Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday sewing

On my way to take a class at Home Ec Workshop to make Amy Butler's Birdie Sling. A couple of women I work with are taking it too and asked if I'd like to join them. So sweet of them, and I'm excited to spend some time with them and at Home Ec—such a great little shop, with fun fabric and gorgeous yarn. And I hear the latt├ęs are the best.

I'll report back tomorrow. Until then, I hope you get to do some Saturday sewing (or whatever makes your Saturday fun).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh, la, la!

I find the colors of this quilt quite amazing—so rich and so very Lily Pulitzer. But it actually dates from the 1850s and it's French. It's the quilt from the global quilting feature in the April American Patchwork and Quilting.

I've said it before, but antique quilts were never the thing that drew me to quilting. But the opportunity to learn about them through the writing I've done has made me a convert. I find it so interesting that not only have people been creating quilts all over the world, but that they've been making the forever. (Carolyn Ducey, the curator from the International Quilt Study Center told me that quilts go back as far as Roman times, when soldiers wore layers of cloth stitched together as a type of armor.)

This particular quilt is a vanne, which is basically a decorative throw that was used on beds. As you can tell by the minimal piecing on this, these types of quilts (made in the Marseille region) were all about the quilting and not the piecing.

Lucky French babies were sometimes brought into their bed-resting mothers and laid on a vanne. Imagine letting a baby spit up on that gorgeously worked fabric! I'm pretty sure that's what old cloth diapers were made for. But this does remind me about an off-topic, but fairly fascinating article by Jill Lepore about breastfeeding in the Jan. 19 New Yorker. It provides a great history of breast feeding (news to many, I'm sure, but not so much to me—in my checkered past I was not only a Lamaze instructor but rented electric breast pumps, the kind that were only available hospitals in the early 1980s, to mothers in need) and some provocative thoughts on breast feeding now. I don't agree with it all by any means, and I've always had strong feelings about the guilt mothers are made to feel for not nursing, but it's worth reading. I'd love to hear what anyone thinks about it (or about French vannes, for that matter).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Screwing up

I'm working on a profile for the next issue of Stitch and it's got me thinking about making mistakes. My interview subject's philosophy is an interesting combination of doing things by the book and winging it. It's a topic I've thought about long and hard. When I learned to sew, my mom was very much a follow-the-pattern-exactly kind of gal. She was like that about much of life, but I also think it was the way things were in the "early days" of sewing. So I was taught not to bend the rules when it came to sewing.

My interview subject had a great story about cutting a hole in a nearly completed dress. In order to repair it she had to cut it off and reattach it in an order different than recommended in the pattern. It worked fine and she said it was a valuable lesson about improvisational sewing. It's easy to imagine there's just one right way to do things—the way you've always done them or the way you may have been told to do them. But if there's one thing quilters have taught me, it's that there are myriad ways to accomplish any task: to bind a quilt, to applique, to cut fabric.

A few years ago I interviewed Avis Shirer of Joined at the Hip for the American Patchwork and Quilting web site and she told me about carefully saving some beloved red plaid fabric for years, waiting for just the right project on which to use it. She finally found the perfect quilt and put it together and was very happy with the result. But somehow, after the top was complete, she managed to cut into the red plaid. She had used every last inch of that fabric and because she'd had it for so long she couldn't find any more. At first, she said, she sat down and cried. But then she finagled a fix—some sort of little applique that turned out to be very charming, very personal, and made the quilt far more special than when she'd finished it the first time.

It takes a certain confidence to embrace the unexpected and tell yourself it's fine. But it's so much more fun when you do. And as my Stitch interview subject said "Sometimes when you make mistakes and fix them, the result is so cute. And you wouldn't have thought to do it way if you hadn't screwed up."

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I turned in the first draft of my big project yesterday afternoon. It's always hard to "release" something that feels not quite done, but at this point it needs the input of others. Sara, the designer on the project, encouraged me to let it go and enjoy the weekend. (Now there's a concept that hasn't caught on in this house in quite some time...but that's another post...)

Although it doesn't seem to be in my nature to let loose when other projects are on the immediate horizon, I decided to give myself the night off. I wandered up to my sewing room and nosed around--what could I do that could be accomplished in an evening? My eyes lit on a little kit I bought a summer or two ago. I've always been intrigued by wool and though the countrified style of the project didn't exactly scream "ME!" I decided to give it a try.

Et, voila! Here's the little pincushion I stitched up last night, while watching Ghost Town (a funny-sweet movie with Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear). It was so satisfying--no raw ends to turn under, no fancy stitchin'. I love working with wool!

It's a fiber I've been attracted to for awhile--the saturated colors seem so much deeper and richer than those found in cotton fabrics. In my weaving days, I especially admired wool rag rugs, though they're hard to come by. I'd been admiring wool pillows stitched by an acquaintance's mom for a couple of years and finally splurged this year and bought one. The style of this appeals to me more--while still traditional, it's also very graphic.

At Market in Houston I happened upon a booth that really hit all the right buttons for me—great colors and bold designs. I was tempted to buy a kit, but didn't know if I really enjoyed working with wool. I've had their postcard on my bulletin board since October because it's so beautiful. Now I know a kit from WoolyLady will be my next splurge!

And just fyi..."woolgathering" is defined (in my 1970 Webster's): n.[from random wandering to gather tufts of wool caught on thorns and hedges] absentmindedness or daydreaming. Hmmm...I'd think plucking stray tufts of wool off thorny shrubs sounds as though it requires a bit of concentration...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Doggie on the green

I'm still working rather relentlessly on my previously-mentioned writing project. Except for some time out to revel in the inauguration, I've had the ol' nose to the grindstone. I haven't even bothered to peer into my sewing room lately, but I think in a week or so I may be able to. In the meantime I leave you with this little terrier—somewhat Pearl-like, don't you think?—waiting patiently for me to return to my cutting mat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A change is gonna come...

There's just one picture I have to post today. It was part of a terrific show of political quilts at Quilt Market in Houston this past October. The photo is of a quilt by Susan Shie (apologies for the railing and post in the image). Here's a link where you can see a larger image of the quilt and read what Shie has to say about the piece, (scroll down under "2008 gallery complete" posting). She's also got information on the site about an entire show of Obama quilts by 60 fiber artists—President Obama: A Celebration in Art Quilts opening Feb. 9 at the Cafritz Foundation Arts Center at Montgomery College in Silver Springs, MD.

Whatever your political persuasion, I hope you feel a sense of the promise and power inherent in today's events. There are no magic bullets for the troubles of our country and world, but we can hope, and we can implore the God or gods with whom we touch base, that the change in Washington will bring a change for the better. Obama was elected because Americans of many races, creeds, backgrounds, and belief systems (including those of us who caucused for someone else) supported and worked hard for someone we believed would bring much-needed change. That we still have the ability to join forces, despite all that divides us, can provide a powerful example for others. Obama's facing unbelievable obstacles and challenges. We've proved we're willing to put aside differences and work together for something new. I hope we can do the same in the days, months, and years ahead. Today, I feel optimism all around.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Keeping my seat in my chair...

It's been a long weekend of writing on a non-textile-related project. Instead of quilts, I'm deep into the world of late 19th- and early 20th-century explorers. It's a bit of a slog, but as with nearly every writing project, I'm learning a lot.

So, here's my message for today. It's a reprint of a British WWII poster, supposedly posted in the subways where Brits sought shelter during bombing raids. Veddy, veddy British to keep a stiff upper lip in times like that. My husband got it for me for my birthday a year or two ago and it reminds me that if folks could carry on during bombing raids, it shouldn't be much of a problem for me!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Finest monkey quid? Frankly more quarrelsome? Feeling mighty querulous?

When my friend Anne R. first offered to teach me to quilt, I remember the lingo she used seemed exotic. What were fat quarters? A stash? The difference between piecing and quilting? It was a foreign language, but once I learned to walk the walk, it didn't take long to talk the talk. So I've learned that FMQ is an abbreviation for free motion quilting, especially when referred to online.

I've had my share of trials with FMQ. I first learned when I took a class at Common Threads to make the Sunday Satchel. I could handle the nice square of fabric, keeping my stitching relatively even. But when I tried to do anything larger, in particular a baby quilt, it was a god-awful mess. I can multitask with the best of 'em, but keeping myself from putting the pedal to the metal with my presser foot while at the same time moving my hands was like the worst case of not being able to rub my head and pat my stomach. Or dial my cell phone and drive (fortunately, not quite that dangerous).

I mentioned that I got a new machine recently—the money was the result of selling my lovely Glimakra Standard loom this past summer, along with my spinning wheel. It wasn't an easy decision—I always told myself I might weave and spin again when I retired—but they'd both sat idle for many years and it was time for someone who wanted them to use them.

With my new machine, I'm able to unplug the foot pedal and simply press a button: the speed is controllable by a sliding lever. It's just what I needed to make FMQ really fun. This weekend I quilted an entire baby quilt—turned on my two new Christmas CDs (The Essential Yo-Yo Ma and Lake Street Dive Promises, Promises) and spent a really relaxing evening. Here are the results: not perfect, but a definite step up from the my previous attempts, which looked as though someone ought to be arrested for the maltreatment of fabric and thread.

Now I've got to get a binding on it. The baby for whom it's intended was born last night—an 8 lb. 14 oz. girl. Can't wait to meet her!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Button up...

With today's temperatures, the heading should be "Button up your overcoat." It was barely zero on the bank thermometer downtown when I headed to a 1 p.m. meeting a few blocks from my office. I noted several student-types wandering about with coats unbuttoned, mittens missing. It was all I could do to overcome my mothering tendencies and walk past without lecturing them on the perils of bare flesh in such sub-freezing conditions. But I did...

Instead this button up refers to the charming American Maid buttons I bought at the Crowded Closet awhile back. I have a thing for pearl buttons--they remind me of the prize of finding an abalone shell on the beach as a child, and more recently of a piece I wrote many, many years ago for the now defunct children's history magazine The Goldfinch about the button industry in Muscatine, Iowa. It was a perilous industry and one that eventually depleted the Mississippi river of mussels. But even with that dark history, I have a real admiration for old pearl buttons, because of their varied and natural origins and the labor that's required to produce them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I miss color in this monchromatic landscape

Outside, all is grey, white, and brown. For a very brief time yesterday the new snow found a contrast in blue sky and sunshine, which reminded even winter-hating me that the season has its charms. But today we're back to grey sky, white ground, dull tree trunks.

All this is a stark contrast to last week, when we flew to Southern California for my mom's 80th birthday celebration. The first morning we were there I took a walk down to the beach, about a mile from my parents' house. I used to take that landscape for granted, but I've now lived in the Midwest long enough to be awestruck at the plants that were growing in mid-January; the people wearing down coats, gloves, and Ugg boots because it was in the high-40s that early morning; and the contrast of color: the azure ocean, the red hot poker plants bold against the pelican- and guano-covered rocks.

I think so much of one's color sense comes from the place from whence you come. Mary Merkel-Hess is a friend of mine and a native Iowan (and one of my very first artist profile subjects) and her early work, in particular, was very neutral and strongly influenced by the colors and shapes of the midwestern landscape. Mary visited her Iowa daughter who was in graduate school in S. California and upon her return said to me, "Now I understand where Linzee-blue comes from," a reference to my fondness for ocean colors. It made me realize how strongly (and perhaps permanently) my early environment influenced my visual preferences. For example, here's the bay where I kayaked every morning of my senior year in high school:

After my walk and my musings, we got down to business on the party. My sister, Carolyn, and I went downtown to a lovely little florist and ordered a corsage for my mom.

The bouquets and arrangements were stunning and I couldn't resist taking a few shots.

In particular, this bouquet reminded me of a quilt, My Garden by Japanese quilter Masako Tanabe, I'd seen in Houston at Market. Although the quilt obviously wasn't inspired by this particular bouquet of flowers, it did make me think again about drawing inspiration from one's surroundings.

This blog entry wouldn't be complete without a shot of the birthday girl herself, along with her nearly three-year-older sister. So here are my mom, Sally, on the right, along with her sister, my Aunt Marcia, on their way to my mom's 80th birthday bash. The corsage turned out just fine and I think they look pretty fine, too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That self-improvement time of year

Last year I lurked on a blog about weight loss, the Big Bad Blob Blog. Some of my work and freelance colleagues participated in a bloggy contest to see who could lose the most weight in ten weeks. As they're all creative types, the blog was most amusing (and some actual weight was lost).

This year I've decided to join in...I'm shooting for nine pounds in ten weeks. The male and female winner each get a (small) cash prize and the admiration of their friends. Behind their backs, the non-winners (since everyone's a loser in this competition) secretly loathe the winners, so it can't possibly be a good idea to win. There. I've already set myself up for failure. Always a good way to go.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Three things from my childhood

I just returned from three nights in Southern California. My mom turned 80 on Tuesday and my sisters and I threw a birthday luncheon for her. It was a quick trip, but one that was greatly appreciated for many reasons, not the least of which was that temperatures there were about 60 degrees warmer than those we left here.

More on the party later, but here are three items that surfaced while I was home, evoking strong childhood memories:

A swatch of the sturdy cotton fabric (called kettlecloth—remember kettlecloth?) from the first garment I sewed—a "shift" (anyone remember shifts?) in eighth grade home ec.

A pillowcase, one of the pair I embroidered as a gift to my mom. I must have made these during high school or even college, when embroidery was all the rage and apparently I only knew the chainstitch. I loved embroidery and covered my overalls and blue workshirt with images. I've still got the workshirt.

And a trip to the grocery store revealed that XLNT tamales still exist--ah, the many times I enjoyed these for lunch. In those pre-microwave days they had to be boiled in the wrapper for about 30-40 minutes I think, but the wait was worth it. I very carefully did NOT check to see what was on the ingredient list—I'm guessing the lard content was high, which may well have been why they were so tasty.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Art of Appreciation

Although I’ve occasionally tried to convince myself that I am an artist, in truth, I am not. I love making things, I love color and light and texture and pattern and they way work together to create a whole. Combining yarn for a blanket or fabric for a quilt is a natural process for me. But I can’t draw or sculpt or paint with acrylics or watercolors—I’ve tried, and it just isn’t a way that I can express myself with any pleasure at the end result. I know there are entire schools of thought that say that I can improve with practice and should just enjoy the process, but I’m old enough to know that I’ve given it my all and that life is too short to feel that incompetent.

So instead, I am an artist-appreciator. Don’t get me wrong, I love art and the work of artists, but it’s talking to artists that trips my trigger, particularly artists who design fabric or use textiles in their work. I have the good fortune in my writing to be able to do just that, and several times a year my editors send me names and I write profiles. Depending on the length of the piece, I talk with my profile subjects anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour or more. When we really hit it off, my subject and I can talk for much longer (that’s a story for another blog entry).

A recent profile in the winter issue of Quilts and More is of Amy Schimler. Her work is a delight and talking to her about her textile design and her art was such a pleasure. She’s a warm person who thinks deeply about the work she does and is able to articulate it. The fabric at left is from the new collection she's designed for Robert Kaufman, Creatures and Critters.