Friday, June 29, 2007

Challenge Yourself

No matter what our occupation, hobby or particular talent, we are essentially students all of our lives. Even the most highly respected authority on anything continues to learn his craft until the day he dies. While researching books, taking classes and simple repetition can be wonderful teachers, another excellent way to grow and learn is through challenge.

My first experience with the growth-inducing aspects of challenges was when I tried out for a Madrigal choir in high school. I knew I could sing pretty well as I was in a choir at church, the regular chorus in school and was popular at talent shows and musical plays. Still, I was fully aware that there were others of my peers who towered above me in the vocal ability department. I longed to make it into this elite group of 12 singers who would represent the school at various venues throughout the town in which I grew up.

The day of the tryouts came and I was seated next to a girl named Molly who, in my opinion, had the voice of a crystal bell. I imagined I would sound very much like a crow sitting next to such talent but while we, as a group, warmed up, I listened to Molly and attempted to match her golden tones. I was surprised to find that my voice sounded a little better than usual and soon, a lot better! I had been so inspired by Molly's wonderful singing voice that I was able to come close to matching it! Had I been a little more self-assured in those days, I would have been able to thank her, after securing a berth in the Madrigals, for being my Muse.

The challenge to be as good as someone I admired was the push I needed to succeed in my quest.

As a quilter, I'm always looking to learn new techniques and to stretch myself to make quilts of more quality, of more original designs, more precise points and more interesting color combinations. An excellent way to do this is to join groups of other quilters who are willing to challenge each other with fun projects. Last year, my fellow employees at the quilt shop where I work, agreed to take the theme "Self-Portrait" and, with a 3-month time limit, make a 16" x 20" quilt. It could be comical, realistic, embellished any way we wanted, the sky was the limit. I had no idea what to do so, I played with some ideas, stretched my knowledge and abilities and came up with the quilt you see me holding at the top of this column. Looks like me, doesn't it?! I'd taken a photo of myself, played with it on my computer with photo manipulation software I'd little experience with, enlarged it, traced each piece on to fusibel material then on to appropriate colored fabric and quilted on to a background. I was pleased with the final product but you should have seen the other quilter's masterpieces! Indeed, I was in the company of very talented artists, a fact that had me shaking in my slippers from the beginning.

While this was merely a friendly challenge, what's become of my project since the "reveal" is that I've become the teacher of a class which instructs others of my new-found techniques. I've taught this class twice so far and have quilters calling me to find out when I will teach it next, something that pleases me no end (and puts a few extra bucks in my coffers for my 'fabric habit').

The moral of this story is: challenge yourself to do something you are not sure you can do, you're not sure you're talented enough to do and you might be extraordinarily surprised at who you become because of it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Collecting Antique Quilts

Besides being a Rabid Quilter myself, I also woke up to the fact, several years ago, that the charm and unusually soft and cozy feel of antique quilts was irresistable and I began to collect them. (Like I needed more quilts in my house!)

My favorite place in the whole world is the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. There, several times a year, a clever and debonnaire man named Rafael Osana holds an auction which consists mostly of island and New England treasures. Since I am but a visitor 3,000+ miles from my home on the west coast, I am limited to what I can purchase if I don't want to spend more for shipping than the item itself costs. Since most quilts can fit into my luggage (or in extreme cases, my husband's golf bag) they are what I focus on.

The first time I went to one of these auctions, I fell in love with at least 6 of the quilts Mr. Osana had displayed at the pre-auction preview. Oh, how wonderfully dense and mezmerizingly soft they felt! I wanted to touch them to my face as I'd done as a child with my own "binkie" but caught myself before this impropriety.

It was about 1996 that I happened to be there, off-season and I was the lucky bidder on an authentic, bed-sized, "Grandmother's Flower Garden" quilt which was hand-pieced, quilted and bound and complete with 1930s green border and 1 1/4" hexagons. I happily paid $325 for it. At that moment I was in heaven (because I could now, actually touch that quilt to my face!) and at the same time hopelessly adicted to collecting.

The price tag for my first aquisition might sound steep, and to some of my fellow collectors, it is. When one visits a high-end locale such as Nantucket, the Hamptons, and such, one expects to pay a premimum. However, if you are willing to get on your hands and knees, bumping your head under a low table to reach a broken-down cardboard box full of 'linens' in a place the proprietor named "The Antique Shoppe" when you might refer to most of the items as rusty 'junk', you might just come away with a treasure for a few dollars. That is indeed what a couple of friends of mine do when hunting for old quilts. In fact, they have a hard-and-fast rule never to pay more than $50 for anything! Of course, in most cases, you get what you pay for but if you're able and willing to put in some time in on a dozen quilt blocks c. 1880 or clean up a soiled and stained, hand-pieced quit top and make it into a completed quilt, you'll feel the satisfaction only a bargain-hunter knows.

Finding old quilts to buy is as much of an art as is knowing how to date the quilts you find. Dating the quilts is paramount to knowing what they're worth. Just as fashions change every season, so does fabric--even back 150+ years ago! Although I'm not a licensed dater of quilts, after much study and experience, I can usually tell you the age of a quilt, plus or minus 20 years, just by looking at the tiny scraps of fabric in it and how it was put together. As with every collector, be it baseball cards or bake-a-lite, the more knowledge you have of these hints to age, the better deal you can make.
The pictured close-up of one of the blocks in a quilt I purchased 3 years ago at the Houston Quilt Show shows my married name! Dozens of other names in vairous fonts with fancy flowers, all hand-embroidered, denotes a special occasion such as an anniversary or family reunion, a popular type of quilt throughout the years. This was a once-in-a-lifetime find (and I'll admit I paid more than I'd ever paid for a quilt for it) but I wouldn't have been able to pass up at any cost.

Whether it's a garage-, tag-, or estate sale, an auction, a thrift shop or an antique store, old quilts can be found in every stage of completion and condition. Taking the time to hunt for them and learning what they're worth can result in a lovely investment.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Fusible Images

I am a traditional quilter at heart. Making a block someone named "Monkey Wrench" or "Squirrel in a Cage" a century and a half ago makes me feel somehow proud and I'm not sure why. Is it a link to my fore-mothers on the prairie who, when needing another blanket reached for the only resource they had: scraps of some wearable that couldn't be used any other way? (Or was it the other way around: they had useless hunks of fabric and didn't have it in them to waste anything so they needled them together and found they made a bed covering?) Perhaps it's my desire to continue a truly American tradition that might be lost if we didn't remember those before us.

Frankly, it's probably a lot less noble a reason than that. I'm obsessed with COLOR. Walking into a quilt shop energizes me and I know the main reason is all the colors, patterns, textures and the combinations they create when I put them together my own, individual way. So, even though I might be creating a block pattern that's been made by other quilters 10 bazillion times, I know mine is totally unique: my color sense, my particular textural comfiguration my workmanship.

However, after a dozen plus years of practically maniacally putting these fabrics together into traditional quilts, I've begun to take that fork in the road toward a more 'art-sy' quilting experience. Who of us hasn't desired to make one of those "pictorial" quilts we've seen of someone's grand-daughter, with a couple handfulls of skin-tone hand-dyes creating the nuances of her face? Or a wall-hanging of the sunset over the Maui beach we once captured on our Vivitar.

Because of a friendly challenge to create a "self-portrait" I discovered an easy way to produce this type of quilt. (That's me holding the finished quilt at left). I call the class "Fusible Images". Taking a digital photo on your computer and manipulating it with photo software (pretty much everyone has this type of software installed on their systems whether they know it or not) and with the aid of Kinko's or another friendly, neighborhood copy center, you can fusible-web you way to a fabric photograph that will WOW! your friends.

Leave me a comment at the end of this page if you'd like to set up a class to learn this technique.

Monday, June 4, 2007

What You Find When Cleaning Out Your Sewing Room

Last week, my quilting group culminated a 6-month long project where we used black and white fabric. Of course, the collecting of fabrics might be the most fun of any project but there are so many wonderful 'blacks & whites' out there, we all went a little nuts on this one.

With our blocks finished and ready to put up on the design wall, I thought I'd do a little clean up in my sewing room. I tend to put certain selections of fabric in 'project bags' so I have them all together when I get the time to begin a quilt but after piling more than a dozen of these bags under my cutting table, I started filling my closet, racks, cupboards and shelves with them. Now, there's barely enough visible carpet space for me to walk on since they've started filling that part of the room too.

I started under the cutting table since that's where the oldest, and, I thought most easily 'donatable' items would be.

I found a completed top that I'd forgotton about and REALLY like, a bag full of "minkie" scraps from a baby quilt I made 2 years ago and one bag, WAAAAAY under the table that was particularly heavy. When I brought it out and looked inside, I found 37 (that's thirty-seven!) fat quarters, 1/4 and 1/3 yard pieces of. . . .black and white fabrics!! Yes, these would have been perfect additions to the blocks I'd just finished making! Some had chunks cut out of them so I know I used them for something but can't for the life of me figure out what. Can't remember buying them either! Sheesh!!

What does this mean. . .besides a gigantic Senior Moment? Well, perhaps that I have too much fabric AND that I'm going to need a larger recepticle to add to the black and white fabrics I used for our last project.

Hope you're all getting a giggle out of this. . .

The Fabulous X-Block

I discovered this amazing piece of plastic at the Road to California Quilt Show in January of this year. Who knew that a simple square ruler with some angled lines on it would allow you to make the COOLEST quilts with seemingly hard-to-make, intricate borders all in one swoop and with NO WASTE of fabric!

If you want to try a class for just about any skill level, this is it! Quilt Queen Designs has come up with many great patterns and I've made quilte a few, ALL with results that will make you want to give the resulting quilts away to your most cherished friends (or wrap them around your OWN self!)

Here you see the "Mo's Basket" pattern. Looks difficult, huh? Basically, you make 4-patches, more or less, (chain pieced, no-brainers) then set your magic ruler on top of them and cut away wedges to make the blocks look a little caty-wampus. Don't throw away what you've cut off though--you'll use those peices for that initricate-looking border I spoke of before!

Litterally, after a couple of hours, you'll have a great-looking quilt you'll be pround of. Contact me to set up a class for you and your friends and I'll walk you through the whole thing!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Playing With My Quilting Buddies

I am one lucky quilter! I happen to be part of a group of 14 fun ladies who have been together for 6 years. We call ourselves The Calendar Girls. We see each other at least once a month at our monthly quilt guild meeting (Valley Quilt Guild in Yuba City, CA) but officially, we meet twice a year: once to exchange blocks we've made for each other and 6 months later to show off the quilt we're required to make from those blocks. Today was our block exchange.

Our host Jody, has a delightful 'sewing room' which might be described as a one-room guest house just steps from her home. It's as large as the most idealistically creative quilter might wish for as a dedicated sewing room--TIMES 3!! Jody had a brightly colored table set for 14 complete with candies in a goodie bag, large cups with our names on them ready for the iced tea and drinks she'd prepared, a food bar ready for our pot luck salads and desserts (oh, we're quite adept at desserts!!) and a design wall on which we'd each display our blocks, one person at a time.

Six months ago, we'd agreed to make a particular traditional block in black and white fabrics with ONE, bright color to be used sparingly within the block. The center 3" block is where our creativity could go wild. There were appliqued and paper pieced centers and some with 1/2" half-square triangles in various configurations! Every color of the rainbow was represented amidst the blacks and whites.

After selecting numbers at random, we took turns being first to choose from each person's blocks after they were displayed on the design wall. The selection process takes quite a while what with all the photos that are taken for our scrapbook plus the "oohing and ahhing" that goes on. We each go away with 14 blocks, one each from each quilter. On the first Saturday of December, we'll meet at Cooky's house and reveal the fabulous quilts we'll put together from these colorful blocks.

While the block exchange is what we're officially there for, it's difficult to say whether it's the highlight of the day for we also delight in the ever-present chit-chat, our show-and-tell session, all the delicious dishes we partake in for lunch and the gift exchange we treat ourselves to. This event lasts ALL day and we're never ready to have it end.

We all make quilts. We all buy patterns and books and create blocks. We put them together and sleep under them, wrap them around ourselves, hang them on our walls, give them to people we love and donate them to organizations we respect. But the quilts that are made from our Calendar Grils blocks are something special. They represent a comraderie and a friendship that is rare.

I love each and every one of my great Calendar Girls pals: Jody, Cooky, Catherine, Diane, Diana, Willie, Sharon, Vera, Ginger, Pat, Rosemary, Mary and Jan. Thank you for being a part of my quilting life.

Friday, June 1, 2007

So, It Begins

I was about to welcome you to my brand new blog but first, I have to welcome myself! I decided 16 minutes ago to create a blog owning to the fact that I spent 2 hours earlier this evening in the 11th of 12 web design classes I signed up for at the Davis Adult School back in February.

For those of you who don't know, (I didn't!) web design is like learning a new language--wait, no, not "like", it IS learning a new language! Pretty much gobbledegoop really. Want to see? Try this: log on to any website you think is really great. When you're on a pretty page, go up to the right hand side near the top and pull down on "page". Click on "view source" and you will see where every page of every website comes from: Code. All those jumbled symbols, some of which you have to search to find on the keyboard you've been using for decades, the weird letter combinations, all the quotation marks, the &Nld, they all mean something important to this website. And, like all things "computer" if there's one, single goof--a blank space here or a left out "<" there, things don't work! Oh, there's a lot more to it than that of course, every inch of it to drive you batty and frustrate you like nothing else on earth. But I'm not a quitter (although I think I'm bordering on machochism) so I've continued.

So, in the 11th of 12 classes, our instructor says, "you know, starting a blog is, of course, a lot easier than designing a web page but you have so much more creative opportunity in a website". Know what Mr. T (his true name shall remain a mystery, much the same as the way his mind works) I'm ready for 'easy'!

I logged on to each of the 3 blogs I read on a regular basis and noticed they all used so, I thought, what the hay? Let's try this. And whereas a full moon is not the most auspicious time to begin anything, it IS a Sagittarius Full Moon so, being a Double Sag. . . I guess I can't help myself. I'm ready. Ready to show people my quilts and make comments on the making of them, ready to promote the classes I teach to make those quilts and ready to give those of you who are interested, a little taste of what you'll hear if you have me come lecture to your quilt guild.

Are YOU ready for ME?