Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Right Stuff

White Elephant Sale day dawned sunny and remarkably warm - a perfect day to go stand in line with strangers for a while. The sale started at noon, I arrived at 10:45, found parking about a quarter mile away, and hunkered down with A Tale of Two Cities for the duration. But Dickens proved to have too many complex things to say to compete with the group of women behind me...they were talking about fabric!

What slowly dawned on me as I listened was that, 1. they knew a lot less than me about sewing and surely had less of a stash (and I'm a bit embarrassed to say this filled me with pride), and 2. they made things to sell and actually made money. Not a lot, but a profit, nonetheless.

This bowled me over. I've had the Lucy and Ethel wacky - let's make some handbags and throw pillows and sell them - ideas in the past, but have always quietly talked myself down. No one in her right mind would want to buy my pitiful raggedy bits of fabric and thread. But now, I dunno. I'm thinking about it. A little.

The doors opened, and the hunt was on. Above is photo one of what I got (most fabrics are decorator fabrics...I'm thinking pillows/handbags/other decor). The cord is gorgeous vintage stuff, which allows me to make a few more of the drawstring handbags for friends. The thing in the center is as weird as it looks...a transfer or print on fabric of an Indian design. $3.50, I couldn't pass it up.

Here's a different shot, and below is some adorable vintage terry cloth that I couldn't leave on the table. There were also about 20 yards of cheap organza for my daughter's room re-do, and some odds and ends like sheets of pellon and funky threads and such. Grand total was $49.75 on fabrics (including the stuff for my daughter, more like $40 if you just count the stuff that goes in the studio). So not TOO bad, compared to what it could have been.

On March 5, they have a bag sale...$3 a bag. Hmmmm.

After I sorted and stowed away, I got back to the wall-hanging. I've been thinking it over most nights before falling asleep, and decided to do the edge-stitch foot applique method I'd used on the last piece, but traditional app, rather than reverse. Under is a muslin foundation. On top...I don't know. It'll need something. Maybe I'll try my soldering iron and some nylon and stuff. But I still feel confident about the essential design.

Unfortunately, my machine threw fits when I put bobbin thread in the bobbin, then threw fits because it was cold, and then I threw a fit because I trimmed a quarter inch off the wrong side of a piece and didn't realize until I'd put it on the foundation (second from the top piece here...can you tell?). But it's coming along... Posted by Picasa

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Pattern Emerges

After a long, bitterly cold day spent outdoors, I got home and hit the "full blast" button on my studio heater. An hour later I went out to start a new project, only to find that one set of lights had blown out last time I tripped the breaker (don't run the power-sucking heater, lights, high-end super-hot iron and the Bernina all at the same time - a valuable life lesson!). Undeterred, I turned on the lights that worked and began the best part of any project. I dug through a bin, and pulled out fabrics...if I could confine myself to just picking fabrics (or maybe just running my hand over them), I'd never be disappointed in a project.

After a bit I had a gorgeous pile, but knew I shouldn't cut until I can see them in daylight. So, what to do? Hey! I know! I could make a plan. My projects are always so much better when I plan - both the process and the product. But I'm usually in too much of a rush to just get cutting, ironing and stitching. More's the pity.

Here's the plan. I love it - it took me almost an hour of moving things around, changing my mind about proportions, breaking outside the grid. It was inspired by my son's offset grid in his Klee art project. I like this plan so much that I doubled the size and plan to hang it in a spot I've reserved for a piece for years...we'll see if the final piece cuts the mustard.

These fabrics all came from a by-the-garbage-bag sale of interior design samples - I got two bags full and spent $20. That was a good day. About half silks, a few gorgeous cottons (none in this pile) and assorted other neat things. For this project I pulled out all the greens and golds that I thought would work, with a bit of red thrown in for punch.

And here, just so you can say you've seen it, is my cotton stash. If I could get into making some cute baby quilts, I might be able to whittle it down some...darn these silks, wools and rayons.

In other news, I decided to hell with the budget, I'm going to the White Elephant Sale this weekend. My daughter needs a new bookshelf, and how much, really, could one person spend on fabric in one day? I mean, really. How much?Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Life continues crazy husband and I just went over a 2006 budget, and realized that without the extra income I had last year, we are broke. We can go back to essentially not having health insurance (not a good plan, I don't recommend it), cut expenses like crazy until I find something else, or, as he said, sell the children.

It's a thought, but then they go and do marvelous things like inspire me to create more art, and I think to myself that they really are worth the expense.

Our homeschooling charter school offered us a neat kit to explore the work of Paul Klee, always one of my favorite inspirations for fabric art. Usually it's hard to make time for directed art projects, but I thought this was worth it, and was correct. After going through some of Klee's work (they loved the older, Dada-esque stuff, in particular, and both noted the similarities to Picasso in his later work, which made me QUITE proud), they were instructed to use oil pastels to divide their paper up somehow, then to put something into each of the divisions with the pastels, and then to do a watercolor wash over things...I left it pretty loose.

Here's what they came up with. The top is by my 13yo daughter, the bottom by my 9yo son. I found both inspirational. Hers in particular for the color combinations and I thought her white on white pastel was a good reminder to loosen up with my free motion quilting. Just draw, and have fun. I also liked the variety of styles and moods she sets in the various sections. Groovin'.

I loved what my son did with the design within a design area upper right, and that will be the idea behind my next piece, fer sure. I will try to get out to the studio tonight...with no money to spend at this week's White Elephant Sale (the tears, I can't stop the tears!) I'll need to make myself better rummaging through the stash. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 20, 2006

Unbound Glory

A triumph. Not only did I make it to the machine, but I made a useless object - two major goals accomplished in one afternoon. Add to that the facts that it's all from the stash and that it's done except for binding (and possibly embellishment, more in a moment) and that I like it, and it's essentially the greatest thing I've ever done. And all because I had a bad day...

Most days are crazy, but today was crazy in a way that felt certifiable. I was pulled in 10 different directions, started off the morning with a pounding headache that screamed "migraine coming!" and had to write a difficult email to a close friend. Algebra work with the oldest child went well, but is never a walk in the park. By 3:00pm I knew that further productivity in the house was fruitless, and I might as well be fruitless in the studio.

But as soon as I walked in the door I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a useless object, use some stash and use a nifty foot I'd never tried before to do something I saw done on one of those bland sewing shows on PBS. The rest just fell into place. The foot is the edge stitch foot, which on my Bernina goes left or right. It is marvelous for reverse applique. Combined with steam a seam to hold the edges back and the under piece in place, the applique process was simple, even using glittery fray-prone upholstery fabric as a base.

Tomorrow I have to dig up some fabric for binding...I've promised myself no new fabric until the Oakland Museum's White Elephant Sale Preview at the end of this month, so it'll have to come out of the boxes. Next, a quandry: to embellish or not. When quilters first started sewing beads and charms onto their pieces, I thought it was as groovy as the next gal. See this lovely brass-charmed piece. Now the whole idea of beads and fluff is starting to feel a little dated to last year. On the other hand, I still like the way heavily beaded stuff looks. I have a nice little kit of black and green beads which would be perfect for this piece. We'll see how motivated I get tomorrow. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Doctor, Will I Sew Again?

This week has been a blur of sick children, insomniac nights (and hazy days), and incredibly cold Northern California weather...which means it takes my outdoor studio at least an hour to warm up with heater blasting, and my Bernina 830 (ca. 1970's, all metal, and needs a crank start like a Model T 3 seasons out of the year) needs another half hour of running time to stitch reliably. Tonight I was all set to do it anyway, darn it. I am working on a small bucket bag in a spiffy oldtime sparkly upholstery fabric (more brown), and figured I could at least work on figuring out the pattern and pocket options, even if I couldn't get Bernie to run. That intention was the cue for our only working shower to go on the fritz, requiring a 45 minute bout of plumbing (and tool finding, and where the heck is the plumber's putty, and OK, turn the water off again!).

I'm feeling like I'll never sew again. Tomorrow is booked from 8:00am until 10:00pm with kids' activities, Friday I need to work for a living, and in the meantime I think my stash is actually mating and growing without me.

One thing I did do while up in the middle of the night was surf some art quilting sites I hadn't been to in a couple of years. My new favorite is Art Quilts Online - check out, in particular, the Gallery, and this beauty by Catherine Kleeman. I don't love the colors, but do love what she's done with organza and stamps and ink. Fun. The kind of thing I keep swearing to myself I'm going to do, but never do.

I have a hard time letting go of my self-imposed requirement to make useful objects. I can make a quilt as a gift, or if I have a specific spot for it in my home (and in truth, after five years of quilting, I only have this one of my own hanging in my home, and isn't it pitiful that it's hung with TACKS? I wouldn't treat someone else's work that way!). I make a bag, or the Christmas ornaments I made this year to give away. But the idea of just sewing for fun is so hard for me to feel comfortable with.

Sounds like a News Year's Resolution waiting to be made...? Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 16, 2006

Vintage Quilts

When I can't collect actual fabric, if at all possible I get a photo of it. Other addicts will know that a photo doesn't even begin to compare to the real thing - half the fun of a fabric find is petting it, looking at it in different lights, holding it up to see how the color changes against different backgrounds.

But in a pinch, at least you can take home the memories, and if you're really lucky, get some ideas to use on your own fabric stash.

I took this photo at Malakoff Diggins State Historical Park, near Nevada City, CA. The park contains a number of old mining cabins in restored (or not) condition, with period furnishings. This particular home is rumored to be haunted, and we got to camp across the street from it, in a totally deserted town except for our small group. My 8yo son and his friends spent the night waiting to hear the ghost, but in the morning were as excited about a steaming pile of brown bear poop outside their door as they would have been about a howling ghost.

What I loved about this quilt was the pattern. I'm sure it has a name and is known by vintage quilt enthusiasts, but I don't travel in those circles. Even though this is hand-pieced quilt, it solves the problem all novice machine piecers have - matching corners while piecing. Sheer genius! Just put pieces into strips, strips onto other strips, NO matching. And this quilter had a great eye and a great bag of scraps - the variety of colors and patterns works wonderfully - the eye travels all over to find neat fabric after neat fabric. No stressing about color matching, balance, or anything. You could make this quilt in your sleep, empty out your scrap bag and delight a a gift recipient in the bargain. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Drawstring Drama

This cute little bag took about an hour and a half, and other than the cording was all from the stash. But I'll need to make a cute little rayon dress to go with it...

The bag is loosely based on a pattern in Stitch & Sizzle Accessories, - a spiffy little book of quick and easy projects from a variety of interesting fabrics. My only complaint is that too many of the projects require specialty items that aren't easy to find. On the other hand, most of them can be modified, as I did here.

This is from the same stash of brown rayon I bought at a thrift store many years ago. Way back then, when I didn't know how to piece at all, I just cut some squares (attempting to get them the same size, but...) and sewed them in strips and who knew there was technique involved in putting the strips together? I thought I could throw together a vest, but quickly came to my senses.

So I had this large piece of badly done patchwork that's been at the bottom of my scrap bin for years. When I pulled it out yesterday, I decided that I now like the folk art/primitive look of the thing. And it was parked right next to a big piece of poly lining in a matching brown, and so an idea was born.

This bag is basically a lined and batted square of fabric (I embellished with thread, but you wouldn't have to) with each corner folded and a casing stitched about an inch from the fold line. I put buttonholes (I love my buttonholer) at each end of the casings, folded the thing in half, slipped some cording through the casings and buttonholes and cinched it up. It was too floppy on the sides, so I made two tacks on each side to hold it the way I wanted. I added a funky old button and a 4 inch length of smaller cording - and finished it just in time to get an invitation out to dinner tonight.

Unfortunately, the adorable matching rayon dress will have to wait. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fun With Cotton and Color

I got into quilting so that I could use up some of my fabric stash. I can't turn down an interesting piece (bag, box) of fabric, and I seem to run into them all the time. Some people have kittens follow them home, I have a nice damask or some kitchen curtains from the 1940's or a bolt of puce organza.

The trouble with quilting is that, as experienced quilters know, you never have the right fabrics to go with the fabrics you have, have to buy MORE fabric. It seems so obvious now. So for several years I spent a lot of money on cotton quilting fabrics. At first I could buy them at JoAnn's or some other chain, but then I discovered that there really is a difference in quality, and so doubled the amount I spent - quilt-store quality cottons! My favorite supplier was, and continues to be, Stonemountain and Daughters, in Berkeley, CA.

Now five years into my quilting life, I don't enjoy working with quilting cottons so much. Silk, upholstery cottons, velvets...they and their texture and drape hold more interest for me. But I do still make some traditional quilts for people who will appreciate them, and I do find it fun to play with color. I have to use up the cottons to make room for the silks! Here's a throw-sized quilt I made for my mom two years ago, from cotton scraps and some huge pieces of black lightweight denim that I'd picked up at a garage sale. It's always so thrilling to make a piece entirely from my stash (OK, except for batting and thread...) Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 13, 2006

New Year, New Projects

Two new projects for 2006 - this blog, and this rayon scarf made from my stash. I found these rayons years ago, when I first started indulging my fabric obsessions, before I started quilting and way before brown was a color anyone wore. The joys of shopping your stash!

It's a birthday gift for my friend Tina, who is a classy dame and who (I'm hopeful) likes brown. The print is actually on a black background with enough brown in it to fly - an old-fashioned kitchen style print with fruit, jam jars, etc. The rayon crepe was a bear to work with, but drapes oh-so-nicely that it was all worth it. I was going to finish the ends with beaded fringe, but decided it was more likely to get worn if it was more on the casual side. Et voila!

As to blogging - my prolific knitting friend
Stefani inspired me to start this up. She is an amazing homeschooling mother of four who manages to knit up something new almost every week. I don't know how she does it!

I'm hopeful that some of her magic will rub off on me and I'll churn out fabric creations with more regularity. If nothing else, perhaps I'll have an excuse to buy more fabric, and then write about the marital arguments over that nasty addiction.

Stay tuned to find out...Posted by Picasa