Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Quilter's Tour of September Vogue

Quilting is many things - psychotherapy, light exercise, friendship - but it is never a way to get rich, thin, fashionable, or chronologically younger.

So I don't have much to relate to in Vogue magazine photos, which celebrate the trendy, sinewy, wealthy, and post-millenial*. But I do enjoy some of their articles, and read them at the gym, while operating cardio machines, in a vain (pun intended) attempt to youthify myself.

In recent weeks, I've been pedaling faster than ever with excitement over the hefty September, 2018 issue. That's because I deciphered its secret message to quilters: Turn your patchwork into pricey fashion!

Most of Vogue's pages aren't numbered (why?) so I'll just give you a general idea of regions where  this message is hidden. About twenty pages in, there's the following row of napping teens* in a cafe, wearing gloriously-embroidered crazy-quilt skirts, jackets, dresses and purses.
As a mother, I can only pray they're wearing sunscreen. Closer:
How do people so young afford Dior clothing? That's only one of the many enigmas of Vogue. (Also: Who hand-stitched these pieces? Where? How much were they paid?) Vogue never tells. But I found a clearer picture here. And there's a whole page of a model named Bella Hadid wearing them, with equally colorful hair, here.

Next, a coat by a design firm called ETRO appears to incorporate crochet, knitting, metal embellishments, embroidery, furniture tassels, and maybe molas, on the right in this picture:
A much clearer photo is here. The coat costs $7020, with free shipping! How many quilters have sold a quilt for $7020? 

Somewhere around page 300, there's a page titled V Life, with a subhead that reads "Flash: Patch Game." The text: "Matchy-matchy style gives way to quirky, offbeat pairings with Bohemian and Western influences." The illustration:
Let's break it down. On the far left, a celebrity named ASAP Rocky, is wearing a coat and pants made from bandanas by a company called ASYM. Separately, bandanas cost about $4 on Amazon, and only $1 each if you buy a dozen on ebay. But sewn together. the shirt is $1550, and the pants are a chill $1390! These facts makes me want to start quilting only in bandanas, which are cheaper than batiks. 

The denim jacket in the center/top of the page... worn by the singer Rihanna, and appears to be made of multiple jeans, with the original pockets and belt loops, a Dolce & Gabbana design. I couldn't find this coat online but I did find a small D & G jeans jacket with a scatter of buttons; its front pocket and a back panel are replaced with floral prints, and it's a steal at $1437, which is 40% off, here!

In the lower right of the page, this outfit was sewn together from  blue-and-white geometric fabrics, worn by actress Rosario Dawson.
The text says it's made by Studio 189 -  I looked it up and was happy to discover this fashion line is made by artisans and designers in Ghana, working in conjunction with Dawson, supporting people ethically. Read about it here. If high fashion can sustain African textile artists, can it sustain American quilters too?

On page 327, there's an ad for "Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet." This clothing appears to be constructed from patches of Indian or Chinese embroidered silk brocade, punctuated by occasional  strips of faux leopard fur, instructing quilters that everything is better with leopard.
The dress in front is called the "Rapunzel Curved-Hem Patchwork Mini-Dress," at Neiman Marcus where it costs $595. And here's an $800 coat like the one in the middle of the ad.

So how ARE your FUR piecing skills? I'm guessing quarter-inch seam allowances don't work. The next photo shows a fur coat by designer Isabel Marant with traditional pinwheel quilt blocks pieced in. (Or dyed/painted?) I couldn't find the identical jacket online; but I did find a shearling version. (Same coat inside-out?) Price: $5150.

On the facing page, there's this provocative purse:

The round embellishment appears to be a cross between a bosom and a cantaloupe, tattooed with a spiderweb. A purse that also feeds infants would be a fabulous gift for nursing mothers!? 

And speaking of hunger, further along, beautiful-but-gaunt twin pop singers Miranda and Elektra Kilbey are wrapped in a red-white-and-blue quilt (coat?) with a silver space-blanket lining. Online I learned that the Kilbeys are 27-years-old feminists who encourage women to go topless with the same frequency and insouciance as men, as part of a campaign called Free the Nipple.
Which certainly explains the bosom-themed purse. (Quilters have been freeing their nipples for years, coming home from work, extracting their bras, and dropping them on the floor, while racing to the sewing machine.) 

Just when you think Vogue must have run out of money-making ideas for quilters, page 628 shows us  these $3590 Dior boots! Maybe I can glue some quilts to my old boots?
It's followed by a gorgeous Chanel bag with richly hand-embroidered autumnal foliage:
And then, on page 624, only two pages from the end, under the title "Last Look," there's a bunch of Grandmother's flower garden blocks sewn into long gloves. 
(The gloves are laid across a purple aerial photograph, so they're hard to discern.) Bending hexagons to fit neatly around fingers deserves a big reward. If you buy these for your grandmother, and tell her about the $850 price tag, she will never garden in them.

In summary, fellow quilters, we are vastly underpricing our work. If we would like a living wage from our art, we must strive to sell it to couture firms and designers! They'll turn our tops and UFOs into jackets, gloves, mini skirts, breast-and-leopard themed wearables; and all together, you, me, Vogue, and the young* models - we'll get rich, rich, rich!

*Most current Vogue models weren't even fetuses when I started quilting. But to their credit, the magazine's September issue also includes a very articulate article announcing their new policy to use only elder models - age 18+.

Postscript: Unfortunately, I have no financial affiliation with any of the companies or products mentioned above or below. But some of them might sue me for borrowing their photos.

PS2: Thanks to Wendy of Mission Fitness Center in Alhambra, CA, for granting me permission to swipe their copy of Vogue long enough to write this.

PS3: Buy bandana-print quilt fabric squares here.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Over Japan, Quilt 1 (As in: You Never Get Over Japan)

If anyone asked me what country red, white and blue represents, I'd mention the US, of course; the French flag; and then I'd tell them about Japan's traditional fabrics and quilts. My 75" x 96" quilt below is a tribute to the latter. 
Most fabrics in the large blue rectangles (each about 14" x 19") were dyed in Japan in the early 1990s. I can testify to that fact in a court of law, because I was there.

My husband had a conference in Japan, and I tagged along. I had lived in Tokyo a decade earlier, for about a year, so I was thrilled to re-visit old friends and haunts. I was also a spanking-new quilter, with an eye out for fabric. Our trip took us to Kyoto, and - I can't remember whether it happened on purpose or by accident - we came across a  shop called Aizenkobo, where they stencilled and dyed fabrics with natural, fermented indigo dyes. (It's still there!) Here's a photo from their website:
Not much was happening when we walked in, but our presence seemed to inspire them. They suddenly got busy, dipping and wringing and rinsing fabric in wooden barrels with dye that looks dark green at that stage. My Japanese was terrible enough to be dangerous, so their explanations were mostly lost on me, and I did quite a bit of nodding. Which would have consequences.

After about a half-hour of enjoying the show, they folded up 7 of pieces of gorgeous fabric, placed them into a small blue paper bag -  and handed it to us, along with a bill for about $100.

I was shocked, but way too polite to decline - there was a fair chance that I had agreed to buy it - so we paid and brought it home. This bag sat in my stash for about 25 years, getting progressively more wrinkled.
I was saving it for something great. That day came this year. Nothing great happened, I just hit a significant birthday and realized it was time to use my Japanese fabric collection.

Although I hadn't returned to Japan, I had by then collected MUCH more Japanese fabric - surprisingly easy in Los Angeles. Visit flea markets and thrift shops, and have friends who are well-travelled and don't know what to do with their textile souvenirs. My collection included everything from kimono and obis (formal belts), to noren door curtains, handkerchiefs, furoshiki carrying cloths, kasuri ikat fabrics, geometric blue-and-white yukata fabric (bathrobe-like lightweight robes), tablecloths, and much more.

I figured I'd make one giant quilt. Instead, my collection has so far generated THREE queen-size quilts, - six sides, front and back - using a wide array of Japanese and Japanesque fabrics - and I still have enough scraps leftover for more!

At the top of the quilt above, the flying geese (literally!) (herons?) are from a dissected three-panel door curtain. The horizontal strip above them is from a kasuri jacket.
All six fabrics in the top and second rows of dark blue rectangles are from Aizenkobo.
A bit closer: 
Some are merely wonderful, and some are killer. Like the one in the center above, closer:  
The second row:
The wavy one in the upper middle deserves its own photo - it could be a quilting design too, right?
In the third row down, below, the fabric in the middle is from the Aizenkobo pack
It's dawning on me right now as I look at this photo that I installed this panel upside-down! Oh well. The fabric on the far right (below) is from a pair of  farmer's pants I wore in Japan in the 1980s, and on the far left is a heavy blue fabric from I-have-no-idea-where! It may not even be Japanese! (If you know, please tell me!)
The sashing that separates them is cotton from a lightweight yukata robe. A view of the lower right corner of the quilt is below. The red vertical strip on the far right is from a vivid polyester hand-stitched kimono; the fabric to its immediate left I found hidden inside the lining of the same polyester kimono! It's much more worn, gorgeous, cotton print fabric. 
On the opposite side, the wing on the right was in the hidden lining - unfortunately, the head of that bird was not found. 
In the nine-patch above, the red floating flower squares are from a town dump on the Japanese island of Hachijo-jima, where we visited a friend who frequents said dump. There's a dark blue fabric with brown stylized fish, which was a tablecloth; and dark blue-and-white flowers and origami birds were commercial quilting fabrics. 

There's really no place like Japan, and there's nothing quite as wonderful as Japanese fabrics. More quilts made from my extensive collection coming soon!

Note: I redesigned my blog and changed the look of the header and text. I hope this is easier to read, but your feedback would be valuable! Do you like the new design better? Are san serif fonts readable? Email me at 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

How to Resist Flea Market Judaica

Perhaps because I make quilted Judaica - perhaps because I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who came to the US with zero possessions - when I see a Judaic object at a thrift shop or flea market I must fend off a powerful compulsion to adopt it. For many years, I rarely said "no." As a result, my home is exploding at the seams with Jewish objets.

Fortunately, one of the best ways to stiffen one's resistance to flea market finds is now at hand - the cell phone. I take pictures, and can thereby keep the object with me forever, but never need to dust it. 

This past Sunday, during my monthly pilgrimage to the Pasadena City College Flea Market (almost as big as the famed Rose Bowl Flea Market, but free!) I saw an unusual amount of Judaica. As is its wont, much of it is mysterious, so I welcome your enlightenment and/or speculation. 

First, there was this 2-3 foot tall horse's head menorah. (Try to ignore the copper pagoda and other tchotchkes in the background.)
The vendor speculated that it was a home craft project, but couldn't guess why someone would graft a horse's head onto a Hanukah lamp. Horses go with Hanukah like fish go with bicycles. Maybe it's a mob threat menorah? He told me the piece was from New York, and was willing to sell it to me for a mere $75. I resisted. I also resisted his nice Shabbat and holiday bread tray: 
It's oddly shaped - the upper right corner is cut out - not sure why. (UPDATE: Thank you to the reader who informed me that a wooden-handled bread knife is supposed to fit neatly into the slot, completing the wooden rectangle!)

At another booth, there was this wonderfully-aged statue of Moses halting traffic:
The statue - maybe 8" high - felt like lightweight plastic. The base was heavier, and it said the following. 
Isaac Jeheskel? When I got home I googled him and up came a world of silver-plated statuary. It sure felt like plastic. Isaac Jeheskel no longer seems to be in business, but an identical statue (except definitely silver) once sold on ebay for $40. So it's not like I lost a winning lottery ticket.

This dealer must have been at a Jewish estate sale, because he also had these nice silver candlesticks, with Jerusalem carved into them, mint in box. 
I already have way too many candlesticks, so that's how I talked myself out of those. 
For the Judaica collector who has everything, there was this: 
Open the doors, and voila, speaking of Moses - there they are, all ten commandments! (But abbreviated.)
After opening and shutting the doors a few times, though, I'm not sure what I would do with it. 
And finally, three pieces of Judaica that win the prize for "strangest placement in a display case." (If you are under 18, please avert your eyes):
On the lower left, there's a box on a pedestal - the vendor said it's a silver match holder for Shabbat. (I can read the Hebrew phonetically, but I have no idea what it's saying - let me know if you do.) To the right, there's a couple of plain kiddush cups? Candleholders? Above that, there's a lacy mezuzah. And directly above the match-holder, there's what appears to be a Persian miniature pendant showing two lovely ancient people about to, um, conceive slightly less ancient people. And just above that, two more people are doing the same, but in a more adventurous pose! 

I came home with no Judaica, and no erotica, but all these happy memories! Plus this tiny (1.5" high) Barbie wind-up sewing machine ($2). 
It works! When you turn the knob, the needle goes up and down and the silver wheel turns!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Spain II, or, How to Color Your Summer Vacation

Several weeks ago, I showed how the medieval rock walls in Spain inspired me to do some freemotion quilting.  I basically stared at my vacation photos, then sketched out the major lines. It took me 2-4 rounds (per photo) of practice sketching and stitching to get decent results.

All my pieces had batting on the back, so that the freemotion quilting created contours.  Once the outlining was done, I selectively colored some of the pieces. Then I zig-zagged them together.
 ...Added turquoise binding to cover the seams.
 Put felt on the back, and covered the edges with strips of felt (though in hindsight, I probably should have done a simple zigzag edging or traditional binding).
I gave that one away, and wanted another one to keep. So once again, I stitched out some of my favorite photos.

...Which caused me to reflect on the fact that, no matter how many decades I've been freemotion quilting, I still need to practice with any particular image or motif immediately before the final run. Practicing the week before, or even the day before, only counts a little. You also really have to do it moments before. (Or at least, I do.)

For this round, I did more coloring.
 Here's what I have so far for quilt #2.

Here's a procedure for turning your vacation photos into a coloring book quilt:
  1. Take lots of photos, so you have lots to choose from.
  2. Pick favorites.
  3. If you're secure with your drawing competence, sketch out the major lines of the photo on paper. If you're less secure*, simply print out your photos and trace the major lines onto fabric.
  4. Strive to make your line continuous. The less you cut the thread, the better. (Coloring can dislodge thread ends.) At the very least, strive to begin and end at the edges of your piece (rather than the center).
  5. Draw it again, and maybe a third time. Then stitch a practice round.
  6. Once you know you can do it, choose a light-colored fabric with very dark thread (I used dark brown thread on an assortment of tan and gold fabrics). Back the front fabric with batting and (optional) a backing fabric. To minimize tension agony, use the same thread in the top and bottom. 
  7. It's not cheating if you use a temporary fabric marker to draw out your stitching line (or just tricky parts of it.)
  8. Go for it. Stitch out your design.
  9. Gently color inside the stitched lines. You can literally use school supplies - Crayola crayons and markers work fine. If you're an art supply snob/addict/name-dropper, like me, use the good stuff - I used Caran d'Ache Neocolor II water soluble crayons; Prismacolor colored pencils; and oh yes, some low-quality no-name watercolor pencils (not recommended - the points kept breaking). For more vivid color, experiment with fabric markers.
  10. If you used watercolor crayons or pencils, and are ready to start the bleeding, use a tiny brush and small amounts of water. Don't paint all the way up to your stitched lines, or the paint might bleed across the boundary. My two villa drawings below are colored in watercolor crayons, and I proceeded very, very cautiously in wetting the boundary areas with my teeny brush. 

Each finished portrait can turn into a separate wall-hanging. Or, zig zag them together, cover the seams with binding, add a backing and binding around the circumference. Have fun! Let me know how it goes!

* If you believe that you can't draw, you are mistaken. Obtain the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," and do the exercises. It absolutely works, even for people with a complete absence of innate drawing ability, such as moi.
+Coloring with crayons tutorial:

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Brainstorm a 3-D Fantasy Chair Quilt!

This is a good project for any quilter who has ever dreamed of designing furniture, but might hurt themselves with a power saw. It's a 3-D chair-shaped chair quilt! Here it is on my back fence, with two relatives: 

There's batting inside, and the edges of the top and backing are all turned in 1/4" and sealed with a hand running stitch. 

It started a couple of weeks ago with a short trip to Europe, where I took pictures of interesting chairs. Back home, I did a lot of tracing, drawing, and redrawing of my photos, and brainstorming fantasy chairs. A late draft:
These were turned into blocks with fusible web, and a zig-zag to applique pieces to black/white/grey print rectangles. 
Several were directly inspired by vacation photos.  For example, inside a glacier, we saw this chair carved from the ice: 
My version: 
Lacy red cafe chairs: 
Became this: 
Chairs with backs like tree branches
My version: 
This was a train station bench, with an ad for an art exhibit atop it: 
It inspired the overall configuration of the quilt, plus this block, a sewing machine bench: 
...and an Ohio Star seat: 
Some of the blocks are pure invention. Here's a thundercloud chair (the cloud is outlined with silver metallic thread, of course): 
A squid seat (with cushion):
A handy chair:
A plump purple paisley corduroy easy chair:
A breakfast chair:
And two chairs inspired by quilting motifs, a swirl chair:
 And a feather chair...
After making it, I discovered that, by pure serendipity, this quilt fits my parents' 1965-era Sears-Roebuck rocking chair almost perfectly!  Rocking chair before:
Rocking chair after: 
Much happier! If I attach ties to the quilt's back, I can hang it there permanently. I think I would first paint the rocking chair in bright colors - anything but Sears brown!

I added fun details, including 3/4" yo-yos (made with this tool, to ensure consistency, no financial affiliation) and cross-stitches in the seat cushion. 
The back incorporates a vintage fabric depicting old-fashioned, (OK, very tacky) furnishings....
Note that this fabric's seating only shows two legs each....
A good reminder that if you take on a chair quilt, you don't have to be literal with perspective - unless you want to be!

Although it's shaped unevenly, the quilt hangs well from just one rod along the top. However, if I were going to hang it on a wall permanently, I might add another rod sleeve just above the chair legs, to ensure they hang straight. 

What kind of chair would you design? Please feel free to play with these ideas to generate your own!