Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chocolate is now served...

Pop on over to the Twelve by 12 blog to see our second round of challenge quilts! Our reveal date is officially Feb. 1, but as it's already Feb. 1 in Australia where Brenda is, she posted hers and gradually all 12 will appear. Francoise chose this theme, "chocolate." Seemed like it should have been easy, but most of us have agreed that we had so many ideas that it was actually hard to choose one and go forward.

This is my contribution, which I call "Still Life Without Chocolate" ... because chocolate just doesn't last that long in our house.

I created the silver wrapper by using some soft silver metallic fabric I had from a time when I tried to make a princess bower for Caroline in her room, before she left the Princess phase and entered the Horse phase. I fused it on, then stitched to create "wrinkle" lines, then shaded with Caran D'ache neocolor crayons and painted the gold folded edges with Lumiere paint.

As always, it is so fun to see what the others have done on this theme! I can't wait to see them all!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Review: Color Splashed Quilts

"Color-Splashed Quilts" (C&T Pub. 2007) has just the sort of bright, happy cover that gets my attention. And this book is full of cheerful, colorful and easy quilts to make and to jump-start ideas for original creations. The premise of this book is to introduce quilters unfamiliar or intimidated about fusing to using fused applique to add fun to a simple pieced quilt.

And it does what it promises. Using charming simple shapes (frogs, fruit, flowers, dogs, etc), author Carol Burniston shows how the shapes can be fused, machine appliqued or hand appliqued to turn a basic quilt into a jazzy, happy one. There are a lot of good ideas here, and all the basics for simple applique.

Technique-wise, this book isn't for an experienced quilter. there's a reason I've used the word "simple" repeatedly. Still, this book provides good inspiration for making fun kid-friendly quilts, for example, or for making any simple quilt pattern your own with a bit of applique.

Monday, January 28, 2008

January in California

This is the view from my bedroom window. I look out every morning, loving the hills in the distance and the way the fog and mist rolls over them so softly. And yes, that's SNOW. Just below the snow, you can see a field of grapevines, complete with the tinge of mustard weed beginning to bloom yellow. And the daffodils have sprouted in the backyard already. Is it spring? winter? How handy, to have a bit of each right now.

I have been hunkered down inside, staying warm and getting a big work project done and catching up on home chores and preparing for C's 12th birthday tomorrow.

And I finished my 12 x 12 challenge quilt finally. Check out the 12x12 blog for the big reveal on February 1!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's Up, doc?

I've had a fairly productive couple of days.

Well, I finished King Tut finally.

He now has pale hieroglyphics behind him, and I added binding. It was a fun experiment, and reminded me of how easy and effective is to sew right through tracing paper to follow lines. And now that I know how fun it is to use those Lumiere paints, I know I'll be working with them again.

Much of the weekend was taken up by working on the chocolate challenge for my Twelve by 12 challenge group. For a topic so dear to my heart, I had a surprisingly hard time settling on a direction to take. And once I did...well, I created a problem for myself that it took a while to correct. You can read about it here on the Twelve by 12 blog. It was those alluring Caran D'ache neocolor pastel crayons that did me in... they're so much fun to use and provide such soft color for shading that it's tempting to just keep going and going. That delicate issue of knowing when to stop reared its head -- and I didn't. Know when to stop that is. Ah, well. On Saturday, I worked with the one I ruined to try to get it to an acceptable place... and when I decided that I was still unhappy, I redid the thing on Monday. But now I'm happy with it and I am leaving it ALONE. As my friend Rita says, "STEP AWAY FROM THE CRAYONS."

At a bookstore recently, I saw a book on acrylic painting that looked to have quite a few ideas and techniques that would work on fabric. In an exercise of restraint, I wrote down the title to get it from the library and it just came in for me yesterday. I had fun looking through it, and I was right -- there are great jumping off ideas for fabric painting. The book is called Acrylic Revolution.

I'm also reading a book called "Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons, a book about how teenaged girls' social dynamics are so different from the overt bullying that boys go through. This author (a researcher who interviewed a bunch of girls from all over the place) talks about how girls use "relational aggression" -- silent treatment, rejection, exclusion, rumor spreading, mean looks, ganging up on each other -- as ways of jockeying for power. I don't know a mom of a 12 year old girl who isn't worried, watching her daughter try to negotiate the daily "girl stuff" at school, and remembering how it felt to be 12 and uncertain and hormonal and self-conscious and all. One of the fascinating things to me in this book is how the author recognizes that for girls, these behaviors take place within friendships, and how difficult it can be for girls to figure out how to handle this sort of thing. Most of us adults don't handle it well, really. At any rate, I'd recommend this book for any mom of a preteen girl.

It's raining, raining, raining here in California, and it's cold enough that snow is visible on the hills we see from our house. Lovely!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My desk, etc.

Helen tagged me to show my work desk. Oh dear! At least she caught me in a relatively tidy period... Usually there are a lot more work papers stacked up to the left of the keyboard. That's my "work in progress" area and usually it's a jumble of yellow legal pads, files, and miscellaneous papers. (It will shortly look like that, as I'm about to launch in to a big appellate brief project that promises to generate a lot of paper...)

This is one corner of my office/studio. I cram a lot of activity into this little room! That wall area over on the left? That's part of the funny design wall area I have, the best part of which disappears behind the door when it's open. (I can't tell you how many times I've had the door closed to pin something on the wall or to move things around and Roger has opened it right into me.)

Can you see the adorable dog piece Terri sent me a few weeks ago?

Those file drawers on the left are full of legal work stuff, and that section of shelving on the wall directly over the computer monitor contains the few legal books I need here for reference. All other legal research I do online, which certainly makes like easy. And you'll note the ever-present bottles of Crystal Geyser sparkling water on the desk... I drink bubbly water throughout the day.

To the right of my computer space is more STUFF -- lots of quilt books and magazines on the shelves, basket storage for fabric along the wall, a TV that keeps me company while I sew and putter.

When I sit at my desk and twirl my chair around, I see my sewing area. Presto -- I change from lawyer to quilt artist just like that. The closet behind the sewing chair is stuffed to the gills with fabric and supplies... I dare not open it it show you or things might start falling out. One of these weeks when I have nothing to do (ahem) I'll tidy it all up.

By the way, the table I use to sew on is actually a great find from a used office furniture store. It has one straight edge with regular corner and this rounded end. The lack of corners has saved me countless bruises, I'm quite sure.

So Brenda, now it's your turn to share your work area... to continue in the quilting lawyer house tour...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Book Review: "Caliente Quilts!"

I was very excited when Priscilla Bianchi's new book Caliente Quilts! landed on my review pile. I've loved Priscilla's brightly colored quilts since I first saw them at Pacific International Quilt Festival years ago. Bright colors! Bold geometric shapes! New and creative twists on traditional quilt designs! What's not to like?

Priscilla Bianchi is a Guatemalan quilt artist who delights in incorporating native Guatemalan textiles and design themes into her quilts. Her quilts are bold and lively and provide excellent examples of the principle that you don't need to work with complex shapes or designs to create quilts of stunning originality.

See what I mean? Here's another that wows me:

When I learned that she was doing a book, I figured that it'd be pretty darn good if all it did was feature the quilts she's made in the past. And this book goes way beyond that, I'm pleased to report. Krause Publications did a terrific job with this book.

The book is both a personal journey through Priscilla's own quilting experience and a study of using one's cultural textiles, symbols, and themes as inspiration for art work. It looks at using landcape, imagery, and traditions as design inspiration. It provides fascinating background information on Mayan and Guatemalan textiles, and good lessons on incorporating various ethnic textiles with other fabrics to create original and personally meaningful quilts. It not only makes me want to explore working with different ethnic textiles, but it also makes me think differently about the textiles, imagery, and traditions of my life and region that I could use consciously to inform my own work.

The book includes 9 different projects with specific instructions to teach the concepts in the book. I'm not generally fond of "project-driven" books, so I was very pleased to see that this book is focused on the principles, not on the projects. The projects here are beautiful and, while fairly simple in terms of sewing skill, they provide great projects for incorporating interesting fabrics and using stripes to enhance visual complexity. The log cabin quilt below is one of the the projects taught in the book:

But wait! There's more! Besides all of that, the book includes "La Galeria," photos of Priscilla's art quilts from 1998 to the present with her comments on them. (I was poring over this while waiting for my husband at an appointment the other day, and I was mildly annoyed at him for finishing so early and interrupting my happy walk through La Galeria!)

The photography in this book is wonderful, by the way. There are lots and lots of pictures, including excellent detailed photos and diagrams for the project quilts. It's a visually appealing book, which well suits these fantastic quilts.

I'm very happy to add this book to my library. There's great visual inspiration for the experienced quilter, but accessible gorgeous quilts for the novice, too. (Now I'm wondering where the leftover scraps of Guatemalan fabrics my friend Silvia brought me are hiding in my studio....)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Who was that masked man?

Finally! I had time this afternoon to actually touch my sewing machine and get a bit of creative work done. Feels like ages!

I have several small challenge projects due soon, so I tackled the one which had resolved itself into the firmest idea in my mind. The theme for the challenge is "mask," and while I considered various ways of interpreting it, I couldn't get the image of King Tutankhamen out of my head. And my friend Pat has been urging me to try playing with Jacquard's Lumiere paints, so I decided to go with that.

I found this very clear picture of King Tut's mask...

and with Photoshop reduced it to a line drawing.

I traced that, then stitched through the tracing paper to create quilting lines of the mask and its features.

Not very exciting, that part, and it took longer than I expected it would. Still, it was fun to break out the paints and I was having such fun that I forgot to take a picture until I'd painted all the gold and moved onto blue:

I was painting the paint on straight from the jar, so I think it was a good thing I'd done all the stitching already. The straight paint makes for a pretty stiff feeling fabric. But it was giving me just the effect I wanted, very thick and metallic.
And here's where it's ended up this evening:

I don't know whether I'll quilt in the background, or not, and there is the binding to do...but this was a fun and satisfying project. Hmmm, what else can I paint with sparkly paints?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Rain, Rain...

It rained and rained yesterday. Despite the chores that needed doing at home, I headed over to my sister's house to hang out, talk, look at books and magazines and Laura's new projects, watch mindless tv, eat lunch, and otherwise do relaxing sisterly things. It was lovely.

While we sat, Laura's dog Katie gazed out at the yard watching for squirrels and longing to get outside to chase them. We reminded her that she couldn't climb the oak tree to get at them, but I don't think that mattered to her.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iron Your Own Damn Shirts

I've been thinking today about the news report that yesterday, two hecklers at a Hillary Clinton rally interrupted her speech by yelling "Iron my shirts!" and holding up signs that said the same thing. (You can watch the incident here.) Clinton handled the situation very well, I thought. I'm sure she's had her share of practice at dealing with sexist comments over the past umpteen years in public life, and I'd think her advisors would have been foolish not to rehearse with her how she could handle things if sexist heckling did occur at a public event.

But I'm dismayed by a few different aspects of this event. Mainly, I'm surprised at how little mention it has received in the news, overall. This is probably due to the fact that it was the day before the NH primary, and those events have eclipsed that story. Still, the news have found time to repeatedly air the bit of Hillary getting teary when asked about how strongly she feels about running for president. Why is it that her showing genuine emotion gets a lot of negative press, while her addressing immature sexist heckling is downplayed? If someone heckled Obama by saying "Pick my cotton! Work my fields!" I'm guessing that episode, and Obama's reaction, would be all over the place. It's hard not to conclude that the mostly male press would rather project the image of a woman who -- gasp -- might get emotional and is therefore -- of course -- probably too weak to run a country, than a strong, confident woman who can competently and with humor handle a couple of backwards hecklers.

Here's the other thing: how many people apparently conclude that those hecklers "must have been" plants. Turns out, I understand, that they're talk radio guys known for sexist and jerky behavior. Lord, how people don't want to see a strong woman succeed... it's mind-boggling.

One more thing that has been on my mind. I've been watching the democratic debates all along, and was particularly interested in the debate the other night from New Hampshire. Now, I really like Obama and Edwards as well as Clinton. But I was surprised and dismayed at how even those two included subtle sexist stereotypes in their comments about Hillary Clinton. Both of them, for example, kept referring to Clinton as part of the "status quo" as if she is interchangeable with her husband (and as if Clinton was "status quo" compared to the last 7 years anyway, but that's another quibble). The concept that women are just pale alter egos of their husbands went out a long time ago, but no one has called Edwards or Obama on the way that concept underpins that challenge to Clinton. When Edwards was asked to comment on Hillary Clinton getting teary-eyed (of course, we MUST know what the MEN think of a woman crying), he replied by saying how America wants a president with "strength and resolve," and that being president is "tough business." He was smart enough to leave the point of that response unspoken, but the fact that he said that as response made the message clear: a woman who cries isn't tough enough to be president.

Don't get me wrong -- I think Edwards and Obama and Clinton are excellent candidates and I'd be proud to have any one of them as President. But I'm sure dismayed at how widespread the subtle and not so subtle displays of sexism are. And I'm really irked that it seems to be acceptable to an awful lot of people, liberals included.

Women are Never Front Runners

Gloria Steinem has an op-ed piece in today's New York Times about gender in the presidential primary and the different standards applied to Hillary Clinton versus the male candidates, especially Barack Obama. Like her, I think both are excellent candidates and I'd be thrilled to have either of them in the White House. But thank you, Ms. Steinem, for so clearly pointing out how race and gender are being treated so differently in this race. Women should pay attention, because this affects all of us.

Primary Thoughts

I've really been missing New Hampshire lately. I lived there for 11 years, from just after graduation from law school until Caroline was 2 1/2. I really loved living there, but we decided to return to California because both Roger's and my families are here and we wanted Caroline to know her grandparents and aunts and uncles and all.

Still, I miss New Hampshire, and especially at this time of hear. Maybe it's typical of displaced Californians, but I never tired of the snow. I LOVED the snow. (Roger, on the other hand, hated it... so it's unlikely we'll return for more than short visits. Dang.)

When I first got to New Hampshire, I had very little interest in politics. Sure, I read the paper and voted and tried to keep myself reasonably informed to make choices about candidates and issues. But in New Hampshire, politics are all around you all the time, and no more so than when the national primaries roll around every 4 years. It seemed silly to me at first -- what was this little teeny state doing, thinking it was such a big deal? But then I saw how people in New Hampshire feel directly connected to the political process. They are proud of their participation in the process and genuinely believe that their showing up at rallies and talking to candidates and getting out to vote will make a difference. And in New Hampshire, I realized that I could meet candidates I wanted to meet. During campaign season, the local paper ran a daily column listing who was where, so you could find the candidates you wanted to see. I worked in the state capitol, and I remember how right before the primary it got so I'd watch out for big clumps of people on the street when I was dashing out to get lunch, because it meant there was a candidate hidden in a crowd of press people.

Watching the new coverage of the New Hampshire primary right now reminds me that it was that time in New Hampshire that really taught me the power of individual participation in government. Because of my time there, I still feel that I can make a difference. It may be a bit harder to get access to government here, but now I know it's possible and that it's just a matter of making an effort to seek people out. I've learned that when it's possible, meeting face to face with someone can make a huge difference. I've called up school board members and city council members to make appointments to talk face to face when I'm concerned about something.

Anyway, today I'm thinking of my friends in New Hampshire braving the cold and the crowds of reporters to get out and vote. I wish I were there today. It'll be a few weeks before we here in California get to vote. But I'll be right there at the polling place, checking my boxes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Howdy, Neighbor!

The BBC series "Good Neighbors" is one of my old favorites. And it's here because I've been doing maintenance on the Artful Quilters Blog Ring and thinking about what a nice and creative neighborhood we have here in blogland.

If you're like me, you tend to settle into a list of blogs you read regularly, and you don't often find the time to explore other blogs on the AQ ring. There's only so much time for blogs, as we all know. Still, every time I hop around the ring I'm amazed at the diversity of art styles and artists' lives and I always enjoy it.

So -- in the spirit of starting the new year off in a neighborly way, here's a challenge for you:

Go to the AQ Blog Ring box on your blog, and hit the "random" button 3 times. Leave a comment at each of the blogs you visit through your random wandering. If nothing else, just say hi. We all love comments.... think of this as visiting your neighbor with a batch of fresh cookies!

And if you don't do this from time to time, go head and hit the "next" and "previous" buttons on your ring box so you know who your immediate neighbors are -- leave comments there, too.

Happy visiting!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Pup Art

Look at the gorgeous piece of art that landed in my mailbox today! It's by Terri Stegmiller, a quilt artist whose work I always love. Doesn't this pup have the most soulful eyes?
I think I am going to mount this on a frame of some sort (hmmm) and it will hang on my studio wall to inspire me.
Thank you, thank you Terri!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Book Review: Make Your First Quilt & Piecing the Piece O'Cake Way

Recently, a friend asked me what book I would recommend to someone who wanted to start quilting. This question was especially timely, as two new books from C&T Publishing that looked promising for beginners landed on my desk just before Christmas .

"Make Your First Quilt with M'Liss Rae Hawley" looks like it was intended to be a short guide, rather than a full reference for the beginning quilter. This is physically a small book (6 x 9 inches), and as instant references go, it's not bad. It has basic information on quilting tools, preparing fabric, rotary cutting and pressing, and finishing techniques. Quilting is taught through 9 basic blocks: rail fence, log cabin, ohio star, and similar traditional patterns.

My problems with the book are that it doesn't do enough in any one direction. For a true beginner, there really isn't the detail on small matters that a baffled newbie would probably want or need. The illustrations are small and, for a true beginner, there are probably not enough of them. Even without that detailed information, I'd hope to find photos of gorgeous quilts to inspire and motivate a new quilter. Unfortunately, those aren't here either. I've loved M'Liss Ray Hawley's fat quarter books for their great use of a few fabrics and essentially simple patterns to create really stunning quilts. But this book just doesn't have the exciting visual and emotional impact those previous books do.

Instead of this book, I'd point a beginner toward Quilts, Quilts and More Quilts by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. It's still the best all-around basic quilt book out there, in my opinion.

On the other hand, I'd highly recommend "Piecing the Piece O'Cake Way" by Becky Goldsmith and Linda Jenkins. This attractive book covers the basics (color and value, tools, to pin or not to pin, chain piecing, fussy cutting, and a lot more) and it does so in the context of 27 different quilts. The quilts themselves are illustrated with terrific instructional photos and diagrams, as well as gorgeous photos of the quilt projects. The quilts were obviously designed to appeal to a variety of tastes, as well. Another strong point of this book is the common sense and humor of experienced quilt teachers Goldsmith and Jenkins. They give clear advice on matters such as what to do if your blocks don't match and how to handle getting overwhelmed when you're fabric shopping, If you or your beginner friend want to start off with piecing, this book would be a great start.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Top Food

Yesterday, we took our friends Eric, Diane, and Abby to see Copia, a food and wine center in Napa. Copia was founded by Robert Mondavi and others as a place to educate about and celebrate food and wine. There are often food and wine related events there: talks, demonstrations, tastings, films... but even on a day like yesterday when there isn't anything special going on, it's a very fun place to visit.

There was a lot to look at, from the lobby, through the entire place, and out to the amazing garden. rI was captivated by two giant urns in the lobby, each about 5 feet tall. When I looked close, I saw they were made out of BOTTLE CAPS. Cool! (Oh my, an unintentional pun...CAPtivated, get it?!) Click on the photo for a closer look at all those bottle caps...

And here's something that impressed us no end... Automated wine tasting machines. There were various ones, loaded with different bottles of wine. You'd buy a "wine card" from another machine (insert credit card and load with however much money you plan to drink)...then you'd put a glass under the spigot of choice, insert wine card, and choose "taste," "half glass," or "full glass." How nifty is that?

After a bit of roaming around, we had a luxurious gourmet lunch at Julia's Kitchen, the restaurant named in honor of THE Julia...Julia Child, of course.

I simply could not get over the feeling that I had stumbled onto the judge's table in an episode of Top Chef. The food was so elegant and tasty, not to mention far more fancy than what we usually eat. I kept expecting Padma and Chef Tom to appear.

I started with an appetizer of grilled scallops in a citrus/fennel sauce. They were swoonably delicious.

Oh --and all this gorgeous food gave me the opportunity to use my new camera AND try out the "food" setting. I know -- a camera with a FOOD setting? I shamelessly photographed everyone's meal. Here's Diane's pumpkin ravioli.

And Eric's bouillabase. Look! There's some sort of foam on top! Remember Marcel from Top Chef and how he'd put foam on everything? We were thrilled with the foam.

My appetizer was followed by an ahi tuna salad in some special dressing devised by Julia herself (when she was alive, of course). It was fabulous. Those are brioche croutons, by the way. Not just ordinary stale bread croutons.

After all of those well-cleaned plates were cleared away, the waitress brought pre-dessert. Yep, mini dessert to be served before dessert. Who knew? This was some sort of raspberry champagne gelatin thingie over a very creamy custard. I was so startled by the concept of pre-dessert that I missed the official description. But it was yummy, especially the tart winey jello eaten along with the creamy stuff.

And the grand finale was the dessert, which I ONLY ordered in the spirit of doing research for my Twelve by Twelve challenge group, which has "chocolate" as its upcoming theme. Dedicated, aren't I? This was called "Rocky Road Redoux" -- and quite the presentation it made.

That little triangle in the upper left corner was a coating of unsweetened cocoa powder (which made a perfect zen garden for making shapes with a fork)...then a tall shot class full of fancy malted milk, then a square of a chocolate mousse-rocky road substance that was downright heavenly, topped by a crunchy dark chocolate brittle... then a little neat pile of chocolate nibs surrounded by dots of chocolate and malted foam (more foam!!), then a little round of dense foam topped with a perfect walnut half.

Oh my.

Here we all are, looking happy and well fed and ready for naps.

Our friends leave tomorrow bright and early (to fly back to Maine, which is reporting a temperature of minus 14 degrees) so we will be heading back to life as usual. We will miss them sorely and look forward to our next visit.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy 2008

We are seeing in the new year with a visit with our dear friends Diane, Eric and Abby from Maine. They arrived on Sunday evening, and we have been talking and laughing and eating and having a grand time ever since.

To get ourselves out of the house, we ventured out to the dog park yesterday afternoon.

Gemma had a grand time -- it's her favorite place. And Caroline and Abby had fun, too.

Gemma made a new friend, who was happy hand over his tennis ball if only you'd throw it for him.

Later, we feasted on cold cracked dungeness crab, warm sourdough bread, and champagne. Delish.

The girls were happy with their sparkling cider.

We all struggled to stay awake until midnight to watch the ball drop, give each other New Year's hugs and kisses, and then we headed to bed.

More fun visiting ahead... meanwhile, may all of you have a new year filled with friends, family, love, and laughter.