Monday, August 29, 2011

Good Night, Irene!

Some of you may have heard of a very influential singing group that started in the late 40's with Ronnie Gilbert, Woody Hayes, Fred Hellerman, and Pete Seeger.  They, the Weavers, were among the first of the "new" folk music groups, leaned slightly to the left (which caused them trouble), were pro-unions (not a popular thing at the time), and all for protest (more trouble).  Their signature song became, "Good Night, Irene".  An appropriate tune, don't you think?

As David and I picked up branches and raked the yard today, I was well aware of how lucky we were.  One street over a silver maple (size XL) had toppled over onto a neighbor's car.  It didn't fall on the house nor was there anyone in the car, but it reminded all of us who went for a look of how lucky we are.  Being without power for 20 hours (8 of which I slept through) was a blip on the screen compared to what many of our countrymen and women experienced and are still experiencing.

Even though I'm grateful things weren't as bad as they could have been, you should also know that I'm determined to buy a generator. I can remember all too well being without electricity for three days the year of the October snow storm!  Our daughter was 7.  It wasn't fun after the first day.  This one may not have been bad for us, but . . .  

I do hope you all were well prepared and rode out the storm safely with little to no personal or property damage to you or yours.  Let's all remember to lend a hand whenever we can to those less fortunate than we are. 

Meanwhile, join me in singing:  Goodnight, Irene!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Of Gardens and Quilts

Emily Dickenson is sometimes called America's greatest poet; a statement with which I agree most of the time.  Her poems aren't easy even though they may appear so, and too often teachers introduce poetry to youngsters by giving them Emily Dickenson.  In itself that's not a bad thing, but I wish they'd explain to children that as they grow older, they will discover more beneath the surface of her poems (true of all good literature).  Anyway, poetry aside, you may know that Emily Dickenson in her later years rarely left her home and was partial to white clothing.  With that in mind, I named the garden we planted in the front of our home our Emily Dickenson garden as it has only white flowers.  The Immortality iris in my photo was taken in the spring of this year, and I think you can see why I adore white flowers.  Just look at the light!  Imagine how this flower dances in one's vision even in the twilight.

Carolina Lily block, Day 1
Wednesday evening I went to the Flying Geese (our local quilt shop) for a class with my first quilting teacher, Karen.  This is a monthly class deigned to sharpen our abilities while making lovely little quilts.  And I do mean "little".  This month our assignment was a quilt called Sweet Caroline that features a traditional block called the Carolina Lily.  It's a block that I really like so I was delighted with Karen's choice.  Typically the block is made with colors from the red family: pink, maroon, dusty rose, et al.  Of course, everyone chooses their own colorway.  I chose white.  Here's what I have so far.  It will be fun (for me, anyway) to post my progress  and have a visual record of this project.  At least I don't have to keep anything secret!

As you can tell, I am using my own garden as my inspiration, and that's my point today really.  People ask me where I get my ideas, and frequently I glibly say that they're just in my head.  While that is true for the most part, that isn't a very helpful answer.  Inspiration is all around us.  Even though this example is a traditional block, I will make it my own by looking around and seeing.  That's the key - the ability to see.

Anyway, here is a white lily from our Emily Dickinson garden.  The name of this one is Casa Blanca and it's a favorite (both the lily and the photo).  You can see why.
What's in your garden that could spark a re-interpretation of a traditional block, photo, or drawing?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Biographies and A Wonderful Visit

First, for those of you who have asked, here is the site to read the biographies of the current contestants in McCall's Quilting Design Star competition.  Once on this site, you can click on any of the contestants, read about them, and also see their first two quilts.

Several days ago, I mentioned a visit from my nephew and his son and promised to write about it the next day.  Life as a contestant intervened, and that blog wasn't written.  Today it will be.

Jonathan is the older son of my oldest brother and his first wife and was born in Japan.  Unfortunately for us, Jon lives in California so we don't get to see him very often.  The trips that he makes east often coincide with plans of ours, and we frequently miss him.  Jon was traveling with his son Nicholas, and it became clear that our schedules would not mesh again this year.    Until a phone call one night from Jon.

It turns out much to our good fortune that Jon and Nick were flying out of Albany and wanted to stop by for a visit before they left for home.  What a pleasure!  The two of them arrived and that was the beginning of one of the most enjoyable days of the summer.  Jon has always been a pleasure to be with and talk to and nothing has changed there.  But Nick?  Oh my, he is a delightful person.  This year he will be a freshman in high school (how did that happen?).  What that meant was that we sat in our family room with a young man willing to listen to and be part of the adult conversation.  And we sat for quite some time!

Here's the best part.  While we were chatting, I saw Nicholas eying the bookshelves so I brought the conversation around to books.  He's a reader!  That conversation continued over lunch where we discovered we have some favorite books in common (the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series as well as the Harry Potter books).  I also learned that Jon knew Ursula LeGuin's son, and that he had read her books as a result even though the fantasy genre wasn't a favorite of his.  By the time they left, Nick had borrowed a book of mine and one of David's.

For those who know me, that was a banner day for me.  Add another reader to the family, hurray!!! 

There was a down side to the visit, though, and it was all my fault.  We talked about cameras and taking photos, and I admitted to being a shutterbug.  In the excitement, guess what I never did.  You're right.  My camera sat quietly on its shelf and didn't get a work out at all.  No photos of such a memorable occasion.  

Don't let those photo opportunities slide past; have your camera ready and use it!  Who knows when I'll see Jon and Nick again?  Sigh. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Rock into Fabric?

Just look at the colors in the rocks in this photo!  After this contest is over and I have time to do it, I want to make the wall hanging that I designed when we returned from our trip to the Southwest.  We visited Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly, and Monument Valley.  The landscapes were so different from anything we have here in the Northeast, and they were beautiful is a way that was new to me.  I knew I would have to try to capture that in fabric.

Under my bed I have a storage bin with fat quarters in oranges, purples, greens, and blues as well as others.  This is a palatte I haven't used before, and I am itching to see if I can make my "Canyon Country" come alive.

These photos of the rocks in Canyon de Chelly may give you an idea of why I was so fascinated.  Just look at the colors, layers, shapes, and the way the rock seems to have flowed into place.  Amazing, isn't it!  This first one is a close up of the layers that were formed; some were laid down in horizontal bands while close to the top of the photo you can see the layers sliding up into a diagonal strip.  The second photo looks like the profile of someone in a strong wind peering out from beneath a wizard's hat!   The third one reminds me of playing with mud as a child.  Doesn't it look as though someone has swirled it around into mud pies?  And this last one is another close up.  I stood beside the wall of rock and took the photo. 
Photos of rock.  And I want to protray it in fabric; now there's a challenge! 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Basic Black

Last night I decided to give myself a break from sewing by starting a knitting project.  The first year of retirement I finished an off white Aran cardigan that had been languishing on my "to do" pile for longer than I'm willing to admit.  That sweater saw a lot of wear so I decided last year to make myself a basic black wool sweater so I'd have two basic colors covered. 

Off I went to my local yarn shop to hunt for a pattern and find the yarn.  I should have known better.  The first thing that caught my eye was a gorgeous knitted lavender jacket with waterlilies on the back.  Some of my favorite colors, flowers, and style all in one.  Naturally I had to purchase the pattern and equally naturally I had to purchase the yarn to make it but not in the colors shown.  After those purchases I walked out of the shop with what is now laughingly referred to as my "basic black sweater".

Here's a photo of the yarns I'm using:

"Basic Black" yarn

Oh, in case you're wondering why the orange and greens are in with the peacock blue, I decided that I'd knit a bird of paradise flower instead of a water lily.  The greens are for the leaves and the oranges are my start at the flower (more colors to be added, of course). 

Last night I finished the lower band of the back and today I must knit the cord that separates the lower band from the back with its floral design.  Guess that means that I'd better get busy at charting out the bird of paradise flower!

Wishing you a day of happy creativity!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Judging

Some of you have asked about the judging of the McCall's Quilting Design Star Contest so yesterday I went to their site to make sure I understood it correctly.  Since this is available for the public, I think there is no problem if I post it here for your information:

Beginning 5/2/2011 and ending 5/24/2011, the public will be able to vote online for their favorite Quilt Design Star™ qualifying round quilts. Public votes will be considered in the selection of finalists by a panel of 3 quilting industry representatives who will serve as judges, scoring entries on the basis of overall appearance, originality, and design appeal. Finalists will be selected and given the opportunity to compete in 3 quilt design challenges, beginning 5/28/2011 and ending 10/16/2011. Finalists will be notified of their selection by 5/26/2011. Decisions of the judges are final and binding, and not subject to challenge or appeal.

Now, while the date given are for the submission round, I gather the procedure is the same for each subsequent Challenge.  I don't know if you all saw that there was a "winner" announced at the end of the Challenge 1.  If you go to this site and scroll to the bottom of the page, you'll see the who it is as well as see the winning quilt:

Here's my "take" on what the judges are looking for based on what they selected and remembering that this contest is run by a magazine that will be publishing the final quilt, I think I'm right in my assumptions.  I think they are looking for something new, something creative.  They want it to be attractive with eye-appeal for the average quilter/viewer.  That means that the quilt has to be one that Jane/John Q. Public will want to make and will be able to make.   In addition, with each new Challenge we are reminded to make a quilt that shows who we are as a quilter. 

The latter instruction is the one that I interpret as saying, "Don't try to appeal to what you perceive as our [McCall's] taste.  Be true to yourself."  

That's what I am doing.  What are your thoughts? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Before You Vote . . . Read On

For some reason not all of the text I submitted to McCalls was entered.  So before you vote, please read the full story of my inspiration for the quilt Daisy Makes Do:

The colors of the fat quarters we were given were not necessarily what I would have chosen nor would I have chosen to put them together in the same quilt.  But when I realized those problems were the point of this Challenge, I stopped whimpering, and said, "I'll just have to make do."  As soon as I said "make do", I had my moment of inspiration.
Three women in my family had great influence on my desire to sew.  They were my grandmother (affectionately called Daisy) whose crazy quilt I inherited, my mother (who gave me her name) who sewed many of our clothes and found great pleasure in that activity, and my sister Barbara who taught me (and her daughters) how to use the sewing machine she cherished and guarded zealously.  Two of those women lived through the Great Depression, and none of them had stashes or access to quilt shops as we do today.  They knew how to make do by swapping scraps with friends, re-using old fabrics, or buying a lot of a sale fabric and using it for everything and everyone.  Remembering these three frugal and creative women who made-do and in doing so gave their family things of beauty, I have designed a quasi-folk art quilt.  Placed in a fictional setting in the 1930's, these women are shown doing what people then and now frequently have to do: waste not and make do. 
In my quilt, Barbara is hanging the wash (which includes a quilt) on the line.  Daisy sits on the front porch quilting.  Helping Daisy with the quilt is Barbara's oldest daughter, Linda [Those of you who knew Barbara and/or know my nieces will recognize that I have "changed their names to protect the innocent"].  Helen, Barb's middle daughter, is feeding the chickens (the egg money is important to their budget) and will return to the porch to help sort scraps or set her own quilting stitches.   Baby Nancy sits on a quilt too old to be put on a bed but still useful.  My mother isn't visible, but I'm sure she's in the house teaching me to hand stitch.   As an added touch, the traditional quilt blocks on the left side of the center panel are "Economy" and those on the right are "Waste Not".  Both can be found in the book  Farmer's Wife. 
Now that you have read the story, I hope you will cast your vote for my quilt top.  Remember, you can vote once per computer every day.  Thank you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today's the Day

Hooray, today's the day the latest quilts in the McCall's Quilt Design Star Contest will be posted and will be ready for the voting to begin!  And now begins the long wait for the voting to end and results to be announced. 

The nice thing about this period in the contest is the free time.  Now I have time to read more, visit with friends, putter around the house (maybe even get some things better organized), play in the garden, and in general, be free from pressure.  Here's the thing I wonder.  How do contestants who are still working do it?  It's one thing for me to impose the necessary discipline on myself to work as one needs to in order to continue in this contest.  It's quite another thing for those who already have the pressure of a work day to add another level of stress.  I admire them for their work ethic!

Today I am going out to ramble around with Mary Ellen - another benefit of this free time.  I'll also be able to return the perle cotton she lent me to use in my project.  We're going to go off to a local quilt shop (what a surprise!) so she can look for some specific fabric.  Me?  Oh, I probably won't buy any fabric at all.  Yeah, right.  Ask me when we return whether I bought anything.

Tomorrow, I'm going to write about yesterday's visit with my nephew Jonathan and his son Nicholas.  That was a real treat that deserves an entry all to itself.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cloudy Afternoon 

Sometimes we all forget there is beauty in a day that is not brilliantly sunny especially when one is on vacation.  Well, probably you don't, but I do.  This photograph that I took while we were on vacation reminds me that even days when the clouds are hanging low have great attraction and promise.  Can you see the raft and the rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds? 

Brian came over last night and both very patiently and very professionally took pictures of the completed quilt top for me.  Not only does he know what he is doing, he also really enjoys it.  After he left, I ran upstairs and immediately submitted my work for Challenge 2.  It's officially out of my hands - Hurrah! 

Knowing that, you'd think I'd be in bed sound asleep, right?  No.  Somehow this has me all revved up so here I sit.  I really want to send out the story of the quilt and the photographs Brian took, but I have to wait until Wednesday.  Sigh.  Waiting is supposed to build character, and patience is a virtue.  Humph.

Well, I should try to get some sleep so I can work on my character tomorrow.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back from Vacation

Here's one of the many photos I've taken of loons on the lake.  It's not as close as some, but I really like the serenity evident in this shot; a solitary loon, ripples in the water . . .  If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the waves on the rocks, see the mountains that surround the lake, and feel the breeze on my face.  It's such a lovely place!

This year we had good weather the week we were away so we were able to swim, hike, read, sew, and yes, that includes working on the Project.  Today I can finally say that it is completely finished.  Yeah!  But, as is so often the case, there is a problem.  I tried to photograph the quilt top today, but no matter what I tried, I wasn't satisfied with the photos.  The problem is getting the details without using flash or our overhead lights.  Both of those light sources wash out the entire piece.  The ambient light makes for a good photo but not good enough (details lack clarity).  Luckily, we have a very good friend who might as well be a professional photographer (he's that good).  I e-mailed Brian, and he has promised to come over tomorrow with his camera and strobes to help me out.

Aren't I lucky to have such a host of good friends!

Tuesday is the deadline for submissions, and I plan to let you all know when I've made that official deadline.  When I do, I'm also going to ask you to send me any questions about what I've done that I haven't been able to talk about.

Here's another photo.  This is a shot of a family of mergansers swimming past a buoy.

May your day pass swimmingly (sorry, I couldn't resist)!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Family, My Support


Today I want to spend some time telling you about my family.  The gentleman at the left is my husband David, and he is a wonderful man.  Imagine putting up with someone who spends at least eight hours a day breathing, thinking, doing - quilting!  David has to tolerate that, and he does so cheerfully. He has even said, "I'm so glad you're doing this!"   Making dinner, doing the shopping, and doing everything he can to clear the way for me to spend those hours at this project is how he has helped me.  Oh, I'd better not leave out the fact that he listens, really listens, to me, too - all those moans, whimpers, and whines, whew!  How could I do all this if he weren't the loving man he is?

Rebecca, my darling daughter, is another major supporter.   Mind you, Rebecca does not sew and has absolutely no interest in ever picking up a needle, but she does appreciate what I do.  In every phone call she asks how the project is going and listens to my answer.  She knows to ask what I think or how I feel about my progress (or lack thereof).  If I mention that I'm not sure or I don't like it or I think it won't be successful, she quickly steps in and reassures me.  It isn't the "boiler-plate" reassurance, "it'll be okay, mom."  She knows me well and addresses my basic insecurities by reminding me what I've done in the past and how I always say the same things.  Yeah, I guess I'm really predictable, but this lovely woman, my daughter, nips that in the bud.  She has also galvanized a band of friends and co-workers (thanks to all of you!) to vote for me.  Isn't she priceless?

This is Alice, David's younger sister, and another ardent supporter.  Let me tell you a little about her.  Alice is a veterinarian who works at UConn and therefore lives close enough to visit.  She and I have a lot in common and over the years have become friends.  We've had fun going to Rhinebeck to the Sheep and Wool Festival where we've purchased yarn for our knitting projects, checked out the sheep (Alice teaches me a lot about which sheep or other animals provide which kind of yarn), had lunch, and just had a good time together.  By the way, Alice is a true knitting expert.  Her work is amazing!  Anyway, on a recent visit, we wandered into a local quilt shop (okay, so I led the way), and before I knew it, Alice found the clerk in charge, whipped out her phone and showed the woman a photo of "Miss Ruby Takes a Walk"!  She then proceeded to tell her all about the contest and told her that she should vote for me.  Wow!  Later, Alice and I had a serious talk about how I should be marketing myself, and she gave me lots of good tips.  How's that for a super supportive sister-in-law?

These are specifics about three members of my family, but all of my extended family have supported me with notes of encouragement, their votes, and their comments throughout this contest.  I am so lucky to have all of you; hugs and kisses to you all!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Yesterday I completed the machine work on the project.  All that is left is the embellishment hand work.  I am relieved; there's always a fear that one won't meet a deadline even if it is self imposed.  Fortunately the quilt top is the size of a painting and required only two weeks and one day of sewing.  For that I have the powers that be at McCalls to thank.  If one had to make a full sized bed quilt in the time we are given, it would seriously impact the type of work that could be done.

Now I go through my usual it-isn't-very-good routine.  After working so hard on an idea that I liked, the finished product never measures up to what I envisioned.  So I'm always disappointed at the end.  Even if people tell me they like it, my tendency is to think they're merely being kind.  What I try to do now is tell myself I've done the best I can do and hope it will be enough.  I wonder if most people go through this?

When the ban against discussing the specifics of this Challenge is lifted, there are several things I'd like to write about, but for now that's about it except for the occasional word or two about the project.  

If you are working on a project, I send you my deeply felt wishes for personal satisfaction and success!   

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

End in Sight

Since I couldn't sleep last night, I stayed up and wrote the rationale for this quilt top.  It's a little too long so I hope David can help me edit it to a manageable length.  But here's the great news; today the machine sewing will be finished!  The project will go with me to Vermont for the embellishment, but to me, that's a piece of cake. 

Karen, I hope you read this blog because I want you to know how much your comments and e-mails of encouragement have helped buoy both my confidence and my spirits these past two weeks.  And it's a good thing you do that because you are responsible for planting my feet firmly on this quilting path!  People who take classes from you (and Mardi and Patty!) had better sign a waiver saying that they understand you are their guide to a different world ruled by the Goddess of fabrics, sewing machines, and all things quilting.  They will, as I did, be entering a world of beauty and passion which will hold them captive forever.
Remember these lines from Coleridge's Kubla Khan?

          Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair.
          Weave a circle around him thrice and shut your eyes with holy dread 
          because he on honey dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of paradise.

Well, Coleridge just hadn't met the ladies of Flying Geese!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Good Weekend

Did you all have a wonderful weekend? Here in central New York the weather was glorious; the kind of summer weather we dream of all winter. My garden, even though I've done nothing but weed it this year due to the quilt design contest, is beautiful. It looks a bit like this photo of Mary Ellen's perle cotton. Yes, she dropped it off before she left on vacation. She told me later that she rang the doorbell (being in the back of the house, we didn't hear her) so she left it on the front porch where I found it first thing Saturday morning. Isn't that a wonderful thing to do? Another sign of a best friend; she's walked many an extra mile for me.

That's the way my weekend started, and it was a good omen. The end is in sight! I have to hurry with this entry so I can rush downstairs and tie myself to the sewing machine to keep this momentum going.

May your day be filled with the kindness of friends and the glow of success!
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