Saturday, November 22, 2014

Orphan Paper-Pieced Blocks and the Eternal Quilter's Sales Dilemma

Back in the 2000's, I designed a foundation paper pieced Aleph Bet (Hebrew alphabet), based on calligraphy principles, and made a couple of quilts from it, like this one:
I put the e-pattern for sale on my website, and have received images of quilts made from it, including this one by a wonderful quilter named Wayne:
Very gratifying! Designing such a complex quilt meant lots of experimenting and discards. I wound up with a stack of leftovers, including these:  
Here's a closer look at the aleph (first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), front: 
And the back, with most of the paper pattern still in place, 
Next, a 'hamsa,' a hand with an eye in it, an ancient amulet/good luck symbol common to Middle Eastern cultures. This particular leftover was a total fail:

Ouch! But even things as sad as this, I am very bad at throwing away. So I stuffed the orphaned blocks in a file, where they sat for about six years, until this week, when I decided to participate in a Hanukah boutique at a local temple (If you're in Southern California tomorrow, stop by and say hello. I won't be the only stitcher there. It's at Temple Beth David in Temple City on Sunday, November 23, 2014, from 9:00 to 12:30). 

I took two orphan hamsa blocks that were not fails, added borders, quilted them, put on a hanging loop or sleeve (respectively), and voila! 
 The second one has a button eye in the center:
They're quilted with gold metalic thread, and are about 10" square. 

The dilemma with any quilter selling her/his work, of course, is pricing. Though small, each of these hamsas that I made so long ago has about a zillion pieces. Here's what the pattern looks like: 
OK, not a zillion, but that's 22 pieces. The aleph above has 19 pieces! 

How would you price something like this? Would anyone actually pay an amount that reflects the time investment? Or should I just be grateful to get them out of my files? The other problem is that I love the results so much I'm not sure I can sell them! Argh! The eternal quilter's dilemma! Comments welcomed! 

(If you're interested in making your own, the epattern is here.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Quilting Life is a Healthy Life, With Footnotes

Being a, um, mature quilter might mean your most innovative work is ahead of you!
Check out:

What's more, crafting is good for you, and this has got to include quilting:

It's all good! News item of the future: Quilting will be proven to be better for you than going to the gym! (If it can happen to wine, it can happen to quilting: Check out:

This is especialy true if you keep your sewing machine in the basement and your ironing board in the attic. After just a few log cabin blocks, you'll be cardiovascularly and intellectually enhanced, exhausted, and certainly deserve a nice glass of wine!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Quilting Mystery Book Review - 'Knot in My Backyard'

This new mystery is Mary Mark’s second – I loved her first, Forget Me Knot, and this one is just as good. Her heroine is Martha Rose, an expert quilter, hot mama, Weight Watchers recidivist, Los Angeles Jewish woman of a certain age, who solves gruesome murders in part by refusing to be silenced by the hunky men who desire her. Vivid characters and authentic settings make the book so much fun  - I learned a lot about the Los Angeles River, undocumented homeless people who live off freeway overpasses, the thorny politics of fancy private schools, bikers, Israeli falafel places, and much more that makes up the improbably diverse landscape of LA. There are even quilting tips. I could totally relate to Martha in so many ways, plus she hates to cook – we’d both rather quilt -  so we’re truly kindred spirits. Highly recommended!  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Finishing Other Women's Quilts

It's a wonderful thing when you can finish quilts started long ago by other people. Sometimes you're not just the second person to work on an old quilt; there can be more.

This story starts when my best friend Sue and I went to vintage fabric and fashion show, I think in Santa Monica, CA, in the early 2000's, and we came across this stack of blocks:
 The design is often called "Dresden Plate," with petals and a central circle. These appeared to be cut from 1960s -80s fabric, much of it shirting, much of it related to surfing.
 Above, note the word "Bend". It appears a few times in the quilt. What on earth could it have been from?
 Love that rainbow plaid, above, not to mention the leopard skin.

There are palm trees and beaches galore, plus airplanes.
I was dubious. All I could focus on was the godawful black thread zig-zag that held the petals down, around the outer edges of each plate.  What's worse, in the centers, the purple shadowed through the yellow. Technically, it was pretty bad. But Sue, with her amazing eye for good design, astonished me by falling in love. She saw something more. Maybe it was details like this:

Whatever, she was so enthusiastic that I didn't even try to dissuade her. She bought the stack of 18 blocks. We talked a lot about how to set them, but didn't get around to it.

Eight years later, Sue was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had an immediate surgery, and its short-term result was that her formidable math and spatial abilities vanished overnight. We decided to finish the quilt together, and for the first time ever, she needed my help with simple measurements. We set it with purple sashing that matched the purple blocks' interiors. The blocks, of course, weren't all the same size, so we had to do some funky fixing. Don't look too close.
We shopped together for border fabric, and at the time, there was a quilt book (I can't remember the name) that had vintagy blocks with a red-and-white polka dot border. We were both entranced. Plus a couple of the quilt blocks actually red-and-white polka dot leaves.
So we bought a bunch of this fabric to border the quilt:
Sue believed in using good fabric. 

She got sicker and could no longer sew. When she was very sick, and could barely talk, she asked me to finish the quilt for her. Of course I assured her that I would. "No rush," she whispered.

No rush. Sue was all about compassion. She gave generously to every charity that crossed her path.  Her job was as an occupational therapist, working with children. At one point during her long illness, I got sick with something miserable but non-terminal. She called me every day to see how I was doing.

Asking me to finish was the last thing she ever asked me. A few weeks later, she was gone.

I didn't rush. Two years later - which was a couple of weeks ago - I felt ready. I added the borders, and quilted the whole thing. Whenever I worked on it, whenever I had it open on my floor or table, it didn't depress me at all - in fact, it made me laugh. The colors were cheerful, the details wacko, and the juxtapositions priceless - partridges with the word "sun," calicos with groovies.
For the backing, I was planning to use the same red-and-white polka dots, but I didn't have enough. I added some black fabric from Sue's stash  but the polka dot fabric bordered by black looked appalling. 

Sue always cared as much about quilt backs as front. Before I met her, I used to throw anything I had on the back of my quilts, but Sue had taught me to use the good stuff, whatever the price. 

So  I headed for my local quilt shop to see what they had in an extra-wide fabric.The first fabric in the wide pile, right by the store entrance, was this: 
Shortest shopping spree ever. That was it. I knew Sue was smiling. 

So here's the finished quilt, from the front: 
Next week, I'm going to ship it to Sue's older daughter in New York, who is very excited about it. To me, this quilt is of course a little bit messy, and a little bit sad, because Sue couldn't finish it, but it's also so joyful and funny, and crazy. 

On each the two plain purple blocks, I quilted a shadow plate. 
I like to think that each one is for each of my two collaborators - Sue, and the unknown person whose sense of humor way exceeded her technical skills, who cut up the family wardrobe and put these blocks together in the first place. 
I hope Sue's daughter thinks of it as a group hug, from all of us. 
Nov. 9 2014 Update: I put the quilt in the mail today. As I walked outside with it, I spotted a huge monarch butterfly on my patio, not a common sight. It flew off. I'm a believer.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Spool Skeletons and Stash Ghosts: Halloween Decor from the Sewing Room

We're counting down the minutes to Halloween - I live in a  kid-friendly town and on any given Halloween we get over 300 trick-or-treaters. It's always madness!

Think anyone will suspect a stitcher lives here? For one thing, yesterday, my daughter created these  three weird  porch ghosts by ripping up a large percentage of my white muslin stash:

 The masks are plaster, made many years ago from a mask kit.
Neither of us bothered to iron the muslin first, as you can see.

And then there are the spool skeletons that I invented many years ago - I had my own then-little kids draw (some) of the faces, and pony beads are involved.

 This one has a soul patch:
A surprising number of people recognize them as thread spools and ask if I sew! 

I love seeing the costumes kids wear, especially the (rare) handmade ones!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Swim Team Applique Tallit for a Bat Mitzvah

My client Rachel is a star - a swimming star, that is. She spends hours in the pool every day. So for her commissioned bat mitzvah tallit, naturally, she wanted her swim team logo, which looks like this:
The team colors are orange and black, but fortunately, Rachel wanted a blue-and-white tallit. So I translated the pieces onto freezer paper, and seperated the three waves from each other. I cut them out of turquoise and dark blue, and raw edge appliqued them. Rachel  also wanted stripes - specifically, one stripe per end. 
She wanted the atarah, the collar, to have her Hebrew name: 
 And here's the finished tallit, modelled not by Rachel (I'm waiting for that picture), but my local teen:

 I made a matching bag from a watery white-on-muslin print and the same blue fabrics. I put quilt batting between the layers to make it cushy.

The button has a glass star of David glued on it.
This was made a year ago. Now her mother tells me Rachel is on a NEW swim team and wants an updated tallit!

For more of my tallitot, commissioned and otherwise, see my webpage and my recent rock and roll tallit. For free advice on making your own, and a free pattern for a blessing atarah, go here

Sunday, October 19, 2014

How To Keep Them on the Farm, After They've Done Improvisational Strip Piecing?

Does this line ring a bell? "How do you keep them down on the farm, after they've seen Paris?" (with Paris pronounced "pareeeeee")?

It was one of my mother's favorite things to say, relevant to so many situations.Thanks to the Intertubes, I now know it was a post-World War I hit song, in 1919, nearly a decade before my mother was born. (This song has its own Wikipedia page!)

The question came to mind because I've been doing SO much improvising lately - cutting things up and stitching them down with no fusible web and only the loosest of plans. Back in mt early days of quilting, I worried that once I experienced freedom, I'd never go back to the old fashioned methods.

And as it turned out, my apprehensions were correct. Especially in the last couple of months, when I've been playing with freehand cut squares, more squares, even more squares, and marshmallows,

And most recently, mostly-solid strips left over from the squares and marshmallows.

I began this project by laying the strips  modelled after the traditional strippy courthouse steps quilt block.
I experimented with running a cut-out zig zag through it (made for and rejected from another improv project). 
Now how to glue those strips down to get them under a sewing machine?
Not brain surgery! Decided the black background needed to be larger, so I popped the whole thing on a larger square of black felt. (Can't tell where the fabric ends and the felt begins). Freemotion quilted  with a stipple in variegated thread. Move veerrry slowly or the foot might get caught under a strip (it happened a few times) and you have to cut it out. 
Tried wrapping it around a 6" square 1" deep wrapped canvas block.

Meh! I'm not feeling it.
What about sewing the two side seams together, sewing the bottom together, and boxing it, to make a vase?

Taa daaa! OK, it's not elegant, but it's the perfect size to insulate a water bottle; and with a heavy glass jar inside, it's a funky flower vase! Now if only I could get myself to Paree!

Update: Shared on Nina Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Fridays. Check it out for more art quilting!