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!

Stitching Knits

Sewing clothing has always been a frustrating experience for me, largely because of fit. I’m your basic straight-up-and-down gal without much of a waist. It’s that way whether I’m sleek or slightly plump. But sewing patterns never seemed to work for that body type…if the things fit my hips then they were too tight in my waist and if they fit my waist they’d balloon around my hips. (Except for shifts…anyone remember shifts? They were perfect for my body type.) My mom had some complicated methods for altering patterns that my math-phobic mind never let me grasp. So I quit sewing for many years, until my friend Anne taught me to quilt. It was perfect for me. I got to play with color and pattern and never had to worry about darts, set-in sleeves, or zippers.

But as time has gone by I’ve been intrigued by lots of kinds of sewing. And this weekend, I was brave enough to try sewing clothing again. I took a Sewing with Knits class at Home Ec Workshop with Alissa. There were five of us and it was fantastic…in four hours we all cut out and finished a long-sleeved t-shirt (and many people finished in less time). It was so satisfying, and I wore my shirt all the next day. Sorry not to have pictures, but I used a knit from Moda—a very springy turquoise and white dot from the City Weekend line by Oliver and S. It is so soft and cozy the color makes me think winter may eventually come to an end, something I’ve been doubting of late. And best of all, Alissa altered the pattern (a Burda pattern, I believe) for each of us in the class, so our shirts actually fit.

All this was exciting enough, but the new Stitch magazine has a fantastic article about sewing with knits, as well as some truly adorable patterns. I’m itching to try the Spiral Skirt. Check it out here. (The instructions are in the magazine.) And if this pattern isn’t for you, seriously check out the issue, anyway. It’s a real keeper, with explanations of great sewing techniques and tons of fantastic projects and patterns. I’m also seriously thinking about using my stash of Woolylady fabrics to do the cover pillow. And there’s a Malka Dubrovsky freebie pattern here. How I love her work!

In addition, there are a couple of short articles by yours truly in the issue. One about Collecion Luna, a wonderful endeavor that seeks to preserve Guatemalan  textile traditions while provide a living for families, and another about the New Dress a Day blog, where Marissa creates a new frock each day from an old one (and it can’t cost more than one dollar).

Yes, my name is mispelled in the bylines for these pieces…they had a new proofreader and as a former editor I know that these things happen. But they did get it right on the back page, where staffers and contributors were asked about their 2011 sewing resolutions. I said that one of my goals was to take more classes in the new year, and I’m pleased to say I did just that at Home Ec on Saturday.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours!

(I don’t know about you, but I think these birds actually look a as though they’re set on committing mob violence, rather than espousing cheerful holiday greetings.)

Many thanks for all your kind words and thoughts about our accident. Life is getting back to normal. I did finally buy a new (used) car and have even taken a road trip to Minnesota…a five hour drive for which I had to muster a little bit of courage. Fortunately all went well.

It’s been a busy few weeks, between the car and the holidays. I’ve created a few things, but unfortunately none could be shown before Christmas and some have been mailed away without photos. I’ve also had a few assignments to complete and then there were those cookies to bake and a tree to decorate. I’m going to take the week off after Christmas and do some things around the house…including locating my cutting table under the mounds of fabric. We’ve had cold and snow and I’m feeling a real itch to quilt!

I hope you all have a restful holiday, with time for fun, friends, and family. Peace and love to you all.

When the means justify the end…

I had some sewing time this past weekend, and rather than diving into my house quilt, I decided to wrap up some UFOs that had been lingering in my sewing room for months. Two baby quilt tops needed finishing and I enjoyed piecing together fabrics I had lying around to create ample-sized backs. (I’m waiting for a shipment of 505 Spray to sandwich them together. I’ll share them once they’re quilted.)

The other unfinished project I had was a table runner from a class sponsored by my local guild. In November I took part in a day-long workshop from Ilene Bartos, a teacher from Des Moines.

Now, I admit that I was not all that excited about this class. The finished project didn’t really excite me, but I know how hard the program committee members work to bring in a range of speakers and teachers, and how important it is that members attend. So in the name of supporting the guild and spending the day with some very nice women, I signed on.

The class was a reminder of something I touched on in my post on Mary Lou Weidman’s class. I’m a product-oriented person and at the end of my efforts I like to have a “thing” I can hold in my hand. 

I’m not good at leaving things unfinished: a realtor once told me, when I insisted on seeing every last house in my price range on the market, that I had the strongest “drive to completion” she’d ever seen. (I took it as a compliment, but in retrospect I think she was saying “Enough, already!”)

In that drive to completion, it’s easy for me to lose sight of the process. And I think that leads me to shy away from classes that features an “end product” I’m not in love with or that I think I might not be good at. 

This would be true with Mary Lou’s class: I think I can’t draw, so I wouldn’t be good at figurative quilts. But in that class I realized (duh!) that half the reason to take the class is to learn something new, to try a technique or color combination that takes me out of my comfort zone.

In the case of Ilene’s class, I wasn’t wild about the project and ultimately was not happy with my fabric choices (too many mid-range fabrics, with tiny patterns, that didn’t stand out from the overly busy background). But boy did I learn! 

The maple leaves in the runner were made using nine different techniques for creating half-square triangles. Now this may sound dull to some—and you know who you are, Anne K.—but I loved re-learning that there’s no one right way to do anything in quilting—there are myriad choices and it’s perfectly fine to do what suits you best. And I surprised myself by liking the bias method of making half-square triangles. My bias against bias comes from my early days of sewing, when I had to straighten my fabric by pulling a thread all the way across the weft—bias was just one of those scary things I didn’t really understand. How I hated all that fussiness. But this bias wasn’t at all tedious.

So, I’m not proud of the product I share with you…but I’m proud of the process. I also learned to couch a metallic thread, and while I’m not sure that I’ll be doing it again anytime soon, it’s taken the fear factor out of yet another term for me to have done it once.

Pearl wondered what the heck I was doing dragging quilt-y things out into the snow and refusing to let her play with them. So she watched from a safe place.

Okay, more than a day off…

My quilt guild holds an annual retreat and I’ve made it for the last two years. It’s held at a lovely little spot about 30 miles from home. This year’s retreat is going on right now, and for a number of reasons I wasn’t able to attend. So I decided to have my own retreat, which accounts for me sewing two days in a row. It’s worked well because Paul is in Austin visiting Maggie and Jeff (and Maggie is currently running a half-marathon—woo-hoo! Go, Maggie!).

The two problems with my personal retreat are that Pearl still needs to be taken outside every now and then and I have to make my own meals (our quilt guild retreat was held at a center run by Franciscan nuns, who made lovely, healthful meals that appeared three times a day at the sound of a bell).

Yesterday, when I took Pearl outside, I was struck by the Dr. Seussiness of this snow-covered sedum. (I hope you note my discretion in not whining about winter or the 2 inches of snow that appeared on the ground overnight. Just rest assured that this isn’t an “isn’t winter lovely?” blog photo. It’s me laughing at the sheer silliness of snow…easier to do when it’s in the 30s.)

It’s likely the sedum struck me as zany, rather than tragic, because I’ve been in a silly place, working all day on “Liberated Houses.” I took a terrific class at Common Threads in North Liberty last fall and started making the houses—pictured are the smallest two of seven. Nancy G. taught the class, which I later learned was based on the work of Gwen Marston and Freddy Moran (I wasn’t able to find her web page, but here’s a fun interview with her on Quilter’s Buzz). In Houston, I learned from Mel and Mary Lou that Gwen and Freddy have a book, Collaborative Quilting, that talks about putting together Liberated Houses and other elements. They have a great concept called The Parts Department, which involves making lots of strips and blocks to use when constructing the actual top. So I’m working on these half-square triangle borders and a variety of trees. I’m still a bit unclear about how it will all go together. It’s the first time I really wish I had a design wall, and not just a design floor (which is what I call the technique of laying out the pieces on my bedroom floor and then standing on the bed to get some visual distance).

Does anyone have any advice for putting these pieces into some sort of coherent whole? I’m happy for any and all suggestions.

We Each Stay Cozy in Our Own Way

I’m not the only one who isn’t fond of winter. Pearl seems to much prefer being indoors during this very cold (barely 10 degrees on our morning walk) December. Getting her outside is not an easy task. She’s learned that her little bed on the hearth is a warm spot, and if she can’t curl up with me, this is where I often find her.

Last week I did do something winter-related that I truly enjoyed. My neighbor Pam held a gathering on Tuesday to which she invited about 15 women from the neighborhood and beyond to partake of a holiday crafts day. Pam used to have a business devoted primarily to quilting: quilts, kits, quilt-themed cards, jewelry, etc. She also did a number of paper crafts. Over the past few years she’s sold her business to her daughter-in-law. But she’s still in possession of lots of goodies and so she set up “craft stations” around the house so that her guests could take turns making six different projects. They ranged from two kinds of folded paper stars (one is in the picture above), a fabric-covered gift box (also in the photo), a luggage tag, gift tags, and the folded-paper tree above. 
Each station included detailed instructions and materials appropriate for the project. She had a lot of the preliminary work done (squares of fabric and vinyl for the luggage tags were pre-cut; templates for the gift tags printed on heavy paper; fusible already applied to the fabric for the gift boxes, etc.). It was really the ultimate fun day: like the kid in the candy store, I had to try one of each. I’d spied the lovely little trees in this month’s Martha Stewart Living and mentioned it to Pam. Rather than make each of us measure out the graduated circles, she devised a pattern for them that included folding lines. At the end of the day there was a forest of trees. 
Everyone who attended brought something for lunch and we had everything from turky-matzo ball soup to red cabbage salad. The sun poured in the south windows at the back of the house as we sat and ate, chatted, and got to better know one another. Our neighborhood is wonderfully friendly and I know lots of folks to say hello to because I walk Pearl so often, but this provided a chance to find out about people’s kids, jobs, etc. People who worked outside the home came for whatever part of the day they could (I took the entire day off) and I felt like I was in some kind of women-friendly version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One of my favorite days, ever.