21 October, 2014

Cirrus Solids at Play

It is a very good day when new fabric arrives. It is especially good when that fabric is the new organic solid range from Cloud 9 Fabrics.

When Cloud 9 contacted me and asked me if I wanted a bundle to play with I totally hesitated. With so many quilts under construction I didn't exactly need more fabric, nor the obligation to make something. But I was intensely curious and I've always been quite impressed with Cloud 9's fabrics. At worst, I thought, I can add them to my Solid Sunday Morning.

Then the fabrics arrived. What glorious colours. Some great greys and neutrals and those deep blues and turquoises. I was smitten. And I had an idea percolating in my head after teaching a Values class in September. The only thing that stopped me from cutting into them right away was my trip to Alabama.

As soon as I could, though, I started sorting piles. Lights and darks, darks and lights, darks and lights and medium. I used the black and white feature on the camera to really get a good handle on the distinctions. My plan was based on the Pinwheel quilt from A Month of Sundays, with a twist. Value distinctions were going to be very important. Instead of the big swath of white triangles as in the original, I wanted more pieced HSTs. But if those didn't look different than the pinwheel section the design would be lost.

In the end, I made all my half square triangle blocks based on the piles above. Just random HSTs. Some with light/dark, most with dark/dark. I grabbed whatever came next and didn't worry at all about the combinations other than my values.

And, it didn't work. There were just too many medium values muddying things up. If I had kept them out it might have worked. The quilt would have been small in that case and that's just not how I work. I'm going to keep the concept out there and maybe play with it again at some point over the winter.

For now, however, it is still fall. A glorious fall. And in the last few days I played with all my HST blocks made for the original idea. The pinwheel concept stayed, but it looks radically different. I shared a few layout options via Instagram and received some great feedback. My initial pinwheels were the typical four patch pinwheel block, but that smart lady Victoria Gertenbach suggested some scale changes. I tried it and it was perfect. Thanks Victoria!

The Cirrus Solids were great to work with. They frayed no more than any other solid, which was nice. The hand on them is amazing! So soft cut right from the bolt. This quilt is going to be a dream to cuddle with when it is all done.

Right now Cirrus Solids are available in these 21 colours. All are cross-weaves, which means it is two different colour threads that make up the fabric. But they aren't obvious cross weaves like the kinds where two very different colours are used. Subtle, but the texture of a cross weave is definitely there.

I do not know what Cloud 9's plans are for these, but I hope they take off at Quilt Market so that more colours arrive. Personally, I would love to see oranges, more lemony/buttery yellows, and grassy/minty greens. Solids aren't generally my thing, but I can definitely see these becoming a go-to source for me.

15 October, 2014

Update on ALL the Quilts Under Construction

Periodically, I must take stock of all the quilts Under Construction. I actually find it quite freeing, not depressing. It's a good exercise for me - what have I been doing, am I still interested in what is here? The last time I did this was 18 months ago, so it was definitely time for a check-in. And yes, the list got bigger.

Check out Sew Mama Sew's Slow Sewing series for my post on embracing all the quilts under construction, no more UFOs versus WIPs!

Quilt Tops Ready for Quilting

1. Cosmos Blocks - I initially thought I donated this for Quilts for Calgary, but it still sits in my closet.
2. Improv Sampler - still sitting there, waiting for it's turn on long arm rental day.
3. Checkerboard from Sunday Morning Quilts - again, nothing to see here...
4. Slaveship Quilt - nope, nothing here either...
5. Old Amy Butler quilt top - still sitting there...
6. The Evil Genius' Triangle Quilt - she wanted it big enough for her bed, but that was when she was getting a single bed. We recently got her a double, so we may have to add to this.
7. A low volume rainbow mini quilt that I've never shared with you.
8. Alturas - waiting for the floors to be cleaned for basting. Much harder with a dog in the house again.
9. Giant Hexagons - waiting for me to decide how to quilt it.
10. One intended for a magazine that I can't share

Quilts Being Quilted

11. Low Volume Circles - I'm plugging away on the hand quilting, slowly. Actually, I don't think I've touched this in 2 years. Maybe this winter?
12. QuiltCon Quilt - based on my work in Denyse Schmidt's Improv Class. Currently in line with Urban Quiltworks for her magic on the long arm.
13. All voile quilt - also at Urban Quiltworks
14. Antonio's Quilt - For some reason I've stalled on the quilting, yet I don't have much more to do.

Blocks and Process

15. Mid Mod Bee - Blocks to be assembled into a top
16. Hand Pieced Diamonds - I think I'm done with these, but I would like to get it into a quilt top.
17. More Cosmic Burst blocks - I have a whole other set of blocks for a baby quilt
18. Name quilt for my daughter - still haven't done anything on this. It might become the back for a new bed quilt for her. Maybe.
19. Chandelier quilt - was so close, then discovered a big mistake and have never fixed it
20. Liberty Circles - These have sat, but I was recently thinking about them. Maybe this winter?
21. Blue and green Christmas Tree quilt - I cut the pieces, then promptly put them away
22. Respite - a project started in a Bill Kerr design workshop
23. Pieced Stars - a BOM I started years ago when I wanted to do some precision piecing breaks when doing a lot of improv
24. The Water Quilt
25. Low Volume Shoeman's Puzzle/Slab blocks
26. A values quilt in neutrals (Class sample, so I keep adding more blocks each time I teach the class)
27. Green/Yellow/Orange Improv blocks (Class sample, so I keep adding more blocks each time I teach the class)
28. Sunday Morning in Solids
29. Edges/Studio Stash Play - I do hope to finish this for a friend. It requires a day or two with no deadlines/kids in the studio
30. One red/purple turquoise quilt intended for magazine publication
31. Sherbet, with more volume for my nephew - need to pull this out for my piecing without thinking as everything is cut and started
32. Beach Grass Take 2 - this would make a perfect bed quilt for the girls and their new beds. And it goes together so quickly...
33. Y2K quilt - slowly, slowly with this one as I piece it as leaders and enders
34. Another leaders and enders project, intended to be like Up, Up, and Away from Sunday Morning Quilts
35. Round and Round blocks - these are addictive and I wish I could make them all day long
36. Snippets on Dates
37. Circle Lattice
38. Leftovers from Modern Paris
39. Orange Circles from Craftsy/Perfect Circles class samples
40. New Cirrus Solids from Cloud 9 Fabrics bundle is being cut now
41. Started some blocks after being so inspired on my trip to Alabama.


42. A new quilt for one of my other nephews in yellow, orange, and turquoise

So close...

(43.) Mountain Meadows - Just finishing the hand stitching on the binding here. One side left to do.


Giant Dresdens
Modern Paris
Improv Sewing Machines
Oh Canada
One Day
Compose Yourself
Shimmer Table Runner
Indian Pillow
Mid-Century Circle Pillow
Gum on Concrete
Girlie Quilt

If you compare this list with the last one, you can see that some, only some, projects moved around. Some I gave away, some I finished. In looking at this I realize I haven't even posted a few finished quilts! And a few were for publication that I can't share yet.

Most of these were started, and finished in between now and the last update. That might be telling of my process and call to inspiration. Or, of my sewing machine that doesn't want to quilt anymore.

13 October, 2014

A Canadian Quilter Visits Gee's Bend

As a Canadian of a certain age (39) I must admit to a pretty good life. I grew up with a pride in multiculturalism, with a side of Eastern European bigotry. Most of my friends growing up were first generation Canadians, so when we asked what you were we didn't mean if you played hockey or  soccer or worked at the convenience store, we meant what country is your family from? Mine was a suburban life, an educated one.

It was not a sheltered life. I was able to ask questions, explore, and investigate. I switched to a different high school for a richer experience. I went away to University - all the way across the country to see more, do more. But it was a Canadian experience.

I know the basics of US history, globalization has taught me just a little, and I rely on the stories of friends and the media to teach me more. I consider myself engaged, but I've recently realized that it is a sheltered intelligence.

Last week I had the experience of 4 days in Alabama. I went there with all the preconceived notions of a visit to the Deep South - there would be grits and good ol' boys and racism and hospitality and narrow minds and nice people. I expected little in the way of enlightenment, a lot in the way of a break from my real life. I got more, so much more.

We spent one day exploring downtown Birmingham. Our day took an unexpected turn when the Monday museum closures thwarted our plans for the Civil Rights Institute. As we stood outside the doors and regrouped for our plans we were enthralled by the sculptures in the park across the street. A short walk through the park and its powerful art led us across the street to the 16th Street Baptist Church. The neon sign competing with the stained glass. Then we embarked on the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Hours later we stopped, drained, and feeling a little awed.

My experience with the history of the Civil Rights Movement is fixed on Martin Luther King Jr. speeches, photos of students going into desegregated schools, and a vague recollection of bus bombings. We simply aren't taught it growing up in Canada (well, I wasn't). And not because of a racism at home (although that is there) but because it wasn't our history.

Here we were, honestly blown away by the stories, by the bloodshed on the streets we were standing on, the relatively recent history of this, and the fact that we simply didn't have a clue about any of it. It was humbling, enlightening, powerful.

Yet while we walked the colour of our skin became an issue for others. We were called "you people" by one man. Another accused us of not giving him money as he begged on the street because he was black (not true, sir). I'll be the first to concede to a white privilege, but no one should make assumptions based on the colour of skin (and more). Those moments were equally powerful.

The next day my SIL and I set out on an Alabama Road Trip to Gee's Bend. We took the scenic route, made even more scenic when we took a wrong turn or two. We found catfish farms, main streets, community gathering spots, and saw as many taxidermists as baptist churches. We eventually found our way South, through Alberta to Gee's Bend.

It was a pilgrimage of sorts. THE famous Gee's Bend. Home to the quilters that have inspired a new generation. There we were, two white women in the most ridiculous rental car to have in Alabama, and we couldn't have been more welcome. Quilters are quilters and that was the common factor.

Upon arrival in Gee's Bend we went to the Ferry Terminal. As the only the only public building it seemed like the place to go. Two gorgeous women sat outside, working on one's hair weave. We started chatting to them, but before we got very far or even stated our goal for the visit another woman came out and asked if we wanted to meet the quilters. Why yes, we did. So she asked us us to follow her.

When we arrived at the Gee's Bend Quilters Collective the welcome was so warm, and not just because of the southern heat! Mary Ann and China Pettway sat inside, one quilting, the other working on a brand new quilt. Immediately we started chatting and sharing work. It was late in the day for them - they were close to packing up so they could catch the afternoon ferry across the river to Camden. China had a block that looked a lot like my scrappy round and round blocks, but much, much smaller. Mary Ann was repairing some hand quilting on someone else's quilt. My intention was sit and sew with them, but our timing was poor. So they looked at my work as closely as I looked at theirs.

After the fact my SIL said that I was showing off, as I brought my Circle Lattice appliqué. Yes, most definitely this project is of a very different style than the Gee's Bend work, but I disagreed with her. We looked at each other's work intently and with admiration for different styles. I was blown away by their hand stitching and tiny piecing, and they were impressed with my basting stitches and circle work. It was mutual respect.

My respect for them increased four fold when we were given the chance to pull quilts off the tables and shelves to admire and hear more stories. Wow. It is always one thing to see a picture, another thing entirely to feel the quilts.

There was all denim, all corduroy, all cotton, and a good dose of polyester quilts. Some were very recent - completed within the last month - and some so old they were threadbare and stained. All were made by Gee's Bend Collective Quilters.

The Collective now contains about 70 or more quilters. Women who came back to quilting because of the profile and success of Gee's Bend quilts, some that have been quilting for decades. They sell their quilts, as well as potholders, mini quilts, videos, postcards, and placemats. The quilter receives a percentage and the rest of the proceeds goes to the Collective. It is a financial model that helps all the quilters and the community.

Gee's Bend is a community founded on the backs of slaves. And most of the people who live there now are descendants of slaves. During the Civil Rights movement residents were punished for their involvement in protests, bus trips, and demonstrations. The ferry service was cut off, isolating the community even more. That their quilt tradition did not die is a testament to need, but to the craft even more.

As we examined the quilts we spoke with Nancy Pettway (no relation to Mary Ann and China) about the Civil Rights Movement - she wasn't able to participate in bus trips and demonstrations because she had to work the night shift at a sewing factory - the quilts, life in Gee's Bend. I wish we had hours to talk. I'm home now and I have so many more questions, more stories I want to hear, more quilting to be done. We spoke about the Collective and the response to their fame.

When you walk into the room where the quilts are stored you can sense the history. But you can also sense the future. The influence on so many current and modern quilters is evident. The quilts may be machine pieced, but they are hand quilted. In fact, they had the frame for a long arm machine in the room, but they've been advised against using it in order to maintain their brand reputation.

The quilts are evident of the time and place and history. They aren't squared up like I might do it. Binding techniques vary. The hand quilting is lovely and provides another improvised flair to most of the quilts. There is a lot of polyester batting used. Are they the quilts I make? Nope, not at all.

My SIL and I purchased some quilts. I've only ever purchased a quilt once before, as a charity fundraiser. I will totally admit to feeling odd at buying a quilt. I mean, I have dozens floating around the house and tonnes waiting to be made. But I couldn't help but be a part of this history.

Another confession is that I felt that white privilege again in purchasing a quilt. Because I can afford to bring these quilts home there was a little bit of guilt. I'm not over it yet either.

That being said, to know my one tiny piece of this story now, my single day experience, is profound to me. Art has its many purposes, and someone does buy the art at some point. So I can look at my small quilts and have the memory of the day, the reminder that there is so much history I've yet to learn, and the beauty of my conversations with some wonderfully kind women.

As we left that day Mary Ann, China, and Nancy gave us big, deep hugs. The hugs you give people you love, the hugs that make you feel like the other person's arms are 10 feet wide and filled with warmth. When I look at my quilts that is what I will most remember. That I met some women, that we shared only a few hours, and that we are all quilters. And for us, all of us, the colour of our skin did not matter one bit.

10 October, 2014

Beach Days in Fabric

What a sunny, summery pile of fabric. Perfect as fall is in its peak of colours and winter is probably only a few weeks away. Yes, I am pretending I'm in Australia.

What started as a need to create some samples for a class I'm teaching on my Beach Grass quilt has turned into this. This colour combo has been on my brain for a long time. I thought it was because I saw a few colour pins on Pinterest. That certainly was what got me pulling fabric the other day. That's how that stack above came to be.

I always start this way when colour of fabric is the initial inspiration - just a big, big pile of fabric. I have no idea if I have enough that I might need, or if all of these fabrics will stay. But it is all about that initial burst and frenzied search through the stash. I just need to get it all out, then I can stop and regroup.

Once the initial grab is done I take a breath, often sleep on it, then see what I have and don't have. Is there more structure to be found, some order, a running theme in the fabric I chose? At this point I might also look at my pattern, sketch, or examine my influence to see if I think the fabric will well and truly capture it. (Sometimes I start over at this point.)

With this quilt I decided I wanted to make some value distinctions within the colours. So I started sorting my colours by value, to see how much range I had. I don't want huge value jumps, but I did want some distinctions.

As I did this I also thought this pile looked awfully familiar. So I went into the reserves - the stacks of fabric I made and set aside for a specific quilt. And sometimes those piles sit for a very, very long time. That doesn't mean they are forgotten or abandoned. They are just 'in waiting'. And one of my favourite fabric lines of recent years was waiting for the right project. Turns out, this was it.

Sympatico is now being cut and used and I couldn't be happier. It is a gorgeous organic fabric. And the colours in the line - save for the peach - are exactly what I picked out in my initial fabric pull. Serendipity.

I'm quite excited now to see if what I had in my brain for this version of the quilt comes out. It is such a simple design and easy construction that I hope my fabric selection turns it on its head, just a little.

Sign up for the two day class at My Sewing Room. October 14 and 21, 10-4.

06 October, 2014

Malka Dubrawsky's 10 Ways to Love Improvisational Quilting

If you've ever read this blog even once before you know that I have a true passion for improvised piecing. I love the freedom it gives the quilter, the devil may care attitude that guides my actions, the creative challenges it provides. As a teacher, however, I know that all of this represents a serious challenge for many. I also know that people embrace improv at different levels and for different reasons.

That is why I am so excited for Malka Dubrawsky's new CreativeLive class: 10 Ways to Love Improvisational Quilting. It airs this week, on Wednesday and Thursday, October 8-9. In the class Malka will be covering different improv techniques and ways to get the most out of improv - for yourself and your sewing.

There are many ways to approach improv. I enjoy being a student of improv as much as I love to teach it. We all face a pile of fabric differently, and I don't mean by which side of the sewing machine it lives on. Knowing how to break down the concept of improvising and the many paths to a quilt is a skill. I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Malka does it.

If you aren't familiar with CreativeLive, they are a unique on-line learning platform. With a pile of classes on photography, creative businesses, making, music, and life they are a ripe with information and inspiration. They livestream classes, for free! Then you, the student, can buy them afterwards as well. I've watched a handful so far and I find them to be tremendously professional and full of information.

To watch the class live, just log in to the CreativeLive site on the day. Better yet, RSVP in advance and you will get a gorgeous new booklet that Malka created just for this, for you.

For more takes on Improv and Malka's class with CreativeLive: 10 Ways to Love Improvisational Quilting check out this mini blog tour.

9/30 – Modern Sewciety 
10/6 – Cheryl Arkison

In the meantime, what do you love/hate about improv piecing?

04 October, 2014

Savor Each Stitch (Weekend Reads)

It's been a while since I posted about a book. I've been reading, that's for sure, but so busy that I haven't had a chance to stop and post about any of them! But I HAVE to tell you about this book. 

Savor Each Stitch is the recent publication by Carolyn Friedlander. It is a beautiful book and full of so much information. The book is a glimpse into Carolyn's life and the way her brain works as she makes quilts. That doesn't mean it is only a book about Carolyn though. At its core it is a quilting book, a resource.

When we write quilt books one of the first questions asked during the proposal process is who the audience is for your book. Of course we want to say that the book is for everyone! I wonder what Carolyn said when it came to her book? My read is that her fans will love it, the new or beginner quilter will be inspired, and the established quilter will look at the design and process with new eyes. I can say that the latter happened to me.

Instead of running through techniques or colour theory in a standard way, Carolyn talks about different aspects of design. She explains the concepts, then uses quilts to demonstrate what she is saying. All the projects have multiple iterations to further illustrate the concepts. 

While the book is clearly a reflection of Carolyn, her aesthetic, her process, and the quilts reflect that, it is more than that. I found it tremendously inspiring and informative. It got me thinking about fabric in some new ways, about combinations I never would have thought of. It also has me looking at my older quilts and the ones I'm working on for my intentions. Have I articulated what I wanted to with my choices, my seams, my process? This is precisely why Carolyn speaks of Mindful Design.

It isn't about tearing into a new project like a bag of potato chips - hands in, crumbs everywhere, and pure enjoyment without consequence. If we take a moment to evaluate, internally, our selections and intentions we can savour the process as much as the result, maybe even more so.

You know already that I love Carolyn's work and find it inspiring enough to work with both her patterns and fabric frequently. So it should be no surprise that I jumped at a project from Savor Each Stitch.

Having finished my Alturas top I was searching for another appliqué project. I was going to try and design my own little graphic block, but I couldn't ignore how completely awesome Circle Lattice is. This project is from Savor Each Stitch and Carolyn uses it to demonstrate the concept of Scale in the book.

It happens to come together quite neatly, like a paper snowflake. This makes it even cooler.

I chose two completely disparate fabrics. My background is a drawn illustration by Samarra Khaja, made by Timeless Treasures. There are so many little details in the fabric that it is rather fun to discover things as I stitch. I did nothing to prepare the fabric in terms of fussy cutting, so little treasures like Lady Liberty shining through here are a treat.

For my appliqué I chose one of the Charley Harper fabrics from Birch Organics. I've been hoarding it, frankly, so it was good to pull it out. As much as I love the fabric and its birds, I love that elements come and go in the empty spaces. And sometimes the birds are exactly where they need to be.

This one block will be a labour of love. It took me about 6 hours just to hand baste the thing. I thought about glueing and/or machine basting. But it seemed more cumbersome. Something about the hand stitching called to me. So I loaded up Anne of Green Gables, and the sequel, and basted away. I'm on to the needle turn and it seems faster than the basting. It's certainly more enjoyable. I'm glad I followed Carolyn's directions for basting too. It seemed redundant to go on both sides of the appliqué as opposed to down the middle, but it is making the appliqué a breeze. See, even an old pro like me has a lot to learn. And I'm glad I've let Carolyn be my teacher in Savor Each Stitch.

Now, about that missing U...

03 October, 2014

Friday Favourites - Lena Dunham and Jian Ghomeshi

We are blessed with a great (but seriously underfunded) public broadcasting station - The CBC. And on the CBC we are blessed with one of the best radio voices ever - Jian Ghomeshi. Seriously, this guy has one of the best voices. And he is a great interviewer.

I was completely blown away by this interview with Lena Dunham by Jian Ghomeshi. I really enjoy Girls, even though it makes me feel old, and very thankful for being old. This interview touches on so much more than her career. Watch it for the discussions on creativity, mental illness, and openness. Dunham is quite eloquent and honest. All in all, totally inspiring.