Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up Close

I love roaming the garden with the macro lens on my camera.  It's a whole new perspective on life.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I've been having fun sewing these strip sets together for a new project.  I've had a pattern for a quilt called Charmed Circles (designed by A Graceful Stitch) for some time, and I decided to get to work on it.  You know, new sewing machine, new quilt!

There are times when simple piecing feels so meditative and relaxing.  I've enjoyed the "stripping."  But there is something sort of funny about sewing all the pieces together, and then having to cut them apart again into pumpkin seed shapes.

I wanted meditative and not complex -- so here I am, using a plastic template, tracing in pencil, and cutting with scissors.  I'll be so relaxed I'll be catatonic.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I've mentioned here before that I've been playing with small quilts that incorporate old photographs.  In part, that is due to family matters presenting me with scads of old photos... and in part, it's because just when the pictures presented themselves to me I was charged with the task of identifying a series I wanted to explore this year in my Practical Design Workshop.  In January, when it came time to designate what my series would be, I didn't want to take on any big series idea.  And the idea of making a small quilt each month as a) my series work and b) an ongoing exploration of how to transfer photos to fabric and use them in a whimsical, non-sentimental way in quilts fit my mood.

My July project involved a photo I fell in love with. 

As I was sorting through a box of photos from my recently deceased mother-in-law, I came across this near the top.  It's my husband's brother Ron when he was about 10 years old.  Their next door neighbor was a professional photographer who did photos for catalogs and magazines, and apparently he enlisted Roger's family members as models from time to time.  This one?  Who knows what the point was -- selling the air-filled plastic snake?

In any event, it needed to be a quilt.  So, here's my piece for this month, titled "Charmer":

It's about 14" x 16".  I had a great time making it.  I printed the photo onto fabric with my inkjet printer, and added color with colored pencils.  I was happy to find the green snakeskin-like fabric in my stash.  I used Markal painstiks to stencil the word "Charmer" onto the background fabric, and then I added square spirals from a stamped I carved.

Here's a detail shot:

I inset a flange of the green fabric -- it needed the inner border to my eye and I liked the raised texture of the flap.  The dense stipple quilting gives a snaky texture to the background, too.

All in all, a fun project.  It's heading off to Ron for his birthday -- I wouldn't be surprised if he has totally forgotten he ever posed for this picture.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rare Burst of Gardening

I am a sporadic gardener, at best.  I like the IDEA of gardening.  Better, I like being in a well-tended and colorful garden.  When we moved into our house, I was excited about having a garden I could make just the way I wanted it.  And then I discovered the frustration of soil that is more clay and rocks than actual dirt.  Over the years, my enthusiasm for working in the yard has, shall we say, waned.

But every once in a while the urge strikes.  It tends to take the right weather (summery but cool), a day or two when I don't have anything pressing, and the energetic desire to get something done.  And it hit me this week, so I've spent a lot of time out in the garden.  I've not done anything huge, but the improvements are significant.  I'm quite pleased with myself.

First, I rounded up all of the clay flower pots, headed off to the nursery, and came back and potted flowers.

Very satisfying!  Then, having thought that hanging flowers would look nice, I trotted back to the hardware store for brackets and more pots and more flowers.

Ooh, pretty!  Very colorful together!

Now the patio looks rather inviting, if I do say so myself.

Lots of pots!  Four hanging flowerpots!  And comfy chairs for lounging and reading!  The concrete is newly painted, too -- last week's project -- so it all looks fresh.

I spent a day doing serious work on what had been an abandoned flower bed -- turning the soil, adding amendment, starting to plant... It's still in progress (you can see it behind the clump of flower pots there on the left) but I'm very satisfied by how far I got.  I've got to add more flowers and dig up some wooly lambs' ear from the hugely overgrown patch there on the right, to add for the border... But it's well on its way. 

As soon as my back stops aching, I'll be back out there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Artful Bloggers Ring Moving -- Follow us!

Remember the Artful Quilters Blog Ring?

Many of you are members, or were members.  Back when I started blogging, the only other blogging artquilter I knew was Melody Johnson.  We agreed to read each others' blogs, so even if no one else ever found us, we'd be guaranteed of an audience!  Still, as much fun as it was reading Melody's blog, I wondered about the other quilt artists out there... and that led me to start the Artful Quilters Blog Ring, and what an amazing community it is.  I've made so many friends through the ring!

But you may have noticed that the ring host site, Ringsurf, changed its format, and I hate it.  Many of you dislike it too, I know, from your comments to me.  So, in the spirit of a healthy change:

The Artful Quilters Blog Ring is MOVING!  

If you are already a member of the ring, here is what you need to do to move your blog into the new ring:  

1.  Click here to go to submit your blog to the new ring host,  You will be asked to provide info about your blog, and you will be asked to create a site id and password for your own site.  (This does not have to be the same as anything you had on ringsurf.  Create an ID name and password you'll remember in case you need to go in and change the site's details for the ring.) Click "submit."
2.   Once you have submitted your blog, you will get a confirmation screen that instructs you on adding the ring code to your blog.  Click on the "Get Code" button in the lefthand sidebar.  That will give you the HTML code for the ring box. Copy the code, go into your blog's code, and insert the code somewhere it will be visible to your blog readers.
3.  Your blog will appear on the ring as soon as I activate it.   

If you are not a member but would like to join, please read the rules below to make sure your blog suits the ring.  If so, we're happy to have you join.  Follow the two steps above. 

Here are the ring rules:

  1. The ring is intended for blogs that focus primarily on art and contemporary quilting.  While we enjoy traditional quilts, this ring is not for blogs about traditional quilting.  Your blog can be about other things, too; it's fun to read about what else you are doing in your life.  But if a reader finds your blog and can't tell that you make art or contemporary quilts, then this is not the ring for you.  As a rough guideline, your blog should have some quilt-related content once a month or more.  
  2. The blog needs to be regularly updated. Any blogs not updated at least once a month will be moved to the queue. If you have not updated in over three months your site will be removed from the ring. You are welcome to re-join the ring if /when you start posting again. I understand that real life can and does get in the way of blogging, so there is no judgment implied if your blog is moved.  It's just that people stop using the ring if they repeatedly travel to blogs with stale entries.
  3. You must include the ring code on the face page of your blog, so that visitors can surf to the blogs of other members more easily. After all, that's the whole point of this ring. At a minimum, the ring code must include a link to the ring's home and the Next and Previous links. Anyone who has not added the code to their site within two weeks of application will be removed from the ring. If you have trouble finding the current ring code, email me at dphock(at)comcast(dot)net and I will help you.
  4. This is NOT a commercial site.  This ring is not for commercial sites, general quilt-gallery websites, or other non-blog websites. If your blog is merely a listing of items for sale or advertisement for your shop, this blog ring is not for you. You are welcome to sell things on/through your blog, but for this ring, I ask that your blog have content which is largely non-commercial.
  5. You must have at least 5 entries on a new blog (some of which must be about art or contemporary quilting) in order to join.
See you at our new home!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Quiet Time

Listen, can you hear that?

It's quiet.  Very quiet.  I'm here alone in the house, except for a dog who pads around the house after me and two cats who can be found napping in various comfy spots.  Husband and daughter have gone off to Lake Tahoe for the annual stay with R's siblings.  This year, due to work deadlines and a severe need for some time at home alone to just get things done, I've stayed here.

It's not like my little family is rowdy or constantly blaring noise.  But I am so struck by the silence, and how it makes the day stretch out in a lovely, empty way.  I've been getting up early, taking care of the dog and cat needs, and then sitting outside on the patio for a bit with my coffee and a magazine or a book.  Then I discipline myself and head upstairs to work for a few hours.  By lunchtime, I figure I've paid my work dues and I can play.  Or nap.  Or do whatever I darn well please.

I spent one happy afternoon gathering up all of the terra cotta pots I could find around the yard, then  headed off to the nursery and picked out flowers.  In the early evening, I planted flowers and scattered the pots around the patio -- so nice to have some fresh color!  I've watched a silly movie (Leap Year with Amy Adams, which was so-so and predictable but a pleasant accompaniment to sitting and cutting pretty pictures out of magazines.)  I've organized my work files.  I've sorted out some books to donate for the library book sale, and several bags of stuff for the Salvation Army.  Amazing what I can accomplish when there are no interruptions. 

I've made luscious salads for dinner each night, enjoying the freedom to eat when I feel hungry and without worrying about family dinner.  It's funny -- I love having dinner with R and C, and our having dinner together each night is an important family time for all of us -- but it's so nice to have the change.  I can eat while reading, or watching Rachel Maddow, or just sitting outside while watching the hummingbirds at the feeder.

This afternoon might involve some sewing, a new art quilt project in the works.  We'll see.  I'm commitment-free this week, even with myself.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ta Dah!

Over the last few days, I have undertaken a gargantuan task.  I have rearranged and reorganized my office/studio. 

The hugeness of this job is in direct proportion to the smallness of the room and the vast quantity of stuff I have in there.  It's a 10' by 12' standard bedroom ... not the tiniest studio I've ever seen, but given all the work I do in here and the supplies I have on hand, it's a space that presents a challenge.  The space has worked reasonably well over the 9 years we've lived in the house.  But the way I use the space has changed considerably.  Back then, I worked 20-30 hours a week at my desk, and my sewing machine in the corner was something I used from time to time.  Just having it up full time, in a space where I could close the door and hide the mess, was a luxury.  But these days I'm working far less at my desk, and making art in some fashion or another almost every day.  I not only needed a sewing space --- I needed a work table area where I could spread out and arrange fabrics or fuse stuff or paint or whatever.

So, while I would have liked to knock out a wall or two, or add a lovely Koala cabinet with oodles of storage, or even buy a house with a detached but massive studio, I limited myself to what I could change THIS WEEK, and I rearranged the furniture.  And it actually is an improvement.

I have now dedicated a table (which used to hold a cd player and cds and generally be a catch-all for miscellaneous papers) to the sewing machine.  I pulled a rolling cart out of the garage and it contains threads.  At the Container Store (oh, how I love the Container Store) I found the red metal mini-file drawer thingie, which holds scissors and rotary cutters and supplies, and I got the mini Elfa cart to hold projects in progress so that I could roll them out of the way under the table when I'm not actually working.

This leaves my wonderful office table (which used to be the sewing machine-work table) for spreading out and doing STUFF.  My goal is to keep it clear when I'm not actively working on something.  Hah.  We'll see how that works.  The Container Store also provided the pretty turquoise woven plastic bin, to hold more works in progress and stuff in transit.  (You know how there is always that stuff -- to do something with, to put away later, to remember to give to someone....)   I love this table -- especially how the rounded edges mean that I don't bang my thighs as I move around the room.  It'd be perfect if it were about 6 to 8 inches higher, and maybe one of these days I'll rig it so it is higher -- but for now I'm happy to have the work space.

And here is the desk area.  I like that I've segregated my work area and I still have the lateral files right handy for work purposes.  The downside of this arrangement is that when I sit at my desk, I look straight down the hall into Miss C's bedroom.  As she comes out of her room, I feel like I should say "Can I help you?"  So it's a little insurance-officey, but a small price to pay for getting the open work table.

There's a lot of visual clutter in this room.  I KNOW that, being in here, but it's even more apparent seeing the room in photos.  I may have to take some things down.  Hmmm.  I love the visual inspiration, but maybe it's part of what makes the room feel smaller?  Something to consider.

No wonder my back is sore.  All this tidiness makes me want to get to work on a project -- to mess it all up right away!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Ready for the Fun

I've been continuing in my exploration of using photos in quilts, and this is the most recent in the series.  That photo is me, at maybe age  2 or 3, somewhere in there.  (Looks like it was taken right before a birthday party or some such event.)  I was experimenting with inkjet transfer and for some reason when I transferred a black and white photo onto a pale lavender fabric, got an image that was a lovely shade of blue.

The background fabric is one I painted ages and ages ago, and then I fused organza on and added stitching.  It was a very fun process.

I'm looking forward to playing more with inket transfers... looks like many wonderful effects can result.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Good Reading Alert: The Forgery of Venus

If you're looking for some good summer reading, you might check out this novel: The Forgery of Venus: A Novel by Michael Gruber.  I finished it recently, and found it one of the most interesting novels I've read in a long time.

On the surface, it tells the story of a talented painter who is working as a commercial artist when he is approached with a proposal to restore an old master painting on the damaged ceiling of a Venetian palazzo.  The money is good, the painter needs money, and he's always felt that his talent belongs in an earlier century.  As the story unfolds, the painter starts to question his sanity.  Is he truly crazy? Or is he being manipulated for nefarious purposes?  There is much fascinating reflection on art and painting and history in this -- and lots of twists and turns that leave you uncertain about what will happen next.  Gruber's a very talented writer, and there is a lot of depth to this.

If you're looking for something a little different, a mystery/thriller that goes a little deeper than the typical book, then you might give this a try.  I enjoyed it enormously.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Newest Addition to the Studio

Some months ago, I started thinking that it might be time to get a new sewing machine.  At the quilting retreat I went to in April, I cruised the room to see what my friends were using, and I even tried out a few machines.  The machine I use for most sewing is an older Bernina, and I didn't realize until I sat down at my friend Pat's Pfaff Creative Expressions machine how far sewing machines have come in recent years.  That got me thinking, and I set out on a research mission.

Gosh, the internet gives us so much access to information.  An overwhelming amount, actually.  Between manufacturer's websites, and blogs with folks raving (or complaining) about their machines, and yahoo groups where machine owners collect to share information and tips and problems, one can explore the subject for a long time!  I finally decided the thing to do was to go out and test some machines.

So off I went to a few dealers in my area, to explore the major brands and see how they felt.  It's also amazing to me how different machines can feel, too.  I guess it's like test driving cars -- on paper they can sound quite similar, but you have to feel them to decide what feels right for you.  I tried Janomes and Pfaffs and Husqvarna Vikings. 

At an area Bernina dealer, I couldn't help looking at the newest of the Bernina lines, the 830 and 820. They're made, I guess, to be the machines that'll do most everything.  They have a huge throat (12"), an extra large bobbin, one has embroidery capacity but both have tons of built-in stitches... and when the saleswoman invited me to give it a try, I sat down knowing I'd never in a million years buy a machine in that price range. 
It's like test driving a Lexus when you're shopping for a midpriced minivan.  Right off, I set myself up for difficult comparisons in later shopping.  Yes, I loved the Berninas.  No question.

But I kept looking, and kept researching, and kept weighing pros and cons, and kept assessing what machines seemed to have which ongoing issues.  As I started following the discussions on various yahoo groups, I was reminded that there is no one perfect machine.

And then an opportunity came out of left field at me.  I encountered a woman in the midwest, a total novice sewer, who was selling her Bernina 830.  Her husband had bought it for her to encourage a new interest in sewing, not realizing that this "computer that sews" is complex enough that it daunts the most experienced seamstresses and quilters.  The woman, Kay, was wildly overwhelmed and was discovering that she didn't enjoy trying to use it because it was too complicated.  She didn't like her local dealer and was unable to get help from them to her satisfaction.  So, in disgust, she put it up for sale at less than half of the retail price.

The short story is that she and I exchanged a lot of emails (with me thinking "this is just too good to be true") and we built in various contingencies for what happened if I identified any undisclosed problems once the machine arrived in California.  After much discussing and nail biting (and a phone call to a friend of a friend who has one of these 830s who told me I'd be insane not to jump on this opportunity), I bought the machine. Hugely exciting, but risky.  And, upon delivery, I did learn that there was an issue with the machine that needed fixing.  Aack.  Kay and I worked that out, I took the machine to my local dealer (Cal Sewing and Vac in San Rafael) where Sharon the Bernina expert and the rest of the staff were welcoming and incredibly helpful and totally willing to advise and help me even though I hadn't bought the machine from them.  The issue with the machine was an odd one which required a trip back to the factory (more nail biting and wondering whether I'd done the right thing) -- but the machine is home, has been cleansed and restored by the fairies at the Bernina Factory Spa, and has been thoroughly tested by Sharon, who assures me that it passed all of the most difficult sewing issues with flying colors.

So here is the new addition to my tiny studio:

I've been sewing on it this week and I am loving loving loving it.  It threads the needle for me!  It has a huge bobbin, holding almost twice as much thread as the typical bobbin, and the machine tells me when it is running low.  It lets me customize all sorts of settings.  The 830 will also embroider, which I've not tried yet -- not something I would have sought were I buying this directly from a store, but I'm thinking it'll be wonderful to have the option to explore some machine embroidery.

So the risky purchase has a happy ending and now sitting down to sew feels like a new adventure.  I feel the urge to make a BIG quilt just to take advantage of that big space on the machine.  I know from what I've read that it'll take me some time to learn this intricacies of this thing, but I'm armed with a thick manual, links to great tutorials online, and my guru Sharon.  Let the sewing begin!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Purple and Yellow together

Using complementary colors together can produce exciting effects -- and that was the seed of our challenge this round in our 12x12 "color play" challenge.  We were charged with using purple and yellow.  Click on over to the 12x2 blog: today is reveal day and it's wonderful to see what everyone did!

Me, I hemmed and hawed for a while as I wasn't coming up with any ideas right away. But eventually I started thinking about the simple #2 yellow pencil, and how much a part of my life it has been -- through school, required for tests, a new batch symbolic of the new school year, etc.  And that's what led to my piece.

What would you do if you had to use purple and yellow in a piece?