Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Quilt for Princess Petunia

My little niece, Princess Petunia (not her real name), just turned two this month.  How time flies!  It seems only yesterday that my brother-in-law was outraged by my offer to make his then-in-utero Princess the coolest and most unusual baby quilt ever conceived.  My other sister and I each have two boys, and Petunia was going to be the First Baby Girl in our family -- finally!  I'm not much into frilly pink (whether it's flowering trees or quilts), so right off the bat I knew I wanted to do something different for my niece.  I was inspired by a fabulous large-scale quilting fabric featuring sassy girly-girls and bold geometric patterns in black and white, punctuated by splashes of bright accent colors.  Just like those infant mobiles that are scientifically proven to stimulate brain development!  Think how smart Petunia could have been, if only she had this funky blanky quilt that I envisioned... 

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of emailing a photo of the fabric to my sister, and my bro-in-law stormed around sputtering things like "totally inappropriate" and "what the hell is she thinking?!"  In retrospect, it would have been easier to get forgiveness than permission.  Here's the fab fabric that caused the uproar:

Now, how cool is that?  I mean, really!  Princess Petunia would have been the envy of the playground with this hip, rockstar blanky in tow.  Now, I know what you're thinking -- but the baby's own mother has cute little flower tattoos and long, skinny legs, just like the girls on the fabric, and my BIL approved of her enough to marry her.  These girls are realistically proportioned (unlike Barbie), and the outfits the girls are wearing are downright conservative compared to what twelve-year-old girls wear in New Jersey these days, which is where my sister lives.  However, out of deference to my BIL and in the interests of family harmony, I made Princess Petunia a more conventional baby quilt instead:

Ah, well -- I can't ALWAYS win!  I'm told the Princess is quite fond of her boring ruffled blanky, but the Inked Girls fabric keeps calling to me from my stash.  Just because I can't give it to Petunia (not yet, anyway!) doesn't mean I can't make it at all, right?  So yesterday I pulled out a bunch of fabric to audition different combinations and think about how to best showcase this funky print:

Because the sassy girls on my main fabric are so big, I'm going to need to think outside the box about how to best show them off.  Obviously if I cut them up into tiny squares and rectangles, I will lose the dramatic impact of this fabric!  I went through some of my back issues of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine in search of inspiration.  These two quilts are close to what I want to do:

The one on the left is "My Geisha" by Marie Diederick, and the one on the right is "USA" by Virginia Young, both students of quiltmaker Sandy Turner, who developed this method (see QNM October 2003 issue for instructions).  I like how each "picture" is framed with Birds In the Air blocks and arranged asymmetrically with filler patchwork, almost like a scrapbook page or a collage.  However, I usually like to combine many more fabrics in each of my quilts, especially fabrics that you wouldn't necessarily expect to work well together, like batiks with vintage Asian florals with bold geometrics.  I also think the severity of all the straight lines and triangles in the Birds In the Air blocks would fight the pulsing energy and movement of my Inked Girls fabric.  So I'm thinking of using blocks with curved lines in my quilt instead, more like this quilt by Faye Anderson, which uses the classic Mill Wheel block (This is from the March 2002 issue of QNM):

I haven't done any curved piecing or appliqué in any of my previous quilts (all six of them!), so I'd like to challenge myself to try something new this time. 

I've got some work for my interior design clients that I need to wrap up before the Easter weekend, but then I'm taking a week off to just stay home with my family and recharge.  Hopefully sometime next week I'll be able to spend some time in my studio and start cutting into that fabulous fabric!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Garden of Deceit

You cannot be cynical if you are a gardener, especially if you are an aspiring plant snob like me and you lust after exotic and unusual flora from mail order catalogs. Gardening requires optimism, courage, and faith, as anyone who has ever received a bare-root plant by mail can attest. When you rip open the package and see the dead-looking twigs you spent $50.00 on, you need to dig down deep inside your soul and believe that, with proper love and attention, this twig will transform into the centerpiece of your garden, making you the envy of your neighborhood, and securing your reputation as a Goddess of Gardening forevermore. You also need to believe you will live long enough to see this happen.

I wasn't content to plant the same old pink saucer magnolias that all of my neighbors' yards were sporting, so I ordered a couple of Unusual Varieties from Wayside Gardens two years ago when I bought this house (and inherited the barren, neglected yard that came with it). Magnolia "Yellow Bird" was touted for its vivid yellow blooms that were supposed to appear later than the pink-flowered varieties, after the danger of late frost damage had passed. Yellow Bird was supposed to be a tall, narrow, compact variety, making it well suited for its intended location at the front corner of my house so that anyone driving down the street to our home would be welcomed with masses of yellow blooms each spring, and all of my neighbors would be able to see the tree and remark to one another about its beauty, it's novelty, and it's exquisite loveliness... Did I mention that the blooms are supposed to be yellow? In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "Aaaaarrrgh!!!!!" I waited for two and a half years for this tree to get established and finally bloom, and now I finally have a flower, and it's PINK. Pink like Barbie, pink like Hello Kitty, and pink like every other saucer magnolia in the neighborhood. I hate pink. I've been had!

There is another Plant of Mystery in my garden, also from Wayside Gardens, and this one is even more maddening. I have longed for lilacs ever since moving to the South, but most varieties require colder winters than what we get here in Zone 7. So, about the same time that I ordered the Imposter Magnolia, I also ordered a lilac variety that was supposed to be well suited for my climate. Imagine -- lilacs in Charlotte, North Carolina! No one has lilacs in Charlotte, at least not any that I have seen in the eleven years that I've lived here. I ordered two plants, and gave one to my mother to plant at her house, just a few miles away from my own. Well, two years have gone by and although my mother's lilac has produced blooms each year, mine gives me nothing but leaves. My husband tries to placate me, pointing out that my plant appears healthier and much more robust than my mother's, and mine is certainly much larger now. He tells me that my mother's lilac is blooming out of despair because it thinks it is going to die and wants to try to reproduce to save the species (my husband has an active imagination). But I didn't order a lilac so that I could look at lilac leaves; I wanted to see and smell lilac flowers, for goodness' sake! How is anyone supposed to even know that it's a lilac if it doesn't bloom? It's not as though your average Charlottean can recognize a lilac from its foliage. That's my lilac in the photo, just a collection of healthy twigs sprouting boring green leaves. Grrr...

And yet, spring is in the air and getting under my skin as well. My daffodils are poking up and starting to bloom, and I've noticed some flower buds on the azaleas. The clematis that looked so dead through the winter has reawakened and looks as though it will bloom within the next week or two. I have pruned and sculpted my crape myrtles and find myself musing over which annuals to plant in the front beds this year. Will this be the year I finally get the window boxes I've always wanted? The magnolia and the lilac are disappointments, but I haven't given up on them yet. We'll see what they have to say at Wayside Garden's customer service department. Maybe next year I'll get those exotic spring flowers that I've been waiting for!