Monday, March 21, 2016

Sewing Extremes

For quite some time now, I've been making hexagons. I even taught a hexagon class at Home Ec. But I haven't done much else. This weekend, however, I did get a little sewing in, and I chose to sew two challenging substrates—one super stiff (oilcloth) and one loosely woven, with little body (gauze).

Students' hexagons
I've sewn lots with oilcloth previously, but after being plied with cerveza in Oaxaca, I promised my traveling companions that I'd make them oilcloth table runners with oilcloth we bought at the Benito Juarez and Abastos markets. It's a pretty simple job, really—they just had to bring me the dimensions of the runners they wanted, along with their oilcloth and some bias seam binding.
Karen picked two fabrics that are wonderful complements and I made her what seems to be more of a tablecloth (it's 39" wide by the width of the fabric). It was pretty much a piece of cake—those Clover clips really make it so much simpler to attach the seam binding than the hair clips I used to use. But the darned thing was so stiff and unwieldy that I had a little trouble—periodically as I'd sew I'd run into something on my sewing table and essentially sew in place until I realized what was happening. In the end, though, it turned out nicely.
Next up was gauze (and not double gauze, which I've used for tops and has a bit more body). It's become so popular for making baby blankets and we had a slow week at Home Ec (half the population away on spring break), so I started a sample at work. I thought I'd cut the gauze square, but after I brought it home to finish it I realized it was far from square—what started at 50" wound up at 42" by the time I was done, and it's still not totally square. One of the tutorials I read mentioned sewists who insist upon perfection may not enjoy sewing with gauze.) I ultimately used the tutorial from Sew to Speak as my guide.

Making continuous bias binding from a square—I used a Heather Ross lawn from Wyndham—is rather miraculous, but tedious nevertheless. The Sew to Speak tutorial links to this tutorial. I had done it before, but the method is not very intuitive and so a visual reminder was helpful.
 
Attaching the binding required lots and lots of pins and I worried about whether I'd caught the elusive gauze all the way around (I did). Like much of sewing, I swore I'd never do it again while I was doing it, but the end result is so cute that I'd be tempted. And the 23" piece I cut is enough to make bias binding for two blankets, so I probably ought to try again, if for no other reason than to use up the binding. It felt good to finish two tasks and spend time in my sewing room—it's definitely been awhile.


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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Stitching Through

It's been a rough time in the McCray household, as we cope with unexpected losses. They feel like a sucker punch and we're trying to figure out how to exhale again and move forward, what context death provides for the rest of our lives, and how to support the loved ones of those lost. Bottom line, both Paul and I have been rather unproductive, with lots of aimless gazing and little concentration. TV has been something of a solace, but I'm not good at sitting and watching unless I've got something in my hands.
 So English Paper Piecing, which I got started on after Quilt Market (thanks to this great book), has filled the void. The color has been good for these grey days and the repetitive, mindless sewing a solace. No idea what I'll do with these, but the good part of making so many is that I have a lot to fool around with when it comes time to decide. This morning there is finally some sun coming in the windows and I was moved to push the bits around and start thinking of some coherent whole.






Friday, February 12, 2016

What's Pearl the Squirrel About, Anyway?

That's a question I ask myself frequently.

It started out as a way to document my life, both crafty and personal. It morphed into talking about my writing, mostly of the crafty nature. Then it turned into a way to do a little book publicity, too. The blog's readership has never been large, and at the end of a day of writing for publication I often decide I'd rather sew or knit than write some more. Hence, Pearl the Squirrel is neglected.

So, I'm going to try again. I'll include links to my writing, photos of my sewing and knitting, and news of an upcoming big project, when the time is right.


 Here are a few photos from last month, when I was able to spend time in Austin, Texas. As a California girl, I've never properly adapted to winter and it has been getting to me more every year. I don't like to drive in the snow and if it's at all icy I don't like to walk outside, which is honestly one of the things that keeps me sane.

Because my work is portable, I was able to take it and my sewing machine to Austin, where I stayed in a very nice AirB&B in a neighborhood from which I could walk to the grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants, bookstore, and a great bakery. I took Pearl and we walked outside multiple times daily and I felt very restored.


I also did a little espionage work for Home Ec Workshop, by taking a class at Stitch Lab (well, I also just really wanted to take a class there). I made the Washi dress with a fabulous teacher, Sarah, who had made every piece of new clothing last year. She's done costuming for Broadway and sewing for museum exhibitions and generously shared her skills with the class. There were five of us and the other students were very welcoming and gave me lots of good pointers on enjoying Austin.

Best of all, I got to hang out with my daughter Maggie and her beau EJ and meet their chickens. A fantastic month!




Saturday, December 12, 2015

Getting Back At It

I've neglected Pearl the Squirrel for so long that it's become kind of an ominous creature for me, lurking in the background, leaving me feeling bad. I decided it's time to revitalize this beast, but in a way that's much easier to cope with. I won't always have things I've made to share—it's been a long time since I've completed a quilt, for example—and so I've decided to share small things. They may be things I've sewn or knitted or they may simply be interesting textile tidbits. And that is what today's post is—I saw this in the November issue of House Beautiful and it combines two of my favorite things: textiles and words. Scroop. Who knew?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Podcast today!

Yes, it's been a long time since I've posted. It's not as though I haven't had anything to post, but somehow when I write all day for work, Pearl the Squirrel gets neglected. I'm planning to gear up again. I promise!
But for now, I hope you'll listen in this afternoon to Pat Sloan's podcast. I'll be on the other side of the interview chair, talking about Art Quilts of the Midwest. There's some exciting news that I'll be sharing on the podcast.

In addition, Pat will be speaking to quilter and designer Heather Jones and art quilter Sue Rasmussen. (A super-appropriate pairing, given that Heather's new book is Quilt Local and Sue creates art quilts from photos taken in her surroundings!)

Here's where you listen: http://www.allpeoplequilt.com/magazines-more/quilting-podcast. The show starts at 3 p.m. CT. Hope you can join us!


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Art Quilts of the Midwest is Launched!

I really will post soon about something other than Art Quilts of the Midwest. But last night Codi held a book launch party at Home Ec Workshop and it was so much fun for me. There were lots of friends, old (as in 20+ years old) and new (people I've met while working at Home Ec) and in between. There were several folks that I was especially touched to see, including a group of my former colleagues from my days at the University of Iowa. Several of us had made quilts for one another for significant life events (here, and herehere).

Here Codi and I look oddly formal (considering that I must have hugged her 27 times over the evening). But she gave me this bouquet of daffodils tulips and I wanted to include it in the picture. She put so much effort into the evening, and I was so grateful.
This was the only shot I got of Erick, and we didn't get one of Astrid (the book's foreword author) at all. She and I each said a few words about our involvement in the book, and Erick showed a portion of the film he's made about his work that included the pieces he has in the book.
The funny part was that the crowd was so much larger than anticipated and we realized we wouldn't fit into the workroom. So Codi, Astrid, and I delivered our remarks from Home Ec's kitchen, and Erick showed his film in shifts in the workshop. Our friends listened patiently and there were so many great comments about Erick's film.


Emily, in the black and white jacket, was one of the book's jurors

It was an evening that reminded me how much the Midwest has given me. Though I rant and rave every year about my dislike of the cold and the snow, the community that is Iowa City makes me so very happy. As Astrid said in her remarks, it's a place filled with people who are hidden gems doing surprising things, and having this group of artists, professors, shop owners, scientists, realtors, poets, graphic designers, knitters extraordinaire, biologists, etc. come out to support the book meant so very much.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Art Quilts of the Midwest: The First Copy Has Arrived!

Last week, just before leaving for QuiltCon, I got an email from the University of Iowa Press saying that one copy of my book was available for me to pick up. It was a Monday and I'd been back for two days from Minnesota and was leaving in a day for Austin. I was harried, so I didn't respond right away. I was also afraid. There's this kind of magic time in between when you write a book and make your edits and hand it all over to the designer and the Press. You can say "I've got a book coming out," and everyone is very encouraging and excited and it's easy, because it's all out of your hands. Though I've definitely been doing some marketing work, it really just an idea of a book because the physical object didn't yet exist.

But apparently it now it did. When I talked to my husband and told him it was there he said "If you don't get it, I will!" That would have been a little embarrassing, so off I went. It was kind of a quiet visit—I guess I thought everyone might come out and cheer or something—but it was nevertheless wonderful. I gave Karen, the production manager, a hug because she did so much work to make it so lovely and because it was so amazing to hold it in my hands I just had to hug someone.

Then I took it home and put it in a plastic bag and ran around frantically packing and watering plants and doing last minute errands. I really didn't look at it until I was on the plane. There was a lovely, satisfying moment when I pulled it out (and secretly hoped that my seat mate would ask me about it—no such luck) and paged though it and felt the "book-ness" of it. And for the next four days I carried it around, whipping out my book-in-a-baggie and whenever appropriate (and sometimes even when it wasn't appropriate, just because I couldn't help myself).

I'll share more about the book itself, but for now know that it will be available in the next week or so at Prairie Lights, if you're local or through your local bookstore (you can ask them to order it), on Amazon, and through the Press. I hope you'll take a look!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

QuiltCon 2015 Follow-up

It's been a wonderful few days in Austin, where I'm attending QuiltCon.
Admiring City Center by Angie Henderson at the QuiltCon 2015 exhibition hall
There's really nothing like being with folks who love what you do. On Thursday morning I started chatting with a young woman from Victoria, B.C., as we walked across the lobby floor. She said "I want to live here!" And I said "In Austin?" Her response was that the location didn't matter so much, but she wanted to be with people who loved what she did on a day-to-day basis. She'd tried to describe her passion to her work colleagues, but they didn't understand and were glad she was going where others did, because they'd heard enough. My guess is that she won't stop talking when she returns—she may be so pumped full of enthusiasm that she makes a few quilting converts.
I may or may not have purchased some of this fabric at Stitch Lab's booth in the vendor area
For coverage of QuiltCon, visit UPPERCASE's blog—though she was on of the three jurors for QuiltCon (along with Carolyn Friedlander and Stevii Graves) UPPERCASE editor Janine Vangool wasn't able to attend and asked me to to cover for her. You can find words and photos about QuiltCon 2015 here and here, with more to come. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

QuiltCon, Here I Come!

I'm back from the better part of a week in Minnesota with my aunt, and getting ready to head out again, this time for Texas. (And while I dearly love my aunt, at this time of the year I am definitely looking forward to going south, rather than north!)
UPPERCASE issue #24: Note in the right-hand column, 1x1-inch squares of actual feed sacks grace the covers
I'll be covering QuiltCon for UPPERCASE magazine, which I'm quite pleased to have been asked to do. I've written for UPPERCASE over the years and for issue #24 I got to write about feed sacks, one of my favorite topics.

The real thrill of writing this piece was getting to talk with people who remember wearing feed sack clothing—I found their names through the comments on the Etsy feed sack post I wrote in 2011. The interviews were delightful, and I loved that neither Joyce, who grew up on an Iowa farm, or Nancy, who lived in Ohio, ever felt deprived because their clothes were feed sacks. On the contrary, they loved them. When UPPERCASE #24 arrived at her home, Nancy even sent me the photo below of a feed sack quilt that included scraps of a sack she'd picked out for a dress. It had simple mathematical equations on it, and she remembered thinking when she chose it that it could come in handy when she was in school.

At any rate, if you'll be at QuiltCon, I hope you'll join me for what they're calling "a demonstration" on Friday at noon in Exhibit Hall B. In addition to giving away 10 copies of UPPERCASE #24, the one with actual feed sack squares affixed to the cover, I'll be talking about feed sacks. (Also, Janine is offering a special QuiltCon discount for an UPPERCASE subscription. http://uppercasemagazine.com/quiltcon)