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manner is a key aspect of the show, the story is not about a doctor with Asperger's -- it's an unfolding story of a withdrawn individual who slowly comes to life and becomes a vital member of a small community.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, 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. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Seasonally Challenged

Because it is September, I've shifted into autumn mode.  I've put flannel sheets on the bed, and when I dress in the morning I put on a cozy shirt and jeans and slip my feet into my fleece-lined clogs.  I make myself a cup of tea and contemplate whether to put the fixings for chili or soup in the slow cooker.  Then, I open the door to the garden and realize that it's going to be another Indian Summer day over 80 degrees, and more likely over 90.

I could tell you that this is an aberration, but truth be told, I've always been a bit out of synch with the weather.  Even though I was born and raised in California, I think I'm a New Englander at some deep core level, and I'm living with their seasons no matter where I am.  Which explains why, when I was in college in Southern California, I showed up at my friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner wearing a turtleneck sweater and wool skirt and knit tights -- when it was 75 degrees out.

I do not know what mental climate zone my daughter lives in.  All she wants to wear are tank top, shorts and bare feet.  All year round.  I am frequently accused of over-using the motherly "Aren't you cold?" comment.

At any rate, I'm feeling decidedly Septemberish.  Perhaps I'll go outside and look for some leaves to rake.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Blocks of love

I've been making quilt blocks this week for a commissioned quilt. Well, maybe that's a stretch.  My daughter is the client, and she had very specific requests for a new quilt for her bed.  In fact, when we first started talking about what sort of quilt she wanted, her descriptions were so specific that we got onto and she chose the fabric, she sketched out for me how she envisioned it going to gether, and then we laid it out on Electric Quilt software so I could make sure that she was going to like the look of what she was describing.

I do love technology. 

I have to confess that before I started sewing these, I had a general reluctance about it.  I returned from Festival of Quilts with so many ideas in my head that I want to explore -- but I felt that I had to get this done before I can explore any of those.  This just didn't feel like any reflection of my own creativity.

But I started cutting and sewing, and at some point it dawned on me that I was really enjoying it.  I was thinking about Miss C, and how much fun it had been to see her choose fabrics, and how excited she was about seeing what she envisioned become real.  And so even while this isn't reflective of MY creativity exactly, it's reflecting hers, and that makes me quite happy. 

So this has really become a labor of love.  Funny how easy it is to lose sight of the joy of doing something for someone you love.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ice Dyeing (or the dyeing you can do during hot flash season)

In the current issue of Quilting Arts magazine (Aug/Sept 2011, #52) there's an article by Lynda Heines about "ice dyeing."  When I read the issue, I read the article and thought, "That looks fun, I'll have to try that some day."  And I promptly forgot all about it.

But then about a week later, I went to my monthly Practical Design group, and two of the women there showed fabric they'd dyed using the Ice Dyeing technique.  It was gorgeous, just gorgeous.  And they bubbled on about how easy it was -- so I was inspired to go home and get it going the very next day.

Here's the thing about this method:  you don't have to mix dye solution ahead of time.  Now, I know that's not a huge task, and of course once you mix the dyes they keep for a while.  Still, when I'm in the mood to play with dyeing, I want to get to the dyeing and having to do all that advance preparation discourages me some.  Silly, I know, but there you have it.

At any rate, the beauty of this method is that you don't pre-mix dyes. (It also means that you have to be MORE careful about wearing a mask and not exposing yourself to dye powder carelessly.)  But basically, the method is this:  You set up a rack over a tray or tub, put soda-soaked fabric in a flattened wad (or folded bundle) on the rack, put ice cubes on the fabric, and then sprinkle a bit of dye powder onto the ice.  As the ice melts, the dye powder dissolves and contacts the fabric.  You let it sit for 24 hours, then wash it all out. The specific details and instructions are illustrated beautifully Lynda Heines' article.

So away I went.  And the results have been exciting and very fun.

In fact, this is so fun and easy it's hard to stop.

So far I've dyed half-yard pieces.  Today I'm going to try a bigger piece and see what happens.  But I highly recommend experimenting with this -- it's very  fun.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Swift Success

Last night was the long-awaited Taylor Swift concert. The Teen adores her and last winter, when she indicated she might be willing to brave the noise and crowds to try a concert, we obtained tickets for the one concert in our area. At Miss C's request , it was a girls only night, so our party consisted of Miss C, me, and our dear friend Beth.

Beth and I were in college together and are both in our 50s now. So although we attended many a concert in our young and adventurous days, it has been some time since each of us had been to a concert other than the reunion tour of some middle-aged guys singing to a nostalgic middle aged audience. So, that explains why last night was surprising and fun for us -- ahem -- more mature ladies, too.

The Teen knew what to expect. She's been working for the past week on a heavily glittered sign to wave at key moments. Unlike us, she was not at all astounded by the masses of pre- teen and teenaged girls with their hair artfully ringleted like Taylor Swift's and wearing country girl dresses and cowboy boots. Beth and I, however, were amazed at the number of girls dressed alike and/or adorned with Taylor- inspired sayings and images and glitter. Lots and lots of glitter. Were we just not sufficiently motivated groupies back when we went to see Kenny Loggins and Neil Young and John Denver? Dressing alike and waving signs just didn't occur to us back then.

Of course, part of Taylor Swift's appeal is the ordinary-girl-who- created-a-fairy-tale-for-herself thing. She sings about being outside of the popular crowd in high school, the importance of being true to yourself, of finding a love who will love you for who you are. They are messages any mom would approve of and messages, it is heartening to see, that many girls seem to heart. The fact that Taylor sings them while dressed like Cinderella doesn't hurt either.

The most surprising thing, to me and Beth, at least, was how for the 12,000 teens in attendance anyway, being at the concert seemed to be less about listening to Taylor Swift sing and more about screaming and shrieking and singing along with every song. Really, we could hardly hear Taylor. It made me wonder if that's what those early Beatles concerts were like, with so much screaming that you couldn't hear the actual music.

As far as Miss C was concerned , the event surpassed every expectation and she came out with a beaming smile and eyes glowing and talking a mile a minute. For me, seeing Miss C happy and singing along and clearly enthralled was truly wonderful. (And, I couldn't help thinking, it was a testament to the power of willing participation and focus, for if surely there was ever an event designed to bring on a migraine or Aspie brain overload, it would be an arena full of screaming teenagers, loud music, and bright flashing lights.)

So, it was a success all around. But it did make me feel old, or certainly rather sedate. Maybe I need more glitter in my life.