Friday, January 27, 2012

New Year's Writing Resolution? Check!

One of the things I am striving for this coming year is to see my writing published in some new venues (while still continuing to write for the previous ones, of course). It's a bit of a cheat to say I succeeded at fulfilling this New Year's resolution, because I actually knew about this particular opportunity last fall.

Janine Van Gool, the editor and founder of UPPERCASE, contacted me in November regarding the Etsy story I'd written about Kyle Durrie and her Type Truck. Janine had taken photos of Kyle and was planning to assign a story for UPPERCASE, when she happened upon mine. With the blessing of Etsy, Janine ran the story in the magazine, illustrating it with the photos she had taken and giving it a whole new lease on life. I am thrilled to be included in a magazine that is a visual treat and has such lovely production values.

I think the cover of UPPERCASE really says it all: A magazine for the creative and curious. It features myriad quirky, talented people and their inspiring ideas (including a piece about Kathryn Clark's Foreclosure Quilts). And if there was ever a magazine with more fantastic covers, I have yet to see it. Check the back issues (and the current one) on UPPERCASE's website.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Quilt Retreat Catch-up

In October I was lucky enough to attend another retreat in Lake Tahoe, but thanks to Quilt Market and life in general, I never managed to get the photos posted. So here they are.
The gang at work with the Lake outside our windows
It was the same group from last year's retreat (although we missed De, Sue, Lynn, and Nancy very much). The locale was just as lovely, and the friends were dearer, because I knew them better.

Candy with her Featherweight
Mel & her Liberty print yoyos
Debbie and Kathy S. with their witch blocks
We decided last year to do a witch block exchange, and it was the first block exchange I'd participated in. I finished my blocks up just before I left, and we exchanged them on the last day of the retreat as a few members were still stitching.

Witch blocks by Molly and Mel
Figuring out how to put them together has been the perfect excuse to start collecting Halloween fabrics—a little of this for sashing, a bit of that for the border—as if I needed such an excuse.

The block ensemble
Haven't managed to start on that yet...the sewing, that is. The fabric collecting I'm pretty darned good at.

Carol finishing her blocks

Tina's Moooy (muy) Cowliente (caliente): Note the fringed udder
 One of the highlights of the retreat were the many cow quilts that kept being conceived and then quickly stitched. The idea for cow quilts comes from Mel and Mary Lou's new book Out of the Box with Easy Blocks book. These are a few of those that were created and then shown at Quilt Market the following week.

Psych-cow-delic by Mary Lou (detail)
Homage to Mary Lou (using all her fabrics) by Kathy C.
Boo-moo! Halloween quilt by Molly. Love the rick-rack spider legs

 A few other projects were undertaken, as well.

Debbie worked long and hard on her quilt back. Adding some cheddar fabrics was the final piece de gave it the oomph it needed.

Tina got into some garment sewing (and cheerfully modeled).

 Mel and I stitched holiday table runners.

And making many baby bibs...flannel on one side, quilting cotton with rick rack details on the other, occupied a few of my sewing hours.

Can't wait for next year!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mad Photo Skillz

My husband's 7th grade picture, on our workbench
Welcome to those of you who are visiting after reading my guest blogging post on the Quilt Gallery blog. Michelle was a real pleasure to work with and as a former teacher of writing, I really enjoyed the opportunity to share a few tips I've learned along the way. I'm planning to offer more suggestions about writing for blogs and for publication and possibly to be taking on a few online "students" in the future, so if you're interested check back, or even better drop me a line and let me know of your interest.

At any rate, along with writing I've greatly enjoyed the opportunities my work presents to improve my photography. I took photo classes in high school and spent many pleasant hours breathing in horrid chemicals under a red light—okay, so that wasn't a hightlight, but I so loved darkroom work—the magic of watching the image slowly appear in the trays of developer. I shot photos for my high school yearbook and continued through college to take and develop them. But as kids and life intervened, I switched to a point and shoot camera.

So it was with trepidation that I started shooting "serious" photos again, first for my blog, but then for Etsy stories and my Quilt County column. And now I love it. I still have much to learn, though, and one of my challenges is taking crisp, clean shots of individual items. Etsy has fantastic resources for taking great photos and there are lots of tutorials on line about photography, too. I used this one and this one when I decided to make a light box, and below are a few shots of the process.

Start with a box. This one was pretty large, and thus harder to store the finished product.

One one side, measure 2 inches in from each of the four edges of the box, marking the distance at intervals along each side.

Using a straight edge (a quilter's ruler would work well for this), connect the dots to draw a line. Then use a box cutter to slice the cardboard away, leaving a "frame." Do this to three of the boxes sides, leaving the back and bottom of the box uncut.

Below is what it will look like, with "frames" cut into three sides:

Next, cover the three "frames" with something white that is transparent enough to let in light. Some tutorials suggest tissue paper, but I thought this would be too easy to accidentally punch through. Most quilters have some muslin in their stash and so that's what I used, along with duct tape to hold it tightly in place.

When you've covered all three "frames" it will look like this on the outside and inside:

Now, add a sheet of white paper to the back and bottom. I got some poster board. Mine wasn't quite wide enough, but still works well for shooting small items. Then, add lights. I placed mine directly under the lamp that lights our kitchen table. It's near a window and I hoped the natural light might be enough, but in retrospect I would add lights to either side. Again, if you're a quilter and have an Ott light or other portable light, these would be ideal to place on the sides.

And finally, try some sample photos. While I love the white background, I think they would be made much crisper by adding side lighting (portable shop lights would work well, too).

There you have it! I'm more than a little embarrassed that I didn't take the time to crop and enhance these photos. And I think that the scarf in the bottom photo would show off much more effectively on a live model (like this one). But you get the idea. Take the time to get creative with it—try lights on just one side, change the color of your background, etc. It will go a long way toward improving your photos!

Do you have any great tricks for shooting textile photos for your blog? What do you think of this light box? I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Featherweight Comes Home

My very sweet husband wanted to get me a ring for Christmas. He found one on Etsy that I'd marked as a favorite, but another buyer had snatched it up. So he asked me to choose a replacement.

While his impulse was a lovely one, there was something else I'd been wanting for quite some time—a Singer Featherweight sewing machine. These 11-pound wonders were built and sold in the 1940s and 1950s, and lots of quilters love them and use them regularly.

My friend Kristin pieces on one that belonged to her mother and another friend Candy brought hers to our Lake Tahoe retreat and whipped up a couple of quilts with it. They pretty much go forward and backward and that's it, but they're easy to transport, have a terrific 1/4-inch stitch, and are as cute as a button.

We were lucky to find a reasonably priced Featherweight on Craigslist. The machine had belonged to the grandmother of the young man who was selling it—she'd used it to stitch charity projects for her church. Neither the seller nor his fiancĂ© sew.

I'm trying to decide what it is that makes me so happy with this little wonder. It's adorable, of course, and there is something so fantastic about the fact that it not only works, but works incredibly well.

I think it's the story that goes with it—the young man and his fiancĂ© are both students and could undoubtedly use the money, so they were pleased to make the sale. And I loved the absurdity of meeting at a shopping mall, where they pulled the machine from its little black case, plugged it in at a wall outlet, and oblivious to the shoppers strolling past, I tested its sewing ability with the bit of fabric I'd tucked in my purse for just that purpose.

As we left, the young man shook our hands and told me that he knew his grandmother would be pleased that it wasn't sitting unused in his house, but instead bringing pleasure to another stitcher. The Featherweight was part of his family's history and its purchase has added to our family lore. I can't wait to use it to stitch my next quilt.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Inspiration for the New Year

I don't mean to come off like Oprah, promising to change your world. But I do find that tips or quotes can sometimes provide a succinct way to put things into perspective. Here are two that inspire me:

Inspiration number one: This quote attributed to educator, theologian, and civil rights activist Howard Thurman. He founded the first intercultural, racially integrated church in the United States, the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in San Francisco.

I came across this quote a few years ago in a profile I read in my husband's alumni magazine. It resonated so strongly for me because it was a time when I was going through a lot, trying to figure out what my next step should be.

This Christmas Eve my daughter Rebecca got off the plane with a big piece of cardboard and it turned out to be this poster. She remembered how much I loved this quote and purchased the poster from letterpress printer bookish lady. I'm planning to hang it in my study, so that I am reminded on a daily basis to honor the choices I've made and to prioritize my life so that the things that make me come alive don't get buried in the mundane activities that can eat up a day. It also helps me remember that doing so can have repercussions beyond what makes me happy...that my choice can serve others.

Inspiration number two: Today's Etsy blog post by Noah Scalin, who's written Unstuck: 52 Ways to Get (and Keep) Your Creativity Flowing at Work, Home, and In Your Studio. 
I haven't read the book, but I quite like his six suggestions in the Etsy post. Check them out here.

How about you? Any tips or quotes that are inspiring you this new year? I'd love to hear them!