Tuesday, December 28, 2010

SeaHope Partners

Thanks to an assignment from Stitch, I had the good fortune to come into contact with Margaret Jankowski, the founder of the Sewing Machine Project. Margaret is an amazing woman, someone who absolutely doesn't let adversity (or even her own self-admitted naivete) get in her way.

The Sewing Machine Project started when Margaret heard an Indonesian woman lament the loss of her sewing machine in the 2005 tsunami. Margaret, a lifelong sewer and sewing educator, could identify with a love of a sewing machine, but realized that for the Indonesian woman it also meant the loss of her livelihood. The loss so moved Margaret that she started gathering used machines in good condition to send to Indonesia. She quickly gathered 75 machines, but realized she had no idea how to transport them. Through a variety of connections she found someone to help, and the machines were sent to those who needed them. Since then she's sent machines to people in need around the world, asking only that the recipients "pay it forward" by teaching someone else to sew or sewing for others in need. After Hurricane Katrina her efforts focused on New Orleans, and to date she's created a partnership with AllBrands and has distributed more than 650 machines in that area. This is the story I wrote for Stitch (it's in the fall issue).

When the Gulf Oil spill occurred, Margaret again wanted to help. She formed SeaHope Partners, and I was able to share that story on an Etsy post that went up yesterday. Check out the bags that Margaret is creating, including the line she's creating with artists (and if you're interested in helping, you can get in contact with her through the Sewing Machine Project site). Margaret's efforts are full time and unpaid, but she's completely committed to doing the work she's begun and she's got more projects on the horizon (see the Etsy story for word on her upcoming efforts). 

I love that Margaret has found sewing to be the means to reach out and help. Sewing is pleasurable: it brings feelings of mastery (learning new skills and techniques), of inspiration (working with all those colors and patterns), of comfort (sewing for family and friends), of practicality and self-reliance (making something you could buy, and making it your own). But for most of us it's a hobby or at least a pursuit that we don't depend on to put food on the table. Margaret understood that sewing continues to put a roof over the heads of people around the world and has made it her mission to keep those folks stitching.

If you're puzzling over a great birthday present for a sewing friend, or even a way to honor a stitching friend who has died, consider a monetary gift to the Sewing Machine Project. It will help Margaret get donated sewing machines to areas of greatest need, to people who will love, use, and appreciate them.

(Photos courtesy of Margaret Jankowski)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

(I don't know about you, but I think these birds actually look a as though they're set on committing mob violence, rather than espousing cheerful holiday greetings.)

Many thanks for all your kind words and thoughts about our accident. Life is getting back to normal. I did finally buy a new (used) car and have even taken a road trip to Minnesota...a five hour drive for which I had to muster a little bit of courage. Fortunately all went well.

It's been a busy few weeks, between the car and the holidays. I've created a few things, but unfortunately none could be shown before Christmas and some have been mailed away without photos. I've also had a few assignments to complete and then there were those cookies to bake and a tree to decorate. I'm going to take the week off after Christmas and do some things around the house...including locating my cutting table under the mounds of fabric. We've had cold and snow and I'm feeling a real itch to quilt!

I hope you all have a restful holiday, with time for fun, friends, and family. Peace and love to you all.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seeing the world while hanging from the ceiling...

A week ago today my husband and I had a car accident on our way to visit our daughter and her husband in Austin. It's a long story, but suffice it to say that I saw Oklahoma upside down. My husband avoided a car spinning out of control in front of us, but in doing so was forced to drive off the shoulder of I-35 and down into a ditch. We were doing pretty well until the wheel of the car hit a concrete culvert at the bottom of the ditch, the axle bent, the car spun around and rolled upside down. When we stopped moving we were hanging from our seat belts, completely unharmed. (If you want to read this as a testimonial for my 1999 Saab wagon and Thule car top carrier, go right ahead.) People were on the scene immediately and helped us out of the car. We stayed amazingly calm and I even made sure I had my purse before clambering out.

Which brings me to the point of this post—contemplating the importance of "things." As we stood by the car, waiting for EMTs, state troopers, and a wrecker to arrive, it dawned on me that the many things we had in the car were likely ruined—my daughter's childhood Eastlake dresser and her wedding dress, my sewing machine, our computers, a baby quilt I'd raced to finish so that I could stitch down the binding on vacation. The only injury occurred when Paul reached through the broken glass at the rear of the car to rescue his mandolin and cut his finger. I asked the firefighters if I could climb back into the wreck to retrieve the hat I'd been knitting at the time of the accident. (The firefighter understood my request completely. "My wife knits and quilts and all...she'd do the same.")

Our overwhelming reaction to the accident is to be so grateful for escaping intact that nothing else matters. And that's probably the most obvious lesson—everything else was replaceable, or not so very important in relation to what could have been lost. Still, there was a sick feeling as we watched the wrecker flip the car upright, hearing the crunch of objects inside as they shifted from ceiling to floor. And the stench of gasoline that filled the car made it obvious that even if things weren't broken, they smelled like a Mobil station.

I spend my days writing about people who create objects—fantastic quilts, quirky embroidered bags, needle-felted creatures—and it would be easy to feel that it's rather pointless, that losing one of those items would be nothing in the face of losing a limb or a life. But the accident reminded me too that objects are imbued with a past (the wedding dress) or a future (the stash of fabric I'd brought to stitch holiday gifts), a memory (my daughters' childhood obsession with the Roald Dahl books we had stuffed in the car top carrier), a connection (that baby quilt I wanted to finish and pass along to a newborn).

As we sorted through the mess at my daughter's house in Austin, where I was preparing to pitch the gas-fumed cover of what for years we've called "the car pillow," my daughter balked. "Couldn't you try washing it?" she asked. The terra cotta corduroy cover has been worn smooth by the heads of our family members' during countless naps taken over the years—trips to my aunt and uncle's farm, to the cabin at the lake, to college dorm rooms. Yes, objects can be replaced, but they also remind us of our time together, of who we were, of what we long to accomplish, of our place in the world.

We chose to fly home, rather than retrace our steps (and have to drive past the place where we'd veered off the road). My sewing machine, miraculously unharmed, rode under the seat on the plane. We shipped several boxes of clothing and fabric that had been aired out, washed and dried. My daughter's wedding dress is hanging in her closet and her dresser, piled with her childhood books stands in her garage. I'm writing on the same computer that rode in the car top carrier, on which the weight of the car rolled and came to rest. And today I gave baby Jack Henry the quilt I'd finally finished binding.

We have much for which to be grateful.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Get Down

My latest Etsy post was a pleasure to research. Cookie Vanous and her daughter Dawn Schrog of the Czech Feather and Down Co. were so gracious with their time, despite the fact that they were trying to whip up a slew of door draft-stoppers in time for a craft fair in Cedar Rapids. (Dawn's daughter was going to sell them as a way to drum up some business.)

I learned all about stripped feathers (read more about that in the Etsy post) and got to see the piles of pillows and bedding sent by folks from all over the country for renovation. Their customers are all over the U.S. and the world and they've custom made all kinds of pillows and comforters. I especially loved that if you buy a pillow from them and after sleeping on it for awhile if you want it firmer or softer they'll add or subtract down to make it just right.

Cookie and Dawn also told me their best customers are men. They say that when couples come into the shop the wives will often say "Oh, I could make that...don't buy it, it's too expensive." And the husbands will tell Cookie and Dawn, "I'll be back." And they always are.

After my visit to Czech Feather and Down I'm planning to bring my old pillows in and perhaps combine the down for a nice, new, fluffy pillow. They do such beautiful work and are such nice people, to boot!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Back to My Future

I've mentioned my love of embroidery: when I was in college I covered my overalls and work shirt (a blue chambray shirt) with butterflies, flowers, cross-stitched seams, a giant tree, and more. I also made lots of patches. In early October my book group decided to have a craft weekend and I brought a dishtowel and embroidery floss and hoops for everyone, and my friend Emily drew the perfect bookgroup motif on each of our towels. And thus my love of embroidery was rekindled.

It took another month to get it finished, but on my way home from Quilt Market I started stitching. I choose blue and green (no surprise to anyone who knows me) and then added a bit of orange steam rising from the cup, just so you'd know the coffee was piping hot. I used a chain stitch for everything except filling in the coffee, primarily because it's the stitch I know best. I also wanted it to be ultra-sturdy so that it would be useful and I wouldn't worry about pulling anything out as I used the towel, which I fully intend to do.

I got so excited I went straight from the airport to Ben Franklin, where I purchased more towels. I've now got stitching firmly embroidered on the brain.

And unfortunately, if I told you what PFS stands for,  I'd have to kill you. Our book group (of 18 years!) is sworn to secrecy.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 12, 2010

More Quilt Market photos, but Etsy words

Amazing applique and quilting by Autralia's Don't Look Now 
I had a post on Etsy yesterday about Quilt Market. If you're coming to Pearl the Squirrel from Etsy, there's more on Market here. If you're interested in reading more about Market on Etsy, click here.

Lucy Prior in the Kaffe Fassett booth
Dolls from the Melly and Me booth
By the way, while in NY I had the opportunity to visit the Etsy offices and meet the fabulous Storque editorial team in person. They were extremely gracious and TeenAngster put up with me wandering about with my mouth agape as she gave me the tour. (She's known me for a few years, so perhaps she wasn't surprised by my total lack of cool in the face of so much awe-inspiring, crafty hipness.)

Moda's booth with Momo and Sandy Gervais quilts
From the ceiling hung ductwork covered with green and yellow crocheted granny squares. By the front door were rooms for making phone calls decorated with all manner of Etsy-made items (people don't use their phones at their desks, so although the space is open and enormous, it's relatively quiet). A room divider of hanging balls of yarn, Dottie the speckled dachshund wandering about in her Etsy t-shirt, a ping-pong table, specially designed and stitched quilts that set off a "living room" with couches, lamps, and a coffee table (all vintage and purchased off Etsy), the craft workshop...it went on and on. Thanks to Etsy for welcoming me and sharing their Eatsy lunch with me, as well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whole lotta Spandex going on...

Yesterday my eldest daughter completed the New York marathon! It was a perfect day for the run...sunny, around 50 degrees, fabulous crowds...and we were all there to cheer her on. We started in Brooklyn, just two blocks from my younger daughter's apartment, where we saw the elite men runners, had brunch, and then came back out on the street (Maggie started in the last wave of starters, at 10:45. She ran for Team Boomer, raising money for cystic fibrosis awareness, research, and educational scholarships for CF patients.)

We took the subway, cabbed, and walked blocks and blocks to see Maggie at four separate locations. They wouldn't let us to the finish line, but we enjoyed a reunion on Columbus Ave., complete with cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. She not only completed the entire marathon, but she improved her time by 27 minutes from her previous marathon in San Antonio! Her parents, sister, and husband are in awe and had a fabulous time cheering her on.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The whirlwind that is Quilt Market

For photos and more information that I didn't get to include, make sure to click on the radio Quilt Market link to the right. It will take you to lots of other posts with lots of perspectives and photos—don't miss it!
Phew! Six days after I returned from Tahoe I headed out for Houston. For a home-lovin' gal like me, it's a little challenging to travel so much. But I must say, Market is always such an inspiration. And it's so much fun to get to meet in person the wonderful folks I interview all year via phone.

This was never more true than this year. I spent the entire month of August interviewing designers for Moda's fall "playbook." This is the catalog they give to quilt shop owners to peruse when they make appointments with their fabric reps. It includes images of all the newest fabrics, organized by designer. This Market their theme was Family Tree and included a family tale of each designer or design team. I was the lucky girl who got to write the 18 bios. (Several of those required multiple interviews, as the "designer" is really a pair or more of designers.) I was so excited to see the final product (at left) and it did not disappoint. Marketing director Lissa Alexander is amazing at coming up with ideas for Moda and her crack team of designers really help her ideas shine.

Ann and Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill
In addition to loving the way it looked, I was so pleased to meet many of the designers I interviewed. On top of being talented, they're a fantastic, friendly group of women and because the theme was family I heard some great stories (see the lede to Sandy Gervais bio at left) that really made me laugh.

Blackbird Design's Barb and Alma
I talked to Sandy Klopp of American Jane (ack!!! no photos) and Alma and Barb of Blackbird Designs (who later won a best booth award...you can see why), Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill (here with her friend Ann), and Barb and Mary of Me and My Sister (sorry, no photos of their super-cheerful booth with great new bags). Talked with several others as well, but was so busy chatting that I forgot to shoot photos.

I got to see a few of my other favorite folks, as well. Here is a photo of Anna Maria Horner and her mom. She was as friendly and warm as Anna Maria, and I was a little envious of how much fun it would be to work together on an endeavor like a Quilt Market booth with one's daughter.

I've always admired Jane Sassaman's work and took the plunge and gushed about it to her. She, too, was  as friendly as she is talented and we chatted for awhile. Here's a shot of her with her friend (whose name I have sadly forgotten).

Amy Butler's booth
Right across the way was Amy Butler's fabulous (as always) booth. Amy was busily signing her new book and talking with admirers  every time I came by, so I didn't get any photos of her.

Across the aisle was another of my favorite folk, Tula Pink. She's started designing for Free Spirit and it was great fun to see her. In addition to her gorgeous fabrics and quilt patterns (machine quilted with amazing style and speed by her friend Angela), she was sharing little packets of pink and purple M&Ms emblazoned with her name—so cool! Chocolate was everyone's friend at the show...there was lots, but I didn't see any other personalized treats. (Sorry, no photos, again.)

I also chatted with Jenean Morrison, who has a wonderful new line, Wild World, for Free Spirit. Her booth included a fabric covered guitar, table, and bicycle and I heard later that she'd won a booth award. She talked about how much she loved seeing what people did with her fabric—she doesn't do much stitching herself.

Stephanie and Codi
One of the big excitements of the show was that my traveling buddy Codi (of Home Ec) had designed and stitched a quilt for Camelot Cottons and a magazine expressed interest! Can't say much more, but Codi is a true artist (as in, she has a degree in art) and a sweetheart and I'm so excited for her success. Here she is with Stephanie, the company's art director.

As always, Japanese fabrics were incredible. Here is Etsuko Furuya of Echino, sitting pretty in a display of her magical fabrics. We also visited a booth where Codi purchased for Home Ec some of the most amazing buttons, zippers, and trim from a small Japanese company.

Clothing seems to be getting bigger all the time and there were some great patterns for adults, as well as children. Here's one of my favorites—Sewn. Their patterns are enough to make me think that I might try garments again someday, and I love how each one can be modified—a jacket pattern also makes a trench, for example, and you can change up design details to create a new look.

There were a couple of new fabric companies—one of my favorites was Anthology, out of Southern California. Here are some clever folding chair treatments that featured their fabric.

Organic cotton prints were gorgeous, too. Here is Jan of Daisy Janie, getting a ribbon for her booth as Best New Exhibitor. The wonderful Bob Ruggerio is presenting her with the award—he's in charge of media for Market and Festival—a huge job—and he and his trusty assistant Rhianna do their work with ease and a wonderful sense of humor.

Wool continues to make me drool. The Wooly Ladies rich, bright hues are fabulous, and I also loved these warm tones of Mary Flanagan...all hand-dyed, too.

As per usual, Market ran the gamut from the sublime to the downright silly. Here is a fine example: the ironing board cover that features a naked stud-muffin covered by a towel. When you iron over the towel, his anatomically correct physique is revealed (I never got actual proof of this—apparently it was too risque for Market, but the sellers assured us it was so). The cover is available in a blond or brunette model and apparently also comes in a female version, which they claim was in much less demand. (This company sells some really great ironing board covers, too. And this one may be fabulous...it's just that there's something decidedly perverse about running a hot iron over the male member on a regular basis. Ewww.)

There were so many folks I saw whose pictures I didn't take...Lila Scott (technical editor of APQ) and I got to stroll around together and she's always such a treat; Heidi Kaisand of APQS shared photos of a relative's amazing outdoor wedding; Linda Lum DeBono scurrying around, woman on a mission as per usual; Marianne of The Cinnamon Patch, who translated my story for Quilt Country and told me she got so excited about pearl buttons she also wrote a column on them; Karen Snyder of Anna Lena's who was perusing the amazing quilt exhibition and confessed she'd bought a new quilt earlier in the day; Pam of PamKittyMorning with her friend Elizabeth of Late Bloomer Quilts; all my great editors at American Patchwork and Quilting and their related publications (especially enjoyed chatting with Lisa, the editor of All People Quilt, their online site); a quick hello to editor Tricia from Stitch; the list goes on and on. It's so much fun to connect and catch up.

There is one final photo, and that's of me and someone I've admired for years and years and years (since 1985, when I lived in England and saw an exhibition of his knitting). I couldn't help myself and Kaffe Fasset was willing to put down his needlepoint long enough to pose, so I went for it. It was shot by Brandon Mably, who suggested I tuck my name tag into my jacket so it didn't spoil the "liveliness" of my clothing's color scheme. Yup, I'll admit it...I can be just as much a celebrity designer groupie as the next person!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lakeside sewing

One of the wonderful connections I've made through my writing is with Mary Lou Weidman. I "met" her when I interviewed her for American Patchwork and Quilting nearly four years ago and we've walked the aisles of Quilt Market together. 

Kathy and Mary Lou
In addition, last January I took a class from her at John C. Campbell in North Carolina. Lots of great opportunities have come my way thanks to Mary Lou. This past week another one took place—a sewing retreat at Zephyr Cove on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

There were 15 of us from around the U.S.—most from the West Coast, but there were two Texans and a Georgian. Everyone had taken a class from Mary Lou at some point, many at the Asilomar Empty Spools seminars

Some folks brought a Mary Lou-style story quilt to work on, while others brought UFOs or other projects they had in the works. 

Candy's story quilt about her mom
I only knew five of the people and really enjoyed getting to know the rest. The location was fantastic—a light-filled sewing room with views of Lake Tahoe right out the window—and the company was creative and fun-loving. 

Cherise's incredible pineapple quilt
There was lots of laughter and lots of sharing of techniques, design ideas, and fabric. (Of course we had to buy some fabric, too. There's a terrific little shop with a varied and sizable inventory that some people hit more than once.) 

Kathy's Hoochy Mama flowers

Lynne stitches her family quilt
Some of us had gathered in Lake Tahoe previously and already had the required Red Hut clothing. After a Red Hut breakfast one morning several of the rest of us got this year's Red Hut sweatshirt. We also had the opportunity to peruse the blown glass jewelry made by Andrea King and several of us took something home. She even took orders and brought them to us a little more than 24 hours later.

Nancy and her new necklace
I learned a tremendous amount simply by seeing what other people were doing.

 I think I mentioned that my French Roses quilt took a turn for the better when I laid out my blocks at the end of the first night and someone casually mentioned that I might think about a sashing. Before I knew it people were bringing over fabrics to audition and then someone suggested keystones. I'm so happy with the way it turned out—the black and white lifted it from being fine to giving it a bit of sophistication. The border is still in the works and only about half done. 

I also learned wonky Monkey Wrench blocks from Mel and Deb, who were cranking out cowboy and polka dot blocks, respectively. Everyone's work was different and inspiring in its own way. 

Though I went through travel hell on either end of the week, the time I had in between made it all worthwhile. Now, I'm hoping that I've built up some good travel karma for my next two trips—Quilt Market this coming weekend and the New York Marathon the week after. 

Apologies for the wonkiness of this post...the quilt blocks are supposed to be wonky, not the blog layout!