Rhubarb Dreams

I have lots of quilt-related photos to post…one of these days. But for today, I’m touting rhubarb.


Short version: Years ago we made rhubarb simple syrup as a basis for rhubararitas—rhubarb margaritas. They were a hit and I wanted to make them this week for my youngest daughter, who’ll be home for a wedding. Yesterday I combined two cups of water, two cups of sugar, and a pound of cut up rhubarb and simmered for 20 minutes, This morning I mixed the “dregs”— the well-cooked rhubarb solids left after pouring off the simple syrup—in my plain yogurt it was deeeelicious! Looking forward to the simple syrup, too. (This drink sounded also sounds like a good way to use it: The Rhubarb 75.)

My dad and daughter toasting with their rhubarbaritas in 2010

Rhubarb is one of those fruits (really it’s a vegetable) that I just can’t bring myself to pay for—it seems to grow like a weed and lines the alleys of old neighborhoods in Iowa City. I haven’t have success growing it at my house though, perhaps because I planted it in the backyard, too close to three huge walnut trees. So if a friend didn’t share rhubarb from their bounteous patch, I often went without.

Last fall we redid some landscaping in our front yard and I realized that the side of my garage—nearly hidden from view but warm and sunny, would be the perfect spot for rhubarb, which once it’s established can be neglected. The big leaves would help keep the weeds down and I’d have all the rhubarb I wanted. I bought two plants and got two from my friend Anne, who has an enormous patch on her farm, and it’s those latter two that have grown like crazy and that I was able to harvest.

My sister with our 2010 rhubarb simple syrup

I didn’t grow up with rhubarb, as it doesn’t do well in southern California, but I learned to love it at my Aunt Marcia’s farm in Minnesota. Her rule was that you could pick it until the 4th of July, and I’m looking forward to more rhubarb this year, and lots more next year, when it’s all better established. My rhubarb dream—an unlimited supply that I’ll never have to pay for—is coming true.

Art Quilts of the Midwest: The First Copy Has Arrived!

Last week, just before leaving for QuiltCon, I got an email from the University of Iowa Press saying that one copy of my book was available for me to pick up. It was a Monday and I’d been back for two days from Minnesota and was leaving in a day for Austin. I was harried, so I didn’t respond right away. I was also afraid. There’s this kind of magic time in between when you write a book and make your edits and hand it all over to the designer and the Press. You can say “I’ve got a book coming out,” and everyone is very encouraging and excited and it’s easy, because it’s all out of your hands. Though I’ve definitely been doing some marketing work, it really just an idea of a book because the physical object didn’t yet exist.

But apparently it now it did. When I talked to my husband and told him it was there he said “If you don’t get it, I will!” That would have been a little embarrassing, so off I went. It was kind of a quiet visit—I guess I thought everyone might come out and cheer or something—but it was nevertheless wonderful. I gave Karen, the production manager, a hug because she did so much work to make it so lovely and because it was so amazing to hold it in my hands I just had to hug someone.

Then I took it home and put it in a plastic bag and ran around frantically packing and watering plants and doing last minute errands. I really didn’t look at it until I was on the plane. There was a lovely, satisfying moment when I pulled it out (and secretly hoped that my seat mate would ask me about it—no such luck) and paged though it and felt the “book-ness” of it. And for the next four days I carried it around, whipping out my book-in-a-baggie and whenever appropriate (and sometimes even when it wasn’t appropriate, just because I couldn’t help myself).

I’ll share more about the book itself, but for now know that it will be available in the next week or so at Prairie Lights, if you’re local or through your local bookstore (you can ask them to order it), on Amazon, and through the Press. I hope you’ll take a look!

Pincushion Presents

A few years ago Kathy C. made me a bottle cap pincushion as a Lake Tahoe quilt retreat gift. I thought it was adorable, but it took me awhile to realize

how useful it is. I wound up keeping it in my binding box (a former stationary box in which I keep needles, thread, Thread Heaven, clips, and now, this pin cushion, all in preparation for binding quilts at a moment’s notice). It’s so useful that I decided to make them for my bookgroup and a few other friends for Christmas. 

Here’s how many I’ve made so far (minus one, which I gave to a quilting friend in Berkeley). I started working on them this summer at the lake and really enjoyed combining the wool felt colors (small pieces purchased from Wooly Lady) with learning new stitches. I used Valdani thread for the embroidery. 
I wish I could get the tops to be a little smoother and less “cupcake-like,” but they function as they were designed to do, so I guess I shouldn’t worry too much. My bookgroup seemed to like them—I also included a pack of my favorite pins with each one. 
Our bookgroup holiday party is always so much fun and a true tradition at this point—our group has been together for more than 20 years. We exchange gifts—some handmade and some not, depending on how busy we’ve been—and cookies. This year Anne also made us a lovely soup and salad supper. 
Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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.

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

It Never Rains but It Pours

That old saying certainly applies to Iowa City weather just now. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the roses as beautiful as they are this year and it suddenly dawned on me that it’s because the climate is mimicking Portland’s (aka The City of Roses) to a tee—cool temps, cloudy skies, and plenty of moisture. This rose was climbing up a trellis at a friend’s home.

But the phrase also applies to my current forays into sewing. I’m still working to finish a many-pieced quilt, but couldn’t resist taking a pair of Home Ec classes. On Saturday I attended the first session of a quilt class taught by Erick Wolfmeyer, about whom I’ve had the opportunity to write a couple of times (here’s one of them). He taught a pattern by a designer whom I was unfamiliar with, but whose work I’m loving—Pam Rocco.

Erick’s got a terrific color sense and having him help sort through our fabrics was fantastic. I somehow had far more fabric than anyone else…now how could that be possible?

Here’s a shot of each of our first blocks—one person’s working in neutrals, one in all prints, one in batiks. Guess what? I’m working in brights. At one point I said I felt like I was making a quilt for a clown. We’ll see how it shakes out. Session two is next Saturday.

On Thursday I took a class in which we made the Colette Sorbetto top. It’s a free, downloadable pattern, but it’s been so long since I made any clothing (especially any that fit, save the bias skirt I made at Home Ec), that I wanted help with that aspect of things. I’ll post more on that next time, but suffice it to say, I’m loving it. Forget cooking, gardening, exercising, and working…Can I please just sew all the time?

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.

Color and Texture: Spain

Walkway in Ronda

I had the great good fortune of accompanying my husband to a meeting in Southern Spain last week. We spent nine days visiting Malaga, Seville, Granada, and Ronda (part of that was meeting-time, of course, but I didn’t have to go to the meeting). The opportunity to go on these trips reminds me of what’s good about freelancing and a flexible schedule…

Dresses in the Paul Nunez shop in Seville

The Moorish influence in this region (Andalusia) meant lots of beautiful tile work that I knew would remind me of quilts. What I didn’t know was that the streets and sidewalks would all be beautifully patterned with rocks. Seriously, I don’t think I walked on a solid surface the entire time.

Sidewalk in Nerja

 The other thing we didn’t know was that it was Holy Week, or Semana Santa. The frightening-looking costumes belong not to a race-based organization, but are Nazarenes. The other stunning thing were the floats featuring life-sized, wood-carved Biblical scenes decorated with incredible silver and embroidered textiles, that were carried through the streets, sometimes for hours. The young man below is one of those carrying a float.

Hope you enjoy these!

Float carrier takes a break during a procession in Malaga
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Nazarenes in Malaga procession
Float of the Virgin Mary being carried through the streets in Malaga
Malaga float detail
Will it rain? Float carrier in Malaga wonders
Nazarenes in Granada
Detail from the Alhambra in Granada
Arches in the Alhambra in Granada
View through the Ronda city walls
Granada windows
Shawl shop in Seville
Traditional Spanish dresses in Seville shop
Shawl detail: hand embroidered
Sevilla detail 
Sidewalk in Seville
Floor in Seville
Seville garden
Seville tile

Fabric Smack-down!

So those half-square triangles hit the mailbox on Tuesday, and it was something of a relief to have them out of the house. Soon another 1400 will take their place and I’ll be contemplating ways to sew them together. But for now I’ve got another many-pieced project on the brain.

In January I took a workshop through my local guild with Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studio.  I’ve interviewed Bill’s wife and business partner Weeks Ringle for American Patchwork and Quilting, and wrote a story about them both for Magic Patch. I love their work and how thoughtful they are about the design and coloration of their quilts. Plus they’re friendly, funny, down-to-earth folks.

Fabric Fusion

For the workshop, Bill had us bring an assortment of fabrics and we teamed up with someone we didn’t know well and had a “fabric smack-down.” Bill said he and Weeks do this when deciding on fabrics for a quilt, alternating fabric choices and describing why each might work with the others. It was a real challenge: my partner Jean is a batik-lover and my stack consisted mostly of bright and bold pieces. So when she laid down a leafy batik, I laid the Brandon Mabley piece (above) on top of it. We both laughed in surprise—not a combo that either one of us would have thought of on our own, but one that seemed to work.

My Fabric Fusion palette

I took that same piece of fabric and decided to develop a palette around it and make their Fabric Fusion quilt from the February 2012 American Patchwork and Quilting. One of Bill’s and Week’s strengths is combining unexpected fabrics—Jo Morton calicos with contemporary David Butler lines. So while I found 26 of the fabrics to use in my stash they were mostly brights and I had to buy just a few more to round out the look. Here’s what I’ve come up with…are there any that you’d remove from this fabric smack down? There are one or two I’m not quite sure of, but maybe they provide the foil that makes the others work…let me know what you think!

Something Old and Something New

For a couple of weeks life has been slightly calmer than it was before the holidays and I’ve managed to sneak in a bit of sewing. I finished up a baby quilt that was more than two years in the making—once I’d gotten it bound I worried that there wasn’t enough quilting on something that would inevitably get washed a lot, so I added more quilting around the borders. Then it took me a mere two weeks to actually get a label made and send it off…why do those last little pieces of the puzzle inevitably take so long?

The quilt is from a bunch of Heather Bailey fabrics, with a stripe and polka dot thrown in to keep it interesting. The back wound up being totally pieced because I didn’t want to buy anything more–it’s a little crazy, but I love the feeling of really using my stash to the max.

Pieced back

Then I finished piecing the quilt top I started in October at Lake Tahoe. I’ve still got to figure out a border for this (although I’ve got the start of an idea). Hanging it outside on a warm winter day (that would be a day that it got up in the 40s—warmth in Iowa in January is relative), the colors created such a stark contrast to the season’s drab tones and made me very happy.

Finally, must add a link to the post I wrote for Moda about their Nancy Drew fabrics. I waxed a little rhapsodic about them, as I not only loved reading Nancy Drew, but have a personal link to the author of 23 of the first 30 books. Check out the story (and some of the fabric) here.