My Summer Quilt

Yes, I know its almost Halloween, a little belated to be posting my “summer” quilt, but I did actually complete a quilt this summer.

Last winter, I got inspired to use up some of my fabric stash. I pulled out stacks of fabrics and cut out all the strips and rectangles for two different quilts. One of them is still a pile of now dusty strips on the end of my sewing table. The other one is actually done!

Seeing as I’m a teacher . . . on vacation in the summer . . . I probably should have gotten both of these quilts done, but I didn’t. The one I did finish took awhile though.

The pattern is the “Cobblestone” quilt from the book Scrappy Firework Quilts by Edyta Sitar. It’s a great collection of patterns for scrappy traditional quilts.

I chose to do it in brights and it ended up not looking like a cobblestone street, but more like some sort of digital matrix. This was a fun project to play with the fabrics and work with their values rather than their colors. I’m not super happy with how the middle left side turned out. It kind of mushes together, but I didn’t realize that until it was all sewed together. I wasn’t about to pull it out to add some more darks to it.

My Matrix Quilt

My Matrix Quilt

I’m not going to put a border on it, as I like how it looks as is, and it’s not getting quilted anytime soon either. I have no more beds for the quilt tops I’ve made, so its going into a tub under my bed until I have a home for it. I’ve learned that when you live in a small house like I do, unquilted quilts are easier to store than quilted ones.

Home Sweet Home

A close-up of the center applique panel. I love how it looks with the scrappy blocks.

Between hockey tournaments, track meets, Speech and Debate tournaments, my sister trip, and various family commitments, I have been home for a grand total of three weekends since the beginning of February. My life has been ridiculously busy and while it has been fun, I haven’t had a whole lot of quilting or writing time.

Normally, we’d do something fun and go camping on Memorial Day weekend, but this year, it was prom weekend and with two kids in high school, we got to stay home!! I was soo happy!!

It was all about the hair, the clothes, and the dates . . . until they left. Then, it was all about actually finishing a quilt top and parking my butt in a chair with my lap top and writing. I actually got to say hi to my husband too. It made for a great holiday weekend.

I finished the center of this quilt applique on a road trip a few weeks ago, and I had finished all of the blocks last fall. I finally got all the sashing in and the whole center put together a week or so ago.  At that point, I discovered that I not only didn’t have enough fabric, but that I had cut the selvage off of the fabric I did have and I had no idea how to get more. Thankfully, a brilliant woman in a Reno quilt shop (I was on another trip to another sporting event) identified it correctly, so I could order some. The only place I could find any was from a quilt shop somewhere in Minnesota – thank God for the internet!

No borders yet!

I could have left it without borders, but I wanted it a little bit bigger. I also wanted the blocks to “float” a little more in the quilt’s center. Happily, the fabric arrived on Friday, just in time for my three whole days at home. I got the borders on this morning, and I like how it looks.

Now, it just needs some quilting, and it can go on the bed. One UFO down, nine to go!

Folk Art Applique

One benefit of living in rural America is that when my kids have sporting events, we don’t just jump in the car for a 20 minute drive down the road. Nope, that would be too easy. We book a hotel, load up the truck and head four or five hours down the freeway. My daughter ran in the regional track meet this past weekend (with the idea of regional being relative), so we spent about eight hours in the car to watch her run in two races, a grand total of four and a half minutes.

Why is this a benefit of living in rural America you might be asking? Its a benefit because I actually get to sit and do things like: talk to my husband, read a book, or as the case this past weekend, pick up a quilt project from last summer and do some handwork.

The tips of my fingers hurt and are filled with little holes since I forgot a thimble, but I actually finished the center applique panel of a quilt. A miracle might happen this week, and I just might finish the whole thing.

When I first started, I wanted to create an applique with a folk art feel.  I couldn’t decide on the traditional solid black background or the dotted one, but I ultimately decided on the polka dot. It’s much more fun.

           

I meant to take pics of the progress, but that was really difficult to do in the truck, and I’ll be honest, I forgot to. I’ve done lots of applique, but I think this is one of my favorites. The pattern is a modification of one that I found in Elly Sienkiewicz’s book Applique 12 Easy Ways. It’s great resource for any type of applique you might be interested in.

Here’s the final block.  I used scrap fabric for the flowers and hearts and I like how it adds to the folk art feel of it.  I also decided not to use the bright orange I had originally picked out for the flowers. Instead I used a dark read on the big flower and didn’t use any solid on the smaller flowers. It was getting too busy.

It’s been a fun project, even though its taken months to finish.  Now I just need to figure out what I’m going to work on this weekend, since its back across the state for another race.

Seven Questions You Should Never Ask a Quilter

If you have a friend or loved one who quilts, and you would one day like to be the recipient of a lovely cherished heirloom, don’t ever ask them any of the following questions.  You may never get a quilt.

1.  “Why would you want to cut up perfectly good fabric just so you can sew it all back together again in another big piece?  What was wrong with it to begin with?”

 My dear husband asked me this when I first started quilting.  At the time, I didn’t really have a good answer for him because in some sense, his logical engineering brain came up with a good point.  If I recall correctly, I just stared him down.  He hasn’t asked that again.  Apparently he likes all the quilts around the house.

 2.   “You know that quilt you gave me? The cats love it.  I can’t get them off of it!  It’s their favorite place to sleep.”

The person who says this gets permanently removed from your quilting gift list.

 3.  “Is that supposed to look like that?”

This is a question that has different responses depending on who asks it.  If it’s a really good quilting buddy who asks it, you can safely assume whatever “it” is, looks like crap and needs fixing.  If it’s a non-quilter, you can safely assume they are lame and have no idea what they are looking at/talking about anyway.  You’re quilt is fine. Nod your head, smile, say “yes, it is supposed to look like that, thanks.”  Move ahead and consider scratching them from your quilting gift list as well.

 4.  “I needed to wrap a package and couldn’t find any scissors so I just grabbed those ones out of your sewing room to cut all the wrapping paper. Don’t my presents look great?”

This generally comes from a loved one who must be temporarily (or possibly permanently) banned from the sewing area.  See my post “Scissor Slut” for more on the sacred status of scissors.

 5.  “Did you ever finish that one quilt you started a long time ago that you were telling me about?”

I work on quilts based on whatever I feel like working on; hence, my giant pile of unfinished projects.  As a result, this is another one with two potential responses.  If it’s done, you say, “Yes, I did.  I gave it to _____________.  If I’d have known you loved it so much, I would have given it to you!  Bummer.”  Or, if it’s not done, you say, “Nope.  I got sick of it.  Hope you weren’t planning on snuggling up in it anytime soon.”

 6.  “Why do you need more fabric? Don’t you have enough?”

Only husbands (or at least the person you share a checking account with) asks this question.  It is not worthy of an answer, merely another stare down.  If my husband asks twice, I just have to ask if he really needs another gun. He’s an avid hunter, and I think one or two guns would kill whatever he’s hunting just fine, but what do I know? Since this question generally silences him on the amount of fabric I need, I would say that I clearly don’t know much about guns or hunting.  In fact, I know guns like he knows fabric.  ‘Nuff said.  

 7.  “How long are you going to take at the quilt shop?”

Another question from the love of my life.  My answer?  It could be hours buddy.  You better just drop me off and leave. . . . Love you!

Giving is Way More Fun than Receiving

Happy Ocean Sunshine Quilt

This week I finished another “UFO” or unfinished quilt.  This is one my friend Teresa and I started probably six years ago.  We chose the pattern and began construction for a dear friend.  Life managed to get in the way, and we didn’t finish it.  Three years ago (or so) we pulled it out and decided to work on it again, but life intervened one more time and back into the basket the quilt went.

We forgot about it until this last summer, when we both decided to finish some of our UFO’s and the beach quilt came out again.  We’ve passed it back and forth since last summer without making too much progress. We finally got the middle done and the border pieces cut and stalled . . . yet again.  Three weeks ago, Lisa, the intended recipient of the quilt, posted on Facebook about a hard day she had.  It was time to pull the quilt out again and complete it.  Lisa clearly needed it, and we got inspired to get it done.

We finally finished and got a rush job on the machine quilting.  I got the binding and label attached, and Teresa hand stitched the binding down in record time.  Tonight, we presented the quilt to our friend, Lisa.  All day, I have looked forward to giving it to her, and it was the high point of my day.  It made all of us cry.

This quilt is probably one of the happiest quilts I have ever made.  Every part of it smiles.  My philosophy when it comes to quilts is the more fabric the better.  Teresa, my partner in this project, has never made a super scrappy quilt and had a really hard time sewing together all the different fabrics.  I kept encouraging her and it turned out great – she even agreed.  If we’d done it all “matchy-matchy” it would not have worked at all.  I definitely think its one of my favorites, and the best part is that giving it away made me far happier than keeping it would have.  That’s a great feeling.

For anyone who wants to make their own super happy sunshine ocean quilt, the pattern comes from the book Shoreline Quilts: 15 Glorious Get-Away Quilts.

Every Story HAS NOT Been Told

The idea that every story has already been told is a potentially depressing one for a writer embarking on a writing journey.  The problem with this saying is that it’s patently false.  Every story has not been told.  When people say this, they mean that every story archetype or pattern has been discovered.  Examples of such archetypes are the hero’s journey, the rags to riches tale, or rebirth and transformation.  There are also a slew of archetypal characters such as the gambler, the hero, the villain etc.  Thousands of pages of academic study have been devoted to defining these archetypes in both literature and the human psyche.

As a writer, these are a gift.  They provide us with a pattern, a starting place.  However, archetypal plot patterns and characters allow for an infinite number of combinations which can be imagined and reimagined.  That is where writing gets fun and why I can safely say that every story has not been told.

I like having a starting place, knowing that if I have a character who is going on a journey, she will learn some sort of lesson through the journey or else what is the point?  Knowing this allows me to imagine and create her journey with an infinite number of variables.  I get to inhabit the world of “what if?”

This is one of my favorite places to live in my quilting world too.  I always start with a pattern, but rarely, if ever does my finished product look like the given quilt.  I always tweak it in some way, or I use a completely original pattern that I design myself.  The fun part about quilting is that even when two quilters use the same pattern, the quilt never turns out the same.  This is no different than two writers using the same archetype.  Their stories will always differ.

A few friends of mine completed the same kaleidoscope pattern, and their finished products illustrate my point.  These quilts were all based on the same pattern, but through variation in color, value, borders, and fabric choices, the quilts appear to be entirely different patterns.  They’re not, but they’re all beautiful and successful creations.  They each tell a different story though the pattern remains the same.

This is how creativity and archetypes (or patterns) work.  We can start with a foundation and then vary it to our hearts content, and that’s what makes writing or creating of any type so much fun.

Fear of Finishing

Last week I pulled out a bunch of fabric to start a new quilt.  It’s not that I don’t have enough current projects to work on, (there are at least eight).  It’s that I like starting projects.  There’s so much potential at the beginning of a project, whether it’s a new quilt or a new story.  In my mind, it will turn out amazingly well.  I can picture the beauty of the quilt, feel the flow of the words.

The fabric I pulled sat on my ironing board for about five days, right in front of a quilt that is stuck to my mini-design wall and has been either on the wall or shoved in a basket on the shelf for, well, about five years now.  Obviously, that project has not had my undivided attention.  It did at first, when I started and tackled it merely for the challenge.  This project entailed drawing a picture (I don’t draw), enlarging it at the print shop, tracing it all onto butcher paper, labeling each little piece, ironing it to the back of the fabric, and stitching it all back together again.  It was a long tedious process, one of those that you get halfway through, start drinking and then think “what the hell was I thinking?!?” We’ve all had them.

The first part looked like this:

The stars have TINY pieces!

This took FOREVER, so I bagged that plan, and went with this:

The pieces are slightly larger and easier to work with here.

The entire quilt is now done except for the hands.  I appliqued them on, decided they looked like lobster claws, and shoved the thing back into the basket for another year.

                                

Last summer, I got it out again and added some thread to try to add some shadows and fingernails to the hands.  It helped, but they still don’t look like I want them to look.  So I shoved it back in the basket.  It came out a few weeks ago.  Now, it’s on my wall, sitting right next to where I write.  Or, more accurately, where I haven’t been writing, but where I’ve been sitting, staring at the screen or the paper, trying to finish the last stretch of my novel.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks thinking about “finishing.”  I have two projects that are two of the most difficult I’ve ever done: my hand quilt and my novel, and I’m struggling to finish them.  I’m learning that I have a hard time finishing hard projects. I start to doubt myself, decide it’s going to stink anyway, and start on something new and easier.  I realized that’s what I’d done this past week when  I pulled fabric for a new and easy quilt, one that I know will turn out, and also one that I know won’t challenge me at all.

I have never thought of myself as someone who avoids a challenge; I take them on all the time.  My hand quilt, my novel, even this blog are all challenges I’ve taken on.  However, somewhere along the way, I must have decided that it’s the finished project that is the most important element.  Intellectually, I know that is a fallacy.  The finished project is not the most important thing.  Really.  I learn something every time I work on the damn hand quilt as I do every time I sit down to write. It’s all about the journey . . . right?

Emotionally, I’ve decided my problem with finishing a difficult project is that it just might suck.  My hand quilt might look like lobsters trying to sew and my novel might serve better as kindling for the wood stove, but if I don’t finish, they’ll always have the potential to be perfect!  I’d love to say I’m mature enough to finish a hard project, accept the lessons of the journey, and move on, but I’m finding that the reality is, I’m not.  I’d clearly rather keep working on these projects indefinitely rather than face the fact that they might not live up to my expectations.  I might let myself and everyone else down.  That’s scary, and in a nutshell, I don’t like it.

However, to try to overcome this new little core belief I have discovered about myself, I’ve decided that I’m not starting any new projects until the hard ones are done.  I put all the fabric I pulled for the new easy quilt away.  I’ll try to make the lobster claws on my quilt magically transform into hands, and I’ll also create a fabulous resolution for my novel . . . hopefully.  In any case, they’ll be done, perfect or not, and I can start fresh.