Eagles in Minnesota and Quilts in Texas with Lone Star Quilt Study Group

Note the eagle atop the tree in the center

I spent a lot of August away from home—nearly two weeks at our family cabin in Northern Minnesota, where we read, hiked, cooked, entertained friends, and took a day-long fishing trip into the Boundary Waters. We also saw lots and lots of eagles, including one who perched no more than 30 feet from our fishing trip lunch site, just waiting for us to leave so she could feed the fish remains to her young’uns. Being that close to an eagle gives you a good idea of their power with a close-up look at its hooked beak and those huge talons.

Just four days after our return I headed to Austin, where I was invited so speak to the Lone Star Quilt Study Group about feed sacks. They were a lovely audience and as always, I learned as much new information as I shared. Museum of Texas Tech University, who is working on a feed sack book. In addition, the museum will host a feed sack exhibition in 2019, something to look forward to, indeed.

A sweet feed sack dish towel shared by a member of the Lone Star Quilt Study Group

I also met Marian Ann Montgomery, curator of clothing and textiles at the Museum of Texas Tech University, who is working on a feed sack book. The museum will host a feed sack exhibition based on their extensive collection sometime in 2019, to coincide with the release of Marian’s book. Something to look forward to!

The afternoon speaker was Nancy Ray (scroll down to learn more about her), a Texas collector of string quilts. one I made previously is one of my all-time favorites).

I adore string quilts—their scrappiness parallels the feed sack ethos of waste-not, want-not that I so admire. Nancy’s collection was inspiring and exemplified the the inventiveness quilter’s have applied to the technique. Here are a few photos. I’ve got a string quilt on my to-do list (one I made a couple of years ago is one of my all-time favorites).

Detail of the above quilt
A selection of Nancy’s quilts
Deatil of string spider web quilt
Image from a slide–not the best
Detail of a bow tie quilt with wild red curves
Image also from a slide, but love the darks and lights

The Final Stop for Art Quilts of the Midwest—the Texas Quilt Museum

In August I had the opportunity to visit the Texas Quilt Museum in LaGrange. (I was in Texas to speak to the Lone Star Quilt Study Group, but more on that later.)  I’ve written about the museum and visited once, last February, but this time it was personal—Art Quilts of the Midwest is on display there through the end of September.

The exhibition space is beautiful and I loved seeing some quilts hung on an exposed brick wall in the airy gallery. I talked with a lovely employee (whose name I swore I wouldn’t forget, but have) and thoroughly enjoyed “saying goodbye” to the pieces in the show—this is the last of the four exhibitions based on Art Quilts of the Midwest.

When I wrote that book I never imagined it would lead to exhibitions at four museums (the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, the National Quilt Museum, and the Iowa Quilt Museum) and their curators, that I would be listed as a guest curator at two of them, and that I would get to help hang a show at one. Though I’ve met only a handful of the 20 artists represented in the book, I’ve spoken and corresponded with them all over the past five years and learned so much about their creative processes and by continuing to follow their careers.

Having a vocation that lets me “look behind the curtain,” to ask questions about what makes creative people tick, expands my life exponentially and for that I am truly grateful.

There is an unexpected coda to this story, though. Little did I imagine during the visit on that hot, hot Texas day that just a week later parts of LaGrange would be underwater. Though the museum was uphill from the river, museum staff and volunteers sandbagged the doors and raised the quilts up high via their pulley system. Power was lost. I was grateful to the curator, Sandra Sider, for taking the time to keep me informed in the midst of all the issues surrounding Hurricane Harvey. In the end, the museum was spared and they are working to reduce humidity in the building. You can read about it in this letter from museum founders Karey Bresenhan and Nancy Puentes.

If you’re in the area, I encourage you to visit as soon as they reopen. The exhibition (and two others, including some gorgeous, traditional quilts from the International Quilt Study Center and Museum) are on display through October 1.

Sewing Extremes

For quite some time now, I’ve been making hexagons. I even taught a hexagon class at Home Ec. But I haven’t done much else. This weekend, however, I did get a little sewing in, and I chose to sew two challenging substrates—one super stiff (oilcloth) and one loosely woven, with little body (gauze).

Students’ hexagons

I’ve sewn lots with oilcloth previously, but after being plied with cerveza in Oaxaca, I promised my traveling companions that I’d make them oilcloth table runners with oilcloth we bought at the Benito Juarez and Abastos markets. It’s a pretty simple job, really—they just had to bring me the dimensions of the runners they wanted, along with their oilcloth and some bias seam binding.

Karen picked two fabrics that are wonderful complements and I made her what seems to be more of a tablecloth (it’s 39″ wide by the width of the fabric). It was pretty much a piece of cake—those Clover clips really make it so much simpler to attach the seam binding than the hair clips I used to use. But the darned thing was so stiff and unwieldy that I had a little trouble—periodically as I’d sew I’d run into something on my sewing table and essentially sew in place until I realized what was happening. In the end, though, it turned out nicely.

Next up was gauze (and not double gauze, which I’ve used for tops and has a bit more body). It’s become so popular for making baby blankets and we had a slow week at Home Ec (half the population away on spring break), so I started a sample at work. I thought I’d cut the gauze square, but after I brought it home to finish it I realized it was far from square—what started at 50″ wound up at 42″ by the time I was done, and it’s still not totally square. One of the tutorials I read mentioned sewists who insist upon perfection may not enjoy sewing with gauze.) I ultimately used the tutorial from Sew to Speak as my guide.

Making continuous bias binding from a square—I used a Heather Ross lawn from Wyndham—is rather miraculous, but tedious nevertheless. The Sew to Speak tutorial links to this tutorial. I had done it before, but the method is not very intuitive and so a visual reminder was helpful.

Attaching the binding required lots and lots of pins and I worried about whether I’d caught the elusive gauze all the way around (I did). Like much of sewing, I swore I’d never do it again while I was doing it, but the end result is so cute that I’d be tempted. And the 23″ piece I cut is enough to make bias binding for two blankets, so I probably ought to try again, if for no other reason than to use up the binding. It felt good to finish two tasks and spend time in my sewing room—it’s definitely been awhile.

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Stitching Through

It’s been a rough time in the McCray household, as we cope with unexpected losses. They feel like a sucker punch and we’re trying to figure out how to exhale again and move forward, what context death provides for the rest of our lives, and how to support the loved ones of those lost. Bottom line, both Paul and I have been rather unproductive, with lots of aimless gazing and little concentration. TV has been something of a distraction, but I’m not good at sitting and watching unless I’ve got something in my hands.

So English Paper Piecing, which I got started on after Quilt Market (thanks to this great book), has filled the void. The color has been good for these grey days and the repetitive, mindless sewing a solace. No idea what I’ll do with these, but the good part of making so many is that I have a lot to fool around with when it comes time to decide. This morning there is finally some sun coming in the windows and I was moved to push the bits around and start thinking of some coherent whole.

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?

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.

Quilt Market Houston 2012

Codi and Greta at Quilt Market

Made it home on Monday from Quilt Market (unlike many folks from the East Coast, who had their flights canceled). It was, as always, a visual whirlwind, as well as a time to reconnect with friends old and new. I especially enjoy meeting in person the people with whom I’ve had email and phone relationships. This time around I met Amber Eden, the editor of Stitch. We bonded over our journalism backgrounds and agreement on who was might be Quilt Market’s newest “It” couple (Julie and Eric Comstock).

I traveled and roomed with Codi and Greta and spent quality time with Mel and Mary Lou. It felt a little rushed this year, as though I had a day less than I usually do. Here are photos of some of my favorite things this time around.

Marny of Modern Quilt Relish talks about their new BOM (while Jill holds it up)
Michael Miller’s fashion forecast included jewel tones, pastels, and neon
Alexander Henry‘s booth was a little simpler this year, but still lovely
Amy Butler‘s new line for Renaissance Ribbons rested in vintage cigar boxes
I was in love with Anna Griffin’s Blend lines—so many outstanding designers and a partnership with designers and Etsy shop owners—want to make a project with their fabric? Just ask. 
Designer Jessica Swift’s Blomma line–one of the lovely Blend collections from Anna Griffin
I liked Brigette Heitland‘s Zen Chic Juggling Summer collection for  Moda even more than her last. These quilts were outstanding
Carolyn Friedlander and her Architextures collection were one of the biggest hits of Market. The quilt is from a Jaybird Quilts pattern
Echino eye candy at the Seven Islands booth 
Detail of some of the Echino bags at Seven Islands‘ booth
Fairfield created a natural wonderland entirely from batting and interfacing
Greta Songe’s Studio 37 collections for Marcus Fabrics–Adorable!
Benartex’s Kanvas Studios fabrics won a ribbon for their bright booth
Lisa Bongean’s luscious wools. Always so tempted, but I’ve yet to figure out what to make with them
Have long loved Marcia Derse’s fabrics for Troy, and she’s so much fun to talk with—fresh, honest, simply who she is
Moda brought in a vintage Airstream to celebrate designer Mary Jane Butters Glamping line
I thought Melody Miller’s booth should have won an award…such vintage good cheer
Moda’s well-deserved blue ribbon hangs on their booth-of-many-colors featuring hundreds of paint-dipped stirrers, paint cans, pantone tablecloths and “paint”-dripped chair covers, along with fantastic sample quilts. 

Time to Sew

Just returned from Lake Tahoe, site of a retreat I’ve attended the last few years (here, here, and here). I’ve so enjoyed getting to know and learn from the women in the group. While it feels more than a little indulgent to travel across the country (with 49 pounds of fabric in a check-on bag and my Featherweight in a carry-on), the opportunity to get input and insight on technique, color, scale, block placement, etc. is invaluable.

This group is super-experienced and there are both teachers and students who have attended many workshops with a variety of instructors (everyone has taken a class from Mary Lou Weidman, who was also in attendance) and I learn so much from them each time. The sad truth of my life is that while I get to talk with and write about passionate stitchers, I don’t have much time for my own sewing these days. So the time to just focus and sew, surrounded by friends who would stop what they were doing to provide suggestions and commentary (when asked for, of course) was fantastic. It was also a little bittersweet, as Lynn passed away this summer and her ready laugh and talents were greatly missed. But we were blessed to have De and Sue back with us, along with Sue’s niece Linda. They’d been in a terrible car accident just before last year’s retreat and their return marked a year of recovery. They were both stitching up a storm.

Strips cut in preparation for my hexagon quilt

So here are some photos of the week. There are so many that I’ll spread them out over two posts.

I leave tomorrow for Quilt Market, so expect some posts about that very soon, too!

Debby’s quilts, inspired by a Gwen Marston workshop

Kathy’s finished story quilt about her dogs, who bark at the Blimp!

Linda’s completed quilt
Mel‘s witch blocks surround a haunted house she based on her son’s drawing. Note her flying geese/witch hat border and the name quilt—she stitched one for each of us!
Yes, we saw a bear, although if Debby hadn’t shouted “Look!” we probably would have missed it as our heads were all bent over our sewing machines.

Art Quilts of the Midwest

Friday was an exciting day. I finally sent out numerous Calls for Entry for my upcoming book, which has been in the talking and planning stages for over a year. The working title is Art Quilts of the Midwest and I’ll be working with the University of Iowa Press.

I’m very excited that visual artists Mary Merkel-Hess and Emily Martin will be jurying submissions with me and art quilter Astrid Bennett will be writing the foreword.

If you or anyone you know might be interested, below is a brief description of eligibility and how to submit work for consideration. All this information and more can be found on the UI Press home page. Once you’re there, click the quilt block button (same image as the block on this post) on the left side of the page. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

An adventure begins!

•Seeking submissions from Midwestern art quilters with an emphasis on quilts whose creation was inspired by life in the Midwest. Quilters are free to define aspects of “Midwesterness,” be they physical, environmental, emotional, etc., which affect their work. Artists must reside in the Midwest, defined for this book as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Submit up to three quilts, original work completed after 1/1/09. Book to be published in print and digital editions. 

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.