Friday, August 31, 2012

Huggable Pet Memory Pillow

There are very few things sadder than losing a  pet. We lost our sweet, wacky  papillon Wuli two years ago, at age 17, and it still hurts. But one of the best things about being a quilter is the power to console. Once the bereaved has a little distance, a memory quilt - or, simpler, pillow - is one of the nicest things you can do for them - maybe. This is not a good surprise gift. Some people don't want vivid reminders strewn about the house. Ask before you start stitching.

Here's the memory pillow I made in honor of a dear friend's beloved shih-tzu, Jenniphur (yes, that's how she spelled it), who lived a  long, happy life despite numerous health challenges. I wanted to make it a celebration, so I used upbeat conversation/novelty fabrics: dog fabrics (including one that looked a lot like my dog, at the 11 o'clock position); hearts, butterflies, angels, a  fire hydrant, and, of course, Elvis (at the 3:15 position: "Ain't nuthin but a hound dog...")

Each fabric 'petal' was cut out using a Dresden Plate template. Dresden Plate quilts had their heyday in the early 20th century; learn about their past here. The 'modern' quilt movement has updated the motif in a big way (Pun intended: modern quilters like to make traditional blocks MUCH bigger, in contemporary fabrics. For example, check out this tutorial.) The American Quilters Society published a whole book of eye-popping contemporary Dresden-inspired quilts. ('Search inside' for the eye-candy.)

For my memory pillow, I used a purchased acrylic Dresden template; it's no longer being made by that particular manufacturer, but now there are others. Inquire at your local quilt shop; or google 'dresden plate templates'.. There are also free templates on the web (; click on "Dresden Plate PDF" at midpage), but you'll probably want to transfer them onto cardboard in order to make a stiff surface for tracing lots of petals.

 For the central circle, I printed a photograph of Jenniphur onto treated inkjet fabric sheets (my current favorite is 'EQ Printables Premium Cotton Satin - no financial affiliation!). I backed the photograph with a fusible web, then cut out the doggie, and set her on a batiked grassy pattern.  I zig-zagged the dog edges to the background using gold metallic thread, and zig-zagged over the grass with a variegated green thread. The petals are also outline-quilted with gold thread.

Finally, I couched trim around the central circle, and around the edges of the larger circle.
My friend loves it. She's got terrific manners, but says it's the only present she's ever recieved that she couldn't write a thank-you note for, because she became overwhelmed. (She thanks me in person, all the time). And it made me very happy to be helpful to her.
What memorial items have you made?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Fountain Pen and a Fabric Miracle

We recently attended my cousin's husband's bar mitzvah. Yes, he's an actual husband, not a 13-year-old-husband, but an AARP-qualified husband! It's 13 years since, at age 47, he converted to Judaism, and that's a potential bar mitzvah age.

The event was so beautifully, tearfully joyous. There's so much to be said for senior bar/bat mitzvahs.  Unlike many adolescents, he REALLY wanted to be there. Not to mention that it's endlessly hilarious to tell a 60-year-old, "Today, you are a man!" Pretty much everyone in the room used that line on him. (I also inquired whether he would be taking the school bus to junior high school on Monday, chortle chortle. Yes, I do work extra-hard to keep myself entertained.)

As a present, my Dad (who is in his 80s), commissioned me to buy the bar mitzvah boy a fountain pen, since that's what my Dad and kids of his generation always received for their bar mitzvahs.

Fountain pen shopping was fascinating. Vroman's (the legendary independent bookstore) has an extensive fancy-pen department, with a knowledgeable clerk, who gave me several choices in our price range. One of the pens was pressure-sensitive, making a thick line when pressed harder, which, the clerk told me, was unusual. Since my cousin is a graphic designer (among other things), I went for it.  I selected one with a beautiful, swirly green-and-white marbled exterior. After I chose it, the clerk told me that the pen was called the 'Ahab' because the clip shape was inspired by a whale. Captain Ahab!  Moby Dick! Great literature! That made it even more perfect, since this particular bar mitzvah boy is also a librarian and  bookseller.

Back home, I recalled that several years ago, a good friend had given me a yard or so of fountain pen upholstery fabric. ( My house is like a no-kill animal shelter, but for fabrics instead of pets.) I dug through my stray fabric cabinets, and there it was - giant fountain pens on a sturdy upholstery fabric, each pen maybe 6" long - and one of them even had a swirly green design similar to the pen I had just purchased!

 Don't you just love fabric miracles? Was it mere coincidence? Or Bashert (Meant to Be)?

(And speaking of bashert.... After I selected the pen, the clerk told me that the first name of the pen company's founder is a great guy named Nathan. It was pure non-sequiter - she didn't tell me his last name -  but I was startled. My cousin (the bar mitzvah boy's wife)'s dad's first name was Nathan! In other words, Nathan was my dad's brother. He died too young, many years ago. Having his name come up, out of nowhere, felt like maybe he had a hand in choosing this gift for his son-in-law...? Has this ever happened to you?)

This is one thing I love to do with novelty fabric, especially if it's a heavy fabric, and there's not time to make a quilt: Make a tote bag, personalized and perfect for a particular person and/or occasion.

Of course, I didn't start cutting and sewing until the day before were were to leave for the event. So I made a very, very simple bag, with a bit of velcro at the top to close. Here's the outside:

I lined it with a Judaic print cotton fabric, featuring geometrically gridded six pointed stars. So two very different (though related) sides to his life came together in this very fast gift! Now he can shlep his pen, ink (I bought him a couple of bottles worth), and Jewish books in a bag that's customized for the job! 

 Too bad I don't have any school bus or middle school fabric...Dang! It would have made a hilarious pocket.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tribute to a Quilt Pioneer

This week, the Quilt Life blog includes a moving tribute slideshow to quilt pioneer Jean Ray Laury:

Or try:

It's worth taking the time to read all the signs.

What an amazing artist, philosopher, person!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Slew of Selvages

People make a lot of things out of selvages, which are the printed edges of fabric; here's my new #1 favorite selvage project:  A cape,, made by quilter Ann Ruthsdottir. She calls it a "sun cape", I assume because she wouldn't want to wear it in the rain! So imaginative!

Other interesting selvage projects found around the web include:

Have you worked with selvages? I've used them to crochet with, but haven't made any multi-selvage piecing projects yet.

One of the things that makes the above and other selvage projects wonderful - something I haven't been doing in the past, but will in the future - is that the makers cut off a quarter to a half an inch of the actual fabric design, along with the narrow printed white part. That additional sliver of color and design makes these projects infinitely more interesting. They're not only more colorful, but that sliver brings the viewer in close, to read the title of the fabric, the designer, and/or the year, and see what the fabric actually looked like. That's pretty close to an ecstatic experience for fabric-a-holics like myself. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Not Jackie O's Pillbox

One of my favorite things to quilt is hats - in particular, pillbox hats. These hats can serve as a fun accessories, and/or as yarmulkes. (And making yarmulkes is one of my obsessions).

This particular style of yarmulke is sometimes referred to as "Bukharan," because Jews in that part of Uzbekistan (and throughout the Moslem world) wore them, heavily influenced by the garments of their Muslim neighbors.

Several years ago, I made this one, all raw edge applique, using batik fabrics, and variegated and gold metallic thread:

Side view: 
It's so much fun to create free-form with batik scraps. They contain such wonderful light! Trees, landscapes, anything in the natural world - batik makes everything look more painterly.

A couple of weeks ago, I showed that hat to a mom who was interested in having me make a bar mitzvah hat for her son. She liked it so much that she wanted to buy it. I couldn't bear to part with it, so I made her another one. Normally, I don't like to make the same thing twice, but it was just as much fun the second time around as the first. Here's version II: 

She wanted all gold metallic threads, so that's what I gave her! 

If you're interested in giving a pillbox hat/yarmulke a try, I have a simple and inexpensive pattern here. I simplified my own pattern even further by finishing the bottom edge with a satin stitch. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beautiful Flying Citrus Kimono Life

I lived in Tokyo in for about a year and a half, and one of the great pleasures was the Japanese English, used as decoration, on garments, accessories, and advertising. It was inventive, earnest, wacky, and often poetic. I particularly enjoyed the corporation whose slogan was: "For Beautiful Human Life." Wow. That just sums everything up.

Another great pleasure of Japan was the extraordinary design and pattern, everywhere - on subway posters, billboards, magazines, and, of course, traditional items like paper, dishes, and textiles. This was before I was a quilter; I'd spend hours in paper shops, thoroughly grooving on each piece. Years later, after I became a quilter, I naturally began to collect Japanese fabrics 

But this particular quilt didn't start out Japanese, at all.  I'm not sure what I was thinking when I combined a trendy daisy print with a Jetson-esque heavy linen fabric featuring 1950s boomerang shapes, with, heaven help me,  grapefruit, pomegranate and grape fabric. I think I was looking at COLORS! And sewing strips together! It was some kind of therapy! I dunno?! 

After I acquired a Marilyn Doheney wedge-shaped ruler, well, no strip set was safe - I cut wedges on a slant, and next thing you know, I had this:  


Mandala, medallion, whatever, as you can well imagine, it  sat in my UFO cupboard for a long time. Every now and then I'd pull it out and ponder. I really don't know what someone slipped into my coffee the day I decided that the medallion looked really great next to a swatch of kimono fabric. 
 It took me many more years of putting the thing away, pulling it out, potchke-ing around with it, putting it away, etc. before I came up with the striped background, the purple daisies...

...but wait, there's more! I took a class with Ricky Tims, and had a class leftover, which went on the lower left side - it looks like light coming in through windows. The painted fabric, inspired by a Sherrill Kahn book exercise, wound up on the lower right, and of course, the whole thing need three improvisational stars along the bottom. 

So here's what we have! Looking at it gives me a bit of a headache, but fortunately, my spouse loves it, and hung it in his new office.

 I hope it gives him a beautiful human office life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Silhouettes and Hunting for Novelty Fabrics

Artist Nikki Rosato makes the most incredible silhouettes out of maps. (Thanks to the Craft newsletter, where I found this.)

I'm thinking that Rosato's idea would be interesting to try with my New York City subway map fabric, (no financial affiliation)....

What a great gift for New York friends, if their silhouette could be cut from NYC map fabric!

It's also interesting to think about using other dense novelty fabrics to cut maybe my paper clip fabric...

Or pretzel fabric: 

There's so much wonderful novelty fabrics out there, including maps, office supplies, food, and almost anything else you might imagine.  Would you like to find a specific novelty fabric? The two fabric search engines I use are:

  • Their search page is at Enter your search terms in the box (like "map"), and click "thumbnails."  
  • The Fabric Shop Hop's search page: 
You'll be amazed by what you find! Enjoy the hunt!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sit Less, Sew More

And speaking of healthful quilts....

Did you catch the recent spate of  medical studies which show that sitting is killing us? Long hours in a chair are linked to increased risk of diabetes, cancer and plain old death . (If you want to make a quilt about the dangers of sitting, inspiring yet sobering infographics are here.)

I recently finished A.J. Jacobs' recent bestseller, Drop Dead Healthy, in which the humorist addressed the sitting problem by buying himself a 'treaddesk' - I don't recall the brand, but something like this:

The idea is to walk veeeeeeeeery slowly, while working on a laptop. It's not nearly as difficult or distracting as it sounds, Jacobs says. By the time he finished writing the book, he had clocked 1100 miles and lost an impressive amount of weight.

Two more testimonials are on this video. Summary: Two lovely ladies who work in hotel reservations switched from regular to treadmill desks, over their boss' doubts. They  lost 35 pounds each, and continued to do an excellent job booking rooms. They look incredibly fit and happy - you'd think they were park rangers who spent their days hiking through beautiful wilderness. Even the boss is thrilled!

The scary studies, glowy women and anecdotal evidence set my friends and me abuzz. Should we buy, or even build, a treaddesk? How about a cycle desk ?  (Same idea, but on an exercycle).

 Or maybe a  wee under-the-desk stepping machine, like this and this (one of many brands, not an endorsement). Could they possibly work?

That, naturally made me think about how to get more exercise while quilting. After a few moments of thought, it struck me that sewing machine designers invented treaddesks more than a 100 years ago...
Ta daaaaa! They're called treadles!

I'm not much of an oracle, but now I'm ready to predict that handcrank and treadle sewing machines are going to make a huge comeback. Not only do they provide exercise, but they're also about as "green" as you can get. (Plus, they have really cool bobbins.)

The antique treadle above is from Germany, with nautical detailing, and it has served for years as a  tchotchke-display dust-catcher in my house. The ironwork underneath features several elaborate, hard-to-dust anchors and chains. (Why would a 19th century German sewing machine have a nautical theme? Was this machine intended for use on boats?)
The goldwork on the machine itself is glorious. There's a Botticelli-esque long-haired woman holding an anchor on the top right of the machine - sorry I couldn't quite capture it with the photo. The ellipticals at my gym don't have anything like it.
While I'm in a prophecizing mood, I'm also seeing a day, in the not too distant future, when antique treadle sewing machine bases will be added to ordinary desks and tables for a shabby chic, vintage approach to exercise. At the dinner table of the future, everyone will treadle as they eat. Even La-Z-Boy recliners will bow to the overwhelming medical evidence, and install pedals in its reclining foot rest. People will be able to watch tv, recline AND exercise, all at the same time.

Research about the hazards of sitting suggests another important health strategy for quilters. Quilters should squat, lift, carry to the garage, and toss in the trash barrel all those lovely magazines and books about making our sewing space more efficient. Next,  rearrange everything in the sewing room in the least efficient manner possible. That ironing surface that you strategically placed right next to your machine? Set it as far away as possible. Your rotary cutting setup should, of course, be in another distant corner - better yet, of another room. If your sewing area is in the basement, store your fabric in the attic, and vice versa.

OK, so you'll be perpetually annoyed, and get less done, but you'll also become more fit! The energy and the years you add to your life will doubtless outweigh the extra time it takes to finish anything!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Even in a digital age, handmade heals better

There was a deeply moving article in the L.A. Times on Friday, August 3, about the handmade signs that have sprung up next to the Aurora, Colorado theater that was the site of the horrific mass shooting. Reporter Alexandra Zavas writes,
"In this age of tweets and status updates, the words are part of an outpouring of emotion that has found expression through surprisingly traditional ways - in pen, pencil, paint and chalk." 
Quilts, signature quilts, healing quilts, and memorial quilts (like the AIDS Memorial Quilt) are powerful in the same way.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Glutton for Guidelines

Good Eatin'! What it is it? Asparagus in an ice cream bowl, as in the wacky novelty fabric above?

I worked for many years as an editor of a national health magazine, in which we published plenty of articles that referred to the 'food pyramid.' Specifically, the 1992 USDA Food Pyramid.
How I loved this infographic! Not only did it have a  inexplicable starry black night sky, a hint of perspective, and a counter-intuitive interpretation (the items at the top are bad; stuff at the bottom is good), but it exhorted me to make grain - pasta, bread, and cereal -  the star of my meals.

My husband and I took this pyramid at its word, ate large plates of pasta and rice every day, and, over the pyramid's 13-year lifespan, gained more than 20 excess pounds each, and my spouse became prediabetic.

Plus, it inspired this  fun wall hanging that displays many of the food-themed novelty fabrics for which I'm a glutton:
The 'batting ' is black felt, and I did a lot of what's called 'broderie perse,' which means I cut things out of one fabric and stitched them onto another. 

Food fabrics make up the light large central triangles. On the bottom light row, for grains (above the wording) there are fabric triangles representing wheat, corn, matzoh (see my other website), a bakery, sheaves of wheat, pasta, more bread, and a bagel.

Traffic signs are in the black triangles on the right and left sides, to signal what's good fuel,  and what should be approached with caution. I've stitched words with serving quantities down the right side. There are a few fun 3-D images connecting outer triangles, including a teapot, a bottle of hot sauce, a martini and an ice cream float.  The central pyramid is pieced, and everything else is raw-edge applique. The lettering is cut from gold tissue lame, backed with interfacing and fusible web. 

The quilt was on my kitchen wall for years. How we loved it. My children learned so much. It was a terrific conversation piece. (We debated whether Tweetie Bird, who I placed in the meat/fish/dairy row, was a parakeet or poultry.)

Then, nutritionists realized it was flawed. In 2005 the USDA came out with MyPyramid..
Although enigmatic, and the barely-sorted foods look like they've been tossed down quickly for a yard sale, it is quite colorful, and features a back staircase, with a Matisse-like figure clambering up for exercise.

That rather abstract graphic soon gave way to a new shape: circles. In 2011, the USDA issued MyPlate, announced by Mrs. Obama.
Very "modern" colors. The circles aren't as visually compelling to me as the pyramid. But the Harvard Public Health School faculty evolved a variation, with a plate AND a pyramid that are a little more specific, and, for quilters, more visually exciting:

As for where this is all going, nowadays most nutritionists agree that fresh vegetables and fruit should star in our meals. There's still plenty of controversy about grains (quantities),  protein (quantities, and animal vs. vegetable sources), and the virtues/dangers of fish, dairy, sweeteners, oils, and alcohol. (Should be consumed not at all/in small quantities/moderately/with abandon, depending on who you ask and who pays for their research).

It's no secret that there's an obesity crisis in America. Even with shifting guidelines, we all need reminders to eat healthier and exercise more. In the last two of years, I lost many of the pounds I'd gained under the old pyramid, by following the vegan-style eating plan of Joel Fuhrman. author of Eat to Live. If he had a plate infographic, it would be 90% vegetables and fruits, with a small sliver for grains, starchy vegetables, and nuts, and less than 1% for meat, oil and dairy.

Maybe I could use some of those hyper-realistic  fruit and vegetable fabrics, like the RJR Farmer's Market line (no financial affiliation). And instead of the bakery lady with the demure collar and sleeves at the bottom right corner of  my  old pyramid quilt
I could sneak a little phototransfer of our First Lady, with pearls, but sleeveless,
Makes me want to do bicep curls right now.

Put a magnet on the back and hang it from the fridge.

Do you have food and/or nutrition quilts, tablerunners, placemats, etc.? If so,  I'd love to see them!