I was a tomboy as a child and I’m still not into dresses, makeup and fancy hair styles. I’m more the throw something on and go play type. So I never developed a dream house. But I do have a dream quilt studio. I’m going to tell you about it, I just ask you don’t think too much about things like, “Why are there so many corners?” or “Is that even possible?” Remember it is a dream.
First, my studio is catastatic. This means that there is a self-cleaning filter system that automatically removes all dust, lint, cat hair and dander. There are also lots of cat beds around my studio that are more enticing to the fur balls than all the fabric and quilts (dream, remember). In one corner is the wash room and, yes, it is padded with quilts. Another corner has a small kitchen area with a fridge and a microwave. One corner is a wine room with a wine for every occasion. The walls are touch screen design areas to keep track of all the projects going on. The ceiling is retractable to the elements for that rare perfect day. It does, of course, repel bugs. Lighting is like natural sunlight so there is never a problem seeing true color. The cutting station is under a beautiful window and is large enough for several people to cut at once if necessary. A pressing area adjoins. In the middle of the room is the sewing machine platform with all of my sewing machines. I think I might as well get a nice embroidery machine because I’m sure not going to do it by hand. And my Bernina 1090 is in the spotlight. I know, I know, a 1090?? My machine is 30 years old and I don’t need anything different! No one messes with my 1090. Well, except for maybe the Mayhall guy. I might also have a Featherweight 221 just because they are so darn cute.
So, about now, you are wondering where all the fabric is. That’s the cool part. I just described the stationary part of the room. The other part is like an elevator. It has multiple floors for different needs. You just call the area you want! There will be a floor for fabric and projects. You can sit in the middle of the area and ask for the fabric you want, all of which is cataloged by color, theme, scale and inspiration factors. You could just ask for a medium scale floral with a blue background and it will be delivered. The real fabric, not a computer image or something, because I like to touch fabric. You will still have to go out to shop for your fabric in the first place, I’m not a miracle worker. This area will also store all of my UFO’s securely so I don’t misplace parts of them.
Another floor will be a quilt room for the finished products to be displayed and stored. Here there will also be a seating area for guests and I’ll be able to have group meetings, teas, and other fun stuff (maybe even a wine tasting). The quilts will be stored flat so they don’t crease or fray. The wall displays will be easily changeable (Barbara John will appreciate that part).
I will, of course, have a quilting floor with a Gammill long arm machine with the Statler Stitcher. Only the best will do. Ok, ok, get over the Bernina 1090, already. I probably also need a floor for pattern, book and general notion storage. Maybe this should be the computer room and it will be connected to the design walls of my sewing area. I just hope this floor doesn’t end up being like my junk drawer. We all have junk drawers! I wonder how many square feet of floor space I need?
See you at the meeting.
I think making a quilt is much like making a baby. My Mom wouldn’t have agreed, she probably would have laughed at the thought, but she never made a quilt! Okay, to be fair, I never made a baby but I know all about it, sort of, as long as we don’t talk about the icky parts.
Initially, you conceive of a quilt as a sudden thought, a light-bulb moment, or, in some cases a thoughtful consideration of all the options. You know… hmm, I want to make a quilt, when would I like to have it done, who am I making it with/for, etc, etc. See, much the same as deciding to make a baby. Well, maybe it’s not as easy to accidently make a quilt, but I’m sure it happens. I see the actual conception part of the quilt as the decision and the procurement of materials, maybe visiting a fabric store or your stash or your friends stash. As for the conception part of making a baby, I don’t think I am allowed to actually detail that here, nor should I.
Once conceived, there is the construction process and, as we know, this can take months. Ha, you see what I did there? I’ll bet you immediately thought of the number 9! During this stage, all kinds of things happen. With a baby, there is morning sickness, cravings, moodiness and other neat stuff. With quilting, there is cutting, sewing, unsewing, swearing and such. As time goes on, both the baby and the quilt get larger and it gets harder to maneuver through the process until, near the end, you feel like you are wrestling an elephant. At some point, you reach what I think of as a peaceful state. With a baby, most of the side effects have subsided and you are just waiting, maybe a bit uncomfortable and sweaty, but not too bad. You can visualize what is coming, sort of, but there will probably be some surprises anyway. You are getting pretty excited now. The same is true with a quilt, the top is done and, if you are me, you have sent it to the quilter and you’re just waiting. You have an idea what it will look like but there is that element of uncertainty. It’s pretty exciting!
Now, BAM, it is time. You are just hours away from completion. Now, you are either giving birth to a baby or putting on binding. I know, I know, Julia, you don’t see the similarity. You probably don’t see how I can compare hours and hours of pain, pushing, sweating and yelling at your husband because it’s his fault to binding a quilt. Here goes. I spend hours pushing the needle through many layers of fabric which can be rather difficult, especially if you use a larger, fatter needle because you don’t want to be dropping it all the time. As part of the process, the quilt opens up and covers my legs, making me pretty hot and sweaty, especially if it is a big baby, er, quilt. My cats always want to lie on the quilt, pinning it to the floor or the couch and I have to yell at them. And I always, at least once, prick my finger while I’m sewing. Ouch.
In the end, though, we end up with something special, a baby or a quilt. If you’ve done it right, maybe you have both!
See you at the meeting.
Well, the surprise is over. The challenge is done and, as usual, it was really wonderful. Now, we can talk about choices and challenges. I love challenges; I think I have said that before. I have a couple of my own rules. First, I will only make something I dream up myself. Don’t ask me why, I just like to take the opportunity to make myself actually think about things. When I sit down to design something, I usually start with scraps of paper and move to eq7. Not with challenge quilts. For those, I develop a vague idea and start throwing fabric into blocks or pieces of blocks. This may seem a bit scatterbrained, but there you are, that is me! After I have made a number of pieces, sometimes a lot of pieces, I start getting an idea of how to put everything together…. I hope. This is where some choices come into play. Do I like what I have done? Is it possible to actually use what I have done? Do I want to continue? At what point did I lose the last brain cell? Believe me, I don’t take the last question too lightly.
At this point in the process, I have a thought on where I am going and the hard stuff comes in. I think of this as the bridgework, where I have to do the math and determine how to put the pieces together. This year, for instance, I had blocks of three different sizes and I wanted my stars to look like they were randomly thrown at a wall, so I had a couple of options. I could sit down and draw a complicated grid of odd size pieces to put together or I could assemble my blocks into larger blocks of a common size. I elected to go the latter route. This way, I only needed to cut some coping pieces of odd sizes and the final assembly was actually pretty straightforward. Now, what about the back.. Do I look through my stash for a large enough piece or buy something, or… This is an easy one and the answer is always the same. I end up looking at the leftover stuff I have from the front and decide to put it on the back. I don’t think about assembly. I just keep attaching leftover pieces together until it is big enough. I always like the result. This year, my husband actually likes my back better than my front. Ok, guys, I am talking about my quilt!
Then comes quilting, my personal fear and challenge. I’ve probably mentioned this, I am not good at the quilting part. I can’t see the straight lines nor can I sew the straight lines. My curves look more like the migration pattern for a dodo bird. Once a quilt is larger than a square foot, I feel like I am wrestling a bear. I have seen people cram large quilts through the throat of the sewing machine but I can’t seem to do it. I’ve thought about trying to do longarm quilting but then the whole mobility problem comes into play. I have to do it though, that is my second rule for challenges. I don’t know whether it’s a formal rule or not, but I feel like I should quilt my own in this case. I start with the obvious, quilt in the ditch. Oh-oh, I can’t seem to find the ditch with my needle. Ok, I quilt close to the edge of the pieces instead. Not bad, I can live with that! Next, I have to fill in all the blank space between objects, pieced stars this year. I start by ruling out all the cool patterns like concentric circles, stipples, flowers, scrolls, etc. Remember I have that dodo bird problem. Generally, I decide to do something pretty geometric with straight lines. Last year, I think I did a cross-hatch. This year, I had the brilliant idea, made the insane choice to do a few quilted stars to accent my pieced stars. So I went into Word and printed their four-pointed, five-pointed and six-pointed star shapes onto foundation paper, varied the sizes and started. Oh, yes, I started with a dozen printed stars for paper quilting (pin the paper on the quilt, sew the shape and remove the paper). Well, that filled up a very small part of one corner. It ended up taking me almost 300 stars to finish. I saw stars, I ate stars, I cursed stars, I never want to see another star. It was done though… Yay!!!
I hope you all enjoyed your process as much as I enjoyed mine. I hope you all enjoyed the challenge quilts as much as I did. I hope we do it all over again next year. I can’t wait.
See you at the meeting.
In the twilight glow I see her
This happens on those gloomy winter days in late afternoon when the sun goes down early and it’s a bit drizzly. We don’t have them often in Los Angeles but sometimes. You know the kind of day. I walk, well, I waddle into a quilt store and there it is, the perfect fabric, smoothly rolled around a cardboard bolt, standing at eye-level attention on a rack, placed for the immediate attention of incoming patrons. It could be small sweet spring flowers in bright colors to brighten a dark day, cats playing with yarn and looking cute, striking geometrics, or pretty much anything, I guess. The point is you see it and think, “I love you. I want to make you into something. I have to have you.” I know you’ve all gone through this, you can’t convince me otherwise.
Blue eyes crying in the rain
There probably aren’t blue eyes on the fabric, but I did just come in from a drizzly day. You remember that part, right? I think I have the crying eyes thing going on.
As we kissed goodbye and parted
I don’t need fabric. I have fabric, my husband reminds me often. It occupies six rooms and the garage. I only came in for thread. I probably should have ordered it online because it’s safer than a store. Oh well, I might as well look around while I’m here. There’s all the pretty fabric to see. While I’m at it, I wander up to pet the bolt at the front. No kissing, that’s just a figure of speech. The song wouldn’t sound right if it said, “As we petted goodbye and parted.” It does feel good, a nice weight, not too heavy, not too thin. I could probably use up a lot of the fabric in my stash making something with it. Yeah, right, I would have to get the coordinating fabrics too. But I don’t need it!!! I’m going to be good. If I don’t spend the money now, I can pay for another top to be quilted. Yes, I go back and pick out my thread, pay for it and head out.
I knew we’d never meet again
I patted my back and the bolt of fabric, pleased I can tell hubby I didn’t impulse buy, and pull open the door. Do you really believe me? I patted the bolt of fabric, found my hand clenching it, held it up and headed back to the register. “I’ll have three yards please.” But I didn’t buy the coordinating fabrics!
It’s challenge time. Let’s quilt some songs.
See you at the meeting.
To touch or not to touch…. That is the question! Well, the easy one is at the quilt show and the answer is NOOOO, don’t touch or else. Or else what, you ask. If you are lucky, you will only get the evil eye from the nice white-gloved lady watching over the quilts. If luck fails you, the piece of soul the quiltmaker left behind in her/his quilt will reach out and smack you. Or so I have heard; I’ve never actually attempted it. Oh, maybe that’s a myth made up by quilt guild presidents, but are you willing to chance it?
How about at someone’s house? That depends. How well do you know the person? Did they make the quilt themselves? If so, they probably understand the need to touch, to feel the ridges and bumps, the seams and intersections, to follow the quilting stitches as they wander the quilt. If their great-great grandmother made it 100 years ago, probably resist. Certainly say something though, or said relative might be offended. If they bought it from a big box store, who cares to touch it anyway?
I have read all kinds of articles and heard many opinions over the years on how to store your quilts. Mostly, make sure to store them in a smoke-free, pet-free, dust-free, child-free, bacteria-free, low oxygen, no plastic , low light environment. I’m thinking the space station would work. Just be sure to point a camera so you can periodically see them, when the rotation of the earth allows. I suppose if you follow these rules, you really shouldn’t touch them either. Your hands have oils and stuff on them after all. I’m not sure how you are going to explain this to the kid you made the quilt for. Maybe tell them it is an equilt and is only for make believe.
I know, I know, you’re going to say it depends on the quilt. We make some of them for use and expect them to get banged up and dirty. We hope they last for years but understand if they don’t. Now that sounds like you have favorites. Are the favorites the ones you handle and love to death or the masterpieces you hang carefully or store at the space station? Hmmm.. How do you decide which is which? If you ever give a masterpiece to someone, are they expected to treat it like one or they allowed to decide to use it? I hope you thought of all of these things? I have and this is what I decided.
First, I make baby quilts to be spit on, to be fondled, to be washed, to end up in bits and pieces as needed. The only way I can do this is erase the quilt from my memory once I present it. I love it when a niece or nephew shows me a 5” square of bleached something or another and say, “See what’s left of the quilt you made me, Aunt T?” I give everyone else a quilt and let them decide what to do. If they mention it in the future, I say,”Duh, duh, duh…” in my head so I don’t hear anything sad. Aw, who am I kidding, I just want the quilts I hand out to be loved and, if that happens, I don’t worry about the rest.
The quilts I have at home are used, hung, loved by the family who comes over and most certainly cat tested on a regular basis. They are washed, they get that wonderful softness and crinkled up look over time. Some qults are folded in closets to be brought out on a rainy day and always, they are touched.
See you at the meeting.
I’ve spent some time recently thinking about the fabric selection process and the different approaches to it. First, there is the TV dinner method. You see one of those cute little kits that has the pattern and preselected fabrics. All you have to do is put it together. It is pretty much a mindless process. I think it is great for baby quilts and small objects. Of course, the next step is the TV dinner a month thing… you know them as Block of the Month quilts. This can be a little more of an obligation as it goes on for the best part of a year or more. Of course, if you are me, you get addicted to the things and end up doing 20 at a time. The benefit of spreading the cost across many months is now silly because you might as well have bought the whole kit in one month and just keep doing that over and over again and piling the projects up in the corner because you just overloaded your system and ended up spending too much money buying too many projects for any sane person to do in a lifetime. Good thing I am not all that sane.
Another approach is the organized offender (too much CSI.. I always wanted to use that phrase). Find a fabric collection you like. Start with the print with the largest scale and pick a few or even all of the pieces in the rest of the collection to go with it. Now you just need0p0p0p0p0p0p0p0p-(sorry, that is the cat’s input). Now you just need a pattern and the quilt is guaranteed to look beautiful. I do have to say, it is fun to throw in just one completely off the wall fabric. It tends to liven up the quilt.
How about a two color quilt? You can either pick just two fabrics in contrasting colors or pick a myriad of fabrics in two colorways. Timeless, classic and oh so striking. We still celebrate the red and white quilts of past, present and future. The advantage of this is enormous if you are well organized and store all of your fabrics by color. Of course, I don’t do that; I am the throw it all in a big stack kind of gal. It’s also easier to shop at most quilt stores for your fabric because they tend to be organized by color.
Tried and true is the technique of going to a quilt store or your stash or both and building the fabrics around a focus fabric or a theme. I suspect this is what I use most often. It is very typical of me to see a special fabric. It catches my attention and doesn’t let go. I find myself staring and even drooling (just a little), I can’t get it out of my head and I just have to have it. If I’m in a quilt store, I will likely buy 10 or 20 yards to make sure I have enough of it. At home, I might be afraid of using it because then it will be gone. Eventually, I will face my fears and make a quilt with it.
Probably, the least used method in my arsenal is the one I end up liking the best. That’s when I grab a random armful of fabric and scraps. This is easy in my stash because that is how they are stored. Then I find one or more background fabrics and go for it! Usually, I only have a glimmer of what I am doing and I’m good with that. Last years challenge was done this way and I was super happy with the result. An added bonus is being able to tell my husband that I do sometimes use my stash.
I know there are so many other ways to pick fabric. However you do it is the right method. That part’s cool, right? All that is really left to say is, “Get ready, set, pick and sew..”
See you at the meeting.
Of cats and quilters. Let us call the cats R (Reggie), A1 (Allie) and A2 (Apollo). It’s morning. We wake up. We shower and get dressed, at least the quilters do. We have breakfast, cats first, of course. Only then can we start the day. First item of business, some hand work to attach the back of the binding on a quilt. This is done while sitting on the couch and watching a show. First, arrange needle, thread and quilt just right for sewing. Get TV set to display previously recorded show. Begin. Notice that A1 is running up and down the hallway full speed and loudly. Aw, R is chasing her. A2 is behind my head on the couch acting as head rest. R runs towards kitchen, A1 around back of couch. A1 runs back towards hallway. Oops, A2 launches off my head to chase A1 and there goes R after them both. This goes on awhile. Fun to watch, definitely distracting. Finally, they settle down. Begin sewing again. Oh well, the show on TV is over. It’s time for a different activity. Put away sewing stuff. R goes to couch to take her daily nap.
I proceed to the cutting station. Arrange the cutting board, rotary cutter, scissors and sundry rulers. Remove and arrange fabric for the days project. Start cutting. A1 jumps up on cutting board and situates herself such that she is lying down on every piece of fabric on the table (this is a specific cat talent). Rub A1s belly until she dozes off and then gently move her to the floor. A2 jumps on the table and seats himself immediately in front of my face for conversation and head scratches. That gets us to lunch time. A1 is off to her nap.
After lunch, we move to sewing table. I get my machine, lights and iron powered up. Rearrange A2 on the ironing mat so I have room to iron. Start sewing. As soon as the machine takes a break, A2 approaches left side of machine and throws himself at my chest, flipping upside down to be held like a baby. Cutie. I hold him for a couple of minutes, rubbing his belly and tilt him onto the floor. Start sewing and A2 approaches machine. I shoosh him off and he moves over to right side of machine and I’m holding him again. Cuddles. Toss cat on floor and begin sewing again. A2 approaches left side, shoosh. A2 approaches right side, shoosh. A2 makes wide circle to end of table and around to come under right arm. More cuddles. This cycle repeats for a while. Finally, A2 settles down for his nap, on the ironing mat, of course. I make final adjustments to A2 so I will have room to iron. Yay, now I can sew. Let’s get started. Hubby calls out, it’s dinner time.
I put away my sewing stuff. Oh look, I got one four-patch done.
See you at the meeting.
What do you see when you see a quilt? I see many things. First, there is the obvious, the fabrics used. Maybe they are unused fabrics, bought off a bolt or flat fold, something that caught the eye of the quilter in a shop somewhere. Maybe it is unused but it has been around awhile and previously owned. Maybe it’s scraps from another project, pieces of old clothes, memories of special events. In any case, it was auditioned and made it into the quilt. Why? For the color, the tone, the hue, the joy of the fabric or maybe it just needed a home and the quilter decided this was it. What catches your eye first in the fabric? Is it the pattern, or lack thereof? Is it the color and how it matches or contrasts to the surrounding fabric? If you don’t like it, does it matter? Does it work in the quilt?
After the fabrics, I tend to look at the overall pattern of the quilt. What grabs my attention? Maybe I see the quilt as a whole or maybe specific parts draw me in? I’ve seen quilts that are balanced; symmetrical and smooth. Some are unsymmetrical; cockeyed and a little edgy. I’ve seen quilts that are pictures, maps, animals, people, designs, pure color, and most everything in between. I’ve seen old quilts, new quilts, pristine quilts and ragged quilts.
I also note the craftsmanship. Is the quilt made by a master or a novice? Do seams line up, do points match? Are the borders flat? How is the quilting? I think we can all tell the work of a champion.
These things make a quilt a quilt; the fabric, the design, the work. But then I look for the quilter in the quilt. To me, that is what matters. I want to imagine the heart of the quilter. Rarely do we make quilts because we have to. Mostly we make quilts out of love or compassion, friendship or family, happiness or sorrow. We make quilts to comfort those who need it. We make quilts to add joy to others lives. We give quilts to others to tell them how much we care. We give quilts to strangers to let them know they are not alone. We make quilts to be plain and colorful or show quality. We make quilts for walls, beds, couches, tables, cars, campers and pretty much everywhere else you can imagine. I like to look at a quilt and try to ‘feel’ the story of it.
Just like everyone else, I see some quilts I like more than others. There have been a few that were sort of homely and many that were unbelievably beautiful. Some quilts evoke strong emotions. For instance, our last speaker showed a quilt replicating a flyer for a slave sale. That made me incredibly sad. Some quilts are eye candy, luscious visions of something. Some make me laugh, wince or want to fly. I like to visualize the quilter, thread-covered, hair in all directions, possibly in a bathrobe striving to make the quilt. I have a tendency to see that quilter in a nice quiet room with no distraction even though I know that is highly unlikely. It would probably be more realistic to place the quilter in the middle of screaming children, boiling water and general havoc. Whatever I see, though, is in my mind (such as it is). I will probably never know the real story.
There is one thing I know for sure though. Quilting is more than craft, it is art. Every quilt is special to someone. As for me, I have never seen a quilt I didn’t love.
See you at the meeting.
Politics. I just can’t seem to get away from them and I am truly fed up! So, this morning, sitting in my shower where I do my best thinking, I started cogitating quilting politics. There just have to be some. The rest of life is about them. So, let’s call the traditional quilters ‘conservatives’. That makes the more progressive quilter the ‘liberal’, I guess. Can’t you just see it, hundreds of years ago? The conservative quilters lived out on the working farms and ranches and hand pieced quilts from dresses, pants and maybe even boot scraps. These quilts were used thoroughly, washed often and very function-driven. The liberal quilters in the cities would buy fabric (horrors!) and make both functional and show quilts. Wow, I’m surprised that didn’t start its’ own revolution! And then came sewing machines. What a war that must have been. The conservative probably didn’t believe that was ‘real’ piecing or applique. The liberal was probably just happy to crank out those tops.
What could come next? Oh yes, machine quilting. Woe is me, what a loss of craft that must have been. In the 1980’s when I started quilting, the machine quilting process was still looked down on (you know, right down the nose to the ground). And then we actually started buying home-use longarm machines. And you would send your quilt out for someone else to do the work! Surely, quilting had lost its way.
With all of the changes to the quilting world, it is not lost on me that remnants and treasures for all of the variations in quilting are highly sought after. We still cherish a quilt made of scraps from a farmhouse, the fancy Baltimore Album quilts from the same era, the hand pieced, machine pieced, hand quilted or machine quilted samples of past artists.
We have watched the interest in quilting ebb and flow right up to the present day where it is an art form in all senses of the phrase. Current techniques include modern fabrics, abstract forms, thread painting, detailed quilt portraits, masterpieces. A quilt show is more a display of art than craft. The current quilters include conservative and liberal beliefs and we still appreciate all of the forms. A quilter that ooh’s and ah’s over a traditional log cabin quilt will also appreciate a modern painted, dyed, thread filled chimpanzee quilt. Today’s quilter supports every segment of the craft (or art, as the case may be). We still hand piece, hand quilt, machine piece, machine or hand applique or machine quilt. We make patterns from very old blocks and very new blocks. We don’t always use blocks. We haven’t let go of the past to cherish the present. As far as I know, blood has never been shed over a quilting technique. Well, except for the blood from needle accidents and modern day rotary cutters! What does this tell me?
Quilters should govern this country, and probably the world…
See you at the meeting.