April 30, 2011

A whole lotta pink

It's safe to say I have a difficult relationship with the color pink. But I just got this quilt from my grandma and hardly even noticed the pink, it's that awesome.

My grandma says the quilt is an antique. I'm not sure how old that means, and there's no label or anything. It's an alphabet sampler that's been in my grandma's possession for at least 20 years. It used to lay on a twin bed in my grandparents' guest bedroom and I remember studying it for long stretches of time as a girl, figuring out the pictures, and discerning how they were made.

Seeing it again fills me with emotion. I can't wait till our daughter has a bigger bed (it dwarfs her teeny toddler bed) so she can use it. I'm so honored that my grandma gave it to us. When I received it I checked with her that she was ok with us giving the quilt daily use, knowing that it would inevitably see further wear. She said, "Well, I don't see much point to this whole thing if no one uses the quilts we make." I love it! My thoughts exactly.

I think about my own style of applique and how surely this quilt was one of the first appliqued quilts I'd ever seen. I love non-fussy pictorial applique and maybe this quilt has something to do with it. Primacy is powerful.

The piecing and applique and embroidery are all done by hand. It is machine quilted. I wonder about the person who took all these tiny stitches by hand. Was she making it for someone she loved? Did she get to complete her quilt or did the top find its way into another quilter's hands?

The fabric is so very soft, as old quilts get. Most of the colors are still vivid but the green of this tree has faded away completely.

My daughter is already enjoying identifying the pictures. And hiding under it.

I recently learned Grandma's visiting the blog regularly now, so I want to say again, thank you so much Grandma! What a beautiful, loving gift. Thank you for introducing me to the world of quilting, for sending me your scraps, for knowing about everything cool before I do, and for always being so encouraging about the quilts I make. I'm so lucky to know you, learn from you and be loved by you.

April 29, 2011


Everything around me seems to have meaning right now. Even the uncomfortable stuff. I feel like I am in living a giant poem. I don't know how long the poem is or what the rhymes will be, but I expect it will turn out beautiful and perfect somehow.

You are allowed to remind me of this next week when I whine about the things that I whine about.

I enjoyed reading and responding to the thoughtful and intriguing comments on the words quilter and artist. If you have time you might want to read them all here. If you left a comment and didn't get a response from me you are a no-reply blogger! If you want to change that, here's how.

I had a hand stitching marathon and the top of the wedding quilt is finished. With all this stitching I've really gotten back in my applique groove. My stitches got faster and smaller as I worked! I can tell by looking at the back which ring was stitched first and which last.

Next I need to complete the quilt back. My intent was to use the rest of the odd sized wedding fabrics for the back. That is going to be soooo much more work than just using yardage. I really want to complete this by July for our anniversary and I do need to leave time to quilt it. I'm going to decide on the back this week and get busy either way. I hope you are all having a good week, quilters, artists, quilter/artists, artist/quilters, quilter/engineer/artists and human/friends.

April 28, 2011

Quilters and artists

I said I would make this, and I did! Alas, it came out the wrong size. I fear I cannot be trusted to print things correctly off the internet. Oh well.

My grandma recently said something to me about my quilting. It went like "You can do that sort of thing because you're an artist". I asked if she thought of herself as an artist and she said "I wasn't raised that way". It made me stop.

Hmmm. What do you think quilters? Are we artists?

I definitely consider myself a quilter, because it gives me a sense of kinship with all you other quilters. It connects me to the quilters who came before me, and the ones who will come after us. It means something. I make quilts. I am a quilter.

But I also like thinking of myself as an artist. It gives me a little breathing room. It lets me give up whatever assumptions about quilting don't suit me. That quilting must have precision. That quilts are always made of blocks. That if you don't know how to do this or that then you're not a "good" quilter. When I think of myself as an artist it allows me to define my art form, my standards for my work, whether or not I am advancing, and in what direction.

I've seen and used and loved my grandma's quilts and I'd say she's an artist. How about you? Are you a quilter, artist, both?

April 25, 2011

Tutorial: Fabric envelopes

I've made these fabric interoffice-style envelopes with one goal in mind: FLATness. All the methods I've employed were to make them flat flat flat like a real envelope. Feel free to adapt it to your own needs and do what works for you! (a post about my inspiration is here)

In addition to your standard sewing supplies you need:
  • A mailing envelope opened up to use as your pattern
  • A pen or pencil
  • a fat quarter of fabric for the outside of the envelope
  • a scrap of fabric about 4 x 10 inches for the inside flap
  • A fat-quarter sized piece of stiff fusible stabilizer. I had some Pellon decor bond so I used that.
  • Steam a Seam 2, 1/4" wide, or other skinny fusible web
  • Fabric glue
  • A bit of string or ribbon about 13" long
  • 2 buttons

Trace around your envelope onto the non-fusible side of your stabilizer. Cut out. Don't worry about wrinkles or folds.

Iron the stabilizer to the wrong side of your main fabric, making sure there aren't any little threads between them that might show through. Trim off the excess fabric.

Now find the middle of the top flap and make a mark there on the stabilizer. Glue one inch of your string here.

Now you'll be gluing down your contrast fabric for the inside flap. I put glue all around the flap edge and along the bottom of the scrap of fabric. After this picture I smeared the glue thin with my finger using a light touch so the glue wouldn't soak through.

I pressed it to make sure it was as flat as possible. Then I added a little glue along the sides where they weren't already glued down.

Flip it over so you can cut off the excess lining fabric without chopping off your string. Use a close zigzag to finish the edges.

Then start folding. I would suggest pressing down the top flap first so you get it nice and flat without having to iron it over the other stuff. I figured this out after I'd already missed my chance to do it this way.

Use the Steam a Seam to join the center seam and then the bottom flap.

Sew your buttons by hand, one to the top flap, one just below. It's easier to keep your stitches neat on the reverse if you use two-hole buttons.

I'd say it took me about an hour to make one. Well, one hour and one week because I didn't like any of my buttons at home and had to make a special trip to the sewing store.

I am trying to think of something awesome to give to someone awesome in one of these awesome envelopes now. If you make one I hope that you feel like a rock star when you use it!

April 23, 2011

A tactic

Today I figured out a way to get a straight on picture of a largeish quilt without the cooperation of any tall people.

Mother nature's cooperation is still required. And one must impress upon all short people present the necessity of staying off the quilt for just-a-minute-while-mama-takes-a-picture.

But it works! I didn't want to keep the discovery to myself - hope it helps someone else!

April 21, 2011

Modern Log Cabin Quilting book winner

It's MissMary of Lillian's Stitches blog!

Thanks again to Susan Beal and Potter Craft for hosting the giveaway. The Portland Modern Quilt Guild got to hear Susan's great presentation on the history and possibilities of this block at tonight's meeting and it was wonderful!

I've spent most of this week burning grilled cheese sandwiches and sewing things up at the wrong size so I'm gonna go drown my sorrows in some strawberries.

April 18, 2011

Modern Log Cabin Quilting

Today is a blog tour stop for the book Modern Log Cabin Quilting by Susan Beal

Susan is a new friend and fellow member of the Portland Modern Quilt Guild. When she asked if I would like to host a stop on the blog tour I said yes on one condition: that I could hold her adorable infant son at the next PMQG meeting. Susan played along with my crazy baby holding schemes and I'm honored to get to share her book with you!

The book includes an exploration of the log cabin block's history, variations and settings. Basic instructions for log cabin blocks are included, and then projects with specific instructions follow. This quilt is one of my favorites:

Susan brought it to a guild meeting, and the group gasped when she showed it!

The book includes large quilts...

and smaller projects...

Susan embraces a variety of patchwork styles and skill levels. I enjoyed her eclectic use of fabrics and surprising settings. Susan helps you see just how versatile the log cabin block is for its ease and speed and shares some variations you might have never considered, like the quilt on the cover. Yes, it's made from log cabin blocks!

We are lucky to have Susan presenting at this month's PMQG meeting on April 21st. If you're in town you should join us! In town or not, I'm pleased to say that Potter Craft is sharing a copy of Modern Log Cabin Quilting for me to give away here. To enter the drawing, please leave a comment below! I'll draw the winner on Wednesday April 20th.

April 07, 2011

A Monochromatic Quilt: Construction, Quilting and Reveal

So in the last installment our heroine had arrived at the end of a path that she knew well (piecing things together wildly and then rearranging them for days) and was looking down a path she didn't (sewing with precision a bunch of stuff that doesn't line up nicely). Throughout this process I ended up saying two things over and over to myself.

1) Stop obsessing
2) Why do you have to make such complicated quilts?

I had a lot of time with those strips to ponder that second one. And I think I came to realize that I simply enjoy the process of discovery. I think if I knew exactly what a quilt would look like before I set out, then constructing it would feel to me like merely a set of tasks. If I discover the quilt as I create it, overcoming challenges along the way, I feel like I'm on an adventure. It can be a painful adventure sometimes, and it certainly takes me a lot longer to make a quilt than other quilters, but I feel a thrill at seeing how it all plays out. Now, I'm not valuing my process over that of someone else who likes to go by a precise pattern. I'm just sharing insight into my own approach and motivations in this art form. So maybe the next time I get lost down a rabbit hole I'll be easier on myself about it.

This picture doesn't even make sense. But it's the only one I took during this stage and I just can't stand paragraphs and paragraphs without pictures. So there we are. 

My main process for constructing the top was to pick two pieces to sew together. I would start by making sure the two pieces were the same width or height as necessary by adding background fabric as needed.  Then I would measure the distance between them, add one inch for seam allowances and sew them together. And repeat. I hope I made that sound really really slow, because it was.

All the pieces remained on the design wall unless I was sewing them, and when putting them back on the wall I referred regularly to the picture on my phone, so things shifted as little as possible. The way I constructed it, the strips held their same absolute position on the wall, but of course when piecing with the background fabric, the strips got relatively smaller due to seam allowances, and the spaces between them got relatively larger. I was anticipating that when I laid them out so I had tried to crowd them together a bit closer than I wanted them to end up. 

I constructed long columns, and sewed those columns together. Sort of like this:

It was all indigo as far as the eye could see. Strips of all widths, varying by as little as 1/8". 

I guess I never took a picture of the completed top before quilting. When I thought about how to quilt it, I knew I didn't want to quilt over those strips. I wanted the light colors to be gleaming and sort of pop out from the dark, and I thought quilting over them would make them recede and flatten out. I decided to quilt with straight vertical lines in the indigo. But anytime a straight line traveled against a pieced strip, I would take the quilting off into each little indigo section I passed. This pushed the darker fabric back and let each blue pop forward a little bit: a subtle effect, but worth it I think. That technique is why I decided to use free motion quilting for the lines. It worked well enough for my needs, though there are plenty of wobbles. You can see the quilting pattern more clearly on the back.

I like this picture because it shows that "pop" that the blues are doing. Oh, and the kid is pretty cute too.

And that's how it turned out! I know, another floor picture. I swear it's as good as I could get with all this interminable rain and the shortage of adults and good lighting.

I love it. I kind of babbled about it when I brought it to show at the Portland Modern Quilt Guild meeting. It meant so much to me for other quilters to appreciate it. "It turned out great!" "It totally looks like the Matrix!"  Another quilter even hugged me over my excitement about this quilt. It feels so good to have people to share this kind of joy with.  It's fun to share it here too for the same reason!

A few of my friends called this "the waterfall quilt", so because of that and my warm love for the Pacific Northwest that is our home, I've named the quilt Cascade. It's 65x80 inches. I'm looking forward to seeing it on the wall tonight at PNCA with so many other beautiful quilts.  (Who knows, maybe I'll even get a straight-on picture!). Thanks for all the love and good vibes about these process posts, I'm so happy to not have any secrets from you anymore.

April 06, 2011

A Monochromatic Quilt: Design

This is the second of my posts on making my latest quilt. The first one is here.

When I was done piecing my strips my husband told me they looked like paint chips on the design wall. I realized that I needed a dark background to work with in order to visualize the layout. I decided to replace my normal flannel-backed tablecloth design wall with some black batting, and then use the batting for the quilt. So I went the the store and discovered that if a person wants black batting, that person will have two choices: polyester or polyester. I momentarily mourned the loss of shrinky rumpliness but went on ahead with the polyester. I'm in a mood for experimenting with different battings anyway.

I pinned the batting to my wall and tossed the strips up there. Much easier to see the design come forth. But that layout was not at all right. I made uncountable changes and took hundreds of pictures that basically looked exactly the same. I'll spare you. I couldn't get a layout that had everything I was looking for: depth and sparkle and motion. It seemed... flat.
I started to freak out and considered abandoning the idea. Like so:

But I gathered my wits about me and tried again. This time I focused on the lightest squares at the end of the strips, working to distribute them in a pleasing configuration. This worked.

It's only looking at it now that I see the obvious differences between my original rough sketch and what I came up with on the design wall. It just didn't have the "pow" factor for me without those large empty spaces on the sides.

Now big news! The finished quilt will be on display this month in Gallery 214 at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. There's a first Thursday celebration there tomorrow April 7, from 5:30-7:30pm. If you're in town I hope you'll come by to see some great modern quilts from the Portland Modern Quilt Guild and enjoy some food and drink, including my lemon ginger cupcakes. The show will stay up until April 21st.

Up next: Construction.

April 05, 2011

A Monochromatic Quilt: Inspiration

This is a three part series going through the development of my latest quilt from start to finish. I made the quilt for submission into Project Modern Challenge 2. Now that the entries are all in I'm ready to share the quilt. I want to blog about it while I still feel like it's The Most Awesome Thing I've Ever Made, which means before all the Significantly More Awesome And Completely Humbling entries are revealed on April 15th.

For the first couple of weeks after the challenge was announced, I felt complete distress at the idea of a monochromatic quilt and figured I just wouldn't enter a quilt in this round. I grasped pretty early on that this was sort of about color but very much about value. I just couldn't think of anything I thought would be better as a monochromatic quilt than a multicolored quilt. I toyed with a few ideas, none of which interested me. Until one day I saw this at the local taco cart:

I was intrigued with the sparkly look and thought it could make a neat cross quilt. I liked the idea of crosses sprinkling downward. I sketched out something but it didn't have oopmh.

I thought it might be more interesting if the stars were falling in columns. "Like in The Matrix" I thought to myself. And I stopped. And it dawned on me. The Matrix. The image of code streaming downward in sparkling columns was vivid in my mind. And I forgot all about the crosses, and about the contest even. I knew in an instant how I would approach it. I picked words to describe what I wanted: depth, sparkle, motion.

I decided on blue as my color after seeing this picture during my research, and picked a range of Kona solids that would read as a single gradient. It wasn't seamless. But as luck would have it, I found in my stash some gradient blue fabric that filled in the gaps well enough.

For the background I chose Indigo, which was so dark it might as well have been black. Maybe a lighter blue would have been more in the spirit of the contest but I had that vision and I wasn't about to water it down.

The piece of gradient print I had was 9 inches wide so I cut all the other fabric into 9 inch strips as well, from 3/4" to 2.5" wide. I laid the indigo in the middle of a shoe box and the other colors in progressive order over the edges and just pieced them together rapid fire into columns that went from light to dark.

Sometimes I used two of each color before moving on to the next color. It was all very intuitive and non-rulesy. There were small columns and very long columns. I only took one picture of that step, and the only thing it shows you is that I hate pressing. 

Eventually I got bored decided I'd pieced enough and stopped, (with plenty of strips remaining in that shoe box). I pressed them and sliced them and tossed them up on my design wall. Next: Design.

April 03, 2011


To: you
From: me
Re: making things out of fabric that aren't normally made out of fabric

My inspiration for this little project was a simple fabric envelope that was made by Nireko Ohira (from Lecien), out of fabric designed by Monica of Happy Zombie. Monica enthralled us awhile ago at a PMQG meeting and included Nireko's envelope in her parade of beautiful fabrics and quilts. It made quite an impression on me.

I used interfacing for a papery stiffness and buttons to make it look like an interoffice envelope. I love those things. Winding the little string around just gets me.

I took some pictures of the process but they are haphazard at best, so I'll make another one to show you the details soon(ish).