Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The endless allure of art and craft supplies

I came upon this video by Linda recently, and it made me laugh.  Anyone who makes art or craft items knows how wonderful the world of art supplies is ... and the enticing allure of "if I just had the right item, I could do amazing things."

But how quickly the attraction of "the stuff" can take over the attracting of actually MAKING things!  And what really made me relate and laugh was the phenomenon of watching Youtube for instructions and demos and inspiration, only to come away with a whole list of "must have" items.

I know this is true for quilt artists, even if the supplies themselves are different.  So even if you're not into scrapbooking or paper crafting, watch this.  Linda really nails that "I think I NEED that" problem!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Snapshot of Now

At this very moment, I'm sitting in my car because I've staked out an excellent viewing spot for Healdsburg's annual "Future Farmers of America parade. It's a very small town sort of thing, with every kid in town either in the parade or watching. For the bazillionth year in a row, my daughter is in it -- again, as with the last few years, she's been with her equestrian team to demonstrate vaulting (gymnastics on horseback) along the route. I try to forget that there's asphalt below the horse. (Rest assured that there are lots of spotters.) And she always gets a big cheer when she does a back flip off the back of the horse - which makes the staking out a spot and waiting for hours worth it in the end.

Reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by .Jan-Philipp Sendker. I'm liking it fairly well, but just had the story shift into the past to follow a different character. These days, I'm annoyed by that device. I hate it when a novel shifts focus just when I've started caring about the character I started with. But I'll keep going and see what happens. (Added later:  I finished it.  Meh.)

Listening: Podcasts, a lot of podcasts. I have a bunch backed up in my Overcast app, so I've been listening to try to get current. I'm really loving the Alec Baldwin interview podcast "Here's the Thing" -- he's a surprisingly good interviewer. I still love Radio Lab and Invisibilia and This American Life and Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, of course.

Watching: Grace and Frankie on Netflix -- I'm SO enjoying watching Jane Fonda's brilliant comedy. I also have been periodically watching episodes of "Longmire" on Netflix. The series is based on the mystery series of books by Craig Johnson. Longmire is a modern day sheriff in a small town in Wyoming that borders an indian reservation. The stories are interesting, the writing is excellent, and the characters are complex and compelling. In fact, I've been enjoying the mysteries so much, and I have such clear images of the characters in my head, that I was wary about the tv series for fear it would conflict too much with my mental Longmire. But I'm impressed and enjoying the series so far.

Eating: Chopped salads. I've become obsessed with Safeway's own chopped salad kits, which come with lettuce, other veggies, some crunchy add-ins like chopped nuts or wonton strips, and dressing. I thrown in chicken and voila, two nights' worth of dinner. My favorites are the Mediterranean and Asian kits but they have others, too. Can you tell I'm not in the mood to cook these days?

Creating: I'm in a creative whirl these days, alternately working with paper and fabric. My sewing room looks like a tornado went through it and hurled supplies every which way. No, I will not memorialize it with a photo... You can make your own big mess, multiply it a few times, and THAT's what my mess looks like.

Anticipating: Some possible road trips! I'm in the planning stages, which is fun. My sister and I are thinking about a trip up to Eureka, which is a small town on the California coast about 4 hours north of me. We're thinking we'll have some good day trips -- ocean and redwood forests and some quaint small towns to explore. But we're stilling pinning down accomodations and dates. A trip up to Washington might be on the summer schedule too. We'll see.

Working: Yes, there's always work in the background. It's interesting, but not interesting enough to talk about.

What are you doing right now?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grace and Frankie

I've been a big fan of Jane Fonda since way back.  So I was quite excited to hear that she and Lily Tomlin were making a series for Netflix -- and with Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen, even.  What a cast!  It started airing this past week, and I've watched the first 5 episodes.  And I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play wives of law firm partners Sheen and Waterston, who learn in the first episode that their husbands are leaving them because they've been having a 20-year long affair with each other.  They are totally different personalities -- Fonda's character is proper and elegant and brittle, Tomlin's is an unconventional, hippyish artist -- but they are united in their shock. 

Watching them, and the men, and all of their adult children, navigate this new minefield is pretty entertaining.  But the highlight is just seeing Fonda and Tomlin together -- funny and wry and remarking on aging and marriage and starting over. 

I think I'm going have to start rationing the remaining episodes to only one a night.  There are just 13, although there is talk of a second season. 

And I may have to start the episodes all over just to look at the sets -- all that beautiful furniture AND a funky beach-side art studio, too!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Best of What I've Read Lately

Have you read anything really good lately? During the last month I was afflicted with some weird fluey bug that made me feel tired and draggy and achy a lot of the time... so what's a girl to do?  Curl up and read, that's my solution.  Actually, that's my solution to a whole lot of things.  So what'd I read, you ask?

I have loved every single thing I've read by Marisa de los Santos, and I can highly recommend her newest, "The Precious One."  It's told by two half-sisters who share an eccentric and intense father.  One sister felt abandoned when he left her mother and started a new family; the other sister, growing up being the apple of his eye, lives under his demanding scrutiny.  As with all of de los Santos' novels, there was great writing, wonderful wit, characters to love. 

I will confess that I put this book on my Kindle because it was $1.99 and sounded interesting. (If you have an ereader and haven't discovered Bookbub yet, go sign up right now.  It's free.  It's great.  Go ahead, I'll wait.)  But I loved "History of the Rain" by Niall Williams, I totally loved it.  It's told by Ruth, a young bed-ridden girl who reflects on her life and her small town in Ireland and most especially on her father, who is best known to her through the books he has left behind.  This isn't a fast plot -- in fact, one friend who loved it too described it as a book without a plot. But there is a thread and wonderful, lyrical writing, and so many gorgeous ideas about books and family and community.  I discovered after I read it that it was long-listed for the Booker Prize in 2014.

These days, John Green is best known for "The Fault in Our Stars", which was a lovely, unexpected sort of book.  "Paper Towns" is another of those.  It's the story of Quentin, a teen whose last high school year is unexpectedly enlivened by an enigmatic girl named Margo.  She enlists him in an unusual adventure, and then when she disappears later, Quentin makes it his mission to find her.  (Spoiler alert: no one in this book has cancer, in case you were worried about that.)  Green has a way of writing about teens that is true without being at all condescending, and he evokes that sense of being on the edge of adulthood, the confusion and freedom so beautifully.  This was delightful and thought-provoking.  Don't let the Young Adult billing put you off. (Added later:  I just saw a commercial on TV last night for the upcoming movie from this novel.  Hmm.  Read it first, that's my advice.)

I'm a sucker for books about books and bookstores.  And "The Moment of Everything" by Shelly King is another good one. Maggie, recently laid off from the Silicon Valley start-up company she co-founded, spends her now-plentiful free time hanging out at her favorite used book store.  She gets involved in running a book club for high-powered Silicon Valley women, discovers some old love letters in an old copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover, and starts making the bookstore life her own. It's a pleasant novel -- not earth shattering or deep, but fun and interesting and heck, it's about a bookstore.  What's not to like?

And you, what have you read lately that you loved?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Paper Trail

So you want to see a peek at what I've been doing lately?

I love playing with paper almost as much as I love playing with fabric.  You might remember that I've made a lot of books in the past (see this, and this for example) and every once in a while the urge hits me again.  I fall under the spell of gorgeous patterned papers and I can't resist.

So I have been experimenting and playing with some specific projects in mind.  I spent one afternoon spraying paper with strong coffee to get a vintage effect, and messing about with paints and inks to see if I could make paper look like leather. 

Funny that I'm never drawn to brown fabric, but something about these rich warm brown papers really appeals to me.  And then there is SEWING on paper, which is really fun.  I love the pucka-pucka-pucka sound the needle makes going through paper.  But then, I'm easily amused.

And once I get going, it's hard to stop.  (Which explains how I sewed my way through a whole bunch of episodes of "Dance Mom."  I didn't want to stop to change the channel.) 

Can you tell where this is going?  I'm designing as I go, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all ends up myself!  Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Life is a Readathon

You all know that I'm an avid reader, right?  But I never used to read for leisure in the middle of the day.  I guess it's the result of student life and then working life for so many years, but I tended to read in the "in between" times -- essentially, in bed before falling asleep, or if I was eating a meal alone, or if I was waiting somewhere, or -- as a big luxury -- sitting in bed with a big mug of coffee on Sunday mornings.  Reading during the day was appropriate vacation behavior, but otherwise, reading in the middle of the day felt like decadence.

It's silly isn't it? I value reading hugely.  I firmly believe that reading is never a waste of time.  If someone else told me that they sat and read in the middle of the afternoon, say, I would been impressed and even envious, probably. And yet the thought of just sitting and reading in the middle of an afternoon provoked a little puritanical voice in my head that scolded me and told me I should be doing something PRODUCTIVE.

Somewhere along the way, a few years back, it occurred to me that the prohibition was silly and pointless. And since then, from time to time, I'd let myself read a bit in the afternoon.  It was like taking a short nap, but better.  My favorite place is the living room couch, stretched out with a view out the window and dappled shadows from the leaves outside dancing along wall.  It is the ultimate treat, to just sink into my comfy couch and open a book.

At one point, reading Mary Ann Moss's blog (oh how I adore her), I stumbled onto an entry in which she described taking herself off on a reading retreat. I'd never thought about it -- although I suppose many of my vacations could be considered reading retreats, I hauled so many books along.  Mary Ann referenced an article in Salon magazine that talked about reading retreats, too.  What a concept!  The thought of dedicating an entire vacation to reading just delighted me.

So far, I've only done it for part of a weekend -- a day and a bit more. Even so, it felt like the ultimate luxury, to let myself just read fiction and do nothing else.  Even in my own home, with the laundry piled up in the laundry room and dust settling on the blinds in the family room, it felt like a mini-vacation.

Earlier this week, I came across a blog that talked about an entire "readathon" week, where people sign up to read intensively (or as intensively as their lives will allow, I guess) for an entire week.  It's coming up, and runs from May 11 to May 17, 2015.  I have to confess that I had to hunt around to find out what the point of a readathon was -- and it looks like it's designed to get people to commit to reading for a week, and to post their progress on a daily basis as a motivation to read.  One can set goals, or not, and there are even prizes.

Perhaps your average non-reader type needs a reason to read -- and maybe "Sorry, honey, I can't cook dinner tonight, I have to read my novel for the readathon" is a good enough reason to stop everything and just get lost in a novel or two or three.

Me, I think life is a readathon.  During the day, even!  Shall I print a t-shirt?


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Simply Outlandish

 Look!  It's another quilt, one I finished this very week. (Oops, did you fall of your chair in astonishment?)

Every April, the retreat that I attend features a challenge, and this year the challenge was to use plaid fabrics in some significant way.  I had a bundle of bright plaid fat quarters in my closet, from who knows where -- probably a quilt show some years back. (I have a hard time resisting a happy bundle of fat quarters charmingly tied up with a ribbon.  They're just so dang appealing!)

I cast around for something to do with the plaids, and remembered a pattern I'd pinned on Pinterest some time back.  It's called Suburbs, from Cluck Cluck Sew.  It felt just right -- and it was available for immediate download upon purchase. Perfect! (They have a paper version too, in case you're wondering.)

Upon reviewing the pattern, I realized that the pattern resulted in big houses -- something on the order of 8.5 x 11 blocks.  But I only had little fat quarters of fabric, and I'd been picturing little houses.  I pulled out my trusty graph paper and worked out a scaled down block, so my houses could be roughly 5x6 inches.

And away I went. It was fun making the houses and I liked using all of the plaids together.  And I'm calling it "Outlandish" because plaids make me think of Scottish tartan, which makes me think of kilts, which was connected to a weekend of binge-watching the "Outlander" series when cable tv provided the Starz network shows free for a week, which I was watching when I was in the midst of making this quilt.  Well, it makes sense to me.

I did a basic outlining with a few vertical lines to quilt the houses but toward the bottom I couldn't resist decorating a few a bit differently.

This is likely to be a donation quilt.  But I finished it in time to show it for the Plaid Challenge reveal, and several people asked where they could get the pattern so I sent them over to Cluck Cluck Sew.  Maybe there'll be a few more little villages at the next retreat!

Monday, May 04, 2015

UFO Sightings

Can we talk UFOs?

I was thinking recently about all of the UFOs in my closet, and I decided that it'd be good to list them and then work on getting them off that list into a "Finished in 2015" list. (That list has only 2 items on it so far but I am ever optimistic.) And I realized that I have different categories of UFOs, as you probably do too.  Here are my categories:

1.  Pieces cut but nothing sewn (you know, because I had this great idea and couldn't wait to get started...)
2.  Fabric cut and some parts sewn (because I had this great idea, couldn't wait to get started, and I DID get started, but then got interrupted...)
3.  Bunch of fabric blocks all sewn but not assembled in any fashion (Paused after I finished sewing blocks because I returned from retreat and set them aside and forgot about them, or needed time to lay them out on the design wall, or for some other completely excellent reason)
4.  Art quilts in some state of incompletion because they require decisions that I can't seem to make quite yet.  (They're "marinating." That's what I call it.)
5.  Quilt tops almost done, but requiring borders or further decisions about what (if anything) to do next.  (Clearly, the decision-making often stalls me.  Let's call this more marinating.)
6.   Fully completed quilt tops, needing to be sandwiched and quilted.  Because I just dread the sandwiching part.  It's never as bad as I think it's going to be, but still I dread it.

Lest you think I never finish anything (hi, Mom!), I'd like to remind you that I do get back to these and finish some from time to time.  Even if it's a few (ahem) years later... like here, and here, for example.

But yesterday I was thinking in particular about how many quilt tops I have that need to be sandwiched and quilted.  I decided to pull them out and count them.  And the total is..... 25.  Oh dear.

Some of them (five, to be exact) are ones I made for myself or for specific people who will receive them, eventually.

Some of them are ones I made with the idea of selling them at some point.  At this rate, I'll be able to list them as "vintage" quilts.

Some I made to use up scraps from other projects, and they will probably be donation quilts once I get around to quilting them.

(And by the way, there used to be another quilt in this pile, but I was having company one day, wanted just the right look for the table, and I decided to hem the edges of the quilt top and use it as a table cloth.  It's now in the linen cupboard!)

And then there's this beast:

It is a king-sized pineapple quilt top that I made when I was in the throes of my obsession with Freddy Moran.  I love it, I really do, but it's so HUGE.  At the time I envisioned using it as a bedspread.  But it became clear that it was too bright and crazy and chaotic.  I either need to take it apart so it'll be two smaller quilts, or send it off to a long-arm quilter because I don't want to wrestle with a king-sized quilt under my home machine.

Okay, 'fess up.  How many quilt tops do you have stacked up?  Can you beat my total?! 

Seeing all of these tops makes me want to get a long-arm quilting machine, an urge that resurfaces at least once a year.  Because the fastest way to get all of these done is to go buy a big new machine with a long learning curve, don't you think?!

Friday, May 01, 2015

May Day! Baskets o' Fun


Hey look!  It's a quilt!  Yep, made by me, started and finished in the last few months!  I know. I can hardly believe it myself.

I've been a stalker groupie fan of Freddy Moran for many years. When I discovered her and (for a while there) took every class she taught), her approach to color and pattern resonated with me and totally changed the whole quilting game for me.  But it'd been ages since I'd seen her.  So when I learned she was teaching her basket class at a shop in my area, I rustled up a few friends and away we went.

In the class, Freddy demonstrated her approach to making a few different types of wonky baskets.  And by the end of the day, I'd made most of the crazy baskets you see up there in the center of the quilt.  It was a totally fun day and I was so happy to see Freddy in fine form.

I've been in a "using up the stash" mode for a while now, so in the spirit of Freddy and Gwen Marston's "parts department" approach to quilting with scraps, I pulled out blocks I'd done with scraps, and away I went.

I can't remember when I made a pieced quilt by just doing once thing and then deciding "what next" without a big plan.  It was very fun. I don't know how I managed to make all of these blocks without making a visible dent in the scrap bags -- do they multiply, or something?  Ah well, I guess that means there are more "parts department" quilts like this ahead.

I now have this hanging on a wall in my upstairs hallway, so it faces me when I come upstairs. It makes me smile although the teen critic in the house thinks it's too jumbly.  I figure if she can live with the mess in her room, she can handle a bit of jumble on the wall.

Here's a little detail shot, in case you wanted to see up close: