Friday, February 27, 2009

I feel better about my doll...

While perusing Fiberarts magazine yesterday, a piece about and by artist Jon Coffelt caught my eye. Coffelt makes small clothes out of cast-off, regular-sized clothing. He makes them for a variety of reasons: his first piece was made when his partner got an ink stain on the pocket of a favorite shirt and he wanted to preserve it for him. He cut the pieces down, re-stitched them by hand, and presented his partner with the small shirt. It was the first of more than 350 pieces of small clothing Coffelt has since constructed. His intention is to reproduce the design and stitching details of the original pieces.

There is something so moving about this work. For many of us, fabric memories run deep. I can still find a scrap of a dress my mother sewed for me (or I for my daughers or even for myself—my 8th grade shift sewn of blue kettlecloth) and it evokes such strong feelings. The details—pintucks, French cuffs, ruffled hems—are often part of those memories as well. Coffelt worked as a clothing designer, so he's especially attuned to the nuances of clothing construction. His small clothing pieces serve many functions: to honor a loved one, to assuage grief, to store a memory. In Fiberarts he shares the process and story of recreating a blouse that belonged to a beloved grandmother. Click on his website to see a group of these pieces.

I tried to contact Coffelt to ask permission to use the image from his site but the e-mail bounced back. (The photo above is from the Fiberarts site and photo credit goes to Shawn Boley.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The magazine says it's must be true!

Pay no attention to the icy sidewalks, the mounds of dirty snow piled along the driveway, the forecast for solid precipitation: the Spring 2009 issue of Quilts and More is hitting the newsstand. Although I've written for magazines for years I've always been a little mystified about why magazines put out their December issues in October. I'm sure it has to do with advertising and getting readers excited about the upcoming seasons and thinking about the perfect thing they'll need to buy or make.

In the case of Quilts and More, the spring issue is so welcome right now: there's a chance of snow tonight and the cover and so many of the fabrics and projects evoke sunshine and growing things. There are at least three quilts in this issue that I'd like to make.

I interviewed Lisa Shepard Stewart for the issue. Like most of us, she's smitten by fabric. In particular, she loves African fabric and has written three books of projects that use all kinds of handmade fabrics from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, and Mali. And not only does she quilt—she made her own wedding dress! I think that's about the bravest (and maybe craziest) thing a person could do: the stakes seem so high it would be easy to feel intimidated. But Lisa didn't strike me as someone who would be easily cowed. Heck, she told me she'd recently made a dress to wear to a friend's party the night before the party. Lisa has a challenge going on her web site to create something using this fabric. Check out the rules at Cultured Expressions.

I recently had the fun of "meeting" Monica, the designer of the sweet little mushroom needle case on page 26 in this issue. I've enjoyed her blog for some time and she's designed lots of great things for Quilts and More (including my all-time favorite bag, Pick a Pocket, in the Fall 2008 issue) and I e-mailed her recently to say hello and ask if I can add her blog, Happy Zombie, to my "roll call" of blogs—hope to get that started next week. In addition to being an obviously fun person (who admitted she's a 12-year-old in a slightly older body) she was very generous with blogging info and even added me to her blog roll call—makes me feel like my blog is growing up—Much obliged, Monica!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spring is (briefly) in the air!

It was in the 50s today and sunny. I walked home from work, splashing in puddles and slowly removing layers of clothing. By the time I got home, scarf, hat, coat, and gloves were gone and I walked Pearl around the block without a jacket. People were riding bikes, walking dogs and babies, smiling at one another.

No butterflies out yet, but this is one I embroidered during college. I worked as a counselor at Camp Northland for Girls on Lake Burntside near Ely, MN (where I'd also been a camper) and it was during the height of the '70s embroidery craze (it was on a par with macrame mania). I've saved this work shirt all these years: alas, my also-embroidered overalls have disappeared.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is my face red?

Does anyone else struggle with the "legitimacy" of sewing and quilting? It may be that I'm of an age when it was considered "women's work" and therefore not valued. Actually, I'm of an age when, for awhile, crafting was considered cool (as in hippies making macramé plant hangers and patchwork granny skirts: this image is from, originally from a 1972 book, Macramé Accessories: Patterns and Ideas for Knotting by Dona Z. Meilach). But soon after that phase came the 80s, when women en masse had their first real opportunities to don dark suits and sneakers and, briefcase in hand, march to the office every day. At that point, we knew that other women had struggled to make it possible to work in the "real" world and that we should be taking advantage of the opportunities to climb the work-world ladder. And spending time on the "womanly arts" was deemed unimportant, if not downright anti-feminist.

While I didn't follow that path exactly, I have spent the past 12 years in the working world, and much of it in an upward mode. That's changed in the last couple of years as I've discovered my true passion and pleasure—writing about textiles, textile artists, quilters, designers—and I've had the chance to do that writing, at least part time. But there's still a little corner of me that struggles with the fact that if I tell someone at a cocktail party that I write for quilt magazines I can almost see their eyes glaze over and then search the room for someone who spends their days saving lives, designing wind turbines, or juggling vast quantities of money.

All of this is to say that I somehow feel especially sheepish about a class I just took (and thoroughly enjoyed) at Home Ec. It was doll making, which might seem about as anti-feminist an activity as they come. The doll on the left above is one I've had since childhood. The doll on the right is as far as I've gotten making Louise, a pattern from Hillary Lang of Wee Wonderfuls. She has this incredibly sensible system for delivering her patterns. After I paid online, she sent me a pdf with the complete pattern, which I then could print. So clever, and it's a great pattern, to boot.

I don't have a baby (like the other women in the class) or a grandchild. I just seem to have a fondness for handmade, cloth dolls. The few I've saved from childhood all fit that description. Perhaps this is a life-long textile mania coming full circle. (I've made Paul promise to stop me if I show any signs of becoming one of those spooky adults with dolls propped on shelves and dressers in my bedroom.)

This musing was precipitated by a New Yorker cartoon about embarrassing hobbies. I can't find it online, but it's on page 27 of the Feb. 23 issue (which just arrived today and which is already old news on the New Yorker web site)!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bound for babies

I finally finished binding the pink Sweetie Pie quilt and nearly have the thirties version finished, as well. I gave the pink one to Wendy on Saturday: she wound up being in a class with me in Home Ec on Thursday night and I knew I'd see her again yesterday when the class reconvened, so it was the perfect push to get it finished! Wendy has always been so wonderful to my daughter, Maggie, (they worked together at Prairie Lights) and I was so happy to be able to give her something for her daughter.

I got frustrated binding that quilt, however, because I kept having thread breakage—something I'd never encountered previously. Still not sure whether it was a flawed spool of thread...I use Aurifil for just about everything and love it and have never had a problem.

This does remind me of a couple more tools I find invaluable for binding quilts. Thread Heaven comes in a teeny, tiny blue cube and is a wax-like substance I use to coat the thread. It allows me to use long lengths without tangling. I also really like straw needles because they're flexible, making catching both the binding and quilt back easier. I've never been a thimble user, but I find the Nimble Thimble does the trick for me. (I couldn't find a photo of a hand model with raggedy cuticles and band aids covering the ironing burn, so I was forced to use the one below.) And everyone knows the trick of holding the binding on with hair clips as you stitch.

Finally, I keep all these binding supplies together, along with scissors and a needle threader, in an empty stationary box with a magnetic catch. That way I don't need to worry about gathering things: I can just grab the box from my sewing room when I'm ready for binding and head downstairs to the family room for conversation or TV. And the magnetic catch keeps everything from winding up on the floor when I invariably knock it off the coffee table.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tool fool

My mom has always been a lover of gadgets. She worked for a time in a kitchen shop, and she had every kind of peeler, slicer, dicer, and trimmer known to chefs. It was great because she'd get the low-down on what really worked and then we'd sometimes get the good ones as gifts.

In the past few years she's given me a few sewing tools that she bought because she was sure she needed them. Unfortunately for her, she'd get home and already have one. Fortunately for me, I've been the beneficiary of her duplicate purchases. Most recently I got a Clover mini-iron. I used it for the first time this weekend, when I was making trees to go along with the Liberated Houses. It was really helpful to not have to jump up and down to get to my iron every time I finished a section.

There are two other tools I especially like. One is this wonderful stiletto given to me by Mel, Mary Lou, and Brenda. I have to admit when I was in Houston I thought these fancy stilettos were a bit over-the-top. I'd been using the tip of my seam ripper, which seemed to work just fine. And I kept telling myself I could always just get a plain, 'ol barbecue skewer if I needed to. But when I opened my box of Christmas goodies, one of the items was this wonderful stiletto and I have to say, that very lovely handle makes all the difference. It's so easy to hold (and so much easier to see than a plain 'ol barbecue skewer) and I never have to worry about accidentally poking a hole in something, like I do when I use my circa 1975 turquoise seam ripper.

Finally, a tool I've had since around 1990, when I took a doll-making class at New Pieces in Berkeley from Elinor Peace Bailey, is the Bow-whip. It's a really simple tool--just some tubing and skewers/sticks of three different sizes that you can use to turn tubes right side out after you sew them. Sondra was making aprons last year using that wonderful Vanilla House Four Corners apron pattern. I'd made a couple earlier and used the Bow Whip to turn the apron ties. (This is a shot of Rebecca in hers: it's on Christmas morning and she hasn't combed her hair and she'll kill me for using this...but she rarely reads Pearl the Squirrel, so I think I'm safe.)

Sondra liked the Bow Whip so much she bugged her local quilting shop, Pine Needles (a terrific shop, with lots and lots of fabric, in Cedar Rapids) and they found them. Lo and behold, nearly 20 years later, not only do they still make them (now called the Turn It All Bow Whip), but Elinor Peace Bailey endorses them right on the package!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Update: Maggie did it!

I just got a call from Austin and Maggie and her running buddy Claire completed their half-marathon! They were happy with their times—averaged ten minute miles, which was their goal. She said the last two miles were really hilly and really hard. Here's the happy runner (happy to have done it and happy to be done).

Congratulations Maggie and Claire!

Okay, more than a day off...

My quilt guild holds an annual retreat and I've made it for the last two years. It's held at a lovely little spot about 30 miles from home. This year's retreat is going on right now, and for a number of reasons I wasn't able to attend. So I decided to have my own retreat, which accounts for me sewing two days in a row. It's worked well because Paul is in Austin visiting Maggie and Jeff (and Maggie is currently running a half-marathon—woo-hoo! Go, Maggie!).

The two problems with my personal retreat are that Pearl still needs to be taken outside every now and then and I have to make my own meals (our quilt guild retreat was held at a center run by Franciscan nuns, who made lovely, healthful meals that appeared three times a day at the sound of a bell).

Yesterday, when I took Pearl outside, I was struck by the Dr. Seussiness of this snow-covered sedum. (I hope you note my discretion in not whining about winter or the 2 inches of snow that appeared on the ground overnight. Just rest assured that this isn't an "isn't winter lovely?" blog photo. It's me laughing at the sheer silliness of snow...easier to do when it's in the 30s.)

It's likely the sedum struck me as zany, rather than tragic, because I've been in a silly place, working all day on "Liberated Houses." I took a terrific class at Common Threads in North Liberty last fall and started making the houses—pictured are the smallest two of seven. Nancy G. taught the class, which I later learned was based on the work of Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran (I wasn't able to find her web page, but here's a fun interview with her on Quilter's Buzz). In Houston, I learned from Mel and Mary Lou that Gwen and Freddy have a book, Collaborative Quilting, that talks about putting together Liberated Houses and other elements. They have a great concept called The Parts Department, which involves making lots of strips and blocks to use when constructing the actual top. So I'm working on these half-square triangle borders and a variety of trees. I'm still a bit unclear about how it will all go together. It's the first time I really wish I had a design wall, and not just a design floor (which is what I call the technique of laying out the pieces on my bedroom floor and then standing on the bed to get some visual distance).

Does anyone have any advice for putting these pieces into some sort of coherent whole? I'm happy for any and all suggestions.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A day off

After some rather stressful work-related meetings and conversations, I decided to give myself an entire day off. It's a stunning concept and one that needs to be revisited more often in this household. When we moved to Berkeley in the late 1980s, our realtor observed after a day of house hunting that she'd never seen anyone with the "drive to completion" that I have. (This was because I insisted on looking at every last house on the market.)

The drive to completion often serves me well. I generally hit deadlines and really crank on things when the end is in sight. That feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting things done is highly satisfying. But lately it's morphed into working seven days a week, and that's not healthy for anyone. Paul and I are both trying to remember that there will always be more work to do tomorrow, and that it's important to step back and just do something else every now and then.

So,my something else today was making split pea soup, taking a walk with a friend and Pearl, watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (meh), and sewing. My mom gave me a couple of fat quarters when I visited her in January and I'd seen raves about the Lazy Girl Wonder Wallet, so when I saw the pattern at Home Ec I grabbed it. I made one a weekend or two ago and finished another today.

It's a great pattern: they're very quick to make and now that I've made the basic pattern I see all sorts of possibilities for modifying them—different sizes or pocket configurations, for example. The one change I will definitely make is to use a heavier interfacing in the main body of the wallet. I'm not sure why, but the flap flips up a bit on either side of the button when the flap is closed (the button is just decorative and hides the stitches that secure the velcro). I thought heavier interfacing might help. You may note that I have two sizes of velcro dots—the small one seemed a little too small, so I opted for the larger on the second wallet.

I also initially thought I'd use a metal silver-and-blue button that was on a shank, but realized that I'm likely to use this wallet when I walk downtown and don't want to haul a purse; the button with the shank would have been uncomfortable in the pocket of my jeans. So I used a couple of gorgeous pearl buttons I'd been saving for something. Guess this was it!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Best in Show

Pearl, Paul, and I watched the terrier group during last night's Westminster dog show. When the wire fox terrier didn't make the final cut, Pearl just lay down on the floor and closed her eyes. (My sister sent a link to a New York Times article about past winners, which said that wire fox terriers were the all-time champs, with 13 wins.)

I had to watch the Scottish terrier take Best in Breed...quite a cute little guy, very self-confident. Rebecca wanted a Scotty when she was little, but I had heard they were feisty with kids, so we went for a Westie. Tillie was a great dog and lived to be 15.

Pearl actually started life as a show dog: her name was Cheviot's Dorretti Swallow (which was a British sports car). There's a photo of her in a 2006 dog show here. She apparently earned her champion ranking (or whatever it's called) and was retired when she was 20 months old, which is when I got her. For some reason, they didn't want to breed her...probably because she is a squirrel. I should have known...I do think much of her squirrely behavior stems from her show-dog lifestyle.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friends in fabric

Okay, brace yourselves. This post will be corny. And long. But an interview I did today for a future Quilts and More profile reminded me that I've been meaning to write about some of the friends I've made through quilting. (And check out the pattern the pattern for this totally wonderful knitted corn!)

I know not everyone in quilting world is as wonderful as they seem—not much in life is, I'm afraid. It's quite possible that when people talk with me I'm seeing their most charming selves; after all, the profiles I write help to publicize their fabric, patterns, or other business. But I can't tell you the number of times I've hung up the phone and come into the family room and said to my husband, "I just talked to the coolest person!" I can tell that some folks are pretty used to being interviewed and have stock responses to the oft-asked questions: Where do you get inspiration? (This only means that it's my job as a journalist to come up with some more thought-provoking questions.) But with other folks, we just hit it off and an actual conversation ensues. And with quilters that happens about 8 out of 10 times.

In November 2007 I got assigned to interview Mary Lou Weidman, a quilter and teacher from Washington State. What should have been one of those 15 to 20 minute interviews stretched into an hour or more. If you know Mary Lou's quilts at all, you know something about Mary Lou (those are her quilts on the right). She's funny, warm, and loves lots of color (three of my favorite qualities). But we also connected over the fact that nearly 30 years before her son had had leukemia (he's now in his 30s and a parent himself) and nearly 30 years before I had been a child life specialist, working with pediatric cancer patients. Mary Lou started quilting when her son was sick and her positive outlook is much of what got her through. I hung up the phone, totally energized and so happy to have gotten to chat with her.

About a week later I sent her the copy to check over and she wrote back and invited me to room with her at Quilt Market in Houston. I was flabbergasted! I'm basically a shy person and my first reaction was "I could never do that!" Mary Lou offered to show me around Market, to introduce me to her friends, and to go shopping and eat out at great restaurants. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, "I couldn't NOT do that!" We corresponded intermittently throughout the year and as October drew closer she mentioned a friend would also be joining us. Now I was really nervous—who was this friend, Mel? What if she snored more loudly than my husband? What if we didn't like each other at all? We'd be staying together for days...heck, we'd be sharing a bathroom!

To make a long story slightly shorter, I went, Mary Lou is wonderful and so is Mel (and she confessed she also wondered why Mary Lou had invited me and worried we wouldn't get along). And they introduced me to many fabulous people.
One of my favorites is their good buddy Brenda, who works for Marti Michell (you should see that Brenda demo a ruler-she's a whiz). It was about business, of course, (along with teaching and creating patterns, Mary Lou designs fabric for Benartex--check out Mary Lou's web site and blog). But there was this great, built-in bond. Mel (she's in brown, Brenda in green and the quilts are all Mary Lou's) worked for years in the garment industry, has written a textbook about fit, and had been to numerous trade shows, so walking the aisles with her gave me lots of insights into the textile business I would otherwise have missed. Mary Lou was generous with her time and contacts and just a lot of fun. Brenda was talented, funny, and friendly. I met lots of other wonderful folks, too, but these three really touched me. When they got together to sew in December in Texas, they even sent me a holiday box of goodies...but more on that when I write about tools.

At any rate, there are so many people I've connected with over fabric. My friend, Anne, whose offer to teach me to quilt one weekend literally changed my life (here we after a day of putting together quilt tops), my friends from work with whom I sewed Birdie Slings last weekend, my Scrabble friend Kristin with whom I've established a new bond through's corny, I know, but it goes on and on. And the woman I interviewed today talked about the wonderful women she's become friends with through sewing and it reminded me to thank the wonderful women I know for the things they've taught me, the fabric they've shared, and the pleasure we've had together over stitching.

(And I know, if I say wonderful one more time, we may all puke. But I've turned in three stories today and have used up my quota of adjectives.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scrap happy

It's been a rough week, and last night, rather than recline on the couch watching my Tivo'd episode of The Closer, I decided I needed to be upright and doing something. I saw this tutorial for wonky log cabin blocks, as well as Jacquie from Tallgrass Prairie Studio's Project Improv post. I'm definitely someone who uses patterns designed by others: they allow me the pleasures of combining fabric, sewing, appreciating construction techniques, etc. I tell myself when I retire I may design my own patterns. But there was something about this that just looked so do-able. Stitch magazine also had instructions for a log cabin pillow, so I took a look at those and started cutting.

I knew I wanted to do something with the Birdie sling scraps, and this was it. As someone who's typically drawn to blues and greens, I'm a little startled by the way pink and green seems to be sucking me in...Pearl checked it out, too (as well as she could given that she can barely see through all her fur).

Feisty-sweet Kyra Sedgewick is great, but there's nothing quite as soothing as foolin' around in my sewing room.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A sewing bee (for birdie)

Home Ec Workshop turns out to be a really wonderful place. I knew I liked the yarn and fabric, and Codi, who I've met through Rebecca, always seemed very warm and friendly. But when I hauled my sewing machine in at 10:45 a.m., there must have been 15 to 20 women sitting in a big circle, knitting. Two guys were behind the counter, cranking out the lattés and cappuccinos and the conversation was flowing. I was a little stunned at the numbers and the energy in the room, but stunned in a good way.

My work buddies, Anne and Sondra, arrived and we got to sit along the same side of the room. Here’s a shot of us at our sewing machines.

There were six women in the class—the other three were grad students/young moms. It was fun to chat as we shared the cutting tables and truly fabulous industrial iron. It’s always fascinating to see the way fabric choices change a project. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of everyone’s bag, but here’s a shot of Anne, me, and Sondra with our nearly completed Birdie slings.
We didn’t quite finish in class, but got close.

Codi's personality is perfect for her business—she loves what she's doing and seems to thrive on all the people around her: she helped when we needed it and stood back and let us go when we didn't. She's seemingly never ruffled by customers or chaos: when we didn't need assistance she'd go out to the front room and chat with people in the shop and answer their questions. Once she brought back an adorable three-week old babe named Archie for us all to admire. Here she is helping Anne (who needed very little help, of course).

Paul ended up having to go back over to the lab, so I sewed until he got home at 7 and finished it up. It’s a big bag—I imagine it more as a summer bag (you could put your swimming suit and sunscreen and a small towel in there). It might also be a nice overnight bag or extra bag for traveling.

The fabric is Amy Butler’s Nigella, American Jane’s mini dot in green and Heather Ross’s Mendocino (which is my favorite—it’s kind of a little secret that there are mermaids and sea turtles and squid languidly swimming inside of my bag).