was beautiful and delicate in the spring became beastly and overgrown in the past few weeks. It was a veritable curtain of grapevines and it took two hours to cut it all back this weekend. Amazingly, there will still be boatloads of grapes to harvest. I'll have to learn more about grapevine maintenance so I trim it right this fall, and hopefully won't need to cut it back in the middle of the growing season next year. This grapevine has been around at least two decades though, so I know I haven't done any long term damage.

The next exciting harvest will be eggplants and tomatoes. Squash is getting ready too!

July 13, 2008

Old MacDonald

This is the quilt back I'm working on for my friend's baby quilt. Uh. It's a group quilt that we originally intended to give at her shower and the kid's 7 months old. My first year out in the real world of being a nurse practitioner has required lots of energy and unfortunately, quilting has suffered. You may remember this picture of the quilt center, before it got borders:

Anyway, what had me stuck for a long time was what to do for the back. Of the dozens of fabrics in my stash, none seemed right. Of the few that I optimistically bought for the task, the same was true. I have never been more stuck on the backing! In some impressionable moment, though, one of you free-piecers of letters out there made me think "Hey!" And since the quilt is all about farm animals, I chose Old MacDonald. Luckily, my mama friend tells me they sing "Old MacDonald" every day and her son loves it! Hooray! Many thanks to Tonya for starting this craze. I really liked making letters and it went much faster than I would have thought. I especially liked using scraps in color groups to keep them from looking too perfect. You know how I dislike too much order!

My machine is still broken so who knows when I will finish this poor overdue quilt. I am pretty mistrustful of both repair stores I've taken my vintage Bernina to. One: "the motor's broken, why don't we show you some new machines?". Other: "It's either the carbon brushes or the pedal, but if you pay to repair it and it still doesn't work we'll give you a credit toward a new machine". I don't care for either of these answers, particularly because they don't match. And I don't want a new machine. I like these heavy, metal old workhorses. So while I scour craigslist and eBay for possible replacements, my grandfather, an electrical engineer, is trying to help me diagnose it over the phone. It seems this will require some "circuit testing" with a multimeter - what an adventure! In the meantime, I'm on the lookout for a place in Portland that repairs old sewing machines but doesn't sell new ones. A pipe dream? We'll see.

P.S. Anyone who went to the show in Sisters I hope you post lots of pictures. I woke up with a raging sore throat, sneezing my head off and had to pass...

July 09, 2008

Thankful Emergence

Hey there! If anyone still reads this blog after my month-long absence, please enjoy this update cleverly integrated into a list of things I'm grateful for!

First off, and inexcusably delayed, I am thankful for receiving this lovely handmade green book sent by April of By Small Means. April is a loving creative mama who had an inspired birthday idea of making gifts during her birthday month and having a give-away on her birthday! Thank you April, this was such a sweet treat. And speaking of sweet treats, do take a moment to salivate over the lovely red and black raspberries from our garden! I'm so thankful for summer finally arriving.

On to the pregnancy: I'm thankful for all the sincere joy and congratulations I've received from you (yes you!) on this exciting development. I'm thankful that I'm no longer nauseated, and thankful that there's only one little fetus in there, despite my secret desire for twins and my uterus being decidedly higher than one would expect at 14 weeks.

And finally, I was a happy recipient of a "Pay It Forward" from Kris at Quilted Simple. Kris is a motivated quilty mama who destroys all my illusions about farm life without destroying my actual wish to have a farm. This lovely quilted table runner/basket liner she created has been gracing my dining room table since I received it a week or so ago. The colors are perfect! I should have also included a picture of the knitted washcloth that accompanied this thoughtful gift, but it also has been pressed into service and is awaiting a wash. I'm thankful for your generosity Kris! And who could ignore that stunning arrangement from our own backyard? I'm thankful for my husband and his compulsion for buying beautiful perennials. Our gardens are a true place of beauty.

So, with all that thankfulness, and my energy returning after my first trimester slump, I am ready to take on the Pay it Forward challenge! If you want to participate, please post something that you're thankful for right now. I'll create a gift for the first three responders. The rules are that I have a year to pony up, and I'm a notorious procrastinator, so you may wait a while. But oh, that's part of the fun! Then when you get your gift, you can pay it forward to three new participants...

June 09, 2008

One out. One in.

While pressing the "publish" button on my last post, my phone was ringing, with the news that my grandfather had died. He was the funniest, happiest person I knew, and the world without him does not seem as grand. I am crabby and out of sorts, worried about my mother, stepfather and grandmother in his absence.

I had intended this next post to be happy news, and it still is. The picture above is my sewn representation of my first-ever, faintly positive pregnancy test that I took weeks ago. Now ten weeks into my pregnancy I've done an ultrasound on myself (to reassure me it wasn't ectopic) and heard the heartbeat, and reassured that things are progressing normally I get to spread the good news. Nausea, yes. Exhaustion, yes. Feeling the shape of my uterus daily, yes. Having to get up at 4 or 5 every morning and eat a banana to be able to go back to sleep, yes yes yes.

So, how ridiculous is it for a person to be pondering, mere hours after her positive test, and before her husband even knows the happy news, "What kind of quilt should I make?". This is a disease, no question! And I so look forward to sharing it with you.

May 27, 2008

The commissioned quilt

Etsy restarted a service called "Alchemy" a few months ago and on it I found someone requesting a 6 foot square wall quilt with a "protective eye". I liked the idea of the quilt and I liked the idea of getting paid for my hobby! So I put a bid in and was accepted. I felt very very special for about five minutes until I figured out that a dozen other bids had also been accepted. Who has enough money to pay for thirteen versions of the same quilt? We'll discuss that later.

I had never made a quilt for money before. I started with a sketch based on what the client's stated vision was. The idea was, a random patchwork background of similar but slightly different blues with the eye suspended roughly in the middle. Quilting in the eye would be spiral, quilting from the eye would radiate out.

The quilt came together really easily. My machine died in the middle of the quilting, as you can see I'm less than halfway through the rays and I still have to finish the spiral quilting on the dark blue.

The person who requested the quilt pretty much ignores my emails. I can only imagine they get lost in a sea of similar emails from 12 other quilters. I guess he's not chomping at the bit and cursing my name.

I have to say I don't think I'll be doing a commissioned quilt again for a long time. It really changed my creative process, having to work within someone else's parameters, and also within the parameters that I set in my own description of my vision for the quilt. It made me feel weird that my quilt would be one of so many others. I ended up feeling like I should be working on the paid quilt instead of other things. So my other quilts and my Etsy shop have stalled while this project has been in my house. I feel stagnant.

Lest I sound like I am only complaining: I was prepaid for the quilt, so at least I have the money to fix the sewing machine! I'm almost done and looking forward to the sense of freedom that will come with shipping this quilt off to it's owner.

May 18, 2008

I'm not dead

But my sewing machine and my camera are. Makes it hard to post to one's sewing blog! I'm so frustrated. Apparently the foot pedal on my Bernina record 830 originally had some overheating problems. My pedal has a "T" sticker on the bottom indicating that it's been fixed but it's a little suspicious that it gave out during our current heat wave! A new pedal costs $140. And I can't be positive that's the source of the problem without a working pedal to test it. What to do...

This is awful timing. I'm supposed to have already completed a commissioned quilt (more on that to come). I tried to take pictures of the stalled project only to find out my computer won't read my camera's memory card! WHAT is going ON?

Happier news to come...

May 09, 2008


My good friend gave birth to her second baby this week. Everything went simply, quickly, at home, as she planned. Everyone is doing great. This baby was two pounds heavier than her first, but she only pushed for 8 minutes, and no tear. The labor went so fast, I'm lucky I got there in time!

The last three years I've only attended hospital births; it was nice to be back in the home setting, stripped of the unneeded technology. It was also a little strange to not be the one catching the baby! Since hubby and I will eventually be in the market for a homebirth, it was the perfect chance to see these particular midwives in action. It made me smile to see all their clogs piled by the door with the oxygen tank. Homebirth is so humble!

Thanks for all the kind comments on my finished quilt. I've been enjoying having this blog. I think it's helped me focus my creative energy. I really appreciate being able to share my work and get feedback from other artists who understand this medium!! So thanks everyone. Hubby's on vacation with the digital camera so I'll give you an update on my projects when he gets back next week.

May 03, 2008

A Big Big Finish!

There has been a lot of excitement this week, and this quilt is no small part! I'm finally finished. The very first quilt I started, over four years ago. At points along the way I thought I would call it "A Holy Mess" or "A Very Bad Idea" but now we're past all that and its title is "Stars and Squares - Grandma's scraps".

When I first discovered quilting did not have to be boring and precise I was visiting my family and my grandma was showing me the vibrant quilts she was working on. We had just moved to Portland, I was finishing my prereqs for nursing school. Money was so tight. She lovingly sent me home with her scraps from recent projects. It included a lot of squares and triangles for a square in a square quilt she had made. I got some more material from cast off cotton clothing at the Goodwill outlet. I organized a fabric trade on (before it died and was later reborn). We each shared 8"x6" scraps. The green fabric with red dots came from someone in Europe. I used every square inch, I loved that fabric so much.

To make the most use of grandma's odd shapes I started sewing things together in a roughly square in a square pattern. I generally used a squareish shape in the middle, a little strip, then the larger square, and more little strips. I used incredibly small pieces in some parts. I got 24 squares that I mostly loved, of all different sizes.

Then I hit a wall. What next? After stewing on it for months I decided I would suspend all these squares on a blue background. I visited quilt shops and bought different blue fabrics, and then went about making the blocks fit together in rows. The scrappiness of the blocks was echoed in the background by much cutting and resewing and interjecting little colorful scraps as well.

I should point out here that the quilts I had seen were pretty much just my grandma's and a couple of quilts by Anna Williams. In retrospect I can really appreciate Anna Williams' influence. Somewhere along the way I realized that this quilt had gotten very long and skinny and possibly not that useful. I tried to use borders to beef the sides up more than the top and bottom, with only minor success. By the time I got to the borders I had checked out Gwen Marston's book from the library. That's the origin of the crazy stars.

I wanted to quilt the quilt myself, by machine. I took a machine quilting class from Kathy Sandbach, and loved it. But I was overwhelmed by the idea of quilting this big piece. So I set it aside, and made 7 or 8 other, smaller and simpler quilts. Now that I'm finished quilting this I have to say I don't know what I was so afraid of. It really wasn't that much harder than any of the baby quilts I've quilted. It's only 60 inches wide, by 86 inches long, so width wise I didn't have so stuff any more quilt under the sewing machine arm than I have before. This size is really not appropriate for any bed. But that's fine because I want it to live on the couch for all to see. Or maybe be our picnic quilt at the park this weekend.

I learned a lot by making this quilt. I keep trying to put it into words, but it's hard. But the lessons are there, in the fabric and the stitches. Resourcefulness, adventure, planning (or the lack of it). I'm a different person than when I started it. Thanks for letting me tell you the story.

April 23, 2008

Easy appliqué with a dryer sheet

I really caught the tutorial bug from Sew, Mama, Sew! This is a tutorial about how to use a dryer sheet to make appliqué easy, quick, and non-scary. You could also use lightweight interfacing if your family doesn't use dryer sheets or if you are sort of a worrywart about your quilting . Your dryer sheet should be USED, and completely free of its fabric softener and chemicals. Tossing it in a load of wash after it's been used in the dryer should do the trick. Don't iron the dryer sheet, it will melt (ask me how I know). Throughout this tutorial, click the pictures to see them larger with glorious detail.

So, to start, gather a piece of scrap paper, a marker, scissors and the dryer sheet.

Draw your design on the paper, at the size you want your finished appliqué to be. Exception: long skinny things (like the beak, as seen below) should be drawn slightly longer and fatter than you intend them to end up.

Now lay the fabric sheet over the drawing. Trace the drawing onto the dryer sheet with the marker. This is the magic of the dryer sheet. It's kind of like fabric and kind of like tracing paper!

Find a piece of fabric big enough to accommodate your design plus 1/4" around. Lay the fabric right side up then put the dryer sheet over it, right side up. I know it seems wrong. Trust me.

Stitch along the pattern line, around the entire design. I prefer to do this step by machine but you can hand stitch just as well if you take small stitches.

Cut the piece out 1/4" from the stitching.

Clip the fabric away from any points. Snip the fabric along any concave curves (On the bird I clipped the crotch, the back of the neck, and under the beak). Skipping this step will cause heartache and gnashing of teeth! Do it!

Now use a sharp scissors to cut a slice just in the dryer sheet and not the fabric. Turn the piece right side out through this hole. No worries if you rip the slice farther, just try to keep the dryer sheet intact where it meets the fabric. The dryer sheet is going to end up sandwiched between your appliqué and your backing, so don't give it much mind.

See how all the raw edges are behind the fabric sheet? Now they can't shred when you're appliquéing!

Iron the appliqué from the fabric side to make it nice and flat. See how nicely it matches the original drawing!

Now you are ready to attach the appliqué to whatever backing you wish. If you already know how to appliqué, I hope you enjoyed the dryer sheet trick! If you don't know how to appliqué, read on... Put your appliqué where you want it and pin it down.

Thread a sharp needle. Knot the end of the thread. Bring the needle up from the wrong side of the backing, directly next to the appliqué. Reminder : enlarge these pictures by clicking on them if you need more detail.

Now put the point of the needle inside the folded edge of the appliqué, right next to where the thread is coming up from the backing.

Bring the needle back out of the folded edge of the appliqué, making a stitch about 1/4". Pull your thread through.

Now you are going to take a stitch below the backing WITHOUT turning your work over. Put the needle in the backing directly beneath where the thread is coming out of the appliqué.

Bring the needle back up, directly next to the appliqué, making a stitch about 1/4". Pull the needle through.

These are the only two stitches involved in appliqué. A stitch inside the folded edge of the appliqué...

Alternated with a stitch behind the backing... Whenever the thread comes up out of one fabric, it dives directly into the other fabric, so you end up seeing very little of the thread. It is always either traveling behind the folded edge of the appliqué or traveling beneath the backing.

Eventually you will realize that you can take a stitch in the applique, then go right into the stitch behind the backing, without pulling the thread through between stitches.

I like to make sure there is always a stitch right at any corner, to keep the appliqué well secured.

When you get back to where you started, take the needle beneath the backing, turn your work over and tie your thread off. You should see a dashed line of stitches in the outline of your applique.

And you're done. Hope that helped... Now, how about this rocking bird skirt!