Hands and Hearts — A Quilt From the Whole Family

Do you remember this piece? I made it in April as a “sketch,” just something to try forming shapes and colors and lines into a picture in appliqué. It’s a representation of a Claddagh ring. The traditional Irish symbol represents love (heart,) loyalty (crown,) and friendship (hands.)

The pretty heart in the middle was printed like that from fabric I bought eleven years ago. I drew the hands and crown from the basic Claddagh ring symbol. And then I encircled it with a ring of batik. It is all on a black Kona cotton background.

At the time I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, or if I would do anything more. I considered the possibility of creating a small wedding gift for Son and his fiancée. But I didn’t have a plan.

 

Then about a month before the wedding, I started hankering to make that gift. I thought it would be meaningful to represent the closest family members in a personal way. Including Jim and me, our daughters’ families, and the bride’s parents and sibs’ families, there are 20 of us. Because there were already hands in it, I wanted to use a handprint from each. That required swift help from the bride’s family, as well as from our daughter who lives far away.

I asked for a photo of each family member’s hand, on a piece of white copy paper with all the edges showing. That would allow me to standardize the sizes to scale them as needed. Either hand, left or right, would do just fine. Here is my hand.

I cropped the images to standardize size around the paper, and Jim cleaned them all up to create a good outline for each, and to remove the wrists. (OW!)

He and I agreed on a size as compared to the hands in the Claddagh ring, and as they would appear on my monitor, and we re-scaled them all to that. I flipped each image and then traced each hand as it appeared on my monitor (basically as a light box) onto a separate piece of fusible web.

I’d already decided to use a different fabric for each of the family units (Jim and me, bride’s parents, older daughter and family, etc.) There were six different families, and six different fabrics used for the hands.

Besides manipulating the hand images, there also was the matter of the Claddagh ring. First, the pretty pink heart in the center somehow picked up a minor stain. Second, it was appliquéd on a relatively small piece of fabric. I wasn’t sure how big the quilt would be, but knew I needed more than the 15″ or so that the ring was on. Also, I thought the green batik ring by itself was a little stark, and I wanted to add leaves around it to create a wreath. Ultimately, I redid the Claddagh ring completely on a new background, large enough to contain whatever else came next.

I zigzagged the ring with leaves and the other components of the Claddagh symbol down to the background before dealing with the 20 hands. Then I began arranging the hands. Jim had already done a mock-up in Photoshop for me, so I had a pretty good plan to use. I put the parents’ and siblings’ hands in the first ring around the Claddagh, and then organized the sibs’ partners and children in the outer ring.

Here are a few pictures of the process as it developed. One of the families has seven members, so distributing those hands in a balanced way led many of the other decisions. Also, the tiny hands were paired with larger ones. Even when all the hands were in place, there were gaps that looked awkward. I filled them with more hearts cut from the same fabric as the center heart. Finally, I drew Celtic knots to add to the corners. Click on any picture to open the gallery. 

I knew that I wouldn’t stitch all the hands down with the domestic machine, as I was afraid that manipulating the fabric so much would loosen the adhesive and make the whole piece look worn and tired. Instead, I did raw-edge appliqué around the hands and across the palms when I quilted.

Besides the appliqué-quilting on the hands, I also did a small free-hand design within the black background, and once I got it off the frame, I went back to the domestic machine to zigzag the Celtic knots into submission.

Rather than applying a basic double-fold binding, I faced it with black to give the edge a smoother finish. When it was all done, I used a black Pigma pen on the muslin backing to write the names on each of the hands, and complete the labeling with the name of the quilt, the bride and groom, and the wedding date. Again, click either photo to open the gallery and see larger. 

I love that the quilt comes from the contribution of all the family members, and that Jim worked so closely with me on its design. The style is unique, maybe even quirky, certainly bordering on folk art. It’s also very personal, just as intended.

***

My running list of finishes for the year:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds? (landscape tree quilt)
8. ¡Fiesta!
9. Hands and Hearts
10. Shirt

 

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Design Theft or Outright Scam

Some of you are aware of the quilting-and-copyright research project called Just Wanna Quilt. I wrote a little about it here.

Besides the website with interview podcasts (including mine!), there is also a Facebook group linked to the research. The lead researcher, Elizabeth Townsend Gard, is using the group as a way to learn more about the culture of quilting. You can join, too!

Because the research focuses on intellectual property, Facebook group members post interesting items on the topic. Recently there was a post about a company that, apparently, steals quilt designs and prints them on low-quality blanket material. Or perhaps, what they’re doing is using the designs to collect orders, with credit card information, and then not delivering on the order. Whether it is phishing or scamming or stealing designs, it’s kind of horrifying that they are making money on the backs of talented designers and quilters.

Here are three of the companies that are involved with this. I’m not going to add active links, but you can check for yourself if you’re interested. Company names include
ustrendygear.com
greatbuyaz.com
usgearviral.com

A friend tagged me with a link to a picture of a great “quilt blanket” offered by one of these companies. The price of the supposed blanket was $49.95. It was NOT a quilt. And again, without trying to make a purchase, who knows if there really is a product, or if it is a phishing scam?

I looked up the quilt design the friend showed me. It was an elaborately appliquéd quilt, pattern by McKenna Ryan. You can find the pattern, as listed for sale by Ryan’s own site, here. The image below is a linked image from Pine Needles, Ryan’s store. As you can see, this is NOT a cheap blanket. It’s not a $50 item. The actual value would be in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, based on all the time required to replicate it in appliqué.

McKenna Ryan’s pattern And On That Farm, https://www.pineneedles.com/And-On-That-Farm-s/1920.htm

Here is the product description from the scammer company page (NOT McKenna Ryan’s company.)

And here is a screen shot of the “returns policy” for the scammer company.

I clicked through the link my friend gave me, and on that original post, I said it was McKenna Ryan’s design, and the company appeared to have stolen the design to print it on cheap blanket fabric. Soon after, whoever originally posted it removed the link.

Have you seen this type of Facebook post? You’re welcome to share my post with friends or your online quilting groups, if you’d like to warn them of the scams.

Where to Find Inspiration

Being creative is often a matter of making connections or links between seemingly unconnected ideas or things. Where do you find inspiration for connective creativity?

For me, travel always primes the pump. We recently visited the Pacific Northwest. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen a few of the photos I took while there. The mountains, the rose and dahlia gardens, the Columbia River gorge vistas, all inspire me. What took my fancy most, from a quilting perspective, were two figures I captured at the Portland Art Museum. They are shamans from ancient China. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the tag, so I don’t have more information than that.

It’s easy for me to imagine these beautiful cat-like faces portrayed in quilts. Even their robes are suggestive of patchwork.

Generally, though, I don’t need to travel as far to find interesting ideas. Recently Jim and I were in a hardware store. I wandered the aisles as he looked at eye-hooks and carabiner clips. In the ropes-and-lines aisle, I found something called “mason line.” Certainly I’m familiar with the Mason-Dixon line! But this was new to me. Mason line (or mason’s twine) is a nylon braided twine used in masonry, brick-work, and concrete applications. It comes in amazing colors, like fluorescent green, bright orange, and hot pink. They’re about the weight of a hefty perle cotton thread. I haven’t done any couching, but I could imagine using mason line as a couching or decorative thread on … something.

Nature is always high on the list for sources of inspiration. It has all the components artists love: color, value, shape, texture, line, as well as balance, proportion, movement… Besides nature, and of course current day artists and quilters, where do you find inspiration? What leads you to those creative leaps that feel completely new? Let’s make a list.

* current events
* hardware stores
* craft stores
* art museums
* gardens
* woven placemats from Target
* books about … what?
* gift shops
* patriotic themes
* faith or religion
* family members or events
* celebrations
*
*
*

What can you add to the list? What quilting or art have you done with unusual sources of inspiration? Tell us about it in comments.

time, timing, chance, and preparation

Chance favors the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur

Jim and I have been talking about how a moment in time can change the course of one’s life. A single decision, even if it doesn’t seem momentous when made, can alter the path taken. But often that single decision is preceded by a long set of circumstances. Often that moment is not in isolation.

On May 18, 1980, an earthquake triggered the collapse of the north face of Mount St. Helens, in Washington state. Along with the avalanche, the volcano exploded with magma and poisonous gas. Fifty-seven people died; homes, bridges, and highways were destroyed. In a moment, life changed irretrievably. But that moment was hundreds of millions of years in the making. And though the general public did not receive enough warning to keep hikers off the mountain, residents began preparing to evacuate weeks ahead.

At Mount St. Helens recently. You can see the north slopes of the volcano behind us, still mostly bare of growth, 38 years after the blast.

A few weeks after the volcano erupted, Jim and I met in a university cafeteria. Far from inevitable, our meeting can be traced to a specific decision I made on a specific day two years before. Meeting Jim changed my life forever, as did the accumulation of choices I made leading to that day.

Similarly, when our son was in college, a chance encounter with the campus AFROTC commander led to his joining the Air Force, and ultimately to meeting his new bride. But neither of these “moments in time” were only a matter of chance. For our son, his decisions were bolstered by a lifelong interest in flying, as well as opportunities to investigate the options.

Long ago, a university student accused me of putting her on academic probation, based on the “D” she earned in my class. I reminded her that a single grade did not do that, and her grades were her responsibility. While the change in status may have happened at a moment in time, there was plenty of tectonic shift leading to that eruption!

Examples like these are easy, aren’t they? Some catalyst flips a switch, but the conditions for change were already in place. I’ll bet you can come up with some from your own life.

In our creative lives, some of us find our niche and continue to create similar work. Others can point to a change in circumstance, an event, or a decision, that leads to metamorphosis. Henri Matisse suffered from abdominal cancer late in his life, leading to the paper cutouts for which some of us know him best. The cancer was the catalyst, but the collage art he made was only possible because of his prior work. “Only what I created after the illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated,” Matisse said of his later work.

“The Horse, the Rider, and the Clown 1943-4.” Maquette for plate V of the illustrated book “Jazz.” Art by Henri Matisse/Image by Centre Pompidou

In my quilting experience, there was a moment five years ago when I decided to focus on medallion quilts. I’d made medallions before then, but I’ve made scores of them since then. Each one teaches me something new. And now I’m shifting in a direction I’ve long wanted to take, towards quilts that tell a story. The shift intensified when my friend Janet asked me to make her a Green Man quilt, a project that includes story as well as extensive appliqué.

The quilts of Mary Lou Weidman, Roberta Horton, and Faith Ringgold — storytellers I’ve long admired — inspire me, but they will not define me. My quilts cannot be like theirs; they can only be mine. The expertise in medallion quilts is not for naught. It is part of me, of my preparation.

Two of my quilts you may have seen, which I consider story quilts, are below.

20150620_105354

I Found the Housework Fairy But She’s Not Coming Back. 35″ square. Finished June 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62" x 68". Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Garden Party. 62″ x 68″. Center panel by Julie Paschkis for In the Beginning Fabrics. Finished March 2015. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

I love both of these quilts, but I see them as antecedents, as preparation for what is to come. And what is to come, today I can’t fully imagine, anymore than I could imagine, 38 years ago, what my life would be like now.

Time, timing, chance, and preparation. Chance events, decisions, or circumstances can change our lives, our work, and our relationships. Everything we do helps prepare us for everything ahead.

What “moment in time” stories do you have? Has your artistic work changed because of a single event, class, or inspiration? Share in comments below. 

¡Fiesta!

This has been an oddly low-stress year, from the standpoint of deadlines. Other than Georgia’s graduation quilt, all my finishes have been on my own timeline. Even so, I’ve been pretty productive and have been learning and practicing new skills.

I have a lot of experiments and works in process, too, but here’s where we are so far with finishes for the year:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds? (landscape tree quilt)
8. ¡Fiesta!
9. Hands and Hearts
10. Shirt (YES! I made a shirt! See below for a tiny bit more info.)

Today I’m going to show you ¡Fiesta! It’s a quilt given to a friend who retired recently. And yes, that is Spanish punctuation with the inverted exclamation mark at the beginning of the word.

¡Fiesta! 62″ x 62″. Finished June 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush

I started this quilt after visiting my sister Cathie at the end of March. Cathie was preparing for a gallery exhibit of her quilts, and in an extraordinary burst of energy and creativity, she made several smaller pieces in a few weeks. One captured my interest from its very simplicity. She had a pieced center, set on point and surrounded by a piano key border. That structure was set on point again.

Inspired, I chose an orphan block made in a workshop last year.  I liked the block, but not enough to make several more for a block quilt. I didn’t put it on point as Cathie arranged her center block, because I didn’t like the strong “cross” or “plus” impression it makes that way. I framed it with a line of red, and then strong corners to give an on-point look. Next came the same piano key border idea. The piano key patches are from my scrap drawer.

Since I was designing as I went, the next task was to choose something from my stash to create corners. To offset the relatively dark values in the piano keys, I chose a light/medium gold print. It includes red and white in the floral design, tying back to the colors already used. To return the center to an “X” arrangement instead of “+” I turned it a second time with the green.

But wowee, that’s a lotta green! And I didn’t want it to look like a baseball field. I’ve been experimenting with appliqué this year to ramp up my skills. This was the perfect occasion to add appliqué.

I tried different stitch styles and zigzag widths, as well as various types of thread, and methods for fusing. Though far from expertly done, it adds a little whimsy and breaks up those large fields of green.

The narrow outer border contributes more fun and repeats the striping provided by the piano keys. And as always, the binding, in red with musical instruments on it, gives the final border touch.

I quilted it with a light celery green. Actually, that was where the only tough going came on this project. I actually started quilting it with red. I got through one pass and knew I hated it. It was too strong, showed up too much. UGH. After removing the quilt from the frame, I “skinned” it, took a blade (Exacto style) and pulled the backing fabric away from the batting, and cut the threads. Though it was still a slow process, it was so much faster and easier than using a seam ripper to slice one thread at a time. After that was done and we got back from our Maryland jaunt, I put the parts back on the frame and started again. It was well worth the effort.

The quilt was a gift for Lisa, a friend Jim and I met when traveling to Cuba in 2015. ¡Fiesta! is a great name for it for three reasons. First, the feel is fun and festive, nothing very serious about it. Second, the strong, clear colors remind me of Fiestaware dishes. And third, being with Lisa is always like being at a party. She is just fun to be with. When Jim and I gave her the quilt, she told us she didn’t have any other quilts except a vintage, family one, so this is extra special for her. 🙂

***

Number 10 on the list above is a shirt. I’ll show you more after I have a photo. For now I’ll tell you, making clothing is not my thing. However, I had a purchased shirt I loved, and last year I used it as the model to make a similar top. That inspiration shirt is made of rayon, and recently it went through the wash and dryer. You may know, rayon feels luxurious, but it can shrink if machine dried. 😦 It’s all okay — I’ve worn it so much it was looking a bit shabby anyway. So I used the home-made shirt as a model for a new one. The new one has a V-neck (with facing!) and French seams. Go ahead, ask me how many times I’ve used French seams before. Yeah. NEVER. And it was splendid. I LOVE this new shirt, and it fits perfectly. And it is prewashed quilting cotton, not rayon, so should hold up to the occasional tumble through the dryer.