You Can Do That?

A friend of mine, Joanna the Snarky Quilter, said something recently that resonated with me. Because I won’t be able to find a quote, I’ll tell you what I remember: just because a quilt is “done” doesn’t mean you can’t still change it.

Long ago, a woman Jim taught with told the story of rearranging her home’s living room. Her young daughter came home and saw the changes. Very confused, the girl asked what happened. The mom said she’d moved the furniture, to which the girl replied, “You can do that?”

I had the same feeling when I read Joanna’s claim. You can do that? Of course! Why not?

***

Last spring I took a workshop with a quilt artist named Cathy Geier. She showed us very simple techniques to transform printed fabric to create a landscape quilt, using glue, markers and crayons, scissors, a little fusible web, and quilting.

Here was my result. This was my first “collage” quilt and I’m pretty happy with it, and with what I learned. One thing that’s odd is it feels kind of sterile. I considered naming it “Where Are the Birds?” because there is no sign of animated life anywhere. Another part that makes me less happy (and I know this wouldn’t bother many people) is that it doesn’t feel like my quilt, because I didn’t design it. Maybe that’s just weird of me to feel this way… But maybe because of that, I like the back that shows the quilting as much as the front.

The gallery below shows a squared-off photo. Click either image to see bigger and with right proportions.

***

Last year I found a line drawing of a deer’s head that I modified and drew on tracing paper. I considered a variety of ways to use it as an appliqué pattern. I could just use a solid cut-out on a solid background to maximize the impact. That’s still an option, but last week I tried using more of a fabric collage technique. Again, remember I’m still figuring out appliqué as a technique and as a way of using space.

I started by fusing fabric onto the paper.

This was not a good plan. Honestly I FORGOT it was tracing paper, because it looks almost exactly like parchment paper. Fusible web releases from parchment paper; it does NOT release from tracing paper.

It was okay. I actually laughed. I didn’t love what I’d already done, so didn’t mind doing it over.

Once I rebuilt the deer’s head, I needed to choose a background. Here it is on a piece of fabric, printed with a forest design.

Still didn’t love it, but it’s better and at least let me imagine a direction for it. Anything very busy will obscure the deer, but anything very plain will show off the deer more than it deserves. 🙂

Then I saw Joanna’s wise words and thought, what if I put it on the trees landscape?

It is all stitched down now, using a lightning-style zigzaggy stitch from my machine that looks more natural than a plain zigzag. Here’s the truth: I still don’t love it, but I like both the deer and the landscape better now that they’re together. And I learned a lot. Win!

P.S. If you are looking for an interesting blog to follow, check out Joanna the Snarky Quilter. While she has her background in traditional quilting, as long as I’ve known her she’s moved more and more deeply into art quilting. She often shares techniques she’s using for surface design, and she shares process as she moved through projects. She’s very articulate, too, which makes for great reading.

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Ideas You Can Use

I love having friends come for dinner. This evening we’ll host another couple, share some good laughs, a few good rants, dinner, and a bottle of wine.

I also love old-fashioned cakes, made from scratch. I think of them as “homely,” as they aren’t highly decorated. I wouldn’t win the Great British Baking Show with my skills, but we’ll enjoy this applesauce bundt cake with brown sugar glaze, with a little ice cream for dessert!

I’m also trying to finish quilting my urn-with-flowers project. It’s been on the frame for several days, and I get a bit done at a time. Each day I think “it might be done today!”

It’s worth mentioning my take on quilting medallion-format quilts. For machine-quilting, you can choose to do an all-over design; quilting that is custom, or different in each segment or border; or some combination. Usually I do an all-over design.

I’ve custom-quilted a few for which, after the fact, it seemed like a waste of effort. There was so much going on with the piecing that the quilting didn’t add much, and I could have done something much simpler. And there are others for which I simply couldn’t have chosen an all-over design. Because this one has a fair amount of appliqué, I decided to do custom. That makes it a much slower process, but it’s coming along and will be done soon!

While I waited for the longarm to warm up this morning, I took a few photos in my studio. They have some ideas you might find useful.

  • I usually sew (piece) with So Fine 50wt. polyester thread on cones. The cones don’t fit my domestic machine, so I keep the cone in a cup next to the machine, and run the thread through the loop of a safety pin.
  • I have a lot of storage in my studio. (Click any picture to open the gallery and see detail.) My fabric stash is in the TV armoire. Almost all of it is in the plastic bins in the top. Other things (scraps, current projects, bags, etc.) are stored under my cutting table in rolling drawer sets. The table is a basic folding table, available at any big box store. It is on “stilts” made of PVC pipes cut to length. The third picture is of an open cabinet we got at a garage sale 100 years ago. The new addition is the wire under-shelf bin that holds my overflow of thread cones. On top of the cabinet is my bobbin winder for the longarm.
  • For a few years I’ve used Fiskars blunt-tipped school scissors when I quilt. They will keep me from punching a hole in a quilt top by accidentally dropping pointy scissors on it. But I never had a good place to put them and found reaching for them (where are they now??) awkward. For Christmas Santa brought me a package of lightweight 3M Command hooks. I applied one to the side of my longarm and now I know exactly where the scissors will be. Next I’ll put one on the side of my domestic machine for the small scissors I use there.

  • At the back of my cutting table is a rack to hold my cutting rulers. Yes, that’s all of them! I had a plastic letter holder for years, foraged from work during a long-ago closet-cleaning. Last summer I purchased a prettier one, and every time I see it, I’m glad I bought it. I also keep a yogurt cup with lid on the table. In it go all my dead needles, bent pins, and dull rotary blades. I’ve used the same one for years. If it ever fills up, I’ll tape it shut with duct tape before putting it in the trash. The other item you see is my pin magnet, for long pins I use on the longarm. It sits in a paper bowl. The bowl keeps the pins corralled just a bit better than the magnet by itself. I keep another bowl-and-magnet of fine straight pins next to my domestic machine for piecing duty.

  • Last but not least is a photo of some of my studio lighting. On either side of the room I have a LED utility light. This one can be removed from the wall above the window, and used for extra light when we photograph finished quilts. The LED strips are inexpensive and give great quality of light.

I hope the start of your new year has been happy and productive, or at least happy. 🙂

Just Wanna Have Fun…

Count on me to overanalyze, right? What is “fun,” and how can we have more of it? As a noun, the Google dictionary says that “fun” is “enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure.” Ah, the lighthearted pleasure. That’s what I want! I want to quilt for fun.

Other sources give lists of ways to increase that pleasure. (Google “how to have more fun in art” for links.) They include things like creating the right environment (light, music, beautiful things surrounding you, the right amount of neatness for your comfort); sharing the process with others, or keeping it private so critics won’t disturb you; trying new things; finding inspiration in travel, museums, nature; quieting your inner critic; and on they go. We’ve talked about all these things before.

For me, the keys are fairly simple: make to please myself, even if the project is for someone else; and don’t over-plan, but allow for spontaneity and serendipity.

Making for obligations can kill fun, don’t you think? If you’re making because someone else has expectations, you’re working to please them. That can be deeply satisfying, but maybe not fun. And those expectations can kill spontaneity, or the sense of play, too.

Just this morning I happened to read Amanda Jean Nyberg’s latest blog post. She’s famous for the blog Crazy Mom Quilts and the book Sunday Morning Quilts. Her designs are cheery, scrappy, and mostly simple. I don’t follow her blog and it was a fluke that I dropped in. The thing is, it isn’t just her latest post, it is her LAST blog post. She is retiring. Why? Because she’s spent the last 12 years quilting and writing and designing and teaching to make other people happy, to meet obligations. When she announced the decision in December, she said, “I am certainly looking forward to quilting and sewing, but doing it for FUN rather than with obligation.”

See? for FUN rather than with obligation.

Over the years, I’ve come a long way in quilting for fun. In the first part of my quilting life (2003-2013,) I gave away almost everything I made. Though I enjoyed the process, I was creating to please other people. In the middle of 2013 I made the first quilt for myself, and it was a breakthrough for me. You can see in the caption that I even named it “My Medallion Quilt.”

My Medallion Quilt. 2013. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

After that, fewer of my quilts were made for specific people, reducing my sense of obligation there. However, I created a whole new obligation on the blog! I used it specifically as a teaching tool, both for myself and my readers. I’m proud of the work I did, and you can find a lot of the fruits of it under the Medallion Lessons link. Between that and my writing for a book on medallion quilts, a lot of time was spent on serious effort, not lighthearted pleasure.

Well, that book is never going to be published. Its window of opportunity has come and gone. And I’m done creating for the purpose of writing tutorials. If you have questions or need help, please do ask. I’m still happy to answer questions as I can.

I’m also done worrying about what picture to use, or the quality of photos, or the hashtags silliness in Instagram. If people find my stuff, that’s great. If not, I’ll still be making stuff, and at least for now, still sharing it here.

This afternoon a package came. It holds a set of longarm quilting rulers. One of them is perfect to help me finish the quilt I currently have on the frame. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have some fun!

 

 

A Good Way to Start the Year

A good way for me to begin is without obligations or deadlines. While they serve their purpose in motivating me, they also can suck the fun out of things. Forcing things when the mood isn’t right can make them feel like a chore instead of a pleasure.

For example, right now there is a quilt on the frame, and I could work on it. It’s mostly done, but I don’t have great ideas for how to proceed. Since I don’t have a deadline for it, I’ll let it wait until I have a plan. Then it will be more fun.

Instead of quilting, now I am sorting. I’ve never been great with paperwork. When I worked at the bank, often I would just stack up EVERYTHING that was out, and then could sort through it one more time, getting rid of some things, filing others, and actually acting on the ones that needed it. Shockingly enough, using this method (which, granted, would drive some people nuts) rarely resulted in things being done too late.

Most of my paperwork these days is the basic household type (daily dealing with mail — most of that goes in recycle right away!) and a bit of quilt-related things. I still have trouble with the quilt stuff. I LOVE PAPER! It can be so hard to get rid of. Have a stack of unneeded copies, printed on only one side? Yeah, for some reason I think there’s a great use for that somewhere down the road. (There is in our printer, or cut up into notepad-sized pieces and clipped together.) How about the paper labelling on a roll of batting? It’s about 14″ wide and 15 yards long. Yep, I want it!! And in truth, I use it, so it’s all okay.

A couple of weeks ago as I cleaned my studio, I pulled my work trick. I stacked up ALL the paper stuff on my countertop and put it in a pile in the middle of the floor. That way I’d have to see it and step around it every time I was in there. This week I brought it up to actually sort. In the best case scenario, everything in the stack will get recycled, filed, or acted on. (In truth, that won’t really happen, but it will improve!)

Two of the things in the pile are pads of paper. One is tracing paper and the other is graph paper. In the old days, before I used Electric Quilt (EQ7 and now EQ8,) I did all my design work on graph paper. I still do sometimes. The graph paper pad has some of my early designs sketched in. Here is one of the most complete:

It might not look like much, but it’s the design for the first two medallion quilts I ever made. About ten years ago, I made quilts for my oldest two granddaughters with the same design but different colors. The print fabric is a vibrant butterfly print. Here is one of the quilts:

A bed quilt for a granddaughter. 72″ square. The longarm quilter asked whose pattern I used. I didn’t even know what she meant. I didn’t know you could buy patterns. I designed it myself. Made in about 2008 or 2009.

It’s pretty simple, and though I’d do some things differently if I were making it today, overall it’s a solid design.

Now on to the next part of the pile — the dreaded guild notebooks! In truth those might be easier for me, as there is not much emotional attachment to any of the paper here.

~*~*~*~

Before finishing my paper sorting, here are a few stats:

2018 was my fifth full year blogging here. I published 72 posts, about half as many as I did in 2014. Last year, Catbird Quilt Studio had 34,333 visitors and 61,170 views, a 37% increase in views over the prior year, even with a 27% decrease in number of posts.

The top five posts last year for views were:
Economy Block ANY Size! (With Cheat Sheet)
Design Theft or Outright Scam
Update: Facebook-Ad Quilt Scams
How to Set a Block On Point
Round Robin Rules

Only the two on quilt scams were written and published last year!

Here’s a picture with some stats. I actually rarely look at these numbers, so this is kind of interesting to me. (Interesting but not important…)

Total posts since starting this blog, 666. Total words 314,545. That’s a few novels, isn’t it? hmm… 

How are you spending your New Year’s day?

If You’re Not Having Fun…

Groucho Marx said, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong.”

For several years I’ve chosen a “word of the year,” intending to use the word to focus my attention, or at least frame my experiences. In 2018 I chose the word “FUN!” My hope was to add more whimsy, more play into my making.

Did I succeed? Sure, probably. Somewhat, at least! I made a bunch of quilts, some that inspired and delighted me, and others that felt less engaging. I’ve already showed you pix of three for which I enjoyed both process and outcome, and I’ll add in the table runner I finished early this month. Click any photo to open the gallery and see more detail.

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