Saturday, December 31, 2011

Setting my own standards: A New Year's goal

I wrote this months ago and it seems fitting to post today, New Year's Eve. One of my resolutions for the coming year is to pay attention to what is truly important to me—to not let others opinions or expectations weigh so heavily on my decision-making process. Read on...

On a sunny, brilliant September morning, I was rowing with my coach. As we watched the women's University team pass, she muttered something about what she figured they were thinking about her—that if she was really good, she'd become an elite rower, for example, rather than coaching a community club team.

I countered that applying other people's standards was silly and that what she was doing was so important. Because of her, people are learning a new skill and enjoying an opportunity that otherwise wouldn't exist.

And then I realized that I apply the same sorts of standards to myself. I feel inadequate because I don't make big bucks with my work. And I question whether others see me as a "real" writer.

Writing is taken seriously where I live. Iowa City is one of four Cities of Literature in the world and home to the top creative writing program in the country. We're lousy with writers—we brush elbows with Pulitzer Prize winners at the farmer's market and stand in the check-out line at the public library with authors of critically acclaimed novels. I often feel sheepish identifying myself a writer in such refined company. And yet writing is what I do day in and day out and I work hard at it.

So I told my coach that we both need to stop judging ourselves by impossible and entirely inappropriate standards. Easy to say, hard to do.

How about you...are there expectations or standards you judge yourself by that don't really fit with your goals? No? Then how do you avoid such behavior?

(For the record: my coach is figuring it out. She was recently hired full time to be our club coach and says it's her dream job.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Things have been a little quiet around here—family matters have intervened. My mom was in the hospital for 11 days and I flew out to be with my folks when she was released. Fortunately, she is doing better, but we had quite a few days where once we got her clean, fed, and comfortable, she'd nap. I'd been planning to finish for her Christmas gift a table runner I'd pieced earlier in the year, and her naps gave me the perfect chance to do so.

I used her very snazzy Brother Ellismo machine to quilt it. We had some trouble getting the free motion functions to work (my mom uses the machine primarily for embroidery), so I ended up using the walking foot to do some straight stitching. I was a little intimidated by all its bells and whistles at first, but the wonderful extra work space, ease of threading, and amazing needle threader really won me over. It didn't take too long to figure it all out (except for the free motion aspect), which surprised me, too. I love the two machines I most often use—a Bernina 153QE and a Janome 6600. But I gotta say, this one was pretty pleasing.

So here are some shots of the final result. The pattern is so much fun—Lone Pine, made with X-blocks. My buddy Mel and I bought these rulers two summers ago when we met at a quilt shop in Manchester, Iowa, during the riding of RAGBRAI. Neither of us had ever used them and wasn't sure I would. But they were very fun—kind of like using my mom's sewing machine—they offered a new take on something you do regularly, in this case strip piecing. Yes, the binding is a bit wobbly, and I think a bit of free motion between the trees would have been great, but given the situation, I'm happy with it, as was my mom.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday, filled with time to read, sew, be with friends and family, and relax. Cheers!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

WPA—Would Politicians Approve?

John V. Bloom mural in Tipton, IA post office
I'm so lucky! There are, of course, many, many things that make me feel lucky in life. But right now I'm referring to the fact that I get to travel around the Midwest learning about and photographing things I never before knew existed (or may have taken for granted).

Moline, Illinois post office (currently for sale for $400,000)
That's the way I felt with today's Etsy post on the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era. I knew a little about it (and frankly I still know just a little about it, because it turns out there is so much to know). During Franklin Roosevelt's time more than 100 departments, known as the "Alphabet Agencies," were formed by the government to both provide work for people on relief (unemployed and supported by welfare).

These jobs included all kinds of artistic and recreational endeavors, as well as construction projects (many under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps—CCC). While I chose to focus on murals and buildings within driving distance of my home (and in the case of the boathouse above, within walking distance), I discovered that there are a plethora of WPA-era murals in post offices around Iowa and Illinois.

Edward Millman mural in Moline, IL post office
There are, of course, well known murals from this time period—those in San Francisco's Coit Tower come to mind. But to learn that so many murals were painted for tiny post offices, and that most are still in existence, amazes know that every day people are in the presence of artwork whose creation helped feed artist's families, while enabling artists (and actors, musicians, writers, and craftspeople of all sorts) to continue in their chosen line of work...and to know that the government valued those lines of work enough to support them, is nothing short of stunning.

There were certainly people who felt disdain for the New Deal and the Alphabet Agencies, but not so many that the programs didn't exist.

I've had a number of conversations with people about whether this kind of government work program could work today. What do you think? Why or why not?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And I Will Make Thee a Bed of Roses...

People who know me hear me complain about not having enough time to sew. "I write about sewing all day, but I hardly ever get to do it!" goes the whine. It's often true. But last Friday I got together with some friends at Inspirations, a newish quilt shop in Hills, Iowa, to sew. The shop has a sunny classroom space where we gathered, and I managed to make 45 pennants for three more holiday garlands, which I finished up today.

Garlands are one thing, but it takes me an awfully long time to complete a quilt. I've slowly come around to the idea that a quilt doesn't need to be quick and that it's fine to have more than one project going at a time. So I'll try not to feel too terrible about showing you something that took me more than a year to complete. It was worth the wait.

The quilt started out in October 2010, when I took a French Roses class at Common Threads. (The pattern is an old one by Heather French—sorry, I can't find a link to her site.) I was excited about the colors and fabrics, and took the quilt to Lake Tahoe to work on. It was there I realized what a creative bunch I was sewing with. The pattern is traditionally put together without sashing, but someone suggested I add some and someone else brought over some black and white options to audition. Keystones punch it up a bit more (I fussy cut a few of them ato highlight the mushrooms, birds, and chairs). And finally, over the summer, I added the "strata" border (a Mary Lou Weidman term). It is such a great reminder that it's okay to change up a pattern and to do some things that take a bit of extra time, rather than rush to finish.

Linda Duncan quilted it and I just love what she did. She used a pink thread that really gives the quilt spark, and she tried a new technique on the flowers. Rather than quilting around each layer, as she's done on French Roses quilts in the past, she stitched "spokes" in hopes that when the quilt was washed it would create "petals." Indeed, it worked just that way.

I am once again a bit giddy, and I can't help but pat myself on the back for taking a pattern of long-standing and giving it a different twist. I can't bring myself to put the quilt away (and it goes with absolutely nothing in my house). So I've got it hanging over the stair rail, where I can admire it daily and force unsuspecting visitors to tell me how much they like it, too.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pennants? Banners? Garland? Let's just call it holiday decor

My eldest daughter was with us over Thanksgiving and we had a massive list of things we hoped to accomplish (perhaps "accomplished" is too strenuous a word, as our activities included sleeping in, playing Bananagrams, viewing the new Muppet movie, and eating a seemingly endless supply of pumpkin pie).

Our two crafting plans were to make folded German paper stars and stitch holiday banners/garlands. I've made those paper stars a million times, and once even held a "how-to" session at my office to teach my coworkers. But try as we might, Maggie and I really struggled and in the end we were doing something wrong. Maggie's excellent at origami—she used to make bouquets of folded flowers for her friends' birthdays—but this task eluded even her.

I wasn't very helpful because I was largely focused on sewing. Maggie's moved into an apartment and will be visiting us for Christmas, so she's decided not to get a tree. I told her she still needs some snippet of festive decor and thought a holiday garland would be easy to put up and simple to store.

There are umpteen tutorials online for these and I spent a ridiculous amount of time perusing the methods for making them—fused, raw-edged, with interfacing and without, etc. I refused to consider any with templates and finally settled on an amalgam of techniques. I used the cutting instructions from What I Made Today because you could create multiple pennants from a 9" strip of fabric. But I thought they looked a little more finished if I sewed them right sides together, then turned and top-stitched each pennant. I used pre-made double fold seam binding for the "string" and stitched them fairly close together. I was kind of giddy about the results (it takes so little, really, to put me in that state). I thought it might also be cute to clip holiday cards in between the pennants with sweet little clothespins.

Okay Maggie, I'm waiting for that photo of your garland on the bookshelf! (And sorry these photos are a bit dodgy...I was rushing to sew and shoot, so she could pack.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Much to Be Thankful For

A year ago just now, we were in a car accident. While the car was totaled, we were ultimately just fine. A few months before that I required surgery. And I was ultimately just fine. Though last year was challenging, I was one grateful gal on Thanksgiving 2010.

There have been some low points this year—funny how you just can't squeak by without a downturn or two—but I continue to be grateful for all that I have: Smart, funny, loving daughters and a husband who is my best bud; extended family who cares; friends who support me when I need it and accept support when they do and who also play with me; work that fulfills me; an exhilarating new sport—the list goes on and I am so lucky it does!

Whether you're enjoying some much needed solitude or thrilled to be surrounded by a crush of revelers, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feeding My Obsession

Can you believe that one on top of the box? Totally wild!
Since last April, when I attended the feed sack show in Ainsworth, I've been under the spell of feed sacks. In every antique and thrift store, at any quilt show, wherever vintage textiles are found, I poke through stacks of fabric in search of them. Typically they're very, very pricey, and given that I'm not sure what I'd do with them, I've never splurged.

Sweet little floral
Earlier this summer, no doubt when I should have been doing some work, I was noodling about online and decided to check Craigslist. Lo and behold, there was an ad for feed sacks, nearly vintage itself at several months old. I figured they'd be long gone, but wrote for more information. Amazingly, they were still to be had, but for a price that was a bit rich for my blood. Turns out here were about 23 (including several duplicates) of them, plus some scraps. I offered to buy them all for a lower price and the owner countered. I told her that I would pass, but if she'd ever consider my offer to let me know. Sure enough, she did and they arrived today!

So graphic! I've got two
It turns out that the feed sacks belonged to a octogenarian quilter from a small Iowa town. Her daughter was selling them for her. I felt a bit guilty having bargained for them, although the ad had been placed months before, so I guess she was glad for the sale. My real worry is that her daughter said that her mom wanted to know what I would do with them and asked that I send a photo of anything I made. Yikes! That feels like such responsibility...I can barely imaging cutting into them. But I promised when I did use them, I'd share the results. And she obviously used them, as there are many small bits in addition to the complete sacks.

A bold take on florals—flower in a flower
With feed sacks, I expect the sweet little florals, but am always amazed by how contemporary many of the designs are. In my Etsy story I mentioned that it took three feed sacks to make a dress, but the only bag I have three of would make anyone look (as my mother used to say) like the broad side of a barn.

Apparently owl imagery isn't new
For now, I'll just be folding and re-folding and admiring my feed sack stack. Heaven!

My favorites!
Yup, I've got three of these...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Quilt Market Update: Links, Photos, and a Bit of Commentary

--> The most charming Lucie Summers with her fresh, fantastic Summersville collection [Photos fixed and a few added..thanks for your patience!]

I'm far behind my other bloggy friends when it comes to sharing Market photos. Since you may have seen it all (or most of it) on other blogs, I'll just share some highlights. Market, as always, was awe-inspiring—the fabrics, the colors, new bells and whistles on sewing machines, the clever patterns, the booths that look like living rooms from Elle Decor. It's always sensory overload.

Maggie, Anna Maria Horner, and Pierette
While the goods were fantastic, catching up with people was really a pleasure. Yes, it's tough to have a heart-to-heart with a designer or editor when people right behind you are taking her photo. But I think there's such pleasure in talking with others who love the same things you do. Because so many of us work at home and because of blogs, we've learned about each others home lives and that makes these business relationships a little more personal, too—how are your kids? Is your mom feeling better? Are you really on an ice hockey team?

Finally, I had the extreme pleasure of sharing Market with my Texas daughter, Maggie. The Home Ec team decided they just couldn't make it to Market and so Maggie came in their stead. She gathered lots of goodies for the shop, some that Codi specifically requested and some we thought she and Alisa would like. There was one crazy moment when Sample Spree was about to end and Codi and I were calling back and forth so I could find out if I should purchase fantastic Japanese zippers and we kept losing our phone connection. The announcers were saying Sample Spree was over, I was frantically trying to describe the zippers, and the guys were starting to pack up—mania! In the end, victory (and zippers) were ours.

Apologies for the funky layout...I decided it was better to finally get it posted than to make it perfect!

Yoshiko Jinzenji fabric and perfect quilting

Marny and Jill of Modern Quilt Relish--Iowa gals!
Modern Quilt Relish booth-they also one made for Daisy Janie
Seven Islands booth-lunch bags
Malka Dubrowsky and her new fabric for Moda, A Stitch in Color--Wow!
Cloud 9 has a new line based on Grandmother's drawings
--> Alexander Henry's booth is always a knock-out
The lovely Alyssa's work in her Penguin and Fish booth
Maggie with Amy Butler's clothing in the softest-ever voile
Deploy that Fabric camouflage quilt
Love this concept and the cover quilt (above)
Weeks and Bill Ringle have launched Modern Quilts Illustrated and it's gorgeous!
A cow quilt from Mary Lou and Mel's new book
American Jane (Sandy Klopp) knocks my socks off every time
Ty Pennington's booth with (get it?) ties
Making the most of down time: Kaffe knits and Liza binds
Tina Givens knows how to make the best of chocolate brown paint

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heading to Houston

Does Pearl look a tad miffed in her stitched portrait? It's likely because I'm once again leaving her behind. I'm off to Quilt Market. Photos and commentary to come!

(This amazing Pearl portrait was created from a photo by Codi and Alisa at Home Ec Workshop. Check out their shop window for lots of other critters, some nearly as cute as Pearl.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Have Letterpress, Will Travel

Kyle in the Type Truck
Interviewing Kyle Durrie was a pleasure. She's the proprietor of a Portland printing business, Power and Light Press, and is touring the country in a renovated 1982 Chevy step van equipped with letterpress equipment. (You can read her story on my Etsy post, here, and on her blog, here. The photos in this post are hers—she's a fantastic photographer.)

Kyle is 31 and after talking with her I was in awe—because of her commitment to her craft and trade, her thoughtful answers to my questions, and simply because of what she's doing. I learned about Kyle's journey when she drove her Type Truck into Iowa City earlier this summer and parked it outside Home Ec Workshop (where proprietors Alisa and Codi kept her parking meter plugged while she printed with the crowds). It was a hot, hot day and I didn't make it to the Type Truck—and have kicked myself ever since, but several of my UI Center for the Book friends met Kyle and printed with her and had great things to say about the experience. You can read about it on Kyle's blog, here.

After hanging up the phone, I gushed about my conversation with Kyle to my husband, but I admit to one funny comment. I said that if one of our daughters had come to us and told us she was going to do this, my first reaction would be "No way! That's crazy! It's dangerous! You can't possibly!" And yet here I was thinking Kyle was such an original thinker and so impressed with her willingness to put her life on hold for a year to pursue this experience. There's a lesson in there somewhere, about fear, taking risks, and letting go. Thanks for that one, Kyle,  for reminding me that being a visionary isn't just for people "out there," but those in my own backyard.