Sunday, November 19, 2017

Approaching Thanksgiving


Here in Northern California, it's finally feeling like autumn. Quite a few trees on my street have turned gorgeous shades of yellow, orange and red. We've had a few gray, rainy days, which makes a nice change from the all-too-hot weather we've add through September and October. It occurred to me this morning, while I was out walking Starlie in between drizzle-bursts, that usually at this time of year I'd be thinking about Thanksgiving and coordinating with sister and brother and parents about who will be where. I'd have ordered my turkey from the local butcher.

But this year, things are just... up in the air. Everything feels unpredictable. My brother, a few years younger than me, has been battling a pernicious type of colon cancer and has started another round of chemotherapy. It's been worrisome, to say the least. Last week, my 87 year old mom fell and broke both her shoulder and her hip. So the past week has involved frequent trips to the hospital and talks with doctors and calls with family members to keep everyone up to date. Mom is doing amazingly well, all things considered. She's had two surgeries, her bones are now stable, and all that's left to do is heal and get back to normal movement. Easy-peasy, right? 

Not all that long ago, a dear friend posted about her brush with lung cancer. I'd emailed her to comment on the way she'd kept her situation to herself even while posting online about her son's wedding and lots of happy times spent with her grandson and other family members. I wrote this to her: “I suppose it is another humbling reminder that pain and joy, fear and hope, lively exuberance and physical ailments can all exist in the same space and time. It's mysterious and inexplicable and ... we'll, just LIFE.” When I wrote that, I was mulling over her situation, and my brother's, and thinking about how this is what life is -- good news and bad news and getting through hard things and just celebrating every single moment we can as it comes.

And then my mom fell, and I've spent a lot of the past week hanging around the local hospital holding her hand and watching nurses and seeing patients roll in and out. It's the kind of setting that brings things down to a fundamental, simple level. It's the littlest things that matter so much. Being able to stand up. Sitting up in bed to sip water. A caring smile from a nurse, or a gentle touch to straighten a blanket. Coming home to hug my daughter and snuggle with a happy dog.

So, that's my mindset as Thanksgiving approaches. I try to be grateful every day for all sorts of things, big and small. I generally do view Thanksgiving as a celebration of gratitude.  But this year, it feels somehow bigger and smaller at the same time.  The life-and-death things feel more immediate than they ever have. And, at the same time, those little moments of pleasure and joy and surprise and appreciation feel more frequent and more vital, too. 

I haven't reserved a turkey. I have no idea who will be where. I'm not sure there will be a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the good china on the table and the requisite traditional side dishes. But it'll be okay. Where ever we are, we'll have moments to be together, and hold a hand or give a hug and that's what counts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Snowball Stars


I was thinking recently  that it'll soon be time to bring out the holiday quilts, and that made me think about this quilt, which I made last year before Christmas.  I think I whipped up this quilt top on the day after Thanksgiving, in fact.  And, I realized, I never posted it here.

For Christmas quilts in my home, I prefer fabrics that aren't in-your-face Christmasy so I tend to choose geometric or wintery prints. I think this batch of fabrics was from a layer cake that I couldn't resist somewhere. This quilt looks great draped over the back of the red couch in my family room and makes a good holiday snuggle quilt.

The pattern is called Lollies and is by Camille Roskelly, aka Thimbleblossoms. She is the Camille of Bonnie & Camille, who design such happy fabrics. I'm always drawn to their fabric and their patterns. 

The blocks were fun and easy to sew. As I said, the print fabrics were from a layer cake and I added white. Piece of cake! Super easy. I skipped the fancy border on the pattern -- I just wanted simple.  And I had a good old time machine quilting it -- you can see that I did special patterns in the stars and in the snowballs with an overall pattern in the background.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

More fun sewing books

Since I had such a lapse in blogging, there's a bunch of stuff that I've been doing that I've not shown you!  It's making me realize that I've accomplished things in my absence from the blogosphere!

I've mentioned before how much I love Mary Ann Moss and her blog, Dispatch from LA. Mary Ann has a distinctive and whimsical approach to art - I love her loose and fun style.  She's got a bunch of online classes available, which I can highly recommend. A few months ago, she opened up a new one called Stitch-bookery, involving my favorite things: books! Sewing! paper!  I had a great old time, made some fun books and came away with a ton of ideas.

So here's one of the books I made. It was an accordion style book, made from folding a large sheet of paper for the base. 


I started without any purpose or theme. As I started assembling bits for the pages, I found an old calendar page with a bunch of different shapes of eyeglasses on it and I figured it'd be fun to feature them as the unifying page theme.  So, glasses it was. Other than that, I just assembled bits that made me happy and sewed them down.


Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy sewing on paper? That pucketa-pucketa sound is so satisfying.


I use leftover pieces of scrapbook paper, vintage items from thrift stores, images cut out of battered old books and magazines, parts of tourist pamphlets...


The way the accordion folded created some hidden pockets, just perfect for sliding in a secret page.   


This sort of collage has the same pleasures and dangers of scrap-quilting. Using the scraps is so satisfying -- but it makes you want to save every little thing, and next thing you know you're just a few piles away from an episode of Hoarders.
 

I'm a sucker for anything with old handwriting. And there sure were some strange images on vintage postcards. That old guy scolding those young folks was a postcard about getting married.  Hmm.



I really like to use old music, too.


It made me happy to use some bits from an old shorthand text book. I used to know a bit, from playing with my mom's old shorthand textbooks from her secretarial days, and I even used some shorthand in my law school note-taking days. So it's a pleasant memory -- probably like secret code to most people nowadays.  And note that bizarre postcard on the bottom right, "keep this under your hat." See what I mean about odd postcards?

This book didn't serve any purpose besides being really fun to make -- and I guess that's purpose enough.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Busy Binge-Watching

I have found myself wanting deeply engrossing tv lately, so I have been on a run of watching intense foreign mystery series on tv over recent weeks. It's funny -- often my preferred escapist viewing involves lighter fare, but lately I've loved the feeling of getting lost in serious, intense mysteries. Here are ones I've watched and can recommend highly:


Broadchurch -- David Tennant (you might recognize him from Dr. Who) stars in this series about a cynical, exhausted detective arriving in a small English coastal town just as a young boy's body is discovered. The search for the boy's killer, and its effect on the close-knit village, is riveting. Seasons 1& 2 are on Netflix, and Seasons 1, 2 and 3 (which picks up with the same people 3 years later) are available on Amazon Prime. I didn't want to leave this village or these characters.


Shetland - Another gorgeous coastal British setting, another complicated detective - recently widowed, trying to sort out his newly single life and an independent teen daughter -- and more grisly crimes to solve. I found the depiction of Shetland life fascinating, but I'll admit that I had to turn on the Close Captioning to subtitle the heavy scottish accents!  There are 3 seasons (all available on Netflix), plus one currently airing in the UK. I loved that season 3 involved a significant subplot involving one of the regular detectives and how crime affects women. Now I've added Shetland to my "Travel Someday" list.


Marcella -  A detective returns to work after taking time off to have her children, only to have her husband leave her -- and to discover that her husband's mistress has been murdered around the same time that Marcella had a depressed, drunken black-out episode. So there's a lot going on -- woman coping with family upheaval, re-asserting herself as a detective, and worrying about the niggling question -- could SHE had committed the murder? I loved this. All 10 episodes are on Netflix.



Bordertown - I started watching this after seeing this billed as a "Netflix original" and was surprised to find that it was totally in Finnish ,with English subtitles of course. Turns out it's a Finnish series imported to US by Netflix -- and I loved it. Another intense, quirky detective, having moved to a small town after his wife has survived surgery for a brain tumor, so the family goal is for him to start over in a job which will give him more family time.  The crimes in this series are kind of creepy -- sexual overtones, young girls -- but it was worth it to get past that to this intriguing combination crime/family drama.  I really enjoyed the sound of Finnish being spoken, too.  The "border town" aspect is that the town is across the water from St Petersburg, Russia, so the stories involve Russion influences too. Fascinating.


Doctor Foster -  This wasn't a murder mystery miniseries but it was an engrossing thriller. Dr. Gemma Foster begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair, which he convincingly denies. Is Doctor Foster paranoid? Crazy? or Perceptive and angrier by the minute? Who is lying to her, and whom can she trust? This series features a strong woman taking strong action -- sometimes bizarre but weirdly understandable, too. Definitely gripping.


Wallander - I'm currently watching this one. Moody, troubled Swedish detective Kurt Wallander is played by Kenneth Branaugh -- looking distractingly slovenly in the first episodes when his life is really a mess.  This series is a British remake of an original Swedish series, and thankfully it's in English. Moody Swedish scenery, cool to see the Swedish home decor, good mysteries and solid acting. Did I say moody? It's very moody.  And a few hints:  someone riding a motorcycle is a bad guy. And the sound of flies buzzing? Dead body. Walking alone in the Swedish woods? Soon to be followed by sound of buzzing flies. You're welcome.

Oh, and there's a young and very curly Tom Hiddleston (from the Night Manager) in the earlier series!


 I'm not tired of these serious mysteries yet, so I've got a few more lined up on my Netflix list:




And I may go crazy and veer off to a legal series --


I'll let you know how they go.  Have you watched anything great lately? What are your binge-watching pleasures?


Monday, November 06, 2017

To blog, or not to blog?


November Sunday


I was thinking recently about how I've drifted away from blogging, and whether that meant it was time to just stop.  And once that thought entered my mind, I immediately thought, "NO!"

So I have been thinking about what blogging has meant to me since I started way back in November, 2004.  Wow, it's almost my 13th Bloggiversary!

Back when I started, there weren't many people blogging. I was eager to find other art quilters -- and started blogging to try to connect. The Artful Quilters Blog Ring followed, which led to wonderful artists and inspiration and friendships ... which led to the Twelve by Twelve collaborative project.  And that wonderful experiment led to 5 years' worth of artistic exploration, great friendships, various magazine articles, two books, and quilt exhibits that traveled around the world. It still amazes me when I think about it.

And art quilting wasn't the only thing that got a boost from blogging. I made friends in all sorts of arenas -- sketching and painting, reading, homeschooling, photography, cooking. My must-read list of bloggers got longer and longer. Commenting often led to email conversations and new friendships. And now I feel like I have a large, wide-spread circle of friends with whom I share so many wonderful things and a not-insignificant history.

So, I'm going to try to re-start my blogging habit. I'm not making art quilts at the moment, and keep pondering why that is. But this feels like too important a lifeline to just drop -- even though Instagram and Facebook and lord knows what other social media sites I'm not even aware of may be more trendy. I'm evolving. We all are. But I think I want to keep talking in this space. We'll see what happens!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Sudden Changes


I took this photograph on Wednesday, October 4. I was at my semi-annual quilt retreat at Bishop's Ranch, enjoying a lovely early fall day of blue skies and gentle breezes.

Most of you know by now that on Sunday, October 9, crazy winds pushed wildfires through many areas of Sonoma County where I live. This picture, and others from that retreat, remind me of how quickly and unexpectedly things can change.  It's been a difficult time here... devastating for many people  and for the community as a whole. I have 5 friends who lost their homes, and I've not yet encountered anyone who doesn't know someone whose home or business was lost in the fires.

Here's what my friend Pat's house looked like on Sunday.



And here it was -- or wasn't -- on Monday.


Shocking. Kind of brings it home, doesn't it? And then imagine that times about 1000 or more. The city lost 2800 structures.


Miss C and I were very lucky. The air quality throughout the county was horrible for a about 2 weeks, as fires raged and the chemical-laden smoke traveled for miles. People were urged to stay inside with windows closed and air conditioners on to filter incoming air.  On my end of town, a fire just to the north caused concern, and so we eventually evacuated to stay with my sister for 4 nights.  But we had the choice to stay or go, and we were able to listen to fire reports and watch the news for signs that the fire was shifting in our direction.

So, like many other Sonoma County residents, we had the odd experience of deciding what items to take upon leaving the house for safer places. It was a luxury, really -- the friends whose houses burned so suddenly on that Sunday night had no warning at all, and were lucky to get out of their houses with clothes, shoes, wallets and pets.  I thought about what was truly irreplaceable, and loaded my car with family photographs, some quilts, some personal treasures of sentimental value, personal papers, and suitcases for each of us. It was strange, I tell you, and in a weird way I felt like I was saying goodbye to everything I didn't put in the car.

Luckily, we were fine. The fires were controlled and we were able to come back home. I feel so deeply for friends who have no home left to return to -- what an unsettling and upsetting feeling that must be, with so much to sort out. Insurance claims. Buying basic clothing and living supplies. Finding new housing. Deciding whether to rebuild or move.  And that's barely a dent. The community will take years to recover.

  Now, everyone I know is talking about their stories and experiences and lessons. Here are a few that keep coming up:

1.  Make sure you have your important papers in one place where you can grab them if you need to.

2.  Make sure your insurance is up to date, with current values for your home and the contents. If you've bought some valuable jewelry, art work or expensive sewing machines recently, check that they are insured.

3.  Most insurance policies don't cover any cash you have at home, or very much anyway. So if you've got cash socked away as a safety precaution, check to make sure it'd be covered if you had a fire.

4. Check your fire safe rating if you have one. The local Sonoma County Fire update page on Facebook is full of people reporting that their fire safes melted in the fire. I don't know anyone whose fire safe made it through the fire intact.

5.  Scan your important photos and papers and upload them to a cloud storage site. You may never need to retrieve them, but then again, you might.

6. Make sure you have a transistor radio and working batteries. At my house, I lost cell phone service (77 cell towers burned in the fires), cable tv, and internet service. Luckily, my landline was still working.  Still, it felt very strange and scary to be out of  communication and I was grateful for an old clock radio that allowed me to get safety alerts from a local AM station.

7. Go through your house with your cell phone and take photos or video of every room. Open drawers and cupboards and photograph them too. Should you ever have a loss, you'll have something to trigger your memory of contents you might forget.

It's raining as I write this, something we have been waiting for. It feels cleansing and safe. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Mermaid Dreams


 Look! It's another finished quilt! I know, I can hardly believe it myself.  I told you I was back at my machine with a vengeance, right? That's a happy vengeance, in case you wondered.  (But I do have to say that sewing my way through the evening political shows is helping me keep my sanity in these dire political times.)  At any rate, I've been having fun pulling fabric out of my stash and stitching up some simple but fun patterns.

Quite a while back I fell in love with a fabric line by Heather Ross called "Mendocino" -- charming (but not too cutsie) mermaids and other sea life, in an unusual set of colors. I have a good friend who loves mermaids, and loves that seaglass aqua color, and this seemed perfect for her.  So, I bought a fabric bundle and then tucked it away for a bit while I puzzled over how to use the fabric to make the most of those wonderful patterns. 

It took me a while to find a pattern that would show off those large mermaids.  And then I stumbled onto a pattern called Ribbon Box Quilt by Cloud 9 Fabrics. It's a free download, even, and you can get it here.  The ribbons are about 6 inches wide, and I really liked how the pattern allowed me to use an assortment of rather odd colors together in a way that worked. (Btw, my photographs make the oranges look a bit darker than they really are, and the red is more pink, and that that dark ribbon is a magenta-ish burgundy that doesn't look quite as dark in real life. You can get a sense of the true colors on the Quilted Castle link above, but for the life of me I couldn't balance these colors on the photograph to look true to life.)

If you are inclined to make the pattern, I'll tell you this: the cutting took some concentration but wasn't hard. I gave each ribbon a number, and laid it out on my design wall following the pattern's diagram. Once I got it laid out, I just assembled each horizontal row and it went together beautifully.
 

I decided it quilt it with straight lines -- easy walking foot sewing. Look at all these cute little critters -- octopusses! (Octopi?) Seahorses! fishies! 


I actually took these photos before the binding was on, but I pieced together all of the pale aqua leftover fabrics and used those for the binding. It looks great -- an edge but not too visible an edge, if you know what I mean. 

I'm sending this off to my friend this week -- she's an internet-free sort of woman so I know she won't see it here before she gets it in person. But I'm happy to have this done and posted. I figure it'll be a good quilt for snuggling and dreaming of the seashore!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Silly Goose!


 
Do you find that you go through art phases? I sure do.  And since some time in February, I've been in a serious quilting phase. I have no idea what re-ignited the spark, but I have sure appreciated the feeling of eagerness to get back to the sewing machine. And I've managed to start and finish a bunch of quilts! That hasn't happened in a long time.

I made this quilt for a polka dot challenge at my April quilt retreat. I'm always drawn to dots and have an embarrassing assortment of dotted fabric in my stash. So when the challenge topic was announced, I knew it'd be a piece of cake.

You may recall that I have a thing for flying geese quilts and have made a number of them. (You can see three of them here!) When I stumbled across an online tutorial for a fun flying geese variation, I knew I had to make it.  So, I'm considering this #4 in my Flying Geese series. Doesn't that sound more impressive than saying I have a weird obsession with flying geese quilts and can't seem to stop making them?!

The tutorial is from Jenny at the Missouri Star Quilt Company and is called Flying Home.  (Boy, do I love her tutorial videos.) I loved how the background behind the geese is divided with different fabrics. And this is a jelly roll quilt -- actually quite fast and easy. I really had fun with this.


It took me a bit of drawing to figure out how to quilt the geese block in a continuous line, but I played around for a while drawing blocks on my Ipad and came up with something that worked.  Gosh, I guess I should pick a detail shot that shows you that most of the geese points actually are sharp.


Are you noticing all of the polka dots?!  And because a polka dot challenge quilt needs a polka dotted back, I chose this wonderful Kaffe Fassett dot for the back. It is definitely a happy dot and the colors were perfect. 


Because of my crazy obsession with flying geese quilts I am working on a flying geese series, I have been collecting flying geese quilt ideas in a Flying Geese Quilts Pinterest board. Who knows which will be next?!

Have you found yourself repeating certain blocks or themes so that you've developed a series (or obsession!) without even planning it?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Camellia Stars

 
Well, I have surprised myself and finished TWO quilts in the last several weeks. It sure is good to have that "I need to feel fabric between my fingers!" feeling again, and so I've been sewing a bit every day.

I showed you last time the star blocks I'd been sewing -- and by the beginning of the week, I had finished the quilt! I've called it Camellia Stars, because right now the camellias in my garden are in bloom with gorgeous pinks and so this quilt will remind me of them.  I mentioned last time the quilt is from a pattern called Shine and it was very fun and fast to make.

It took me a while to figure out where to photograph this quilt -- I don't have many big walls in the house that a) aren't blocked by furniture, and/or b) allow for a clear straight-on shot of a big quilt. But this morning it occurred to me that if I closed a blind in my living room, I could hang the quilt in front of the window and get a full shot there.  I had to move a few things around, but it worked -- and now I know where I can get, at least, a clear shot.

In fact, for now, I've hung the quilt in the living room because it just makes me happy to see it there.


On to the next project!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Quilt Mojo

Well, I am happy to report that my quilt mojo is back! It feels like ages since I've been in the mood to sew. It hasn't worried me much, really -- I know that my creative interests can wax and wane at times, and I've learned to just follow what excites me at the moment. So I've been playing with paper (making books and cards) and I've had some knitting projects going. But I wanted to make a quilt for a family member, and that pushed me to get back to the sewing machine.

This particular quilt was for my brother, and I wanted to make it entirely of flannel. After searching a bit, I found a collection of fabric by Maywood Studios, called "Woolies." The flannel looks like wool tweed and has a great assortment of jewel tone colors.


I found an appealing pattern, called Jubilee by Marlous Designs (thank you, Pinterest!) and away I went.

And look, here's what resulted:


It's very soft and will be the perfect snuggle and get well quilt. It's been delivered and hopefully is keeping my brother warm and cozy.

I was so inspired by actually finishing a quilt (starting and finishing in the same month, even!) that I started another.  This past weekend was wild and stormy here in Northern California. I didn't have pressing work, the house was clean, and Miss C was away for the weekend. So I set my sewing machine up on the kitchen table and gave myself a mini at-home quilt retreat.

I pulled out a fat quarter bundle I'd fallen in love with some time ago, in pinks and yellows --- happy, springy colors for a gray rainy weekend.  And I pulled a pattern out of my "make this someday" box -- "Shine" by A Quilting Life Designs:


I had  good old time making star blocks.


And by Monday afternoon, I had the whole top pieced and the backing sewn and ready to sandwich.
That was so satisfying that today, after making some good progress on a work project, I rewarded myself by pulling polka dotted fabric from my stash for a challenge coming due in April.


From delicate pastels to bright dots. It made me so happy to revisit some of these old fabrics, especially my Freddy Moran dots.  It feels very good to be playing with fabric again!