Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cross Stitch Interlude: Spelling Out the Torah

My #1 secret career fantasy is to be Bruce Springsteen (not to meet him - to BE him), and another one is to be a calligrapher. Unfortunately, I can't sing or play guitar, and my handwriting has always been appalling My glorious calligraphy career began and ended with addressing my wedding invitations.

A sub-secret fantasy, within my calligraphy fantasy, is to be a Torah scribe, someone who sat quietly all day writing out the elegant Hebrew letters on parchment. 

So when I first heard of Canadian fiber artist Temma Gentles' international project to cross-stitch out an entire Torah, I got pretty excited and signed up for a portion immediately. (It's here.) That's despite the fact that I haven't done cross stitch since I was about 11. 

My excitement waned when I received the kit and realized that, unlike my wedding guest addresses, there was no wiggle room here: The spacing, as well as the lettering, had to be dead accurate. It came with a terrifyingly  blank piece of special cross-stitch cloth which has teeny, tiny squares that I could only count with my handy magnifying glasses.

So I was insanely relieved when Saraj, a cyberfriend from the opposite corner of California volunteered to share the portion with me. She let me send it to her immediately,  and boy, was she good. She laid out all the spacing, PLUS she stitched the first six lines of text PLUS the exquisite twined border. Overall, she did the heavy lifting, putting 40 hours into this sampler, compared to my 20. I simply couldn't have done it without her. 

Here's Saraj working on the top:

Once she finished her share, she sent it to me, a couple of months ago. So for the past two months, I stitched out the last five lines of text, plus the illustrations along the bottom. Here's the almost finished piece (some of my letters still needed crowns):
In case your Hebrew has lapsed, it's Genesis 27:37-40, in which Esau begs his father Isaac for a blessing. Isaac at first tells him he's too late, because he's already given his #1 blessing to his Jacob, who will therefore have plenty of wine (thus the pink cups) and grain (the golden wheat/grain) and rule over Esau. But then Isaac decides to bless Esau with the ability to make his living as a hunter (the sword) and eventually rid himself of his brother's yoke. (Find a variety of translations here.) Here is the completely finished piece.
People always think that quilters have a lot of patience, but I don't see my quilting that way - lemme tell you, quilters, CROSS STITCH requires a lot of patience. For example, let's take the following word, from the next to last line, which, like all Hebrew, reads from right to left, (and means "which."). It's about an inch and a quarter long.
The first letter, furthest to the right, is a pretty simple letter, 'kaf', (looks like a backwards C). It probably took me about 7 minutes to stitch. The second and third letters are brutal - first the 'aleph' (second from the right), followed by the 'shin' (third from the right). I'm counting 28 cross-stitches in the aleph, and 36 in the shin. Each took about 15 minutes. The final letter is a simple resh, let's say 5 minutes. So this entire word would have been about 45 minutes. 

At first, moving so slowly - along with stitching, there's checking, double-checking, and triple-checking - drove me bonkers.  But as I sank deeper into it, I began to find it almost relaxing! I could almost imagine doing another cross stitch project. Almost. But not for a long time.

 Want to see more? Temma's Torah Stitch-by-Stitch project has has enlisted more than 700 stitchers in 13 countries. Check out some of their fabulous illustrations here.

If you're tempted to sign up, just make sure that you're the kind of person who is very diligent and patient - or that you have a stitching partner who is! Thank you, Saraj, and Temma, for making my scribal dreams come true in such a meaningful way!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Blood, Tears and Stitches for Gun Sense

Richard Martinez is the father of one of the six youngsters slaughtered on May 23, 2014 at UC Santa Barbara, not far from where we live. His son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez. was 20, same age as my son. 

After the massacre, Martinez quit his job and began travelling the country to speak out about gun regulation. His words sparked a national "Not One More" campaign, (#Notonemore) in which, at last count, some 600,000 people sent more than 2.4 million postcards to US legislators of all political stripes. 

In early June, our local community gallery hosted a Not One More Postcard Event  & Art Installation, which alone generated 1,000 cards. Some made their cards at a reception, where our hosts provided blank cards, markers and lists of legislative addresses. (The event's FB page with lots of useful links is here.) Here are my artistic buddies Marian and Karen creating and addressing their cards. 

I made my cards in advance, by stitching the words in red thread on cardstock.

As I stitched, my mind wandered - as is its wont - over to the idea that the needle puncturing the paper was kind of like bullet holes puncturing someone's kid. The rapidity is kind of like an automatic weapon. When I trimmed the red threads, I thought about they looked like blood shooting out. And other horrible, morbid musings.

 I've never been in a war or at a scene of a shooting, but I imagine that it's a mess, and I wanted my cards to capture that. Once stitched, I splattered red paint on them. This is easily accomplished by dipping a paintbrush in red paint, and then tapping it lightly above the cards. 
On some, I drew in a few symbolic blue teardrops, for color contrast. 

I experimented with a machine zig-zag for the lettering on one card:

My friend Marian is an amazing artist and she made this one (and others). 
The event was fun, because it was arts & crafts and lots of friends, but it was also deadly sober. Since I'd already made my cards, I used my time there to address them. As I wrote out the names of well-known gun control foes in Congress,  I thought, what's the point? You know they'll toss it. Even if it's stitched and splattered just so.

I addressed one of my cards to Eric Cantor, and just a few days later, he lost his bid for reelection. My immediate reaction: I bet he won't save my card to pass on to his successor. Or even use it as a bookmark. But I had to do something.

Completed cards were hung on the gallery wall before mailing.

Mr. Martinez posted a thank-you video for the postcard (and Twitter) campaign. (He had also asked people to tweet  #Not One More). In the video, he essentially said, "Don't wait until your family member or friend is killed. Otherwise you might wind up like me."

It's not too late to send your legislators a card.  If we don't overcome our cynicism and find new ways to take action, how dangerous will America be when this little one turns 20?

Two of the latest campaigns from Moms Demand Gun Sense are a quilt project (described here), and  the #offtarget campaign. The latter hopes to make the point to Target stores that their open carry policy need to be changed. Shop at stores with sensible gun policies, and snap a photo to send to Target. Complete info is at

Update: Another avenue of action: Download the “Don’t Make My Family a Target” sign here: Take a photo of yourself holding the sign and tweet it to @Target using the hashtag ‪#‎OffTarget‬. Then send it to

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sweet Dreams are Made of This: A Pillowcase Adventure

A very wonderful  teenager is graduating from high school this month, and we were thrilled and honored to be invited to her graduation party. She had overcome serious health obstacles, which made the celebration especially meaningful. She also has many passionate interests, one of which is Star Wars.

Oh happy day! Not just for her - for me!  Licensed character fabric purchase excuse! Normally I try to buy fabric from my LQS*, but they generally don't carry non-top-quality licensed fabric. So off I went to The Local Chain.

But first I asked her mom if she thought her daughter would prefer a Star Wars tote bag or a pillowcase - mom picked the latter.

They had several different Star Wars print. The best one was a comic book theme:
This was my very first pillowcase, and gee whiz, it came together a whole lot faster than a quilt or a tote bag. I used the fairly simple instructions in this one-page PDF from Quiltmaker magazine.

Because it's all squeezed into one page, this pattern is light on explanation, and the drawings are enigmatic, but the main conceptual challenge for quilters is that the two strips of trim - a narrow band and the wider end band - should be pressed in half the long way, wrong sides together. Then you stitch them, right sides together, to the main panel. Clothing and handbag makers, I know you are guffawing that this was a conceptual challenge for me. Once I grokked it, the rest came together very quickly.

There's something else the pattern didn't warn me about. I discovered I had made a slightly vast miscalculation, and instead of buying a yard-and-a-third , I bought 3/4 of a yard, thinking it was plenty. It would have been plenty, if the fabric hadn't been a directional print running the long way.  Back home, studying the pattern and the fabric together, I realized that that meant my print had to run sideways. We can only hope this does not give the sleeping giftee a kink in her neck. Here's the finished pillowcase.

I prefer to look at it this way:
 There's a one inch trim strip with gold stars on a navy sky, and then a navy-and-white Darth Vader-intensive print along the open edge. Sweet dreams?
Come to think of it, this orientation would be perfect for a carrier of some sort. Maybe I should just add some rope and declare it a laundry bag?

Not being a perfectionist, I pressed forward. For the presentation, I folded it up, stuffed it in a Yoda mug, added a huge ribbon loop attached by a butterfly pin.
(It's sitting on my leftover quarter-yard from the trim. What to do with it? ) I wrapped the whole thing in Chanukah cellophane (e.g. clear cellophane with big 6-pointed blue stars, which I took artistic license to redefine as non-denominational intergalactic stars). I hope she likes it!

There are a lot of good causes and children's charities that need pillowcases- they're a fast and rewarding way to use up all your leftover juvenile fabric from years of making childrens' quilts.  Find charities in the middle of this page, part of  American Patchwork & Quilting's 'Million Pillowcase' project. There's also a brainstorming list at the top of the page.

APQ also offers a slew of  free pillowcase patterns - some more advanced than the one I used, with a  pieced trim strip; some simpler, especially for youngsters and beginners to stitch - here,

Now if only someone would manufacture licensed Pride and Prejudice/Colin Firth fabric....or Sherlock/Benedict Cumberbatch fabric...or Dr. Who fabric (any doctor)....I really need some new pillowcases.....

*LQS = Local Quilt Shop

UPDATE: My correspondent Robin Levenberg told me about another wonderful charity for whom she and 5 friends have made 800 pillowcases so far - which, she says, barely scratches the surface of the need:

There is a organization in Philadelphia, Conkerr Cancer, as well as chapters around the world that make and donate pillowcases to children's hospitals.  When kids come in for treatment, they can choose a fun, happy pillowcase.
This organization depends on donations from sewers like us, to fill the demand.  Just in the Philadelphia area (3 hospitals) they need 1100 cases/ month!  Directions for making pillowcases are on their website,
They are easy to make, and use 1yd. of fabric.  These cases are so appreciated by the kids and their families.  Sometimes, it is the only bright spot in their day.
Thanks, Robin, for the addition!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

From Bargain Charms to Zillionaire Art

Do you have a charity home tour in your area? Here in LA, we have the Pasadena Showcase House, which is a very big deal. Every year, this charity borrows a zillionaire's manor, guts it, and then high-end designers glam it and cram it with expensive furnishings, often white. (Video here.) Hordes of people then pay to look around.

No mortal could live in these modern Versailles - for one thing, you'd need a maid in each room to vacuum the pale rugs and buff the pale tchotchkes - but it IS a spectacle, a fun girl's afternoon out for me and some pals, and the money raised from ticket sales - at about $40 per - supports community arts organizations. 

The one thing I DON'T go to the Showcase House for is home decorating tips, since my own manse is rigorously maintained in a Post-Modern Neo-Star Trek/Pez-Roccoco style. 

You're not allowed to take pictures at the Showcase House, so trust me on this - though the furnishings over the top, the artwork on the walls this year tended to be very simple - modern, colorful, austere. 

I thought about that simplicity, and then I pulled out some charm squares - 5" squares - I'd bought on sale a few years ago. They were from the 'Center City' collection by ultra-talented Project Runway winner, Jay McCarroll, and they have a strong geometric feel. Here are several: 
(More fabrics from his collection here. Unfortunately, the Center City collection is out of print but I am finding pieces of it for sale on Etsy.)

Thanks to this year's Showcase House, I finally knew what to do with them. I decided to use each as inspiration, to make a series of 'keep it simple' wallhangings (or, it occurred to me later, placemats) that would look good in a billionaire hallway and/or a Pez-crammed sewing room. 

First I made this: 
The black isn't part of the quilt. They all measure about 18" x 13". Closeup: 
I'm calling it Aqueduct. I kept the charm square's original pinked edge in all these pieces. The quilting, like the color and shape choices, were inspired by the charm square. Everything is raw edge appliqued - glue sticked down and zig-zagged in place. 

The next piece got even simpler. I used two charm squares - the square print with the white background (the spheres look like viruses - I'm not sure what Jay was thinking - urban plagues?) and the spattered gold print, which I cut into a circle with pinking shears. 
The grey slash extends beyond either edge of the piece. 
I surrounded the gold sphere with grey buttons. I'm not sure if this piece is about viruses or planets. 

Next, I took a map charm, and set it on a purple print from a totally different collection. The quilting continues the map theme: 
Here's the whole thing: 

The purple wedge hangs off the top and bottom edges. It's a good place to put a fork.

And finally:

The large-scale fabric with squares and rectangles is from a different, 'modern' fabric collection (seems familiar? you may have seen it here), and the grey chevron is from a third. The original charm is on the upper left. I think the shapes on the upper left look like a totem pole face.
I'm really happy with the way these turned out. If only I had a long, empty, white zillionaire hallway, I'd hang them in it. As it is, I think they make very artistic placemats, though perhaps so much white was not the best choice given food spillage (as in the Showcase House rugs).

 If you've splurged on bargain charm packs that are now just occupying space in your stash, this is a creativity-prodding and fun way to spend a day - let each piece guide you. Aim to make them all the same size, so you wind up with a series. You never know where they might end up! Befriend high-end designers!

UPDATE: Shared on Nina-Marie Sayre's Off theWall Fridays - Check out the all the quilt art eye candy at

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Eat Your Way to Interesting Templates

I recently joined Weight Watchers - 9 pounds down, thank you very much - and really, everything about this program is brilliant, and I totally recommend it, except for one teeny little thing: their relatively low-key peddling of processed junk food deserts.

Knowing that their clients grapple with excessive food lust, dangling this stuff in front of us should be beneath this corporation's dignity. I vowed when I joined that I wouldn't fall into the trap....but then, well, heck, they've got the words ICE CREAM and WEIGHT WATCHERS on the same box.  So I caved and bought. I'm only human.

Then, even worse, I ate the first one while sitting at my computer, contrary to all weight loss psychologist advice (I'm supposed to eat isolated at a table, staring at it.) I'm also supposed to eat slowly, but somehow, in an all-too-brief amount of time, I was left with this.
 I stared at it intently. First, because I felt like I could eat seven more.

But then, because I quite liked the graceful shape. It reminded me a bit of Cheryl Lynch's  futuristic quilting template I'd used to make this 'modern' baby quilt, described in a recent post.
Since the wooden stick was at my desk, and my desk is a few feet from my trash basket, requiring exercise to get up and throw things away, I started making tracings/doodles with it on the backs of scrap paper. Like this:
 And this:
I was falling in love with my stick. I decided to turn it into a quilt, and doodled another page expressly for that purpose:
But then I decided I liked my first page better. So I traced that onto white fabric, then sandwiched the fabric with batting and a turquoise fabric backing, and quilted around all the shapes in black thread. Next I filled in the shapes with colored pencils:

Here's the back:
Kinda cool, but needed more. I considered painting the background, but I didn't want to get paint on the black thread outlines. I did some freemotion squiggling in the blank spaces:
A corded edging finished it up. I like it!I'm thinking about bleaching out the shapes on the back. I'm also thinking of stitching the original stick to it. Maybe set it horizontally on top.  

It might also make a nice clutch in which to put an ice cream store gift certificate for someone who is young and/or does not yet need to join Weight Watchers.
If you are interested in having this template as your very own to fool around with (plus a low-point processed junk food ice cream treat), these graceful sticks can be found within Weight Watchers Dark Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars (and some of their other flavors). 

This experience also made me wonder what other templates I had lying around the house. I looked in our plastic tableware compartment and found these: 
Tracing them has great potential - or, come to think of it, I could simply stitch them to a quilt!

Have you made a quilt from templates found around the house?