Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Home after the Holidays

We are back from a few days away, where we spent a fun and festive time with long-time friends.  I love these days after  Christmas, where the flurry of crazy activity is over and there's the sense of relaxing and savoring all of the preparation that has come before. 

Even while we're tidying up from the Christmas clutter we left behind before we went away, we're preparing for a visit from beloved friends from across the country.  So there's a bit more shopping and cooking and cleaning ahead, but then (hopefully) a relaxed period for just enjoying dear friends.  The last time our friends visited it us, we had torrential rain for a solid week so we did almost nothing outside of the house. This year, I'm armed with a list of day trips but the freezer is stocked with soups and other meals just in case we're house-bound again!

So I will continue my blogging break, but in the meantime, I wish all of you a cozy and warm time as you say goodbye to 2011 and hello to 2012!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Imagining Snow

A lovely gift, especially for those of us in sunny California who dearly miss the snow at this time of year...

Thank you, Chronicle Books!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugarplum Fairy delight

A little holiday music -- and time to reflect on how much extra glassware you have around the house...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Comfort, Joy, and Hope

Celebrate Hope by dphock
Celebrate Hope, a photo by dphock on Flickr.

I've been very quiet here for longer than I realized. And I'm afraid to say that it'll be quiet a bit longer -- life is complicated right now, with a death in the family, lots of commitments, and the need to focus time and energy on home and family and enjoying the peace in each moment.

But even if I am not posting here for a bit, please know that I treasure your friendship and your blog visits! I am wishing each and every one of you the comfort and joy of friends and family during this holiday season.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An eggplant a day

Some people are spending this week cooking food in preparation for Thanksgiving.  This year, I'm thankful that my brother Gregg and his wife Kitt are worrying about the food -- I get to paint it and bring wine to dinner on Thursday.

My task this week is to paint eggplant.  We are working with purples in the online sketching and painting class I'm doing.  I'm still working on getting the paints to do what I want them to do but each time I do one, I get a bit better.  But I'm having fun and enjoying the process.  We're supposed to spend no more than 45 minutes on each picture, and I figure spending 45 minutes a day on this is pretty doable. 

But fabric is calling, too.  I clearly need a bigger studio.  And more time.  There's a house for sale across the street and last night when I was falling asleep I was fantasizing about buying it and making it my studio -- my fantasy long-arm quilting machine in the living room, a painting room upstairs over looking the back garden, etc. 

But I know I am lucky to have a room, however small, dedicated to my sewing and other pursuits, and I can close the door on the mess and leave it all there.  That is no small thing. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011


While I work on cleaning up the mess in my studio (you know, so I can start making NEW messes), here's a picture to celebrate autumn. 

Stay warm and cozy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The fabric I couldn't resist

I didn't plan on buying any fabric at the quilt festival in Houston last week.  My closet is bulging as it is.  But I figured that I'd allow myself to bring some home if it was something fabulous and something I'd not seen before. And then Deborah told me to be sure to check out Marcia Derse's booth.

How had I not seen her stuff before?  It's gorgeous.  Marcia dyes and hand-paints fabric which is then printed -- so it looks like it's hand-done, but it's far cheaper than what hand-painted cloth would cost.  In fact, it's comparable to regular printed cotton. 

You can see I couldn't resist the bundle of red fabrics, above... and a few more pieces called to me, too.

You can see Marcia's full line of fabrics here, and they are available for online ordering at Glorious Color.

And for those lucky enough to live near her in Ohio, there's an upcoming holiday show at Marcia's house on December 9 and 10 about which you can find details on her website under  "schedule."  It's probably a good thing I'm a long way from Ohio.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Carving out some time for fun

On Friday, I went up to Bishop's Ranch for a play day with friends. It was the perfect day to be there -- the sky was a soft gray, rain was falling, and the air was full of the fresh scent of autumn. Our friend (and the ranch's artist in residence) Lisa Thorpe gave us a lesson on reduction stamp carving. So we brought our lunches and settled into the cozy art room to play with rubber and ink and paper.

Here's Lisa, demonstrating her carving technique.  We started by drawing, and then carving a simple shape in both positive and negative.

Then we printed, one on top of the other with different colors.

 It's trickier than you'd think, figuring out which lines should be on which stamp!  We all agreed that the ones that weren't registered had the best, wonky energy.

Then Lisa showed us the reduction carving.  She did a great article on this in the Sept/Oct issue of Cloth, Paper, Scissors, by the way.  She calls it stamping back to front, color by color.  So we started with carving little bits away, printing, and then carving more.  We experimented with one simple design, figuring out what to leave and what to cut away with each print.  Here's my final print, which had four layers stamped on it:

By the last layer, you've cut away most of your stamp -- so my remaining stamp looks like this:

Lisa, of course, has a lot of experience and has figured out just how much to leave to get those wonderful woodblock carving lines.  The answer -- as with a lot of art -- is to just keep doing it!

I also did a tiny nest stamp.

I really wish this had the background carved away with the positive egg and line shapes remaining... but that's probably harder to do.  And really, I didn't realize that until I printed what I had carved.

I brought my camera with me, and took the opportunity to take some pictures along the way.  I'm getting to know a new lens (Nikkor 50mm/1.8) and I'm determined to just keep it on the camera until I get better with it.  It has a VERY shallow depth of field to which I've not quite adjusted yet, which explains why there are so many out-of-focus parts in the following pictures!  But still, you get a sense of the day.

Here is Ancella, concentrating as she prepares to stamp a first layer.

Pat M was having a good time (sorry for the lack of focus there, Pat!)

Sydne works on her sketch...

I actually love this shot of Pat's hands as she carves, although I wish I'd adjusted things to get more in focus. This is one of "my other" Pats, as Miss C would say. I have two close friends named Pat and often do things with both together.  So in case you need to know, this is Pat D.

And of course, I had to shoot our tools...

 It was a very fun and relaxing day.  Lisa has done some great banners, stamping images on fabric and then stringing the pieces together artfully.  Well, Lisa does everything artfully. 

 It was a lovely way to spend a rainy day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Houston, 2011 in pictures

I am still basking in the happy glow of my experience at the International Quilt Festival in Houston last week. It's impossible to explain how stimulating and inspiring it was -- but maybe these photos will give you a taste of it all!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Flashback to Birmingham, England

I am still catching up from Houston, but in the meantime I see that our exhibit from the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England was recently featured on Ricky Tims' and Alex Anderson's "The Quilt Show."

Thanks to Pam Holland for interviewing us and featuring our quilts so beautifully! And just so you know, I did not do all of the talking that day ... Helen Conway had a lot to say but her witty words are on a digital cutting room floor somewhere.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Houston Adventure

I have spent the past four days at the International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas, having a marvelous time. The full set of 288 Twelve by Twelve quilts have been on exhibit, and nine out of the twelve of us were able to attend and meet each other. Before I fly home tomorrow, I thought I'd post a few pictures to give you a taste of the excitement.

The adventure was made possible by Del Thomas and the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection, and I can't begin to express how grateful we are to Del for supporting our exhibit.

The exhibit looked beautiful and our quilts glowed like jewels.

We sold and signed lots of books.

We posed for a lot of photos ...

And felt like rock stars with paparazzi shooting our pictures.

We dined and celebrated the fun of being together (complete with cardboard faces of the three Twelves who couldn'tbe in Houston) and seeing our project accepted and appreciated so enthusiastically.

Now we are headed back to our respective homes, full of appreciation for how far we have come together and the surprising enormity of what we have created.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Come see us in Houston!

I am headed today to Houston where I will be at the International Quilt Festival for the next four days!  All 288 of our quilts will be on exhibit, plus nine of the twelve of us will be on the premises to meet everyone and sign books and sell postcards and generally share in the excitement.

If you are at Houston, please do come by and say hello!

If you are not going to Houston, you might share the fun by going to our website and Twelveby12.org and walking through the challenge sets again.  It's astonishing to realize we've made almost 300 quilts together!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweet Dumpling

I am continuing to draw and I'm getting braver with my watercolors. At the grocery store I find myself choosing fruits and vegetables as much for their appeal as art subjects as for taste! I couldn't resist some autumn pumpkins and gourds this week.

Happy Fall!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Photoshop's Cutout Filter

Renate asked how I use Photoshop to help me define areas of color (which I mentioned when I described how I made my "Midsomer Tomato" quilt above, so I thought I'd demonstrate here. 

First, you start with a photo.  Here's one of some hydrangea florets that I took a few summers ago.

I open it in Photoshop, and go to the "filters" menu, then under the "Artistic" filter options, choose "cut out."  It selects color areas for you. One click, and voila:

When you choose the "cut out" filter,  a menu will pop up that will allow you to slide bars to select edge fidelity, color complexity, and the like.  You can slide them back and forth to see what they do, but they provide various ways of adding or subtracting detail.  If you bear in mind that you're going to try to use the color areas you see as pieces of fabric, you'll remember that keeping it simple while including just the detail you need is the goal.  Here's a simpler version of the same image:

Remember, you can add back detail with thread wok.  So maybe all you want is a fabric base on which to thread paint more color and detail?  Or maybe you want the fabric to do the work, so you'll want more detail?  It's up to you. 

Once I get to this point, I print out the image at what I want the finished size to be.  (I often have to do this by taping 8 x 11 sheets together because that's all my printer will do.)  Then, with a black relatively heavy-line black sharpy, I trace the color areas.

Here's a shot of the tomato one:

You can see that I take each color (in the tomato case, I had reds, blues, and greens) and I assign Dark, Light and Medium value labels. 

Then I trace the whole thing onto tracing paper, and then I trace pattern shapes and assemble from there using the marked image as my guide.  It's sort of tedious but it's really fun to see the picture taking shape.  I don't follow this slavishly -- it's meant to be a fabric painting, after all, not a paint-by-number project. So use your artistic judgment and have fun.

I should add that I never use Photoshop Elements so I don't know if Elements as a "cutout" filter.  Sometimes there is a filter called Posterize that can do similar things. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Twelve by Twelve on the radio!

Yesterday, Gerrie Congdon (one  of the Twelve by Twelve "twelves") was interviewed by Pat  Sloan on her online radio show at American Patchwork and Quilting Radio.  I wasn't around to listen to the show live, but it's available on the APQ website to listen any time you want!

Here's the link:


And Gerrie talks about Twelve by Twelve on the Oct. 17 show (which shows up as the episode with LeeAnn Decker.)  It's a great overview of the project and it's a nice way to get to know another of the twelves!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Midsomer Tomatoes

When I was at the Festival of Quilts in the UK this past summer, I met Chris and De, the delightful owners of Midsomer Quilting in Bath.  They have been early and enthusiastic supporters of the Twelve by Twelve challenge, and were the first to ask if they could exhibit the full set of quilts.  And when I met them, Christ told me about how visitors to the exhibit were so excited at the thought of making small quilts on a theme that he announced a shop challenge on the theme of fruit.  He asked if I'd submit something, and I gladly agreed.  Here's the piece I just sent off.

I remember my puzzlement at learning, when I was a kid, that tomatoes are considered fruit because (according to the Oxford Dictionary) true fruits are developed from the ovary in the base of the flower, and contain the seeds of the plant.  We eat cherry tomatoes all summer long around here -- so that led me to picture them for this challenge.  And it's doubly fruity!  Cherry! Tomatoes!  Brilliant, yes?!

I started with a photo of a carton of cherry tomatoes, then used Photoshop to identify color areas.  From there, I used batiks to "paint" the tomatoes and machine quilting to add more color and dimension and texture. (It's 12x12 inches square.)  I realized I really like working this way -- gosh, I should do it more!

Chris and De at Midsomer Quilting have been amazing supporters for Twelve by Twelve, and I'm happy to contribute something to their challenge.  I only wish I could be there to see all of the entries when they are exhibited.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hand me that pen...

I'm one of those people who grew up thinking she couldn't draw.  I think it was partly because my sister Laura was a dedicated and talented artist who drew beautifully and I thought I just didn't have her talent.  But over the years I've come to realize that drawing is one of those things that can be learned.  I took some watercolor painting classes years ago and loved them but work and family pulled me in a different direction, and I've not done much actual drawing since.  But recently, I've been working on drawing -- well, a loose sketching, really.  And I'm having SO much fun.

I started participating in the drawing lessons Miss C is doing as part of her curriculum this semester, and we're watching lessons online by an art teacher in New York City.  It's pencil drawing so it's learning about how to shade and shape using value and line. It's a whole different thing than I've ever done, and I'm finding it quite interesting. 

And then, on a whim, I signed up for a short online sketching and watercolor class from Jane LaFazio, whose colorful and breezy sketch style I adore.  During the first week, we drew "every day objects" -- hence the rotary cutter, below...


  and this week, we're drawing things from nature -- today, for example, I worked with leaves and seed pods from a maple tree on my street.

I'm sort of surprised at my reaction to this.  I love the peacefulness and meditative sense while really studying something to draw it.  It's an intense concentration but restful at the same time.  But mostly I'm feeling that this is doing wonders for my confidence.  I'm not aiming for anything fancy, mind you, but I feel good at what I'm doing and I'm learning each time I try something new. So each time I finish an assignment, I think to myself with some surprise, "Hey!  I  can draw!"

Yep, I'm still sewing and working on the various projects I have going around here -- but now I can stop for 15-30 minutes and do a small drawing and I feel as refreshed as if I'd taken a nap.  It's amazing. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Do you Travel in a Straight Line?

I have posted some big thoughts on the zig-zag nature of my creative process over on the Tea and Talk for Two blog (where Helen Conway and I have an ongoing conversation about art and creativity going).  Do pop over and comment on what YOU think about your creative process!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Here's a project I started working on at retreat last week.  I'd been wanting to do some improvisational piecing, and had in mind a video I'd watched on Design Matters TV where Edwina Mackinnon demonstrated her "cut and come again" technique for making a whole bunch of small pieced blocks.  A while back, I stumbled onto a bin of Hoffman solid cottons on sale, so I selected some colors for this purpose.  I don't think I've sewn with solid colors since the 1980s when I was making Amish quilts.  But what can I say -- they called to me.  A retreat day to piece while chatting with friends seemed the perfect setting for this project.

So away I went.  And I must say, I really enjoyed doing these.  It was very fun, developing each little composition in a 4.5 inch block.  No surprise -- the blocks I liked the best were usually the simplest ones.  Some of them would be great larger quilts -- maybe you'll see that in the future!

In any event, by the end of the day I'd sewn over 100 blocks and I figured that was enough.  I've been arranging and rearranging them on my design wall-- such fun possibilities -- but I liked the look of aligning the striped lines and I keep thinking about the San Andreas fault as I work on this so it will probably end up with some sort of earthquakey title!

The blocks are now sewn together, I know what I want the borders to look like, and I'll incorporate some hand-stitching in this, too.  

Considering that this is all improvising -- moving forward without a plan or mental vision of where I want it to go, this process has felt good. 

Friday, October 07, 2011

Friends to left of me, friends to the right

I have spent the last 3 1/2 days away at my twice-yearly quilt retreat. What you see above was the view from my sewing table, and I loved looking up and out on a busy, happy, creative swarm of activity. But most of all I am once again struck by the inspiration and energy and joy I get from spending time with these women.

Here is Eleanor, who sits on my right. Usually, she comes to retreat prepared with tiny piles of cut pieces, which she then lays out in tidy piles for sewing. This year, she was sewing Freddy Moran style houses from her scraps, and what started as an organized bin of strips became an exploding pile of fabric. For those of us who always end up with a fabric mess, it was very satisfying to see.

Here is Pat, who sits to my left. Pat is usually working on a bunch of different projects at retreats, changing from one to another as the mood hits her. This time, she worked steadily on one major quilt, dong a lot of finishing details and hand work. As she has been working on her project for several years intermittently, it was exciting for all of us tom see it in the home stretch.

Retreats always end up generating lots of input and creative cooperation. I snapped this picture when I saw Eleanor, Ancella and Vicky huddling together to check the block arrangements on Ancella's batik quilt. I also figure I should record Ancella working with a brown and gray palette, as that is a rare event. She usually works in a "Put on your sunglasses" bright palette and we still tease her about the time she tried to make a pastel quilt that ended up with a lot of gorgeously vivid fuchsia pinks.

I could show lots more pictures of beautiful women working on delightful projects. But what I can never quite capture on film is the feeling of warmth and contentment and energy in the room, and that's what keeps me coming back time after time. It reminds me that quilting has always had a communal aspect, and the ritual of coming together to sew, even if we are not all gathered around the same quilting frame, is a powerful one.

I feel so lucky, and I know that the feeling of being with these ladies will carry me a long way.

Friday, September 30, 2011

What is this?

Does this look like a teabag to you?

I've been starting to experiment with digitizing my own machine embroidery designs.  And this is my very first one.  Why a teabag, you wonder?  Well, I have set myself the task of exploring the theme of tea in a series of small art quilts, and that led me to thinking about tea bags, which set me on a course of drawing them... and then I decided to turn a little sketch into something that could be embroidered repeatedly. 

It has some wonky aspects to it that need adjusting in terms of stitch density ... but does this say teabag to you?  Or does it just look odd? 

(My husband thought it was an iron.)

Inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A new paradigm for education

It is way past time to change our thinking about education. This is really worth the 10 minutes it'll take to watch:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Cornwall Escape

One of these days, I'm going to get to Cornwall. I've had a fascination with it since, I think, I first read The Shellseekers by Rosamunde Pilcher years ago. And I love watching British tv series. So imagine my delight when I discovered "Doc Martin," a BBC television series set in Cornwall in the charming fictional village of Portwenn.

The premise is that Dr. Martin Ellingham, a surgeon from London, has recently developed a revulsion to blood and can no longer do surgery. He retreats to his childhood village to be the general village doctor, where his daily life is populated by quirky people and curious medical mysteries. Interestingly, the brusque nature and social ineptitude of Doc Martin is obviously Asperger's Syndrome. But even while his dreadful bedside manner is a key aspect of the show, the story is not about a doctor with Asperger's -- it's an unfolding story of a withdrawn individual who slowly comes to life and becomes a vital member of a small community.

The first four seasons are available on Netflix via live-streaming. (it looks like some are available on Hulu.com, too.) I was sad to realize that last night I watched the last episode of the show. But today, thanks to IMDB, I discovered that the series has recently resumed after a two year break, taking off where the last 2009 episode left off, and there are some 6 episodes that have aired on British tv so far. I'm not sure when Netflix will have them, but I will look forward to returning to Portwenn in the future!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Azalea Encore

So here is where I am with this piece.  I'm still listening for the quilt to tell me whether it is done or not.  Apparently it's speaking too quietly or I'm not paying attention closely enough -- so for now, this is where it sits.

If you click on the photo, you can see that I added a lot of machine quilting.  My friend Loretta commented on how painterly this looks, which was gratifying as I'd been thinking of that fabric texture as impressionistic paint strokes.  I'd sketched and doodled and tried to figure out how to add stitch to emphasize that.  My conclusion was that it'd be best to suggest flowers and leaves and let the fabric texture create the brushstrokes.

But once I got the quilting on, it just sat there on all of that texture and seemed to compete in a confused sort of way.  So I pulled out my new Inktense pencils and started highlighting petals and leaves with more color.  I tried to add color while flowing with the direction of the fabric texture, again to use the fabric but also define the shapes more.

I think I'm venturing into the "Stop torturing this poor fabric" territory so I will put this away for a bit.  I tend to like it more when I first see it walking into the room -- and maybe that sense of jumbled color and the suggestion of flowers and foliage is the best this can do.  I'm not sure.

I still feel like it NEEDS something.  But it won't tell me what just yet.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I tend to get stuck in my head when I'm making a new quilt, so this week I thought I'd try something different and just experiment, without having a meaning or image or plan in my head.

It started with this streaky fabric, which was the result of an ice dying experiment last week.

I wanted to try to exploit the linear designs, so in  an experimental mood I cut it up into bias squares, so that the linear design ran diagonally across each block.  And then I started putting the blocks up on my design wall. 

This was the result of just putting the blocks up randomly.  I liked the texture, but I was feeling that there was no focal point.  So I moved them around a bit more, thinking to put the lights in the center and work out into darker tones.

Um, no.

Then I thought, well, I'll just group the colors together in  columns and see how that looks.  (Of course, it occurred to me that the original fabric had colors in lines so why did I cut it up, then?)  But I liked how this looked sort of landscapey, if you turn your head sideways to the left.

See what I mean?  I actually like that, so I sewed the squares together.

And then I sat and stared.  What to do next?  How to quilt?  I started in yesterday, stitching and trying to keep the streaky elements I like, and trying to respond to what I thought the quilt was saying it wanted to be.

There was a big period of time where I think the quilt was telling me it wanted to be wadded up and stuffed into the trash.

So, it's in the works.  I'm not sure whether what I'm doing is making it worse or better.  I realize that without a specific intent about the quilt to begin with, it's harder to decide where to go.  I guess I just need to trust the process.