Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Finding Jade

When I was a little girl, I loved to play in my mother's jewelry box. My favorite piece was a small jade pendant that had been hand carved into the shape of an elephant. I had no special affinity for elephants then (or now), I just knew that the color was perfect and that I liked running my fingers over the smooth, cool stone. I asked my mom once if I'd ever be able to find a piece of jade that I could keep. She assured me that I could and in those hot summers when we lived in a tiny travel trailer on our farm, she would send me out into the gravel driveway to look for some. I must have picked up every green rock in a hundred yard radius. Twice. I would carry in handfuls for my mom to look at while she was making supper "No," she'd say. "Not quite. Try something lighter/darker." I wonder how many suppers she cooked with me out in the driveway scanning for the perfect shade of green. Maybe that's when I fell in love with color. I know for sure that's where I became an optimist!

That memory popped right into my head when I was gifted a bag of narrow scraps from a Kona Cotton Grecian Waters collection. I haven't spent a lot of time out on the water, but I have spent plenty of time with a small jade pendant in my hand, so that's immediately where my mind went. I pulled out every solid and shot cotton I had and held up each piece next to the scraps. I sorted quickly and tried not to think too much. I ended up with two piles. "Maybe" and "Put it Back in the Cupboard." I played with the "Maybes," eliminating rogue colors and colors that were too similar. I also experimented with tints. I enjoy buying solids on sale and will purchase a half yard of pretty much any color I can get my hands on. That strategy paid off with this quilt since I ended up having the kryptonite greens and lavenders in my stash. Neither of those colors are ones that I would be excited to purchase in a store off the bolt, but they are the colors that make this quilt sing.

My birthday present each year is a day away. My husband takes one of his personal days at work so he can watch our children and I can go to a workshop. My guild does a great job getting amazing instructors. In the last three years I have been to classes taught by Amanda Jean Nyberg (Crazy Mom Quilts), Bill Kerr (Modern Quilt Studio) and Jacquie Gering (Tallgrass Prairie Studios). This year it was Jacquie Gering. She came to teach a class on improvisational log cabins. I didn't go into the experience with any great master plan, I just figured that I would listen to what she had to say with an open mind and be inspired. As soon as she mentioned that pineapple blocks were part of the log cabin family, I got excited and wanted to get to work as fast as I could. I loved the radiating arrows in the pineapple block, and somehow those arrows felt right at home with the concept of "Finding Jade."

I don't have any magic strategy tips for how I set the quilt. I made sixteen blocks of different sizes before I joined any together. Of those sixteen blocks, I put four of them aside (one ended up on the back of the quilt). The four rejects weren't ugly blocks, they just didn't fit with the direction the other twelve were going in. Making a bunch of blocks in the beginning was a freeing experience. I tried to do something a little different each time I made a block, and it took me in some interesting directions. I would stop and look at the design wall after I finished each one, and I could see where I needed to go next. I keep a Post-it pad near my sewing machine and I would make notes to myself so I would remember what my impressions were if there was a break in my concentration (like needing to feed my kids breakfast and get them out the door for school on time!). Those notes helped me make work more efficiently because I didn't have to waste time reorienting myself the next time I had some time to sew. When it came time to start joining blocks, I squared the pieces down and made a note of the size. I  kept track of the sizes as I built. Once I built my first unit, I knew its measurements and could build other units in appropriate sizes.

I am very happy with the piecing in this quilt. Even though it is a pineapple quilt, I made sure to put in each kind of log cabin block that Jacquie mentioned in her lecture. When it came time to quilt it, I knew that I wanted the piecing to take center stage. It had to be matchstick. It took forever and my triceps are still a little sore, but I know it was the right call. This quilt deserved a matchstick! I used four different colored Aurifil threads in the top and in the back in a combination of 40 wt. and 50 wt. Not that I was counting or anything, but this quilt took 25 bobbins. I *may* have kept a tally on that Post-it pad every time I put a fresh one in.

The quilt finished at 50" x 60."

The thought I wanted to leave you with is this. I never found jade in that driveway. I did find a lot of great green rocks. I discovered that if I ran them under the hose, that the color changed and patterns would emerge. Somewhere along the way I figured out that I could carefully paint them with clear nail polish so that they'd stay beautiful even when the water dried. By the time I was done picking out all of the green rocks in the driveway, I had quite a collection of beautiful stones.

I know that if you go out looking for beauty, you'll find it. Keep looking! It's there.

Linking up to Finish it Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

From Hell to Breakfast: Blogger's Quilt Festival

Quilting has made me much more observant. I notice things now that I never used to. I notice how the windows in the Habitat ReStore near our house make the most fascinating, asymmetrical log cabin quilt blocks. I notice colors and shapes in the landscape....and I notice public places where I could take some great quilt photos! I spotted this old truck in a parking lot behind the Eagles Lodge where we basically live during the Fish Fry/Lenten season. I thought it would be a great place to get a good shot of this quilt. I was wrong.

It turned out to be a great place to get a photo of my husband! I've held up my fair share of quilts and I know how sore it makes my shoulders, so I try to be mindful of his arms when he holds for me. I had my shot ready when he had to take a break. I think I'll frame this one.

My own arms got pretty tired when I quilted this one. I started quilting a radiating square in the center of the focal point. I did it with my walking foot, so every time I got to a corner I had to shove the quilt around in my machine to turn it. It was a pain, but I am happy with the result.

I did have *some* fun with the quilting. There aren't a lot of perfectly straight lines in the piecing, so I tried to echo that idea when I quilted it. Every once in awhile I purposely put a giant wiggle in the lines. I tried to do it often enough so that everyone would know it was on purpose and that I hadn't just sneezed. The result is organic and interesting. I quilted this with Aurifil #2452 (dusty rose) on the top and Aurifil #5011 (rope beige) for the back.

The back is pieced with the scraps I had left from making the quilt top. Lately I have been thinking of more efficient ways to store my scraps and I've come to the realization that one of the best solutions is to use them. I am full of other profound insights, should anyone require them.

Here is my original post, back when From Hell to Breakfast was a quilt top entry to the Pantone Quilt Challenge.

Linking up to Amy's Creative Side.

Blogger's Quilt Festival: The Lovely Woods

Last year I was lucky enough to participate in the New Quilt Bloggers Blog Hop. I had just barely started this blog and I learned so much from the other participants. I also got the chance to join my first bee. I started worrying about what block I would have others make for me months in advance. I had Gwen Marston's Minimal Quiltmaking book on my nightstand and was inspired by her beautiful tree on the cover. I referred my bee mates to the Free Pieced Tree Tutorial on Pinkadot Quilts. For some of my bee mates, this was their first attempt at improvisational quilting.

I received blocks of many different sizes, so my first challenge was to set them. I used graph paper to help me. I set my outer boundaries for the quilt to finish at 96" x 96" and roughly drew in outlines of where I wanted the trees, birds and sparkly stars to appear. As I constructed the quilt, I chose trees that were similar in size to my sketched boundaries and either trimmed or added more to arrive at the size I had made on my scaled piecing map. I made the background in slabs using my piecing map as a guide for dimensions. I marked off sections that I had completed with a highlighter as I went, or I would show a picture of my map. The good news is that it helped me end up with a queen size improv quilt that is square.


Here is the link to my original post on The Lovely Woods. I talk a little bit more about the story behind the quilt and the way I set it. Also, I had a lot of feedback about the little birds from this quilt. I didn't feel quite finished with them either, so I made another bird quilt, Red Letter Day and also wrote an Improv Bird Tutorial.

My bee mates:
Cheryl at Meadow Mist Designs
Pam at Sewing Wilde
Lin at Lin's Quilts
Debbie at Quilting Makes My Heart Sing
Christina at Wips and Tuts
Kate at Thread Everywhere
Afton at Quilting Mod
Stephanie at Late Night Quilter

There is another round coming up for the New Quilt Bloggers. If you have been blogging for less than two years, please consider joining. The information I received was invaluable. I also will be lurking along this year because I feel like I still have so much more to learn! Signups start on May 18th.

Inline image 1

Linking up to Amy's Creative Side.

Monday, April 20, 2015


 Inspiration for a quilt happens for me when a memory has found its match in fabric and design. I communicate the meaning behind my quilts when I write down the memories that sparked it. Combined with the pictures I take of the quilt, a blog post tells my story. In the feedback I received "From Hell to Breakfast," just one little word made me rethink everything. The quilt was termed as "art" and I froze. Crazy, right? All of a sudden I started thinking of everything I needed to do differently if I were making "art." In the end, I got things rolling again when I went back to the story. Derailed by a word, and put back on track by a whole bunch of them. The mind is a curious place.

alison glass handcrafted

When I was younger, we had the most awesome flannel quilt ever. It was a retro donkey with a little straw hat (complete with flower sprig) and a sign around its neck that said, "Smart Ass." I come by this trait genetically. I really can't help it. So, I decided to have a little fun with the idea of an "art" quilt for the Alison Glass mini swap.

alison glass handcrafted

What was my smart ass version of an "art" quilt? A flower study. Framed. I called it, "What's In a Word?"  My partner liked blue, green, gray, gold and orange and fell more towards the traditional end of the quilt spectrum. I pulled out everything I had in those tones and experimented again with a technique I tried out in my last post, inserting thin strips of pieced text fabrics between two triangles, then squaring down to the desired size. The center is half-square triangles without a  text print inserted. I drew out simple shapes for the flowers, vase and leaves and used needle turn applique to apply. I quilted it using So Fine! thread in #436 using a simple free motion design in the center and straight line quilting around the frames. It finishes at 16.5" x 16.5." It was therapeutic to make a quilt that made me laugh after all my self-imposed angst. I really hope my partner likes it.

alison glass handcrafted

Words can also be powerful transmitters of memory. My grandmother decided very late in her life that she would like to receive a doctorate in folklore. She completed her dissertation and was one class away from graduation when grandpa got sick. She quit without a second's thought, observing with her usual pragmatism that all that could be done was to carve the letters Ph.D on her gravestone. Her dissertation was published as a book called "Wood Stoves and Woolen Stockings" about her experiences growing up in a remote pioneer community. She began her book by owning the word "isolated." She expressed that each person had a word (or more than one) that was a key component in the definition of self. I've spent more time than I'd care to admit wondering what my words were.

I discovered one by accident when I lived in Boston. I love, birds, trees, so it was easy to understand why I'd joined a garden tour. At one point, I was even moved enough to exclaim, "Oh my, that peony bush is spectacular!" Seeing the profusely blooming plant immediately took me back to my childhood. Our neighbor across the street had the most glorious peonies, and they always seemed to bloom at just the right time for Memorial Day. She saved her coffee cans all year for us, and we would make beautiful homemade peony bouquets to take to our family's graves. We'd load up the car with the flowers and make our loop of the cemeteries. My mom and dad could always tell who had been there before us by what was left at the gravestones. My grandpa had been a Boy Scout leader who had taken extra care to be good to a boy that had lost his father, often taking him fishing. Every year that boy brought a half-scale fishing pole that he'd made to leave on grandpa's grave. I never met my grandpa. That fishing pole was one of the only ways that I knew him and it meant a lot to me to know that his memory was still cherished by this boy decades later. Remembering was part of the ritual and we remembered with peonies.

 I was thinking of all this when I made my comment during the garden tour. I guess the only problem was the way I said it. I pronounced the flower "Pee-oh-nee" just like I had for my entire life. The person who heard turned to me and quickly (and with more than a touch of condescension) drawled, "You mean, "Pee-uh-nee?" The regular Jill would have laughed and rolled her eyes. The reminiscent Jill who had just subconsciously identified one of her defining words was not so jolly. "No," I snapped. "I mean 'pee-OH-nee,' which is why I said it that way." Kind of a conversation-ender.

I thought of peonies while I was deciding what to make for my Anna Maria Horner swap partner. She told me lots of things about herself, but the thing that stuck with me the most was that she had just moved to a place a large distance from her hometown. I get that.

So, I made her a bear. A bear named "Peony." This is the Big Bear pattern from Tartankiwi. I printed the paper pieces at 75% and trimmed down the center even more so I could add an improv element to the borders. It reminded me a little bit of fences, which also reminded me a little bit of my home. It is also quilted in So Fine! #436 thread in a straight line pattern and finishes at 23" x 23."

 My advice (for what it's worth)?  Remember your words (or find them). Take your memories (and your ACCENT!!!) with you. Be open to new experiences. Add to what you have, but never change who you are.

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Hell to Breakfast

I never realized that I spoke a foreign language until I moved to Boston.

I am from rural Idaho and knew on an abstract level that I had a twangy accent, but I never thought that it made me indecipherable. Humph. Within moments of my first telephone call with my future husband, he was twittering about the "git"s and "agin"s. Luckily for me, he found it charming and didn't tease me too much about it.

After I moved out to Boston, I soon grew used to the puzzled or shocked expressions I received whenever I opened my mouth. For awhile I worked at a bank. Once when a mother came in with her young daughter, I held out the basket of treats and asked if she'd like a sucker. The mother recoiled as if I'd slapped her. My co-workers barely held in the explosion of laughter until the mother and daughter cleared the front door. Apparently they are called "pops" there. A "pop" is something I consume with a hamburger and french fries, but fine. I may have had a millisecond pause to translate every time I held out the treat basket, but I never made that mistake again.

This quilt is made in honor of the first time I opened my mouth and shocked my brand-new husband. As we sat down to dinner, I apologized about the mess in the kitchen. "It will take us forever to clean up," I said, "I've got stuff spread from hell to breakfast in there." I knew from the look on his face that I'd gone and said something outrageous again. Luckily for me (again), he is a great connoisseur of colorful euphemisms and now uses that particular one as often as I do.

I sketched out a road map for this quilt on graph paper before I started. It is helpful for me to visualize where design elements are before I begin so I can just have fun with the piecing and not over think too much. I approached this like a giant log cabin, beginning with a center unit and then adding slabs of piecing to build outward. Once I had a design framework, it was easy to let the improv piecing just happen. In addition to its title, I can see a lot of my humor in this. I accidentally pieced a skull into my "Hell" quilt. I had a good laugh at that one. I had also planned a series of different elements of piecing to help pull the eye through the quilt and I was concerned that I hadn't emphasized the top piece enough, so in the next row I added to the quilt, I made some arrows to point at it. Problem solved, Jill style. Ha!

Since I was making this as an entry to the Pantone Quilt Challenge, I knew that I needed to make Marsala a major color component. I gathered all the fabric I had that closely resembled Marsala, then added shades of gold, brown, teal, blue, red, plum and green. The fabric I selected to be my main Marsala color is an interweave chambray in berry. To make sure that I ended up with a Marsala quilt despite the addition of all the extra colors, I made sure to include a piece of that fabric in every chunk of improvisational piecing that I did. Marsala is literally the glue that holds this quilt together. (In case you are wondering, in the picture above, it is the center square directly above the skull.)

The worst part of this quilt was the number it did on my sewing room. I once taught with a woman who had a sign on the door of her first grade classroom that said "Learning is NOISY." Well, improv piecing is MESSY. Every horizontal surface was littered with snippets, thread (I used linen blends, chambray and peppered cotton which all shed thread like crazy) and little triangle pieces from constructing the flying geese units. In the spirit of cleaning up, I made a bonus mini with most of the little scraps that were left over. I pieced the snippets into thin strips and sandwiched them between two triangles. I squared the units to 2.5" and pieced them together in rows. I love the movement that emerges. I would like to make more of these someday. Maybe another time when I should be cleaning up?

Taking the pictures of this quilt was definitely an adventure. We took our kids out to a nature park that we love on a warmish day. Unfortunately it was warm and windy. In some of these pictures, my oldest son is sitting on his dad's feet holding the quilt down. Son #2 rode his scooter and our just-turned-two year old daughter waited not so patiently in her stroller. I looked up from the camera in surprise to see her sprinting down the path. Little Houdini had gotten out of her stroller while leaving her securely fastened seat belt still securely fastened. We put her back into her seat, under protest, and sat back to watch. She slipped her arms out from the shoulder straps, placed her hands on the seat of the stroller and used it like a pommel horse to lift her legs out of bottom straps. Thirty seconds, tops. We decided that any little girl that creative and enterprising deserved to run, so we let her.

It didn't hurt that she ran down the path shouting "agin" with relish and triumph. That's my girl!

This quilt top measures at 54" x 66."

Linking up to Finish it Up Friday at Crazy Mom Quilts.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mustang in the Sky with Diamonds

I am married to a man who looks remarkably similar to John Lennon, so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that I often have a Beatles soundtrack running through my head. I won't embarrass him by posting it, but I have a picture of him taken at LaGuardia airport after returning from a study abroad semester and backpacking trip across Europe. Pea green army coat, shaggy dark get the idea.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I had all the quilt blocks up on the design wall, so I dragged "John" in to take a look.

"Like it?" I asked, smiling at him expectantly. "I am going to name it 'Mustang in the Sky with Diamonds' after that Beatles..."

"...LSD song?" he asked, eyebrows raised.


He may have a point.

I started with the idea that I wanted to do another Mustang quilt, but this time with a more pop art feel (my first Mustang quilt was pretty western). I started with the idea for oversize diamonds, so I drew out this block on paper and made myself cutting templates. I chose fabrics from my stash in citron, orange, violet, teal and emerald in a quick burst of inspiration, but then stalled when I went to choose a background color. Finally I had a "what if" moment and laid out a block with a citron background. I am ashamed to say that my first thought was, "People are going to hate this!" Redemption came when I laughed and did it anyway. I added indigo blue to the mix for a little gravitas and went with it.

I went with it on the fabrics, too. I didn't buy one piece of fabric for this quilt. I chose fabrics from my stash for the color alone, so I have some interesting combinations. Unicorns, bees, text, arrows, flowers, ships, stars, kind of makes me want to burst into song just thinking of it!

"Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes."

 My favorite part of the process was quilting it. I chose to quilt it in a large "greater than" pattern that used the angles of the pieced diamonds as a guide. I experimented with color and thread and I ended up with a very cool texture.  I used a combination of 50 wt. and 12 wt. Aurifil threads for the top in a variety of colors (4093, 2150, 5015, 2235, 1148, 2588, 2535, 5005, 5018). I varied the width of the quilting by subdividing lines, and then sometimes subdividing again. I used a 90/14 needle and fiddled with the tension a little bit for the 12 wt. thread, but had no problems running it through the machine. 

I backed it with Washi, by Rashida Coleman-Hale.

....and just in case it isn't in your head already, here is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Linking up to Monday MakersMain Crush MondaySew Cute Tuesday, Let's Bee Social and Can I Get a Whoop Whoop.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Red Letter Day

Red Letter Day

When I was a fourth grade teacher, there was a book that I read aloud to my students every year called Night of the Twisters, by Ivy Ruckman. This is from the introduction:

"When I was a little kid, I thought a red-letter day was when you got a red letter in the mailbox. Pretty dumb, huh? It finally dawned on me that a red-letter day is when something terrific and wonderful happens to you. Usually something unexpected.

Now that I'm older and more experienced, I know there are black-letter days as well as red-letter ones. Those BIGGEES, the real blockbusters that mess up your life, aren't marked on a calendar either. You never know ahead of time when you're getting one of those...It's those black surprises that get to you, those things people call acts of God because they have to blame someone."

I made this quilt to acknowledge a black-letter day. I could feel the annual gloom descending a few weeks ago, and then I saw this meme on my Facebook feed.

For some reason, it spoke to me. Maybe it was the birds I had just experimented with in The Lovely Woods. Maybe time had given me more perspective and healing. Maybe I was just tired of gutting my way through February when there are so many happy things to experience. This year I decided that it was time to be brave--to lift my head up and acknowledge it.

Red Letter Day

The little birds in this quilt are free-pieced. I had a lot of time to think about things and process my experience while I put the birds together. Improvisational piecing really connects you to your quilt because so much of YOU ends up in there. When I looked at this finished quilt top, I smiled. I also had a teary moment. Why? Because it doesn't feel sad.

Red Letter Day

I used my favorite neutral (Cotton Couture, stone) to select fabrics for the background. I love it because the color is not quite gray, and not quite tan. Plus, it makes Marsala look good. I got lucky at my local quilt shop and found quite a few friends that coordinated with stone. The birds are made out of fabrics from my stash and from a Marsala FQ bundle. My mom found the stack at the brick and mortar location of Suppose, but the Marsala bundle is also found online in their Etsy shop. My favorite Marsala fabric is the background of the large bird. It is an interweave chambray and none of my pictures even come close to capturing the depth of the color play in the weave.

Red Letter Day

I quilted this with three different weights of Aurifil thread in six different colors. I hand quilted three lines of 12 wt. thread in grey, black and red. The rest of the matchstick pattern is quilted in a combination of 40 and 50 wt. threads in greys and reds. I like the unique texture achieved with matchstick quilting and the special meaning that the thread colors have for me.

Red Letter Day

This quilt finishes at 24" x 24." The tiniest bird is a 3" square. If you are interested in doing a bird quilt of your own, earlier today I published a tutorial for improv birds.

2015 Pantone Quilt Challenge: Marsala