A Dresser and a Seismograph

>> Monday, June 27, 2011

I thought I first met Sarah about 3 years ago. Her husband Danny was a grad school colleague and she attended one of our workshops. It turned out she was a grad student as well, albeit at a different university. A university where I knew some grad students in her department. And so we played the name game and figured out who we knew in common. And then Sarah paused and said, "did you sell a dresser a few years ago?" As it turned out, we had sort of met previously. My roommate and I were selling an extra dresser (donated by my third cousins and no longer needed) and Sarah bought it from us. Totally random, except that when she came to pick it up my she and my roommate realized the friend they had in common who was the friend that linked Sarah and I in our "getting to know you" discussion.

Fast forward a few years and Sarah and Danny welcomed Sam into their lives this spring. I almost mailed them this quilt, but when I realized I would be in California in June, I decided to wait and bring it along with me. And then, because life sometimes really works out, I spent the weekend staying at the apartment of friends who live mere minutes away from Danny and Sarah. This quilt sprung from "Spring Chicken" and reminds me how the same types of piecing can make distinctly different quilts. In this case, I love the cluster of colors within what I think of as the seismograph -- Sam is a California baby -- in the middle. I also love love love the borders. I know there are some who don't think borders belong on modern quilts; I disagree. I think borders can be the quilt or, in this case, make the quilt. It's the combination of frames in different colors and widths that draw in the eye.

I pieced the back from several remnants from the front borders as well as several larger pieces from my stash. The stipple-quilting in pale yellow is most visible against the brown but fades into the rest of the quilt. This might represent my best stippling to date.

It can be hard to pick a favorite part of or fabric in a quilt. But in this case, there was no question: the aqua binding wins. It's gentle and fun, sweet and playful, charming and edgy. 


The Smell of Grass

>> Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I am highly allergic to grass. I do my best to avoid sitting on it in order to avoid itchy skin and red  rashes. I take lots of allergy medicine in the spring. But I love the smell of freshcut grass. And this quilt, an angel quilt for DQS10 from Carol, reminds me of that fresh smell of grass. It's summery and fun, a perfect picnic scene.

The postal service seems to have disappeared the original quilt made for me, by MichelleSews. Perhaps they didn't like my complaints about their inconsistent rules for flat-rate envelopes and treated the quilt like a dissident in an authoritarian regime? It's unclear, though perhaps it will magically appear at some point later. In the meantime, Carol, or MamaCJT as she is known on Flickr, stepped into her role as angel-quilt-maker-extraordinaire and sent me a quilt, for which I am very grateful. I think this will look great on the blue walls of my bedroom and I look forward to hanging it up. Carol also sent along some fun fabric scraps which I look forward to playing with and turning into something....another quilt perhaps.


Stitch by Stitch

>> Monday, June 20, 2011

Right after college, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I lived with a good friend from college and three other guys. My mom's friends were very concerned about this living arrangement, since we didn't know the guys ahead of time and the bedroom doors did not have deadbolts, the horrors. All of these guys became very good friends -- what can I say, we had good taste in and excellent gut instincts about housemates -- and also exposed us to a lot of Japanese. In its original incarnation, the house consisted of 5 guys who created a burger chain had gone to college together and spent 2 years in Japan together through the JET program. The house was on iteration number 4 or 5 or so by the time we arrived, but there were still 3 Japanese speakers and us, the 2 non-Japanese speakers. Sometimes dinner table conversations would shift into Japanese and my friend was fond of translating these indecipherable-to-us exchanges as "our housemates who can't speak Japanese are the best ever. They are fascinating, amazing people. They rock." Etc., etc. Occasionally being left out of conversations, notwithstanding, I spent 2 years learning a lot about Japanese culture (and bikes -- I could tell you a lot about Shimano components for a while there).

As I returned to my in-progress Sashiko (Japanese embroidery) experiment, I remembered that one of my former housemates had a sashiko quilt, a gift from his host mom when he lived in Japan. It was beautiful, and I can't imagine how long it took to make. Traditionally, sashiko is blue and white, often white thread on blue fabric.  The two colors convey simplicity even as the designs look complicated. The trick to sashiko, it turns out, is breaking complicated designs into single lines. So over here in my corner of the world, I'm working on the paint-by-numbers version in which I'm following a pre-made pattern; apparently it is made with washable ink so that I can pretend I designed it all myself. As you can see from above, the technique starts with sewing diagonal lines individually.

However, I am preternaturally incapable of precisely following directions. In this case, I have an excuse:  they're in Japanese, so obviously I can't simply read and execute. I'm pretty good at reading pictures (that same college friend with whom I lived in Portland once wrote a paper on the linguistics of Ikea's non-verbal instructions), which is how I managed to follow the one important instruction of sewing diagonal lines instead of, say, circles, which is how my eyes first read the pattern. But I completely ignored acquiring a sashiko needle or using sashiko thread or even sticking to one color of thread.

I decided to use 4 colors of thread, though I've only made my way into 2 thus far. Before I purchased my kit, I looked at this pillow and thought that the multi-color version would be fun. I still think that, though I'm less convinced that my decision to use embroidery floss (colors, lots of colors!) was wise. Embroidery floss has multiple strands that easily come apart, which is mostly an issue in threading it, especially since the needle I'm using is on the small side. I'm pretty good at threading needles, but this takes me at least 4 tries each time. A lesson learned, I suppose. I'm determined to finish this little handsewing project, ideally in the next couple of weeks. Assuming I do, however,  I have no idea what I'll use it for. A pillow? A pouch? A wall hanging?


Almost Sudoku

>> Friday, June 17, 2011

I made this quilt this winter and took the pictures in April, with the wildflowers in full bloom (the one time of year the front yard looks nice sans help). And now that my courier transported it to a shower miles away from my present locale, I can show it here. The quilt is for the daughter of grad school friends who is expected to arrive in July -- a fine, fine month in which to be born. I'm confident that Sara and Gene will be awesome parents, of the caring yet irreverent, hilarious and fun to be around sort; I'm equally confident that their offspring will surpass my pop cultural and musical knowledge after approximately one day on earth.

Inspired by Heather's Autumn Canary quilt, I wanted to make a quilt whose design showcased some favorite fabrics. I had about a half-yard of the Berry Charms fabric (by Pat Bravo) that I wanted to showcase and selected fun prints from my stash to complement it. I also wanted each 9-patch section to be different, and it struck me that Sudoku puzzles offered the perfect template (+ some logic fun). Mind you, I'm not actually very good at Sudoku (or lack the patience to become good), but it seemed like a fine idea: I assigned each fabric a number and got to work. I made 6 Sudoku puzzles and, after some scribbling and erasing, filled them out. (Later I realized I could have just trolled the internets and found myself some answer keys but what would be the fun in that?) All was well. I laid out my fabric and started sewing 5" blocks together. And it was good. Until I managed to turn some pieces around, not realize I had done so, finish the quilt top, and find out that my perfect puzzle layouts no longer existed. I decided it was okay, and "Almost Sudoku" came into being.

The pieced back combines another Pat Bravo print, Daylight Pond (from her Paradise Collection), with pink flowers and a milk chocolate-y solid from my stash. The free-motion quilting blends in and helped it crinkle up perfectly. I didn't measure it after I pulled the quilt from the dryer, but I think it's about 45" square. I used the last remaining yardage of the pink flower print for the binding (previously used to bind this quilt too). 

Folded up like this, the quilt doesn't read pink! which is one of the things I really like about it. I'm not a pink person and don't think baby quilts, especially girl baby quilts, need to or should be pink. But I have slowly allowed pink fabric to creep into my stash because, in the right tones and design, I even like it. And since I have it, I'm going to use it. And in this case, it's there, but in combination with the browns, peaches, yellows, and aquas on the front becomes fun and colorful. In fact, I think it's the peach print that makes the quilt zing.


Tutorial: How to Machine-Bind Your Quilt

>> Friday, June 10, 2011

I fully machine-bind my quilts. Back and front. No hand-stitching to finish. Call me a heretic, but I highly recommend it. It's fast, it's easy, it's even enjoyable. Sure, the stitches show on the binding, but if you blend your thread carefully, they only show if you look carefully. Or you can make them purposefully visible, as a design element. It's up to you.

Now, I admit that when I first started making quilts, binding was my least favorite part of the process. It may not have become my favorite, but I don't mind it. In a couple of episodes of Bones or Law & Order or NCIS or Criminal Minds (notice a pattern here), I can attached and complete the binding for a pretty big lap quilt. So when anyone asks me about how to get better at binding, my recurrent theme is practice, practice, practice. It's cliche, but I found that making challah covers really helped me figure it out. They're small and manageable and allow for a lot of binding practice in a short amount of time.

I've made a tutorial for my method of machine-binding your quilt (using double-fold binding). I asked a couple sewer friends, including Michelle, to read it over, but any errors are mine alone. I wrote it for a beginner audience, so that it's accessible to a new quilter. But a more experienced quilter can skip the first few steps about how to cut, sew, and press binding and move on to the method. The link below will take you to a downloadable pdf file, which allows you to print it and keep it near your sewing machine for reference. If you're unsure about a step or are confused or want more information, please leave a comment or email me.

This tutorial is for personal use only. 
If you want to teach it in a class, contact me before using and distributing it.


Odds and Ends

>> Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Swim, Bike, Quilt
Kate is organizing 100 Quilts for Kids again this year, and she's trying to get the word out early for an early fall push. Every year I try to make and donate a few quilts (some years more than others, admittedly), and one thing I really like about this particular donation endeavor is that it focuses on local donations. So search out a local charity, hospital, school, etc and donate the quilt you make to them. This not only connects you to your local community and emphasizes local needs but also saves on shipping. What's not to love?

Malka just announced that Moda will be replicating and printing her hand-dyed fabrics. So while these won't be uniquely hand-dyed, they'll be pretty close and will make her unique look more accessible and affordable, which is great.

As I soldier on without my sewing machine, I've decided that hand-piecing and quilting are really not for me. I got myself a Sashiko kit and started it but haven't gotten very far. I should take a picture but that would admit and showcase my poor performance. Maybe I'll take one anyways. I like the idea in theory, I just want to be making other things. But I'm using this time to work on a quilt design based on a Hale and Hearty (a New York soup, salad, sandwich place) brochure. I thought I'd be able to find the brochure online, but I was wrong. Once I get it worked out, I'll post my drafts. I've also resolved to sew a garment this summer. It will be a July/August project, and I'm thinking of starting with Meg's Schoolhouse Tunic pattern since reviewers suggest that it's a good beginner option. After seeing Julie's Kyoko Dress, I'm also contemplating that option. Maybe for garment number 2. Any thoughts, suggestions, or advice on garment sewing and fabric selection? I'm all ears.

Total non-sequitur: if you've always wanted to go to Paris, here's a Parisian trip giveaway for you.

And with that, I'm off to get ready for Shavuot, one of my favorite Jewish holidays. This 2-day holiday is all about dairy -- blintzes, ice cream, cheesecake -- and includes all-night learning. I mean technically, it's a harvest festival falling exactly 7 weeks after the second day of Passover and celebrates the giving of the Torah (hence the all-night learning). But to my vegetarian self, the dairy is key. Also, it's traditional to read the Book of Ruth which is, I think, one of the most fascinating Biblical texts. So it contains a nice package of customs and such. Chag sameach to all who celebrate it.


Summertime Shabbat

>> Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's not technically summer yet, but between the humidity and the long days, it certainly feels like it to me. I'll take the evening light, but I'd be happy to toss the humidity aside. I miss many things about living in Northern California, and the weather is high on that list. Summer's long days also means the Shabbat, which starts and ends according to sundown, starts and ends a lot later. Among friends of mine who are technical about these things, the late start/end has certain advantages and certain disadvantages over the early start/end in the winter. I'm not one for technicalities on these matters, though I appreciate the concept of living according to the rhythms of nature. It's one of the things I really like about camping: you sleep and rise according to the sun. But I digress.

My friend and best customer, Sara, contacted me about a commissioned challah cover. Her sister-in-law was recently engaged and Sara wanted to give her a challah cover as a gift. I was happy to oblige and we started talking about various options, in terms of both design and color. After she talked to her sister-in-law and they looked through some of my work, Sara asked me to make a challah cover like this one, but requested adding "shabbat" in Hebrew. At first I thought I could replicate the fabric from the inspiration one, but I didn't have as much left as I thought. But Sara had sent me some images and color preferences to work with, and "coral" stuck with me. I dug through my stash and reconnected with this coral-y orange/blue/yellow/pink fabric and decided to use it.

This was my first attempt to piece letters, and I spent a lot of time staring at Malka's work. The nice thing about the letters that comprise shabbat is that they're pretty simple -- Hebrew has two main font styles, a blockier printed text and a "cursive" handwritten one. The latter has a lot more curves while the former has serif and non-serif varieties. I briefly thought about using applique, for which I would have started with a serif-ed version, but for sanity's sake, I decided piecing would be better. So I stared and stared and finally started cutting 1.5" strips and working from there. I started with the shin, the letter on the right (Hebrew reads from right to left) as it was not only the first letter but also the simplest. Once I made it, I proceeded with the others. Though it may look like the bet, the middle letter, is wider than the others, they're actually all the same size.

The back is "Day Glowing Daisies" from Patricia Bravo's Naturella Collection. I put this challah cover together a little differently than in the past: instead of quilting it all at once, I pieced the shabbat letters and quilted the off-white canvas before adding the dresden flowers on the edges. Then I added the dresdens and quilted them, so only the dresden quilting shows on the back. I did this so I could fully quilt the background without the back looking like a mess of quilted background lines + dresden lines. Instead, just the dresden petals show. For the dresden centers and binding, I used a solid pink that matched the pink in the orange fabric from the front and coordinated with the fabric on the back.

The best part of making this challah cover was that Sara, who lives in London, was visiting her family in the DC area, and I got to hand this over to her in person. We hadn't seen one another in years, but we had a lovely dinner and chance to catch up.


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