Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still Crazy for Christmas

Like a lot of people I am a 'self-gifter.' And that's exactly what it sounds like-at

Christmastime, I usually find things I want and love and ultimately buy...for myself! This year it was two books by Cindy Brick. She's a professional quilter like myself. Here's the long version of our shared job description: quilter-scholar-writer-teacher-designer. Cindy's website is easy to find: .

Although I admired crazy quilts, Cindy's special passion, I never thought I'd make one. But once when snow-bound for two days in northern Indiana, I did make crazy quilt blocks with scraps of what I had. Upon returning home, I obviously reverted to patchwork block mode since the blocks got sashed and bordered. Am remembering that I thought, "There--that ought to keep that fabric madness in check!" as I sewed the little corners in place. Wish I'd read Cindy's book then because this little beauty would be much better!

Last night I fell asleep with Cindy's colorful, picture-filled Crazy Quilts book propped on my chest. Sweet dreams until Earl Grey decided he's had enough of that stupid book and bumped it onto the floor! I started awake and then realized the commotion was just the work of a pushy cat who wanted Complete Attention Please as he demanded affection before going to bed.

If you're settling down for a long winter's nap, you can't do better than Cindy's dream-filled book. I highly recommend Crazy Quilts.

Merry Christmas from me, Earl Grey (aka the book pusher),  and Miss Gipsy too.                       

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Keeping Lives

At this time of year it's particularly difficult for folks who mark sad anniversaries. I didn't know it but my friend Carol Helmlinger is one such person. Last Thursday at the Crystal Coast Quilt Guild Christmas party, Carol served as the hostess and made sure the tables were set with festive placemats and that each table had a tree centerpiece. She led us in the singing of quilt-themed songs and made sure everyone got a little momento to take home. Mine was a funny grumpy snowman ornament that came packaged in a Santa sack along with a small bag of candies.                                                          

There was tons of good food at the dinner and we exchanged gifts and Christmas quilt blocks. Everbody went home happy and clutching some quilt-goodie gift.

This morning I stopped at the library to peruse the Raleigh News and Observer paper and was surprised to see Carol, the hostess with the mostest, featured in a sobering story. Carol is a Lifekeeper, a person who has promised to try and prevent suicides. She knows from experience. Today marks the 19th anniversary of her son John's suicide and she gave me permission to talk about it here.

To date Carol has made three Lifekeeper quilts. This one features John's picture on the second row left at the end. Carol says the surviving families find her and she'll keep on making quilts as long as they're needed.

Recently I also had an acquaintance commit suicide. Although not a family member, her passing troubled me deeply. Thank you Carol and all other supporters of the Suicide Prevention Action Network. The SPAN website is full of good information if you or someone you know should need it.

This is the last stanza of the Lifekeeper's Promise and serves as a reminder that we are truly our brother's keeper.

We are the Lifekeepers
Truth Bearers, Peace Seekers
We are the Wounded
We are the Healed
We are the Lifekeepers
Our commitment now sealed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The cats in the sink and no green ham (pardon me, Dr. Seuss)

Yesterday I spent the day at home, baking two humongous hams for a potluck supper last night. I'd bought the ham the night before but the refrigerator was too full....what to do? It was still cool outside so decided to stash the hams on the side porch. The only problem: kittens who thought Ham was wonderful! So, I pulled a switch on them.

I went and got the kittens' 'night cage' and put the hams inside to protect them from the marauding animals. (Until Earl and Gipsy were three months old, they always went into the night cage to sleep. Using the cage gave us a good night's sleep and we weren't afraid of stepping on one of them in the dark.) The ham cage worked! And the hams came out beautifully.

We went to the supper without thinking about leaving two slightly-PO'd kittens who never did get a bite of ham. And came home to...a white Christmas! Gipsy and Earl had "decorated" while we were gone. The toilet paper put up quite a fight but was no match for two sets of eager claws.

This morning they had a shoving match on who got to sit in the sink after Rod shaved. As Rod lets out the hot water, the kittens jump into the still-warm sink and loll about. It's obvious they're growing fast because the two of them no longer fit into the sink together. Gipsy is impatiently waiting her turn.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cape Lookout Quilt

Every year my local quilt group, the Crystal Coast Quilt Guild, makes a raffle quilt. The tickets are sold all year and then the name of the lucky winner is drawn at the Guild's annual quilt show in May. This year I am buying all the tickets they gave me to sell in hopes of winning this quilt!

The theme was our local lighthouse in the winter. Cape Lookout was built in 1812 and still stands today. The light flashes every 23 seconds and warns mariners of our sandy and unpredictable shoals. Situated at the southern end of the off-shore area called 'the graveyard of the Atlantic', people treasure the Cape Lookout light and it is our special symbol. Not bad for a structure almost 200 years old.

The quilt was designed and executed by a variety of talented people and I'm bound to leave a few names out inadvertently. The idea came mainly from Patti Brown, local quilt shop owner and quilt artist Robin Koehler. Eileen Williams took the photo that the center applique panel is based on while Robin supplied the flower design block which, when made up in reds and greens, looks like poinsettias. She talks about the design here in her blog Nestlings by Robin . Patti did most of the center panel applique work. Many other guild members contributed their time to make blocks and Jan Spickett did a whole lot of turning down of edges and ironing! The machine quilting was executed by Lauri Mayo and it was her idea to add the silver snowflakes to the white sky. The feather designs quilted in bright green thread around the black border add just the right festive touch.

You can buy tickets by contacting me or Patti at The Quilted Butterfly (see above link). Just think, this queen-size one-of-a-kind beautiful quilt might be yours...the next best thing to living at the beach!

I am so proud to be part of this group!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What not to say to the TSA guy...

OK, this isn't a quilt-related blog post. Rather it's a short rant on what happened to me at the West Palm Beach airport last Sunday as I flew home from the World Quilt Show. Morning was going fine and I even had time to have breakfast with my roomie Robbi Joy Ecklow at the airport. It started to go downhill when my name was called to board my plane to Charlotte-yikes! My watch battery had run down and I was perpetually stuck at 9:07 AM. Trouble was, my flight boarded at 9:45 and I was late, late, late!

So I hoofed it through security and that's the first thing: if TSA sees you're in a super-hurry, they might watch you a bit closer. I dutifully handed over my plastic bag with toiletries and was stunned when the TSA agent (a rather short shaved-head gentleman with a large-size ego) approached me with my shampoo bottle and demanded "Ma'am--are you willing to surrender this bottle?" What? The plastic bottle, bagged as it was, was too big! They want itty-bitty bottles (see picture).

Jittery about possibly missing the flight home (that's my excuse-) I shot back at him, "Look, there's only a 1/2 inch of shampoo in the bottle--can't you see it?" He didn't glance at the bottle. "Look, I've been at this job two years and I know the rules-" he firmly said. And Lord help me, the words were out of my mouth before thinking, "And I bet you've been a pain in the ass for a lot longer-" and then stopped. I locked eyes with the TSA agent. Oh man, this guy had the power to pull me out of line and make me miss my flight-what was I doing sassing him?

The stare-down didn't last long. I lowered my eyes, said, "Yeah sure-" to the demand to 'surrender the bottle' and beat it out of there. I just barely made the plane but learned something on reflection: re-check your time on something besides your own watch and if you want to get home, don't--ever--argue with a TSA guy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the Road with Sweet Potato Quilts and Don't Forget...

This posting has two parts. The first is about my beloved orange aka sweet potato quilts. But the second part is more important. Read on...while on a trip to the folks at Avlyn Fabrics in Phoenix AZ, I gave a talk on Sweet Potato Quilts at The Bernina Connection. Sweet potato quilts FYI are the quilts with lots of gold-orange and North Carolina seems to have an abundance of them. Some collectors call the color 'cheddar' but this is a recent term. I prefer the label 'sweet potato' because that covers all shades from yellow through dark rusty red.

The store put all orange fabrics on sale at a 25% discount that night. As an extra treat, the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission (yes, there is such an entity) sent recipe cards for the crowd and refreshments (hot cider, coffee, sweet potato pie, empanadas, and cookie bars) were served. Richard Gross, prez of Avlyn Fabrics, is not only a foodie but a cook. He made the cookie bars and they were a hit! Go to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission website and click 'recipes' and then the bars, called Abracadabra Bars, are the first click under 'desserts.'

Here are a few of the pairs of quilts (antique and a contemporary quilt inspired by the antique) that I showed Wednesday night. The large lavender/orange quilt is from North Dakota and I call the smaller version Dakota Flower.

And then there's an old Pine Tree quilt bought at an auction for a whopping $12. It inspired a much larger bed quilt I call Flame Tree, shown here as an unquilted top.

The triple-sashing on the antique quilt (left) is typical of North Carolina quilts but the 'lightening' set of the new piece is more Kentucky-ish.
Love them both.

And now for part #2: go to this link and you'll see an usual phenomenon in the quilt world: otherwise friendly compatriots locked in a battle for quilting supremacy. If you like WFW (World Federation Wrestling) you gotta see the  first World Quilt Federation Smackdown Auction. It's for a great cause--Alzheimer's research--and the quilts are mini-masterpieces by the best in the business. Bid now!                             

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hooked on Hand Stitching

I am not the quilt police. Way, way, back I resigned from the hand vs. machine debate. Mostly what I say to students is, "I don't care how you sew it--just sew it well." That leaves me free to judge at quilt shows, like the new World Quilt Show in West Palm Beach Florida this upcoming November 13-15. The lovely photo below shows the convention center at its sunset-best. Here's the link to the event

What I'm discovering, to my chagrin, is that my own machine quilting skills are lacking. Sometimes I fight with the sewing machine and cannot get in sync. Mostly my tendency is to push and pull the layers and protesting machine needles have a habit of snapping on me. I am in awe of anyone who can 'speak machine.' Even after taking longarm lessons, I am a thread-bound klutz.

I also admit that hand stitching is very soothing. At the recent Houston Quilt Market, I got to demonstrate hand sashiko stitching for three days--it was not a hard gig! As weary shop owners tromped the aisles, I was grateful that I was doing what I loved. Handwork is portable and I can pull it out anywhere--even when I'm on an airplane flying between teaching jobs. As long as the flight attendant knows their regs and doesn't freak at the needles and scissors! The regulation states that scissors are allowable if they are 4" or less long, measured from the hinge screw to the tip. The only person who ever berated me was a man flight attendent who might have had his own issues. He screamed, "Sheathe that needle! Put away those scissors!" It wasn't worth the hassle when he was nigh-on hysterical.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The latest thing--Shadow Leaf and Skinny Kitties

At Quilt Market in Houston Texas next week, Avlyn Fabrics will introduce my first line called Shadow Leaf. Totally unlike the neato-o kid prints Avlyn is famous for, Shadow Leaf is only three colorways: grey, taupe/brown, and shades of indigo blue. For years I hungered for brighter colors and in particular, orange. I got my wish. Orange is now everywhere and like the fickle person I am, I've moved on to lust after different colors.

Last Market I saw grey combined with yellow and violet. It gave me indigestion. Grey is water, steel, rainclouds, and quiet shadows. Grey deserves whole lines devoted to it. That's where Shadow Leaf started. The focus print (upper left) is a layered composition of different sorts of leaves. The other patterns compliment the theme. This moderne print, inspired by a 1950s feedsack, is called Lines.

I like a pure soft grey, as in Daisies.

Everybody likes dots. Meet Ditty Dots.

A nice medium grey, with a hint of background leaves, is called Bamboo.

And here's Sprouts in black and an ivory background.

So that's how Shadow Leaf started, with shades of grey.

Grey to me doesn't mean drab. I've found that working in fewer colors means an interesting design can happen. It also means your whole quilt or wall hanging doesn't depend on just that one fabric in just those colors.

Meet the Skinny Kitties. This wall hanging is in honor of Saito, the Japanese artist who loved cats and often painted them. This print by Saito hung in my bedroom for many years and I recently gave it to my niece Sarah as a wedding gift.

And maybe Skinny Kitties happened because these guys now live at my house.

Here's a detail from Skinny Kitties.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John C. Campbell Folk School #2

The week of teaching in August at J.C. Campbell Folk School was so full of images and memories that it's difficult to sort out what to talk about or show on this blog. Suffice it to say, I'd teach there in a New York minute again!

Imagine a whole big place--acres, buildings, fields, mountain views, people in hives of activity--all devoted to arts and crafts.

Here is one of the design walls showing some students' works (left to right: Pat, Annie, Penny, and part of Mary Jane's).

The last day we did some reflection and talking about how to finish the pieces. Annie from Asheville explained how her quilt grew from a tiny embroidered mola in the center.

Stephanie even got to basting her piece, a long art quilt that could viewed and hung either horizonatally or vertically.

Linda, who named her large quilt "The View over Chunky Girl Mountain" (what she sees from her kitchen window) made two companion quilts. I told her I'd be happy to adopt either one.

Penny, who also teaches gourmet food and wine classes at J.C. Campbell, got fancy with the center of her medallion quilt. The stars are teeny!

Penny's across-the-table friend Claudia brought Civil War reproduction fabrics and showed us all how her bitty calicoes could work just fine in these patterns. She also gave us a heart attack climbing a ladder to place her pieces on the design wall!

Pat, the quilter-in-residence at J.C. Campbell, modified both the star pattern and the Drunkard's Path to make her wall hangings. See the first picture (at blog beginning) for Pat's first quilt and then look on the left behind the musicians for her #2 piece. We hung the quilts on the stage curtains the last day during the "graduation" ceremony in front of all the students and faculty of J.C. Campbell. I know--they emphasize that the learning environment there is not competitive but if you were me, wouldn't you bust your buttons with pride at what they accomplished? I am grinning like a loon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Teaching at Joseph C. Campbell Folk School (#1)

Two years ago I was mailed an invitation to teach at the prestigious Joseph C. Campbell Folk School and happily accepted. August 16, 2009 finally rolled around and so I boogied over to Brasstown, North Carolina driving a comfortable rental car. Although I love my Toyota, a 19 year-old stick shift, no radio or floor mats pickup truck isn't the best ride for an 11 and 1/2 hour jaunt!

The class started with a get-to-know-you session Sunday evening August 16 and then proceeded for five straight days Monday-Friday. Imagine: five full days of quilting! The titles was Eclipses and Meteor Showers and combined an old-fashioned Drunkard's Path with a simple eight-point Star to make interesting new variations. Three of the nine students chose to work only with the traditional Drunkard's Path templates that came with the kit I provided. These were custom-cut by Brandy's .

Other goodies in their bag: graphs of several possible quilt lay-outs, a six-inch alternative template, perle cotton, and a pack of basting needles and another of Big Stitch needles courtesy of the Colonial Needle Company

Our two most senior sewers, Mary Jane and Hilda, put us all to shame. Working across from each other, they set their sights on queen-size quilts and I have no doubt they'll finish both these beauties.

Mary Jane used both intense and 'muddy' batiks and this shows only 1/4 of her large quilt. Hilda opted to long vertical rows of Rob Peter to Pay Paul blocks in batiks.
Jennifer, beavering away at her sewing machine, also chose traditional blocks off-set with dark solid purple.

Here Linda is contemplating choices for her star blocks.

The remaining six students opted for Drunkard's Path+Star variations. I'll post more pictures next time!