Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Review: Fabric Art Workshop

After I saw an advertisement for "Fabric Art Workshop: Exploring Techniques and Materials for Fabric Artists and Quilters" by Susan Stein, I was eager to see this book. I'm drawn toward "workshop" sort of books that provide exercises to encourage play with new ideas (yeah, I know, I'm drawn toward all books) and love having resources in my library that I can use to spur me to try new things. So, I had high hopes for this book.

The book is laid out very simply, walking through 27 different techniques. They include angelina fiber, painstiks, foiling, silk fusion, painted fusible web, rust dyeing, burned edge applique and more. Each lesson lists the supplies you need, and provides clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions for using the materials. There are also suggestions for further play and references for further information.

To be honest, my first reaction was disappointment at the brevity and simplicity of each lesson. The information provided about each of the techniques is extremely basic, less than what one might find in a magazine article, even. I was also disappointed that the samples shown for each project are less than inspiring, to my eye, anyway.

Of course, the simplicity of this book may be the very feature it was aiming for. This would be a great book for someone who was curious about surface design technique and hadn't tried many of them. It's also a good resource as a collection of quick "how to" lessons. I could see giving this book as a gift to someone as an introduction to surface design play, but I wouldn't think it would have much appeal for an experienced fiber artist.

Even in books with simple techniques, gallery pages showing great artwork using the techniques can thrill me and make me look back at it over and over. I was looking forward to the gallery pages in this book. Again, however, I was disappointed. There are not many pieces shown, and they are simplistic and (to me) uninteresting. I was hoping to be blown away and convinced that I'd want to try the techniques, but I wasn't.

In terms of buying books to spur creative fiber art play, I'd instead choose Davila and Waterson's "Art Quilt Workbook" or Jeanne Williamson's "The Uncommon Quilter" or the always inspirational "Creative Quilting: the Journal Quilt Project" put out by Karey Bresnahan. All of those books have great ideas and inspiration for all levels of fiber artists. Still, this book might be just right for a beginning fiber artist or if you want simple directions and quick looks at some different techniques. It'd be a good addition to a guild library, too, to make lots of techniques available to quilters new to surface design.

All Stacked Up

Does this give you an idea of what I've been up to lately?

Yep. Work. And, I'm afraid, the stacks around my desk don't even look that tidy. Ah, well. It keeps me intellectually active (ahem), I can do this here at home, and it pays for the fabric and such. I should not complain.

Still. There are things I'd rather be doing.

Thanksgiving weekend was lovely and family-filled. We spent Thanksgiving day proper at my brother's house, visiting with him and his wife, my parents, and my sister. We stuffed ourself on a delicious dinner and, as we often do, remembered how my grandma always had gingerale on hand after dinner to ease our bloated tummies.

Over the weekend we also had a visit with Roger's aunt Donna and his cousin Jeanne, two interesting and funny and charming women. Donna and I always talk books...she's an avid reader like me, and we exchange recommendations. She has pointed me toward Lawrence Sanders' McNally series (which I've always avoided fearing it was that obnoxious sexist stuff) but she promises I'll enjoy it.

And speaking of novels, I just ripped through a new corporate thriller novel by Joseph Finder called "Killer Instinct." It's about a normal guy who befriends a fellow he meets when he has a car accident. They strike up a friendship, he gets him a job...and suddenly, things start going great for him at work. His business competition disappears, his rivals have odd problems... Is his new friend making thing happen in the background? It was so fun to read a book I didn't want to put down.

On the quilting front, my friend Janet and I made the trek to Berkeley the other night to attend the show-and-tell meeting of the East Bay Heritage Quilt Guild. It's probably the biggest guild in California, and it has tons of talented quilters (a lot of well-know teachers, as it happens, belong to that guild). And they do something interesting: instead of having show-and-tell at each monthly meeting, they save it up for one special meeting each year. It's very well organized-- each quilter displays her quilts while a speaker reads the quilter's description of the quilt and points out features. It's like an evening-long, moving quilt show! It was very fun and very inspirational. I saw fantastic quilts by Mary Mashuta, Roberta Horton, Lynn Koolish, Ann Rhode, and others. The pictures are not up on the guild's website yet, but check back...they'll be up soon. And you can see the EBHQ pics from a past show and tell while you're there. It was especially fun because I ran into some of my Bishop's Ranch buddies... Pat! Delaine! Nancy! It was well-worth the ninety-minute drive, and of course it gave me and Janet a lovely chunk of time for talking.

I'm making progress on the brown quilt for my MIL... I'm piecing the back (why do I dislike that step so much?) then it'll go on the frame for quilting. Fun ahead!

But now, back to that pile of files...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Are you smarter than a sixth grader?

Caroline asked me for help with her math homework this afternoon. She's in the advanced math group in her class, and had a worksheet involving equations involving exponents. I know. SIXTH grade.

Well, it's been quite a while since I've done this sort of math, but I was a good student and figured I could sort it out. Plus, the worksheet had cute little fishies swimming all over it, so it looked like it was within my math range.

Here's a sample equation:

1.5^x + 8^y = 633

(That's 1.5 to the x power plus 8 to the y power ... so the challenge is to figure out which exponents fit. And it was in the instruction that it would be a whole number between 0 and 9.)

Yikes. Decimals and exponents? I don't remember encountering that. And for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how you could take any exponent of 1.5 and add it to a whole number to get a whole number.

Caroline had struggled until she was in tears, and after working on this, I felt similarly frustrated. I kept concluding that the worksheet HAD to be wrong. But every other problem had a decimal in the equation, too.

You should have seen the various ways I yanked algebra out of my ancient brain. We multiplied and divided and tried all sort of rearrangements of the equations. Yikes. And I simply couldn't figure it out. I was becoming alarmed, not just at my own inability to do the worksheet, but also realizing that Caroline will be shooting past me intellectually and it's starting NOW, apparently.

Caroline was beside herself at not being able to finish the homework. Finally, I figured I'd see if there was a simple instructional aide on the internet (Yay, internet!) and failing that, I'd write a note to the teacher reporting how hard we'd all worked.

The only thing I could find on the internet that showed how to do problems that looked like Caroline's involved logarithms. Yes, you read that right. LOGARITHMS. And, as advanced as Caroline is, I don't think her teacher is throwing those at her yet. Not with little fishie drawings, anyway.

While Caroline and I were continuing our calculations, Roger arrived home from work and jumped in to show us how to do these. He worked through the same steps I'd tried, coming to the same conclusions. "This has got to be wrong!" So, I wrote a note to the teacher and convinced Caroline that it'd be okay for her not to struggle any further.

We set the paper aside, down at the end of the table, to eat dinner. And while we were eating, I glanced over at it and realized.... Those weren't decimals. They were the problem numbers. So what we'd read as 1.5 in the first equation was, in effect, Problem #1: 5^x = 8^y = 633. And sure enough, once we looked we saw that they were the problem NUMBERS.

NOT DECIMALS. You think they could have made that spacing a bit more obvious, eh?

So... the math was still tricky but back down to reasonable advanced-sixth-grade level.


I'm leaving the note attached for the teacher, because I'm sure she'll get a laugh over all of us working so hard with all of those decimals. I wonder if anyone else did what we did.

And while I'm sure that Caroline's school work will exceed my ability to help her do it sometime soon, I'm breathing a sigh of relief that I have a bit of a reprieve.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cutting and pasting

Life has been mostly about work and family and household stuff lately. In a good way, mostly. But I had a nice break the other afternoon when my sister stopped by for a short visit and to let our dogs romp together. From time to time, we like to sit and tear stuff out of magazines and add to our notebooks, so that's what I was doing while she organized another project.

Now, I know a lot of people who keep notebooks... And a lot of them keep them beautifully organized... by color, by artistic element (line, shape, etc), or in some other thematic way.

Me, I decided early on that I'd be paralyzed if I got hung up on organization. So, my one rule in my books is that I do NOT organize. I put things in page after page, gluing things in where there is space. I don't try to make things pretty or elegant. I just smack something down there there is space. Like so:

And what do I collect? Anything that catches my fancy, for whatever reason. Or no reason.

The funny thing is that as I look back through the books I've finished, I DO see themes and a definite aesthetic.

I get a lot of inspiration from these books. And I get a lot of enjoyment from the process, too.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bali Browns

Not a whole lot of fun stuff going on around here lately. The picture shows the only sewing I've done lately, in dribs and drabs. My MIL, who used to travel a lot, gave me some pieces of batik fabric from Bali some months ago. I figured it'd be a good daughter-in-law thing to do to make her a lap quilt using them. I opted for triangles after seeing one somewhere that stuck in my mind, so I cut and arranged and I've been connecting triangles together in odd moment. I'm not big on brown, and I'm finding that sewing this just isn't very cheery. Ah well. I know Roger's mom will love it and I'm enjoying knowing that this will really surprise her.

Meanwhile, I've been busy with work and family (checking out a new middle school for C next year) and the usual household stuff.

Maybe it's the weather, or maybe it's a swing of the menopausal pendulum from insomnia to constant lethargy and sleepiness, but all I want to do is lie around and read. And I'm not talking about legal journals. I want chick lit and mindless mysteries and goofy romances.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Review: The Uncommon Quilter

By now, most art quilters are familiar with the concept of journal quilts -- making small quilts in regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly) to try new techniques and reflect one's current experience in fiber art.

Well, Jeanne Williamson is the artist who really got this journal quilt ball rolling. It was Jeanne's process of making a quilt a week that inspired Karey Bresnahan to launch the Journal Quilt Project at Quilt Festival in Houston years ago. (And by the way, Jeanne's blog is on the Artful Quilters Blog Ring!) And since then, through their inspiration, so many quilters have learned the benefits of pushing oneself creatively through regular, small quilt pieces.

Jeanne Williamson's creativity in journal quilts is on display in her new book The Uncommon Quilter. In it, Jeanne shows how to make miniature art quilts using a variety of quilt techniques and an assortment of unusual materials. She addresses how to set up a template for yourself to make regular repetition easier, and features a bunch of unusual materials for fun experimenting -- plastic bags, plastic netting, paper scraps, and the like.

The book is organized by showing specific instructions for 52 different projects. While the projects are interesting and it's useful to see how Jeanne creates these pieces, for me the exciting part about this book is the creativity it inspires. I don't think I'm going to rush out and starting making quilts with the plastic mesh my onions came in or the left-over adhesive bits from stickers... But I will be looking at the things around me a bit differently, wondering whether they'd serve as inspiration for a small fiber art piece. To see how Jeanne finds inspiration in every day objects, shapes, and textures is quite instructive.

One thing about this book that I really like is that there are full-page, clear illustrations of the journal quilts. You can see great detail of every piece. The other aspect of this book I appreciate is that the quilts in here are fast, achievable journal quilts. For the most part, they are simple concepts and abstract images. They're not the result of weeks' worth of work-- I like the reminder that artistic exploration can be fast and fun and worth it in and of itself. These are not grand art, and they're not the heavily layered, painted, beaded, and hand-stitched journal quilts that are showing in magazines and looking more and more alike all the time. I'm drawn toward strong and simple graphics (I just love the cover of this book) so maybe the clean-ness of the example projects suits my aesthetic more than it would someone who likes more realistic or traditional imagery. Still, I like how the examples in this book focus on straight-forward design, composition, and the fun of seeing what can be done with new materials.

If you're an experienced art quilter, you might want to check this book out as a way to jump-start your thinking conceptually about what new ideas and materials to explore. If you're just starting to explore art quilting, this book will walk you through the processes Jeanne uses and get you playing with art quilts right away.

I bought a copy of this to give to my friend Pat for her birthday, knowing that Pat is great at making fun and clever small quilts, and thinking that she'd be inspired by the different ideas in this book. It was quite a hit!

Actually, now that I think of it, this book would be a great self-challenge source. Flip it open to any page, and make a journal quilt using the technique shown or inspired by the project on that page.

Ready? Set? .....

Friendly Friday

My best friend Beth was in San Francisco yesterday for a meeting, so I zipped down to meet her for a quick visit. As her meeting was in the Embarcadero area and Beth is somewhat direction-challenged, we opted to meet at the closest, most obvious place, Pier 39.

Pier 39 is one of those touristy places that's fun to visit in a limited sort of way. I've not been there for years, and it seemed like since the last time, there are fewer nice shops, more touristy souvenir junk shops, and more restaurants. Oh well. We had a good time wandering around, looking at the tacky stuff, and chatting incessantly. The incessant talk is the whole point of getting together, so, really, it doesn't matter where we are.

We paused for bloody mary's and popcorn shrimp at Bubba Gumps Shrimp Co., a touristy experience if there every was one. It's actually pretty fun, if you don't mind the overdose of Forrest Gump stuff all around. We sat in the bar with Forrest Gump playing on a big flat screen in the background. And at the table next to us was a fellow clearly aiming for the Forrest Gump lookalike award -- baseball hat pulled tight on his head, protruding ears, and all. The waitress swore he was a local guy who hung out there for the attention because he looks like Forrest Gump. Okay.....

And since we were right there, we opted for wandering around Fishermans Wharf. This consists of more touristy junk souvenir shops, restaurants, and sidewalk stands with guys waving crabs at you.

We didn't succumb. (Eating shrimp cocktail on the sidewalk is one of those quintessential Fishermans Wharf experiences, but we've been there and done that.) We opted for one of the finer Fishermans Wharf experiences, dinner at Alioto's.

We sat and sipped wine and ate sourdough bread and enjoyed a lovely view of the water and talked more. I had a shrimp and scallop risotto that was simply delicious.

And there was more talk. There is nothing more pleasant than an evening with a wonderful old friend. We talk about old stuff and new stuff and old stuff again.

Even the 90 minute drive home was lovely, listening to Car Talk on my ipod.

We have a 3 day weekend ahead, and C has a sleep-over at a friend's house on Sunday night. So Roger and I are planning a date night. Ooh, what shall we do?!

Thursday, November 08, 2007


The last few days have been all about work... which has coincided neatly with my Bernina being in the shop for repair and a thorough cleaning. I'm picking it up later today. And I was right -- turns out an uptake wire in the thread path was out of position, and that's why I couldn't get my tension right. I'm eager to be up and running again.

I've been doing a lot of writing lately for work. That pretty much sums up what I do, really. I've always liked the research and writing side of law, so it's ideal that I've found a way to limit my legal work to the stuff I like best. Still, I think often about what a teacher said when as a young attorney I attended a trial skills course. "Litigation is one of the few jobs," she said, "where for everything you do, someone is being paid to prove you WRONG." It was startling to hear it said like that, but it's true. In the adversarial system, lawyers are paid to prove why their side is right and their legal argument is better, and the other side is wrong and their legal argument is flawed. I found that pretty stressful in person (in the courtroom and such) but in writing, I'm fine with it.

But no wonder I find quilting and fiber art such a relaxing release!

The little piece up top is a line exercise I've just done for my design course. The assignment was to take a linear image and use bias tape to create it in fabric. I don't know what this will be from here, but it's pleasing to me so far.

Meanwhile, the weather has turned grey and chilly (well, California chilly, anyway). It'd be a good day to curl up under a blanket to read and sip coffee. Hmmm, maybe later, after a few more household chores are done...

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I'm in catch-up mode. So today you get the snippets of stuff running through my head.

Finally, my sewing machine is off to the shop for cleaning and minor repair. For months my Bernina has had something strange with the tension going on, and when I called the Bernina dealer (with the great, kind repair guy) over the summer, I was told that he couldn't get to it in MONTHS, to check back in October or November. So, I called last week and learned that I'd have to leave the machine for 4 to six WEEKS. Could I make an appointment and then bring it in when my slot was approaching? I asked. (Eminently reasonable, yes?) No, they replied, the repair fellow likes to have things there in the shop. Now, c'mon...What serious quilter could do without her machine for 4 to 6 weeks? So... my machine has gone to another repair fellow in the area -- the kind and goodhearted magician who was so nice about fixing my Juki foot pedal cord after the cat chewed through it 3 times. John is an official trained Bernina repair guy and he will turn it around in 3 to 5 DAYS. Now that's how things should work, right?

My friend Laura and I saw the new George Clooney movie "Michael Clayton" yesterday. Ooh, a dog tired, depressed, and ethically puzzled George Clooney and he's still terrific too look at. I won't be surprised at an Oscar nomination for this performance. We both liked this movie quite a lot. (And I usually find legal thrillers annoyingly unrealistic -- this one was believable.)

We are liking the Dyson vacuum cleaner around here. It still shocks me how much animal hair and dirt it pulls out of the rug, but it provides good vacuuming incentive. I think if I vacuumed and there wasn't any dirt coming up, I'd lose interest. (Not that I'm all that interested in vacuuming as it is...)

I cleaned out my jewelry box this morning and forced to get rid of a whole bunch of heavy, big, faux gold "power earrings." In my office/trial lawyer days, I wore a lot of the heavy gold costume jewelry that pulled an outfit together and said "successful" (if not "laden down by chainage"). Now it just seems silly, although we were able to deck Caroline out quite handsomely when she dressed as Cleopatra for a school report one year... I'm sure not ever going to wear that stuff again.

Have you checked out Bookmooch yet? You can trade books with others for free --just the cost of postage to send your books out. I've received several books I wanted through this, and felt pretty virtuous about recycling these books so efficiently.

What did you do with your extra hour today? Me, I sat in bed with a cup of coffee and read the novel I just started. I love reading in bed on Sunday morning.

Oh, and speaking of books...Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen is one of the most charming books I've read in a long time. I just adored it. It's the story of a family that has odd, gently magical powers, and how two sisters come together after a lot of misunderstanding. It had echoes of Alice Hoffman, sort of, but not. Anyway, I loved it. One of my favorite aspects of the book was an apple tree in the garden that would throw apples at people when it wanted them to eat one, or pull its branches out of reach when it was annoyed. How could you not love that?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Book Review: Simple Start, Stunning Finish

One of my favorite stops at PIQF each year is the Stitchin’ Post booth. I love their assortment of bright and wildly patterned fabrics, and I enjoying seeing what new Valori Wells creations are on display. This year, Valori Wells’ new book "Simple Start, Stunning Finish" was featured. And you know me ... I have a hard time resisting a book.

Like the other Valori Wells books, this one is beautiful to look at. Inspiration photos abound in here, showing what natural and every day items inspired the designs and providing good reminders of how looking closely at what is around us can be a great springboard for creating new work. The photos alone (never mind the quilts) are lovely to look at and an aid to jumpstart a new project.

In terms of quilting, the techniques shown here are simple ones. That’s the point – the book’s goal is to show how you can create something stunning with simple techniques, strong fabric choices, and clever finishing. And the projects are excellent illustrations of these concepts. There’s a bit of everything: piecing, curved piecing, strip piecing, raw edge applique, foundation piecing. There’s particular focus on using large scale prints as the starting point for great quilts, which makes for some lively and really attractive quilts. But none of the 15 projects shown are boring. Interesting color and fabric choices make these quilts ones that make me smile and get me thinking about where to go from there. Any of these would make fast yet not simple-looking gift quilts.

There are also great tips on what Valori calls "sketch quilting," using designs and shapes you trace from pictures to guide your machine quilting. This process would reassure even the most timid machine quilter, I think.

So – for the experienced quilter and/or fiber artist , this book won’t teach you new techniques. But for a beginner or intermediate quilter, there are some really lovely lessons on color and value and technique that will give you some new starting places for new projects. And I think that even the most expert quilter would have hard time putting this book down without wanting to look at the gorgeous color and great inspiration photos on every page.

For me, I probably won’t make a single one of these projects specifically (although this would be great fodder for baby quilt gifts) but I will enjoy looking at this book again and again for its sheer beauty.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

You're the Cream in my Coffee...

November 1 is the designated finish date for another challenge group I'm in with some local fiber art friends. We just started our group and this is our first challenge, and the theme was "Coffee and Cream." Thinking of this theme gets me humming "You're the Cream in my Coffee" and brings me back to childhood memories of singing along with Mitch.

I actually spent a lot of time on another piece which is, as I write this, at the bottom of my garbage can. Nothing turned out the way I wanted it to on that piece, so I scrapped it and started again. I'm much happier with this piece. It's 9x12", by the way.

I couldn't stop thinking about the hypnotically beautiful way cream swirls into coffee. So, that's what inspired my response to this challenge.

I fused pieces, then over-quilted by machine. Here's a detail shot: