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.

Scissor Slut

Yes, they actually come in a velvet lined box. Diamonds do too.

I’m a little bit crazy about my good fabric scissors. In fact, I guard them kind of like how Rumpelstiltskin guarded his name, and like good old Rump, I get a little crazy when somebody steals my scissors and potentially ruins their magic.

There are paper scissors all over the house, but for some reason, occasionally one of my kids will grab a pair of my good fabric scissors to cut wrapping paper or some chunk of cardboard they need to decorate their science fair board.  They don’t quite understand the ensuing meltdown.  “Geez mom, they’re scissors,” they’ll say as I snatch my prized scissors from their hands while screeching, “Oh my God!  You didn’t actually cut paper with these did you?”  I clutch them to my breast as if I have just rescued a child from an oncoming semi-truck or a princess has just guessed my name, while they stare at me like I’ve completely lost my mind.

What they don’t understand is that my quilting scissors are sacred.  They really are just scissors, but there’s something about cutting fabric with a really sharp pair of shears that just . . . satisfies.  It has a certain sound and feel that dull paper scissors could never hope to replicate.

I have all kinds of fabric scissors, probably far more than are actually necessary, but I love all of them.  There are the little scissors that look like a bird with a long beak for snipping threads, rag quilt pruning shears, small ones, pinking shears, and classic fabric scissors.  This doesn’t even begin to touch the variety of rotary cutters sitting in a basket on my cutting table. I have every size available, and in some sizes I have a choice between regular and ergonomic handles.  I need every single pair. Really, I do.

Delicate applique pieces require my super sharp small pair that easily cut around tiny flower petals.  This task cannot, under any circumstances, be completed with a rotary cutter or , God forbid, regular, dull paper scissors.  Well, maybe it can, but I’m not trying it.

I choose which rotary cutter to use depending on a variety of factors.  If the fabric is thick, I need the big ones.  If I’m going around a curve, the little tiny one is absolutely necessary.

My shiny silver Gingher scissors are a must have for larger applique shapes.  I also need them just in case I ever decide to sew an actual piece of clothing ever again.  They are absolutely required for cutting out patterns.

I actually saved money from my food budget in college to buy these scissors.  I needed a dress for some event that I can no longer recall.  The only way to afford the dress was to sew it, so I borrowed a sewing machine and saved for the fabric and pattern, only to realize that I had no way to cut it all out.  I vividly remember riding my bike to the fabric shop and investing in my still favorite pair of scissors.  I think they cost $35, which was roughly half my food budget for the month and a significant investment at the time, but since I still have and love them, I feel like I’ve gotten money’s worth.

As I think about my scissors, I wonder if it’s not the scissors that I love so much, but the beginning stages of a project that the scissors represent.  The cutting stage of a quilt is the beginning, creative part, the playful part, my favorite part.

Funny that I also “cut” when I write, but that kind of cutting comes at the end of the process.  Sadly, the delete button on my keyboard doesn’t quite give me the same excited feeling as when I’m cutting fabric for a project. In fact, I kind of hate cutting my writing, but I think that’s another post.

The Denim Quilt from Hell

Just before Christmas, I finished the denim quilt that I started in October.  I thought I’d be able to finish this beast of a quilt in a few weeks, but it took much longer than expected.  It just about killed me, and after I explained to a friend that my thumb went numb trying to trim all the edges, she kindly notified me that it was my carpal tunnel syndrome.  I explained that I don’t have that.  She looked at me like I am stupid, and reiterated her point.  Lovely.

I bought this pattern at least ten years ago, thinking how cute it was, and when another friend gave me a large stack of pre-cut denim squares, I dug out the pattern and started in.  My original plan was for the quilt to be 14×15 squares. It ended up being 10×12.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  Have you ever started a project and then halfway through thought ‘what the hell was I thinking’ but since you already told the recipient they were getting it you were stuck?  Me too.

The first step was to cut all the squares into circles and then sew the fleece and denim circles together.  The cutting gave me a bruise on the fat part of my palm (where my thumb attaches) but my mom did feel adequately sorry for me and got me an ergonomic rotary cutter for Christmas afterwards, so that was a happy bonus.

Then, I had to mark a chalk square on every circle and sew the circles together on the chalk lines.  The result of that was that all the little round edges had to be stitched down.  This wasn’t too bad, for the first thirty circles or so, but after the quilt was almost completed and I had to shove the entire thing under the arm of my machine to stitch the edges down, I was cursing the cute pattern.  All I have to say about that is that denim is heavy.

After the entire thing was done, all circles sewn together, all edges stitched down, I had to clip the edges to give it a frayed look.  This is what caused the carpal tunnel episode. Thankfully, I have recovered all feeling in my thumb after I went to the quilt shop and bought a pair of quilting pruning shears especially designed for this task.  They are the beasts of the scissor world, and I’m sure I can probably use them this spring on my rose bushes in the front yard.  Thank God – not many of my quilting supplies can multi-task like this, so that was kind of exciting.

Thankfully, I completed the quilt in time for Christmas and experienced the joy of finishing it.  Completing a project, especially a difficult one, is gratifying.  I ended up loving the quilt as did my daughter who opened it first on Christmas morning, so she could wrap up in it all morning. Bless her.

Crazy Quilts = Crazy Women?

Crazy quilts don’t equate with crazy women now, but the fiction of the late 1800’s tells a different story.   Crazy quilts were all the rage during the mid-1870′s but began to drop from favor during the mid-1890′s.   An article in Dorcas magazine explained the then current fad, ‘Of all the ‘crazes’ which have swept over and fairly engulfed us, there is none which has taken a deeper hold upon the fair women of our land that this one of the crazy patchwork . . . Many a woman with strong artistic taste finds no other outlet for it than in work such as this’” (Jenkins, The American Quilt Story, 73).

Crazy quilts are made of bits of silk and velvet pieced together in a seemingly haphazard, or crazy, manner.  They are then heavily embroidered with fancy stitches and figures.  The designs do not follow a strict block format, as do traditional quilt tops, which allows for artistic license in terms of the patterns, colors, fabrics, textures, stitches, and even threads.  This creative freedom is a far cry from the oft hated “stints” of needlework the young women throughout the 19th Century were required to complete.  Nineteenth century crazy quilts were some of the first art quilts to appear in the quilting world, but perhaps they were viewed as a little bit too crazy.

The main characters in the short stories that focused on crazy quilts during the latter years of the 19th Century are all young women who are desperately conniving and manipulative in their attempts to catch a husband, and the authors tie the young women’s “crazy” behavior to the influence of the “crazy” quilts upon which they work.  Thus, the symbolic use of the quilt is negative in these texts in that the crazy quilts do not allow their makers entry into the traditional community of married women, or the women’s sphere.  Only one story I found offers a positive view of the crazy quilt, but even the main character in this piece serves as a one-dimensional figure in her complete goodness and self-sacrifice.

“The Career of a Crazy Quilt,” published in 1884 in Godey’s Lady’s Book, highlights the difficulties in both making a crazy quilt and achieving life’s most important goal for a young woman, marriage.  The young women in the story lie and cheat to complete their crazy quilts, but they only achieve marriage, and a subsequent welcome into the woman’s sphere, when they set those quilts aside.  The two young friends, Heloise and Marie, decide to make crazy quilts, and they resort to almost anything to get free samples of silk for their quilts.  Marie’s fiancé, Dory, warns her of the dangers of crazy quilting and begs her not to beg for scraps.  Marie, of course, becomes indignant at the suggestion that she might stoop so low, only to do so later in the story and lose her fiancé.  Heloise goes so far as to break the law and petition a fabric company for a packet of samples under a fictitious corporate name as the fabric companies will no longer send free silk samples to women.  She, of course, gets caught but ends up marrying the representative from the fabric company who catches her.  While these young women will stoop to any means to create their quilts, their behavior is redeemed as their future husbands forgive their behavior and save their reputations.  The young women renounce their foolish ways, negate their creative ambitions, and enter the domestic sphere through their marriages.   The quilts, of course, are completed in time for the double wedding ceremony.

A second story, “The Story of a Crazy Quilt” (1885) by L.E. Chittendon, also focuses on a young woman’s ambitions for marriage, and she too ultimately catches her man but only after putting aside her crazy quilting for a full year.  In the fiction of the time, crazy quilting was perhaps a bit too crazy, bringing about impulsive behavior in otherwise well-mannered young women, behavior which did not suitably reflect the ideology of the home.  Interestingly, crazy quilting died out as a fad fairly quickly.

Another 1885 story titled “A Crazy Quilt” was published about two young women who also strove to get married.  Unfortunately for them, they were vacationing at a “regular death-in-life sort of place” without enough social interaction to suit them.  Because they have nothing else to do, the girls gossip and work on their crazy quilt, but these girls do not end up marrying.  Instead, one of the girls shows the quilt to a group of young men and realizes that “we’re ‘lowed to chuse some bits of our livin’, and to make what we please out of ‘em” (607) which her Granny translates into scripture, declaring, “Our heavenly Father in His word tells us that belong to Him to ‘work out our own salvation with fear and tremblin’.’ So we go at it.  We take our caty-cornered pieces, our zig-zag and criss-cross pieces, an’ put our lives together, black, blue, an’ white, all a-slant an’a-skew.  Then ‘long He comes an’ in drops the gold an’ silver stitches, and on this or that dark or crooked place falls lilies of the valley and roses of Sharon.  Don’t you see?” Though they don’t all understand or accept the lesson, it is clear to the reader, and this lesson, too, inhibits female creativity.

In 1885, women could try to create with their fabric, but in the end, only God could make it beautiful.  The message is clearly that whatever these women do to their quilt, they won’t ever be able to achieve true beauty, despite the artistic license they are taking with the crazy quilt.

The only story I found in which a crazy quilt serves as a positive force is one in which the young quilter is injured and essentially destined for spinsterhood.  In this story by Sidney Dayre, “Ruth’s Crazy Quilt,” (1886) young Ruth dreams of becoming a teacher and helping her mother with their household expenses, but alas, Ruth falls and becomes unable to walk.  As she languishes in bed, depressed that she can no longer help her mother, she begins to embroider her brother’s socks and to stitch a quilt. Ruth ultimately sells her crazy quilt for $300 and regains the use of her leg.  As Ruth’s aims were of the most angelic sort, her crazy quilt saves her mother from a life of drudgery.  She did not make the quilt to participate in the current “rage” of crazy quilting but did it out of the kindness of her heart.

The sentimentality and moralizing in these stories is somewhat galling to our contemporary sentiments as they completely espouse a domestic world as a higher aim for young girls, but we must not apply our modern sentiments to the meaning behind these stories.  Women must make the most of a bad situation, work hard to create a loving home despite any setbacks, and always take the moral high road as did Ruth.

Thankfully, women can now be as crazy as they want with their fabric creations, and their creative endeavors will not reflect at all upon their aspirations (or lack thereof) of becoming a wife.