QuiltCon 2015 Follow-up

It’s been a wonderful few days in Austin, where I’m attending QuiltCon.

Admiring City Center by Angie Henderson at the QuiltCon 2015 exhibition hall

There’s really nothing like being with folks who love what you do. On Thursday morning I started chatting with a young woman from Victoria, B.C., as we walked across the lobby floor. She said “I want to live here!” And I said “In Austin?” Her response was that the location didn’t matter so much, but she wanted to be with people who loved what she did on a day-to-day basis. She’d tried to describe her passion to her work colleagues, but they didn’t understand and were glad she was going where others did, because they’d heard enough. My guess is that she won’t stop talking when she returns—she may be so pumped full of enthusiasm that she makes a few quilting converts.

I may or may not have purchased some of this fabric at Stitch Lab’s booth in the vendor area

For coverage of QuiltCon, visit UPPERCASE’s blog—though she was on of the three jurors for QuiltCon (along with Carolyn Friedlander and Stevii Graves) UPPERCASE editor Janine Vangool wasn’t able to attend and asked me to to cover for her. You can find words and photos about QuiltCon 2015 here and here, with more to come.

Sewing with the one who taught me

I spent a few days visiting my folks in southern California. One of the more fun things I did was to sew with my mom. She’s in her mid-80s and has Parkinson’s, but she’s determined to keep stitching.

She does seem to have a knack, however, for picking complicated projects. When I got there she had been working on a bag that had some really bad instructions and was feeling frustrated. I helped her finish it (and could certainly understand her frustration when I read the methods used in making the bag). Fortunately, she was happy with the end result (below).

Another afternoon we went to a quilt shop we’d visited previously in Orange, the Orange Quilt Bee. They have a great selection of fabrics and patterns and I wanted to find some patterns to try that had more clearcut instructions. We also got fabric to make pillowcases. Here’s the one she made while I was visiting, and when I called tonight she said she’s been making more.

We also stitched up an iPad cover, the Pocket Portfolio by Swirly Girls from some wonderful, traditional blues and were delighted with the pattern instructions and the result. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the finished piece.

I liked the fabric she picked for her pillowcase so much that I’m planning to make Cindy Taylor Oate’s Sit and Stitch Pincushion from the same combination—when I left, my mom hadn’t started this yet. I’m hoping to make mine while we’re on vacation in a couple of weeks. It was fun to sew with the one who taught me. Wish we lived closer so we could do it more often.

Stitching Up a Storm

My vacation sewing seemed to inspire me to keep at it and since I’ve returned I’ve finished another Sorbetto top (my favorite yet), worked on the back for my recently finished quilt top, and stitched up a Sew and Stow bag from the latest Quilts and More, designed by none other than my friend Mel McFarland.

Quilt tops await backs at the top of the stairs

I’ve also started working an afternoon a week at Home Ec Workshop. As always with a new job, it’s that combination of fun (Fabric! Yarn! Nice people!) and terror (Why is the cash register beeping? How much milk goes in a latte? How do I help someone pick up a dropped stitch?). I’ve gone in three times now and Codi and Anna have been infinitely patient.

I stitched the Sew and Stow bag as a shop sample—whipped it up after dinner one night, and it was a great excuse to combine three lovely fabrics. The instructions were super simple to follow and it seriously took less than two hours. I might make the tabs that keep it rolled up slightly longer—just an inch, really—when using fabric that’s a little heavier than quilting cotton—I used Anna Maria Horner’s lovely linen/cotton Ghost Wing for the body of the bag, Vanessa Christensen’s Simply Style for the top exterior (and an orange solid you can’t see to line the top). These would be great gifts, because they’re not just tschotkes, but really useful. Yay, Mel!

My Sorbetto top is made of…the fabric name is escaping me, but I’ve admired it for some time. Anyone remember? The bias tape was made from a Kaffe shot cotton fat quarter: all of it actually only required a 10″square of fabric. I used this great method from Collette: took me awhile to get it the first time, but once I did it works like a charm.

Finally, I had some very exciting news this week related to my “real” job…writing. Can’t share it for awhile, but you’ll definitely be hearing about it later this year. 

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.

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!

Back to School: The Pleasures and Purposes of Taking Craft Classes

The newspaper pattern we created to make a-line skirts

 I am one of those people who can’t resist things. I cut out myriad recipes, planning to try luscious-sounding new foods; I get intrigued by threads of conversation that lead to story ideas and want to follow through and write them all; and of course, I’m a sucker for every new crafting idea that comes my way. As someone who writes about artists and designers, that’s a heck of a lot of ideas.

Granny square class

For me, taking classes is one of the best ways to give in to my multi-crafting urge. I can buy books and materials, but actually sitting down and committing a several-hour block of time to use them is hard. There is something about paying for a class and putting it on my calendar that gives me permission to devote the time to trying something new.

South African embroidery in progress

In the past couple of months I’ve taken two classes taught by Alisa at Home Ec—one sewing a skirt (from a pattern we learned to make ourselves!) and another on crocheting a granny square (something I’d done in college, but not since). Also at Home Ec I took a class on South African embroidery (taught by Catherine Redford), and knitting a hat (taught by Jenny Gordy). I’ve done all these things previously in one form or another, but in each class I was reminded of what I enjoyed about that particular craft and I learned something new (last week in my hat class Jenny taught us a cool way to join stitches while knitting on circular needles). I get to handle new materials and use some old ones (I’d bought the fabric for my skirt at a Quilt Market six months ago, but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.)

Jenny Gordy (Wiksten) hat with bobbles

So here are photos from my classes—I finished the skirt the same afternoon I started it, but the other projects aren’t yet finished. Those resulting UFOs are probably one of the biggest problems with taking classes. I sometimes question whether flitting from craft-to-craft is wise—after all, I have at least five unfinished quilt projects in my sewing room just waiting for me to devote time and attention to them. But I tell myself that some day these skills will all be waiting for me, as will the time to use them.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers! Hope you find some time to sit and stitch this coming weekend.

A Quilt for a Farmer

While I was growing up, one of my favorite vacations was a visit to my aunt and uncle’s farm in Southern Minnesota.

They didn’t have children and my aunt had a reservoir of boundless patience, as well as lots of fun activities that were so different from those we engaged in at home. Aunt Marcia’s immense vegetable garden yielded veggies for canning and corn for eating nearly straight off the stalk. My uncle raised mostly corn and soy beans, but also had a few sheep and my sisters and I would trail them around the enclosed sheep yard, occasionally finding one tame enough to pet. We’d wander down by a nearby pond and pick up garter snakes and wrap them around our arms, like bracelets (I get a little freaked out just writing that). We’d open an empty grain bin and make a game of trying to stand upright on the thin layer of remaining, marble-like soy beans.

When my children were young they had the good fortune to engage in many of these same activities, as well as getting to see spring lambs. One of my favorite photos is a shot of each girl with a lamb that Uncle John (who my youngest dubbed “Bean-Bean” after the crops he grew) had momentarily wrested away from their mothers.

A number of years ago Uncle John was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and today he lives in a lovely facility near my aunt’s home. On our way back from the cabin this year I finally brought him a quilt I’d made this past year. It’s always tough to know what to get him for a gift and I hadn’t given him anything for the past few Christmases or birthdays (coincidentally, both on Dec. 25). He naps a lot and I thought a quilt might be something he could actually use.

The fabrics are Moda’s Holly Taylor and felt very farm-like to me, with earthy colors, fall leaves, and pheasants. The pattern is Arcadia from Mountaintop Creations and I bought it all years ago from Blue Bamboo. Longarmer Linda Kalbaugh, cleverly based her quilting on landform maps and I made a label of that favorite lamb photo. Uncle John seemed to really like it and I hope it will get used. On the label I thanked him for the memories he created for me and my family. Not lost on me is the irony that those same memories have been stolen from him—I hope the photo label might conjure for him those wonderful times.

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.

Sewing with Friends

Sewing days with friends are a great way to kill two birds with one stone (a rather harsh analogy for such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon). When life is so busy I find the only time I see my friends is if I’ve got something on the calendar with them. A case in point are my two book groups and Scrabble group, in which the main point of the gatherings is catching up with dear friends and knowing that I’ll see them at regular intervals, even if we haven’t made time to go to lunch or grab a cup of coffee. I love books and playing Scrabble, but the contact and conversation are the important bits.

Regular sewing dates can be equally as satisfying. For awhile my friend Kristin and I were planning monthly sessions and it was not only wonderful to chat with her about life in general and sewing in particular, but we both kept projects on track when we knew we had a day set aside to work on them. Sadly, I got busy with work and they fell by the wayside.

Nearly three months ago Codi and I had a sewing afternoon and it was a fantastic reminder of how fun and productive it can be to set aside sewing time with a buddy. I was working on my first quilt with my Featherweight (it’s a gift, so I can’t show it yet…just got it back from the quilter) and Codi brought several projects she’d started but not quite finished. I can’t remember how many she whipped through, but I thought you’d enjoy seeing some shots of her mini-quilt, a project she started more than a year ago when we had a little quilting group meeting at Home Ec. (It’s where I started my triangle corner scrap quilt.) I love the big stitching on the red background (and the way her polka-dot sweatshirt perfectly complements the fabric in the leaves).

Now that I’ve written this post, I think I need to call up a friend and get another sewing date on that calendar! Here’s to sewing with friends!

To Kit or Not to Kit: That is the Question

Quilt kit from Blue Bamboo

Over the last few years I’ve talked to a lot of quilt shop owners. It started in 2006, when I had the good fortune to write copy for 20 shops in Best of Quilt Sampler. Since then, I’ve talked with shop owners from Phoenix, North Carolina, Colorado, and Virginia for Quilt Sampler profiles. They’re a passionate bunch, these shop owners, and without fail they tell me how lucky they are to do what they do for a living, and how much they enjoy their customers.

During our conversations we talk about what’s popular in their shops and the subject of quilt kits always comes up. Most shop owners spend hours preparing kits for grateful customers and say that kits are big sellers. Shop owners attribute their popularity to quilters’ fears of choosing fabrics and colors. Others say quilters are busy people and that ready-made kits speed the process along.

From Blue Bamboo

I’ll admit I’ve felt a little “above” quilt kits. A lot of the fun of quilting for me is combining fabrics to create something uniquely mine. I’ve felt the same dismissiveness when it comes to pre-cuts and making quilts from a single line of fabric. I love to mix the unexpected and I’m a big fan of scrappy looks, too. But there are days when time is short, or when my mind is too frazzled to design but I still want to sew, and that’s when I’ve appreciated precuts. This baby quilt and this lap quilt were both made with pre-cuts and single lines of fabric and their simplicity provided a soothing break—the hours of almost meditative stitching and ironing, the pleasure of watching something grow. While there’s nothing like the energy that comes from stitching something of my own design, there are times when life is already providing me with plenty of intensity and I just need to chill. That’s when I’m grateful for kits and pre-cuts.

I believe there’s a time and place for all kinds of quilting—the “I’m on fire with creativity” days when ideas and color combinations can’t be contained, the days and weeks when I’m hot to try new techniques and willing to spend hours on a difficult pattern. But there are plenty of days when I’m just as happy to have an hour to strip piece and simply appreciate the feel of fabric slipping beneath my fingers. There’s room in quilting for all kinds of effort, for the masterpieces and the quick-and-dirties. I’m learning that when it comes to quilting, there are no absolutes. I should never say never.

How about you…do you use kits and pre-cuts? Why or why not?