Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Here's wishing you a SPOOKtacular Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dandelion time

In my Twelve by Twelve challenge group, it's time for everyone to reveal their first challenge pieces on the theme "Dandelion." Here's mine.

Click on the link to go see what people have done. They're stunning, and all quite different!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Scribble Series

Thank you all for your lovely comments on Split Infinitives! It's lovely to hear such encouraging words, especially as I felt like I was just stumbling around, making this.

Kristin, your comment about how to piece this together was just what was going on in my head and what stalled me on this for a long time. I have a definite preference for piecing things together, and I have a funny thing about raw edges. They look perfectly wonderful in other people's work. But whenever I have exposed raw edges in my own, this voice in my head (sounding suspiciously like a cross between my high school sewing teacher and my mother) tells me "Messy! Sloppy! Messy!" And I then want to fiddle and trim and no matter what I do, I'm not satisfied.

I suppose I need to set myself the project of making some little experiments with wildly exposed edges to get myself over the trauma!

So it was interesting that what I wanted to reflect on this piece was this sort of look:

This is when they were slapped up on my wall, with threads dangling wildly. In any event, I did end up just smacking these squiggly pieces down and stitching around the edges. In retrospect, I think I should have maybe done LESS quilting around the squiggly bits ... but I was driven to smooth out the bumps and flatten the edges popping up. Knowing when to stop is sometimes the hardest thing, yes?

This was the second in the scribble series (I've not quilted the first one yet) but I found that piecing sort of killed the spontaneity of the scribble:

Do you see what I mean? It's like energy contained, so the liveliness is lost. Hm, which may give rise to a name for this and a reason to go further with it...

So I think my next experiment with these scribbles (ooh! A series!) will try to incorporate the split squiggles and dangling threads. I'm thinking to pre-quilt the background and then hand stitch the split squiggles directly on. We'll see.

Anyway, thanks for the grand encouragement!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Split Infinitives

Remember these bits of split squiggles I was playing with after the workshop with Gerry Chase? They've been sitting on my design wall for a while, and I liked them so much that way that I decided to place them on a white field and leave it at that.

Then they sat on the wall, pinned to white fabric for ages, while I thought about how to quilt them. I finally opted to scribble-quilt around them. I did some on my tabletop Bernina, and some on the Juki mounted on the quilting frame. (Because Pam showed me that you can use do both on the same piece. Duh.)

My photo skills aren't the best, and it's hard to photograph an essentially white quilt anyway. But you get the idea. Here's a detail shot to show how I quilted it.

Given that this was one of those things where I had no idea where I was going from one step to the next (hmm, what happens if I try this? And what if I do this?) I had pretty low expectations all along. But I'm pleased with the result.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oh, my aching head...

Every once in a while I get the sort of headache that just fells me. My doctor tells me they're hormonal, and so far I've not found a medication that does much for them, really. But they're pretty infrequent and I tend to just take an Aleve and go nap and 12 hours later I'm fine.

One of these struck yesterday. Unfortunately, on Monday night I'd happily packed up my stuff and gathered my "show and tell" for the Pointless Sisters, my guild's art quilt group, and I'd planned to be there on Tuesday morning. I've not been able to get to a meeting in ages and ages, so I was determined. And then I woke up with familiar feeling of a bad headache coming on ("Frank, it's one of my sick headaches..." Remember Darrin's mother on Bewitched?). And even then, I was going to brace myself and go, still. But at 9am, only minutes before I was going to leave, the lawn-mowing guys (who are supposed to come on Monday and never have come on Tuesday before) opened the gate to get the clippings bin and let Gemma out.

AARRGH. So Gemma had a happy dash up the street (she always heads straight to her friend Sadie's house), and I had to hop in the car to follow her and bring her home. (Note to self: read up on dog training and the command "Come.") We can call until our heads fall off, and Gemma just looks at us, grinning, and then dashes off. But pull up in the car, and she hops right in. Go figure.

So by the time I got Gemma back inside, I was irritable and headachey and I opted for a BIGGER headache pill. So to my Pointless friends? I WILL be there one of these times, really I will. I don't know what it is about the 4th Tuesday of each month, but lately it's been a very uncooperative day. But I keep trying!

I rallied around lunch time to try out the new Dyson Animal vacuum cleaner we agreed to test out. As we have 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 school-aged child and 2 fairly messy adults, our floors are rarely spotless for long...and our old vacuum cleaner is acting, well, weak. Yes, I bought into the idea that the Dyson is MADE to suck up animal hair. So, here's the test I performed: I vacuumed the family room vigorously with the old vacuum ("OV"), as I would for a regular vacuuming session. THEN I unpacked the Dyson (which came with the worst --bar none-- product instructions I have ever seen with any product, ever) and, eventually, gave it a go in the same room. I was fascinated (and then sort of horrified) at the amount of gunk and dirt and animal hair that showed up in the Dyson AFTER I'd just vacuumed to a state I'd thought was sufficient cleanliness. Oh, my. There is something rather satisfying about seeing all the gunk you vacuum up. Makes the task seem worthwhile, frankly.

But the Dyson is BEASTLY heavy, and there appears to be easy storage method for the various attachments...Or maybe there is but I sure couldn't decipher it from the incomprehensible product information.

So we're not sure the Dyson is here to stay. Will we really haul it up and down stairs, with it being that heavy? Or should we keep the OV for upstairs and use the Dyson downstairs, where the floor mess is the worst?

Evening found me back on the bed with a heated pad on my head while I listened to Terry Gross interview Valerie Plame Wilson on Fresh Air. Plame, you will remember, is the undercover CIA operative "outed" by Cheny and Scooter Libby etc because her husband's writings challenged the positions the Bush administration was taking about the Iraq war. I was so impressed by Plame's articulateness. She's plugging a new book, which I will have to read.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What are you doing in my book?

I can still remember the moment when, as a child in elementary school, I heard another child talk about a book I'd just read. What? I thought, She knows those people, too? It was as if someone suddenly announced that they'd had the same dream I'd had.

From as far back as I can remember, I'd get so immersed in reading that I'd tune out all noise around me and I wouldn't hear my name being called. I was living with those characters. I entered their world, and they inhabited my mind. (It's no wonder that one of my all-time favorite movies is Woody Allen's "Purple Rose of Cairo," where movie characters step off the screen into Mia Farrow's life and she is allowed to enter into the fictional movie world.) So the thought that other people -- random people! -- knew those same characters and had entered that same world really shocked me. I felt invaded, somehow, and then, of course, rather foolish for reacting so proprietarily about fictional characters.

Perhaps that's why, to this day, I have a hard time talking about novels. I read them constantly, and I love reading with a deep passion. But talking about the novels I've read feels a bit like opening up private dreams, and verbally critiquing novels can feel a bit like betraying family members. I know, it's odd and not logical, especially since critical reading and analytical skills are key in my professional life. Give me any nonfiction and I can talk about it without hesitation and analyze it with sharp skill. But with fiction, I'm essentially non-critical. I enter the world the author has created, and I live in it until the end of the book. I don't think about it critically, really, unless I have a hard time staying engrossed... and then I admit to myself that the book isn't well written or the characters are wooden or the plot is pretty dumb. But generally speaking, give me a fictional world and I'll forgivingly jump right in. To be honest, I read to escape, not to think.

And those issues cause me to wonder how it is I've gotten myself into not just one, but TWO book clubs. The superficial explanations are easy. One group, my "no guilt" book club, is a group of moms who connected when our kids were in preschool together. We really like each other, and our day-to-day lives no longer allow us to see each other, so our monthly book club dinner is a chance to connect and catch up. We're really a women's-going-out-to-dinner group, with occasional references to books we've read. I love those get-togethers, and I love how we can go from talking about books to discussing which new wine releases are good to crying over someone's recent separation to giggling over a cute waiter and then gossiping about which PTO member showed up with some new plastic surgery. It's that sort of deep intellectual connection that keeps us all showing up for more.

The second club is a new thing. I live on a street in a suburban development where many of the houses are occupied by new families. My next door neighbor J. is new at staying at home with her 2 year old, and I think she's eager to generate some intellectual stimulation. She decided to organize a book club for the women on our street, so we'd get to know each other and have some smart conversations about books. The pressure to participate was, shall we say, not subtle. I agreed, finally, thinking that at least I'd get to know some of the neighbors I barely know.

We met last month at J.'s house to organize and talk about the first pick, which was Pat Conroy's The Great Santini. I hadn't even picked up the book from the library before I got a phone call from J. telling me not to bother reading it. Apparently various folks had agreed that they hated it, and they all wanted to watch the movie instead. A "Don't Read the Book but Watch the Movie Instead" book club? Well, I figured I'd see. So, when we met, Robert Duvall verbally abused his family on the tv screen in the background while we chit-chatted and ate lunch, and one neighbor lobbied to have our next book be "one of those mysteries with recipes in it." We could even make the recipes, she suggested, and compare results.

Ultimately, a third neighbor got the task of choosing this month's book and she chose Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. As I'd had this book on my shelf for a few months but hadn't yet gotten around to reading it, I was rather pleased. And I enjoyed the book enormously, even though it took an entirely different track than what I'd anticipated from reading the cover blurbs when I bought it. (It's the story of -- well, I can't even begin to describe it. Go read the description.)

And today is our next book club get together. Given that I have a hard time talking about novels to begin with, and that this book addresses gender confusion and hermaphrodite-ism and incest and family secrets and other pretty huge issues, and there was no movie for the non-readers to watch, AND there were no recipes in the book, I have no idea how this afternoon will go.

I'll show up with my book in hand and a bit of crocheting to keep my hands busy, because it's the neighborly thing to do. And I'm reminding myself that I'm not going to be bothered that other people lived in my little Middlesex world for a while, too.

I'm updating this to report on the book club meeting. The non-reading neighbor didn't come, begging off due to a family commitment. She is expected to come next time, though, so I will defer my assessment until then I guess. The six of us who came had a very active and interesting discussion of the novel, as it turned out. We vary in age, from about 60 down to 30, and it was interesting to see how age/generational experiences affected our views of the novel. And yes, I was able to express some views about recurring themes in the book without feeling as if I was betraying family confidences! So, it was a lovely afternoon, actually. The pick for next time hasn't been selected yet, but I'm encouraged as the choices are all interesting ones. And maybe Ms. Movie will end up deciding to drop the group altogether. I hope.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back to school

School resumes tomorrow for the kids at Caroline's school, and we have been working hard to get the Phoenix Rising quilt done for the principal. So I quilted fast and furiously today, and now all there is left to do is the binding and hanging sleeve. I'll get than sewn tonight, after I get a bit of legal work out of the way.

Although Caroline and I agreed that we didn't want to feature the fire aspect of this theme too prominently, I really like the way the flames at the bottom turned out. I had just bought a few big spools of variegated King Tut thread at the Superior Threads booth at PIQF, and I put the yellow tones and red/orange spools to good use! I stitched a flame pattern in red, then went back through in yellow. I'm not sure the photo shows it that well, but in person it looks pretty cool if I do say so myself!

By the way, Caroline and I spent the morning at school on Tuesday to help some of the teachers move into their new rooms, and we were amazed at how much had been done in less than 2 weeks. The remains of the burned buildings were totally gone, down to concrete foundations. There is so much new stuff there all of a sudden -- some beautiful redwood trees donated by a local nursery (no trees were damaged in the fire, luckily), new fences, the new portable buildings... It was different and a bit chaotic, what with chain link fence surrounding areas that will now be a construction zone, but it's clear that there's an active, cheerful school going forward. I think these two weeks away from school under these circumstances have made even the most reluctant students eager to get back to school and their friends.

And I suspect the moms will appreciate a bit of peace, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Experimenting and having fun

This is a little preview of the piece I'm working on for the Twelve by Twelve challenge. And, as my work on this has evolved, I've found that it has done exactly what I wanted this challenge to do.

I've been keeping track of my ideas in a sketchbook, a new process for me (at least in any sort of organized way). I've used my own dyed fabric, and I experimented with resist and discharge techniques, which were fun even though I opted not to use them. I hooked up my new Bernina needle felting attachment and had a grand time playing with that. I tried out a bunch of machine quilting ideas, used water color pastels, and even ventured into (gasp) embroidery embellishment.

Good thing this is only 12x12". But maybe that's one of the good things about working this small -- this detail work might not be effective on a larger scale.

Anyway, I'm having fun and am ALMOST done with my piece.

To see my piece and the other 11 pieces on this theme, you'll have to check here on November 1!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Out of the Ashes

Caroline is still at home due to the big fire at her school. Today we decided to make a piece of art for the principal's new office, as that was among the buildings totally destroyed. Since part of Caroline's Chinese name means "Phoenix," she is well-acquainted with the symbolism of the phoenix rising from ashes and she decided that would be a wonderful theme.

Caroline drew this picture of a phoenix, which we enlarged to about 36" x 36".

We transferred it to a piece of silk and drew the outline with Jacquard resist.

And then Caroline got to work with Dyna-flow paints.

She's done the drawing and job will be the sewing. Caroline is so excited about giving this to her beloved principal!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Home and inspired

Well, I'm back from my adventures!

What a great weekend I had...and all that fun on the heels of some lovely time at the Bishop's Ranch quilt retreat, too.

I picked my friend Rita up on Friday morning, and despite driving rain and a lot of traffic (California drivers do tend to get confused in the rain) we had a nice drive down the peninsula to Santa Clara, where the Pacific International Quilt Festival is held. Isn't having a hunk of time in the car with a good friend one of the best things? As usual, we just talked and laughed and talked and laughed all the way there.

We decided we had to fortify ourselves with lunch before braving PIQF, so we stopped at a Chinese restaurant right across the street for some steaming hot and sour soup (perfect on a rainy day) and a tasty lunch. And then we ventured into the convention center for the quilt extravaganza.

This was Rita's first PIQF adventure, so it was fun reliving the first-time excitement of seeing a ton of world-class quilts in one place. Once again, I remembered how quilts that are stunning in pictures are that much more amazing in person. We saw so many incredible quilts. This year, I decided not to take a single picture, opting instead to make small sketches of certain elements that surprised me or seemed useful to me. So, no pictures here of the show. But we saw Terri Grant's gorgeous Anne Frank portrait quilt in the She Made her Mark exhibit ... oh, and I was delighted to see that a friend and member of my guild, Judy Mathieson, won a big blue ribbon for "Expanding Star," one of her huge Mariners' Compass quilts. It was exquisite, as are all of Judy's quilts. Nancy S. Brown, the best maker of animal quilts I know (go look here and scroll down to #7092, Sunday in the Park with Mittens), had a wonderful new gorilla quilt there. Oh, heck, I saw so many wonderful quilts and I can't even remember whose or what now. Which is a good reason to take pictures, isn't it?

I find that every year, I focus on particular details. This year, I found myself watching for and studying how certain quilt artists used commercial fabrics in surprising or especially skillful ways. As much as I like hand-dyed and/or painted and/or surface treated fabrics, I think I tend to find special skill and talent in artists who can use commercially printed fabrics in ways that use the print as an elemental part of their know, where you don't look and say, "Oh, look, there's a Kaffe Fassett print" or "I have that Amy Butler pattern..." Sue Benner and Ruth McDowell are masters of this, of course, but there are plenty of others. I had a very good time studying that.

And of course, I did manage to make a few purchases...a Bernina #57 foot (that's a quarter inch foot with an edge guide) -- on sale, no less, a few pieces of Japanese and Australian fabric I couldn't pass up, Ruth McDowell's new book on design, the latest issue of Cloth, Paper, Scissors. Great finds, all.

Oh! And I picked up a few extra issues of the November/December issue of Mark Lipinski's Quilter's Home Magazine, because of the great article all about my sister Laura's needlework designs! I had to get a few to pass to my mom and my aunt!

Anyway. It was a lovely two days, and I came away very inspired and eager to get back to my sewing table.

But first, there are family members to cuddle and laundry to be done and bags to unpack and money-earning work to be completed. The fabric will be there when I'm ready...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Having fun is fun!

My horoscope for today is instructing me to go off and have fun:

There is no denying that having fun is ... well, fun! So try to put some good old silliness at the top of your 'to do' list today. You can kiss goodbye to the deep issues of life for at least the next twenty four hours, and focus on just skimming the surface of things. Keeping life light and breezy will be pretty easy today, especially if you are surrounded by friends who understand how to have a good time. Keep it simple, keep it low maintenance -- and you'll keep smiling!

Apparently Mr. Horoscope is a day or two behind, as this sort of sums up life at Bishop's Ranch on retreat. So, even in advance of this nice instruction, I've been popping out to the ranch retreat every day for a whole lot of goofy quilting fun. But apparently I'm fated for more fun as I head down to the bay area to go to the Pacific International Quilt Festival.

Today's news is that Caroline's school will resume Wednesday if all goes well. Missing only 7 actual school days given a major fire seems miraculous. It was quite handy that another child from Caroline's class lives on the premises of the ranch where my retreat was being held, so she was able to come with me a few times to play with her buddy while I played with mine.

I didn't take any pictures this time, as I was a bit discombobulated by having to figure out how to juggle schedules every day, but given the school situation I did get to be there for a good amount of time. And, as ever, I come away feeling so enriched by the experience of quality time with some really wonderful women. I feel so fortunate to be able to hang out with those folks and laugh and laugh and laugh.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thank you

I just wanted to thank all of you for your very warm and kind emails about my daughter's school. I've been so touched by your concern for our wellbeing. Having your life affected by a major fire is a huge thing, of course, and having my daughter's school destroyed by fire has been shocking and unsettling. It does make you realize how, for families with school-aged kids, the school itself is a central element of our lives. And when a big disaster befalls the school, it affects everyone.

School is suspended for the week, if not longer. I've been impressed and charmed at how quickly the 6th grade kids (mindful of their roles as the "senior" students) are rallying with ideas and ways to help the younger kids cope.

Anyway, it's been a huge event, and I really do appreciate your emails and comments with concern and support.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Tidying up

What's this, you say? A very clean sewing table? A rare occurrence, indeed.

And another stitchery sample finished? (This is "Color Study: Flying Geese," stitched up in pinks and reds for my sister. You can order her patterns here -- and they're easy... I did this one during evening tv viewing in about 3 weeks. And I don't even watch very much tv.)

Yep, I've been finishing stuff. Look-- fruit quilt # 3 quilted and bound and ready to donate to a homeless shelter.

This wouuld make a great picnic quilt, wouldn't it? I couldn't resist trying some artful draping in the backyard.

All of this is in preparation for my October Week of Quilting Fun -- four days of quilt retreat at Bishops Ranch (you can see my happy ravings about past retreats here and here) and then down to the bay area to attend the Pacific International Quilt Festival next weekend. This is always a very fun week. I'm especially looking forward to seeing my retreat friends at the Ranch.

Unfortunately, a difficult community disaster hit this morning which will make my quilt fun a bit tricker, to say the least. Caroline's elementary school was significantly damaged by fire early this morning, and school is cancelled for tomorrow, if not more. There's enough damage that I can't imagine that there'll be school at all this week, but we'll see. The multi-purpose room, office, and bathrooms were completely destroyed. Several classrooms sustained some damage, but most are okay. So, for the week ahead? Who knows. One of Caroline's classmates lives on the Ranch premises where the retreat is, so Caroline will come with me to play there and hang out with quilters for some of the time tomorrow. We'll just play it day by day from there. Everyone will have to be flexible.

I remember as a kid wishing that some disaster would befall the school so I could stay home (in California, we don't get to hope for snow days!) but now that this wonderful little rural school has been damaged, everyone is very upset. I think I've spoken to every 6th grade mom this morning, in shock and dismay and worrying about how the kids will cope. Caroline is drawing a comforting picture for her school principal and last year's teacher (whose room was really damaged) as I type this.

We never know what tomorrow will bring, do we?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Twelve by Twelve

There's a lot to be said for deadlines. Although I'd like to think I have the discipline to accomplish the various things I want to do on my own, I tend to get distracted easily. There's work, and family, and other fun things, not to mention starting new projects and exploring new ideas when I haven't even finished the eleventy-six projects I have going already. External motivators, such as a group to which I'm accountable and a deadline, can really help me.

And a while ago, at a local quilt show, I was taken with an exhibit of journal quilts made by a group of 5 talented quilters I know. I was charmed by what they'd done, but even more envious of seeing how their working together had pushed each of them to be better.

With that in mind, I decided to find my own group. We've banded together as the Twelve by Twelve artists, as there are 12 of us and we've agreed to work in a 12x12 format. (Brilliant name invented by Brenda Smith, eh?) I especially like that we're all over the world ... we're not limited by geography and can share our thoughts and work with each other online! We've formed a blog where we can talk about our progress, and we're having fun getting to know each other and sharing ideas. Our first challenge is Dandelion (my pick) and we'll reveal our pieces to each other on the blog around Nov. 1.

I'm very inspired by joining up with these talented artists, and I throw this idea out here because I don't think I'm alone in feeling that having a group can be a great thing: Try it yourself! If you're interested in this sort of project, email some people you know (or whose work you like, even if you don't know them) and invite them to join you. You can cruise through the Artful Quilters blog ring to find people whose work and communication styles appeal to you, and tell them what you're thinking about. You'd probably be surprised at how eager people are to find like-minded artists and to try a new venture. Blogger and other blog hosts make it easy to set up group blogs, too.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Still playing with color

It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday, so after I got some work out of the way, I decided to break out the dye and play a bit more with complementary colors. I dyed 3 separate trays, and in each one poured complementary colors on opposite sides and tried to smush the color into the middle. I got some very fun results and will be doing more of this, I can tell.

Here's yellow and violet...not an appealing combination in the pan...

But I love this result.

Here's orange and blue, creating a rather garish mix:

...which led to this result. Interesting how the green separated out, huh?

In the red and green dish, I smushed and smushed (that's the technical term) until I was afraid it was too muddy (this is before the smushing)

but apparently I didn't smush enough, as the colors didn't blend nearly as much as I thought they were.

This brought to mind the more scientific result we'd done with Carol Soderlund. There, we dyed up gradations of complementary colors, and with the end bits of dye mixed them together to see what color resulted when we mixed various complementary colors. Here's my page of dye swatches from that experiment. You can see the color gradations, and the last two swatches at the bottom of each color strip are the colors that result from mixing in a bit of the complementary color. Nice way to explore browns, mushroomy colors.