Monthly Archives: February 2009

Those ‘aha’ moments

I’d been pondering quite a bit about how to put together my Log Cabin with a Twist Quilt. Simply alternating polka dot and Log Cabin squares just didn’t seem interesting enough. I wanted something that really blended the traditional and the innovative into a whole composition. Searching for those ‘aha’ moments isn’t easy- and in the end the best ones always take you by surprise. Thankfully mine came, in the middle of my routine morning yoga practice, and I instantly new it was the way to go. So, I made an even larger Log Cabin center whose own center is a polka dot square. I realize that might not make much sense at first, so here it is:

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I’m going to arrange the smaller polka dot squares around this central square, and the Log Cabins around those. I’m thinking of the entire quilt as an expanded Log Cabin square in and of itself. This will probably make more sense as it progresses. You may also notice I added a few polka dots to the central square- when it comes to polka dots, more is more; I decided it’s worth the extra time.

Speaking of time, I stumbled upon another brilliant idea this week that will enable me to make better use of mind. It’s all thanks to an old Summer 2006 issue of “Quilting Arts” which I happened to be flipping through when I came across an article on Jeanne Williamson, a quilt artist who was in a creative rut and decided to make one small art quilt per week- which she did for seven years, thus creating 365 little quilts! My first reaction; way too ambitious. Yet the idea intrigued me… and just wouldn’t leave my mind. The next day I started my first mini quilt and yesterday I finished it.

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It’s made of strips of three different black and white fabrics, sewn together, cut andrecombined. The most unusual part is the curly cue which is a rolled up piece of fabric that I attached with large, spaced-out stitches andtwo buttons to the quilt top. Why? For the sake of experimentation, to expand my quilting repetoire, to keep the wonderful process of quilt making fresh and evolving.0034

I truly believe that Jeanne Williamson is on to something brilliant. Certainly, part of the beauty of my larger quilts is that they’re a commitment, a long and devoted process. In making them, I fall into a rhythmic and steady process with the final product in mind. On the other hand, this doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity. I’m also much more wary of applying new techniques to a larger product- what if I spend months on a quilt only to realize I don’t like the overall effect? These little quilts (about 12 by 12 inches) are like the quilting equivalent of sketches- you needn’t fear imperfections or experiments gone wrong. I even took Jeanne’s advice and used a zig zag stitch to seal up the borders, nothing fancy.

Hopefully, these mini quilts will allow me to continue evolving as a quilter as I complete my larger projects. I’m really thrilled about the idea- especially since there’s so much I want to do, from dying fabrics to puff quilting. In addition to new techniques, I like the notion of having some that are more ‘journal’-like. In fact, this one was vaguely inspired by a Ben Kweller concert I attended since the most persistent image of the evening was the black and white acoustic keyboard set against a bright red drum set. Admittedly, I strayed pretty far from this initial vision, but that’s really the point. Of course, I’m going to date them (I decided to record the Sunday of each week):

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Right now I’m feeling invogorated- though I realize this is quite the undertaking and I’m going to have to let go of some of my more perfectionist tendencies to realize it. That being said, this first mini quilt has hardly prevented me from progress in other areas. The Birds in the Air quilt is tied and has about 2 more feet of border to stitch up before completion!

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Well, the ties are hard to see but if you look closely there’s red, blue and green. I’ll probably finish up the border this afternoon.

As for knitting, I’m in the midst of swatching a polka dot pattern using Cascade Yarns Sierra. While that project begins, I’ve also returned to a long-neglected project that I began this summer. It’s very simple- shockingly so for me- just a pink pullover in stockinette with a ribbed border:

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I’ll admit that the simple design is not incidental. It’s due to the fact that I’m using Classic Elite’s 100% cashmere Romance yarn. For projects like this, the material sort of ‘takes over.’ Yarn this luxurious (both to wear and to knit with) doesn’t need any embellishing. I’m not sure how the project fell so far off my radar for the past few months, but I’m back on it with renewed determination!

In non-crafting news (if such a thing really exists in my life) this coming weekend is full of Birthday celebrations; my boyfriend’s 24th tomorrow to my 22nd on Monday. This means that I’ve been feverishly working ahead all week, getting a head start on readings andpapers, so I can have a joyful weekend full of my favorite things; home, family, friends, good food and plenty of time for quilting and knitting- so I guess there really is no such thing as non-crafting news.

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Loose Ends and New Beginnings

This past week has been a dizzy of activity. I’ve completed an old project, continued a new and a not-so-new one- and even squeezed in a little side project just for fun.

For starters, I finished my Log Cabin Sweater Vest.

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I have to admit, at first it just felt great to finish. I’ve been trying to complete at least some of my current projects before embarking on new ones so each finished item comes with the little reward of a promising fresh start. In fact, I’ve already purchased the yarn for my next knitting project. On the other hand, finishing also felt a little… unsure . You see, I love the polka dot shoulder, but to be honest I wasn’t entirely convinced that I liked the overall product- not at first. Every knitter knows the feeling. When I completed that last seam late Tuesday evening, I was ambivalent. Since I’d originally planned on a roomy cardigan, it’s not exactly your typical sweater vest dimensions. I tried it on over my pajamas and couldn’t decide if this was going to be a keeper.

I woke up Wednesday morning and declared that todaywould be trial day- that first full day when you wear that new knitted (or sewn) item and figure out all its tweaks, and whether or not you’ve truly created something that you’ll enjoy. Turns out, I love it. Over a fitted skirt and with a long-sleeved shirt underneath, it’s very much my style. It’s also incredibly comfortable; how I love Alpaca. I can still remember completing those first few painstaking intarsia Log Cabin rows in a ski lodge over New Years break and starting the next set while watching Iron Chef in the hotel in Puerto Rico… how lovely to have something so full of memory and to know all that work wasn’t for nothing! The polka dots were tricky but I’m determined to get them down so be on the look out for my next knitting endeavor…

Speaking of tying up loose ends, I’ve finally decided what to do with my Birds in the Air quilt; I’m going to tie it together. I realize this isn’t exactly an earth-shatteringly original decision. I also realize it may seem like a bit of a cop out since tying is a lot less time-consumign than quilting. But I honestly thought long and hard about it. I decided the fabric patterns were already quite busy and the added dimension of quitled stitches would be too much. I also realized that the fabrics are fairly delicate and might not hold up very well. Finally, I genuinely like the way the ties look- I’m alternating between red and blue.  I knew this was the right decision the moment I made it, so hopefully a picture of my completed Birds in the Air quilt will be up here soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve  continued on with a new beginning; my Log Cabin Quilt with a Twist. So far I have seven blocks:

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I’m quite fond of it so far. It has a sense of humor along with the trace of tradition. The contrast between Log Cabin and curved quilting keeps the work interesting. But I do have a confession: I’ve been doing the circles by hand! Turns out, it doesn’t take that long and my machine is just unwieldy (I bought a $30 Brother off of Amazon.com to keep in the dorm and spend a lot of time longing for my beautiful Singer back home). Actually, I rather like the hand quilting.  Maybe I’ll stick with it, but maybe I’ll give the machine another go; we’ll see. I’m still indecisive about how to arrange the blocks; I’ve been mentally toying with several different ideas. For now, I’m going to keep on quilting and I’m sure the final pattern will  occur to me.

I would probably have completed more of these blocks if it weren’t for a little side project that has taken up all my crafting energy for the past 24 hours. I decided to use up the rest of my antique fabrics (well, most of them) and make a skirt. In the spirit of increasing my technical sewing skills and precision, I followed a pattern from this book, “Sew What! Skirts” by Francesca DenHartog.

It’s a wonderful, straightforward guide on how to make your own skirts. It covers all the basics of sewing- helpful since I’m really still teaching myself as I go. It’s also full of tips on how to measure your waist and hips so you end up with the right fit. I measured very carefully, I pinned and planned and paid attention to all those little rules about sizing, hemlines, etc., and I came up with something that I truly love:

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Of course, I’m drawn to the way in which patterns do and don’t go together. The contrast is my favorite part and the ruffle really adds that extra little something. It fits beautifully. I’m increasingly convinced that paying heed to all those nitty gritty details is absolutely worth while. Now I’m just longing to wear it- but the weather here is far from warm so, yet again, Puerto Rico might be the first time I whip this out. I have to admit that though I’m still looking forward to Spring Break (of course), Senior Spring is setting in soI no longer feel that pressing need to escape. Between classes on Celtic folklore and Mesopotamian art, finally having time to attend lectures and local Cambridge events, good old hanging out and plenty of patchworking, I’m thoroughly enjoying my remaining time as a college undergrad. This is one loose end that I’m in no major rush to tie up.

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Love

I’ve had this post saved up for a little while now.  I recently inherited another remarkable family heirloom, but felt that its ‘debut’ deserved a special day. Then it occured to me, what better day than Valentine’s, the day of love? Not just romantic love, but love of family, friends- even crafting!

The item is a crochet bedspread that my grandmother sent me. Now, I don’t do too much crochet (though I’ve mastered granny squares in the past) but I know enough to realize that this blanket is the product of remarkable skill. And while I tend toward color, I love the simple elegance of all-white yarn which shows off the delicate and alternating stitches:

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This photo doesn’t at all capture the size: it’s actually quite large- but you can get a sense of the hexagonal pattern. It’s so lovely and, like the yo yo quilt, so full of family history- not to mention family love. There’s a remarkable story behind it, which my grandmother explained to me in an email. It was made by her Grandmother Dahlberg (my great-great-grandmother) for my grandmother when she married my grandfather in January 1951, just after he got out of Marines boot camp. To tell the rest of the story, I’m reprinting my grandmother’s words since I couldn’t possibly capture it better myself:

 Grandma and Grandpa Dahlberg lived all their lives in the suburbs of St. Louis.  Their greatest dream was to retire to a farm.  So they found a place and bought it several years before he could retire.  However, the day the moving van left with all their furniture, Grandpa didn’t feel well.  They felt they had to drive out to the farm in order to be there for the truck, so my brother, Paul, went with them to help out.  The next day grandpa had a massive heart attack, and the country doctor declared him deceased.  Grandma wanted to get back to St. Louis to family to have him buried there, so Paul and the doctor put grandpa in the back seat of their big old Plymouth.  Paul, who was 17 at the time, drove Grandma and Grandpa back to St. Louis.  They drove to J.B. Smith Funeral Home in Maplewood so arrangements could be made.
Grandma tried to stick it out on the farm, but it was lonely and the only income she had was a very small social security check.  She would stay with various family members several weeks at a time.  When she stayed with my mother, she and I shared a bedroom, and between our beds was a sunny window on the second floor with a cedar chest under it.  Grandma would take her small check and buy a ball of yarn the first of the month and crochet one of these squares, which is her own pattern.  I still can see her sitting in the sunny window with her fingers flashing away while I worked on homework at my desk.  She made one of these bedspreads for each of her grandchildren. 

So this bedspread has a sad but love-filled story behind it. Personally, I love how these items store up their own histories and I love imagining the creative women from whom I descend. Though I may not have known them, we are bound by the love of family and our common love of handcraft.

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Plaids and Polka Dots

Yes, more Ps. Though I’m particulately delighted with these ones, I have to say. Plaids and Polka Dots have infultrated my crafting. And I’m very grateful. Sometimes you have a lull in the creative output and you’re just not sure where to go next. Up until a couple of days ago, I’d been feeling that way about my next quilt endeavor after Birds in the Air (which is basted and waiting to be quilted together, though I’m debating between different ways of going about this: traditional, not traditional? but I digress…) I’d been waiting hopefully and futily for that spark of inspiration. Since it hadn’t yet hit, I decided to occupy myself with another one of those quick little patchwork projects and, pretty much out of the blue, came up with this plaid and polka dot purse:

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I think the theme is pretty clear. Of course, I couldn’t help mixing things up a bit with the lining:

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It’ll make a wonderful little clutch: the perfect size for keys, cell phone, etc. But even better, this random little project turned out to be just the inspiration I needed for embarking on my next quilt. In the spirit of both tradition and innovation- and continuing with this combination of plaids and polka dots- I am embarking on a Log Cabin quilt.. witha twist. So far I have two blocks that capture the overall images I’m going for:

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I love the play of hard-edged geometry and circular motifs and it’s mirrored (in reverse) in the patterns on the fabric. Furthermore, this satisfies my craving for some classical quilting (though I’ll admit these are unusally large Log Cabins) and my own touch. As soon as the idea entered my head, I knew this was it. I’m still nor sure how I’ll combine the blocks, how similar the polka dot squares will be; I like to let these sorts of things figure themself out during the process. Nothing feels better than the excitement of a new project. However, for the record, circular quilting is just plain difficult- I could only do the smallest circle by hand. I will persist nonetheless since I love the look and every bit of practice helps.

Now, I have recently been accused of becoming more of a ‘quilter’ than ‘knitter.’ I promise it’s not the case!  I’ll admit that quilting has been taking up a lot of my creative energy these days, but knitting is still my constant companion. And thanks to many stolen moments of stockinetting (while reading, before lectures, etc.) I’ve actually progressed quite far on my other Log Cabin project:

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As you can see, I opted out of the cardigan. There are two reasons for this: 1. I have enough cardigans and 2. I clearly wasn’t going to have enough yarn for long sleeves. Actually, three reasons: I became enchanted with the idea of a roomy vest-like sweater, something I can wear in the winter over long sleeves but into the Spring as well. Now, what I didn’t anticipate is not having enough yarn to finish the right shoulder. Yes, at the end of the second to last blue stripe, I ran out of blue. Unsurprisingly, my first reaction was: it doesn’t get more annoying than that. But necessity is indeed the mother of invention (who knows that better than a quilter?) so I’m going to roll with it and somehow (I haven’t  decided how just yet) the upper right shoulder of my Log Cabin sweater vest will be quite unique. Perhaps I’ll mimic my quilt-in-progress and do some polka dot knitting! It’s delightful how stumbling upon one little element of design can offer so many possibilities.

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Pret-a-Porter Patchwork

I realize that at some point I will run out of p-words to alliterate with patchwork, but so farI’m on a roll. And this particular title is quite fitting. You see, the semester has finally settled and I actually know what courses I will be taking; my thesis (of course), the Folklore of Women, Ancient Mesopotamian Art and my beloved Visual and Environmental Studies (=art) class which basically enables me to quilt and knit for credit!

Despite my excitement for the semester- the beginning of the term is always so optimistic and fresh- I can’t help but look forward to my mid-March Spring break. My thesis will be done, my senior year coming to a close- and I’m headed back to Puerto Rico! (Withdrawal set in quickly; I bought the plane tickets my last day there). So in the day-dreaming spirit, I decided to make myself  a little patchwork something that won’t actually be put into use until either 1. The weather warms up here or 2. I go somewhere where the weather is always warm. Something tells me the latter will happen first, so I’ll call these amy Puerto Rico Patchwork  Shorts:

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OK, I realize they’re sort of goofy but, as my friends and family and poor boyfriend can attest, I’ll really wear them! If nothing else, they’ll be fun lounging-by-the-beach-wear (and you probably recognize some of the antique fabrics, I couldn’t resist sneaking some scraps in). But that’s not the only reason I made them. After following the pattern for that Patchwork Purse, I decided to exercise a little more precision on my own. These shorts are therefore the product of a lot of measuring and borderline tedious attention to detail. At the risk of sounding preachy, those little details really are worth it! In the end, the project was a whole lot easier since everything fit together so nicely. That’s not to say I won’t continue to embrace my improvisational methods. These have a time and place of their own (they’re not really suited for something that’s mean to be worn) and a way to be ‘harnessed’ so that the end product at least somewhat fulfills the initial vision. Michael James and the traditional quilting world is having its influence, but I’m sure that in the end my approach will fall somewhere between the technically pristine and the freewheeling.

I should probably note that this isn’t the first time I’ve made wearable patchwork. There’s my bag and hat which I’ve already shown, and a skirt that I made this past Fall. It was quick and simple to make, and a pleasure to wear:

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I guess what it boils down to is the fact that I truly love the patchwork aesthetic; whimsical juxtapositions, the sense of salvage, and of course the color and pattern. And part of that love involves, apparently, a desire to actually wear patchwork. Filmmaker and performance artist Jack Smith- again, not an artist that I have much of an immediate parallel with- completely immersed himself in his aesthetic, filling his New York apartment with debris from the streets. I suppose I have the same impulse. I even have a patchwork key-chain:

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On another note, I’ve concluded that my Birds in the Air quilt is finished; I’m just working on the back and waiting for the batting to arrive. I enjoyed my foray into truly traditional quiltmaking  but I have to admit I’m itching for a little innovation, a little something different and all my own. So far, my many ideas haven’t been translated to the page or the needle and are confined to my mind’s constant musings. So I’m giving myself this weekend to ponder, conjure and see what I come up with before embarking on my next quilt.

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