Friday, July 29, 2011


There are days when I wonder if I will be able to complete the machine sewing on the quilt top before August 4th (we leave for Vermont on the 5th).  Today was one of those days.  Everything seems to take longer than I planned, and for some reason, I never plan for mistakes.  Now isn't that interesting?  Since when have I become someone who doesn't make mistakes?  I plan for all other kinds of contingencies.  Power outages, not enough fabric or thread or needles or the wrong kinds, unexpected visitors, lengthy telephone calls, but not mistakes. 

Remind me next time to head my contingency list with MISTAKES.  Of course, then something else unplanned will arise. 

This is my personal lesson of the day.  No matter what I plan for much of it will not happen, but something I don't plan for will. 

Tomorrow is another day, and I will make progress. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Best Friends and Lucky Charms

   Late last night I was grumbling about the fact that my fabric was too porous to permit me to draw on it as I wished to.  No matter what I tried, I was dissatisfied with the results.  Everything seemed to spread out into the fabric and none of my lines were clear.  The images were blobby masses of color.  Since I couldn't change my fabric choice, I was reluctantly trying to resign myself to tossing out yet another "great" idea when my husband reminded me that Mary Ellen had called and was I going to call her back.

Bingo!  Lights flashing, bells ringing, and Sirens singing.

The mere mention of my best friend's name reminded me a few scraps of fabric she had given a year or more ago.  They were to be used in a North Pole Christmas wall-hanging.  Down to the basement I dashed, rooted around, and triumphantly came upstairs waving three small square of fabric.  The design on the fabrics were precisely what I had been trying to recreate with my pens and paints to no avail. 

That's not the first time Mary Ellen has provided me with a critical piece of a quilt.  Her donations have become my lucky charms.  The green ribbon that was King Crow's collar and reins in "Jack's Wild Ride"?  It came from Mary Ellen (I had nothing in that color that was narrow enough).  The yellow embroidery thread for the French knots and the Turkey work on the arrowhead flowers in "Miss Ruby Take a Walk"?  You've got it.  Mary Ellen again.  This time she is unwittingly providing me with some essential fabric swatches, and I never did call her back (it was too late when I finally emerged from the basement).

Now, that's a best friend and some lucky charms!  Hope she'll still lend me some perle cotton for this project.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Where Do Ideas Come From?

What a crazy day!  A sick cat in the morning (necessitating a visit to the vet - cat's having an adverse reaction to new medication but is okay), work on the PROJECT (it's looming, at least in my brain, hence the capitals), quick trip to the quilt shop (longer because I had to sit and chat with good friend and first quilting teacher, Karen), and then out to dinner (such good food and great conversation at the home of another first quilting teacher, Pat).  As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, my first three quilting teachers were at the dinner.  Karen taught me the Beginning Quilting class that got me started, Pat was my first applique teacher and convinced me it really was for me after all, and Mardi was the one who turned me into a paper-piecing fan.  Add two other gifted quilters and it's no wonder it was such a good time.  That puts the day in perspective for me and makes me realize it wasn't such a loss.  The project (back to lower case again, a good sign) will get finished, and it will probably do better for sitting quietly in my brain rather than under my busy, sometimes frenetic hands. 

Many times I've been asked where my ideas come from, and I usually find myself at a loss to explain it.  People tend to look at me in bafflement after I attempt the explanation.  But the sentence about the project "sitting quietly in my brain" in the previous paragraph explains it best. 

Those of you who have been following the McCall's Quilting Design Star Contest may remember my initial entry, "Jack's Wild Ride".  It was springtime or early summer 2010, and friends and I had been talking about Halloween.  I remember saying, "I have an idea for a Halloween quilt."  No one was more surprised than I was when that came out of my mouth, but I knew there was the germ of an idea in that brain of mine.  Leaving that "germ" alone to percolate in my head wasn't a conscious decision, I just went on about my daily life.  Later in the summer, I decided to draw it and did so.  I knew it wasn't quite right so I went out and bought one of those big, easel sized newsprint pads (the drawing pad I had was only 9" x 11" and how could I even see what was there?).  That's all it took.  Jack sprang forth as if he had always been there and was just waiting for me to provide him, King Crow, Frankie, Bobby, and Sally as well as the town with the correct "canvas".

The inspiration for Miss Ruby Takes a Walk was a bit more mundane.  I like words, and I'm familiar with plants and plant names.  Knowing that there was a plant named "arrowhead" and seeing the plant in the block set me searching for a possible "shoofly" plant.  Once I found it, I was set.  Originally I thought I'd use yellow as my popping contrast color but found it too Easter-eggish and too cloying for my needs.  That turned me to the red-orange in the quilt.  So what was I going to do with red-orange in the last arrowhead block, the one with the applique flowers?  I remembered taking a walk with the science teacher on my middle school team and seeing a black newt with yellow spots.  Again the magic happened, and Miss Ruby just walked in.

When I can, I will tell you about the origins for the current Challenge.  This much I can say.  A chance sentence led to my response to the task we were given.

For me, it seems that words and/or chance experiences coalesce in my mind and, given time, form images that rise when needed.  So when asked where I get my ideas, I say, "It was just in my head."  Go figure. 

How do your creative ideas come to you?  Leave me a comment about your experiences.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping Things Simple

Yesterday I decided to take a day off and didn't add anything to my blog.  But I have continued to spend a good portion of every day working on my contest quilt top.  Today I should be able to finish one of the major sections and then start working on some of the very small elements.  One of the things I already knew about myself as a designer has become more evident as this contest goes on.  I tend to get carried away and over-design.  By that I mean that I include far too much detail.  The designers I admire have at least three attributes in common:  terrific use of color, simplicity of design, and an understanding of graphic design.  Look at the work of Janet Fogg and Jane Sassaman, and you'll see what I mean.  Of these three elements, color is my strongest, simplicity my weakest, and graphic design my middle ground.

In my response to this current Challenge, with each version I have drawn I have had to tell myself over and over to simplify, that for me the "devil is in the details".  Keeping the fact that I am supposed to be designing for others, not just for myself, I try to imagine what problems another quilter would have if she or he were to make one of my patterns.  Even if I rate my pattern "Expert", it should be fun to do.  Working with tiny pieces should not be essential for the overall appearance of the finished piece nor is it my idea of fun.  I am hoping that today's work will show that I have succeeded in making this design do-able.

Having said all that, I am reminded of Baltimore Album quilts which are noted for their incredibly complex designs that are full of the tiniest pieces imaginable.  Oh well, here's another truth.  For my current project, I have given myself 2 weeks and 3 days to finish the machine sewing and another week for any hand-work.  I do believe Baltimore Album quilts take a lot longer!

I'm off to work on my project - both large and small parts.  In another day or two I'll be able to tell you if I was able to keep it simple! 

I hope your day is uncomplicated.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Flowers, Friends, and Fabric

July Bouquet
 Aren't daylilies wonderful?  The fact that individual flowers last only a day doesn't bother me when the colors or so vivid and they usually have many buds.  But if you do as I did and get pollen all over your shirt when you are gathering these beauties, just be sure to treat the stain right away!  I'm still working on a tablecloth which I allowed to sit overnight untreated.  The price one pays for beauty in one's home!

Yesterday we welcomed Len and Betty, friends from Virginia, as they made a quick stop on their trip from Lynchburg to the Adirondacks.  David and Len worked together at the Education Department and David was their best man (I missed their wedding because there was one the same day in my family).  Their visit was all too brief, but it really was good to see them again.  A visit such as this one brings back a legion of memories, and the reconnection after such a long time is so welcome.  Christmas cards really aren't enough, but that tenuous thread keeps us together during all those years we are busy building careers and nurturing young families.  It seems that once one retires, many connections made in the first flush of adulthood can be picked up again.  See, there are many advantages to arriving at this time of life!

Earlier in the day yesterday, I was able to cut out and sew parts of the quilt top and lay them out on the design draft.  Now, the draft is in black and white (I didn't bother to use color this time) and putting the colored shapes I sewed on top makes the design come alive.  When I create a design, I can see it in color in my mind's eye, but it still surprises me when I see the reality and find that yes, it works.  I must admit it doesn't always happen; sometimes colors that are technically all right together (think color theory) don't convey the feeling I'm aiming for.  Other times, I simply have made a mistake in value (how light or dark a color is), or the pattern on a fabric is too busy (distracting), or I didn't take into account a neighboring piece of fabric.  With each quilt, the problems I encounter are different, but I always learn something with every mistake.  I just wish I could remember all those lessons!   

Today I have to lay out the background and figure out how to use the fabric to its best advantage.  It will have to be pieced because what I have isn't wide enough for the size of my design.  Why didn't I make the design smaller?  Quilt blocks are generally sewn in standard sizes.  Think of all those little pieces in a single block and then imagine the math necessary to change a 6" block (one of the standard sizes) into a 7" block (non-standard), then try to imagine me doing that math.  Makes your head hurt, doesn't it?  Anyway, my design size was chosen to accommodate the traditional blocks I want to use with it.  So the background will simply have to be pieced. 

Wish me luck and good luck with whatever you are doing today, too!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Finnish Blog

Interesting mistake I made yesterday in directing people to Quilt Tales instead of my blog.  Interesting in a positive way as, like my brother Davis, I, too enjoyed her blog very much - especially all the photos.  A friend told me she thought the Finnish blog was mine when she saw the photo of the hexagons in among the geraniums (I am working on hand-sewing hexagons ala Grandmother's Flower Garden).  Wasn't that both a clever and a very pretty photograph?  I frequently wonder if one can say that a photo is a play on words, but in this case, it truly is.

I had to scan through several entries before I discovered "SB" meant Sylvia's Bridal Quilt from Jennifer Chiaverini's books.  Looking at those blocks reminded me of the 120+ blocks I made from Farmer's Wife (check Google's Images using Farmer's Wife to see some of the blocks) .  Fortunately, I'm so focused on the design contest that I can't get on with the 20+ more blocks I need to make in order to have a finished quilt top.  "Fortunately" because I'm just not ready to go back to it, and the contest keeps me from feeling guilty.  Those of you who have also struggled with the blocks from that book may understand what I mean.

By the way, when I started this blog yesterday, I wanted to use the name I mistakenly sent out, but when I discovered it was taken, I merely adapted it a bit for my own use.  Adaptation works but it doesn't always make one's heart sing.
Yesterday, I started sewing some pieces for the contest quilt top.  I had what I thought was a finished design, but as so often happens with me, I wasn't satisfied with with the overall designs although I liked the separate elements.  That meant tweaking it a bit. That necessitated eliminating one of the elements - my favorite part as a matter of fact.  It's very hard to let go of something you're crazy about if it just doesn't work (see my comment above about adaptation), but . . .  It has to be done.  Something I learned when teaching writing and doing my own writing is that although you may have to cut something for the sake of the whole piece, that "something" isn't a dead loss.  It may have to wait for a long time in your Ideas file, but eventually you might find the perfect place for it in another piece.  You may even wind up liking it more in the new piece than in the original.  I hope that is what will happen with yesterday's deletion. 

Wishing you all a happy and successful day! 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 1 of Quilting Tales Blog

In order to make my life easier when it comes time to vote in the quilt contest, I've decided to start my own blog.  Since I kept a journal of the process of designing a quilt top to meet the first Challenge, I think I will use this space to chronicle my journey in the contest.  However, first I will have to ask permission to do so.  Possibly, if I promise to keep the actual challenge a secret, I will be allowed to do so.  If not, well then I will entertain myself by discussing other things going on: family excursions, books read, weeds pulled, friends visited. 

Let me know what you think and/or what you'd like to read about by leaving a comment; you know I love hearing from all of you!