Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Farewell, Jan Berenstain

Jan and Stan Berenstain in 1999. (Gian Luiso - AP)
On Valentine's Day I interviewed Mike Berenstain, son of authors and illustrators Stan and Jan Berenstain, for one of my clients, Moda Fabrics. I'll admit that I was not a huge fan of the Berenstain Bears, but my kids loved them and I had several of their books memorized because the demand to read them again and again was so high.

I was delightfully surprised by my interview with Mike, a soft-spoken man who is passionate about his work. Since his father Stan died in 2005, Mike has co-written and illustrated Berenstain Bears books with his mom and just two weeks ago they were working away. So I was so very sad to learn that Jan passed away Friday, but glad to know she was drawing right up to the end. Mike told me that when people asked her when she'd slow down she'd say "Maybe I should retire and take up painting."

Mike Berenstain, with his mom Jan
My favorite part of the interview was when Mike described Stan and Jan thusly: "My parents weren't conventional thinkers, they were artists who came from poor, working-class backgrounds. Like many people of that time, they were self-invented, people who were interested in art, culture, music, and history." When I asked him about the morals they imparted to readers through the Bears' tales Mike told me "They didn't go to a lot of authorities, but came up with their own way of giving advice in the form of a story. They had their own distinctive Stan-and-Jan way of approaching things."

I love knowing that Stan and Jan Berenstain were rebels of a sort, not following a traditional path but trusting their own instincts and making a living with their art and humor (they did illustrations and cartoons long before the first Berenstain Bears book came along in 1962). What a legacy they've left—to their two sons who grew up in a house where the norm was that everyone drew and wrote stories—and to children who, whether their parents like it or not, often ask to hear those gentle tales read again and again.

(You can read the Moda profile here.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

To Kit or Not to Kit: That is the Question

Quilt kit from Blue Bamboo
Over the last few years I've talked to a lot of quilt shop owners. It started in 2006, when I had the good fortune to write copy for 20 shops in Best of Quilt Sampler. Since then, I've talked with shop owners from Phoenix, North Carolina, Colorado, and Virginia for Quilt Sampler profiles. They're a passionate bunch, these shop owners, and without fail they tell me how lucky they are to do what they do for a living, and how much they enjoy their customers.

During our conversations we talk about what's popular in their shops and the subject of quilt kits always comes up. Most shop owners spend hours preparing kits for grateful customers and say that kits are big sellers. Shop owners attribute their popularity to quilters' fears of choosing fabrics and colors. Others say quilters are busy people and that ready-made kits speed the process along.

From Blue Bamboo
I'll admit I've felt a little "above" quilt kits. A lot of the fun of quilting for me is combining fabrics to create something uniquely mine. I've felt the same dismissiveness when it comes to pre-cuts and making quilts from a single line of fabric. I love to mix the unexpected and I'm a big fan of scrappy looks, too. But there are days when time is short, or when my mind is too frazzled to design but I still want to sew, and that's when I've appreciated precuts. This baby quilt and this lap quilt were both made with pre-cuts and single lines of fabric and their simplicity provided a soothing break—the hours of almost meditative stitching and ironing, the pleasure of watching something grow. While there's nothing like the energy that comes from stitching something of my own design, there are times when life is already providing me with plenty of intensity and I just need to chill. That's when I'm grateful for kits and pre-cuts.

I believe there's a time and place for all kinds of quilting—the "I'm on fire with creativity" days when ideas and color combinations can't be contained, the days and weeks when I'm hot to try new techniques and willing to spend hours on a difficult pattern. But there are plenty of days when I'm just as happy to have an hour to strip piece and simply appreciate the feel of fabric slipping beneath my fingers. There's room in quilting for all kinds of effort, for the masterpieces and the quick-and-dirties. I'm learning that when it comes to quilting, there are no absolutes. I should never say never.

How about you...do you use kits and pre-cuts? Why or why not?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Visit Mexico!

I've got a poster in my house that belonged to my grandparents. In it, a robust and smiling young maiden with long black braids and (yes) nipples erect under her shirt holds a basket of fruit with her impossibly long arms and beckons you to "Visit Mexico." I've always loved doing just that, although most of my visits have been confined to Baja or the Yucatan.

IMG_7096 Handwoven bracelets (pulsers)

But last week I went to Oaxaca. We were lucky enough to have friends who had been multiple times and so were taken to see all the "best" places. In addition, they are friends with a number of wood carvers and we spent several days visiting carvers' homes and shops (which were typically just a shelf or two in their house). We helped one carver, Saul Aragon, set up an Etsy shop. Be sure to check it out.

IMG_7438 Maria with her carving

Here's a smattering of my photos, including some that may appear in a story I'll be writing for Etsy on the wood carvers and for Magic Patch on Oaxacan textile traditions. Iowa looks pretty monochromatic after a week in Oaxaca.

IMG_7611 Etla Market

IMG_7131 Car at night

IMG_7622 Embroidered table cloth
IMG_7504 Lunch-stuffed squash blossom
IMG_7754 Santo Domingo library
IMG_7762 Textiles in shop
IMG_7018 Basket weaver at Bautista 

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IMG_7773 La Morena