Saturday, December 1, 2012

Seeing Reds

Mom's favorite color was red. She had an amazing collection of red nylon night gowns because Dad knew he'd never go wrong giving her some lingerie that was red and frilly. The depth of her red passion recently came to light when I finally opened a drawer in my studio, took out plastic-wrapped bundles of half-made quilts that had been shipped to me after her death, and unwrapped the parcels. One quilt top was complete. And it's all reds. Reds and animal prints in a Nine Patch pattern.

One of my siblings will eventually get Mom's red quilt--I'll border it and have it professionally quilted.

Hunting the animal prints was a joy--for her. When she'd come for a visit, she'd get out the scissors and ransack my stash and occasionally hold up an animal print piece and sweetly ask, "Can I get a little piece of this?" "Of course, Mom-" I'd answer, never thinking about her peculiar way of saying 'a little piece' might be a tad odd. After she left, I'd find the damning evidence. Focused entirely on snipping the desired 'little piece' she'd leave my stash with some Swiss cheese-style holes.

Exhibit #1.

Her affection for animal fabrics made for little cartoon-like touches in the Nine Patch quilt.These keep you looking at the quilt far longer than if it had been purely an exercise in geometry. Exhibit #2.

From time to time I indulge my Red side too. Recently I made this quilt as a present to my friend Fran. She--bless her--had hand-knitted a rather complex sweater, all in blue, white, and black, that mimicked Japanese stitching. It was a fair swap.

I wrote about Fran's quilt in a former post (Still Verboten) but here she is with her quilt and dog-friend Shayna.

Fran didn't know she was going to get a quilt from me. She was 18 months knitting this beautiful sweater. I think I got the best part of the deal!

Red is still on my mind. Just completed the Phone Book Quilt that I demo'd in the Craftsy Scrap Quilting video (and it's on sale now for $19.95!). The Phone Book Quilt is a strip-pieced quilt sewn over paper squares--the pages I ripped from an old phone book.

I think I'd rather quilt than eat. This was so much fun. Machine quilting 'in the ditch' along the block seams and then Big Stitch with #12 black perle.

At any rate, I'd always choose quilting over housework.
Here's what hangs over the kitchen sink at home.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


I don't think of blue as my favorite color. In truth, as I was growing up, blue was kinda off-limits for me. I was the brown-eyed child sandwiched between two blue-eyed sisters. If either Mary Frances or Elisabeth wore blue, they looked terrific. I wasn't quite sure what my favorite color was...until I met deep purple. It was the crush on purple when I was thirteen that inspired me to paint my whole bedroom that color. Whereupon Mom nixed the idea, had the purple paint re-mixed with white, and said I could leave the wall not visible from the door purple but the other walls had to fade to the new lavender color.

But like lots of folks, blue--as in blue jeans-- is part of my Woodstock generation's cultural DNA.

The color blue comes up all the time in my quilts. Purple has faded into the distant past. The one sampler quilt I made in purple is still a quilt top and will likely never get finished. So here's to blue in all its shades. From deep indigo to twilight blue, to haze and sky and faded grey-blue on our house.

All my dishes are various shades of blue because my theory is that even an all-white meal like eggs, cream gravy, and white grits looks appetizing against the color. FYI: the dark red bowl pictured in the dish drainer is used only for serving green beans and for salad, again because the color contrast is visually pleasing.

The miniature hexagon quilt was made from fabrics in a line called Victorian Blues that I did for Michael Miller in 2002.

Must be that I think of blue as a neutral--it often appears in my quilts as background. Making the Bethlehem Star quilt below got two ticks off my bucket list: the quilt is a central Star variation and is completely hand-made: hand-pieced, hand quilted, and hand bound.

By continuing to do sashiko, it looks as though I will be swimming in blue for some time. This piece is a shimaco or sampler book page overlaid with asinoha (hemp leaf) stitching.

This wall hanging-size quilt I just finished is called Nantucket Spin and the original design was by Laura Gilvin from Studioe fabrics. I pieced it and then did some messing around with the borders. Machine quilted by Vicky Garner.

And of course a blue-eyed kitten on another quilt top can end this posting nicely.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tutored in October

October has always been an active and emotional month for me. I am working away on samples and speeches and classes for the biggest quilting event of the year--the International Quilt Market (trade show) followed by the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX.  The Market-Festival marathon takes place in the last week of the month. Just in case you're a civilian (non-quilter) reading this and thinking, "Huh? Quilt show? Big deal!", this is the event where Houston grows by 45,000 in a week as needlework enthusiasts converge from all over the planet. It is a Very Big Deal.

This year on the 16th also marks the 10th anniversary of my mother's death. That one threw me for a long time because it was so unexpected. I don't even know how to talk about her death other than to realize my attitude all month may indeed be influenced, in some boomerang effect, by that milestone event. Then as I was clearing out computer files, I came across an epitaph I'd written for Sheba, our grey tabby cat, who passed away one October. Tears.What brought on all the melancholy?

I think it might be fear. Tomorrow I take Joey, my Siamese-mix kitten, to the vet to get fixed. Like my friend Kat Taylor, I call it 'tutored' after the Larsen cartoon. Joey's been sneezing off and on and being an uber-anxious pet-parent, I've hauled him in twice for examination. They are getting tired of seeing me. Conclusion: Joey, being the food hoover he is, has snuffled up every dust bunny, crumb of food, basically anything on the floor ever since he came to live with us. Yesterday I caught him trying to eat the lint in the dryer screen. The vet thinks his sneezing might be the result of his indiscriminate noshing. He will probably come through the operation just fine. But fear is there.

So I'm posting Sheba's epitaph here and then will delete it from the computer. Sometimes I wish it was that easy to delete memories but the ability to relive and remember is at the heart of our humanness.

                                                    Epitaph for a Loved Cat

About fourteen years ago our old bruiser of an alley cat, name of Mikey, brought home his own ‘pet,’ a small gray and white patched female kitten. We were sitting on the back steps and here he came strolling up the walk from the garage and this kitten following after. About half-way down the walk, Mikey sat down and the kitten came around to him and snuggled between his front paws and they looked at us. That’s how Mikey introduced us to his charge and after that, the two cats were great buddies. They slept together, rolled into one large furry doughnut, and the kitten, who grew into a large handsome gray tabby with white boots, we named Sheba, as in ‘the queen of.’ 

Sheba was a wild child. She loved climbing your pants to get your attention, ate every meal like it would be her last, and never allowed us to pick her up or snuggle with her. Perhaps she never got over being a stray kitten. But first and foremost she was Mikey’s best friend. When Mikey died, Sheba was distraught. She searched for him for months and sat in the back bedroom window watching the yard, as if he might come strolling up the walk. Eventually she transferred her affections to Rod. She listened for the sound of his car and greeted him at the door. In time she even greeted me but men—Rod, her mentor Mikey, male friends and even visiting tom cats—were the primary objects of her affection. Her favorite thing was to greet Rod by standing on the table as he sat in a chair. She’d carefully lick his head, rearranging his hair into swirls and tufts. If he didn’t allow her to “groom” him, she got very anxious and made little meeping cries until he sat still for his beauty treatment.

Sheba was dumb as a rock about the dangers of the outdoors. If she broke free from the porch, she ran immediately to the street to lay down and roll on the warm asphalt so Rod devised a string harness with lightweight aluminum clips. When Sheba wanted to go out, she stood at attention at the door and we clipped her into her harness and let her out, secure in the knowledge that the heavy weight at the other end would keep her from straying too far. She was an expert at getting tangled around any object in the yard and would lay down in resignation and meow piteously for us to come and free her.

Occasionally, on cold nights, Sheba would jump in your lap and then lay down on your chest. As she became older and achieved her lifetime heft of 15 lbs. this maneuver could take your breath away, literally. She usually bedded down with Rod, first on his bed and then on a nest he made for her out of his old sweater on an upended box. In the summer she preferred the side porch and often stayed out there all night, communing, we suppose, with the nighttime creatures and other cats wandering through the yard.

She had slowed down this past year and we thought it was age and rheumatism but when she stopped eating, we knew something was seriously wrong. An x-ray revealed that she had a tumor around the heart, not something medicine could do a lot about. We mutually decided to spare her more pain and have her put to sleep and asked Dr. Roxanne to come to our house to give the injection.

Sheba was very weak and hadn’t eaten in two days. She lay sprawled out on the porch table and we sat on either side. It was deep dusk and the little Christmas lights were on and an oil lamp on the table provided more light. Dr. Roxanne arrived, driving a big truck, with her dogs beside her on the front seat. She came up on the porch and talked quietly to us, and then gave Sheba a shot. We heard an owl hooting in the backyard. Almost immediately Sheba quieted since the injection was a sedative and painkiller. She laid down, curled up one paw, and laid her head on it, and closed her eyes. We petted her and talked to her. After checking her pulse, the vet shaved a tiny patch on Sheba’s front paw and gave the final injection. It was over in less than a minute. Dr. Roxanne packed her bag and left and her dogs, who had stayed in her truck, never yipped the whole time. We sat there, our hands on Sheba’s soft fur, and cried. The owl stopped hooting and flew away. It was now completely dark. I said to Rod, “Did you know the ancient Romans believed that owls carried the souls of the dead to heaven?” And he said, “Then I guess she’s gone to be with Mikey.” 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Still Verboten

Long before Hitler and the Nazis made the swastika their symbol, the little twirling design turned up in all sorts of art. The swastika was an innocuous ancient design and usually meant as a good luck or fertility symbol. Seen on native American baskets, in weaving, in Chinese porcelain, and lots of other artifacts, it took World War II to brand the swastika as evil. Once when I was dealing in antique quilts, I happened to be selling a swastika quilt in typical 30s pastels. A woman viewing my quilts yelped at me and stormed off and I didn't know what I'd done as the old quilt, to my eyes, was a pinwheel pattern but she had seen it as a swastika. When I realized the gaffe, I reduced the price and off-loaded the offending quilt as soon as possible.

The quilt pictured is a late 19th century swastika quilt in the state of Nevada museum (photo credit Scott Klette).

The other day I came smack up against the power of the swastika again. While making a quilt for a friend, I got pretty creative with variations of the Drunkard's Path pattern. My friend's favorite color is red so there's lots of experimenting with all manner of red prints. In the center of a Drunkard's Path block, I used a bright red almost-solid batik and a white-and-red-toile. I worked through the afternoon but by time to go home, something about the piece bothered me. I pinned it to the design wall and stepped back. What was the problem? Then it hit me: the inner pinwheel of the Drunkard's Path block, in red and white, looked like a Nazi swastika.
Yikes! I couldn't get out my seam ripper quick enough.

By the next day, the middle of the Drunkard's Path block had been re-sewn as a Rob Peter to Pay Paul block and I'm happy with the quilt now. It's being machine-quilted for me and will be going to its new home in a couple of weeks.

Could I have dismissed the swastika reference and not changed the quilt?  Maybe. But I ran the risk of offending my friend who's older than I am and likely has an even stronger emotional reaction to the swastika symbol. I'm not willing to  hurt someone's feelings just to make an artistic point. My purpose in making this quilt is to bring her joy. The swastika is still verboten in my house.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Feeling Hex'd again

Everybody who quilts has orphan quilt blocks. Maybe you won the block raffle at your local quilt guild meeting and received some, hmmm, unusual blocks. Or maybe, with the best of intentions, you began a quilt and after a hard time piecing a block, decided not to continue. Or your friends gave you left-over blocks of theirs.
Or one morning you stepped out and found a bag on the porch and it has-gasp!-old quilt blocks in it. Dump-and-run quilting--this has actually happened to me and the only thing I can surmise is that the dumpee felt guilty, couldn't bear to trash the work, and knew I'd "do something" with them. This is likely the same person who gifted you with not one but a litter of kittens. And you took those too.

But my orphan blocks have been hanging around in a box for years labelled 'block fodder.' They were mine and I could do with them what I I cut them up. After getting a set of Big Hexie templates made, I went on a rampage. Took out my frustration on those poor orphan blocks...and it felt good. I actually got to laughing as I sliced them!

A funky patchwork block that individually was a real loser, once cut into a hexagon, assumed new importance and interest. Talk about a makeover! The fabric holding the blocks together (the diamonds and border) in this composition is a shot cotton. The shot cotton fabric has two colors of thread: a dark reddish/purple warp and then a royal blue weft. If you look at the fabric from different angles, it seems to change color.

Stuff like this keeps me interested in quilting. If someone told me, "Now you must make 300 identical red and white quilt blocks----" I'd jump off a bridge. This is quilting for someone with attention deficit disorder. Funny thing is, once the excitement of assembling this piece is done, I'll hand-quilt the thing. Mood swings are common in my world: from total rotary cutter madness to the zen buzz of methodical hand stitching.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hex'd and Blue

Patchwork blocks are....very square and predictable. Sometimes I like working in other shapes and the Hexagon is my current favorite. Most quilters say, "Hexagons--those little six-sided things? You mean Grandmother's Flower Garden, right?" Nope. I mean BIG hexagons. These are fun to sew either by hand or machine. No, I don't do English-style paper piecing (over templates). My Hexie templates are large and I cut the shapes using a rotary cutter. Here is a recent Hexie quilt.

The Blue Hexie Quilt allowed me to use some of my wilder blue prints. There are no repeats in the fabrics. Also, seven hexagons that are solid blues of various shades float around in the patchwork. The fabric that fills in at the sides of the rows and is the final border is a printed mosaic-looking patchwork.

About that border: printed patchwork fabrics got a bad rap when quilters started to refer to them as 'cheater patchwork.' According to that opinion, patchwork prints were only used by those who didn't have the skill or inclination to make a "real" quilt-yikes! Time to get off the soapbox!

I adore a pretty printed patchwork fabric. They're a nice addition to lined prints (stripes and checks). Sometimes you just get bored with swirly florals! Especially if the patchwork effect is subtle and color-coordinated, I think this category of print will gain in popularity. Not so much as a poor man's substitute to making patchwork but rather as a welcome fabric print alternative.

True confessions: I haven't always worked in this bold a scale when using hexagons. In 2002 I did a line of blue fabrics for Michael Miller. At Quilt Market (the trade show where the line of prints was introduced) I set up an elaborate diorama of a doll's bedroom. Stuffed toy kitty in a blue nightgown, pictures on the wall, a patchwork/parquet floor, and of course a miniature quilt on a tiny bed. It was blue too.

The hexagons in this little baby only measure 1/2" on a side and the whole piece was sewn by hand.
Come to think of it, I'm sure that's why it took me ten years before I did another blue hexagon quilt!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

It's a Raisin

It's been a while since I posted here but oooh boy, when you wake out of a perfectly good sleep and realize you've just come up with the best way to finally finish THAT quilt, you'd better hop to it! And so I have. The little string-pieced quilt here is the Phone Book Quilt taught in my video for Craftsy When Craftsy returned the samples, there were three half-done blocks in the box  and a single sad page ripped from the phone book with the penciled notation "Start with a page from the phone book". The project was hanging fire until...last night.

Faced with an empty design wall at the studio, I pinned up the Phone Book Quilt and started messing around with with the half-sewn blocks. The solution came after a while: a block off-set at each corner and then long pinkish strips to finish the four sides. Different pinks of course. But--big BUT--one string-pieced block was MIA and so was the fabric to finish it! I ripped up the studio trying to find the cherry gingham for the block's center strip but it was a total no-show.

Formerly such a lack of the "right" fabric would have stopped me dead in my tracks. Not today. I have the internet radio station Pandora cranked to hard rock and nothing is going to prevent this quilt from getting finished-today! So, taking a leaf from family history, I sewed the last block with a totally different print as the center strip. (Psst-it's second from the left-) So there, spit-in-your-eye etc. That's where the raisin in the title of this post comes in.

Supposedly (before I was born-family mythology) when my parents were in Cairo, Egypt (Dad was the air attache at the American embassy) they attended some swank banquet. Lots of food and undoubtedly wine etc. Rice pudding was the final dish. And then one of the raisins in Dad's dessert moved! Dad scooped up the offending bug, showed it around, and then declared, "I say it's a raisin and I say to hell with it!" and swallowed the spoonful whole.

So, I say it's a raisin and I say to hell with it. Who needs a gingham when there's aspirin-size polka dots?

Tomorrow I get to rip out all the paper from the back of the blocks.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Flying Onto the Internet

Oh boy-I hadn't meant to ignore the blog for so long! This past autumn was a busy time. I was teaching and traveling and ending a stint as president of the International Quilt Association. In 2010 I had given a lecture at the IQA luncheon at the Houston International Quilt Festival and urged everyone to "Be an angel-teach someone to quilt" and even given out bumperstickers with the sentiment. By 2011, I was ready to hand over the office to my very capable friend and fellow-teacher Stevii Graves. I didn't pass on the halo and wings however!

Then it was time to get ready for a new experience: a film crew from was going to come to North Carolina the first week in December to film me! We'd been communicating since August but now it was crunch time. Craftsy is a website that offers all sorts of how-to classes. You buy the course online and it's uploaded to "the cloud" and you can reference the course at any time--it's always yours.You can even take notes during the playing of the video and stop it anytime. The best aspect of this online learning is that you're part of the Craftsy community since you can ask the instructor questions plus post photos of your projects. It's a grand idea and taking off like crazy. I totally understand the concept of learning from a computer and empathize with the person who comes home from a job and sits down to play at her computer for fun but only has a limited amount of time to spend on crafts. Sign me up--digital quilt instruction is one more way to convey this lovely craft to a new generation.

The Craftsy crew rolled in right on time Sunday evening December 4th. The producer was Maria Sandhei, a blond bundle of energy packaged in Ninja-black and a pink headband.

Maggie Hart handled all the video editing, all the while popping Trail Mix. Prediction: one day Maggie will be directing her own films--when she isn't snow-boarding (her other passion).

Behind the cameras Joe Baran was the wizard, hopping from lens to lens, zooming in for close-ups and sometimes getting into downright dangerous positions to get exactly the right shot. Joe loved all the tiny little shiny needlework tools and totally understood that my Featherweight sewing machine has a name (Jessica) and a history.

 Prior to set-up, the studio was as clean as it's ever been but after all the video equipment and three more people crowded in, the space felt very tight. We were always doing a ballet over the wires and ducking the umbrella-type reflector thing-ies.

Filming started at 8 AM Monday morning and aside from three nights (we usually worked until 7-8 PM) it was solid activity until they pulled out late Thursday afternoon.

I don't think I have ever worked harder. My hat's off to the people who make movies and film these videos. You can purchase the video we made at the Craftsy website It's called Scrap Quilting, Waste Not, Want Not. In the works: two workshops (shorter how-to programs) on Sashiko projects! Whew.