Sunday, October 28, 2018

Reflecting on Pittsburgh Synagogue Slaughter

When I read that the Pittsburgh shooter burned with hatred of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, for advocating for immigrants at our southern borders, a shock went through my system. HIAS brought my mother to this country.  Here's the HIAS ID card she carried on a ship from Bremen Germany to America in 1947. 
My beautiful mother, who died in 2016, was a Polish Jew who lived through years of terror, first in the Radom ghetto where the Nazis packed and starved Jews from their city; and then in three concentration camps, Plaschow, Bergen Belson, and Auschwitz. She and one sister survived the war (from a family of five). She finally got out of Germany in late 1947. In her HIAS ID, the small print right below mom's name is so moving. "______(name) is under the protection and sponsorship of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Any courtesy extended to the above named will be appreciated." There's an underlying assumption that the country will treat her not just fairly, but with courtesy. 

And America did. My mother graduated Hunter College, and and had a long career as an outstanding high school teacher and psychologist in Newton, Mass, She adored her students, and made films with them that encouraged tolerance and dialogue between different ethnic groups and cliques in the large public school. And of course, she became a mother. Without HIAS, I literally wouldn't be sitting at a computer in bucolic Southern California, having had a long and peaceful life, feeling utterly secure as an American Jew. And most American Jews would say the same. Until recently.

May those who lost family members to racist and anti-Semitic violence in America find comfort. May this nightmarish outbreak of bigotry end soon. My parents would say: Battles that we thought were long over now must be re-fought. We must treat each other with courtesy. The alternative is too terrible. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

I made some little dreidels. I made them out of scraps. They spin like...

(Sung to the tune of "I had a little dreidel")

I made some quilted dreidels...
...I made them out of scraps (batik scraps, stiff interfacing scraps, gold lamé, etc.)...
...And when I tried to spin them....they spun like cr#p. [End song.] My husband, a physicist, explained that because the buttons and beads are not glued together, they dissipate the energy from the spin, not to mention angular momentum, a phrase I always wanted to type. Oh well. On the brighter side of physics, the lids open and shut... of them has a bobbin at its base....
 ...and inside, you can store small toys...

...chocolate coins and/or wrappers from chocolate coins of yore...
...even (bellydancer) coins... 

....or stuff another dreidel inside!

My little dreidels really fit inside the big ones (because the stems are flexible and dissipate energy) - they're matroyshka dreidels!

I had so much fun making them, that I sat down and wrote up a tutorial, much of which is free below. (Commercial interlude: For people who prefer a clear printout, an inexpensive 13-page e-pattern is now in my etsy shop.)

The Hebrew letters on a dreidel are a nun,


...and shin

...Representing the sentence "nes gadol heya sham," "a great miracle happened there." Wikipedia's dreidel basics are here.

Making these didn't take long - I made two in maybe three hours, no shopping required. Below is the plan (developed in hindsight. When I set out, I had no plan).

These are the measurements for the larger dreidel. You can go bigger or smaller. (I made a 1" version, and it was very tricky to sew, but doable. Watch your fingers!)

You'll need small amounts of stiff fusible interfacing (product names include Pellon F2F, Peltex, Peltex2, or Fast2Fuse).

1. Decorate a piece of interfacing that's big enough to later subcut the pieces shown in the diagram above. A minimum to decorate would be about 8" x 10". Or, scrounge up smaller pieces from which you can cut the individual pieces above.

I started out with a bunch of leftover 4" x 6" fiber art postcards backed with fusible interfacing. I fused a streaky batik on as background, then zig-zag stitched fabric strips and ladder yarn on top. 

Then I scribbled over them variegated thread....
and/or gold thread....
[What I should have done, but didn't in my first dreidel: Line the other side. If you want the boxes lined, this is the time to fuse or glue-stick a nice piece of fabric on the reverse side, and cut it even with the edges of the top.]

2.  Cut the individual shapes from the embellished interfacing:  
  • 5 squares that are 2.25" on each side; 
  • 1 small rectangle for the tab that's 2.25" long by about 3/4" high; and
  • Four equilateral triangles (or near-equilateral triangles) that are 2.25" across (= same width as the squares), x about 2" high (height needn't be precise - isosceles triangles work too.)

3. Sew the squares to the triangles. I recommend a satin stitch, though in this case I did a loose zigzag. The satin stitch is stronger. 
4. Do the lettering. Draw out the Hebrew letters - if you have a dreidel around the house,  you can copy those letters, or mine, or those on Wikipedia here. (My pattern has some nice letters) If you choose lamé for the letters, fuse light interfacing to its back, setting iron at the lowest possible temperature for fusing, or you will melt it.  Or use a less fragile fabric, and add fusible web to the back. Cut out the Hebrew letters  Fuse or gluestick one to each square. (You could also paint them in!)

5. Stitch around the letter. I used gold metallic thread:
6. Join the four panels, including the seams that will bring the shape into the third dimension. If you've machine-sewn bowls before, you know this is tricky - go slowly. (You can also hand-sew.)

Line up the panels, tips pointing away from you, next to your machine, in the correct order (follow the diagram above, but in reverse, since they're upside down). Set a wide satin stitch and starting from the bottom tip, stitch forward. This is simple...until you get to the point where the two squares diverge.
7. Gently bring the two corners closest to you a bit towards each other, and take ONE more zigzag stitch, just catching the edges with your needle. Bring the corners closer, and take another stitch, catching both sides. By the second or third stitch, the corners will demand to snap together! Encourage this, pressing the two square sides tightly together. Stitch forward, slowly and carefully (Do a couple tiny straight stitches at the end). You'll have this: 
8. Next, sew the two pairs together thusly: 

9. Cut out the D-shaped tab from extra interfacing - as shown in the diagram. it has the two bottom corners rounded off. Satin stitch it one side of your last square, the lid. The tab really helps hold the lid in place, and the dreidel in shape.

10. Then satin stitch the opposite side of the lid, to the top of one of the panels. Before you attach it, you might want to quilt a spiral into it, like I did! (Pretend the handle isn't there yet.)

11. Satin stitch all the way around all the remaining unattached raw edges, including the lid and tab. (Pretend the tab is on top of the lid in the photo below. Do what I say, not what I did!)
12. The last crucial seam is shown below, running from the dreidel's lowest point, up to the beginning of the lid. You must sew this seam by hand.

For my large dreidel, I did a hand whipstich from the outside with thick variegated thread - you can see some of it on the right edge, below, where the thread is white. On such a scribbly messy dreidel it's not a big deal.

For the smaller dreidel, I hand stitched the last seam with a pink Bottom Line thread, which is strong and thin, so the stitches hardly stand out (on the right, below).
13. A stack of buttons makes the handle. I used 6-strand embroidery thread and a needle longer than the button stack. I sewed up and down through the button holes, a couple of times to get it firm and (relatively) straight.
I also added a button in the front, to use with an optional loop that goes under the handle. 

They work not only as gift boxes, but as hanging decor. I do feel bad that they don't spin well. I couldn't think of a secure way to install a stiff rod in the lid - if you have ideas, please do share!
If you attach a bangle bracelet, they can double as a wristlet. The one below is not large enough to hold a cell phone, but certainly lots of chocolate coins! (It's posing on my backyard rhododendron;  but you could also hang it on a Christmas tree!)
If you can make them from the tutorial above, have at it! I'd love to see pictures. If you'd like more guidance, the e-pattern includes illustrated step-by-step directions, the pattern in three sizes, a one-piece version that's simpler than the one above, a nice Hebrew font for medium and large size dreidels, and embroidery letters for the small dreidel. Find it here. Email me with any questions!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

From Tree to Shining Tree (With 3 Tips)

In our last installment, I showed off a commissioned tree-themed quilt. Sending it to its new owner broke my heart! It also lacked buttons. So I rapidly made the following three quilts, each about 15" square. A winter tree:

An autumnal tree (or maybe a summer citrus?)
Can you find the bra clip?
 Next: Winter again? The trunk is white.
But the leaves are green, so let's call it early spring!
The trunk is Jane Austen text so I added a metal heart charm (the text below it says "heart is really attached")...
...and a squirrel from the cake-decorating store.
Want to make your own tree quilt? Two tips:
1. Practice is important, but I like my designs better if I don't draw them first - use scissors to cut trunks from paper. I grab every bit of junk mail and scrap paper in the vicinity to cut out practice trees. Below is a draft for last week's tree quilt, cut from the paper that comes with batting.
And here are two smaller trees cut from a double layer of an old Jo-Ann Fabrics fliers. 
2. To give fabric tree trunks extra dimension, back them with Decor Bond, a medium-weight fusible interfacing. A layer of DB isn't strong enough for, say, a fabric box, but it is thicker than interfacing you'd use for most garments. I pencil-traced my papercut trees onto DB's non-fusible side, rough cut it out (beyond the pencil borders), then pressed the fusible side to the back of the trunk fabric and cut out the two layers together along the pencil line. DB also controls fraying. I then used a glue stick to lightly attach the non-fusible DB side to the background fabric. In the squirrel picture above, you can see the slight but satisfying ridge that raises the trunk above the background. (No financial affiliation with DB.)

3. Combining batiks with prints is always a gamble. The immediate background for two of these tree quilt is a bunch of batik strips I sewed together a couple of years ago, in my Ann Brauer phase
If you want to combine batiks with prints, it's often better to choose prints that have a watery near-batik quality. The postage stamp print below was pretty watery. The button print and text print, not so much. 
As with almost every other decision in quilting, combining batiks and prints means auditioning things next to each other to see if they work!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Use Your Best Scraps for Quilts that Sing

I recently finished this commissioned quilt, a gift for a singer-songwriter. This artist's lyrics are full of natural imagery - I listened to loads of them on Youtube before designing this.
What also served me well was a lesson that took me years to learn: To make a beautiful quilt, start with beautiful fabric. 

I know, guilds are always doing "ugly fabric" challenges - but the exceptions only prove the rule. Fun, funny, interesting can be done easily with hideous fabric. But if you need beautiful, on deadline, pull out the good stuff.

In the background of this piece, the light vertical rectangular column below is from a striated batik, the last remnant of a gorgeous yard. The mottled brown/violet batik horizontally along its top was a fragment of a different yard that made me swoon. 
For the tree, I used up a fat quarter of the richest, thickest turquoise hand-dye that someone gifted me  years ago. 
The planetary print fabric along the top is from a thrift-shop shirt, and has a wonderful antiquey look. More of my favorite batik scraps are down the left side and across the bottom.
The back is batik grape fabric. Grapes are, among other things, a Judaic symbol for joy (via wine!).
I included a hanging dowel along with the quilt, and of course added a label.  It was hard for me to separate from it! All the scraps were favorite children, and I couldn't imagine making another one nearly as good. But then I bought some more beautiful batiks! And made more tree quilts!

Update: Three more batik and print tree quilts are posted here.