Thursday, March 27, 2008

Garden Carnage

I've been taking pictures of my little garden as the bulbs have been popping up. It was so exciting to see them growing more and more every day... it gave me great hope for the return of Spring! I couldn't wait to see them bloom. But now I'm sad. Apparently some landscapers came in (we do *not* have regular landscaping here... the ivy was about to take over the place) and decided that my garden was in need of a good solid raking.

Oh the carnage! Leaves are shredded, buds raked into the ground. Oh the humanity!

Well, a couple of the buds are still standing, and a few of the bulbs hadn't budded yet, so I hoping they'll bounce back. It's just... dude! who rakes bulbs???

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dysfunctional Crafting

I just finished a quilt, one that I've wanted for a while. I now have three quilts that I made specifically for myself. I also think Pink Lemonade is the prettiest quilt I've made so far (in spite of the crappy job I did with the binding). Obviously the fact that it's pink is weighing heavily in it's favor with me. =P So if I were sane, I might take a few days to enjoy my accomplishment, relax in the satisfaction of a job pretty-well done before jumping back into a new project.

But we all know that my sanity is tenuous at best...and *of course* I started cutting out fabric for my next quilt within about 48 hours of completing the last one.

Despite the fact that I've finished two stash-quilts in as many months, I'm still feeling quite a bit of stash-anxiety. Forget craft ADD, I think I'm a bi-polar crafter. Or at least a bi-polar stasher. I love getting new fabric & yarn, and occasionally (frequently) go on completely unnecessary stash building binges. But then, like now, I go through phases where I feel like I have too much and I really need to use it up. These stashing mood-swings may be correlated to both how much I hate my job at any given moment, and the ease with which I can close the boxes where my stashes are stored. At the moment, my boxes runneth over. So I want to make at least one more quick & dirty stash-busting quilt before starting (or continuing) any project that involves substantial planning and/or precision.

I'm calling this next quilting endeavor "Trash to Treasure". While the fabric I'm using is by no means garbage, it was given to me in a very large garbage bag from someone who was cleaning out their rather substantial and, well... old... stash. And I'm not so sure how much of a treasure the end result will be... but I'm optimistic. There were a LOT of different fabrics so this will be a good chance for me to make a truly 'scrappy' quilt. These are my main objectives for this quilt:

1. To turn free fabric & leftover batting into a usable quilt - of the quality that can be brought outside for picnics or used as a side-walk warmer for watching the Starlight Parade.
2. To do close-together quilting. Not sure if it will be meander or straight-line, but I want it to be somewhat tightly quilted.
3. To practice making half-square triangles. I'm aiming for a pinwheel pattern, we'll see what happens.

More globally, my goal is to finish this quilt, and at least one non-scrappy quilt before purchasing any more fabric.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pink Lemonade

I finished up my pink quilt, which I'm now calling Pink Lemonade.

I like how it turned out. I had planned to do meander quilting, but after a few practice runs with scrap fabric I decided I wasn't ready yet. Meander quilting is a lot harder than it looks! Instead I quilted wavey lines. I think it looks okay.

I had put the label on before I started quilting, but I don't like how the quilting lines look going through it. Oh well... another lesson for the next quilt.

The backing is all one piece, and I made the binding from stash fabric. I'm excited to have another quilt I made myself, and to have made a tiny dent in my stash.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Caturday & Quilts

Today I will be going to a small local quilt show. State of the Craft's own Michael5000 will be showing a quilt there, so I'll get the inside scoop on the quilting world.

I've instructed Sally to finish up my pink quilt while I'm gone.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book Meme

I'm stealing this idea from Uberstrickenfrau, and I'm tagging anyone who wants to do this.

Take the book you are reading right now, turn to page 123. Type out the 5th sentence, and the three sentences that follow.

I'm currently reading Jane Austin's Sense & Sensibility, and page 123 is a climactic page (you know... for Austin) and sentence 5 is smack in the middle of Willoughby's letter to Marianne:

"I shall never reflect on my former acquaintance with your family in Devonshire
without the most grateful pleasure, and flatter myself it will not be broken by
any mistake or misapprehension of my actions. My esteem for your whole
family is very sincere; but if I have been so unfortunate as to give rise to a
belief of more than I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself for not
having been more guarded in my professions of that esteem. That I should
ever have meant more you will allow to be impossible, when you understand that
my affections have been long engaged elsewhere, and it will not be many weeks, I
believe, before this engagement is fulfilled. It is with great regret that
I obey your commands of returning the letters, with which I have been honoured
from you, and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed on me."

And thus breaks Marianne's heart.

Come on... share what you're reading!

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I really don’t need to say much more than that do I? Well, I’m gonna anyway.

The Good Sister (aged 6) & The Baby (me)

My sister… the good sister… is coming to visit next week. This is an unprecedented event.

Several times a year since coming to my graduation (in 1997!) the good sister has commented to me “I’m going to try to come visit you in Oregon this year.” But never has. I’ve flown out *many* times to visit her – about every other year or so. While I was still in college she got married, then started having kids, and the whole family moved out to Tennessee, so it’s always just been easier for me to do the traveling. So let me repeat – this is an unprecedented event.

The two of us had a fairly normal relationship as kids (normal in that we fought near-constantly). As adults we've gotten along relatively well. You know - in 15 minute phone calls and bi-annual visits. I'm still 'the baby' though... and there's more than a little sibling rivalry. She's got the fantastic marriage & beautiful kids, but I have a lot more expendable cash than she does. You know... the grass is always greener.

I’ve got some plans as to what to do while she’s here – show her off to my office, take her downtown – to Saturday Market, go out to a McMenamins… all those kinds of Portlandy things. So I think I've got activities covered... but she'll be staying with me in my tiny one bedroom apartment and that'll make for a fair amount of one-on-one time. Time for her to give me tons of unsolicited advice and ask me invasive questions about my (lack of) personal life. This is after all the woman who once gave me a card on our birthday that said "You may be younger than I... but at least I was married by your age."

Yeah... this is gonna be great.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Death and Taxes

Fair warning – this post is going to get a bit morbid and depressing and will probably offend someone. If you’re just here for the crafts…skip this post. Also – I have no point.

My mom has this expression that I just love. Whenever we would hear on the news about this percent of people dying of such and such disease or that such & such increases your risk of dying by whatever percent - she would kinda laugh and say “Well guess what? 100% of people die!” I’m pretty sure I’ve adopted her pragmatic view of death. We’re all gonna die someday so there’s not much point getting all worked up about it, or scared, or go to insane lengths to avoid it. Neither of us have a death wish. We wear our seat-belts and go to the doctor and make sure there’s a non-slip mat in the shower. But she’s made it clear that if she were ever really sick or injured she wouldn’t want to be kept on life support indefinitely… and neither would I. Now she has a firm belief in an afterlife… and if there is a heaven I know she’s earned her place. Even though I’m less sure of what happens after we die, I am comfortable with the idea of the great sleep, of my existence finally coming to an end (hopefully not anytime soon – there are plenty more things I’d like to do first!) and decomposing back into the earth – pushing up daisies – oooh or daffodils! Well, actually I’d rather be buried at sea… but still the idea of ashes to ashes is something I can deal with.

It seems to me that we live in a culture where death is feared and to be avoided at ANY cost. Doctors come up with painful and invasive ways of diagnosing and treating diseases. People whose natural lives should, by all rights, be over linger on with feeding tubes and life support machines. To me – that’s not life! (eta - I was watching this show on PBS where they kept talking about ways to avoid "premature death" as though somehow we were all entitled to live to be 80-90-100 if only we consume enough omega-6 fatty acids and avoid refined carbohydrates - it just bugged me.)

I can understand it more when people go to extraordinary lengths to extend the life of an infant or child… because in a child there is so much potential for life to be lived. But what I can’t condone are the numerous lawsuits parents have filed when doctors were unable to miraculously save a child born with serious life-threatening defects. Yes, gross negligence should be punished… but once the child is dead and gone, all the money in the world won’t bring them back.

I think we’ve lost sight of the time when the leading cause of death for women was childbirth, and when more women than not had lost at least one child in infancy. Of course I’m thrilled that’s no longer the case. But it seems like these days we’re meant to believe that if the stick turns blue – you’re guaranteed a healthy baby. And if, heaven forbid, that’s not the case – well clearly it’s something the mother did wrong… too much caffeine, not enough folic acid, too old, too active, whatever, whatever. It’s like we refuse to accept that sometimes these things; terrible, sad, tragic things, just happen. Sometimes babies die and it’s nobody’s fault. I can’t even imagine how horrible it is for the mother (or father for that matter). But it happens… death is a part of life… and I admire the courage of women who have experienced this and have talked about their reality of it. Because it feels very much like we’re not supposed to talk about such things.

And as much as it concerns me – our inability to come to terms with our own mortality, it’s nothing, not even close to how disturbed I am by what people are willing to do to keep their PETS alive! I love my Sally-girl dearly, I do. I spend disturbing amounts of money on her care & feeding to manage her allergies. But if she ever got really sick, or life-threateningly injured – I would let her go. I’m sure I would spend several days before and after crying my eyes out… but I would have the vet euthanize her if she could no longer live her (rather pampered I must say) normal kitty life. I’m also not about to confine her to the apartment to keep her safe from whatever dangers (real or imagined) exist in the outdoor world. If she got hit by a car – I’d be sad, I’d cry, in the shock of it I’d probably be mad at the person driving the car… but I know that it’s a possibility… it’s a risk. But that’s what life is – it’s a risk.

We can live our lives in safe little boxes, doing everything we can to prevent or forestall death, pretending that somehow we can avoid it… but that’s hardly living. I should know – I’m living in one of those safe little boxes right now – and honestly it’s boring as hell. Of course I’m not suggesting anyone take up smoking or playing in traffic. But maybe we all need just a healthy appreciation for the fact that we’re going to die someday, and learn to live a little. (BTW - if you do learn to live a little – please tell me how. I’ve dealt with my fear of death but haven’t quite dealt with my fear of life!)

Oh yeah… I’ve talked about death… now taxes. Hmm… I still haven’t done them. Even though my financial situation is about as uncomplicated as they get and I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting a refund, I’m completely unmotivated to do the paperwork. Maybe I won’t do it this year. What’s the worst that could happen?

They don’t call me Rebel for nothing.

Actually yes they do...

Don’t worry – I’ll file my tax return…eventually.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Quilters with Borders

Well, I did have enough of the yellow fabric for a nice thin inner border, and I've finished up the top.
Slowly slowly I'm learning from my mistakes. I actually did the label *before* I finished the quilting. =)

But yet more to learn - I should probably have used the yellow thread for my initials and the pink for the year... but oh well.

Part of me really wants to start cutting for my next quilt (or three) but the other part of me wants to finish this one up before starting something else. The problem is that before I can pin the quilt top to the backing - I have to vacuum. Hmmmm..

Monday, March 17, 2008

Challah back girl

Well, it's St. Patrick's day! What better way to celebrate than by showing off some Challah bread I made this weekend. ;)

Let's start out with the basics for an enriched dough: flour, water, sugar, salt, yeast, eggs, oil, Betty and the most flour dusted, dough stained page of my Sunset Breads book!

Since reading the Bread Baker's Apprentice, I've changed the way I bake bread. Rather than adding the ingredients in the order listed, I started with the water & yeast and added a few cups of flour, mixing until smooth (starting to work the gluten). Then I added the eggs, oil, sugar, salt, and the (not so) secret ingredient - a dash of curry. I spent plenty of time letting Betty mix it all up. Then put it in an oil coated bowl.
I let it rise in the fridge over night then let it warm up on the counter for about an hour.

It's fair to say that it more than doubled. I also depart from the directions that say to "punch down the dough"... there's no real need. I divide the dough in half (which degases it), let it rest for a few minutes then divide one of the halves into thirds. I rolled that half into ropes & braided it.

I may have made the ropes a bit too long. The braid wouldn't fit on the pizza stone! I let it rise for another hour & a half, then gave it an egg wash & sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking.

Mmmmmm..... Challah!

I actually gave this loaf away, but with the other dough I made just a regular loaf. It's a very yummy sandwich bread!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

There comes a time in every quilt...

There comes a time in every quilt... at least every quilt *I* make where I start thinking:

"Why the !#$% am I doing this????"

I'm about at that stage right now. I really do enjoy quilting... in theory... I love looking at quilts, I love talking to people about quilts, I love looking at fabrics (I spend obscene amounts of time in fabric stores), I love looking at quilt patterns and thinking about how to put fabric together. And I love curling up under a quilt that I made. I even like those first few stages of cutting up fabric and chain piecing little squares together. But somewhere in the middle where the quilt starts getting big... and things start getting complicated, and I feel like I've put a ton of work into the quilt and dear god I haven't even finished the top yet... I just want to throw the whole thing in the closet and forget about it.

That's where I am right now.

I managed to sew up the seemingly neverending pile of strips to make the center of the quilt top. Which gave me a momentary feeling of success. (And check it out - I bought myself a little folding table to augment my tiny little round table while quilting.) I should have just stopped there and called it good until next weekend. But no... I wanted to start on the border(s).

Back when I thought this quilt was going to be just pinks I had cut out several 1 1/2 inch wide strips of one of the light pink fabrics to use as the inner border. But then I added the yellow and thought the yellow sunburst fabric would make a really nice inner border. However, a couple of weeks ago I decided to clean my apartment and put the yellow fabric "away".

So there I was, having just finished the middle part of the quilt top, digging through my entire fabric stash (twice!) to see where it might be. Not only was I becoming increasingly frustrated in my inability to find the yellow fabric that I very clearly remember putting away *somewhere*, but I'm forced to face the fact that I have far more fabric than any sane apartment dweller can justify. I found fabric for:

  • - a full sized ten-thousand triangle quilt
  • - a flower basket quilt for my niece (lots of squares already cut)
  • - a pink & black pinwheel quilt
  • - about two baby-quilts worth of character prints
  • - several baby-quilts worth of non-character prints (I really had issues with the Fabric Depot outdoor sale this summer)
  • - easily half a dozen twin-sized scrap quilts worth of inherited fabrics
  • - an all cotton christmas themed lap-quilt or wall hanging
  • - about 4 skirts (three cotton, one cordoroy), flannel PJ bottoms from lord knows when & a half-sewn purse.
  • - and of course the Valorie Wells fabrics I showed off the other day.

If you're keeping track... that's enough fabric for at least 16 quilts and 6 other projects. IN A ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT! I know I told myself I was allowed to have a stash... I thought I had made peace with it, but honestly having to look at all of it is a bit overwhelming.

Oh...I did eventually find the yellow fabric I was looking for. I'd put it in one of the hat boxes reserved for my yarn stash (we're not even going to start talking about how much yarn I have hidden away). But now that I'm looking at it... I'm not even sure it's going to be enough for the border.

Why the @$^&! am I doing this again???

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Caturday Everyday

Some days... ok, most days... I wish I could be Sally.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Audience participation

Clearly I don't have nearly enough projects going on at the moment, so I've been contemplating starting up another one. =P But I need some help.

I've been collecting some Valorie Wells fabrics since this summer... and I know there's gotta be a quilt in here somewhere.
It can't be too complicated because the fabrics are really bright and busy. But I kinda want to do something slightly more exciting than my usual "lots & lots of little squares" motif. I found this pattern in a Fons & Porter magazine, and thought it might work really well.

I was thinking of using the busiest of the fabrics in the center square, then the brown polka dot fabric in the middle layer, then the bright colors on the outside layer.

And I found this pattern in a more recent Fons & Porter magazine.
I was thinking of dividing up the fabrics between the browns & brights and using half-square triangles, not the half-rectangle triangles as shown.

So what do you think? Diamonds or Squares? Something else entirely? Should I give up on these fabrics... let them marinate in the stash for a while?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Things that make me irationally happy!

I have no actual content today so I thought I would post some things that make me really happy.

First - Cute Shoes!

The brown ones are just cute, but the Converse sneakers are something I've been looking for for quite a while. I wear a boys size 4... which was rather hard to find.

Second - my obscure Dr. Who reference T-shirt!

There's this episode in season 2 where.... there's this guy... and he watches this video and the guy says "The angels have the phone box" and there's this whole conspiracy theory... and .... anyway, it's funny if you've seen it. Well... it was funny when I saw it.

So yeah... um... no actual content today. Carry on. =P

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

lots and lots of little squares

Well dang, blogger ate my first post... I’m never as charming the second time around, but here goes.

Last month when I got ‘snowed in’ I started working on a little one-block lap quilt for myself. I have actually been working on it; I just haven’t been posting my progress.

A knitter once asked me what was the garter stitch scarf equivalent in quilting… now quilting and knitting involve fairly different skill sets… but I’d say this is it, a small one sized-square block quilt. M5000 over at State of Craft recently posted a tutorial for making a quick crib quilt in this style. If you’re interested in making a quilt but don’t have any real-life quilters handy to help you – that’s a good place to start.

Mine is a bit different in that mine has smaller squares (2 ½” before sewing), it is also much pinker. ;)

Actually, while contemplating the overall pinkness of this quilt I did decide to throw in a few bright yellow squares for contrast. Also I didn’t lay out all the squares to decide on the final pattern before sewing. I matched up the individual squares one by one and chain pieced them together. Then I matched & chain pieced them two by two, and four by four etc.

My plan calls for the quilt to be 16 squares across (one strip) and about 25 strips long. So when I had almost all of the strips sewn up, I started auditioning them for final placement. I laid each strip down and added the next strip to see if they looked okay together.

I have about 30 different fabrics in this quilt so there was more than enough variety to avoid having two identical squares next to each other. With fewer fabrics it’s surprisingly tough to get a nice random look. Even with as many fabrics as I had, I still had to try a few different strips before getting the right one. This is why I didn’t wait until I had all of them done… so I could be a little more specific with some of them if I needed to.

There’s an art, or I should say, a trick to putting together a scrappy looking quilt without using actual scraps. So I stood there and stared at my final version to make sure it looked *just right* before I started sewing them all together. The thing is, it looked okay once I got to the end but felt like I should change *something* so I decided to try to scatter the yellow squares a bit more. But then I had to finagle like the entire rest of the quilt to get it right. I should have just left it as it was. Anyway I got the final layout that looked nice and scrappy and started sewing them up. And that’s where I am now.

I’m making more of an effort than I usually do to get the corners of the squares to line up just right. I swear I measure them all at 2 ½ inches square, then sew them with a ¼ inch seem… but a tiny error here and there can really add up. It’s nothing you can spot from a prancing pony, but I am trying to do better. I’m still a beginning quilter, but one day I do want to display one of my quilts in a show… and people look at those quilts from a very close range. I’ve been known to get about an inch away from a quilt to admire someone’s stitches… nothing I’ve made so far would stand up to that kind of scrutiny.

So that’s the quilt I’m currently working on. True to form I have about three other quilts in mind right now… oh and four or five knitting projects on the needles. I may need an intervention soon!

Monday, March 10, 2008


Ok... so it wasn't so much a Saul/Paul on the road to Damascas kind of conversion... but I'm none the less finally converted to sock knitting!

Once I got comfortable with the magic loop - they just flew off the needles. Short little ankle socks in Regia Surf Color with an Eye of Partridge heel. I lucked out with the striping - it matched nicely. They fit really well too!

I have to give major credit to my knitting group... if it hadn't been for them I would never have finished these socks. I just can't seem to learn new knitting techniques by reading about them. I need to see people doing them... and see them several times... before I feel confident trying them. Plus... it's nice to be able to show off my socks to folks who appreciate (or at least tolerate me showing off) a nice neat gusset & a well turned heel.

I've already cast on for another pair of socks.... yup completely converted. Any wagers on how long before it becomes an obsession?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Caturday is for thinking...

Caturday is for thinking
inside the box?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Ho! Ho! Oh So Cozy!

I've finished up my charming, although ill timed, Santa* Quilt.

And, as predicted, it is soooooo cozy. As soon as I curled up under it I decided that every quilt on the planet needs to be backed in flannel! Ok... maybe not *every* one... but certainly winter quilts. It's very soft, and just the right weight. I used an 80/20 Cotton-Poly blend for the batting. This was my first time using anything other than 100% cotton, and it worked well. I mean, I'll have to wash it to see how it compares to cotton batting with regard to shrinkage & bearding... but it was easy enough to work with and plenty warm.

In addition to my usual stitch in the ditch (I actually got the stitches *in* the ditch this time!), I added a few diagonal lines, then dropped the feed dogs to do some free motion stars in red thread on the blue star squares. Nothing fancy... just wanted to practice more free-motion quilting.

It's fun! I'm still not great at it, but I'll be using it again in future quilts.

I did a piss-poor job of 'labeling' this quilt... it didn't even occur to me until after I'd done the quilting. So I had to kinda stick my hand in a 'pocket' to embroider my initials through only the backing & batting. But I've got the date on it, and that's the important thing.

Other quilters out there (or quilt appreciators) - are your quilts labeled? If so, how? I've put my initials & the date on this quilt, my rail-fence quilt, and the one I made for my nephew, but I don't think I put anything on the baby-gift quilts I've made. I think I need to come up with a little label I can attach to my crafty things.

What I like best about this quilt is that it's for ME! The last quilt I made for myself was finished in 2005. Since then I've made three quilts for new little people, one quilt for my nephew, and I finished up a quilt my sister started & gave it back to her. I'm very excited to get to keep this one.

What I learned from this project:

  • I can throw together a fun & functional throw quilt in a relatively short period of time.

  • All flannels are not equal, I should compare the thickness & texture of the flannels before using them together in a quilt. Nevertheless, flannels are easy to work with and ooooooh so soft!

  • Poly-cotton batting is easy to use and warm

  • I should create a quilt label before I do the quilting! In fact, I think I'm going to insert that as the step immediately after finishing the quilt top, before making the quilt sandwich.

  • I tend to rush through projects. Although it's nice to have a finished object quickly, I might enjoy the end result better if I took more care to do things well, rather than just fast.

  • I need to plan out the quilting pattern as part of the overall plan of the quilt. If I wait until I finish the quilt top, I'm too impatient for the finished quilt to stop and think through my options.

  • Using the mitered corner tutorial on State of the Craft, I learned how to do a mitered corner... sort of. I need more practice on this.

  • Throws / lap quilts are easier to make than full sized quilts (I knew this already, but wanted to add it in as a reminder to myself), and since I'm short, 60" x 60" is plenty big enough for me to curl up under.

  • I need a new quilting station! I know, I know, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools.. but even quilting a small quilt is difficult without a decent sized worksurface. I saw an ad for a portable sewing table in one of my quilt magazines so I'm going to look into that.

And after finishing up the quilt, as per tradition, I gave Peggy a shiny star (the green one on the lower left), and changed my needle. It should be common sense but I used to only change my needle when it bent or broke... now I change it after every major project, and I think it helps keep her sewing along nicely.

So yay for my Santa quilt.... only three months late. =P

* Ironically, I'm not a big fan of Santa... or even Christmas really. I'm just a sucker for tradition. =P

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ribbit ribbit

Yup... I'm doing something I rarely do... frogging. I was making pretty good progress with my socks, but the laddering at the beginning was really bothering me. Plus, I started knitting them on two size 1 circulars, then I decided to try the magic loop and bought a 47" size 1 ciruclar needle. Perfect... except the first size 1s were 2.25mm and the second size 1 was 2.5mm. So my gauge is off. I'm a product knitter more than a process knitter, so I'm usually willing to keep going in spite of mistakes just to get a project finished... but this was just bad.

So the socks that looked like this:

Now look like this:

But wait! There's more!

Now that I feel comfortable with the magic loop method, and I know that I need to pull the first couple stitches on each side really tight to stop the laddering... I decided to go deep... DEEP into my closet, under the box of Pattons, under the two boxes of Lambs Pride, down into the rubbermade tub of no return to resurect these:

The infamous closet socks. The first one started out okay... but then I went to Knit/Purl for their "Champagne & Chocolate Knitting Night" I don't know why I thought that was a good place to finish up the toe. After a glass of champagne, I stopped decreasing every other row, and started decreasing every row so the toe quite a bit more pointed than my actual toes.

However, I tried them on, and it's really not that bad of a fit, so I transfered the second sock off the evil DPNs and onto the circular needle. I think the DPNs were a 2.25 again... but I'm going to go with it. I've just started the heel so when I do the decreases for the gusset, I'll just make a couple other decreases.

Check me out! Knitting socks.... who knew?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Quilt Appreciation 101

They say everyone is their own worst critic, and that's probably true of me. In particular, when I look at my quilts I am very much aware of how my work stacks up against all of the very fine quilts I have seen. But in some ways, I'm comfortable with that. Somewhere in the crafting world I think we've gone from being supportive to being, in some cases, sycophantic. Every creative effort is celebrated, however unattractive or technically deficient the result. Which is not to say I think we should go around nit-picking and critiquing people's work (especially if they haven't asked for it) but rather that it's okay to give constructive feedback and to keep one's praise in perspective.

Now, there are a lot of different ways to judge a quilt, fairly complex judging rubrics are used in juried shows. There are different categories for kids, new quilters, teachers or professionals. Then of course there are sub-categories of theme and technique. Once within a particular category, there are a number of qualities a quilt can be judged on, overall appearance, piecing, stitching, borders, etc. etc. I have no desire to get that involved in evaluating quilts... but I did want to share with you examples of what I consider really great quilts... and not so great quilts.

For my quick and dirty comparison, I'm using the oh so familiar A-F grading scale. Now, I want to make it clear that I love all my quilts, and a quilt (mine or someone else's) doesn't have to be of superior quality for me to really enjoy it. Quilt appreciation is largely a subjective matter.

Starting out with the poorer quality quilts. I have actually seen quilts I would grade an "F" but as they were not my quilts, I don't feel right posting pictures here. They were, of course, first quilts- but still quite bad. To get an F there need to be some fundamental problems; blocks of substantially different sizes, and of poor construction, batting coming through in spots, and quilting lines that are very far apart, barely holding the three layers of the quilt together. Those are quilts only by the strictest definition of three layers of fabric sewn together. As I said, I have seen quilts like this. Even though I would grade them an F... this is a valid starting place. If the quilter is willing to accept some constructive feedback, much can be learned from a quilt like this. The most important thing to learn is often "I really can make a quilt." Overcoming that hurdle is the first step on the road to quilting success (oh man, that sounds like a self-help book doesn't it?) But maybe we could say the "F" stands for "First try."

Next up is the D quality quilt. At this level, the basics of quilting are understood if not especially well executed. Here is my very first quilt, for example, one that I am extremely proud of, and quite happy to grade as a D for... "Doin' ok"

The pattern is a traditional nine patch, and I think the color choice was nice, if very safe. However, there's a noticable difference in the size of the blocks, and the sashes in the middle are of totally inconsistant widths. It's also lacking a border, or binding... being constructed pillow-style and turned inside out for the quilting. The quilting successfully attaches the three layers of the quilt, but there is no overall pattern. The nine-patch blocks have an X quilted through them, and the sashes are quilted 'in the ditch'. It's really hit or miss. So this quilt gets a D... which I think is a pretty good grade for a first attempt.

Although you'd never know it the way most things are graded these days, but a C is supposed to be the average. And I think it's fair to say I'm currently quilting at a C level.

This one for example, is good but not great. I think the colors and design go together well. The pattern is simple but the fabrics are bright... a good balance. The inner and outer borders complement the quilt well in size and color.
But the actual sewing & quilting is fairly weak. You can't spot it from a prancing pony (another method of judging a quilt), but the corners don't match up, the lines are uneven and the binding is machine sewn. So let's call it a C for "Charming", it's got some pros, it's got some cons. One of my better quilts so far.

Here are a couple of quilts I saw in shows... I'd give them all B for "Beautiful"

The designs and fabrics work well together. The technical aspects are well executed. The quilting is generally more involved than 'stitch in the ditch' . And although there's a standard quilt pattern used - there's a lot of individual expression.

This is the level to which I aspire... and feel like I could acheive if I didn't try to rush through my quilt projects.

Now these are the grade A "Absolutely Amazing" quilts. When I see a quilt of this level, I usually stop and stare for quite a while.

In addition to the above qualities of good fabric & design & quilting, there's an added level of technical difficulty and artistic expression. (wait... that's ice skating isn't it. ;) )

Above and beyond the Grade A quilts there are quilts that are just breathtaking. Quilts that I can't believe a real person actually made. If I were to create a grade for them it would be O, for "OMG!" although "Off the charts." or "Outstanding" would be appropriate too.

Take, for example, this open-work masterpiece:

I litterally gasped when I saw this one, and spent several minutes examining each block, and standing back to get the overall picture. Open-work, as it was explained to me, means the red fabric is under the white, the white gets snipped away, and sewn down to create the patterns. I'm pretty sure this was all hand quilted. Each of these blocks was probably about 5 inches square (I'm totally guessing) so that gives an idea of the intricacy involved.

I was in awe.

And then there's this quilt... I never had the pleasure of seeing it in person, but admired it on a couple different websites.

It's called "Little Cities", created by Kathy York, and won an International Quilt Show award. This is among the best of the best quilts around.

Which brings me back around to evaluating my own humble attempts at quilting. I know that I will never put in the time & effort required to acheive an Off the charts, Outstanding quilt like one of these. And I will probably need several years more experience, and perhaps the benefit of a class or two, before I create an Amazing quilt. But if I put a little more care & attention into my quilts I could realistically make some Beautiful quilts that I would be proud to display in a show. For now though, dividing my time, effort, and attention between several activities... I'm quite happy to be producing Charming quilts that will keep me (or a few lucky children) warm & cozy.

I should really learn to read a map.

Things I'm pretty good at: being compassionate.

Things I'm not very good at: giving directions.

The nature of the place that I work is such that I often run into people who are lost and need help getting to where they want to go. It's a very big and confusing place, and it took me at least two years of working there before I felt like I knew where things were. Of course at that point they started tearing down buildings and putting up new ones. Anyway, I always do my best to get them where they are going, or at least point them in the direction of an information desk.

However my directions often include a lot of pointing and vague hand waving gestures and oh so helpful comments like "You can't really see it - but the building is over there... if you take the road that's down there and just kinda curve around but don't curve all the way around, go straight... there should be a sign.... I think. Good luck!" Which is probably not as helpful as it could be. But I generally get them going in the right direction... more or less.

One day last week I was walking home for lunch, reading of course, and a woman called to me. I looked up and she said "Can you help me.", "Absolutely!" I replied walking towards her. But as soon as I could see her face it was clear she was crying. I had an overwhelming urge to hug her on the spot, but as it's generally not a good idea to hug strangers, I just kinda patted her arm and said "Oh Honey! What's wrong?"

"I'm lost... I've been driving around, and I don't know where I going." she's holding one of those spiral bound street-maps that I often see in the back seat of peoples cars, but never actually use myself.

"It's okay... don't worry, you're okay... deep breath... you're okay....where do you need to go?"

She shows me on the map, and unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the place where I work. It's somewhere... in the hills.

I live on a hill... one of the 'west hills' and people are always telling me things like "Oh, you can get there a lot easier - take the back road over the hill" but then I ask them exactly which roads to take they can never tell me, they just say "It's easy - take the back way." which is endlessly annoying to me. I may give horrid directions, but I don't add insult to injury by saying "It's easy!" I can occasionally get to a little store in the hills... and once I even made it to the park (although I was told again that I took 'the long way' and that there was an 'easy' way). But on more than one occasion I've found myself driving around in circles only to pop out someplace completely unexpected... but mercifully near a road I was familiar with.

So back to the crying woman holding the map, pointing to the place where she wants to be. It took a good five mintues (and much flipping the book around and around) before I even figured out where we were on the map and got it oriented correctly. Eventually I figured out on the map how to get from where we were to where she wanted to go, and showed her on the map. Then did my afore mentioned pointing and waving in the general direction of where she wanted to be. Once we established that she knew where to go, I said a few more encouraging words (and resisted hugging her), sent her on her way, then turned down my street to go home.

I was a block away, and she was well out of site before I remembered.... I completely forgot to tell her about two very confusing intersections she was going to encounter as soon as she got to the top of the hill. D'oh!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Caturday is for helping

Sally does a good job of holding down the end of my quilt while I pin it.
She's somewhat less helpful when I actually try to sew it.