Art Quilts of the Midwest is Launched!

I really will post soon about something other than Art Quilts of the Midwest. But last night Codi held a book launch party at Home Ec Workshop and it was so much fun for me. There were lots of friends, old (as in 20+ years old) and new (people I’ve met while working at Home Ec) and in between. There were several folks that I was especially touched to see, including a group of my former colleagues from my days at the University of Iowa. Several of us had made quilts for one another for significant life events (here, and herehere).

Here Codi and I look oddly formal (considering that I must have hugged her 27 times over the evening). But she gave me this bouquet of daffodils tulips and I wanted to include it in the picture. She put so much effort into the evening, and I was so grateful.

This was the only shot I got of Erick, and we didn’t get one of Astrid (the book’s foreword author) at all. She and I each said a few words about our involvement in the book, and Erick showed a portion of the film he’s made about his work that included the pieces he has in the book.

The funny part was that the crowd was so much larger than anticipated and we realized we wouldn’t fit into the workroom. So Codi, Astrid, and I delivered our remarks from Home Ec’s kitchen, and Erick showed his film in shifts in the workshop. Our friends listened patiently and there were so many great comments about Erick’s film.

Emily, in the black and white jacket, was one of the book’s jurors

It was an evening that reminded me how much the Midwest has given me. Though I rant and rave every year about my dislike of the cold and the snow, the community that is Iowa City makes me so very happy. As Astrid said in her remarks, it’s a place filled with people who are hidden gems doing surprising things, and having this group of artists, professors, shop owners, scientists, realtors, poets, graphic designers, knitters extraordinaire, biologists, etc. come out to support the book meant so very much.

Time for a Deep Breath!

I’m sure to readers of Pearl the Squirrel, it appears that all I’ve been doing is breathing deeply…quietly…far away from my computer. Actually, it’s been just the opposite. I’ve spent so much time bent over the keyboard that I’ve had to go to physical therapy for my neck! But a break is in sight, because Sunday I turned in the manuscript for Art Quilts of the Midwest, the book I’ve been working on for the University of Iowa Press.

While I make it sound like a slog, it’s actually been such an interesting process, and one that’s enabled me to do that thing I so love—interview creative people and find out what they do and why. Each of the 20 artists’ works will be accompanied by a brief bio that came out of our hour-long conversations. Always a challenge to describe people like these in so few words, but also a privilege.

The book will be out in spring, 2015, and I’ll certainly mention more as the time draws nigh.  I can’t wait to share with you the work of these artists, brought together by their Midwestern influences.

But for now, I’m going to go on a vacation (and I’m taking my knitting with me)!

Sleepless Nights

Last night I went to bed late. I’d gotten up early and been at physical therapy (bunged my knee) at 7:40 a.m. I’d done an hour-and-a-half phone interview, written a bit, then worked at Home Ec for five hours, most of that spent on my feet. I knocked off a little early, at 7 p.m., so I could attend a knitting class to learn to knit Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket.

I’ve been knitting a lot this winter, and most of it has been pretty basic. I did do a lace knit hat, which was new to me, but otherwise nothing required a lot of attention. Which is just how I like it—I love knitting while watching TV or on a car or plane trip. But this jacket was so adorable and I decided I was up for the challenge.

Our teacher, Greg, is an incredible knitter and has knitted at least 30 of these jackets. Once the knitted piece is folded and sewn, it’s an adorable and completely recognizable sweater. But before being stitched up it looks, as a member of the class said, like some kind of weird woodland fungus. Just getting my mind around how it would work out was a challenge. And then Greg said we’d be happiest if we did a provisional cast on. It took me about half the class to figure out how to make my fingers accomplish that, and another bunch of time to count the darned wonky stitches. And then there are the knitting acronyms I wasn’t familiar with, and the fact that they could be done multiple ways for different effects (three methods for a double decrease).

White shape is the knitted shape before folding and stitching together: finished, striped sweater at the bottom

I decided to come home immediately and knit a bunch of rows so I wouldn’t forget what we were supposed to do. So I sat up until nearly 11 and lo and behold, I seemed to be doing it right. It took a lot of concentration, but I had it!

Then I went to bed and tossed and turned for nearly two hours. The only thing I can imagine that kept me up was the sheer stimulation of learning all that stuff. My brain hurt. I was so excited about what I did that I didn’t think I could do (provisional casting on—too hard!) and those double decreases via a second method. Turns out that just like they say about exercising or using your computer too close to bedtime, crafting late doesn’t make for much shut eye. Years ago I interviewed Heather Bailey and I remember her telling me that she couldn’t think about fabric designs too late at night or design ideas would flash through her head like a slide show, one after the other. No doubt about it: creating is exciting.

Double-cross Quilt

My 8 small cross blocks

I’ll hold off on sharing my shirt, because it needs some size adjustment (just learned the acronym FBA—full bust adjustment—which is what apparently I need to do to take in the excess under the arms while still making it fit across my chest).

Erick “squaring up” my blocks—a relative term for this quilt

But I’m happy to share the finished quilt top I made for my class with Erick Wolfmeyer at Home Ec. I was having one of those days when my brain just wasn’t firing on all cylinders and Erick helped me out—cutting and ripping.

Emily and her scrap quilt—she’s wearing a skirt stitched from one of the quilt fabrics

We all arrived in class with our 8 small crosses (and a few of us had 9 and had to decide which one to omit). Then it was time to decide on fabrics for the big crosses and how to arrange the 8 small ones. All of this required a lot of shifting and standing back and squinting. But each of us (save one person who had to leave early) finished our tops. It was a great lesson in color and in loosening up, as the quilt’s so wonky. I love how differently they all turned out! And once again Erick was terrific—and even stayed late so we could go home with finished tops.

Maureen and her butterscotch and blue quilt
Lisa and her neutrals—she’s going to make 4 more for a queen-sized quilt

I still feel a little like I’ve made a quilt for a clown (baby), but Erick said it reminded him of the alebrijes I have all over my house, and that made me feel that perhaps I have a consistent (highly colorful) aesthetic.

My finished top

Spring Quilt Market Update #2

The adventure continues…

By the time we got our act together to organize our trip, hotels near the Portland Convention Center were full. But Greta got us a lovely condo across the river and each morning we got to cross this bridge. It enabled us to see geese, rowers, bicyclists, and a section of the Portland marathon. (The biggest challenge was crossing the morning of the Heartlandia walk. Literally thousands of people were walking in the opposite direction, but we managed to part the sea of humanity and cross over.)

Here’s more of what I saw at Market:

Echino bags in the Seven Islands booth
Loved the subtle piecing on these Seven Islands aprons
Neons from Michael Miller. I was standing next to one of the women from the Portland Modern Quilt guild who had stitched two of the quilt’s blocks but never seen the completed top. She was so excited to see her work on display.
Tula Pink’s booth
Super-excited to meet Sherri McConnell of A Quilting Life. We both blog for Moda’s Cutting Table, but had never met in person. She’s a real sweetie and was helping Camille Roskelly with her booth (and had sewn some quilts for her, including the one she’s standing by, above).
Fig Tree Quilts booth
Each fabric collection shown in Free Spirit’s booth included a piece of clothing stitched from the collection—garments were a true trend at Market.( That’s Amy Butler on the left, checking out a visitor’s bracelet.)
And not exactly part of the garment trend, but this incredible selvedge dress was the star of RicRac’s booth 
Iowa, represent! We join our other eastern Iowa buddy Vanessa Christensen, in her Simply Style booth (and check out her dress—she added a strip of her fabric to the bottom of a Target dress—she’s not just cute, she’s’ clever). 
Loved the big stitching on this quilt by Jen Kingwell
The garment theme continues at Monaluna’s booth
Butterflies flit across the walls of the Art Gallery Pure Elements booth
Nobody uses color and pattern quite like Sandy Klop of American Jane (for Moda)
Another Market trend was pink and orange. Here, Kanvas fabrics did it up with festive tissue-paper flowers.
When Market ended, we treated ourselves to a day-and-a-half of play in Portland. One of our first stops was Cargo, in the Pearl District, which offered an incredible array of Asian antiques and imports, with prices that ranged from less than a dollar to thousands.

Cargo whistles

We sampled the beer at a couple of brew pubs, including Deschutes, where we stopped for lunch.

We stopped at Front Porch, which has a sister store in Des Moines, and ran our fingers over the blankets.
The next day we had some fantastic Indian food at Bollywood Theater

And we ended our day at the Rose Garden.

Thanks, Portland, for a lovely week! And thanks, too, to the folks who work so hard to make Quilt Market happen. It was great to go, and great to be home.

Spring Quilt Market update #1

Thanks for waiting! You may have seen similar photos elsewhere, but I’m sure I’ll have a few that are unique, so I hope you enjoy them.

My Quilt Market entourage has expanded since the days when Codi (center) and I went to include the super-talented Greta Songe (on left, who’s gone with us the past two Markets) and this time Jenny Gordy (right) of Wiksten. Since I interviewed Jenny for the current issue of Stitch with Style she’s started working at Home Ec and we’ve gotten to be friends and she was ready to check out Market in relation to her patterns. Greta had some great conversations regarding her fabric designs and Jenny was a veritable celebrity, as shop owners told her how much they loved her patterns and her Wiksten tank showed up in numerous designers’ booths.

Our arrival was delayed by a day due to tornadoes in Texas. Our night in the hotel-from-hell could be a post in itself, but I’ll spare you the drama. Suffice it to say, we were darned happy to make it out the next morning, but it did mean we missed most of Schoolhouse. Got this one photo of this Quilt Market’s “it girl,” Tula Pink. She has definitely hit her stride—the session was SRO.

The first booth that caught my eye was Deep South Fibers, a knitting pattern distributor that was looking to move into the sewing pattern world. The owner (I think Donna Higgins, but not 100% sure) had some examples of things knitted with Deep South Fibers patterns, including these adorable kids clothes of her own design. If you knit, check them out. Really elegant items.

Next up was a stop at Penguin and Fish (mentioned yesterday). I covered Alyssa for True-Up, so check out lots of photos here.

Just across the aisle was Carolyn Friedlander, talented designer of Architextures fabrics (for Robert Kaufman) and very cool quilts (and we spotted her teaching at Portland’s Modern Domestic when Market was done). I love the quilt behind her.

I had the pleasure of talking with people I’ve interviewed for past and present stories, as well as meeting with editors, including Amber Eden of Stitch. She took this photo of us all (who have all appeared, or will appear in the pages of Stitch), along with Stitch contributing editor (and a former American Patchwork and Quilting profile subject of mine) Kevin Kosbab. (You can see a shot of Amber here.)

Now, in no particular order, are more Market photos. I’ll be breaking this into two posts. In addition, over the next few days True Up will be including my coverage on Cloud 9, Rashida Coleman Hale, and Camelot, so I won’t duplicate them here. (Except for these fabulous ties, below, from Sarah Watson’s Dem Bones line for Cloud 9—love ’em.)

Riley Blake’s cleverly titled “Gingham Style”—love the varied sizes of checks
Deb Strain’s fabrics for Moda
Kaari Meng’s mood board
Not a great photo, but the only one I managed to snap of the vibrant Heather Ross. We’d “met” via phone when I interviewed her for Stitch, and she was kind, complimentary, and a great story-teller.
Jennifer Sampou’s stripes
Minnick and Simpson’s fabulous ikats for scarves (Moda)

Cluck Cluck Sew offered more great patterns
One of the loveliest booths belong to Leah Duncan for Art Gallery. She was also extremely lovely, herself. Check out the two photos below for more.

And then we ended the day—yes, ended rather than started—with a trip to Voodoo Doughnuts. Everyone raved, but I for one was not going to be taken in by doughnuts that featured bacon or cereal…seemed gimmicky. But I was so wrong. The plain ol’ chocolate glazed doughnut and blueberry cake doughnut I managed to eat were amazing. Plus, we got a great trip phrase out of our visit. When Greta was contemplating trying the maple bacon doughnut, the cheery server offered “Zero reasons not to!”which quickly became our Portland motto.

Heading to Quilt Market

In a couple of hours I’ll be on my way to Quilt Market in Portland. I’m experiencing that last minute packing mania: Does this green go with that grey? Will TSA find the tube of toothpaste that won’t fit in my plastic bag? How many knitting projects will I realistically finish? Do I want my computer (and if so, where the heck is the cord)? What bag looks good to carry it in (since I neglected to make one)? Etc. etc. etc. Of course, all eyes will be on the fabric, not on me, so I should just lighten up!

I’ll be covering Market for Etsy, Quilt Country magazine, and also for True Up! (I’m super-excited to help Kim out with that and hope to meet some of the other bloggers who are filling in for her, as well.) And I’m traveling with the Iowa City talent team of Greta Songe (fabric design), Codi Josephson (Home Ec Workshop owner), and Jenny Gordy (Wiksten). So fun to get to focus on fabric and sewing for five whole days!

Heather Ross, Threadbias, Stitch magazine, and Voting

Sometimes the world of quilting and sewing seems very big, and other times it seems like a small town, where everyone is somehow connected to everyone else.

Those close connections happened for me with some recent stories I did for Stitch magazine. In the Spring edition of Stitch I wrote a short piece about Threadbias, a website started by a brother, sister, and sister-in-law team seeking to create an interactive site for quilters. I’ve dipped into the site occasionally and am always impressed by what I see—talented quilters and designers and lots of good photos and encouraging comments.

For the summer issue of Stitch I had the great good fortune of profiling Heather Ross. I’ve long loved her fabrics and she was a delightful person to talk with. Our interview was right around the time of Hurricane Sandy when she and her family evacuated their Manhattan apartment, but she somehow maintained a calm and cheerful demeanor. I loved learning how she’s combined her love of nature and the environment (she was an environmental educator in California) with her illustrations and love of stitching.

So suffice it to say I was delighted today to get an email from Threadbias noting that their quilt design contest using Heather Ross’s new Briar Patch fabrics was open for voting. Contestants created quilt patterns using Threadbias’s online Quilt Design Tool. If you haven’t seen them, it’s worth taking a look at the variety that emerged from a single line of fabric—some modern, some traditional, some dense and scrappy, some light and airy. I love seeing the way a single pattern changes depending on the fabrics used, and this is a riff on that theme…same fabrics, different patterns. Check it out!

Textiles Influence Painter Chuck Close

Phil (2011-12) by Chuck Close: work and detail

If you’ve spent any time at art museums, you’ve undoubtedly seen the work of Chuck Close. I’m always taken aback when I round a corner and see one of his early, photo-realistic faces staring down at me—they’re huge (his 1968 Big Self Portrait (below), which I first saw at the Walker Art Museum when I was in college, is nearly 9’x7′).

So yesterday I was reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein, when I came upon a chapter about Chuck Close and his creative process (I am loving this book, by the way—based on the Studio 360 radio show, which despite being an avid NPR listener I’ve never heard). Close talks about the way that, because he is learning disabled, he has always created his paintings with a grid. Early on, it served to break the huge portraits into manageable chunks and for many years he would erase the grid (like he did in Big Self Portrait). But eventually he incorporated it into his work. Over time, the photorealism of his images—which had been created with tiny, tiny dots and brushstrokes—gave way to a more expressive way of painting, in which the faces in his paintings are evident if you stand way back, but up close they’re hard to see. And lo and behold, he credits the textile arts as an influence.

Chuck Close, Self-Portrait II, 2001

“I know that one of the important primal experiences for me as a child was watching my grandmother knit and crochet and make quilts and afghans and things like that, which look a lot like my work today. She would crochet pieces and put them together to make even bigger pieces. A lot of what I do has a lot to do with what was called women’s work—a process that you sign on to and you keep working at it until you get something. I think it has a lot to do with construction, and I try to build a painting rather than paint it.”

Agnes, 1998

Of course, if you look at Close’s work it’s easy to see this, but it somehow hadn’t crossed my mind. I got mighty excited knowing that Close’s commanding works have their roots in his grandmother’s tiny stitches, proof that however simple or mundane your work might seem, you never know the influence it can have.

More on Tim Fay and the Wapsipinicon Almanac

Detail of a paper cutter

As I noted on Facebook, there are days that I feel so lucky to do the work I do and visiting Tim Fay in December, in preparation for an Etsy post, was one of those days. I’ve always admired the almanac and been a little jealous of my friends and colleagues who’ve been published therein. I was worried that Tim would be intimidating, but the opposite was true—he was friendly, interesting, and true to his journalistic training, interested. He’s definitely his own guy, living simply, in a way that few people choose. But his passion about printing and the equipment he’s gleaned from other printers over the years was easy to see. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s people who are doing something they love.

Below are some photos from that day. If you’re a local reader, there is a Wapsipinicon Almanac reading at Prairie Lights this Friday at 7. I’m planning to be there, after the UPPERCASE event at Home Ec for Sonya Darrow, aka Ladyfits, that starts at 6 pm and is in celebration of the story about Sonya in issue 16 of UPPERCASE that I wrote, with photos by Heather Atkinson and styling by Tonya Kehoe. It’s a night for celebrating Eastern Iowans!

Unbound almanacs await covers
The bed of Fay’s Miller 2-color flatbed press
Corrections on a galley of the Wapsipinicon Almanac
Sign on the paper cutter urges cautious use
Almanac cover awaits gluing
A sign printed by Fay advertising his now defunct band hangs on the shop wall
Almanac stitched volume awaits cover