Monthly Archives: May 2009

Spring Cleaning

Since Harvard has the lovely policy of kicking students out of the dorm the day after graduation, I’ve spent the past week doing some preemptive moving out. I’ve also been trying to simultaneously purge in the process, getting rid of all the unnecessary junk that I’ve managed to accumulate over the past year. While it’s easy to throw away old term papers, hair products, contorted paper clips, etc., parting with fabric and yarn is a whole lot trickier. I’ve managed to get rid of some but only when I had such a ridiculously small amount that I would be truly hard pressed to make anything out of it. Think a scrap of yarn approximately three feet long, or a one inch square of fabric. Overall, I’m resigned to the fact that I will go through life with an abundant stash of yarn and fabrics. I’m OK with this.

In honor of this week’s cleansing spirit, however, my mini quilt is a scrap quilt:


There are all kinds of fabrics in here, including antique fabrics and leftovers from the current larger quilt that I’m working on. I like that I managed to use up some of my tiniest bits of cloth. I’m considering make this a Mini Quilt Series since I could really use an outlet for those minuscule scraps that I’m unable to part with for whatever reason. Maybe I can turn them into placemats, or somehow sew them all together… oh, the possibilities.

Spring (well, nearly Summer) Cleaning is a beautiful thing. In addition to simplifying one’s life, it can also turn up the most wonderful of surprises… such as fabric you forgot you had! While unpacking in my room I stumbled upon an old feed sack from the collection that my mom gave me for my birthday. Somehow it got lost in the shuffle.


I’m delighted to have discovered it, though slightly sad that it didn’t make it into the mix with its fellow feed sacks on the giant patchwork pillow or messanger bag. Perhaps it’s a sign that this fabric is meant for something special, something all its own. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do with it, but I’ll keep you posted…

Meanwhile, back at the dorm, I’m about to take down my ‘scrapbook’ lamp, covered in bits of fabric and yarn from projects that I worked on this past year. I couldn’t let it go without a picture~ even though it’s only really been a few months,  it holds too many memories!


(Yes, that’s lucky money taped to the wall behind it. I thought I needed to do something special with these particularly miraculous finds- coins that were difficult to pick up for whatever reason, or the three dollar bills that I found on the street. I told you I was obsessed).

Another aspect of the early moving out has involved taking my sewing machine back to my house which means, yes, a mini break from quilting. It’s slightly painful but I’ll appreciate it that much more when I’m back home- only one week away. It also means I can devote myself entirely to my knitting for a little while. Perfect timing since , thanks to this Domino Knitting technique, my inner knitter has returned 100% percent. I’m nothing short of addicted. I have already finished the first half of my stole:


And a decent amount of the second half as well:


The color combinations follow no rhyme or reason; I’m just choosing as I go. This method of knitting was made for me- colorful, patchworky, simple but interesting to execute. I’ve been carrying my knitting bag with me everywhere (even though this is a relatively bulky project). I can’t get enough. I’m probably known at Darwins (my favorite sandwich shop: as the crazy girl who knits while eating an egg sandwich. Alas, amidst all this feverish stockinette stitching, I managed to make a little slip up and add a triangle on the wrong side of a previous triangle…


I’m not going to lie; it was a painful discovery. And I only realized it once the entire first half was complete- no way I was going to undo all that work. But it didn’t take me too long to recover. Honestly, no one will notice when it’s wrapped around my neck. It does mean there are a few extra squares and that I’ll have to intentionally make the same mistake on the other side since the halves need to be symmetrical to fit together! My sister gave me the most reassuring advice; it makes it that much more my own, a little quirky… she’s right. I don’t tend to follow patterns and perhaps this is my subconscious way of defying them (no offense to Vivian Hoxbro’s brilliant pattern)!

Since Commencement activities begin next week and this weekend is full of final farewell events, my knitting productivity will likely decline for a bit- no worries,  us knitters do indeed have lives… but even the  busiest of times have spare moments and something tells me I’ll manage to squeeze in a few stitches here and there. It’s also the busiest times when I need this the most- whether sewing or stockinetting, these patchwork projects that keep me sane.


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Scraps and Squares

It probably comes as no surprise that I’ve been patchworking with a vengeance this past week. It’s as if all these projects have been residing anxiously at my fingertips and I’ve suddenly been set free to realize them. First things first, I used up (almost all of) the leftover feed sack fabric from my giant patchwork pillow to make a messenger bag:


By now it should be clear that there are few things that I don’tabsolutely love about patchwork. But certainly one of its greatest perks is projects like this; little afterthoughts born of the desire to not be wasteful that turn out to be some of the most useful and well-loved things that you’ve made. Honestly, I don’t have particularly high ambitions for this bag. I went into it as a light-hearted afternoon project to ease myself back into sewing after a week of withdrawal. But it turns out I absolutely love this bag. I’ve been using it nonstop. First of all, it’s my favorite colors. Secondly, it’s incredibly comfortable. I lined it with leftover flannel from my brother’s quilt and added a layer of quilt batting so it’s soft and cushiony on my shoulder.


Clearly, patchwork never fails to surprise and delight. I even have a bit more leftover fabric which I think will go into my Essay Quilt. Speaking of which, progress has been made. I decided to go for the improvisational approach on this one, and to use only fabrics that I already own (which doesn’t exactly limit me given my abundant fabric stash). But I also decided I needed to apply a little method to the madness so I’ve been putting together squares that consist of a solid band down the middle and two complementary blocks on either side. I make them roughly the right size, iron them out and cut them down to 12.5 x 12.5 inch squares. And voila:005

A few that haven’t yet been trimmed:


This turns out to be an extremely rewarding and pleasurable patchwork method. It’s that just-right combination of spontaneity and measurement. So far, I love how it looks… so much so that I imagine it’s going to be difficult to write on these lovely fabric squares! Nonetheless, that’s still the plan. I’m very intrigued by the notion of an Essay Quilt even if it does take a little willpower to put pen to fabric. Yet another thing I love about patchwork; there’s always something new to try.

Which brings me back to knitting. Yes, some of you may have noticed a slight absence of yarn in my past few entries. It’s not that I’ve abandoned knitting. In fact, I finished the back of my cardigan and I’m quite pleased with it so far:


Still, my heart hasn’t really been in it. I certainly plan on finishing this  but a couple of days ago I realised I needed something to spice up my knitting life. So I had the rather uninspired idea of another entrelac scarf. Since I know I love them, I figured a familiar and guaranteed-to-be-rewarding project would put me back in the stockinette mood. I have more Cascade than most yarn stores carry on their shelves so I figured I’d grab a couple extra colors and make a very multi-colored scarf. Fortunately, the knitting forces that be were looking out for me as I stepped into Woolcott and Co. in Harvard Square. While the very obliging saleswoman wound up my yarn, I browsed through some pattern books and stumbled upon Vivian Hoxbro’s “Knit to be Square.”


This book is full of projects using the so-called ‘domino’ knitting technique. It’s somewhat like entrelac with lots of picking up stitches and working on one little square at a time. But it’s slightly different and- this was the real deal breaker for me- makes it easier to add even more color through stripes! To say that I was inspired would be an understatement. It was love at first sight- and at first stitch. This is a brilliant and beautiful method. I don’t tend to follow patterns, but sometimes it’s necessary when picking up a new technique so I’m vaguely following her “Candy Stole.” Here’s what I have so far:


This deeply satisfies the patchwork and color fiend inside of me. My knitting life has been revitalized.

In the spirit of all these squares, I decided that this week’s mini quilt should be a simple homage to this lovely shape- and what a little reorientation can do for its appearance:


Ironically, this is my first mini quilt that is overall shaped like a rectangle but the square is its building block. I used those lovely Japanese fabrics and went for a simple patchwork tilted to the side to give them a diamond-like look. I love a good challenge, but I somehow I’m always drawn back to the simple. It seems like the best designs are often the result of at least a little bit of basic structure. Avoiding the overly-fussy and complex is hardly limiting. As this past week of patchwork goes to show, the square- perhaps the most straightforward of shapes- offers immense possibility.

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Mood Quilting

It’s hard to think of an item more wonderful to have during my last week of rigorous academia than a giant patchwork pillow. Thankfully, just before I was entirely consumed with final papers and take-home finals (which are not better than regular finals, for the record) I managed to finish this enormous bundle of joy:


It’s more than twice my length (and width). I’m utterly in love. It was especially wonderful to have at that point in the evening when you can no longer sit at your desk editing that paper for the hundredth time, and need to climb into bed with a laptop in order to continue working. Thanks to this baby I didn’t have to lean uncomfortably against the wall… however it also has the effect of making it very hard to get out of bed at all- but I suppose that isn’t a bad thing. I had to order a long zipper but fortunately I found some leftover fabric and stuffing to make the inside pillow:


I didn’t have any plain white fabric (bug surprise) but I like that it’s pink; like a little surprise inside. It’s sort of funny to think that I’m cuddling up with a bunch of old feed sacks, but it’s also part of the pillow’s charm. I definitely have enough leftover fabric for a bag (I’m imagining an over-the-shoulder messenger-type bag) which I suppose that will keep the fabrics closer to their original function. But whether on my bed or by my side, these old sacks are serving me well.

Now, since these past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of final schoolwork, the rest of my patchwork productivity has been rather limited. In fact, I used the precious free time that I had to work on my mini-quilts. Turns out, they’re mood mini-quilts. When I started these little quilt sketches I didn’t want to bind myself to making ‘journal’ quilts but to create whatever came to mind. Apparently, what’s been coming to mind lately is my life- and I’ve decided to quilt it out.

The first mini mood quilt (for the 10th of May) isn’t all that exciting. It was raining last week and for whatever reason I felt the need to record that in fabric and thread.


This isn’t meant to be a gloomy, rainy quilt. Quite the contrary. I used the flowery fabrics for the raindrops because it was a lovely, lush kind of rainfall that I didn’t mind at all. It also made it easier to stay glued to my computer screen indoors.

The next mini mood quilt addresses something rather pivotal in my life- the final academic endeavors of my undergraduate career. For two weeks I’ve been writing a paper on female Irish fairy legends and completing a take home exam on ancient Mesopotamian art and architecture. When I realized I needed to memorialize this work in a quilt, I decided to take the literal approach; I simply picked up a sharpie, and wrote passages from my  work onto the quilt.


Here’s the wonderful thing about these mini quilts; I’m often surprised by the ones that I love. To be honest, I simply thought this would be an appropriate way to commemorate the end of my college career. Turns out, I have the inspiration for my next full-size quilt. I find the juxtaposition of text and fabric so interesting. It’s an aesthetic and conceptual fascination. The look is captivating captivating; you’re literally pulled in by the words as much as by the patterns of the cloth. Then there’s the contrast between random passages from two completely different essays that is both perplexing and thought-provoking. It’s a quilt for the brain.

So now I have to decide what exactly to write on my full-size quilt. To be honest, the thought of going over all my old essays isn’t too appealing- plus it seems rather narcissistic. Instead I think I’m going to draw from books that have meant something to me; from Annie Dillard’s “American Childhood” to Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” and Colin M. Turnbull’s “The Forest People.” The books that I’ve loved transformed into my artistic medium of choice; I can’t believe I haven’t thought of this before. And trust me, I realize the irony. Having completed my academic career (at least for now) I am going to make an essay quilt. I handed in my final exam and paper this afternoon, and headed straight back to the room to pick out fabrics that I can write on (not too dark or too patterny; I don’t mind if some of the text is obscured but I’d rather it was mostly readable). But that’s what I love about quilting; it’s not about picking and choosing a particular path. It’s about patching the multiple aspects of your life together.

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Gentle Giants

It turns out that the tail end of senior spring involves- gasp!- some actual work. Faced with the reality of final exams and in the spirit of giving one last solid nod to academia (at least for now), I’ve concentrated this past week on- gasp again!- only one project. Well, sort of. I did finish my brother’s large plaid quilt, having settled on ties and green, red and blue buttons (I do believe they’re subtle enough to agree with his Spartan taste):


Yet the main focus of this week’s patchworking was my giant antique patchwork pillow. The front and back are now complete.


I’m thoroughly pleased with the weaving-inspired motif. I’m equally excited to soon have this gentle giant; a huge, cuddly pillow made out of  beautiful, history-filled antique fabrics. As I had anticipated, I have a respectable amount of fabric left over and I’m thinking of a bag… or perhaps a skirt… Either way, I first have to finish the pillow which will require stuffing, plain white fabric and a zipper (I want to make this  a removable pillow cover so that I can wash it with ease when necessary). I’m hoping that I have the necessary goods stashed somewhere in my bedroom at home since my art class budget is running low, particularly in light of a recent purchase:


I couldn’t resist this fabric (the inability to ‘resist’ seems to be a frequent excuse of mine). First of all, there’s the obvious fact that it’s patchworky. Then there’s the motifs- an iron, scissors, pins and cushions… the articles that surround and invigorate my patchwork endeavors every day. (I can’t way I’m surrounded by butterflies all that often, but they’re also a nice touch). I believe this should be the fabric for my next jacket undertaking, whenever that takes place. It’s fun and colorful and would result in a garment that is truly unique. I have a very basic pattern from which to start but I’m planning on elaborating- or at least modifying- to make it truly my own.

Then, of course, this week’s mini quilt. Naturally, it did occur to me to do something May-related, but somehow I was led astray (perhaps by the copy of African Wildlife Magazine that I inexplicably received in the mail) and decided to do something related to elephants, my favorite gentle giants. I’ve always loved elephants- so has my Dad, so perhaps I inherited this from him- and I’ve always thought of them as soulful creatures, calm and loving. Of course, given my limited amount of time, I couldn’t do anything too elaborate in terms of an elephant motif so I decided to simply cut out a couple little elephants and glue them onto a mini quilt. I have to admit, I don’t think I’d use glue on a larger quilt (I’d stitch them on instead) but this little quilt sketch at least captures the image that I was hoping for:

010 011

Next time I would go for an even stronger contrast between the elephants (recognize the old feed sack?) and background  since the white in both fabrics makes them blend together just a bit. Regardless, I’ve managed to combine my love of patchwork with my love of elephants, and it does in a funny way feel May-appropriate. I imagine these gentle giants as bearers of good luck- and it turns out my instincts aren’t entirely off according to a quick Google search which turned up this website: What better way to start a month than with little patchwork charms of good fortune?

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