Monthly Archives: January 2009

Petit Patchwork Projects

The back to Boston reality hit pretty quickly. My second day back was a lovely combination of snow, rain and a full day of classes. Still, it’s hard to be too down when, despite the craziness of the first week of semester, I have found ample time for crafting.

First of all, I added a border to the Birds in the Air quilt. Now, I thought quite a bit about this next step. I even received a wonderful email from my Grandmother full of various traditional border patterns and was particularly drawn to Entwined and Curling Ribbons:

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But the more I thought about it, the more I worried that placing these right next to the Birds in the Air might detract from the main motif. So I opted for the simplest possible solution and put the remaining antique fabric to use:

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Now I can’t decide if I should put a more elaborate border around this border- or would that be too much? I tend to adhere to the philosophy of the more pattern the better, but as my mother astutely pointed out with my Log Cabin cardigan, this is not always the case. Perhaps I will make some sample borders and see how I feel. Due to my indecision, this project has been put on a brief hiatus during which I’ve engaged in another, somewhat random patchworking project.

It all started with a visit to the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA. I mean, what better place to spend a morning before classes pick up and the workload piles on? The museum is currently showing a wonderful exhibition of Seven Swiss Contemorary Quilt Artists (up through April 18): http://www.nequiltmuseum.org/Exhibitions.shtml. All the artists were inspinring, but one in particular caught my eye- Beatrice Lanter. Here’s a segment of one of her works:

I’m not entirely sure how she composes these quilts, but something about their aesthetic deeply appeals to me. Perhaps it’s the slight asymmetry- perhaps the many colors! Either way, seeing the work of an artist that you admire is always stimulating and fills me with thoughts about my next self-designed quilt.

Another fortunate outcome of the visit was the discovery of these wonderful Japanese fabrics that are sold in convenient 4×4 inch squares. I’d seen them once before but this time I couldn’t resist getting a package. There is something so appealing about them, the many different patterns and slightly different textures- the fact that they come beautifully precut! The museum shope also sold  a pattern for a little bag made of this fabric. Now, I don’t normally use kits or follow directions but for some reason yesterady afternoon (a Friday) felt like a good day for something slightly different but practical and straightforward. So I whipped up a little patchwork pouch (officially called the “Reversible Kinchaku bag” designed by Miho Takeuchi). Here it is:

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It’s a bit tricky to photograph, but it’s basically a small (20″ circumfence) drawstring satchel made from these four-inch squares. The design is quite clever; circular patchwork is not easy to pull off. And it reminded of what’s nice about following rules every now and then: it  improves my technique, forces me to be precise and gives me new ideas for my own work. More and more, I find myself believing that this is part of any craftsperson’s responsibility, to master the technique in which they are working. Once these technicalities are nailed, it’s that much easier to set yourself free. In honor of this recent avowel (part of my new 2009 mindset) I’ve even been reading Michael James’ 1978 “The Quiltmaker’s Handbook.”

Anyone familiar with James’ work has to agree that no quilter has greater mastery of the craft! It’s inspiring. And I’ve decided that even while pursuing my more unconventional tednencies, I’m going to nail the details once and for all… which leads me to my lastest knitting endeavor. While the Log Cabin cardigan (actually no longer a cardigan which I will explain later) made considerable progress in Puerto Rico, it has been put on hold for the past couple of days (along with the Seasonal Lollipop Scarf) so I could quickly knit two 6″ squares in a DK weight yarn, a requirement for the knitting class I will be taking tomorrow afternoon:

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Of course they don’t look like much of anything (though blue and red does happen to be one of my favorite color combinations). Mainly, I’m looking forward to an afternoon of honing my knitting skills. The class is at Westminster Fibers in Nashua NH and is being taught by designer  Sharon Brant. It’s called “Professional Tips and Techniques” and involves the following:

  • Choosing the best method to cast on
  • The importance of tension and how to correct
  • Working with Colour (Intarsia nd fairisle)- essential for me!
  • Textures (Lace, Cables and bobbles)
  • Finishing Techniques (seams and picking up stitches) and many more tips- I don’t know a single knitter who couldn’t use the chance to work on this.

I’m truly looking forward to  the experienc eand hope to emerge a more proficient knitter. That being said, the class gets out at 5 o’clock on Superbowl Sunday so I will have to hurry home!  I’m not going to lie, the football itself isn’t really the primary reason that I enjoy Superbowl Sunday. It’s more about the fact that it’s a chance to go home, one of the few times that I eat chili and that, while the men drink beer, my mom, sisters and I are planning on champagne and cocktails. And of course, there’s that not-so-insignificant bonus that a few hours of television-watching = the ideal opportunity to knit.

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Patchworking it in Puerto Rico

Well this will be brief because, busy indulging in all this island has to offer, I haven’t exactly made enormous progress on my knitting. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend the entire flight over working on my Log Cabin sweater (while watching Ghost Town on the little airplane TV and inspiring the flight attendant to tell me his sweater size in case I was inspired to make him one) or that I haven’t been progressing on my Seasonal Lollipop Scarf during the half hour car rides here and there. I have, and both items are certainly coming along. More on that later.

Most importantly, I’ve been utterly enjoying my few academia-free days. I’ve been swimming in the ocean, lying in the sun, pleasure reading (‘Water for Elephants’ on my sister’s wise recommendation), hiking through the rain forest, drinking pina coladas at 10 in the morning and kayaking through bio-luminescent bays. The last one on the list was likely one of the most magical experiences I have ever had; imagine finding yourself  paddeling  in the pitch black through mangrove tree, into a lagoon through water that literally shimmers around you and under a sky glowing with every single star imaginable (two of which I saw fall; that has to be a good sign)…

I do have a craft-related point to make. I am pleased to announce that my patchwork creations looks just as good in the Carribean and I’ve been relying on my patchworky bag and hat while here, whether lounging on the beach during the day or dining in Old San Juan at night.

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There I am in front of a  waterfall in El Yunque (also known as the rain forest). Like I’ve said before, it’s essential to celebrate the things you’ve made (both of these items are over a year old)! What better way to do so then bring said items along while traveling to remarkable places?

Overall, this trip has been good for the soul. Fresh air, ocean water, sunshine. I’m getting ready for one last fabulous Saturday night on the town; tomorrow afternoon, it’s back to reality. Unsurprisingly, I’m already planning my Spring Break return (I should mention that my boyfriend works here Monday through Friday thus staying expenses are rather low, an additional perk). But no matter where I am or what I’m doing, patchwork is never far from my heart.

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Time is a Funny Thing

If you had told me a month ago that by January 21st  I would hand in a full draft of my thesis and finish the top of  my Birds in the Air quilt (well, the first main portion of it) I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I would have felt overwhelmed at the prospect, sure that it couldn’t be done. Our notoriously overbooked society tends to run on the assumption that there’s never enough time. Well, as it turns out, sometimes there’s more than you think- a hopeful tidbit to keep in mind! Furthermore, sometimes having more than one thing to do is, dare I say it, helpful  Quilting was even more of a pleasure when it was a break from writing… and handing in my first draft called for a celebration so (since champagne is in short supply in dorm rooms) I quilted! I’ll admit it, my productivity also has to do with a fondness for waking up very early in the morning, a deeply ingrained preference that I inherited from my Dad. Either way, before you know it:

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I’m truly pleased. The different weight fabrics made it nearly impossible to achieve 100% precise work that lies 100% flat. But that hasn’t devastated me in the past and it doesn’t really bother me now. It’s all about the fine line between good technique and creativity- not to mention fun! Now, the original Birds in the Air that inspired me was composed of identical blocks and the effect is quite different. I have to admit, I love how this turned out- the pattern can be read in two different ways if you look closely (either look for the squares or the diagonal bands).

Here’s the thing: it’s still too small by my standards (a quilt needs to be luxuriously large enough to wrap around your shoulders) but I’m fresh out of brown triangles. I’ve decided this is a wonderful dilemma. I’m going to take this as my opportunity to add my own flare, my own design. I love this deeply traditional base but I do think it calls for some innovation. A border of some sort, perhaps using the loner antique fabric that didn’t make it into the first pattern, perhaps not. Nothing too crazy since I love the design up to this point and don’t want to detract. It’s not an easy decision to make and not one that I want to rush it.

Fortunately, I have time to think it over since I’m off to Puerto Rico tomorrow for four days in the sunshine! To be fair, Cambridge has warmed up a bit- it is now 24 degrees, feeling like 13. But Puerto Rico is is 77 degrees and feels like 81. And though us knitters love the winter… we also love the sunshine. Not to mention pina coladas. We also don’t mind the absurdity of knitting on the beach- I completed an entire sweater during the week I spent in Hawaii. So since my quilting isn’t portable, I’m looking forward to a few days of devoted sockinette stitch. The Log Cabin cardigan is coming along nicely; the back is nearly finished.

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I still stand by the stripes, they were the way to go. The alpaca is wonderfully soft, though lightweight enough to be wearable when Spring approaches. Speaking of seasonal transitions, I have not forgotten about my lollipop scarf, but running out of yarn put it on hold for a while. However, as with the brown triangles, I have come to consider this a fortunate occurence. After a couple of weeks of unsuccessfuly trying to track down matching Classic Elite Lush, I decided that this would be a transition scarf. In other words, I bought the colors of Lush that they DID have at my favorite yarn store, Wild and Woolly, and switched over:

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The colors are rather appropriate since at this rate I probably won’t finish until the Spring though I started in the Fall. From dark to light: it makes perfect sense. I guess you could call it a Seasonal Lollipop Scarf. But for now, I’m escaping the reality of the seasons, and with these knitting projects in tote (and my Birds in the Air quilt in mind) I’m off to the beach!

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Brrrrrr

According to weather.com, the temperature in good old Cambridge, MA is 17 degrees but ‘feels like’ 5. As far as I’m concerned, ‘feels like’ is all that matters. Yes, it is COLD. But no, it’s not so bad. In fact, this is great weather for knitters- and quilters for that matter- since it’s the perfect excuse to whip out all those bulky knit items that aren’t exactly practical most of the time. Of course, I’m living in my entrelac scarves (and the sweater sweater, which I’m wearing right now) but the frigid air and my drafty dorm room have also inspired me to resurrect a project from a couple of years ago, my “Smorgasbord Socks” made from Brown Sheep. They’ve been keeping my toes wonderfully warm.

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I knit them while au pairing in France, in between spurts of chasing after little French kids. Of course, like any good knitted item, the memories of that summer are deeply embedded in them. And they’re sort of patchworky in their own right- the red heel is probably my favorite part:

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The other nice thing about the freezing weather is that since I’m not exactly tempted to go outside, I’ve been making admirable progress on my Birds in the Air quilt. While the bulk of these past few days has been spent on my thesis (which I’ve managed to painfully cut down to the 75 page limit, hooray!) no one can produce quality writing without letting their brain rest. For me, brain resting means quilting and this Birds in the Air pattern is quite conducive to it. It’s very methodicial and orderly but challenging enough to not get borring. So I’ve been completing a square here and there and suddenly, to my delight, discovered I’d completed about 18 of them without even realizing it!

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Yes, I need to learn how to orient my pictures but, nonetheless, this shot captures how the final pattern will work out. And I love it. I wasn’t sure how the different fabrics would visually interact, but I think the little bits of brown hold it all together. I’m still enthralled by these old fabrics and can’t stop wondering where they came from nor delighting in their uncanny combination in my quilt.

Finally, my “billboard” quilt will be getting a new edition soon. Even the cold can’t stop me from good food and last night I went to ‘o ya’  restaurant: http://www.oyarestaurantboston.com/ There’s been quite a bit of hype about this place  (‘the best restaurant in the world’ according to Frank Bruni) and I have to admit, it was truly sublime. The food is a type of Japanese fusion- think foie gras sushi- and easily amongst the best I’ve ever had. That being said, the portions are small and the prices are high so I wouldn’t recommend going on an empty stomach, this place won’t exactly fill you up. Tonight will be a nice contrast; I’m fleeing the dorm for a little bit and heading back home to do a little cooking of my own. Pork, apple sauce, root vegetables, maybe even some peanut butter and jelly cookies… the type of hardy food that you need in this icy winter weather.

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The Sweater Sweater

I realize this may seem like an odd title for the post, but “Sweater Sweater” pretty accurately captures my latest patchworking project. I’ve taken a few day break from my Birds in the Air quilt and created a sweater out of… sweaters (anda couple of scarves). True to my pack rat nature, I’ve been holding onto a bunch of old sweaters for a couple of years now though I never, ever wear them. For some reason, I couldn’t part with these items as I have with others. In some cases, I was too fond of their colors (I have a thing for stripes and) and in others they were simply too soft. The scarves were both. Yet I decided to finally face the reality and put them to good use. In the end I have combined several essentially non-functioning items into something that I will wear- actually, something I’m excited to wear. Here it is:

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It doesn’t get much more patchworky than this! Really, I just wanted to have fun with it and try something new. I’ll admit, as a knitter it was at first a little painful cutting into sweaters (though my mother always reminds me of when I cut up one of my favorite sweaters at about 8 years old just to see what it felt like, an odd impulse that I have wondered about for years) but I got over it fairly quickly. I tried to incorporate little bits like pockets and seams to really get the full salvaging effect:

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Someone once described Jack Smith’s films (and performance work) as embodying an “aesthetics of impoverishment.” Now, I realize that my work has seemingly little to do with Smith’s and I don’t mean to imply that I want to look impoverished, but there’s something very appealing to me about that phrase, that notion. It does, after all, imply patching together remnants, making something out of nothing. In this case, the best part is that I’ve really ended up with a whole that is better than its individual components. These weren’t exactly shabby sweaters to begin with (one from Anthropologie, a couple from J.Crew) but they were of little interest or use to me until now. The annoying little technicalities of sizing, etc. worked out (I roughly followed the sizing guidelines in Ann Budd’s “The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns”) so it actually fits comfortably and looks, as far as I’m concerned, beautiful. It’s been a wonderful project to look forward to these past couple of days in between long library visits and hours of thesis writing, now that I’m back on campus and aiming to finish a first draft by January 21st. Whenever I get bogged down by academia, this kind of work reinvigorates me, a palpable reminder of why I find quilts- and all patchworking- so essentially intriguing.

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Many Modes of Memory

My unexpected foray into antique quilt collecting has continued with a truly remarkable acquirement. My grandmother sent me a yo yo quilt made by her husband’s grandmother when he was born in 1930. It is truly stunning, and all the more impressive since it is composed of leftover fabrics, even feed sacks. Furthermore, it’s so special to have a quilt that is not only historical, but lodged in my own family’s history, without a doubt something that I shall cherish forever.

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I have never done this type of quilting myself; of course I’m intrigued. The result is such a lovely combination of the ephemeral and sturdy. Each little yo yo is securely attached the other but it’s hard not to be struck by the delicacy of its web-like structure. I’m hoping to hang it on the stairway leading up to my bedroom, what a wonderful thing to be greeted by every I walk up the stairs!

My grandmother also sent me scraps of leftover fabrics, most of which have been worked before:

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They’re so lovely and eclectic, far better than anything that I would have found in a store. I’m particularly intrigued by the second from the left, a sort of Japanese design. Mainly, I love the idea of recycling fabrics and the sense of history that they embody. I’m still deciding what to do with them… perhaps a yo yo quilt of my own?

I’ve also been continuing with my Birds in the Air quilt, having finally settled on a fabric combination that (I think) looks interesting but makes the most of the fabric that I have. It was tricky since there wasn’t much of the brown seaweed patterned fabric and I could only squeeze out 220 little triangles, but here’s what I settled on:

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I have cut out all of the large triangles and the little triangles (no small feat, there’s roughly 430 of them!) and have so far made these six squares. Working with the little triangles is slightly tricky, particularly since the fabrics are of different elasticities and weights, but I love the challenge and the imperfection of it all. I’ll admit I left out one of the antique fabrics, its pattern just isn’t conducive to either size triangle but I’ll probably incorporate it into the back:

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Finally, I’ve been continuing my Log Cabin cardigan and made the strategic decision to switch to stripes for the body of the piece. I maintain that the decision was largely aesthetic. Guided by my mother’s sage advice and astute sense of design, I realized that the Log Cabins actually ‘pop’ more when they are confined to the border:

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That being said, I’ll admit to the obvious benefit that this makes the project less intimidating and a more enjoyable. Like I said, knitting should be challenging and beautiful, but also fun! A border’s worth of Log Cabins (keep in mind I still have the front and sleeves to go) is plenty of entrelac practice. I’m quite pleased with my choice.

My bulletin border quilt continues to grow. I’ve been dutifully adding on business cards of worthy restaurants- so far the Wentworth Inn in Jackson, and most recently Craigie on Maine  (www.craigieonmain.com) where I went last night with my sister and Dad. A lovely dining experience (fabulous food, even better company) that I would highly recommend- particularly the octopus appetizer. And it seems so appropriate to record the night via quilting, a medium that is  not only about salvaging but (like dining) savoring the bits and pieces of daily life.

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Completing, Continuing, Mending… and My New Model

Thanks to the long drive to and from Jackson and a feverish spurt of determination to finish, entrelac scarf number four is complete! I can hardly believe how quickly it went. Since my sisters and I are only three, and it’s always a good idea to spice things up a bit, I thought I’d display this scarf on a different type of model:

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That’s my darling Shuffle in his favorite little nook. He’s a thoroughly domestic bunny and enjoys the feeling of being wrapped up every now and then and I saw no reason why the entrelac joy shouldn’t be spread beyond the human world.  However, I’ll admit that this doesn’t exactly capture the scarf in its full glory (though he seemed to have enjoyed wearing it) so here’s another couple of shots:

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I’m proud to say that I used up nearly every ounce of yarn (only some of the pink Cascade was leftover) so not only did I finish long before I expected to, I haven’t added to my already overly-abundant yarn stash. Unsurprisingly, I’ve already been wearing it around the house. My only difficulty now will be dividing my time between the four color options I now have. At the moment I have no plans for number five, but who knows…

I’ve also made respectable progress on the Log Cabin cardigan, considering how relentlessly tedious this intarsia work is. I’m getting into a bit of a groove, but I”ll admit the prospect of an entire sweater is still rather daunting and I’ve been considering switching over to stripes at some point- making it more of a Log Cabin border- so that I don’t end up with a project too intimidating to complete. Knitting should be fun after all! We’ll see, for now I”m dutifully continuing with the established pattern:

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Last but not least, I mended my Patchwork Hat, a project I completed months ago. It’s very much in the salvaging spirit, a floppy hat made from leftover quilting fabrics that I wear all the time (in warmer weather):

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There was a small tear that I had been meaning to mend for quite some time- and in honor of the New Year,  I decided to finally tackle it! It took about three minutes to fix and now my lovely hat is wearable once again. Also in the spirit of the New Year, I’m keeping in mind that delicate balance between the demands of my thesis and its impending deadline (the first draft is due on roughly two weeks) and my need to craft. This means that after a long morning of reading, writing, and editing, I’m looking forward to an afternoon with my antique fabrics.

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