Friday, October 30, 2009

Tote Bag

Here is a better photo of my tote bag from Eleanor Levie's new book, I marked the center design that is one of the digitized ones included on the new Bernina 830, and added freehand motifs areound it to fill the space. It is fun to start with something marked, and then add freehand images to that, takes some of the fear out of sitting down to blank space if you've never done that before.

You can also sketch in some guidelines, the centers or outer edges of the feathers, e.g., to help you quilt and stay in control and be less fearful of what you are doing, where you are going. If you break this down into do-able parts, one thing at a time, it is not hard at all, and the finished "bouquet" of designs is very pretty, graceful, and YOU. Add motifs you love, throw in something unexpected.

A stencil design in the center works great for starters, and more can be added. Tuck some freehand leaves in here and there or feathers, spirals, circles, whatever you like. Even a frond with large-to-small traced circles around a center vein looks great.

The idea is to play at your machine, always using the best materials--threads, fabrics, batts, new needle, fresh machine with oil here and there and no lint. Your work will improve if you use the best tools. Your machine should hum, not chatter. Thread every guide. Check your tension. Get it right.

If you want to make one long rectangle and quilt it, you can add a lining, sew it around most of the perimeter, and turn it inside out and make a small clutch bag. These are all good ways to use a play-at-the-machine sandwich and turn it into something wonderful. They make great gifts too.

Enjoy, and keep quilting; your work really should be getting better every day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's Your Bag?

In this time of trying to be more “green,” Eleanor Levie has written a fun book featuring tote/grocery bags you make and use instead of disposable paper or plastic. She asked celebrity quilters to join her and create a bag in their signature styles for the book. There are some real icons of quilting in this book, including Jean Ray Laury, Virginia Avery, Kaffe Fassett and Liza Prior Lucy, Rachel Clark, Jane Sassaman, Lonni Rossi, Karen Eckmeier, Judy Hooworth, Susan Shie, and Eleanor Levie.

Last winter during the depths of snowstorms every other day, howling winds, and cold weather I stayed at home and worked on my bag for Eleanor and her book. It was totally fun, no stress, a simple project that would showcase some of my quilting.

I chose some beautiful sky blue fabrics hand dyed by Sharon Anderson who was in one of my classes and generously gifted me with a packet of her fabrics, after I drooled all over hers. It was February and somehow blue was the color I wanted to quilt, sans drool of course.

My bag, shown in the photo above, is very simple, two whole-cloth quilted squares joined together by a quilted panel, with two detachable handles made from curtain tie-backs and antique buttons. I loved how the fabric quilted, enjoyed the soft blue silk threads I used, and tried out some new designs. It is a great way to work on your quilting with no stress of “ruining” a quilt top.

Pick some great fabric and go for it! It’s time you made something instead of practicing. Make some of the various designs in the book for your friends, your family, for gifts, whatever. I’m sure no one will notice one stitch a bit larger than the others, a strange looking feather, lines that are not perfect. It will give you confidence and get you back to quilting.

The bags in the book range from more complex like mine to fun and fast and easy, but they are all wonderful. Most of them have space where you could practice some of your free motion skills – tuck in a feather by the beets, or on a carrot. I have to admit I especially like Rachel Clark’s Cherrywood Jelly Roll tote – it’s gorgeous! There's even one by Jane Sassaman for your bicycle basket. There are ideas and styles everyone will like, plus tips on customizing the bags for you and what you need.

To order the book, go to: where you can see Eleanor and the book, and go to the books page to order with check or PayPal. I hope I see lots of great new totes on the arms of quilters, inspired by this book.

Keep quilting! Your work gets better every day.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Home from Green Bay

Green Bay, Wisconsin, was lovely! The drive north through the rolling hills of the southern Kettle Moraine was almost at peak fall color, absolutely glorious. Stunning sugar maples were torches of flame amid the darker pines and oaks, and the sumac blazed in scarlet glory. The bright intense blue of the October sky was the perfect backdrop. We do have some bad winter weather here at times, but fall is the season that makes up for everything.

Thanks to everyone from Evergreen Quilt Guild for making my visit go so well, and to the big crowd at the lecture for being such a great audience. I hope you do go out and buy more mud fabric for your quilts, although from your show and tell quilts I can see this won't be an issue!
Class was in a large room, above, and everyone worked hard at their feather designs. Machine quilting on a home machine is not the easiest thing in the world, and there is much to learn and enjoy in the world of feathers. Start with the basics, get those feathers smooth and familiar, and then start branching out to make your designs more intricate. It takes focus and concentration, and frequent short breaks so the feathers don't deteriorate and become the proverbial toxic vegetables, tongue depressors, or stubby protrusions. And don't go around the Q-tip.
I think everyone did great with much good humor and of course things will go much better at home, but you do have to put in some time, add feathers to a real quilt, don't sit and practice.

My nemesis in the world of snack/junk food was lurking behind my table for hours before I noticed it, beckoning me, luring me in with the siren call of cheese and crunch, mmmmmmm. Cheetos!!! I ate only TWO and stayed clear of this temptation. When I arrived home that evening my husband had a brand new bag of them on the kitchen island waiting, as a treat for me when he knew I'd be tired out. Oh no..........
Keep quilting; your work does really really get better every day!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Bay Lecture - Mud!

"Kettle Moraine Star," above, back in 1996 brought attention to my love of dull, neutral, "ugly" colors in my quilts. The background was the shade of khaki used in pants, and was not at all popular back in the 90's (or probably now too, come to think of it) for quilts. I wanted a background color to showcase the star, and khaki was one of my favorite colors, so I used it fearlessly, with little thought about how others might like it...or not like it as it turned out. I liked it a lot.

I still use colors that others deem ugly and fit for the sale rack at the back of the store, but have graduated to including more percentage of brighter, more vibrant shades in my quilts. However, that first winning quilt gave me the claim to fame for my "Mud Quilts" that still is with me.

Tuesday night, October 13, I'll be giving a lecture on this subject in Green Bay, WI. at 6:30 p.m., Grace Lutheran church, 321 S. Madison in Green Bay. Hope to see some of you there! I won't have this quilt, but some of my work for you to see up close.

Below, my claim to fame has lingered on with my car's license plate, which seemed a good idea at the time, but after all the puzzled glances, high fives from mud covered pickup trucks on the highway, and even a query from a bird lover about the species Mud Owls, I wonder just why I ever did this. A weak moment I think.

Keep quilting, your work gets better every day!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Traditional Quilts?

I fell in love with traditional quilts from the very first. Not orchestrated modern traditional ones where every fabric coordinates perfectly, but quilts that worked within the framework of traditional and showcased the maker’s artistic skills and joie de vivre.

I admired but was not really inspired by most quilts shown locally in the 70’s and 80’s. After going to many shows, I finally found ones that made my heart skip a beat when exhibits featuring quality vintage quilts began to appear, and I discovered books filled with quilts from other eras. These quilts really rocked. They had exuberance, color, design excitement, whimsy, simplicity and elegance, all more or less within the “rules” of quilting.

That is not an easy accomplishment for a quilter. Those “other” qualities can sometimes suffer because a quiltmaker is so intent on executing the technicalities properly, and perhaps resorting to using a traditional “scheme” for the quilt that they may take a backseat. The art of the quilt can suffer.

I never really made a planned quilt. They grew and developed as I worked even though I always started with a plan. Even the plan in my mind was subject to drastic change at any moment, but I never threw out the basics of the construction and style of a traditional quilt.

At first these changes were tentative and minor. It was still a log cabin with darks on one side of the red chimney square, and lights on the other, but the fabrics were not all from one line, or one scale of print, or even all prints or solids but a mix of whatever I thought looked great.

I used drab colors with sparks of bright. Mud colors and subtle palettes were my signature look. Later I used more saturated colors, but subtle and subdued will always be pleasing to me.

I tried to work keeping in mind the spirit of quilters from the past who had no quilt shops, no fabric budget, but had to make do. They used their ingenuity and creativity to make wonderful quilts that still delight the viewer.

Later I ventured out into the array of new fabrics available as quilting flourished worldwide, and decided that strict “repro” quilts were not my thing, just as doing cross stitch designs and following the color charts never worked for me either. New threads and quilting techniques, designs and free motion methods all have affected the outcome of my quilts. Growth is a good thing in quilting, and keeps traditional quilts vibrant and fresh, ever changing, ever new.

I liked to play with my own color combinations, drawing on old quilts that wowed me as inspiration and then playing with variations of the traditional. Quilting motifs began as a continuation of designs used for hundreds of years, but have now changed and grown and are individual to me. Their roots are firmly based in tradition.

I still behave, and play by the rules: straight lines are straight, corners are not lopped off, precision in workmanship is very important to me. But within the structure and framework of traditional I have found much room for creative expression.

I continue to like the feeling of a challenge met when corners meet properly, geometry works out, bindings go on well.

Traditional in my mind has morphed into “classic.” It is a style of quilting based on an accumulation of history, culture, style that has worked for centuries in the decorative arts. It will continue to work in this century and beyond, but will leave room for growth, for creativity, fun, personal viewpoint, and color and design exploration.

A traditional quilt is a challenging and many times difficult quilt to make. The rules are not easy. Technical skills sometimes take years to achieve. Errors are easy to spot and can bring down the entire project. A quilter choosing this format has tough standards, a demanding task, a brave and intrepid spirit.

The rewards are worth it though. A true traditional quilt or “classic” can be exhibited in an art gallery and hold its own with contemporary art. It will also look perfect on a bed. It would command a room in an historic house, yet be a dramatic focal point in a NY loft apartment, all function, steel, glass, chrome, and brick.

It transcends time. It would be at home in the past, present, or future.
A traditional quilt will never be a trend or a fad, but reflect current styles and popular textiles melded with the quiltmaker’s personal art, all within a time-honored and tested format.

A traditional quilt lasts.

In this day of "trend du jour" in quilting, do not apologize for being a traditionalist. Create quilts, be proud of them, and explore your own art in this amazing genre of quilting.

"Butternut Summer," above 1998, and "Shadows of Umbria," below, at Paducah, 2008, two of my favorite classics.

Keep quilting,

Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Radio!

Ami Simms, founder of the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative, will be on public radio today at 11 a.m. or listen to her interview on your computer. She deserves huge accolades for what she has done to fight this terrible disease, with so many of you out there helping as well. Here is what she says:

"I'll be on PBS radio WVIA-FM at around 11 am today talking about the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. Listen on your computer at It will be available by podcast some time on Tuesday and rebroadcast at noon on Sunday.

Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece by Piece will be exhibited this weekend in Lewisburg, PA, hosted by the Susquehanna Chorale. They have just commissioned an original piece of music about Alzheimer's which will be performed on October 9th."

Give a listen,