Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolution 2010

I’ve decided on a New Year’s resolution for 2010: I’m going to start quilting. Those who know me and have just read this are laughing. According to them, they see me as such a prolific quilt maker, I’m accused of having found a way to cram an additional hour or two into each day. Oh if they only knew.

Allow me to explain:

Do you subscribe to quilting magazines? I do, and I love them! Finding one in my mail never fails to put a smile on my face. I’m inspired by the patterns offered, the historical stories, new gadgets, even the ads for new fabric lines and stores half-way across the country. I can’t remember the last time I read through a quilt magazine without dog-earing at least a page or two, certain that I’d find time to make the quilt, look up a particular website or draft a block from something that inspired my creativity. I have stacks and stacks of magazines waiting for me to rediscover these projects. Oh sure, I also have countless quilting books and patterns purchased from the quilt shops I frequent, and photos I’ve taken at quilt shows and at the monthly show-and-tell sessions at my quilt guild. I have a couple of binders full of gridded paper where I’ve drafted ideas for blocks, setting diagrams, borders and such that will certainly come in handy one day when I need a project.

Then there’s the 2 quilt books I received for Christmas: The book that’s sure to become the essential Coffee Table Book for every quilter, “The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns” by Jinny Beyer (with over 4000 pieced block patterns in it!) and “The Amish Quilt” by Eve Granick which I’ve wanted for years. It will take me weeks to read and pour over every inch of these inspiring books.

And what about the internet! For example, type “dog and cat quilt blocks” in Google and see how many websites offer public domain patterns, pieced, appliqued, foundation pieced, you name it, in every shape and size. I often spend an hour or two each night just ohh and ahh-ing over website after website.

Here’s the thing: all the time I’m spending every day with all these sources in front of me are keeping me for the actual act of quilting! I have so many ideas I don’t know where to start! And don’t forget all the UFOs sitting on my shelves. E-gads, I don’t know when I’ll find time to do all this quilting if I don’t stop reading and collecting and being inspired by all this media. Instead of heading for my chair in the living room after dinner every night and picking up a magazine, book or laptop, I need to start heading for my sewing room to SEW!

OK, resolved, that’s what I’m going to do beginning January 1, 2010. . . now, which project should I start on first?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Wonderful, Fun, Delicious Class!

I took a quilt class yesterday! I can't remember the last time I took a class without my quilting buddies! Months ago, I found myself in Thimble Creek, a wonderful quilt shop in Concord, CA, and saw that a talented quilt designer I'd long admired was giving a class and I signed up for it on a whim. Never mind that it took place on December 11th, a date that I had no business booking, knowing how hectic that time of year can be. I found, as the date approached, it was going to have to be sandwiched between and Odd Fellows/Chamber mixer, an overdue oil change and two promised batches of cookies. But fabulous multi-tasker that I am, I made it.
Anne Sutton of Bunny Hill Designs treated us to an entertaining and informative day in "YoYoville" one of her spectacularly fun patterns. Everyone brought a 'goodie' but Anne and staff had delicious quiche and a towering bread pudding (arguably the highlight of the day) and we laughed and sewed our hearts out with nary a machine in sight! Yes, Anne is an applique artist and taught us how to make yo-yos and little houses and trees that will adorn our merry quilt when done all with needle and thread from our own little paws.
The pattern calls for a twin- or double bed-sized quilt but I'm choosing to make a wall hanging so I have some sort of assurance that it will indeed be finished one day. I have a LOT of hand sewing to do and I look forward to recalling my fun day every stitch of the way!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Biography of a Quilter

I enjoy lecturing to guilds, mostly because I love to meet quilters. When I receive a request to lecture, I, of course, must sign a contract. Recently I was asked to also provide a biography by answering questions from a questionnaire so the guild could know a little about me before they heard me speak. Oh, a biography. . . what do I say? Will I be able to sound interesting without risking egotism? Should I start at the very beginning, embellish the facts, leave out the failures? It was a challenge, but this is what I came up with.


My interest in quilting started at the age of 6 when my mother taught me to embroider. As an only child, solitary interests were most natural to me and sewing fit right in. I next learned to sew on the sewing machine starting with the aprons my mother wore then graduated to clothing in 4-H and Home Ec at school. I’ve always enjoyed mixing and playing with color and patterns so quilting was an obvious progression. Also, the fact that I could feed my tactile passions without actually having to make anything FIT, as in clothing, made quilting an obvious choice.

I’ve been quilting for 15 years and have begun to dabble in art quilts but always come back to traditional quilting. I think of modern quilts as variations on a traditional theme. I’m particularly fond of green and have no use for drab quilts so anything bright and colorful is that I enjoy working with.

As far as techniques, I love hand work but not necessarily when working on quilts. I see sitting at a sewing machine, jumping up to press, moving to the cutting table to square up my prices then attaching them to my design wall as active, calorie-burning fun! Applique or embroidery is saved for the waiting room of my car repair shop and plane trips.

Original designs? I rarely take a published pattern and make it 100% as designed usually changing the configuration of the blocks, maybe setting them on point, or adding components, but I buy lots of patterns and books for inspiration.

I didn’t grow up with quilts. Every memory of my maternal Grandmother includes her sitting in her rocker by the window crocheting. I never saw her cooking or sleeping, just crocheting and I have a bureau full of bedspreads, tablecloths, doilies and dresser scarves to prove it! Although my mother taught me the basics at the sewing machine, she had little patience for reading patterns or following directions, always thinking she had a better, faster way. No one ever taught her how to avoid “bird nests” of thread at the beginning of a seam and I remember her throwing the sewing machine out of frustration on more than one occasion!! Actually I credit my father with teaching me a lot about sewing. He was a shoemaker by trade so knew how to sew things together and match patterns expertly. He even helped me to make my prom dress--a difficult Vogue pattern I constructed out of lavender satin!

I am most inspired to make quilts when I go to quilt shows or by looking through quilt books, old and new but I often think of a song title, movie title or phrase and dream up something to make that way. I find when I’m working on a quilt for someone else (a gift or a group project) I’m inspired by that person. But the most fun is going into a quilt shop and being stopped dead by some amazing fabric or fabric line and just HAVING to make something out of it!

I’m a born shopper so, when you get right down to it, my favorite aspect of quilting, is visiting every quilt shop on every trip I take and selecting fabric, patterns and books to buy! Putting the top of a quilt together is the fun part and pinning the quilt is the chore I dislike most. Getting down on the ground to pin the quilt is one thing--getting back up, quite another! When fusible batting came out, I thought I’d died and went to heaven but I find regular batting, with its softer drape, more to my liking.

Has quilting changed my life? Completely! In 15 years, I’ve gone from a consummate Soccer Mom to my dream of teaching, lecturing and, when asked what I do for a living, being able to say, “I’m a quilter!”. My home is filled with quilts I’ve made and antique quilts I’ve collected (90 at last count). I’ve endeavored to become proficient enough at this craft so I can teach quilting--then I can live vicariously through my students and thus, don’t have to personally make every quilt I find beaautiful! It’s such a pleasure to watch someone who really didn’t think they could do it, assemble their small scraps of fabric into beautiful works of art. And when I see my fellow quilters’ smiling faces in the audiences when I lecture, I know I’ve truly reached my dream of filling my life with quilts and quilting!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Pace of Life

Is there ever a time when we're not in a hurry? It seems I'm always rushing; to finish a quilting project, to get to the bank, to get all the groceries on my list--so I can get home and hurry to make dinner. Sometimes I think I've been rushing for so long, it's impossible to slow down! Maybe this need to get things done quickly is programmed into me. Memories of my childhood always include my mother encouraging me to "hurry up"! Reading a book, watching TV, taking a nap, these were wastes of time in her eyes. You needed to be productive at all times--wash the car, water the plants, bake some cookies. She used to honk her horn at cars in front of her not moving fast enough and there were times when she would leave her cart of purchases in line and leave the store because the check-out clerk was taking too long! I soon learned that if I was going to get my mother's approval, I was going to have to be productive and do things FAST--and I've been rushing ever since.

Many years ago, for one of my New Year's resolutions, I sincerely wished that I could learn to 'slow down'. A short time after that, I severely hurt my back which put me totally out of commission and forced me to think before every move for years. Be careful what you wish for!!

Now, with my husband close to retirement, I'm practicing the art of slowing down. I'll be spending a LOT more time with my husband --which I'm greatly looking forward to--but he wasn't born with the 'hurry-up' gene and has that ability to relax, meander, stroll and just sit and think which I envy. I've started allowing myself time to sit in my backyard to read a book (something my kitties love)  instead of only listening to audio books when I'm driving my car. I also find an afternoon nap once in a while to be a delightful treat!

One thing that will always drive me crazy is a slow internet connection! I live where high-speed internet is not available and waiting for websites to load and photos to send is quite aggravating. I'm happy to say that just today, WiFi came to our neighborhood and I 'hurried' to get hooked up! I can now enjoy watching the YouTube videos that are sometimes included in an email, I can up- and download friends' photos and I can upgrade my iPhone and computer without having to go down to the local coffee shop and plug in there!

The only downside to this new WiFi is that, when I canceled my account with my former provider, I lost my email address and the ability to access any mail I get there. This is the address that my business cards show!! ARRGHHHH!

So, hereafter, you can reach me at:   STEELEDOME@GMAIL.COM. 

I promise if you write me, you'll get a reply but you might have to wait just a while. . . I might be taking a nap.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Very Special People

There are many stereotypes associated with quilters: they tend to share better than most people, they think of others before themselves, they're honest, they like to wear denim, they make great potluck dishes and they're generally very fun!

Quilters come in all shapes, sizes and ages and I find that the people I call 'friends' who are quilters span a far greater age range than people I know in other parts of my life. I keep in touch with a handful of people from high school who are exactly my age, I belong to a couple of organizations where there are mostly just-ready-to-retire to fairly-newly-retired in age, like me. But since I teach quilting, I'm around people in their 30s to people in their 80s.

I learned many years ago that if you expand your circle of friends to include people 20 years younger as well as 20 (or 30!) years older than yourself, your life will be much more interesting and educational. I teach a Block of the Month class at Beehive Quilts in Woodland and have become good friends with a woman who's 30-something and one woman pushing 70. They are both delightful, creative, smart and fun to be around. I find they think about things just a little differently than I do and are attracted to colors and patterns I've not noticed and it often opens my eyes.

The younger one talks about the crafts fairs where she vends her handmade bags and purses, fairly brimming with enthusiasm and energy. She's into these new retro fabrics that really didn't do anything for me until I saw some of her wonderful projects. The older woman's calmer pace and careful thought process suggest she has experienced a lot of this before and wants to be sure each project is exactly right and not slap-dashed just to say it's finished. When she lingers over her choices for a particular project, I want to say, "just pick a fabric!" Yet, after careful scrutiny (and maybe a stop at one or two other quilt shops) she finds exactly what she's looking for and executes such a work of art, I have to agree that slowing down and being patient IS the way to complete fulfillment.

I may teach quilting but I will always be a student of the craft. Quite often, I'm absolutely certain, I learn more from the people IN my class than they learn from me.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Beginning Quilting

Once a person starts to teach--anything, really, not just quilting--the word gets around. So and so takes a class, shows her friends what she's learned and all of a sudden, everyone wants to have something pretty to be proud of too!

I was recently contacted through email by a potential quilter who also had friends who were potential quilters who, with kids and carpools and life, never seemed to connect with the quilt shops on the rare occasions a BEGINNING QUILTING class was offered. "Would you", she asked, "be willing to give private quilting lessons to my friends and I?"

Hmmmmm. . . . the classes would be held at the hostess's large home, less than 2 miles from where I live, on a weekday morning that suited me perfectly. Hard to resist!

I've taught many quilts and techniques in the past 5 years or so but have always shied away from the dreaded 'beginner' for fear of untrained fingers getting maimed by rotary cutters, old sewing habits which would be tough to break and the worst, there's so much to learn about quilting, where do I start!!? 

"OK", I said to myself, "I can DO this"! I drew up a 6-week course starting with the ever-important, accurate quarter inch seam and thinking I would have them make 4 different blocks; 9-patch, Churn Dash, Ohio Star and Sawtooth Star covering the basic square, half-square and quarter-square triangle and flying geese segments. With these basics, probably 90% of all traditional blocks could be made. Then we'd make a table runner out of these blocks and I could have them add borders that would be shorter than quilt-sized, and finally, bindings. Sounded like a plan!

On the first meeting, these 5 delightful women had as much enthusiasm as a 6-year old who hears the ice cream truck coming! We went over many important points before we ever got the mats and rotary cutters out and what was supposed to be 1 1/2 hours, turned into 2 1/2 with ease.

Today, we had our third of 6 lessons. These ladies have not only turned out 3 different wonderful blocks with nice points and precise pressing, (I taught them to press their seams open as I do, rather than to one side) they have practiced when not in 'class' by making duplicates in various colorways. The hostess' young daughter has caught the bug and has put together some wonderful squares and triangles herself--SO cool!!

When I arrive next week, they may even have their 4th block finished and we'll start on the placemat (rather than the more ambitious tablerunner) we've decided will be our first project. I have no doubt each of them will succeed in not only turning out a lovely piece but will have a fully rampant case of the ever-contagious 'quilting fever'.

I've encouraged this new group to continue meeting on Friday mornings after the lessons are over for, as most quilters (dieters, athletes, etc.) know, the peer pressure and mild competitiveness of a friendly group encourages the loyalty and creativity that's only one of the many reasons this hobby is so enjoyable.  

Sunday, February 1, 2009


January has been one of the busiest months I can ever remember. The good news is, it's all been about quilting! Lectures, classes, quilt shows, you name it! And all along the way, I've been inspired.

It started with the Road 2 California quilt show in Ontario, CA. I LOVE this quilt show (partly because my lovely daughter lives in the vicinity) but mostly because it is a larger show than most (with over 100 vendors) and the quilts entered for prizes are simply incredible. I found wonderful new patterns to buy and try and took photos of some of the more outstanding entries that peaked my interest. I was inspired everywhere I turned, sometimes by a small element of a particular quilt, or by an unusual combination of colors used in a quilt or even just by the subject matter of an entry. I even drooled over the clothing and soft-sculpture dolls that were entered and dream about maybe trying one of those some day.

I took two all-day classes at the show: one was Sharyn Craig's very last class. After teaching quilting for 30 years, this amazingly prolific and proficient quilter is retiring (yes, there were tears.) Without a doubt, Sharyn's books, classes and lectures have inspired me more than any other quilter. The class I took was a simple but wonderful quilt, (one I will teach when her book comes out in May--it's pictured here) but I just wanted to be in her presence once more--and I was not disappointed. Her philosophy about quilting is refreshingly simple but time and again, she turns out the most wonderful quilts, ones that really, most of us could actually make!

The other class was taught by Mary Kerr and was about dating quilts. I was in a room with 22 other antique quilt enthusiasts whose knowledge of history and the womanly art of quilting blew me away! As we scanned each of the quilts we'd brought to gauge, the constant tidbits of information tossed out by everyone at random about color fads, design, historical data, dye processes, etc., boggled my mind. I attended this class to better my understanding of fabric dating and came out after 6-hours knowing one thing more than any other: that there is so much to learn about the history of quilts and quilting as an American art form that I'm inspired to seek out every class I can on the subject to learn more.

Then I came back and gave both my lectures to two Bay Area quilt guilds. Every quilt guild I visit has similarities to others and yet, each is so different. The similarities begin with friendly, creative, cheerful women who love to share and they differ in the way they organize their blocks of the month, drawings and other creative entertainment. One guild I visited had recently lost a guild member who left instructions to donate her collection of quilt books to her guild upon her passing. The membership was collecting a dollar for each of her wonderful books which not only made money for her cherished guild but gave the members something of hers to inspire them. How very nice!

Yesterday, the last day of my busy January, I started the Block of the Month class for Beehive Quilts in Woodland which will go for 10 months. Peggy, the owner, put the bug in my ear to create this BOM several months ago and although I'd never designed a BOM myself, I was inspired to do so with her encouragement. As it turns out, I'm very happy with what I've come up with and the 72 (!) quilters who signed up for this BOM seemed quite happy when they saw my first block offerings. That will inspire me to look forward every month to these gatherings.

There is inspiration everywhere you look. Not only for quilt patterns and color palates but also for little attitude changes that allow you to see not only your potential as a quilter but also the potential in every corner of your life. You only have to open your eyes--and your heart--and let it in!