Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Bear on the Wall

So many of my quilts are "memory" quilts, and this is no different. I am drawn to bears--not because I particularly love bears, but because I associate so much with them. My mother had a dear friend named Faye that she taught with for many years. They shared many things together, including an affinity and love for art. Faye did a lovely oil painting of a grizzly bear lumbering over a log with a towering, craggy mountain in the distance. She gave this painting to my mother and it hung in the dining room for years. That bear certainly was a silent witness to a great deal of my history.

Forget being the fly on the wall, that bear was there for announcements, pronouncements and a whole bunch of laughs. I will share one of the best.

My mother became the de facto caregiver for an older woman who lived across the street. Mom got her groceries, ran errands for her and was always available for a good chat. One particular Thanksgiving, mom invited Lou over to our house for dinner. She showed up that day dressed in her best. Silky floral shirt adorned with a gigantic rhinestone sunburst pin, a freshly coiffed purplish red wig and fire engine red lipstick carefully applied into a large, exaggerated moue. Dinner was fun. Lou regaled us with stories of her days waitressing and kept us all in stitches. It all went really well until she leaned forward to get seconds. "Oh hell," she muttered, dabbing furiously at her shirt, "I got my tit in the gravy." The silence that followed that comment was thick and heavy. It felt like every molecule of air had gotten sucked out of the room.  Everyone suddenly had an intense interest in the food on their plates and the scrape of silverware seemed unnaturally loud. I was very young, but I knew something outrageous had just happened and I watched my family to see how I should react. My dad was biting his lip, my mom looked a little put out, and my teenaged brothers looked like they were about to explode. Dinner carried on. We swallowed our laughs until after dessert when we could truly relish the infamy.

That's what memories are, right? A moment that blossoms into an infamous EVENT. That particular memory certainly lives on. Try spilling something on your shirt at my house if you have any lingering doubts.

So, my house needed a bear on the wall. This pattern is from Juliet at thetartankiwi. She has a 12 inch bear, and this 30 inch bear (plus a lot of other animals) for sale in her Craftsy shop. (The pattern is for the block only.)   I used some parchment paper to draw the border design for paper piecing.  I taped down the paper on my cutting mat and used a pencil and one of my rulers to draft the pattern.  Parchment paper is mostly see-through, so it is easy to see the grid lines underneath. Plus, you can roll it out in whatever length you need. I use it quite a bit. I never have it in my kitchen because it's always in the sewing room!

I had so much fun picking the fabrics for this project that I wanted to do a reprisal with my scraps. Paper piecing yields a lot of funky shaped scraps that I am loathe to throw away. Rather than sort them out and put them in the "I'll get to them someday" bin, I decided to make a matching pillow sham with "made" fabric. I just sewed these little bits together until I had bigger pieces. I squared the bigger pieces to 5" and dog eared the corners with alternating 2.5" squares of cheddar and turquoise. I finished it off with matchstick straight line quilting. I don't know if I am happier that I have a matching pillow or that I used up the scraps. Probably both.

I am definitely happy to have a bear on the wall; one that will be a silent witness to new pronouncements and new memories. Who knows, maybe he will be one of the best ones.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I'm a sucker for a cute bird and I do think it's genetic.

My mother taught first grade forever. FOR-EV-ERRR. I'm going to say around 40 years. For many of those 40 years she collected things for her bird unit. A teaching unit is an excuse to pepper the school day with the subject of your choice. In reading? You're reading books about birds. In math? You are doing addition problems on a bird themed paper using bird cutouts to help you solve the problem. In social studies? You are looking at the map to show where birds migrate. In science? Well, in science you are going to diagram, hold, touch and examine anything bird related. My mom became a serial collector of abandoned bird nests and somewhere along the way, it became our family's hobby to help her. We raised Christmas trees so, luckily, we had plenty of places to look. My favorite nest that we ever found was the tiny little hummingbird nest made out of horse hair. The nest that was my favorite story was the oriole nest my brothers found.

 Rick and Mike (I did not change their names. I'm thinking this is a story they will want to OWN for perpetuity. If not, WHOOPS, you should have been nicer to your baby sister.) were the proud owners of a pair of .22 rifles. One fall day they headed up into the mountainside to practice target shooting with their guns. On the way home, Rick spotted a Baltimore oriole nest in a Siberian elm tree. Oriole nests are different from other songbird nests. Instead of building a nest on top of a branch, the birds build them so they dangle from a branch like a large grass purse. This particular nest was hanging about 20 feet above the ground. Now, I wasn't there, so I can't claim to quote the conversation exactly, but I can just imagine what it must have sounded like--a twelve year old and fourteen year old boy standing underneath a tree; plotting, debating and arguing about how to take down that nest. Finally, Rick (the younger boy) decided that he was going to shoot it down. Faster than Mike could call him whatever an older brother would want to call a little brother that came up with a plan like that, Rick raised the rifle to his shoulder and fired. The nest, still attached to the 2 cm wide branch (now with a bullet hole in it) dropped to the ground. Mom got to proudly display that nest to at least 20 years of first graders AND my husband gets to blanch every time one of my brothers says, "Come go shooting with us, Matt." Ahh, priceless.

I made this quilt for my Aunt Roselle. She is the one responsible for the lovely embroidered bluebirds. My responsibility was to set them into a twin size quilt and coordinating sham without messing them up.

I had to think about what I wanted to do with these blocks for a week or two. Part of my problem is that I really, really, REALLY don't like sashing. It took me awhile to come up with something that could highlight and accent the bird blocks while simultaneously existing as NOT SASHING. In the end, I decided that a half scale repeat of the background pattern done in an accent color was more patchwork than sashing, so I went with it.*

I set the birds in an alternating grid of 30s reproduction blues and tonal whites. Although the thread in the embroidery is more of a dusty rose, I chose a selection of modern cherry reds to surround each bird block and provide an outer border. I thought the quilt design needed a harder contrast than could be accomplished with dusty rose fabric. I am happy with the mix of colors and fabric styles and I don't think the bluebirds will be locked in perpetual combat with the reds. There's just enough white to tone it down and keep everyone happy.

The bluebird block in the pillow was set in half square triangles in a blue peppered cotton and a fun red from Bonnie and Camille. I used a solid and a tonal solid (with no white!) so the pillow wouldn't just blend right into the quilt. I also parted with one of my vintage red buttons for the back closure.

This quilt is headed back home to Idaho, where the deer and the orioles bluebirds abound. I hope you like it, Aunt Roselle!

*No sashing was harmed in the making of this blog post. And? That last quilt you did with sashing? I love it. It's awesome. Better you than me. :-)

Monday, September 1, 2014


Every once in awhile a fabric can completely catch your attention--stop you in your tracks and DEMAND that you take a longer look. I saw a picture of the Cotton + Steel booth at spring quilt market and found Mustang...and stopped looking at anything else. There was something about that print, especially in the Olive colorway, that evoked so many memories for me.

My dad loved horses. I was raised around them and on them. One of my dad's favorite past times was to go to horse auctions to do some "homework." We only bought one of our horses (a mare named Lady who was in foal with my horse Freckles) at an auction, and that was completely unexpected. We had to borrow a horse trailer to even get her home! The best horse auction we went to was Fort Ranch. The ranch is located out in the no mans land between The Great Salt Lake and I-15. It was a long and beautiful drive to get there. Sagebrush, rocks, golden clay hills, deep blue sky, and the azure shimmer of the lake on the far horizon. Since the ranch was such a distance from "civilization," the owners included a free lunch before the sale began. They served hot dogs, giant vats of baked beans, chips and ice cold pop and watermelon, both chilled in icy watering troughs. I remember hanging over the edge of the fencing, stuffed to the gills with that excellent lunch, and looking at the mares with their foals milling in the paddock.

Here's Dad, me and Freckles
This quilt is an homage to those memories and to my Western roots. I may live in Iowa and love the rolling hills and misty green landscape, but I will always be a Westerner. It's not just a place, it's a personality, an attitude and a world view that is completely unique.

I sketched out the design for this quilt in the car on the way to St. Louis. The block is based on a rendering of a block I saw in Maggie Malone's 5,500 Quilt Blocks. I redrafted the pattern on graph paper to yield a massive 18.5 inch block. Part of the block is paper pieced (the star points) and the rest is pieced traditionally with half square triangles and squares. I think the real awesomeness happens when the blocks are pieced together and the secondary patterns emerge.

I decided to use all Cotton + Steel fabric for the construction of the quilt top, and I used fabrics from three of the lines. From Mustang I used Arrows in Navy, Olive Mustang and Olive Star. From the Basics line, I used Pink Cheeks XOXO and Night Owl XOXO. From Moonlit, I used Navy Arrows and Aqua Arrows. I love the way the fabrics work together. I ran my phone's battery completely down choosing fabrics for the quilt and calculating yardage requirements, but by the time our family hit the St. Louis Zoo, I had a quilt design and a burning desire to make this quilt. Right. Now.

I quilted this using a 40 wt. Aurifil thread in leaf green with a straight line pattern. Originally, I started out doing a free motion design with spiky triangles in a caramel colored  50 wt. thread. I wasn't sold on the design after I completed one bobbin worth of quilting, but I persevered, hoping that it would grow on me. It didn't, so I spent 4 hours ripping out two bobbin's worth of quilting. It was worth it. The real problem with that design is that it fought with the horizontal lines formed with the arrow fabric and the thread was just wrong. Everything about the quilt is bold, so why try to be matchy-matchy with a fine weight thread? I am glad that I buy thread the same way I buy a lot of my fabric...in packs!! I never would have chosen to buy that particular leaf green color, but it was perfect for this quilt.

The backing is a Michael Miller print that I found on the sale table at my local quilt shop. It looks like a gold bandana with a turquoise accent! Perfect! I pieced the "belt" using some of the extra scraps from paper piecing the star points.

Once, someone said to me, "I just don't understand why everyone thinks the West is so beautiful. It's just brown hills. What's so great about brown hills?" I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me, stark is just another word for graphic or bold and that is exactly what I like. That and homemade beans and memories of home.