Friday, December 31, 2010

First Annual Purge Your Purse Day (December 31 2010)

 I can't believe that it's been over three long months since writing on this blog. My apologies to any interested readers. You've probably long ago wandered off in search of more current reading material. But starting today, the last day of 2010, I will be a more faithful blog writer. Truth is since the advent (or onslaught) of Facebook, I've found it easier to pop up FB tidbits. Seems a lot of my 1000+ Friends have too. I started writing this blog 2007 Thanksgiving weekend so you'd think I'd have gotten in the habit. Even though my thoughts today aren't world-class musings, I'm proposing that December 31st become Purge Your Purse Day.

Purge Your Purse makes a small bow to the organization bug that seems to bite us every January as we buy new calendars, file receipts, and sometimes make New Years resolutions. The purse most of us carry around is where our life is: our wallet (ID), credit cards and checkbooks (lifeline), make-up, gum, drugs. Just ask any female for an aspirin and she'll say, "I know I've got it here somewhere-" as she bends down to paw through her bag. Amazing. Occasionally while teaching I've gotten a headache and all I need to do is mention it and here come the offers--Excedrin, Aleve, Tylenol, and then the really good stuff--Tylenol with codeine,  Percoset, Oxycontin, whoooee!

Now that the purse is taken care of, my next question: what should I do with all those tote bags? Since I attend a lot of quilt shows where they give out totes as part of the registration goodies, I have tote bags dating back into the 1980s. Most are canvas, a few vinyl, and lately the nicest are poly-coated recycled fiber. Any suggestions?

What am I working on right now? A small charm-style quilt in the Apple Core pattern, hand quilted in Big Stitch, my favorite.

And trying, like my friend Earl Grey, to stay warm. Have a happy and safe New Year.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This 'n That, Family Pictures, Kitty Update etc.

Earlier this summer my brother Chris and I decided to swap some family artifacts. For some reason, I'd ended up with an ancient wooden panel, a relic from a Coptic church that my parents found in Cairo when Dad was attached to the American embassy there. The panel is likely several hundred years old. Their Egyptian stay was even before I was born in 1951 so the only reason I can fathom I was given the panel is because Mom thought I'd like the design since it was semi-quilty. She was of course right but in the years since all I'd done was keep it safe and dream I'd one day make a table or headboard.

On the other hand, my brother Chris who lives in Houston had incorporated many family Egyptian artifacts into his household furnishings. Honestly, the Coptic panel needed to go to him. Chris and his wife Catherine just finished a massive house remodeling effort and now a beautiful two-story stone fireplace graces their largest room. The mantel was the perfect setting for the panel.

As a trade, Chris sent me the family rocking chair. The parents bought this while living in Germany--I was a tot then. It was made by woodworkers living in displaced persons camps. The camps were still in existence even 7-8 years after World War II as much German civilian housing was destroyed and hadn't yet been rebuilt. Now I have a comfy quilting rocking chair and Chris and Catherine have unique artwork above their fireplace.

While in Houston I quilted of course and Josie's kitty Athena decided to put the paw print of approval on my work.

Meanwhile, back at home, our cats Earl Grey and Gipsy form a small pride and guard our yard well. 

And it's a warm September here and alien flowers are sprouting around the yard.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Day to Remember--Katrina and Quilts for the Coast

Five years ago we were glued to the TV as Hurricane Katrina finally hit the Gulf states. The center of the storm came ashore on top of Waveland, Mississippi. That's where my friend Patti Brown grew up. Patti owns ALB Fabrics/The Quilted Butterfly quilt shop in Morehead City, NC. We talked several times during Katrina week. We both felt so helpless! The news only got worse in the weeks that followed. The devastation from the storm was so complete that it was hard to comprehend. Only pictures can express the horror.

These two pictures was taken two days after Katrina from a NOAA helicopter. The formerly beautiful waterside towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis were almost wiped off the map. The cement slabs of homes and businesses were all that remained of most structures. A few, like Christ Episcopal Church in Waveland, were recognizable due to a distinctive feature. See the church bell tower below.
As a quilter, Patti reacted to the tragedy and started to do naturally what quilters do: make quilts at it. Whatever 'it' is--storm, terrorists, flood, and pestilence--we make quilts at it. Quilts for the Coast became her cause. She knew that folks in her hometown were resilient and that many people were camping out in the remains of their homes. They had to. The insurance companies wouldn't pay if you abandoned your home. FEMA was a joke. Kim and David King, the owners of this formerly beautiful home in Waveland, got the point across.

I put the call out on the internet and quilters across the USA responded. Soon quilts began to arrive at Patti's shop and pretty much took over the back rooms. The quilts continued to stream in all through the Fall  of 2005. Finally in December, when it was getting cold down south, Quilts for the Coast went into motion. Friends from Patti's church lent a van and it was packed solid ---700+ quilts were going on a road trip to Mississippi. Patti and her husband Rod and myself squeezed into the van and set out. Destination: Christ Church in Waveland, MS on a Sunday morning for the great quilt give-away.

Patti had lived through Hurricane Camille and knew what awaited us. I was not quite so prepared. Memories of the trees still haunt me. (photo by Brendan Holder) There it all was--people's lives--still caught 30 feet up in the branches of the old oaks. It was the spookiest landscape I've ever seen.

Why was there stuff in the trees 30 feet up? Because that's how tall the Katrina wave was when it came ashore August 29th. The wave picture was snapped from the third floor balcony of Saint Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis as seen (left) after the storm. I can only imagine how terrifying that must have been.

We arrived in Waveland on time and set up for quilt distribution. People arriving for church services knew we were coming. They lined up and chose quilts for themselves and for absent friends and relatives. For many, it was the first time since Katrina that they were able to give someone else something. One little boy chose quilts for his school class. There were enough to go around and a few left over went to a hospital. It was a magical day.

If you ever have a chance to work on the distribution end of a charitable quilt drive and actually hand someone a quilt, do it. Suddenly our craft makes the most basic sense: quilts bring comfort. You will be a different person. The picture says it all--from the wreckage of the stain glass of Christ Church in Waveland, Mississippi, there's always hope. I am grateful to have been a small part of Quilts for the Coast.

For more images and information, go to Patti's website: .

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Tai Chi , Trucks, and a Quilt

I used to take Tai Chi lessons and am still friends with my instructor Juanita. We both pulled up to the grocery store one day and started to compare our Toyota trucks. Mine's a 20-year old basic manual pick-up while hers is 5-speed, an extended cab, and five years younger. I said to her, "If you ever want to sell that truck, give me a call!" and two weeks ago, she did.

Juanita and her husband Mike were moving to Portland, OR and needed to unload Buck (the truck) quickly. A test drive later, Buck was mine! Now I could sell my older vehicle (named Pearl) and luxuriate in the leg room of an extended cab, intermittent wipers, a radio, and a cup-holder! I am in heaven. Pearl went to another good home quickly thanks to our friend Mike who's a sort of yenta for all things mechanical.

Here's Juanita holding the quilt I made for her. It has minimal quilting, no batting, and is lined with velvet. She reported it was the absolute best for sleeping and snuggling and her cat Freddie loved it. Ah, the paw print of approval! 

Next job is repainting the old truck cab before it gets fitted to Buck and transferring the vanity license plate. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Star-Crossed Again

The Easy String Star class has been getting a lot of attention lately. Guilds have been hiring me to teach it and students who've taken the class in the past are checking in with their projects. So this blog posting is devoted to the String Star, an old-fashioned pattern in which the star points are usually sewn over paper and scraps of odd fabrics were used to good advantage in a casual crazy quilt style.

That doesn't mean all String Star quilts are antique-y looking--far from it! The pattern seems to be adaptable to almost any style or color scheme. Here's the first one in my collection--an Eight-Point String Star quilt from here in North Carolina. Found at a junque shop in Vanceboro, the back of this beauty is splashed with large globs of white paint. That probably indicates someone used it as a drop cloth and the only good sense they showed was to turn the quilt over. The quilt has both wool and cotton patches and dates from around 1930.

I bought another String Star quilt from an online auction. This one was from the state of Georgia and the block was simplified to four big honking points. The blocks are about 18" square but what intrigued me was the dark vs. light interplay when both brown and gold became backgrounds across each star. Notice the huge black quilting stitches--must have been made in a hurry.

The Georgia String Star begat a wall hanging and here's the corner of that descendant but I got a hankering to do a big quilt. So black and white got into the act-again-and the piece below is still being hand-quilted. In the String Star class this is the large sample quilt that students see since I have no shame and drag around half-done quilts all the time.

In January of 2009 I was lucky enough to be asked to teach a multi-day workshop in Venice, Florida and the quilt class they chose was the Easy String Star. Here's a link to the first blog post I wrote on that subject .

Now another student from that Florida class has checked in and I thought you'd enjoy seeing the beautiful work of Cathy Modjeski.

         Mind you, no grades were given but don't you think this beauty deserves an A+?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to Rekindle the Flame

Ages ago I almost quit quilting. Truthfully, looking back, I was flat out exhausted, having just closed my quilt/fabric shop, Culpepper's Quilts, after seven grueling years in business. I was wondering what to do next. While I didn't want to leave the craft I loved, quilts--especially those in the magazines--were starting to look the same. If I didn't find some aspect of quilting to jump-start my interest, it was time to move on.

After studying an odd antique Irish Chain quilt, I sat down to re-draw the pattern and realized that if I worked in more than one pattern (multiple blocks) within the same quilt, the resulting effects were intriguing. Certainly enough to keep my interest. I'd found my muse. To this day I continue to work happily in multiple blocks.

While on ebay, the online auction site, I came across a seller who offered the book I wrote ("vintage quilting book") as a result of those early multi-block experiments and re-remembered just what fun it was to make those quilts and present the concept of multiple patterns to the quilt world. The book was called Crosspatch and it's still around though no longer in print.

My tastes have changed but the design concepts hold. Whether working in black and white or many colors, I love the idea that when different blocks are sewn side-by-side, the sum is greater than its parts. Beautiful medallion quilts are especially easy to design using Crosspatch methods and the class is still really popular today. In the coming year, I'll teach the class Two Block Quilts at least six times.

I still love to doodle and sometimes the result is almost overpowering. A whole evening can pass as I color graphs. It's kind of like walking a mandala. The act of designing and playing with colors has a calming effect on me. I didn't know when to stop when I designed the piece called If Parrots Made Quilts. The quilt is 92" square and you tend to love or hate it.

The auction for the old copy of Crosspatch is still up on ebay if you're interested. The auction number is 260576446979.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blue Friday

For a week, the work's been all blue. Last Saturday my friends Julie and Sarah came over to learn how to make a folded Log Cabin quilt block by hand. Although both possess sewing machines, neither is truly at home with the contraption and preferred to do the old needle-n-thread route. I had all the strips and backing blocks cut so they just sat down and sewed.

In less than three hours, both had produced respectable blocks and couldn't have been prouder if they'd laid an egg. See, I told you so--quilting can be contagious!

The fun continued on Monday. In the past I'd made some little folded patchwork blocks in a pattern I named Origami. Then for some reason, I decided to experiment. Sometimes things work and sometimes they don't...

I changed the dimensions of the backing block and the relation of the center square to the rest of the block. And oh yeah, I ragged them. For those who are not familiar with quilting trends, 'ragging' is when you leave raw seam allowances , feather the seams (cut closely with scissors about 1/4" apart)  and then wash and dry the work. The seams 'rag' and get all frayed and fuzzy. You can even brush the frayed seams for more dimension.

I read about ragging before trying it. And since I also wanted to use denim for the backing blocks (I have a little denim--I lied--I have a LOT of denim) the directions suggested really deep seams. Like 1" seams. Because you're cutting through multiple layers, you need a good pair of spring-loaded scissors. To misquote Crocodile Dundee: "Now, that's a scissors!"

While I happily sewed four blocks  and popped them in the washer to fray beautifully, I was not prepared for the uber-fuzzy seams that resulted. These seams are about an inch high and the work shrank quite a bit. Back to the drawing board.  

Note to self: 
1) Choose less busy prints so the geometry of the patchwork can be seen
2) Sew smaller seams--maybe 1/2 inch? 
3) This is just too much! Maybe sew the rag seams on the back of the work rather than the front next time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Double Dutch

Recently a student from a 2008 class sent me some pictures of the project she's completed--wow! Jeanne van der Vlies is from the Netherlands but we met at a quilt show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The event was only a three hour class called the Antique English Pleated Log Cabin. All work was by hand and most students got the hang of it and produced one block--ho-hum. Not Jeanne! She continued on and made this wonderful wall hanging.

The detail shows how the logs (strips) fold over and give the work a three-dimensional feeling. The back of the block is also the back of the work so this pattern may be  the original quilt-as-you-go pattern. The technique hails not from the United States but from the Isle of Man (between England and Ireland) where the pattern is called Roof Tile. The theory is not too great a stretch since in the 1840s thousands of people emigrated from the Isle of Man to the United States and likely brought the pattern with them. To American eyes, the strips laid at right angles could be found in log cabin construction and so we re-named it and later generations assumed an American origin.

And then just yesterday Laura F. Strating-Jansens from the Netherlands sent more pictures--this time from a Houston 09 class.
She owns a quilt shop in Amersfoort called Laura's Quilt Atelier (studio). Amersfoort is a bustling city and major railway destination but is also an ancient town (it just celebrated its 750th birthday!) slightly southeast of Amsterdam. Laura often makes trips to the United States with her quilting friends and that's where we meet--at quilt shows!

 Here's Laura's quilt she made as a result of the class called Dakota Flower. The style uses a stitch technique I call Retro Applique. That's applique with a contrasting thread in a running stitch at the edge of the motif. Stitches are larger than usual and meant to be seen. It works best if you relax and realize that you're not doing traditional precise work a la Baltimore but should just have fun.

Don't you love it when quilting makes the world get smaller?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Starved for Color

This winter we've had distinctly inhospitable weather here at the North Carolina coast. It doesn't happen many years but two weeks ago I slogged out into the front yard, stuck a yardstick in the snow, and measured nine inches! Now, the snow melted quickly but honestly, this winter has been brutal. For someone who thinks a fleece vest ought to be outer wear, I cannot wait for spring. It should be here now. Today.

 An upshot of the cold weather is that there is nothing blooming in the yard. The paperwhites of Christmas have sensibly tucked back into the earth. Aside from the live oaks deep green, all the color I can see from the window is a shaggy expanse of beige grass and a cold, cold blue sky. Enough of that!

My niece Heather lives in Portland, Oregon. Last year she took some wonderful pictures at the farmers market. For those of us who are starved for color, these are visual food for the soul.

Flowers, fruit, and veggies in the summer sun.

I want to reach into the screen and grab these.

This is the most perfect composition. Bundles of lavender in a red basket-perfect! Thank you Heather. 

Because this blog is ostensibly about quilts I suppose I should show a block or two. This is the one I made (the pattern is Star of the West) for the block exchange at our quilt guild's Christmas party in December. Geez! Aside from the minimal amount of red, the colors are as dull as my front yard! Maybe I can't always find fabric to translate color...maybe you need a fantasy image. This is more like it.