Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note to say I hope you all have a great holiday season. I can hardly wait for things to kick into gear. Most of my sewing projects are wrapping up (although I'm guessing there will be some alterations to come). My big worry is the weather: ice and snow is predicted for Christmas Eve, when the relatives are flying in. Keep your fingers crossed for clear skies, or we'll be eating an awful lot of cookies on our own.

May you enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, warmth, peace, and time for sewing.

And if you are looking for some great holiday tunes, check out this NPR link: Jingle Jams.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A red hot(pad) reveal

Finally I'm able to share one of my projects: pot holders for my bookgroup. We have an annual holiday party (last year I knit clunky hats) and cookie exchange: one moved-away member even drives five hours to join us. These women are some of my dearest friends—we met when some of us still had babies and now those babies are seniors in high school and freshmen in college and one of our members is a grandmother.

The nice thing about our gift exchange is it's a totally no-pressure event. Some years people hand-make gifts: Julie knit us each a scarf one year and Maureen appliqued and quilted holiday table runners. Emily makes fabulous truffles and Anne, a former caterer, whips up chocolate-covered toffee that my children anticipate annually. But if it's a year when you've been busy with work or if you're not the handy type, you can give whatever you can even give nothing. (We might excommunicate you however, if you didn't bring cookies.)

These potholders had their genesis in a purchase of wonderful Japanese charm squares I snagged at Quilt Market. I got them from Bunny Designs (whose web site has been under construction for some time). I gave one set to my friend Anne and kept a set for myself. The little tea pots and wonderful polka dots seemed perfect for pot holders.

I learned a bit along the way to completing a baker's dozen. I tried piecing a front and back for the first one, then quilted and bound as I would a quilt (albeit I tried machine binding). It was problematic: the mitered corners wouldn't miter and the binding didn't cover the machine stitching as well as I'd liked. So instead I pieced a front and back and then sewed them right sides together, left an opening so that I could turn inside out, stuffed each with a piece of cotton batting and a piece of Inuslbright, and top-stitched around the edge, securing the opening. I then did a bit of simple quilting, more or less following the shape of the square.

I learned that less stitching works better than too much (the Insulbright would invariably bunch up if I stitched too close to the top-stitching) and that a walking foot made all the difference in keeping the batting smooth. I also made a little tube of fabric and stitched that into the seam when I sewed the front and back together to create a loop for hanging.

Each pot holder is slightly different than the rest, largely as a result of learning as I went along and ultimately running out of fabric. They took a bit longer to make than I anticipated (doesn't everything?), but the finished stack is highly satisfying...

Must run...time to eat cookies and give gifts!

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the neglect

Between pre-holiday travels and the holidays themselves, Pearl the Squirrel has been sorely neglected. I've been doing a bit of holiday sewing as well, but revelation of those projects will have to wait until the gifts are given. I've also managed to miss my one-year blog-iversary, which happened last month. Perhaps after the holidays I'll have a giveaway to celebrate.

But here are a few shots of my travels...well, actually there are just shots of my travels to one quilt shop in particular. I was in Sonoma, California (where, for some reason, I took NO photos). After visiting a friend and his two llamas, two sheep, three dogs, and multiple cats (I know, NO pictures), I just took off driving. The weather was cool, but sunny and crisp and the grapes were turning golden (you'll just have too imagine this...NO pictures) and I headed out from Sonoma toward Petaluma, a town I'd especially loved when I lived in Berkeley. It's definitely not the sleepy little place it was 18 years ago, but it did hold a treasure: The Quilted Angel.

The owner, Barbara, was sitting in a wing chair by the door, finishing up a project and chatting with customers. The classroom was abuzz with quilters working on charity projects.

The shop had tons of fabric, lots of brights and new lines and more traditional stuff, as well.

White-painted branches decorated with lights hung from the ceiling and the shop just seemed to go on and on. Old-fashioned pot holders hung over the entry. (The cloth elves below were sewn by Northern Californian Jan Cochrane.) There was an entire back room with wools and lots of notions that I couldn't even tell was there until I wended my way to the back of the shop.

Barbara said she'd worked at the shop and when the original owner decided to sell, her husband surprised her and bought it for her! Wow! There's a man who knows how to give gifts.

At any rate, I visited a few other shops, but this one is definitely worth a stop if you're in Northern Calif., a place I hope to be more often.

Between visiting our favorite haunts (including The Cheese Board for pizza and our old neighborhood Peet's for coffee in Berkeley) and seeing some of our favorite friends, Paul and I were both reminded how much we enjoyed our years in California.

And I was reminded that despite my many years in the Midwest, California really does feel like home—there's something about the landscape of one's youth that, all these years later, still evokes a visceral response.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baby, I'm amazed

My good friend Sondra had her baby in October. As a matter of fact, as I was waiting for my luggage in Houston I got the message and wanted to hug total strangers at the airport, I was so excited. (I controlled myself.)

On Saturday, I finally got to meet baby Emily. Another work buddy, Anne (of Pearvana) and I delivered the quilt we'd made for her. We'd hoped to complete it before Emily's arrival, but this way Anne was able to add Emily's birthdate to the label. And, we got to go to Sondra's house, which is out in the country, on a hilltop with a vista that overlooks fields, cattle, and a windbreak of twisty pine trees. She also has a gorgeous sewing studio she and her husband JD created in the second floor of their home. Sondra's a graphic designer, so her house had rich colors and lots of special touches that reflect her visual take on the world.

The quilt gained its inspiration from the farm fabric with the green background (sadly, I no longer have any scraps or selvedge to let you know the name of the fabric). We used the same fabric in black and the backing is the same fabric in green. The combination made me a little nervous, but I think the black fabric and binding kept it from being garish. (And by chance, two of the pink fabrics are designs by my friend Mary Lou Weidman: Crayons and Happy Dots.) The pattern is Shoe Boxes by Terry Atkinson, from her book Time Out Quilts. As we stitched what should have been a very simple quilt on two different machines, I was reminded that while you'd think a quarter-inch would be a standard measurement on any sewing machine, this isn't the case. Some ripping was required.

Sondra says she loves the farm fabrics and the very cute onesie that Anne cleverly adorned with fabric scraps from the quilt. Emily didn't seem impressed by any of the excellent baby that she is, she slept peacefully throughout our visit, except when she stretched and made all those lovely little baby noises.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Under the sea...

When I visited my sister in Virginia in June, I was especially struck by the cheerful curtains she'd made for her bathroom. The tile in the room is white, the walls are an almost electric blue, and the curtains are this wonderful fish fabric: blue and white fish (whose colors include that electric blue) on a sunny yellow background.

She took me to the shop where she'd gotten the fabric and it was a real treat: the fabrics were upholstery and home dec weights, and the prices were very reasonable. (I'm pretty sure the shop is called Second Yard, on Laskin in Virginia Beach.) The shop also had wonderful framed prints and lamps.

My sister gave me the remnants of her curtains and this is what I came up with for her in return.

The pattern is called Three Great Bags, and I'd gotten it when I visited Quilter's Crossing in Madison last spring. The bag's interior fabric was from my stash and the button is a vintage mother-of-pearl number I'd collected somewhere along the way.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Keepin' the clouds away...

I mentioned in a previous post that after Kaffe Fasset and I put our heads together on a design detail I felt so elated I bought an umbrella adorned with one of his prints. Because Iowa just had the wettest October on record for 100 years, I had ample opportunity to use it.

When I bought it, it seemed to me a springtime print, just the thing for lifting my mood on grey March days. But the first time Pearl and I took an afternoon walk beneath it, I realized it was perfect for an autumn day: the colors echoed the changing leaves and magnified the beauty of a stroll around my block, even on a cloudy, wet day. I took Pearl home and got my camera and captured a few shots of the view of my neighborhood, from under my umbrella.

A reader asked where to find such an umbrella. I was fortunate to find it at the Westminster/Free Spirit booth at Quilt Market. Here's a link to the umbrella on their site. They've also got lists of vendors, although don't specify who is carrying the umbrellas—guess you might have to call around (or visit a lot of fabric shops. Now that would be a hardship, wouldn't it?)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ball Point

Okay, so this is a stretch for a blog about textiles... wait... a stretch... get it?

In Monday's New York Times was a story about a Florida man who has a rubber band ball 25 feet in circumference. He put it together to beat a Ripley's Believe It or Not record. Now the Ripley's museum has bought it from him and taken it away. Apparently the neighbors were sad to see it go. It sat out in the front yard and was a distinctive landmark. I love those neighbors! Most people would just think it was an eyesore.

I started my rubber band ball more than 10 years, with no intention other than to get rubber bands off the counter after the morning paper hit the front porch. I've slacked off in the past two years, as it's gotten harder to obtain rubber bands big enough to stretch around the ball. The larger of the two is nearly two-and-a half feet in circumference and 12 pounds. The house shakes if I try to bounce it. The smaller (dubbed The Sidekick) is 18 inches around and 3.4 lbs. When I started, I made a rule that I would never buy rubber bands for the ball, but could only find or be given them. Some young men might win a mother's trust by bringing flowers or cookies when they took her daughter on a date: my daughter's beaus brought me rubber bands.

Sadly, the larger of the balls is starting to dry out and the rubber bands are breaking. But it's also gotten so heavy that lifting it to put on the bands is a workout in and of itself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Finnish Delights

The new issue of Stitch magazine is out. The Fall 2009 issue has lots more pages and projects than previous issues. This publication is a great combination of engaging articles and innovative projects that blur the lines of sewing—garments, home dec, quilt-y kinds of things. The issue has a global theme and articles on Japanese fabrics, fashion designer Max Osterweis and his sewn-in-Kenya collection using Kenyan fabrics, shopping for textiles in Hong Kong and (ta da!) an article on the history of Finnish manufacturer Marimekko's me!

That piece was such fun to write—I've long loved Marimekko, but didn't know anything about the history. In its early years, 90 percent of the company's staff was female. After Marimekko's founder died in 1979 the company was sold off and nearly run aground in the 1980s. But another woman, retired advertising executive Kirsti Paakkanen, bought the company and brought it back to life by shifting the focus from bureaucracy to the designers. Today, it's thriving.

At the time I was writing the article, I happened to mention it to Judy. Turns out Judy's mom had been one of the early adopters of Marimekko style, purchasing her dresses at the only shop at which you could buy them at the time, Design Research in Cambridge, Mass. Judy's mom remembered that her husband, photojournalist Ted Polumbaum, had photographed some Radcliffe students wearing Marimekko dresses for Life magazine. I shared this with Tricia, Stitch's editor, and lo and behold, she ended up using one of the photos. (For more of Polumbaum's photos, visit the Newseum site. His work is a great combination of the momentous and the great—Freedom Summer and Ted Kennedy—and the everyday and small—women wearing hats, reading on a park bench in Boston. There's a great shot of Julia Child, too, under the Curator's Choice link.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Final Market Update

Okay, so it's two weeks past Market and everyone else has long since posted their news (click on the KPKM post to the right and you'll find links to all kinds of blogs with Market news and photos). Better late than never, I say.

On Sunday, my friend Mary Lou Weidman arrived. Mary Lou is the person who invited me to Market with her last year. I read the term "Market doula" on someone's blog and I think Mary Lou definitely filled that role for me (and Mel...I missed you this year, Mel). Quilt Market is overwhelming the first time through—the sheer number of vendors and quilts is more than someone new to the industry can even imagine.

(I love the statistic that Quilt Market is the biggest convention that Houston hosts all year. That's right...the biggest! In Houston, they take good care of their quilters because they represent a big chunk of change for hotels, restaurants, and the like each year.)

At any rate, while it was fun to feel as though I'd taken off my Market training wheels this year, I'm always happy to see Mary Lou and was especially pleased to be with her this year when she got to see her new book for the very first time. Unfortunately, it's not yet for sale and there was a long line to get one of the autographed copies that Martingale was giving away at her book signing. But it looks fabulous and as I leafed through her copy, it was fun to see quilts by many people I've gotten to know, including most of the Lake Tahoe quilting gang. The quilt above is one of her "story quilts" and is an homage to Mary Lou's grandmother.

After checking out her new book, we wandered the aisles and soon found Mary Lou's friend, the very talented Paula Nadlestern. Paula had a one-woman show at the Museum of American Folk Art in NYC last year and Mary Lou always jokes that she's the only quilter at Market who dresses in black (she's a New Yorker). Paula had just gotten the first copies of some fabulous prints of her work (apologies, Paula, I can't remember the media in which they were done) and she got right down on the floor of the convention center and unwrapped them for us to see.

Soon after I met RaNae Merrill, whom I'd interviewed for American Patchwork and Quilting. It was fun to chat with her and she and Mary Lou exchanged information about teaching. I love the connections that occur as you walk the aisles and run into people.

This was also the day that I looked at quilts. There were some truly amazing pieces, and I took photos of several for a project I've got in the works.

In the late afternoon we decided to go get some lunch and ran into a group who were seated around a big round table. In the center of that table was...ta da...the armadillo cake, and we were invited to have a bite. The cake was made by LizzyHouse and it's obvious her talents extend far beyond illustration and pattern and textile design. She's a cake-maker extraordinaire! She'd created the cake for Pam and her traveling companion, who'd made the trip all the way from California without seeing a single armadillo. And not only was the cake a feast for the eyes, it was red velvet and delicious. I really did want seconds, but thought it best that when I left people didn't say "Who was that woman who just wolfed down half the cake?"

The group at the table included Jenny aka Tula Pink, a very talented designer (think Neptune. Nest. Flutterby). I'd had the pleasure of interviewing her for APQ, as well as meeting her at her mom's shop in Stewartsville, MO. It's called Country Expressions Quilt Shoppe and it's the classic example of why I think putting "country" in your name can be misleading. The name, the location (really off the beaten path), and even the simple style of the shop's exterior belie what's inside—a shop chockful of the most gorgeous, most colorful fabric around.

The day ended with dinner at the Hyatt in the company of Mary Lou and Brenda and Faye who are educators with Marti Michell. We also joined the lovely ladies, Linda, Brenda, and Linda, from Tennessee Quilts. Not only are they dynamic women (Linda, front left, still practices law while co-owning the shop with her sister-in-law, Brenda—she's on the right side in front) but their shop looks fantastic. I note that Kaffe Fassett was just here last week...not too shabby! In this photo we're all doing what my friend Emily calls "the author pose," the one where people gaze out from the dust jackets on their books with their hands under their chin, convinced it hides any multiples. I think it worked here, don't you?

I did have another picture of my tired feet, but I seem to have deleted it. So, my final picture is the next morning, when I stopped at Marti Michell's booth to see Brenda and Diane. I'd just made my big splurge purchase: an Arrow sewing cabinet. But more on that later.

There's no doubt that while Market is exhausting, it really recharged my batteries to be around so many others who share my depth of feeling for sewing and fabric and color and design and quilts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Market's freshest produce

While seeing old friends and what they've been up to is one of Market's big pleasures, seeing what's new provides excitement, inspiration, and in many cases, awe. In this post, I'll share a bit of what I saw that I hadn't seen before.

First up was the fabric of Marcia Derse.
Her Gerta collection for Troy was fantastic—it's discharge dying in gorgeous colors and patterns writ large (as in large quantities). Marcia was delightful as well and helped me find a sales rep so that I could share her fabric with my shop-owning friend, Codi (I will stop by with his card, I promise Codi). Here are a couple of photos: one of Marcia in her booth and another of her fabrics. Note especially the fabulous pillows she made using them.

Next are the patterns of From Me to You, a design company from Walnut Creek, California. Neither of the designers was in the booth when I came by and I wish I'd gotten more photos, but this close-up of the basket pattern (with the dually appropriate name of Going to Market) gives you and idea of the fresh take on a traditional block that these gals create. This team has been designing for a number of years, as well as being thoroughly enmeshed in the quilting industry through writing books, patterns, and teaching. One of them is a co-founder of the Empty Spools Seminars in Asilomar, Calif., which I'd love to attend someday.

Another booth that made me drool was the Seven Seas Export group that includes Echino fabrics designed by Etsuko Furuya. Etsuko is very sweet and shy and the only photo I have of her smiling face is with my phone, and not very good. But do note an earlier shot I got of her back and the amazing dress she's wearing. I used her Dew Spring fabric to make a Birdie Sling and not only loved the print, but the fabric's heavier weight and texture, as well. From the looks of the booth, there's lots more to look forward to from this designer!

Also in the Seven Seas grouping was a booth of amazing felt creations. Last year, felt sushi made it big: this year it was felt desserts. There were all sorts of adorable kits available. In another section were the sweetest baby prints, stitched into blankets, diaper bags, and bibs. Japanese fabric overall seemed better represented at Market this year.

And this very kind (and jet-lagged) young woman from Hiroshima's Tulip Company, Ltd. was touting quilting needles and encouraging passersby to make a pincushion. She gave me a great sample packet of quilting needles (the packet claims "The Needles are Affection") which I look forward to trying.

Another team of designers who aren't new in the biz, but are currently captivating me are Piece O' Cake. I adore their bright colors and stylized designs. The brown pieced background with the stick-like, aqua trees appliqued atop makes me want to stop everything and stitch.

As if all the new fabrics and patterns aren't enough, there are also vendors at Market with amazing vintage textiles, jewelry, and more. This vintage button booth was like the dimestore of my youth. When I was in sixth grade and had just gotten my 50-cent allowance, my parents would let my younger sisters and me visit a store that offered penny candy. It was so hard to choose because the owners had everything imaginable. And being near these buttons felt just the same—unfortunately, they were more than a penny apiece.

End of day feet hurt. And you were wondering about the armadillo cake? Sorry, must wait for Day Two of Market and my next post.