What’s Pearl the Squirrel About, Anyway?

That’s a question I ask myself frequently.

It started out as a way to document my life, both crafty and personal. It morphed into talking about my writing, mostly of the crafty nature. Then it turned into a way to do a little book publicity, too. The blog’s readership has never been large, and at the end of a day of writing for publication I often decide I’d rather sew or knit than write some more. Hence, Pearl the Squirrel is neglected.

So, I’m going to try again. I’ll include links to my writing, photos of my sewing and knitting, and news of an upcoming big project, when the time is right.

Here are a few photos from last month, when I was able to spend time in Austin, Texas. As a California girl, I’ve never properly adapted to winter and it has been getting to me more every year. I don’t like to drive in the snow and if it’s at all icy I don’t like to walk outside, which is honestly one of the things that keeps me sane.

Because my work is portable, I was able to take it and my sewing machine to Austin, where I stayed in a very nice AirB&B in a neighborhood from which I could walk to the grocery store, coffee shop, restaurants, bookstore, and a great bakery. I took Pearl and we walked outside multiple times daily and I felt very restored.

I also did a little espionage work for Home Ec Workshop, by taking a class at Stitch Lab (well, I also just really wanted to take a class there). I made the Washi dress with a fabulous teacher, Sarah, who had made every piece of new clothing last year. She’s done costuming for Broadway and sewing for museum exhibitions and generously shared her skills with the class. There were five of us and the other students were very welcoming and gave me lots of good pointers on enjoying Austin.

Best of all, I got to hang out with my daughter Maggie and her beau EJ and meet their chickens. A fantastic month!

A workshop with Crazy Mom Quilts’ Amanda Jean

Amanda Jean’s slabs and strings

Our guild lined up Amanda Jean Nyberg, co-author of Sunday Morning Quilts, for a workshop and I signed up immediately. I had the pleasure of interviewing her and Cheryl Arkison for an Etsy story and really enjoyed talking with them and their entire philosophy of saving scraps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t throw scraps away. Actually, I’ll bet that you can’t either. I go through phases, where I save even the little triangles I’ve cut from joining binding strips. I admit that eventually I’ve tossed them, but now that I’ve had a class with Amanda Jean, I wish I hadn’t!

My scraps

Scraps can be overwhelming, and the goal behind Sunday Morning Quilts is to help them be less so, to make them actually useful. Our class started with a discussion of sorting scraps (Amanda Jean and her friend Pam even brought a set of scrappy sorting boxes) and sorting our own took some time. But it did make them more useable. I was trimming some blocks I’d made from my scraps and Amanda Jean came by and there was a tiny little square—maybe 1.5 by 1.5 inches—that I’d cut off the end and she confessed that she saves even those. Her frugality is matched by her creativity, and she puts these scraps to really great uses.

Amanda Jean’s high-and-low volume quilt, Shady

One thing I enjoyed seeing was that even though her aesthetic is scrappy, she has a “look,” a clear, colorful palette that shows up time and again in her quilts. I felt quite inspired and started with a log-cabinish block of multicolored scraps.

My slab

I decided, however, to limit my palette and went for blue, green, and yellow with a bit of grey and was quite enjoying that. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with the bit I made, but I do think I’ll keep at it, as I have a ton of scraps in these colors.

Amanda Jean laying out gum drops

If you ever get the chance to take a workshop with Amanda Jean, don’t hesitate. She’s funny, friendly, and spends a lot of time walking around and talking through issues with quilters. A day well spent!

Scrap baskets, rug knitted from selvedges and strings, and 2.5 inch square quilt
My friend Kristin’s slabs. We bought that dark blue fabric together six or seven years ago and both used scraps of it in our slabs.

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!

Sweat Shop Sewing

Tiny paper hats? Nope, HST trimmings

A few months ago I agreed to participate in a a half-square triangle (HST) swap. I’m always envious of the online swaps and Instagram challenges I see (I’m still contemplating a scrappy Trip Around the World quilt, although the speedy quilters of Instagram seem to have that one wrapped up already). So I naively thought this might be a good way to get into a little collaborative quilting.

Little did I know when I said yes that the required number of HSTs was 1400! We’re using Laundry Basket Quilt’s 2″ HST paper, which helps because you can make 28 at a time. And I’m enjoying mixing up a lot of fabrics from my stash–a dark and a light for each. But it’s amazing how many I still have to do. I’m past the halfway mark, but still face more nights in my sweat shop…er, sewing room…before I finish.

Next I’ll be stressing over what I’ll do with all those HSTs. That part has been fun to think about, though. The variety of possibilities is endless. When I can’t face making any more HSTs, I fool around with layouts to keep myself motivated. With 1400 HSTs, I might just make two smaller quilts.

Any suggestions for great HST layouts?

Featherweight Follow-up

Colleen & Roger Hicks Featherweight table

My recent Etsy post on Featherweights was such a treat for me. First, it enabled me to learn more about these tiny, but mighty machines. Then—always one of my favorite parts of my work—it gave me the opportunity to get to talk to others about them. Roger and Colleen Hicks welcomed me into their home and showed me Colleen’s collection of nine Featherweights. I especially loved hearing about their search for new ones and about the time they found one of the rare Featherweight tables in a junk shop and bought it for a fantastic price.

I also really loved talking with The Bobbin Doctor, Steve Pauling. I found his name through a comment on a Featherweight post on someone else’s blog (ah, I love the sleuthing aspects of journalism!) and as I was on deadline, decided to try calling him. He had just come in from shoveling 14 inches of snow and was incredibly gracious and kind and we had a great conversation in which I learned he’s also a tailor extraordinaire. I’m hoping to follow up with him, so look for more about Steve in the future. (His partner has a fantastic, sewing-related Etsy shop, too.) Steve’s comments about the durability of well-made, older sewing machines were so interesting—stitchers’ love of these machines is so great that Steve’s turned fixing vintage machines into a full time second career.

Colleen’s Featherweights on display

Finally, I absolutely adored all the comments from Etsy readers. As someone who often feels that her job is mainly sending stuff out into the void, never really knowing if people read what she writes or if it means anything to them, getting close to 200 comments is like the nectar of the gods. Seriously. And the comments were so thoughtful and there were so many great stories…I still can’t get over the skill level of people who wrote that they made wedding dresses on their Featherweights, for example. And I loved all the memories people shared of watching their mothers and grandmothers stitch away on these machines. My favorite was from a woman who said that the first letters she learned as a young child were S-I-N-G-E-R because she’d spent so much time siting at her mother’s side while she sewed. There’s brand loyalty you just can’t buy!

So inspired was I by the post and Roger Hicks’ comments about how little there was that could go wrong with a Featherweight, that I decided to try and fix mine, which sadly went on the fritz during my October Lake Tahoe retreat. There was some tension issue I couldn’t resolve. So Paul and I spent a couple hours on Saturday checking the manual and Featherweight 221: The Perfect Portable and Its Stitches Across History by Nancy Johnson-Srbebro. We oiled every nook and cranny and tried all kinds of fixes, but alas, despite feeling so empowered by my own article, I ended up taking it in to a professional on Sunday. Sigh. But I really do know so much more about how a Featherweight works than I did. So there’s that.

Monica Lee’s Smart Creative Women

Just a quick post to let you know about a web TV show worth watching. It’s Monica Lee’s Smart Creative Women. I met Monica at Quilt Market a year ago, after I’d attended her Schoolhouse session on social media marketing. It was one of the most useful sessions I’d been to and when I saw her on the Market floor I stopped to let her know.

Turns out Monica is delightful to chat with and you can see that when you watch her show—she’s funny, loves to laugh, and is truly herself. I first watched the show when UPPERCASE‘s Janine VanGool was a guest and have since found myself regularly tuning back in. Most recently I turned on my computer, got out my knitting, and watched her two-part interview with Amy Butler. There was a lot of honesty and interesting stuff going on between Monica and Amy in those sessions. Monica’s enthusiasm seems to bring out the humanity of her interviewees, even those I think of as industry icons (she gets amazing guests—I especially loved the Jenny Doh session). So check out Smart Creative Women! (I’m not getting anything for saying this—Monica doesn’t know I’ve posted it. I just think it’s a worthwhile, inspiring, and refreshing show and you might think so too.)

Do You Mock Quilters? Then You’re Quiltist

A traditional Amish quilt from Kalona, Iowa

I loved what readers had to say about my recent Etsy post on innovation and craft. Is it enough to work within a time-honored tradition, or is it important, even critical, to innovate? People argued both pro and con, and there were a number of insightful comments. There was one, however, that gave me pause.

The post referenced the anger among the art quilting community over comments by juror David McFadden who described the pieces in a current exhibition as looking like they’d been created in a time warp—that they could have been created 30 years ago. In an off-handed manner, obviously meant to be a joke, one commenter said “How irate could quilters get?!?” There it was, that attitude I’ve talked about in this post and the lede in this one. The idea that quilters are little old ladies who rock in their chairs and wouldn’t hurt a fly and that the worst they could do would be to shake their canes at some young whippersnapper.

A person with those ideas is QUILTIST. This term is akin to racist, sexist, ageist, etc. I define it as someone who makes assumptions about a person based on the media with which they choose to express themselves. Of course it’s rooted in sexism and ageism (denigrating quilting as “women’s work,” seeing older women as ineffectual and incapable of righteous indignation). And of course there are many, many divisive issues like this in the arts world: art vs. craft; traditional vs. contemporary; drama vs. comedy; community theater vs. Broadway;  novelists vs. journalists, etc., etc., etc. But I’m really tired of quilting being the broom and dustpan of the craft world.

So if you encounter folks like these, call them out! “When you make comments like that, when you gaze off into the distance looking bored when I tell you I’m a quilter, you’re QUILTIST! And that’s a decidedly unappealing characteristic.”

Quilts, Burritos, and Naked Men

Just a quick note to share with you something that has left me chuckling. No, I would say it’s more like guffawing. And I figured there was no better way for you to start the day than with a similar emotion.

So I share with you Megan Dougherty’s Quilter’s Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito calendar. The concept came to her when she decided to combine all the things she loved and her blog readers pitched in to help, with photos of…shirtless men (sometimes pants-less, too) posing with quilts and spicy burritos. It could be the perfect gift for someone you know. Especially if that person loves quilts, spicy burritos, and men. The photos are priceless. There are so many wonderfully goofy people in the world and this proves it. I love it.

Proceeds from the calendar go to Megan’s brother, who is very ill, and his family. Megan is a wonderfully hilarious writer, but she also articulately expresses the poignancy of life. I’d highly recommend a reading of her blog The Bitchy Stitcher. (She puts a warning about foul language in the blog header—if that offends you, you may want to pass. But if not, click through to that blog immediately.)

In Praise of Iowa and Iowans, Old and New

I am not a native Iowan. I lived briefly in Minnesota, spent some time in Florida, and then moved to California when I was two. Although I left the Golden State when I married, my husband and I spent a few years in Northern California, where we bought a house and sent our kids to school, and my folks still live in Southern California.

Vanessa, Jenny, and Greta at Home Ec (Codi helping a customer, at left)

Though I’ve now lived in Iowa for more than two decades, the environment of my growing-up years is firmly embedded under my skin and in my soul. In my last post I mentioned the influence of Minnesota summers, but ocean colors, the scent of rosemary and eucalyptus, and the golden light of California all show up in my quilts and the colors and artwork in my home and wardrobe. I’ve never learned to like winter, and I still think of myself as essentially a Californian.

Vanessa’s fabrics, in stores in October—these colors are a hint that she’s also a Californian 

That said, I find myself fiercely defending Iowa in general and Iowa City in particular. There is an ease to living here that makes everyday life less draining—little traffic, the ability to do errands on foot or bike, the friendliness of everyday interactions that make daily life simple. There’s also much that’s stimulating—my neighbors and friends are writers, artists, yoga instructors, professors, musicians, doctors, editors, engineers—and walking Pearl sometimes takes three times as long as it should because of the engaging conversations that take place in a simple stroll around the block. The landscape takes a little more work to appreciate—no dramatic seascapes or mountain ranges that demand immediate and obvious awe—and that’s created in me an attention to detail and calm that enriches my life.

Jenny Instagramming, Greta in motion

So when someone moves to Iowa and struggles, as I most certainly did when I arrived, I feel compelled to serve as an ambassador. I know what it feels like to be a “foreigner”—where the architecture, flora, and even the bypassers smiling and saying “hi” feel unfamiliar and unsettling. I know what it’s like to not see the beauty of Iowa.

One of Jenny’s Wiksten patterns

So it was last week when I finally managed to get together a group of new Iowans. Vanessa, Jenny, Greta, and Codi are all from elsewhere—Greta and Codi have been around for awhile, but Vanessa and Jenny have just spend their first year here. We gathered for coffee, thrifting, lunch, and conversation, bonded by a love of sewing, design, fabric, and making things.

Greta’s upcoming Marcus fabrics

We visited Codi, took photos, and fondled textiles at Home Ec, admired Greta’s first line for Marcus, anticipated Vanessa’s about-to-hit-the shelves Moda fabrics, and discussed Jenny’s current patterns and those that are in the works. We went to some great thrift shops where Vanessa and I scored a few items, and had a lunch over which we discussed marriage, publishing, children, interns, and working alone. All the while, I found myself extolling the glories of Iowa. And I was reminded that one of them is the addition of talented women like these, who like me weren’t very sure when they arrived if they’d like it, but find themselves warming to its charms.

Moda designers and a giveaway

On the right-hand side of this page you can see a number of the places I’m privileged to write for. But one that’s missing (and I’d better do something about that) is Moda Fabrics. For the past year-and-a-half I’ve worked with Lissa Alexander, Moda’s Director of Marketing and one of the most talented people around. She’s the big-picture thinker for Moda’s advertising campaigns, Market booths, etc., etc., and a quilter extraordinaire, to boot. I’ve worked with Lissa to write designer profiles and copy for their Market catalogs, and I continue to write for Moda’s blog The Cutting Table.

I’ve had the opportunity to chat with some very visual, interesting, and fun designers while doing this work. One of them is Lucie Summers, whose new line for Moda is Summersville. Before I knew she’d be designing for Moda and met her at Market, I’d admired Etsy shop, where she sells screen-printed fabrics of her own design and lovely bone china mugs (which I’d been not-so-secretly coveting). A high point of October Market (that’s her picture at the top of the blog post) then, was meeting Lucie and getting my hands on one of those lovelies. I drank my tea from that mug yesterday as I wrote this piece about her, hoping to channel some Lucie spirit into the profile. Such a funny, friendly gal!

The other person I wanted to mention is Jenn Ski. Jenn lives on the East Coast and and is a fanatic about mid-century design. She is also a fanatic thrift-shopper (as is Lucie…hmm…is there some connection between rummage and talent?) Jenn is featuring a giveaway on her blog of fabrics from her Moda line, Ten Little Things. She’s accepting entries until Monday, March 19, so get on it!

And remember to check out The Cutting Table periodically. In addition to profiles, there’s lots of good information about fabrics, notions, finding time to sew, and even software and app recommendations. Well worth a visit!