Saturday, December 27, 2008

Quilts and history

Inauguration quilts -- Going back at least to the Bayeux tapestry documenting the Norman Conquest, needlework has provided a historical record in cloth. Continuing the tradition, forty-four quilters have been asked to make quilts for the inauguration (that number because Obama will be the 44th President). The project is sponsored by the Group for Cultural Documentation, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., and the Women of Color Quilters Network. If you google "inauguration quilts" you'll find lots of articles about the particular ones being made. To get you started, there's an interesting article about a quilt being made that shows the history of Michelle Obama's family -- click here to read it.

Blog books -- If you want to document your own quilt history, you can do that, too. Tanya recently had a post about making a blog book. The site she used no longer syncs with blogger, but I did a google search and found that other places also make blog books and some, like Blog2Print, can be used with blogger. If you use your blog as your quilt journal, it's a great way to get a hard copy.

Car quilt -- Here's a quilter who made a little history of her own with her car. If you want to do the same, you might find some inspiration here. You'll need a lot of nail polish!

And so this won't be a totally photo-less post, let me offer this proof that my new fleece blanket is truly reversible -- you can nap under it no matter which side is up! (Check the last post if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas in Australia, so I can post the swap gift I made for my partner there.
This is from a pattern I bought shortly after I started quilting. I loved picking out all the greens for the wreath, and enjoyed the challenge of piecing in a 3-D bow. Fun! I hope Trash likes it!

I've given so many fleece blankets away that this afternoon I decided to make one to keep. When I finished, I gave it to Val to curl up in while she was re-reading Harry Potter, not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve. One side of the blanket has stripes with snowflakes, the other has penguins bedecked in winter gear.
I'm pleased to say this blanket worked its magic in record time. Enjoy your nap, Val!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


My husband and I come from different religious traditions, and we celebrate lots of holidays. I never met a holiday I didn't like, so it's been pretty wonderful. When we married, everyone told us that we'd have a lot of problems trying to deal with our diverse heritages, but it really has worked very well for us. I feel like our family life has been richer for it.

We have other differences, too: my husband is from New York and my family comes from California. And where do we live? In the Midwest. A number of years ago I found a rubber stamp of American Gothic, Grant Wood's iconic painting of middle America, and this year I decided I could turn it into a holiday card ideally suited to our situation.
Hanukkah and Christmas sometimes overlap and sometimes don't. When the kids were little it was easier when there was some space between the two, but either way we still tried to keep each tradition inclusive of the other.
That Christmas tree ornament you see is a dreidel, which is used in a game played at Hanukkah. Each side of the spinning dreidel has a Hebrew letter, one letter for the first word of the sentence (in Hebrew) "A great miracle happened here." The story goes that the Jews used gambling with the dreidel as a cover for clandestine meetings to study Torah when they were under Syrian rule. The 'miracle' refers to the oil for the temple menorah that burned for 8 days even though there was only enough oil for 1 day. Depending on which letter lands on top when you spin the dreidel, you take a different amount of winnings from the pot -- or you have to put some in!
These quilted Hanukkah placemats are made to look like dreidels. I got these before I learned to quilt, but I'm going to make some for my children once they get settled in their own homes. (If you look carefully in the upper right corner of the photo, you'll see a Christmas package that's under our tree.)

When the kids were little, we had lots of conversations about the various holidays and the girls had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone believes the same thing and that sometimes there is no easy "right" and "wrong". That's a tough lesson, but I'm glad my kids grew up learning to understand how good people can come from many backgrounds. When my youngest daughter was 6, she ran upstairs while we were decorating the tree to make a star for the top. Look carefully at its shape and at what she wrote on it.
"G-d is with both." (Many Jews write 'God' that way.) We were so pleased by the message that now this star tops our tree every year. It reminds us that whatever holidays we celebrate, life in this world belongs equally to us all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bad blogger

Yes, that would be me. Bad blogger! I got behind in posting and blog reading, and then it seemed I was so far behind that catching up seemed overwhelming. Eek! Sorry. I got all my holiday gifts sent off yesterday, so today and tomorrow I will catch up on blogs. I hope you all have been having a wonderful holiday season!

I made two fleece blankets as gifts, but the recipients don't read my blog so I can post photos now. I made these envelope style because fringed edges seem more appropriate for children than for adults.
These are easy to make -- it just takes willingness to crawl around the floor to square up the fleece and pin the layers together. The time at the machine is very short. I love how they feel!
I received a wonderful gift from my swap partner, Marianne of Les p'tits gluons. She sent a cute fabric bag (you can see I started putting Christmas cards in there), some absolutely adorable fabric -- clearly, she looked at my blog and discovered what I like. There's also a needle case (I didn't have one), a yummy French chocolate bar, and a handmade gingerbread card. Thank you so much, Marianne!
The head of our local Project Linus chapter sent a photo of what almost 800 blankets looks like. Wow! And they had to mail all them, individually, to the children they were made for (children whose mothers are in prison). It was quite an undertaking. Fortunately, she has a very large family room.
We had an ice storm during the night. They are beautiful -- every tiny twig and blade of grass is coated with a layer of ice...
...but they are deadly. This hemlock in our yard is bent over with the weight of the ice; normally it's quite a bit taller than the yew trees you see behind it.
Fortunately, the trunk didn't snap and the tree has now regained almost its full height as the ice is melting.

Two other quick things before I head to the dentist to have a crown and a bridge put in (yuk!):

Binding tutorial -- I haven't forgotten, I just haven't made it yet.

Digital photos -- David Pogue, who writes the Circuits column in the New York Times, has a neat entry this week about taking digital photographs. Click here to check it out!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Biggest worknight yet!

Last night we had so many people at our worknight that we spilled out from the classroom into the quilt shop! I was afraid I hadn't planned enough projects, but in fact we were all busy.
This fish quilt isn't finished, but I think it'll be great! Guild members took home the background squares and added whatever fish they wanted. Several people made appliques of fish cut from fabric, so those (and a few others -- note the embroided fish in the top row, second one from the left) are in this quilt. We have enough squares for 2 more complete quilts, and those will have a much bigger variety of fish types.
We also put together two tops made from blocks made at worknights or donated by guild members. They're full of child-friendly fabrics and could even be called I Spy quilts. If you look closely, you can see there's a solid red square around which 4 blocks are joined. I had hoped the identical color blocks would provide some unity to the design, but I don't think that worked. I also don't think a 3-yr-old will care!
This one has purple setting blocks.
Someone donated a lot of 30's reproduction prints, so we're cutting them into 2-1/2" strips to make a variety of quilts. The first two will be a blue and a pink rail fence. For both we'll have a common center stripe and the rest will be scrappy, although I haven't cut enough of the strip piece sets of the pink yet that you have any variety! We'll mix all the prints, including some greens and purples, in the other quilts. Haven't chosen a design for those yet, but 2-1/2" strips leave a lot of options. We can't make it too complicated if several people are working on it, because the blocks always end up very different sizes! That's the real downside of group quilts, although it can lead to surprisingly wonderful innovations in design!
And yet again, another scrappy string quilt. I got over-zealous one day and cut a zillion red center strips. I'm getting sick of those, so we'll move on to something different as soon as these are done. I won't cut so many of the same fabric next time.
My husband alerted me to the beautiful sunrise yesterday morning. I took a couple photos and was thinking of using them for inspiration. Mother Nature is pretty good at using her color palette.
I am enamoured of bare tree branches and took this one to see the color of sky behind this big tree. It's not my favorite photo, but it's a good look at the sky behind the branches.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

One good dome deserves another

This morning I saw Tonya's fabulous photos of the dome at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, so I couldn't resist posting photos of the vaulted mosaic ceiling at Marshall Field's in Chicago. It's not so obviously spectacular as the Galeries Lafayette, but it was still pretty cool to see. I tried to photograph it without the Christmas decorations getting in the way, as they were big but not very creative.
The ceiling is made of over 1.5 million pieces of Tiffany glass, and Tiffany himself took charge of the work. Those two lamps hanging down are original Tiffany globes; there used to be four of them, but they were taken down to be part of a display at the store and some furniture fell over on them, irretrievably shattering two. I can see where one of them would have hung, but where would the fourth have been?
Another section of the store has a huge atrium with a skylight at the top -- at one point it was the highest enclosed atrium in the world, but that hasn't been true for many years.

Last year, Marshall Field's pulled out of the space it had occupied for over a century, and Macy's moved in. Many Chicagoans took it hard, and apparently quite a few have refused to patronize the store as Macy's is a symbol of -- gasp! -- New York. It would be a shame to see the store fail, for what would replace it? There is joking now that Chicago, the famous "Second City," is becoming the "First City" since it's the home of Barack Obama and he's handling his transition from there. Maybe this will ease the pain for those Chicagoans who don't like being #2 to New York.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Library and the Bean

I love Chicago! I've taken my readers there before (click here if you missed it), but our Thanksgiving weekend trip there has inspired me to share more photos of the city. Friday had a spectacularly blue sky, so we wandered around Millennium Park and then took the Art and Culture walking tour offered at the ArchiCenter. The highlight of the trip was the old Chicago Public Library. The building now serves as the Chicago Cultural Center, where almost all events are free and open to everyone. If you're in town this Sunday, stop by for the dance-along Nutcracker Ballet!
This gorgeous dome tops what was the card catalog room in the old library. It could turn anyone into an avid reader (at least into an avid library-goer!).
Here's the tile floor in another room. By the way, you can rent these rooms for events of your own, but I don't know what they charge.
And here's yet more flooring in the ancient River Styx pattern, which unfortunately has Nazi connotations for modern viewers.
I took this closeup of another floor because I love the way it uses squares on point to make a zig zag. I've always used HST's, but this is rather clever, especially if you're making several zig-zag rows across a quilt.

You can see the Bean from the huge windows in the catalog room of the library.
Officially called Cloud Gate, by Anish Kapoor, the Bean is a reflective sculpture that you can view from all sides and can even walk under. I showed several photos of it in my earlier Chicago post, and you can read about it on the Millennium Park website. I just can't get enough of it.
Here's the top of the Bean running into the blue, blue sky.
And here it is again, later that day and from another angle. It's never the same twice.
This is what the fountains at Millennium look like in the winter with no water and no children splashing. The projected faces change frequently, but all are photos of Chicagoans.
I love this view through the winter trees!

We had to cut our trip short by a day because of a snowstorm. I took photos through the car window as we sped by flat Illinois farmlands that were rendered beautiful by the blowing snow. Most of my pictures are blurs, but here's one that actually came out. The whole drive from Chicago looks pretty much like this scene.
And we were greeted by our snowy yard when we arrived safely home. I love the first snow!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving! (and jeans)

Happy Thanksgiving! It's such a great holiday -- getting together with friends and family, great food, lots of warm feelings all around. And there's a 4-day weekend! When my kids were little, DH and I tried to help them get into the spirit of the holiday by having a Thanksgiving tree (or turkey or cornupia) and for the week or so before the holiday and writing things on construction paper leaves (or feathers or fruit) that we were thankful for. We hung this on the wall and it became the centerpiece of our celebration.

When the kids were little, they dictated what they wanted to say, and then added their own decoration.
It clearly made an impression on the girls. Jocelyn wrote about it in her first grade class.

I'm not sure if her teachers knew what she was talking about -- here's what she wrote:
Hi im Jocelyn and -- I wunt to tel you. about my famli's thanksgiviig evrey year my famliy get's redey For tKanksg we make a tree or a tkey. and if we make a tree -- we Put levs. and if it's a -- trkey we Put fetrs.

We saved all the leaves and feathers and fruit and now our Thanksgiving ritual is to read them all aloud. We laugh and we cry -- they bring back so many memories! All kinds of things show up --
"I'm thankful I'm 5."
"I'm thankful for being able to cut out these feathers." (By Val, who had only just been entrusted with using scissors)
"I'm thankful for all the good things in life and clairanets which are good."
"I'm thankful the pilgrims escaped."
"I'm thankful for no more World Wars...yet anyway."
"I'm thankful I'm tired and sleepy."
Not all grand sentiments, but lessons on the road.

And now for some quilting content. I'm trying to have something to work on when I'm not actually in my sewing space. Just got Bonnie's book, Scraps and Shirttails, and she suggests a great way to cut up jeans. So I got my pile of old jeans and have started ripping as she suggests. So many ideas come when doing stuff like that. How much fun to incorporate this stitched-on stripe into the quilt:

And what if I sewed on the two ends of this waistband and ran a shoelace tie through them?
I think I'm going to embroider some of the pockets and jeans strips as handwork. It should be a fun quilt!

Several of you asked for a binding tutorial to show how to make stitched-in corners and not have to deal with joining the binding on the side. I'll work one up next week after the holiday.

To my American friends, may you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And to my international friends, have a great week!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

'Tis the season

'Tis the season when I can't post photos of what I'm making because everything's a gift! Fortunately, I received a gift myself.
Karol-Ann sent me these luscious African fabrics! Mine was the nearest guess for how many hexagons she showed, so I got first pick. It was a no-brainer -- I love African fabrics and have a tiny little collection of them. I have always admired what Karol-Ann has done with hers, so I grabbed the opportunity to enhance my stash with some of her wonderful fabrics. Thank you, Karol-Ann!

Today I sent off my gift to my Secret Santa Pal in Chookeyblue's swap. I absolutely love what I made! So did my family, and we were all very sorry to send it off. I do hope the recipient likes it as much as we do. As usual, I had wonderful plans for a free-pieced item, but made myself stop since I had vowed not to give away any more free piecing until I had made something free pieced for myself. Instead I chose a pattern I really like that gave me the opportunity to learn some new skills, including piecing a 3-D segment (as opposed to appliqueing something on top). Fun! I'll post the photo on Christmas.

Stitching the binding on my swap quilt reminded me that I don't put the binding on the way most people do. I stitch in the miters as I go. I love the finished look, and it means starting and stopping at a corner, so there are no ends to join on the side of the quilt. My closeups were blurry (I'm asking Santa for a tripod), so here's a shot of a corner on one of my quilts.
I learned this method when I took a class from Sharon Pederson. She has the instructions in both of her reversible quilts books. The only caveat I have is that you need to use a thread in your machine that matches the binding, as sometimes you can see the thread in the corner seams.