Two Fall Favorites: Quilt Shows and Leaf Peeping

I’ve never been to New Albin, Iowa, but got word of a quilt show in October you might want to add to your calendar. New Albin is on the Mississippi River, just south of the state line between Minnesota and Iowa. Driving along the river in the fall is always lovely. Our first year back in Iowa we took our girls and drove to Effigy Mounds to see the autumn color. At dinner that night, in the tiny town of Harper’s Ferry, we waited our turn in a restaurant and noticed two women giving us the eye. One of them leaned over to the other and said, sotto voce, “Leaf peepers.” The other nodded solemnly. “Leaf peepers” instantly become a McCray family favorite phrase. But I digress.

The photo I got about the New Albin quilt show features cow quilts, based on the book by Mel McFarland and Mary Lou Weideman book: Out of the Box with Easy Blocks. You may remember when Mel brought samples from the book to my parents’ house, or when everyone was stitching them at our Lake Tahoe retreat.  The variety is endless (and often hilarious). Looks like the quilters of New Albin have caught cow-fever, but there will be other quilts, as well: this is the show’s fifth year and in years past they’ve had as many as 200 quilts.

The show will be held int he New Albin Community Center on October 11 to 13 (Friday, 4 to 7pm; Saturday, 10 am. to 5 pm; and Sunday, 12 to 4 pm).

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.

Quilt Retreat Catch-up

In October I was lucky enough to attend another retreat in Lake Tahoe, but thanks to Quilt Market and life in general, I never managed to get the photos posted. So here they are.

The gang at work with the Lake outside our windows

It was the same group from last year’s retreat (although we missed De, Sue, Lynn, and Nancy very much). The locale was just as lovely, and the friends were dearer, because I knew them better.

Candy with her Featherweight
Mel & her Liberty print yoyos
Debbie and Kathy S. with their witch blocks

We decided last year to do a witch block exchange, and it was the first block exchange I’d participated in. I finished my blocks up just before I left, and we exchanged them on the last day of the retreat as a few members were still stitching.

Witch blocks by Molly and Mel

Figuring out how to put them together has been the perfect excuse to start collecting Halloween fabrics—a little of this for sashing, a bit of that for the border—as if I needed such an excuse.

The block ensemble

Haven’t managed to start on that yet…the sewing, that is. The fabric collecting I’m pretty darned good at.

Carol finishing her blocks
Tina’s Moooy (muy) Cowliente (caliente): Note the fringed udder
 One of the highlights of the retreat were the many cow quilts that kept being conceived and then quickly stitched. The idea for cow quilts comes from Mel and Mary Lou‘s new book Out of the Box with Easy Blocks book. These are a few of those that were created and then shown at Quilt Market the following week.
Psych-cow-delic by Mary Lou (detail)
Homage to Mary Lou (using all her fabrics) by Kathy C.
Boo-moo! Halloween quilt by Molly. Love the rick-rack spider legs

 A few other projects were undertaken, as well.

Debbie worked long and hard on her quilt back. Adding some cheddar fabrics was the final piece de resistance…it gave it the oomph it needed.

Tina got into some garment sewing (and cheerfully modeled).

 Mel and I stitched holiday table runners.

And making many baby bibs…flannel on one side, quilting cotton with rick rack details on the other, occupied a few of my sewing hours.

Can’t wait for next year!

A Featherweight Comes Home

My very sweet husband wanted to get me a ring for Christmas. He found one on Etsy that I’d marked as a favorite, but another buyer had snatched it up. So he asked me to choose a replacement.

While his impulse was a lovely one, there was something else I’d been wanting for quite some time—a Singer Featherweight sewing machine. These 11-pound wonders were built and sold in the 1940s and 1950s, and lots of quilters love them and use them regularly.

My friend Kristin pieces on one that belonged to her mother and another friend Candy brought hers to our Lake Tahoe retreat and whipped up a couple of quilts with it. They pretty much go forward and backward and that’s it, but they’re easy to transport, have a terrific 1/4-inch stitch, and are as cute as a button.

We were lucky to find a reasonably priced Featherweight on Craigslist. The machine had belonged to the grandmother of the young man who was selling it—she’d used it to stitch charity projects for her church. Neither the seller nor his fiancé sew.

I’m trying to decide what it is that makes me so happy with this little wonder. It’s adorable, of course, and there is something so fantastic about the fact that it not only works, but works incredibly well.

I think it’s the story that goes with it—the young man and his fiancé are both students and could undoubtedly use the money, so they were pleased to make the sale. And I loved the absurdity of meeting at a shopping mall, where they pulled the machine from its little black case, plugged it in at a wall outlet, and oblivious to the shoppers strolling past, I tested its sewing ability with the bit of fabric I’d tucked in my purse for just that purpose.

As we left, the young man shook our hands and told me that he knew his grandmother would be pleased that it wasn’t sitting unused in his house, but instead bringing pleasure to another stitcher. The Featherweight was part of his family’s history and its purchase has added to our family lore. I can’t wait to use it to stitch my next quilt.

Share (Quilt Blocks) and Share Alike

I’ve never (successfully) been a part of a block exchange. I’ve wanted to join one, but just never had the time to follow through (that’s the unsuccessful part). So last year, when I was at Lake Tahoe with Mary Louand friends, I was delighted when someone suggested we have a witch block exchange. The witch was modified from a pattern that I think had its roots in one of Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran’s fantastic, freeform books. (You can see Cherise’s incredible version of this quilt below.)
One of my fellow retreaters, De, offered to create a pattern and share it with us, which she did last year. Then Mel made a variation of De’s template pattern using strips. I didn’t get started on these until I was at the lake in August and only have one completely finished. But I have all the segments of the other 14 blocks ready to go.
I admit that used to be a bit of a snob about novelty prints. Some slip too far over the edge of cutesiness, particularly if you don’t have a baby or grandchild for whom you’re stitching. And who really needs a Halloween quilt? But as my friend Anne R. reminded me yesterday, most quilting these days doesn’t have a whole lot to do with need. And is there a better excuse for buying skull and crossbones fabric?
I’ll share the results with you in mid-October, when the retreaters gather and swap blocks…it will be a perfect example of what I love about quilting—the way that one block can look so different, depending on the fabrics used to make it. 
Have you had any experience with block exchanges? Any stories you’d be willing to share?

Lakeside sewing

One of the wonderful connections I’ve made through my writing is with Mary Lou Weidman. I “met” her when I interviewed her for American Patchwork and Quilting nearly four years ago and we’ve walked the aisles of Quilt Market together. 

Kathy and Mary Lou
In addition, last January I took a class from her at John C. Campbell in North Carolina. Lots of great opportunities have come my way thanks to Mary Lou. This past week another one took place—a sewing retreat at Zephyr Cove on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

There were 15 of us from around the U.S.—most from the West Coast, but there were two Texans and a Georgian. Everyone had taken a class from Mary Lou at some point, many at the Asilomar Empty Spools seminars

Some folks brought a Mary Lou-style story quilt to work on, while others brought UFOs or other projects they had in the works. 

Candy’s story quilt about her mom
I only knew five of the people and really enjoyed getting to know the rest. The location was fantastic—a light-filled sewing room with views of Lake Tahoe right out the window—and the company was creative and fun-loving. 

Cherise’s incredible pineapple quilt
There was lots of laughter and lots of sharing of techniques, design ideas, and fabric. (Of course we had to buy some fabric, too. There’s a terrific little shop with a varied and sizable inventory that some people hit more than once.) 

Kathy’s Hoochy Mama flowers

Lynne stitches her family quilt
Some of us had gathered in Lake Tahoe previously and already had the required Red Hut clothing. After a Red Hut breakfast one morning several of the rest of us got this year’s Red Hut sweatshirt. We also had the opportunity to peruse the blown glass jewelry made by Andrea King and several of us took something home. She even took orders and brought them to us a little more than 24 hours later.

Nancy and her new necklace
I learned a tremendous amount simply by seeing what other people were doing.

 I think I mentioned that my French Roses quilt took a turn for the better when I laid out my blocks at the end of the first night and someone casually mentioned that I might think about a sashing. Before I knew it people were bringing over fabrics to audition and then someone suggested keystones. I’m so happy with the way it turned out—the black and white lifted it from being fine to giving it a bit of sophistication. The border is still in the works and only about half done. 

I also learned wonky Monkey Wrench blocks from Mel and Deb, who were cranking out cowboy and polka dot blocks, respectively. Everyone’s work was different and inspiring in its own way. 

Though I went through travel hell on either end of the week, the time I had in between made it all worthwhile. Now, I’m hoping that I’ve built up some good travel karma for my next two trips—Quilt Market this coming weekend and the New York Marathon the week after. 

Apologies for the wonkiness of this post…the quilt blocks are supposed to be wonky, not the blog layout!