Thursday, February 28, 2019

Wheaties or Cheerios

When I was training to be an elementary teacher, constructivism was the word of the day. Student choice was supposed to inform every learning decision. In theory, it sounded great. In practice? Let's just say that my fellow students and I were very puzzled about implementation and about how a classroom would look if 25 kids were all doing their own thing.

I met Dr. D at an observation opportunity I had at the attached elementary school, and I asked him about it. He smiled knowingly and said, "You tell those kids that they can have anything in the world they want for breakfast.Then you ask them if they want Wheaties or Cheerios."

Limits on expansive creativity can be a good thing.

I'd like to share some quilts I've made recently with limits.

The first quilt was made for the Project Quilting prompt of "Red, White and Blue." I have a mound of worn out jeans from my two boys that I have saved to make quilts with. I've never gotten to it because I've been worried about quilting over the thick seams. I had the thought recently that I should try a quilt-as-you-go method to simultaneously deal with quilting and bulk. I tried it with this quilt and it worked. The manufacturer directions for the batting I used specified that quilting could be up to 4" apart. I used hand quilting to add interest and secure any area that was getting close to that number. The fun part about using the quilt-as-you-go method was that there was no going back. Mentally, I had to accept every element I added as part of the quilt and use future decisions to validate previous decisions. 

I was thinking about how quickly "time flies" when I went through the bin of jeans that were way too small for my boys. I used that as a theme and found a way to include flying geese and an hourglass block. Before I began, I also tried to alter some of the jeans to add more variety to the quilt. I took some of the denim pieces up to my tub, laid over a gridded anti-slip rug liner, and sprayed them with diluted bleach. The effect is subtle, but I think gave the denim pieces a lovely texture. The two lighter pieces around the red in the center were treated in this way. I also added decorative mending in red. So many of the jeans in the pile had been previously mended and I thought it would be a fun memory. The red denim in this quilt came from my mother. I texted to ask her where she got it from and she told me that they used to be a pair of red pants that she LOVED from when she was teaching. Don't you love how it all comes full circle? The striped denim was a remnant that came in a scrap pack.

"Time Flies," finished at 32" x 34."

The next challenge for Project Quilting was "bigger than a bread box." Really, this was just a size challenge. You could make anything, as long as it was larger than 8" x 16." I struggled to get anything started for this because that really wasn't much of a limit. I decided to narrow the challenge even more and make the theme be bread. I studied the Wonder Bread label and found inspiration in the colorway and with the circles. I thought of history and "the greatest thing since sliced bread" idea. I started making "sliced" log cabin blocks and using needle-turn applique to make tiny circles. When I got worried about the colorway being a little too literal to the packaging, I added the coral and green that I already had out on my cutting mat from a Pantone project I've been working on intermittently. As I started placing the blocks on the design wall, I tried to keep the proportions of a loaf of bread. Finally, my last bready inspiration was to construct this in a quilt-as-you-go method.  Each of the blocks was 2.5" wide, so I pieced blocks into rows and then added them to the quilt that way. It really emphasizes the idea of a slice.

"Wonder" finishes at 23" x 37."

The most recent challenge on Project Quilting almost did me in. It definitely is a challenge to come up with a concept, stitch, quilt and bind in one week. I made it even harder for myself by going in a pretty challenging direction. The prompt was "pixel." I've done two pixel quilts before and just about enough time had elapsed to make me forget how hard they can be when precision cutting and piecing really aren't my thing. I had heard of a method that used interfacing that I wanted to try. I was able to find interfacing with a one-inch grid. It wasn't fusible, so for a brief moment I thought about using Heat n Bond (I bought some, too. More on that later!). After some thinking time, though, I decided not to because of bulk. Instead I used spray baste to attach my one inch pieces. I pinched the interfacing from the back directly on the marked line, sewed the seam, then snipped open the loop of interfacing. Since the rainbow I'd mapped out was 30" x 44," I did that about 70 times. Oy. I did my very best, but all my pixels are not a perfect 1/2" finished block. The rows are still not perfectly straight. What I guess I'm saying is that it isn't perfect. Not even close. I'm also saying that if you press your face close enough to the quilt to point out these imperfections, you're also close enough to kick. 😏

The rainbow will be a gift for my daughter that is in kindergarten. I helped her with an art project a month ago for a contest sponsored by a local bank. Some of the prize winners have their work appear in a calendar and some have their art framed. She didn't win either of those prizes, but I made her a solemn promise that we'd frame her work no matter what happened. She made a rainbow. This is not a shocker because she colors rainbows on everything. No matter what she's studying at school--whales, printable books about snowmen, math papers--she turns it into rainbows. If there is an outline of any shape on a printed page, it is getting the rainbow treatment. For her project, I cut millions of tiny squares out of colored origami paper, and she glued them to her collage. At the end of her rainbow she wanted a cloud, so I found some white tissue paper with rainbow glitter in an old gift bag downstairs and she glued it in smushy swirls on the bottom. The whole project took forever. Afterwards, I pressed the cardstock we'd used between a huge stack of books, but there was so much glue that it will forever ripple. We're going to see her work in a show tomorrow and she's incredible excited.

I'm sure you can see now why I made the rainbow and why I persevered when I was starting to hate every minute of it. Do you know the even crazier thing? I told my mom about the rainbow I'd made (with no backstory) and she offered to send me money to have it framed! Full circle again!

"Rainbow Lunacy" is 14" x 22."

Remember that Heat n Bond that I bought? Yeah, I wanted to use that and I still had the idea of rainbows in my mind. I made four different sizes and shapes of rainbows and pieced them together to form a composition. Doing that art project with my daughter helped me remember how much I like collage. This was fun. I'd like to do it again.

"Rainbow, 2," is 15" x 15." It is machine quilted and hand quilted.

This is a quilt that I finished last summer, but it never really fit into a blog post until now. My little kindergarten daughter? She has a hard time sometimes because our two oldest boys are the best of friends and do everything together. It's helping now that Babyness is older and capable of more because the girls love to play together. This past summer there were times that she felt pretty left out. One Sunday afternoon, when she was really frustrated with her brothers, I brought up my bucket of snippets to do an activity with her. I keep a bucket on the shelf above my cutting table for snippets...pieces that are too big to just throw away, but too small to ever be found in the larger scrap bin. I asked my daughter to sort through them and pull out any pieces that felt like a warm color to her. She had a great time going through the whole bucket. The next morning I started piecing the little snippets she'd picked into improv log cabin blocks. I set them improvisationally and let the chocolate background ebb and flow through it.

I called it "A Family Affair," and it is 30" x 30."

The last quilt I'd like to share is a trading game quilt. For those of you that don't know, I offer up items from my sewing room that I'm either not using or not interested in using any more to trade for scraps. I was looking for a mental break from the pressure of Project Quilting and picked up a bag of solid scraps I'd received from Julie this summer. The bag had lots of strips of blue, grey and purple solids of various shades and a remnant of a mauvey Kaffe Fassett print. I added strips of acid green, pink and one Amy Butler print. I had just taken the class from Sherri Lynn Wood on Creativebug and I was curious to try her ruler-free methods of strip piecing. I freehand cut things all the time, but there is always a point somewhere in the process where I square blocks or sections. I didn't this time. The orderly part of my brain wouldn't let me piece bubbles into the slabs, so every so often I would cut the next strip to match the natural curve happening. It helped ease in any fullness without using darts. I'm not a big fan of darts.

At the end of the process, I had four large slabs of strips pieced and no game plan. I didn't have to look far for inspiration. This picture was taken from my sewing room during one of the many snowstorms this winter.

I used the bigger scraps from the bag to recreate icicles and make up a size differential I had.

There was a place where a pink strip accidentally and EXACTLY matched one of the pink icicles. I hand quilted it in hot pink to draw the eye to that delightful bit of serendipity.

"Icicles" finished at 42" x 47." It is quilted with a mixture of hand and machine quilting.

Just like the thought of managing 25 kids doing self-selected study all day was completely terrifying, engaging in complete unlimited creative freedom freezes me up. If it works like that for you, too, give setting limits a try. There are lots of ways to innovate Wheaties or Cheerios. 😉

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, January 20, 2019


I was supposed to give a presentation and trunk show at the Iowa City quilt guild last Monday. It was called off that afternoon with the threat of freezing drizzle in the area, but not before I'd prepared a presentation and prepped most of the quilts I wanted to show. You can't help but be reflective when you spend a day looking at a few years worth of quilts and a lot longer than that thinking of what quilting means to you.

So what does it mean?

My bio on Instagram is "I make, and it makes me happy." That's pretty much it.

There's more, though. Over the Christmas holidays I was asked to speak about joy in front of our church congregation for about 15 minutes. I learned so much from that experience. I found a hymn with the lyrics, "You can make the pathway bright, fill your soul with heaven's light, if there's sunshine in your heart." Not only is that a beautiful way to define joy, it also perfectly encapsulates what the creative process does for me. As I make, I feel. Those feelings are magnified, released and expressed with every seam I sew.

Not every feeling is positive and uplifting. Learning how to master negative mental habits has brought me great joy and changed how I regard the world. There is a point in EVERY quilt I've ever made when the destructive self-talk begins. Usually it happens in the beginning when I have just a few blocks up on the design wall. "I hate it," the voice says. "It's terrible and so are you. All you've managed to do is waste your time and materials. They won't like it." I've learned that I don't have to acknowledge that voice. Do you know how your eyes eventually slip out of focus once you've stared at a spot long enough? The power of the negative voice will slip as you stare at the design wall and consciously look for the good. There is always something good. A color combination, a idea to try next. Finding the good is incredibly rewarding. Finding the good gives you the tools to finish what you've started. Trusting yourself to find the good makes you brave enough to try again.

In this sense, looking for the good isn't just a quilting philosophy. It's a world view. Once you've trained your eyes to look for the good, you see it everywhere. I've found so much optimism and grace in my sewing space. I've found healing. I've found joy.

"How do you find time to sew with 4 kids?" (I hear this all the time.) I just do. I have to. I'm a better mom and a better human when I do. I would rather sew than sleep. We eat a lot of crock pot dinners. What else is there to say?

There are things that I've done recently to increase my joy. I took a few steps to prevent the damaging "they won't like it" from taking root in my creative process. For now, I've stopped entering quilt shows. It's been a two year sabbatical so far. Stuffing a gag in that particular voice has strengthened my own. I see my work becoming more distinctive as I trust my own voice more than I worry about pleasing the other one. You have no idea how liberating it is to make things without the stress of wondering if what you make is good enough or modern enough. Or maybe you do and I'm just learning what you've always known. The other thing I've done is to wrest control away from Instagram. I took a two week break from social media last year and the world didn't end. Coming back from the break, I changed the settings so I wouldn't receive any push notifications. That flashing camera had become more about validation than sharing in a community.

Those steps have helped me strengthen my resolve to be the quilter I want to be and to make the quilts I want to make. Modern quilting is many things to me (I'm still contemplating a lot of points), but I know for sure that it is an expressive act and a tool I use to make sense of my world.

My journals are made of fabric and ether.

The first quilt I'd like to share is a trading game quilt. I called it "Solstice." It is made from large petal shaped scraps I received from trading away a layer cake. I picked out the seven cool colors (discarding that darkest warm green for another time) and added 3 solids from my own stash along with a stripe and a plaid. I cut squares out of the center of the petals and used them for an improvisational stack and whack. I used the triangle shapes left over from cutting the squares out of the petals to change the distribution of color in the blocks. I enjoyed using the royal blue and green colors in the center of the block, but disliked the way they looked when using them as the framing triangles. The something good I saw when I put the first batch up on the design wall was the twinkly effect the lime green center gave the block. I left in the few blocks that I'd made with different centers before I made that discovery. I think it makes the quilt interesting. It is finished with organic, wavy line quilting in monofilament and a faced edge. It is 52" x 52."

While I was making this quilt, I was preparing my talk on joy. To help me organize my thoughts, I listened to a C.S. Lewis book called Surprised by Joy. In it he describes his favorite poem. The way he thought about that poem was exactly how I felt about this quilt:

 So out of the whole poem arose and wrapped me 'round an exquisite, silvery coolness. A delightful quality of distance and calm.

I had a bucket full of leftover strips and royal blue triangles when I finished piecing "Solstice." This pillow is what I came up with to utilize those.  It is made from 20 improv string blocks (10 original and 10 mirror-image). It's hard to see because of the curve of the pillow, but all the royal blue triangles are the capstones to those rectangle string blocks. This pillow is 12" x 20."

I like to participate in challenges to boost my creativity. This mini was made for season 10, challenge 1 of Project Quilting. The theme was "Hope Springs Eternal." I changed course mid-way through. Originally I envisioned the flying geese to radiate out as arms in a plus sign. My thinking was that faith and charity go along with hope and that both of those attributes compel you to look outward and upward. I liked the idea, but it wasn't translating well in fabric. I tried rearranging the arms to all vertical and found my answer. I really like the idea of candles. I think they can easily symbolize the ideas of faith, hope, charity and joy that I was originally contemplating. I love how my subconscious was figuring this out for me while I was working. 

"Heaven's Light" finishes at 28" x 23." It is made entirely from my scrap bin (except for the celery background).

If you are interested in participating in Project Quilting, the next challenge was announced today. It is to make a quilt using only red, white and/or blue. It is due next Sunday. More details can be found at Kim Lapacek's blog, Persimon Dreams.

I hope you'll think about giving it a try! There's nothing like some constraints and a short deadline to get your wheels turning! 

This quilt is a remake. I had some purple and black improv strips languishing in my closet that I was finally ready to deal with. I had a version of a rail fence quilt in my last blog post and decided to give it another try. I made some poison green and black slabs to enliven what I had. I think complementary colors + black = a win every time. I like this. I like this a lot better than I liked some sad strips taking up space in my closet.

"Riffing on a Rail, II" is 42" x 42." It is quilted with monofilament and finished with a faced edge.

If the last quilt is a remake, I guess this one would be a remake of a remake. I got a little excited making the poison green and black strips and made too many. I didn't want to waste them, so I drew out an idea for this quilt. Recently, I checked out a book from the kid's section of the library called Paul Klee for Children by Silke Vry. I learned a lot from studying Klee's paintings. I can definitely see his influence on this quilt. Instead of the symbols he frequently used, I enjoyed experimenting with the placement of black lines. Sometimes combining the lines made shapes, sometimes piecing them together extended the line into a previously pieced segment. I was 100% engaged while I made this because it was so fun to watch what happened.

The colors were inspired by an Elvis poster I saw once. The artist used a single blue curve to show the line of his iconic hair. I thought it would be fun to try in a quilt. That thin blue line is probably also the outer limit on my abilities in minimalism. 😏 There are three different greens and three different pinks in this quilt. The effect is subtle, but interesting. It was very hard to capture in a photograph, but one of the greens is metallic.

"Riffing on a Rail, III" is 25"x 24." It is quilted with monofilament and finished with a pieced binding.

The last quilt, "Happy Little Ovals," was made for a Curated Quilts challenge. I really mean it when I say that I enjoy working with constraints. I've had figuring out Dale Fleming's Six Minute Circle on my list for awhile now, but it was the challenge that gave me the impetus to finally try. I've done all of the Curated Quilts challenges except for one that was too close to my due date. I've never had one be accepted for publication....until now. I was surprised. I would have kept making them for the duration because I enjoy it.

I named this to remind me of a fun story. I took a stroll down memory lane and watched an episode of Bob Ross on Netflix one day. My Kindergarten-aged daughter walked in. She was in love. She sat down in front of the TV and didn't move until he'd finished the painting. When it was over she begged, no, IMPLORED me to let her watch another one. She loves to draw. I'm excited to see what she'll do as her talents develop.

12" x 12"

My presentation and trunk show have been rescheduled for September 9, 2019 at the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Iowa City. The meeting is on the lower level of the building and begins at 7:00 pm. Admission is free and anyone is invited to attend.

I hope you can find something that gives you joy today. Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Family Affair

I field a lot of curious comments from people about how I have time to make quilts when I have 4 children. Usually I say that I'm an early riser and then I can steer the conversation toward more interesting topics. This works almost all of the time. The one time it didn't, the woman sniffed, "Well. Your kids must watch A LOT of TV."

You know the lip-lick-narrowed-eyes-slow-blink that happens when you're thinking of a lot of bad words? Yep, I did that and then replied. "They don't and I don't either. That frees up a lot of time."

That used to be true. Now I have a baby girl that loves to be held. She doesn't waste time with the lip-lick-narrowed-eyes-slow-blink and proceeds directly to dramatic blotchy-face-bellow-weeping if I am too far away from her. So, I've adjusted. I do watch way more TV than I ever used to, and I sew with a baby sidekick.

My sewing space also doubles as a guest bedroom and we have a full size bed in there. My kids love to come in and lounge while I am making things. We did a lot of that this summer. I really do get up early and work. If there are things I'm considering and experimenting with, those quiet minutes of alone time are when I do it. As soon as the kids wake up, I hear them running down the stairs straight to the sewing room. That's when I multi-task. I iron a pile of blocks and visit with them. I cut some more strips to replenish the piecing bucket and tell them a story. I move blocks around on the design wall (or have them do it) and listen to them tell me about the weird dream they had.

...then they start fighting over who gets the pillows, the boys start wrestling and my little girl gets shrill because her brothers are ignoring her. That's when I shoo them upstairs for breakfast. It isn't all domestic tranquility.

This summer I saw Julie Silber post a vintage quilt on her Instagram page. (If you don't follow her, please do, you'll gain an increased love and knowledge of the history of quilting...@juliesilberquilts) After I studied the quilt, I decided to make a version for the bed in my sewing room. I was thinking of my children when I started pulling out scraps, so there are a lot of fun juvenile prints in the mix.

I constructed the quilt using newspaper as the foundation. I used the 45 degree line on my 15" ruler to make triangle templates. I use newspaper foundations quite a bit, so I have a dedicated rotary cutter that's just for paper (I mark it with tape so I don't forget). It made gigantic triangles. The newspaper was *just* long enough. A finished block was 4 of those triangles sewn together. I had to square those down to 21" using the 45 degree lines on my cutting mat. They were massive!

I finished the quilt with freehand crosshatch quilting. My prize for winning the viewer's choice in the Pantone Quilt Challenge was a cone of Aurifil thread. When I received it, I had to smile. Someone at Aurifil definitely has a sense of humor. Since the color of the year was purple, I was sent a cone of purple thread. Light Lilac to be exact. My streak of practicality is about a mile wide, so Light Lilac was the color inspiration for the quilts in this post. I pieced and quilted this with it.

I brought all of my kids with me for the photography session at a local farm. #2 and #3 played with #4 in the shade while #1 helped me hang it on the barn. It was miserably hot that day, so we went home sweaty and tired. As a mark of profound appreciation for their help, I made them all banana splits and told them that they could name the quilt. #2 blurted out "Blue Lightning" and we all agreed.

"Blue Lightning" finished at 82" x 82." It's on the bed in the sewing room where it has been quality tested by #1-4. They like it.

My mother also is a quilter and has been known to shop for me. She was in a quilt store once and saw a bolt of Tula Pink fabric in the clearance section. She bought the bolt and sent it to me. As the years have passed, I've looked at that Parisville fabric and wondered what my game plan should be. Hoard? Sell? Use?

I decided to use it. That is what fabric is for, right? It became the backing for "Blue Lightning" and also the spark for the next scrap quilt, "Riffing on a Rail." I was inspired by the leftover strips I trimmed off the backing and I thought using a rail fence motif would be an effective use of what I had left. I added dark blues, light blues, slate blues, lilacs, sage greens and dull reddish plums and kept making units. I calculated how much of the Parisville I would need for the backing and facing strips, then built the top out as far as I could take it with what I had left. I was able to get to 48" x 48."

I pieced the whole thing with Light Lilac, but I did the quilting with monofilament so I wouldn't alter any of the color work. I quilted this in a very dense freehand crosshatch pattern. It is finished with a faced edge.

Of course I had scrap strips left over, so I started string piecing half square triangles with some of the lighter values. I made about 4 of them before I realized that I hated the colors and the vibe (hello, Easter). I still liked the idea so I tried again with darker values and felt much happier with the results.

If you're wondering about construction, I used newspaper foundations again. I made them a little bigger than I needed them so I could just eyeball where that center seam would have to go. A little extra wiggle room made squaring them easy.

Once I had the top done, I joked to my husband that now I needed to decide if I should make it into a mini that we didn't need or a pillow that we didn't need. While I was thinking about it, I pressed forward and started quilting it and I had a moment of profound connection. Remember how I said that I was watching way more TV than I ever used to? Well, I try to watch things that keep my brain from rotting away to mommy mush and found a show on Netflix called "Civilizations." It's a program, narrated by Liev Schreiber, that shows art from ancient cultures. In the first episode, cave art hands are discussed. Images of hands thousands of years old are preserved in caves all over the world. Ghostly silhouettes from across time send messages of connection and presence. The handprints, backed with red ochre, are breathtaking pieces of art because they are brimming with meaning. I absolutely loved seeing them.

As I was quilting this pillow in an outward spiral, I had my hands all over it and they stood out just as starkly against the deep plums I used. I stopped thinking of it as another object that I didn't need and rather as an expressive message of self. I need to do a better job of explaining to my children why I choose to spend so much time in the process of making and that the value of the finish is so much more than another object of utility. Someday when I am gone, my quilts will not be. I hope that my family feels and sees my hands through the images/objects that I leave behind.

This pillow is 20" x 20."

I participate in the Curated Quilts mini challenge every time I'm able. I enjoy trying new things in a small scale or revisiting things I liked in a different format or color way. The last prompt was "house." I felt compelled to make something that immediately came to my mind.

As many of you are aware, I live in Iowa. This summer a girl named Mollie Tibbetts went for an evening run in a small town about 45 minutes away from us. She never came back from that run. Her family and the community banded together and distributed thousands of missing person fliers. I saw her face at the grocery store, the library, the gas station and at the state fair. Through the repeated exposure to her face, our connection to her grew. She felt like family. My children knew her name.

We learned with great sadness that the massive hunt ended with the discovery of her body in a cornfield.

In the mini, "For Mollie," I wanted to honor her and express the sense of loss I felt. I left the light on in every house and brought her back from that run in the only way I was able to.

14" x 14."

Thank you so much for visiting the blog and reading this post. I appreciate the connection that the blogging medium gives us and for the mutual loves we share. Have a great day!

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Monday, September 17, 2018

More Than Blue and Purple

According to Psychology Today:

"If blue is your favorite color you love harmony, are reliable, sensitive and always make an effort to think of others. You like to keep things clean and tidy and feel that stability is the most important aspect in life."

Yep. Except for the tidy sewing room, but I'm working on it. 

"Purple. You are artistic and unique.  You have a great respect for people but at times can be arrogant."

Also, yes. I would say self-contained and highly reserved, but I'm sure it comes across as arrogance to some people. 

I bet it wouldn't surprise anyone to hear me say that my favorite colors to work with are blue and purple. I feel those colors down to my bones and enjoy the cool visual breeze they blow into my mind. Blue and purple are the peace after a deep breath and I love breathing them in.

I posted a picture of Babyness a month or so ago that perfectly captured one of her best features. In our family, we call them her little "elfy ears." At the very top, there is a whimsical flare out that is subtle and utterly charming. I tried to think of a way to caption this photo that would describe just how I felt about her. I finally settled on, "I love those little ears more than I love blue and purple."
Succinct, and so very, very true.

The real mystery was how she came to have "elfy ears." I don't have them. My husband doesn't have them. We didn't know of anyone on either side of our family who had them. I was digging through our family history books this week looking for something completely unrelated when I solved the mystery. A picture stopped me in my tracks. Her Scottish great-great-great-grandfather has the exact same ears.

After that, I had to read all about him. Isaac had an incredible work ethic and through the course of his life became a man of considerable means. He was able to easily afford to help buy Mary, his mother-in-law, a nice home where she was able to support herself with her sewing skills. In fact, she was a seamstress of some renown and the prominent people of her town exclusively came to her for clothing. Later in her life she chose to remarry. According to family lore, the marriage lasted only one day. The day after the wedding, the groom's son showed up at her doorstep and asked Mary to make a new suit and vest for him. She threw him out. Later in the afternoon, the groom's daughter showed up asking Mary to make a new dress and matching coat for her. She threw her out, too. After being met by his distraught children on the way home from work, Mary's new husband appeared at the door where they exchanged heated words. "I didn't marry you to be a free seamstress for your family, I married you to be a wife." Having spoken her mind, she threw him out. He never came back and she didn't mind. 

I give her 10/10 for flair. I might try this strategy the next time I'm asked to make a T-shirt quilt or hem some pants. 😏

I guess the point of that little side-trip down family history lane was that this quilt and my little girl's ears are now firmly linked in my mind! Also, I love them both.

I started "Twilight Glitter Sparkles" (named by my other daughter) for the Pantone Quilt Challenge. At the time, it was entered in the Just the Top Category, where it won Viewer's Choice (yay!!). Over the summer it was quilted by my friend, Sarah Yoder Parker. I liked it well enough that I thought it could have it's own blog post. If you'd like to see the other Pantone quilts I made, the title of the post is Treasures.

I am a great admirer of Nancy Crow. I'm not at the point of my life where a trip out to her barn for personalized instruction can happen, but I try to fill in the gaps by voraciously reading the blog posts of people that have gone. Somewhere in the course of that reading, I found a quote attributed to Nancy Crow by Kathie Kerler.

“Pay attention to the importance of value,” Kathie Kerler says. “Don’t use all medium values. I have taken several workshops with Nancy Crow who advises students to use a seven-value range: very light, light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, dark, and very dark. Your work will be much more exciting.”

I've really taken that advice to heart and made getting the values right one of my main goals in color selection. I used to have to take pictures of fabric with my phone and turn them into black and white to see the values, but I don't have to do that much anymore. As with anything, you get better with practice. I find that squinting at the fabric and/or the design wall helps me see the values better. Hopefully I'll outgrow that particular crutch soon, too. Otherwise I'm going to need some suggestions for a great eye cream!

I included a black and white picture to show why value is just as important as color. In the case of this quilt, it intensifies the movement that came from the piecing.

"Twilight Glitter Sparkles" finishes at 48" x 69."

Isaac and Eleanor. Eleanor was Mary's daughter.

If you are visiting from the Blogger's Quilt Festival, welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

A special thank you to Aunt Margie for sharing the pictures and stories with the rest of the family. I am so happy for the chance to get to know Isaac and Mary a little better.

Linking up to the Blogger's Quilt Festival at Amy's Creative Side.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Trading Game

Apparently some people nest before the baby.  I did it after the baby, and the object of my intense cleaning efforts was my sewing room. I purged. I sorted. I organized. I reorganized. I found.

I found. So. Many. Things. I sold a lot of books, magazines and specialty rulers at a local consignment store. I made enough to buy myself a new cutting mat and a lamp for the sewing table. Those were the easy things, though. The hard part was deciding what to do with the print precuts I had moldering in the closet. My brain told me that they were valuable, fun and imminently usable. I just didn't want to. If anyone is wondering, that's a perfect recipe for guilt, and I felt it in spades.

Selling them didn't seem right and using them felt even less so. In that moment, I channeled my inner "wheeler-dealer" gene.

My dad was famous (infamous?) for this. He loved to make deals with people. One of the funniest schemes he cooked up was with our neighbor Lucky. They would each peruse the classified ads in the paper, find something they needed and work together to get it for the best possible price. My dad would tell Lucky (and vice versa) how much he was willing to pay for something he'd seen and coordinate the timing of the phone calls. Lucky would call the seller, ask about the item and then start wearing him down about the exorbitant price he was charging. He made a point of ending the phone call with the phrase, "Why I wouldn't pay more than {insert slightly lower price than Dad was offering here}for it! You have it priced way too high!" Dad would wait a few minutes after Lucky hung up and call the seller himself. With a smile in his voice, he almost always made the deal for the price he had in mind.

I have this gene. My husband knows about it and will exploit it when he needs to. One of his favorite stories to tell is about the time I helped him trade a car. We were at the dealership doing the whole "let me talk to my manager" thing. At stake was $1,000. With utmost sincerity and wide-eyed innocence, I started going on and on about how much I had enjoyed the drive to Wisconsin (Gosh, isn't it SO pretty?), how much I loved the car we were trading (wistful sigh) and how hungry I was feeling (Can YOU recommend a good local restaurant?). I ended up grabbing my husband's hand and reassuringly telling him thank you for taking me on such a fun ADVENTURE and how I was secretly relieved not to have to trade my red car that was so PRETTY. He managed not to smile and walked out with me. The salesman chased after us in the parking lot and gave us the deal. Suckers.

It was with this in mind that I came up with a solution for the precuts that were so hard for me to deal with. I would try trading them! I made an Instagram post and asked if anyone was willing to trade me for some of their scraps. I found two takers. One quilter from Tennessee sent me two bags of solid scraps and a quilter from Texas sent me 22 solid fat quarters. Wow!

I really enjoy working with constraints, and I found the process of working with someone else's fabric fun and inspirational. The ideas came to me so quickly that one little project led right into the next. None of these quilts are very big so I felt even more free knowing that I wouldn't be committing huge amounts of time and fabric to complete them.

This is the first grouping that I made using scraps from Tennessee and my own stash. I didn't end up using the black in the first quilt (it was a little bit too much contrast), but I left it out and used it later. This is "The Trading Game, #1." It finishes at 24" x 24." I quilted it with freehand wavy lines in monofilament thread.

The next grouping I made used some of the fat quarters from Texas along with the black strips I didn't use before and some red scraps from my stash. I was probably thinking about Texas since it ended up with kind of a southwestern vibe. I started making Herringbone blocks in the same width and cutting them up in different lengths. I played with the pieces and ended up drawing a picture with them on the design wall. My mom was here visiting while I was making this quilt and was very concerned that I had discarded blocks. She thought I might piece them into the backing of the quilt, but instead I made a pillow for her to take home as a souvenir. I think she liked that plan better. "The Trading Game, #2" finishes at 38" x 38." The pillow is 18." Both are quilted with monofilament thread.

While my mom was here visiting, we attended an art fair in downtown Iowa City. We walked by a craftsman selling stained glass and I got an instant idea. With this, I am back using scraps from Tennessee in combination with scraps from my own stash (some solid and some tonal) and Kona Espresso. Each of the colored pieces are tiny blocks hand cut with scissors that are bordered with an L shape of the dark brown. I squared down all of these blocks to a consistent size and sewed them together. The irregularity of the widths and lengths of the setting fabric is what gives this the jingly-jangly rhythm that I love so much. I used a matching brown thread to quilt through the setting fabric and left each of the colored "glass" rectangles alone to glow. "The Trading Game, #3" finishes at 20" x 20." It lives on one of the end tables in the living room.

The inspiration for this runner was two-fold. First, I still had black scraps out on the cutting mat (and some from the next quilt down). Second, the Iowa State Fair added a table runner category this year that I wanted to enter. Sometimes that's all it takes. :-) "The Trading Game, #4" is 14" x 56." It is Tennessee + me and it didn't win a dang thing. I celebrated by hanging it on an awkward wall, also in our living room where I enjoy looking at it.

The Trading Game was a creative shot in the arm that only cost me shipping. It's fun to play with new things, but for many reasons, it's just not sustainable to keep buying and buying and buying. In fact, I think having mountains of stuff makes it even harder to ignite the creative spark. Honestly, the piles feel smothering. I guess that's a long way of saying that I'd like to do this again. Stay tuned on Instagram and I'll put up my next items for trade this week sometime. If your solid scraps/precuts are bothering you as much as my layer cakes were bothering me, perhaps we can make a trade!

What else have I been up to?

Lots! My quilt guild had a challenge this summer to make a medallion quilt. I had the crazy idea to try dyeing some fabric with bleach. (I guess technically it is discharging dye with bleach.) I researched it online and found an article from Threads magazine that helped me out with the details. (Here is a link to the article if you're interested.) I just had to try doing it! I have tried dyeing fabric in the traditional way before, but I honestly never fell in love with the process. I think if I were disciplined enough to measure and keep notes, I would be happier and have more consistent results. My brain just doesn't work that way, though. The fun thing about bleach dyeing is that you know what the main color is going to be when you're done and you can watch the fabric process in your hands and know exactly what accent color you are developing. I like that so much. Revealing the color underneath is enough of a mystery for me!

For this quilt, I started with Kona Black and tied it up with kitchen twine like it was a tie dye shirt. I dipped it in diluted bleach and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes before I rinsed it out. Afterwards I soaked it in the tub with some sodium thiosulfate (you can get that from a pool supply store) to stop the chlorine from burning a hole in the fabric. The result is almost a perfect match for the rusty construction dumpster shown in the picture of the finished quilt. Pretty cool.

I repeated the same process for the backing fabric and discharged a bunch more dye than I had the first time. I only let it sit in the diluted bleach for about a minute and that was enough! My glug of bleach (see the whole measuring problem I have?) was probably bigger than the last glug. :-) Anyway, it made some really interesting shapes all over and I just couldn't resist labeling one of them. What you see there is a really bad Matrix joke. The sunglasses made me do it!

I named this quilt "Bare Bones," and it finishes at 54" x 54." I quilted it in a freehand crosshatch pattern with monofilament thread. It is my interpretation of a medallion quilt (which the organizers defined as a central motif, surrounded by at least three borders). This is not my usual quilt, but I had a great time making it in addition to learning a lot.

I was really glad for my newfound skills in bleach dyeing when I came home from my last hair appointment. Unfortunately, my hair AND my shirt got highlights. I was not too worried because I could see the color underneath the plum was a lovely hot pink. I bleach dyed it, too! Hello new favorite shirt!

Lastly is a gift for a friend that illustrates the power of working with constraints. This friend is the one that volunteered to stay overnight at our house while I was in the hospital delivering Babyness. My husband was able to stay with me at night to help me recover after the c-section and have some sweet baby snuggles knowing that our older children were safe at home. That is 100% quilt worthy! Liz was also pregnant at the time. As her due date got closer, we asked her what colors she was choosing to decorate the nursery with. I had to suppress the groan when we heard back that it was navy and gray. Don't get me wrong, they are beautiful colors....just not ones that sounded terribly inspiring at the time.  I pulled together some fabrics and tried to include some aquas and ashy neutrals to soften it a little bit. I was actually so pleased with the results that I had to make a mini for myself with the scraps to help soften the blow of giving it away! And to think I groaned about those colors!

"Liz's Quilt" is 40" x 50." It is quilted with creamy thread in a wavy freehand crosshatch.

"Liz's Scraps" is 18" x 18." It is quilted with monofilament thread and proudly hangs in my sewing room.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my novel of a blog post. This summer I've had a great desire to work and produce and not such a great desire to write about it. I'm pretty well caught up now and finishing up things for the next post, which will also be stuffed full of quilts (but hopefully published with a little more haste than this one).

Thanks for stopping by!

Linking up with Finish it up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.