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.

Crafty Classes Update

Elfin Bonnet from the front

So, my week of lots of work-related deadlines has most fortunately been punctuated by opportunities to get my hands on fabric and yarn. First up was a knitting class with Master Knitter Lisa Wilcox Case. When I saw the hat in Home Ec (and felt it—knit from the springiest, softest merino Millamia), I had to make one.

Such a cute side detail!

Lisa calls it the Elfin Baby Bonnet and she recreated the pattern from one that an elderly neighbor gave her when she was in college. She described a woman who lived alone, across the hall, and knit hats for babies. Lisa still had the pattern the woman shared with her, typed up on an index card like a recipe. The construction of the hat is so cool—you knit it flat, then fold it in half and use a three-needle bind off to “stitch” the two sides together. Lisa hopes to have the pattern available on Ravelry soon. I knit a red one, and bought a different yarn yesterday to make a pink one. With spring coming, these may not be appropriate gifts for babies for awhile, but I’ll have a nice gift stash for next fall and winter.

Then yesterday I taught my first quilting class. I was a little nervous—Would people like it, would it be enough to fill the time? It turned out that I knew all four of my students, some long-time friends and some new friends, so that helped with the nerves.

The group discusses layout possibilities for HSTs

It was so much fun to catch up with them, find out about the connections between them, and watch their very different fabric choices become half-square triangles. I can’t wait to see what they ultimately do with their squares. And I hope they enjoyed the class.

Nora and her HST blocks-a pillow for her bed?

It’s always surprising to learn that you know something other people don’t…it’s easy to just assume what you know is common knowledge. But in hindsight I am grateful to my half-square triangle sweat shop for making me adept enough at half-square triangle-making to share it with others.

Maureen and her Heather Ross-polka dot HSTs

And everyone agreed that Laundry Basket Quilts Triangle Papers are a pretty nifty tool.

Half Square Triangles: Please Sir, Can I Make Some More?

After all my whining about my half-square triangle sweat shop, I realized that I’d gotten really good at making them. And that I was getting a little excited thinking about how I’d arrange mine when they arrive. So when Codi was talking about adding some quilting classes at Home Ec, I volunteered to teach one on half-square triangles.

These fabrics are from Jessica Swift’s Blomma by Anna Griffin Blend 

While they’re pretty simple to make, I have learned a few tricks along the way. If you’re in the area and interested in joining the half-square triangle mania, here’s a link to the class. It’s perfect for those who are just getting interested in quilting but have basic sewing skills. We’ll make enough half-square triangles to make a pillow top or get a good start on a baby quilt.

P.S. In case you’re not a lover of musicals, the title of this post is a riff on a line from Oliver! Not a great riff but hey, it’s the best I could do with what I’ve got. Which is not enough caffeine. 

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.

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.”

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.