Friday, March 30, 2007

What to do with a hunk of muslin

Last Tuesday, the Pointless Sisters met for our regular monthly meeting. This time, the excitement was the reveal of the "muslin challenge" we've had brewing for the last 6 months. We were inspired by an episode of "Project Runway," where the designers were to use only plain muslin in their designs. On that same theme, we challenged members to make a piece using only muslin. We could do anything to the fabric we wanted, but the fiber was to start out as bare muslin.

It was really fun to see what everyone did.

Here's mine. (I just realized that I haven't photographed it bound, and I'm too lazy to go find the camera right now, so here it is blocked but not bound.)

I used Tsukineko inks to paint parts of eucalyptus branches, then with several shades of green thread free-stitched in more leaves and branches. I call it "Elena Road," after my parents' road where I used to play and walk under the eucalyptus trees there. (I just love that eucalyptus smell!) A click for a closeup will get you a better look, by the way.

Here's a detail shot. I quilted in dense wavy horizontal lines as background fill to make the leaves pop forward more, using off-white thread on the muslin. The thread color doesn't stand out at all but it gives the piece a really interesting texture.

Genie brought a piece she's begun to paint on muslin. She plans to add a lot of texture and detail with threadwork. This will be fun to see finished.

Selma hand-dyed muslin to create this very fun "bubble" quilt.

Ann was inspired by a photo of a crater on Mars. For the background fabric, she photo-transferred an image of actual night stars onto muslin. She created the crater with stitching and then by using dryer lint overlaid with muslin! Very textural and cool.

Ann W. worked from a photo of one of her favorite local scenes to paint this picture of an old metal bridge. This was her first time (like me) working with Tsukineko inks.

There were other quilts that I wasn't fast enough to photograph. But we were all delighted to see the challenge results.

Challenges can be such great spurs!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Not much to say today. I am in the throes of a vicious cold and spent the day bleary-eyed and sneezing and dozing and bemoaning the fact that my former stand-by cold medicine Dayquil no longer contains Pseudofedrine.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

I'm going to drink some ginger ale and go to bed.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Making quilts, making art

I'm feeling today like my head is stuffed tight with batting (ah, the spring head cold...), so I have been taking it easy. This morning, after doing my household chores, I made myself a pot of tea (in my PINK teapot) and sat down to watch The Art of Quilting. (After emailing my local public tv channels to find out when it was on, and then emailing everyone i knew locally to tell them to be sure to watch it, I managed to forget about it and miss the airing. That is SO me.... But I knew I'd want to own this show so I'd ordered it from PBS and as luck would have it it arrived on Saturday. )

Anyway. What a great show! I'm so inspired and invigorated and, while I feel that I'm a rank beginner in this art quilting exploration, I'm very proud to be participating in my own way in this endeavor. Seeing such beautiful art and hearing these artists talk about their art and their processes is so encouraging.

And thank you all for your really nice comments on my little acorn-inspired quilt. I've still not landed on a name that feels right to me, but it'll come eventually. And I'm delighted if my showing my methods inspires someone else. I feel like I'm stumbling along, motivated and inspired by the generous sharing of so many talented artists and quilters whose blogs show their work, and it's funny to think that my experiments will inspire someone else. But it just makes my day to think so!

Saturday, March 24, 2007


It's done! A deadline does work wonders for my production level. Although I've come down with a cold (and considered toddling off for an afternoon nap) I really wanted to have this done for tomorrow's workshop. Now all I have to do is think of a name for this. Any ideas?

I ended up satin stitching all around the flowery shapes, to emphasize the clean, curvy lines. I used the grid as a quilting motif and carried into the blank spaces, sort of irregularly. I do like the effect. (And it gave me a chance to practice starting and stopping more cleanly, at which I'm improving.) Here are a few detail shots:

I thought I'd show you how I played with different quilting options. Because I wasn't sure what I was going to do for quilting, I used my computer to try out different designs. I took a picture of the top and printed small multiples in a "contact sheet" type layout my photo software has. Then, I was able to draw on them and see how different quilting lines would look.

I find it very helpful to be able to SEE how the options look. It's a great way to try out all sorts of options.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sparkle, sparkle

I'm suddenly interested in sparkly gemstone rings.

I don't know why. Is it a midlife thing? (Like wanting leather upholstery in my car, not being interesting in camping any more, and preferring bed by 11pm rather than going out on the town...) When I'm flipping channels on the TV, I've actually gotten mesmerzied by the Jewelry Television channel. Watching those sparkly jewels spin around on their cute little carousels is so hypnotic!

Maybe it's a disease.

Now, really, I don't want to own expensive jewels. If I had a ring worth $5,000, I'd be a nervous wreck wearing it. Heck, I'd be a nervous wreck just having it in the house.

Still, I have this new urge for sparkling gems. I figure the cubic zirconia stuff is about my speed. Sparkly but cheap.

With the thought that I could satisfy my urge for jewels with cheap, fake stuff... I mean, affordable quality fabricated gemstones, I set off to investigate. It's amazing the "faux jewels" you can find online. Some of that fake stuff is darned expensive, too.

But here's the discovery making me happy today: Ebay. Good old Ebay. (Dangerously addictive Ebay, I might add.)

I discovered that I can have a gen-u-ine pink sapphire in a 14-karat gold ring setting with real diamond accents for $3.99 or less. Well, with shipping and handling, $15.99. No, that's not a typo. All this pink sparkliness for Fifteen Dollars and Niney Nine Cents, people! Looky:

Don't believe me? Check this out. I'm sure it's of the highest quality.

But wait, there's more. Emeralds like this, $3.99 plus $12.99 shipping.

Rubies and garnets! This undoubtedly flawless ring is up to $1.26 already.

Ooh! Mystic Topaz! The bidding has soared from $.01 all the way up to $.26 ... so far.

Now, c'mon... isn't this FUN? Don't you want to go look?

I must confess that I have, indeed, bid on and won an auction (I spent an exorbitant $5.99 for a ring) and I can't wait to see what it turns out to be. At worst, it'll be great dress-up fodder for Caroline and the little girl next door. Or maybe I've discovered the secret to owning lots and lots of gorgeous jewels. I will keep you posted.

It's cheaper than pretty much anything else (who knew you could have a real -- cough cough -- gemstone ring for the price of a fat quarter or two of fabric?!) and it's not fattening.

So if you see me with jewels on my hands, let's just pretend you don't know where I got them, okay?

Design evolution

So, here's where my current design challenge is going.

I mentioned the design workshop where we got a mystery item and have to use it as a starting point for a design, yes? Well, here's what I got: an elongated pod thingie, I think an acorn without its cap.

And remember how we were also challenged to use a color we find difficult? I'd selected olive green as my challenge color. Well, I spent about two weeks uninspired by the idea of brown and olive green. And, trying to escape being "tragically literal" (a phrase Jane Sassaman once used to describe someone and something I have to struggle not to be) I was determined not to make something about acorns.

I doodled and doodled and was not inspired. I was trying to do something abstract with the shape without making it into "something" at all. But I couldn't seem to get anywhere.

Finally, several things occurred to me. First, I didn't have to use brown. (See what I mean about the tragically literal thing? While trying to avoid "acorn," I still got "brown" stuck in my head. Geez.) Second, I could use the green that's difficult for me and add another color. Hey, I know, how about PINK?

Suddenly, things felt fun. I doodled some more, and came up with this:

I know, not brilliant, but I did like that bud-like shape with the leafy thingies around them. I mean, that abstract ovoid shape with the abstract curvilinear shapes embracing them. Ahem.

So after more equally talented (!) sketching, I came back to this and decided to work with it:

I was going to do tiny... maybe 10" by 10". But then, on the theory that a small thing is just as much work as a big thing, I went bigger... about 24x24 inches.

This doodle reminded me of an art nouveau design and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose Glasgow style of design is so pleasing to me. And that thought process led to this, which is on the wall right now:

That's a white background, by the way. My plan is to add some colored quilting (maybe some hand-stitching, even?) tomorrow. We'll see where it goes.

Hey, it's not brilliance. But as a response to this pod thingie, I'm happy with it. I've used the shape in a not too literal way (yes, I know, it's still fairly representational, but heck, it's a step in the right direction and since I came at it by not thinking "flower" but just playing with shapes, I'm gonna be content with that), and I've also captured the sense of curviness in this which sort (in my mind, anyway) relates to the smooth, curviness of the pod that I found so pleasing when I hold it.

Considering that I was starting to think about just avoiding the challenge as something that didn't inspire a response, I'm pleased that I kept at it and have ended up with something fun. I guess that's the biggest bonus of this design workshop: it takes me places I wouldn't go on my own.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A good day to dye

What do you do when your child is home with a cold and the case you've been working on has settled and your day opens up without any place you need to be?

Dye some fabric, of course.

It started with the desire for some avocado green fabric. In my design workshop, this month's assignment involves two different challenges: first, we were given a small item and asked to design a piece inspired by that item somehow. Second, we were asked to think about colors we avoid and then to try to work with one of those colors in our piece.

I'll tell you more about my item when I show you what I've done. But one of the colors I tend to avoid is that olive/avocado green. Grey, yellow green. Army drab. That sort of thing.

Naturally, I don't have any of that in my stash. I could have gone over to my sister's house, as she has fabric in that shade in great abundance. She's drawn to that and dusky pink the way I'm pulled toward red. When we shop for fabric, she always comes away with green and pink. But I decided to take a stab at dyeing some, as there I was at home and I wanted to try Tommy's microwave dyeing method. (I aspire to get even half of what Tommy gets done in a day...)

Anyway. I apparently didn't use enough black with my green, as this is a bit less olivey/army green and a bit more spring green...but that's okay with me.

And of course, in my current love for things PINKPINKPINK, I had to dye up a bit of fuchsia, mixing in a touch of black to see what happened.

I'm a novice dyer, but each time I try it I vow to dedicate some serious time to dyeing a color wheel, some gradations, and mixes and keep actual detailed notes. That's my project for this summer, actually. It's not that I need more fabric, goodness knows, but I want to be able to make color! I made my way to THIS incredible site, where thanks to the generosity of Melissa Wills, there is everything you would want to know (and them some) about getting started with low immersion dyeing.

I was happy with my results (considering how slapdash I was)...the colors were paler than anticipated, but I may have used water that was too warm while mixing the dye. Or not.

Today, I drew and cut and fused and ended up with a small quilt top. More revealed tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Books and Quilts

Don't you think quilts go well with books? Well, look! An assortment of quilts by members of my art quilt group The Pointless Sisters is currently hanging on display in a local library (the Rincon Valley Public Library, if you live in the area and want to pop in and see them.) It's a great venue for large quilts, don't you think?

You can see my butterfly wing up there. (That quilts looks best viewed from a distance like this, I think.) The next quilt with the puppy on it is by Cathy Hansen, and the wonderful giraffe quilt (you probably need to see a close up of the photo) is by Diane Land. That's her entry for the muslin challenge--she dyed and painted all of those vibrant colors herself.

Here's another shot showing how great the quilts look up there. How can those people be just standing there, not looking up?!

And this row of quilts hangs opposite the one in the previous shots. From the left, you can see quilts by Mary Hernandez, Carolyn Wolf, and Selma Sklar.

There are many more quilts which look wonderful up there. I think our quilts really grace this lovely space. I hope some of the library patrons take the time to look up once in a while!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

In the Pink

Here in Northern California we are having glorious, sunny spring days. The plum trees are in bloom in cotton candy shades of pink and white, and trees and shrubs everywhere are leafing out in a soft spring green. The pink tulips in the backyard are starting to bloom. I just love pink tulips.

I like all pink flowers, in fact.

All of this puts me in the mood for Pink. Suddenly, I'm craving all pink, all the time.

This is my current favorite pink fabric, from Kaffe Fassett. I just want to wrap myself in it.

And look! Here are pink Kaffe Fasset pjs! Don't you want to put these on and sit on Sunday morning on a white-railinged porch to sip coffee and read the paper?

And you could wear them while you sit and knit something pink?

Cruising the pink fabrics at makes me feel happy.

Ooh, and such shades of pink thread...

Oh, c'mon, doesn't this quilt make you smile?

And you know, there are such things as pink diamonds.

Aren't they gorgeous and sparkly? If I had $5000 lying around, I'd buy this:

...but then I'd need something like this to wear with it:

And then there's the pink wig...

Um, never mind.

Maybe I'd buy this Kaffe Fassett painting with my hypothetical $5000:

Ah, well. The pink tulips will do it for me today. But in my pink mood, I'll be working on this quilt, all in pink and rose and red fabrics, at my April quilt retreat:

Here's wishing you a sunny, pink Sunday!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

All that jazz

On Friday, I was one of the parent escorts on a class field trip to hear a terrific jazz concert. The trip was the culmination of a very cool history and music project the class was doing, known as "Operation Jazz Band." I was really impressed.

You can check out the main artist, Babatunde Lea, here. His site explains that ""Operation Jazz Band is a week-long course in which a 5 piece professional Jazz band takes up a one-week residency in a school to offer students hands-on experience with jazz theory, instrumentation, improvising and vocalization." What that meant to Caroline's class was that each afternoon, one or two members of the band would come to class, bring their instruments, and talk about jazz, its development in American history and its evolution from the music brought to the US by enslaved Africans, explain what part their instrument played in the ensemble, and encourage the kids to have fun and make music. Caroline came home one afternoon bursting with excitement and eager to play the drums.

By Friday, the kids had met all of the performers and had sung some of the songs. So, all of the 5th grade classes in the community gathered at the local theater to hear the band play. When the band started in playing Duke Ellington numbers and their own compositions, the audience was a sea of finger-snapping, clapping, bee-bobbing 5th graders. It was really fun to see.

In these days when budget cuts and federal testing requirements are forcing public schools to eliminate everything but the bare-bones test content, I was really delighted to see this terrific program come to Healdsburg's schools.

The event also is a great lead-in to a big community event here, the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. There's a lot of jazz going on around town, from now through the summer. Check out the Festival website if you're in Northern California and want to come, taste wine, and hear good music.

Friday, March 16, 2007

That's what friends are for...

Well, this week took an unexpected turn.

On Tuesday night, Roger and I were hanging out in the family room, recapping American Idol performances and guessing who'd be booted. The phone rang, and it was my best friend Beth asking about heart attack symptoms in women....and because she was feeling ill with an odd feeling of heaviness in her chest, she was worrying. Recently separated, she's also feeling vulnerable about being alone.

Beth lives two hours away from me, and after I told her to call her dr and then call me back, Roger looked at me and said "You're worrying now, right?" I nodded. "And you want to go, right?" I nodded. "Go, get your stuff together, you should be with her."

So, I flung a few things into a bag, grabbed a caffeine-laden soda, and jumped into the car. Halfway there, Beth called to report that her EKG was normal but they still didn't know what it was. I kept driving and was at the ER with her by midnight.

ERs are odd places in the middle of the night. I guess those tv shows really don't exaggerate (too much, anyway) the weird and unpredictable mix of people who'll show up. I was greatly relieved when they let me go back and hang out with Beth while she waited for test results.

The chest-heaviness turned out to be a case of pneumonia, which was finally diagnosed by about 3am. All things considered, it wasn't bad being there and we found plenty of things to amuse us. We were both impressed with the diligence of the ER staff in keeping her comfortable and doing tests to make sure they knew what was going on. At one point, I resorted to the tricks we'd used when Caroline was a baby in the dr's office--I made balloon animals with dr's latex gloves, and pulled little things out of my purse to do an impromptu puppet show ("Look! It's Mr. Pencil!") which of course made us giggle wildly. We were probably the only ER room where the folks outside heard laughing instead of moaning and retching and angry cursing (and we heard ALL of that.)

So, with a prescription for antibiotic in hand and instructions for breathing exercises, we headed back to Beth's house. I stayed with her until Thursday afternoon, by which time she was doing better and I figured it was time to return to my family.

We are still laughing over what a great time we had together, even considering the pneumonia. And that's how you know your good friends, right? They make even the icky things so much better.

By the way, one evening we watched "Stranger than Fiction" with Will Farrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. I LOVED that movie!! Very quirky but charming. It's the best thing I've seen in a while, I think.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fun with friends

It's been a busy week, as we've had our friends Silvia and Paolo visiting from Guatemala. As I've mentioned here before, we met them when they lived here in town and became fast friends. They returned to Guatemala about 3 years ago, and luckily Silvia's visa requires that she come to the US every year to keep it active.

Silvia is not only fun and funny, she's very talented. I am THRILLED that she brought this watercolor for me:

Interestingly, the project up on my design wall when they arrived is some fuchsia blossoms I started in a class with Jane Sassaman a few years ago. I finally arrived at a solution for finishing it, and had it up on the wall to get the thing done. So the arrival of these painted fuchsias was startlingly appropriate.

As always, Silvia was eager to shop and get started on a new project. Her ability to buy commercial cotton is limited in Guatemala, and the mailing costs (and likelihood of disappearance en route) makes online shopping and mail delivery unrealistic. So, we spent one morning perusing quilt books and magazines for Silvia to get ideas and make plans, then we headed off to some local shops for fabric purchase. I am not one to buy all the fabric for one project in one fell swoop, but Silvia doesn't have the choice not to do that. Once she gets home, what she has bought here is what she will have to work with.

At any rate, she successfully got fabric for two different projects. This is a close-up of the one above in progress.

Nice, eh?

She also fell in love with the fruit and vegetable fabric I've used on 2+ quilts so I happily gave her most of what I had left. After all, I don't need another fruit and veggie quilt. I'm happily handing that obsession over to her.

I also gave her her birthday present (for her April birthday, so as to avoid that mail problem) of a set of Tsukineko inks and a great how-to-use-them video by Patt Blair. I figure that with Silvia's painting skill, she can do a lot with these cool inks.

They left yesterday, so life is back to normal around here. But we had a grand time and there is nothing like sharing creative fun with friends.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Because sometimes you need a silly joke...

A cowboy walked into a bar and ordered a whiskey. When the bartender delivered the drink, the cowboy asked, "Where is everybody?"

The bartender replied, "They've gone to the hanging."

"Hanging?Who are they hanging?"

"Brown Paper Pete," the bartender replied.

"What kind of a name is that?" the cowboy asked.

"Well,"said the bartender, "he wears a brown paper hat, brown paper shirt, brown paper trousers and brown paper shoes."

"Weird guy," said the cowboy. "What are they hanging him for?"

"Rustling,"said the bartender.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Sneak Peek

I've been working on my muslin challenge today, and here's a peek.
You remember? This is the challenge where the only fabric we can use is muslin. I gave myself several goals with this project. I wanted to experiment with painting with Tsukineko inks, which I'd never used before. I wanted my piece to have a bit of color, but a lot of exposed muslin with the design in threadwork. And (doubling up on challenges, here) I decided to make a Eucalyptus related quilt, as the Eucalyptus tree one aspect of inspiration in my design workshop.
This isn't the greatest picture, but I was trying to show the dense linear background quilting done in muslin-colored thread. I've discovered that quilting in off-white thread on muslin creates a lot of texture but it's pretty invisible.
Anyway, quilting is done, and it's now blocking on my design wall.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Desert Twilight

I realized that I never did post a finished picture of "Desert Twilight," so here it is. (Once again, it's straight even tho it looks funny from the photo angle here. I've got to figure out a place where I can photograph quilts hanging in a straight vertical...)

Anyway. Can you see from the picture that the binding colors change and angle to follow the main lines of the quilt? That was tricky and mainly a function of fussing and fussing until things lined up. There's probably an easy way to do that, but I used my own "seat of the pants" method. Also, in the lower right hand corner, I wanted the binding to change colors right at the mitre... Which presented a challenge as I figured if I pieced the color change there, my usual continuous-binding method would leave me with an even bigger lump at the corner. What to do?

Well, Ricky Tims came to my rescue. I know I've raved over and over about his Grand Finale DVD on machine quilting and finishing techniques, but I remembered that he showed a mitred corner method that involved joining the binding pieces in the mitering seam. I put the DVD in my computer, followed the steps (again, having to pause, run to the machine to execute it, then play the next bit) and I came out with a PERFECT corner.

I"m going to use this mitering method on all my quilts in the future, because it really does work. And as soon as I finally get the steps fixed in my thick head, it'll be easy. (It's actually quite simple, just so different from what I usually do that it's not fixed in my brain yet.)

So, check out that DVD. I've gotten my money's worth several times over. (He shows how to stop and start machine quilting so it's secure and invisible--another challenge for me. I'm going to do some practicing on that today, in fact.)

Whether or not this Desert Twilight quilt established my "credentials," I'll never know...but I've been invited to join a small art quilt minigroup of quilters whose work I admire tremendously. I'm quite thrilled. They don't meet regularly, but they do coordinate a few small shows at local wineries and arrange to bring in really great teachers for private classes. I'm delighted.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Heart to Heart

Yesterday, I had a lovely visit with my cousin Sean who (as you know if you've been reading this) is recovering from major surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. He's home and up and around and doing GREAT, which is truly wonderful to see.

It was a lovely day all around. After a few days of rain, yesterday was sunny and clear. My brother Gregg was free to go with me (he's taken a leave of absense from his stressful job as head designer at a high-pressure graphic design studio) so we got to have a very nice chat in the car on the way to see Sean.

Once at Sean's house, I gave him the quilt I'd made while I he was in the hospital and we were all edgy and distracted and focused only on hearing news about him every day. I used 5 inch squares of the funkiest novelty prints I had, plus some I had to buy because they just fit what I was remembering about our childhood...I mixed in fabric that had football stuff (cheerleaders, even!), playing cards and chips, lots of hot rods, even all-star wrestling! (Only for Sean would I have bought THAT fabric!) Following the lead of my friend Pat D. who did a similar "color wash) with novelty prints, I laid them out by color and had great fun quilting it. The back is a black fabric with hearts all over it -- appropriate for a heart surgery patient, yes?! And I call it "Heart to Heart." Sean loved it.

(I know it's a slightly out of focus picture. Sorry about that. I MUST remember to haul out the tripod when I photograph things.)

We went out to lunch and talked incessantly and laughed a lot. Anyway. On the way home, after dropping my brother back at his car, I found myself in the heavy San Francisco-commuters-heading-north-at-rush-hour traffic, and decided that the best way to get out of it was to simply go do something else. So, I pulled off and spent a lovely 2 hours cruising around a large Borders bookstore. Rambling around a bookstore to browse is such a treat!

I stumbled onto a magazine I'd never seen before called Quiltmania. Turns out it's a french publication now printed in English. That made it into my purchase pile! It was glossy and well-written, with a good assortment of traditional and art quilts featured. The magazine featured a lot of Japanese quilts too, and I love the Japanese quilt aesthetic.

Today is an errand and chore day. But my heart is a lot lighter after seeing Sean and seeing how well he is. The body is a miraculous thing.