Author Archives: Melanie McNeil

About Melanie McNeil

Quilter, Designer, Teacher, Writer

Moving Toward the End of the Year

I was enjoying writing and posting more, and then got side-tracked for several days with a couple of things. Back now, with some unrelated thoughts.

  1. Do any of you other WordPress users look at your spam folder regularly? What kind of spam comments do you get? Most of mine are links (presumably — I’ve never checked them!) for lesbian porn. Why? Why any porn?
  2. Do you ever feel like no good deed goes unpunished? That’s not really fair, as I think I did a few good deeds over the last week and mostly they went great. Jim and I found a wallet and were able to return it to the owner; a young woman with a toddler in full-meltdown mode needed a kind word and an arm around her shoulder; I pulled together an ad hoc presentation on quilts and quilting for an adult English learners class, and they seemed to enjoy it, as did I. In truth, I need to get over my momentary annoyance and remember, “this is just something I don’t need to worry about.” That thinking helps me a lot, in a wide variety of circumstances!
  3. My guild had our last meeting of the calendar year last Monday, and it was fun. We had a special Christmas show & tell, so people could bring couch throws or tree skirts or baby quilts or whatever quilted holiday objects they want. I shared one, which I’ll tell you more about below. We also had cookies. I ate too many and remembered why I don’t eat a lot of sweets. ugh…
  4. I’m not making Christmas presents this year, unlike some others. No pillowcases, no throw quilts, no table runners, no placemats, no stockings. No. (Now I just need to keep reminding myself of that. I’m NOT making Christmas presents this year. I’m not making Christmas presents this year. I’m not…)
  5. My studio is a Mess. Yes, “mess” with a capital M. So many things out that need to be put away. So many pieces of paper, a lot of it quilt guild stuff, but a lot of it my own. Fabrics that need to be restashed, books that need to be reshelved… Maybe my next task needs to be cleaning, since I’m not making Christmas presents this year.
  6. Speaking of stash, I recently saw a post on the use of the word “stash.” I can’t find the post again or I’d link it. Anyway, the writer seemed to object to the word, because of the connotation that a stash is something to be hidden or to be ashamed of, like your stash of drugs. I don’t know about that. I have a stash of migraine drugs and I’m not ashamed to admit it! While i do think words are important, and certainly I have no shame about my fabric “collection,” (a word she seemed to prefer,) I think “stash” in terms of quilting is just part of quilting jargon and not something to get twisted about. Also, I DO NOT “collect” fabric. It is a raw material in my process, not something to display as a pretty thing on my shelves, like my rabbits. What do you think of the word “stash?”
  7. I’ve been thinking about my Word of the Year and will share about how that went in a later post.

This morning I finished a quilt, which I shared at my guild meeting on Monday. It’s a two-sided Christmas table runner.

Christmas Houses. 47.5″ x 21″. Modified pattern of Amish Houses by Monique (Dillard) Jacobs of Open Gate Quilts. Free pattern for the full lap-throw size. https://www.opengatequilts.com/pdf-patterns/free-amish-homes-pattern

I made an adaptation of Monique Jacobs’ Amish Houses quilt. Free pattern available at this link. She is a talented designer and my guild is hosting her in June. She’ll be teaching the pattern in a workshop. My version provides a sample for my guild-mates, and also shows that you can make this pattern in beautiful Amish-style solids, or in fabrics of your choice. The pattern instructions are clear and it went together beautifully.

Because it’s a table runner, when I quilted it I figured the backing fabric didn’t matter. I pulled a piece from my stash (YES, my stash, not collection!) that hasn’t been very useful to me. It is white with small, pale-pink roses on it. hmm. Well, it worked fine as a backing but frankly looked terrible. Plain muslin would have been better, but I didn’t have any pieces big enough. I decided to make a false back to cover the pink flowers. And since I rarely do things the simple way, I appliquéd big, simple snowflakes on it.

The snowflakes are just 60° diamonds that I cut out three at a time from white Kona Snow. I used a piece of freezer paper as the template for them, starting with the largest ones and then trimming the freezer paper smaller for the other two. I spritzed the white pieces with basting spray and arranged them, then appliquéd with a narrow zigzag. This morning I finished the binding, securing the false back to the rest of it.

Christmas Houses back. 47.5″ x 21″. My design.

Currently my dining room table is covered with presents that need to be wrapped and mailed. Once it is visible again, this runner will decorate it. Because it isn’t very specifically Christmasy, it will work well until Spring.

If you made it to the end of this long post, thanks so much for reading! I hope your December is going well. It certainly is going fast!

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Peru | Arts & Crafts

Earlier I posted about ancient textiles and ceramics in Peru. Here is more about today’s working artists and artisans, including our stop in a textiles workshop.

Our View From Iowa

by Melanie and Jim

Roofs of many buildings in Peru feature two terra cotta bulls, often accompanied by a Christian cross. The bulls invite good fortune and protection to the home.

We were fortunate to tour five significant ruins sites during our ten days in Peru, and there were dozens of other sites dotting the landscape as we traveled. Our itinerary also offered a variety of experiences, like visits to a shaman, a beer bar, museums, and a village elementary school.

Peru has a long and proud cultural heritage. We had the privilege of seeing two artisans shops to learn some of the process of bringing this heritage to life.

Seminario Ceramics Workshop

On a neighborhood sidestreet in Urubamba is the workshop and gallery of Pablo Seminario and Marilú Behar. The studio is the center of creation of both decorative goods and original art that draws on…

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Growing Pains? Not If You Don’t Grow

How has your style changed over the time you’ve been quilting? 

Today I visited a holiday pop-up market and saw the work of a local quilter. For as long as I’ve been aware of her as a quilter (and she has some “presence” locally,) most of her work has looked the same. It’s a very particular style, and I don’t notice any change or evolution in it over at least several years. Maybe she loves what she does; maybe she has found her “voice,” and isn’t interested in changing it.

Other quilters change their style, and sometimes they way they think about their process. A blog post written by my friend Audrey touches on that. Some might describe her style as “primitive” or “folk art,” but I would say Audrey has a joyful style that is unique to her.

Audrey is clear about the effort she’s undertaken to transition her style over the years, to one that feels more authentically her own. Quilts she was pleased to make fairly recently are not those that light her up anymore. This post on Growing Pains from nearly two years ago describes her sense of dissatisfaction: “honestly, some of my quilts seemed to be missing just a little something beyond my grasp or understanding. This happened very gradually … But then I realized that I was growing increasingly frustrated with some of my earlier quilting choices, even projects ‘in-the-works’. It has increasingly seemed to me that I was betwixt and between.”

That’s how I feel right now, “betwixt and between.” I think of my quilting so far in three discrete stages. First was learning basic technical skills of piecing and focusing my efforts on block quilts. Second was learning more about design and focusing my efforts on medallion quilts.

And third? I’m in the doorway to the third stage. My year largely has been about learning techniques to improve at telling stories, to make quilts that are more fully expressive of me.

As it turns out, I finished a bunch of quilts this year, but mostly they aren’t “third stage” projects.

But there are some I’m especially proud of, things that I couldn’t have achieved before. Unless I keep reaching and trying new things, how will I ever experience that feeling? Here is one, called Fierce Little Bear. I made it for my niece as a way to express my love of her and understanding of her.

Fierce Little Bear. 67″ x 67″. Finished January 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The fabric and layout begin the story, but the quilting finishes it. The quilt reads from left to right as a whole picture framed by trees on either side, canopied in leaves and clouds. At the base is a field of flowers. Butterflies float next to the tree trunks. An owl hides in the tree on the left, while a squirrel is on the lower right. And a fish swims in an aqua pool. Click on any one to open the gallery and see some of the detail.

Compare it to a quilt I made in 2011. The photo is poor, but you can get the idea. It’s pretty and well-made. I still love stars and hourglasses. But it is part of my first stage.

I can’t make the same quilts year after year and feel satisfied. Growth is difficult. It requires effort and sometimes discomfort. I’ll take the discomfort, though, in exchange for a more rewarding experience.

Where Do You Keep All Your Quilts?

If you’re a quilter like me, and haven’t managed to sell or give away all the quilts you’ve made, there’s a stockpile somewhere in your home. Where do you keep your quilts?

There are quilts on my walls and my floors,
On beds and tucked into drawers.
Still I will make them
Though my offspring won’t take them.
They already have quilts galore!

About a month ago I asked my children if anyone wanted a Christmas quilt, not this year, but next year. Crickets. No one even answered. Well, okay, I guess the answer is “no.” Each of the grandchildren has at least two quilts, and for various reasons, some have more than that. The grown-ups apparently have as many as they want, too, including some table runners and other decorative small items. Christmas stockings? Those are all made, at least until the new baby is born next year.

So I store quilts. I have a bunch on walls, some favorites of Jim’s and mine. Most of the rest are laid flat on a bed downstairs. Of course, when someone comes to stay the night, the quilts all get folded up and moved! It’s quite the process and feels like moving so many dead bodies from one room to another.

There is one quilt I’m about to send off to a long-time friend. Long-time, 25 years since we met, and though we haven’t lived in the same community for most of that time, we’ve stayed in touch.

He grew up in New Mexico, and after time in both Iowa and North Carolina, he and his wife recently moved back to New Mexico. I made this quilt in 2014, prior to visiting the state for the first time. It’s called “Southwestern Sun.” It’s about 60″ square.

With bars, flying geese, and hourglasses, the construction was very simple. Even the center block is just a fancy nine-patch. The apparent complexity is from the use of color and value. For example, alternating light orange and dark rusty orange in the final border gives a sense of three-dimensionality. The geese in multiple directions provide a sense of movement.

In some of my medallions all the corners are different and only relate to their respective borders. In this one they are patterned, drawing the eye outward with the repetition, alternating plain rust squares and two other, more complex blocks. Repeating with alternating designs creates a rhythm.

Another thing to note is the use of multiple fabrics of the same colors. There are several of each light orange, rusty orange, dark green, lighter green, and blue. If you use at least two of any color, you have invited another and might as well use it. When you do, you make the quilt more interesting, because there is more to look at. All of the fabrics except the back were from my stash.

At the time I felt like the colors were very strong. Since then my palette has become more saturated, so this doesn’t seem unusual to me any more.

Once this is gone, I’ll still have plenty of quilts to enjoy. At this time of year we bring Jim’s quilt up to use on the couch. Tiny whole-cloth lapquilts, made while practicing machine-quilting, are ready at our kitchen table to keep us warm there. Quilted placemats take their turns on the table.

Where do you keep your quilts? Do you use them? Do you give them away or sell them? Tell us in comments. 

 

 

Favorite New Tool? Libib!

I don’t buy new gadgets or tools very often. I have a pretty basic stock of rulers, the same domestic sewing machine for several years, and a supply of pens, pencils and markers that wouldn’t draw much envy. I did upgrade my longarm quilting machine this year, which is exciting for me, since I do my own quilting and often make larger quilts.

And glue, glorious glue! Elmer’s basic white school glue, glue sticks, basting spray, WonderUnder. They’re all ways to stick something to something else. But I’d argue that they are supplies rather than tools. And really, they aren’t new to me, even though I’ve used more glue this year than ever before.

My favorite new tool — and perhaps simply from the glow of recent discovery — is Libib! Libib is a library management tool, available for free for personal use, and for a fee for larger needs. According to the home page: “Our library management service caters to both home and small organizational libraries. Our online software lets you create multiple libraries, catalog books, movies, music, and video games, lets you create tags, leave notes, import/export, and much more. We offer two different subscription options to best fit your needs. Libib is the best system for cataloging your media available online.” (bolding emphasis mine)

You can download an app to either Android or Apple phone, and use the phone to scan your books’ ISBN bar codes. If the book doesn’t have a code, info can be entered manually. The phone-captured data is stored in the cloud, and you can access it on your computer, as well.

My whole quilt library takes up 47 linear inches, and includes about 100 books. What is so cool about this for me, a person with a relatively small library? It took less than half an hour to scan all my quilting books. Okay, there were a few that don’t have an ISBN bar code, and I’ll have to enter them manually. All the rest, done fast and slick! Try that with almost any other listing method, and it certainly would take longer and not include as much information.

You can sort alphabetically by title or author, by date published or added to your library, or by rating of library users. I’m the only user and I haven’t rated them, so that one doesn’t help me. Here’s a look at my computer-based window to my library, with a list view by date published. You can see the ⇑ to the right of the sorting menu. That sorts in reverse chronological order. Also there is a horizontal menu for decade to display. This shows ALL:

Most of my books are older. Only 22 were published in the last 10 years.

Here’s a look at a few of the books by authors whose last name starts with “B.” This is in the grid view.

And if I want more specific info about a specific book, I can get that, too. Here is a screen showing Elizabeth Barton’s Visual Guide to Working in a Series. On the right margin of the screen shot, there are a few icons that allow editing, adding tags, notes, a price, or deleting the entry.

Why delete? As I re-shelved my library, I identified a few books I won’t need to keep, things I’ve outgrown. I can delete them once they have gone away.

Okay, so why? What difference does it make if I have an accurate list of my holdings? Maybe not a lot. But if I needed to make an insurance claim, this would allow me to provide a list to the insurer. You can’t claim it if you can’t name it. I can access the list on the phone or the computer. If I’m at the public library’s used book sale, or at a book store, and wonder if I already own a book, I can check my phone. Once I have my books “tagged” with some identifiers, I can look up all my books on story quilting, for example. I’m an orderly person. I like lists. This is way cool.

Another very cool thing about this is my guild library needs to be re-inventoried. It’s supposed to be inventoried every year, but due to technical issues (committee members not knowing how to use Excel,) it hasn’t been done for 2 or 3 years. There are about 300 items in the guild library. If it takes a half hour per 100, this app will make quick work of the listing. Your guild library could use it, too.

How do you keep track of your household or quilting books? Do you list them? Share in comments.