Thursday, November 13, 2014

Crazy Stuff My Kid Would Buy

Life Size Tyrannosaurus Skeleton available here
So my son Lars is on the phone right now with the customer service representative at Hammacher Schlemmer, discussing shipping arrangements for their life size Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton replica, available here for discriminating buyers who have $100,000 burning a hole in their pockets, and who live in castles big enough to hold a forty-foot-long dinosaur.  Because in the catalog that came in the mail, it said "Please call and our customer service representatives will gladly answer any questions and provide additional information." 

Well, Lars did have questions, so he called.  Now he knows that the skeleton would get shipped in ten trucks at a cost of roughly a thousand dollars in shipping and handling costs, depending on where the buyer lives.  Hammacher Schlemmer would send workers to assemble the dinosaur skeleton initially into any "anatomically natural" position the buyer wanted.  For instance, you can have your dinosaur posed standing fully upright, as though he was scanning the savannah, or you can have him assembled in a lunging pose, as though he was about to snatch some tasty prey.  If you want your dinosaur moved into a different pose later, they will come out again to do this for you for another thousand dollars.  Lars has also learned that, when you call a catalog that sells six-figure toys, they call you Sir.  Lars likes this.

I think Lars is still on the phone.  I wonder if the customer service guy at Hammacher Schlemmer thinks my son is actually in the market for a $100,000 dinosaur...   

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Quilts Around the World: Anders' Charity Finish; Go Forth & Visit Wendy & Kerry!

Design Wall: Works In Progress
Ah, Monday morning, once again!  Are we tired of seeing my design wall yet?  I'm linking up with Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times and with Anything Goes Monday at Stitch By Stitch.  No progress on my bear paws and sawtooth stars, but I did finish another of my paper pieced pineapple log cabin blocks.  That makes 8 blocks complete, 28 more to go if I want the quilt to finish large enough for a California King.  I've also been working on some petals for more Frankenwhiggish Rose applique blocks, too, but I'm not going to show them to you because they look just like the finished block you already saw.  Boring, right? 

You know, this makes me wonder about how blogging might affect the creative process of quilting.  Do we feel pressure to come up with new content on a regular basis, and does that encourage shortcuts and simplifications just to get to that "finished" post?  Do we create more sampler and medallion quilts so that we can have a new block design to share each week or each month?  Do we opt for a straight line grid quilted with the walking foot because that's what we think is best for the quilt, or because it's a fast finish and we want to debut a new project on the blog?  Well, I'm nowhere near a quilt finish so if I run out of things to say about what I'm working on, this might morph into a Laundry Blog.  You have all been forewarned!
So, remember over the summer when I got this great idea that my son and I should go to one of our church's quilt guild meetings and help make quilts for Lutheran World Relief?  Anders worked hard to make his fabric "squares" meet up at the seams and he was disappointed that the donated fabrics he got to choose from were not very exciting, but he finally finished the quilt top just before school started and the ladies in the quilt guild layered it with batting, tied it and bound it to finish it off.  Yesterday we had the Blessing of the Quilts at church, and they were hanging on display all over the sanctuary so I was able to get a picture of Anders standing behind his quilt after the service.  I was zooming in from far away so the resolution is terrible, but here's Anders with the finished quilt:

Anders with his Charity Quilt for Lutheran World Relief
I wish I had known ahead of time that the quilts would be hanging up today -- I would have asked Bernie to bring his fancy schmancy camera and then we would have gotten a better picture!

But one thing I DO know ahead of time is that two of my favorite quilting bloggers, Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Springs and Kerry of Simple Bird Applique, will be blogging about their respective creative processes today because I tagged them for the Around the World Blog Tour.  I selected Wendy and Kerry because I've admired them both for their technical mastery and beautiful quilt desgns, but often wondered how they and other quilters who quilt for a living keep their creative juices flowing, deadline after deadline, always with fresh new ideas.  Wendy is a quilt designer whose work has been on the covers of so many magazines that she must have lost count by now, and Kerry designs and stitches the most beautifully intricate traditional applique patterns.  Both Kerry and Wendy teach quilting as well, and they each have fantastic blogs with excellent tutorials on applique and free-motion quilting with domestic sewing machines.  Please pop over to visit them when you have a moment, and tell them Rebecca sent you.  ;-)
Have a wonderful Monday, everyone!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Around the World Quilt Blog Tour: What, Why, and How I Create

I was thrilled and humbled when Greg Jones of Grey Dogwood Studio tagged me to participate in the Around the World Quilt Blog Tour.  I have been following Greg’s work for a while now, and I am continually inspired by his meticulous workmanship, his nostalgic vintage style, and his impressive creative output despite the demands of a busy career in NYC that involves business travel, conference calls, and the wearing of suits.  As a mother of creative sons, I also love that Greg doesn’t fit into the confining cultural stereotypes that continue to restrict and contain the creative energy of boys and men -- even while girls and women are finally allowed to do and be almost anything they want.  Greg, thanks for tagging me and for being such a cool role model for all the little dudes out there who love their crayons and colored pencils!

1.     What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on a King sized (hopefully!) paper pieced Pineapple Log Cabin Quilt:
7 Blocks Done, 29 Blocks to Go

...and an experiment with Bear Paw and Sawtooth Star blocks that is starting to feel like I am aimlessly driving up and down the Interstate without a map:
Bear Paws and Sawtooth Stars, Making it Up As I Go Along
Center Medallion for my "Jingle" Quilt
Finished Border Blocks for Jingle Quilt
...and then I'm also working on my first attempt at needleturn applique, which is also proceeding without a clear plan – The FrankenWhiggish Rose Project:
FrankenWhiggish Rose, Block One of ???

Prior to this year, I only worked on one quilt at a time from start to finish.  This whole multiple project UFOs approach is an experiment for me that actually is not going very well.  I am finding that I have a really hard time forcing myself to come back to a project once I’ve set it aside for something else, and it bothers me that I have spent so much time and energy on these four projects without having any completed quilts to show for it.  I am wasting huge chunks of time spinning my wheels just trying to switch gears from one project to the next.  So I have decided to “kill these off” one quilt at a time, and then go back to my habitual Serial Quilt Monogamy. 
2.     How does my work differ from others?

This is the most difficult of the four questions for me.  I’m not sure how my work differs from others – that depends which “others” I’m being compared with!  Comparing myself to others who have been posting in this Around the World Blog Tour series, I would have to say that my work is different because there’s so much less of it!  I only manage to sneak in a couple of hours of quilting each week, and I work very slowly.  I made my first quilt in 2002 and I have only finished nine quilts in the past twelve years.  So my work is characterized by the blissful ignorance and fierce determination of the ambitious beginner!

Another way my work is different is that I’m usually working at the outer extremes of technology, either very high-tech or very low-tech, rarely in the middle.  I’m paper-piecing my giant pineapple blocks on a computerized Bernina 750 QE, using oversized foundation papers that I printed on a large format printer at the office supply store, and I played around in EQ7 software to preview color and value placement for that quilt before committing.  But the bear paw and sawtooth star blocks and most of my Jingle blocks were all pieced on my vintage 1935 Singer Featherweight.   I frequently design custom monograms and quilt labels on my computer using digitizing software for machine embroidery, but I don’t enjoy machine applique and prefer to do that by hand.  Sometimes I’ll stitch out a row of decorative stitches on the computerized Bernina and then embellish the stitching by hand with seed beads, French knots or paillettes: 
Computer Designed, Machine Embroidered, Bead Embellishments by Hand
Either I’m hand quilting old school style in a lap hoop, or machine quilting with computerized stitch length regulation on the Big ‘Nina.  This switching around and sampling of all different techniques is probably another reason why I’m still a beginner quilter after twelve years.  I’m a Jackie of all techniques, master of none!
Finally, my work is different because it is primarily utilitarian.  While I admire and enjoy the art quilts many others create for wall display, my quilts are created with a more traditional end purpose in mind.  I make quilts for my kids’ beds:
Lars's Drunken Dragons Bed Quilt
Lars's Drunken Dragons Quilt

...and quilts for us to snuggle under on the sofa while watching TV, like this one:
Bernie's Sugar Shack Leaves Quilt

I make quilts for my niece and nephew to drag around with them, like this one:
Sarah's Quilt with Minky Backing and Satin Binding

...and quilts to wrap around car seats and strollers for newborns, like this one:
Hungry Caterpillar Quilt for Gage, with Minky Backing and Satin Binding
In today’s mass-produced, throwaway consumer society, it just feels good to wrap a loved one in a handmade, one-of-a-kind quilt that I've created just for them.

3.     Why do I create?

This one is easy.  Creative people just can’t help being creative, and my favorite medium is beautiful fabric.  That’s how I accidentally became an interior designer for ten years (long story) even though I majored in history and didn’t take a single art or design course in college.  I’m a stay-home mom right now, and that’s definitely what’s best for me and my family, but I would go nuts if I wasn’t making anything.  So much of what I do disappears as soon as it’s finished.  I clean the bathrooms, but next week they will be dirty and I will have to clean them again.  I wash the same laundry week after week, shop for the same groceries, pay the bills and feed the dogs, pack lunches, cook the dinners and wash the dishes, and while all of that work is important, none of it is lasting. I have wiped so many noses over the years, changed so many diapers, and read so many bed time stories, and I’m fortunate to have been physically present for all of that for my sons -- but the accomplishments of my children belong to them and not to me.  I create because a quilt stitches together the fleeting memories of what was going on in my life in the year the quilt was made, honoring the most insignificant, ordinary days with permanence.  That process doesn’t stop when the final stitch secures the quilt binding, either.  Once the quilt is on the bed, it soaks up memories of all the bed time stories we share, the lost teeth left for the tooth fairy, the rowdy sleepovers and the Nintendo DS hidden under the pillow.  A well-made quilt lasts a long time if properly cared for.  Maybe one of them will someday outlast me!

4.     How do I work?

As I said, I only spend a few hours each week actually sewing anything.  I spend more time in “Research and Design Phase” than I do actually stitching.  I don’t have many opportunities to take classes, so I read and reread a lot of quilting books, blogs, and magazines to get ideas and learn new techniques.  I also love “speed dating” quilts on Pinterest.  While my husband is watching some awful show like Naked and Afraid or Fast 'N Loud Gas Monkey Garage, I zip through Pinterest and repin every quilt, photograph, or whatever catches my eye, quickly and without overthinking it – just anything that jumps off the screen at me.  Then I go back through my virtual bulletin boards to analyze my pins and look for common threads.  For instance, after reading Judi Madsen’s Wide Open Spaces book about contemporary heirloom quilting designs for negative spaces in quilts, and then analyzing the quilts I’d been pinning on Pinterest, I realized that many of the traditional and contemporary quilts I most admired had more contrast and used more solid fabrics than I had been using in my own quilts.  I looked at my fabric stash and realized that I was buying lots of diva print fabrics and hardly any neutral or “supporting actor” fabrics to balance out and contrast with those divas.  That’s how my bear paw project came about, as I challenged myself to buy plain old solid white fabric for the backgrounds and cut up a bold, large-scale print floral fabric from my stash in small enough pieces that the print itself is lost and it becomes more like abstract splashes of color against the white ground:

Anna Maria Horner Fabric, Chopped Up for my Bear Paws
Most of my quilts are Fake Scrappy, in that I emulate the effect of true vintage and antique thrifty scrap quilting by purchasing an enormous variety of brand-new fabric and then hacking it all into "scrap" pieces with my rotary cutter.  I do this for several reasons.  First and foremost, it’s because the greater the number of fabrics in the quilt, the less likely I am to get bored with the project before it is finished.  I also think it makes the finished quilt more interesting when you have the initial impact of the overall quilt viewed from a distance, and then upon closer inspection you have an additional level of detail as you discover each of those unique individual fabrics that make up the whole.  I do make a point of incorporating scraps from earlier quilts as much as possible, because those fabrics carry a lot of meaning for me and it’s very satisfying to make that deliberate connection between this year’s quilt and the quilt from seven years ago.  Finally, even if I’m not doing a scrappy thing, I never choose all of the fabrics for a quilt from one manufacturer’s collection and I could never make anything from a kit with all of the fabrics preselected for me.  Maybe it’s the interior designer in me creeping back in, but I need to pick out all of my own fabrics.  For years I made a living selecting combinations of colors, fabrics, and furnishings for other people.  Sometimes my clients gave me carte blanche, but other times I had to compromise a design that I was in love with in order to accommodate a client whose taste differed from my own.  Hand picking each and every fabric that goes into my quilts is my favorite part of the whole process.

Because I work so slowly and my finishes are few and far between, I’m heavily invested in each project and I challenge myself to explore new techniques with each one.  Now that I have the EQ7 quiltdesign software I will probably spend even more time on the design phase, trying out different settings and arrangements on the computer screen ahead of time to ensure that the design I commit to stitching into reality is really the best concept that I was able to conceive.

Whew – I made it!  And to think I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to write.  If you’re a new visitor to my site for the blog tour, thanks for stopping by.  I’ve really enjoyed learning about the creative processes of other quilters on the Around the World Blog Tour, and I’m really looking forward to hearing from the two quilters I’ve tagged for next Monday, November 10th:  Kerry of Simple Bird Applique Studio and Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring.

Kerry of Simple Bird Applique Studio creates intricate, spectacular applique quilts that take my breath away.  I have just been in awe of her as I’ve watched her “Friends of Baltimore” quilt (designed by Sue Garman) near completion.  Kerry is a quilting teacher and that comes through in her blog, where she walks you through her process from fabric selection through the bumps and hurdles, right on down to the binding.  Kerry also designs original applique patterns that are available in her online store. 

Wendy Sheppard of Ivory Spring is another quilter who has really inspired me.  Her long-running “Thread Talk” blog series has been a valuable free-motion quilting resource for many beginners, myself included.  Her tutorials for free-motion quilting on a domestic sewing machine are better than most of the quilting books on my shelves.  Over the years, I’ve watched Wendy grow as a quilting teacher, commercial pattern designer, and cheered for her as her quilts have graced the covers of countless magazines.  I am delighted that Wendy has just published her first book, Recreating Antique Quilts.  I am really interested in learning about how the creative process of quilting is different for quilters like Wendy, for whom quilting is a career as well as a creative outlet.

I'm linking up with Anything Goes Monday, guest hosted today by Helen over at Till We Quilt Again, WIPs on Wednesday at Esther's blog, WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced, and with Design Wall Monday at Patchwork Times.  Thanks again for stopping by.  Happy stitching!