Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lights, Camera, Action -- Go Crazy!

As technology grows, so does our imagination. Digital photography, printers, photo transfer -- what an amazing array of quilts have sprung from this technology alone.

With an ink jet printer as well as some quilting know-how, a photo-transfer quilt is only a few clicks and stitches away. Back in my grandmother's day, I think crazy quilts took the place of memory or photo quilts. The maker used embroidery, initials, symbols of people and events they wanted to remember. Women made a life quilt that included birth information and other special memories that stopped only when the maker considered the quilt finished. Sometimes another quilter finished up what the maker had begun by embroidering the date of the maker's death.

Maybe my association with crazy quilts and memories makes it reasonable to incorporate photos into crazy quilts, along with the symbols, dates, names, and embroidery embellishments. Every culture has a cloth of some kind that recalls a life....none of us want to live and die in obscurity, so maybe making a life quilt is the answer.

There are online galleries of what other quilters have made using their imagination and the new technology. Not all photos are of loved ones, as this quilt featuring photos of stylized crosses attest.

Although this blog began as a tribute to photo transfer quilts, I think it should end with a trip to the Crazy Quilt Society's webpage. I find the crazy quilt so inspiring and a perfect venue for stitching together a life well lived -- and crazy seems to describe me so well.

I particularly love the Society's crazy cups exhibit -- quilts don't need to lay on the bed, you know!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sewing Machines

I've been thinking of sewing machines lately.

Some I remember with nostalgia, some I lust after. My grandmother's old Singer treadle machine brings on waves of nostalgia. The $5,000 Bernina with all of the bells and whistles in the showroom at the mall makes me lust.

I can't remember a time when sewing machines weren't a main stay in our household. There was always a corner or room devoted to sewing.

Sadly, by the time I was old enough to use it, the Singer no longer worked. Someone had put a motor on it and nothing seemed to entice it to run. A girlfriend in high school sewed her 4-H projects on a treadle machine similar to Grandma's, so when I see the machine sitting in my bedroom, now serving as a bedside table and dressing/make up table, I think of Regina as well as Grandma.

Mom had several machines -- a Kenmore that was a terror when it came to adjusting the tension. And then the 'modern' Singer -- a white beauty with drop-in bobbin. But it seemed to have internal issues and Mom went back to her dependable Kenmore that worked beautifully once the tension was properly adjusted.

When I married, I bought a bottom of the line, basic Kenmore. It was cheap and familiar. And supposedly they had overcome the tension adjustment problem by 1970 when my model was made. It came with a buttonholer. An attachment that actually worked fairly well. I spent $99 for that machine and my husband thought it an extravagant investment. Of course almost 37 years later, I'm still using the same machine. Which may explain the lust I feel for that beautiful Bernina that can sew whether I'm sitting beside it or not.

I sewed many shirts for my husband and two sons, little coveralls, curtains, dresses, and quilt squares. I'm still sewing on it. But I'm wondering how special it would be to resurrect Grandma's treadle machine and make an heirloom on it. I even have some of her unfinished quilt tops, squares and fabric that I could use....

I wonder if anyone fixes vintage Singer sewing machines -- maybe a certain husband of mine? Hmmm.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Knitters are stitchers, too

Mary Beth Temple has written a book The Secret Language of Knitters that every knitter will thoroughly enjoy. Even almost knitters, wannabe knitters, now-and-then knitters will embrace this.

It is the perfect size to fit into your knitting bag or slip into a present for other knitters or should-be knitters. From addict to Yarn Porn, this book explains it all.

When I was a teen, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" was a best seller (it probably still is since its a timeless subject). Now it is everything about knitting....

Before you think I've turned into a dried up old prune of a woman who sits and knits rather than well, you know --partakes of sex goddess stuff-- Mary Beth includes sex in her book.

For those non-knitters, SEX is short for 'Stash Enhancement Expeditions.' In other words, a road trip with yarn. Then she breaks it down into cheap sex, group sex, sex drive....

Don't get me wrong, this isn't an x-rated book by any means, just a wonderful tongue-in-cheek, insider look at knitting from a died-in-the-wool addict. She observes, "...interesting that many words knitters use to describe their hobby have somehow migrated from the language of the illegal drug trade." Then she lists: "stash, needles, dealer, habit, addiction...."

She cautions: "Next think you know there will be a twelve-step program: 'Hello my name is MaryBeth, and I am addicted to alpaca.'"

Well for me, I'm addicted to Mary Beth's laugh-out-loud, ohhh too true Secret Language of Knitters.

I suspect that every creative needler has a similar language.

On a different plane, but just as addictive. I stumbled across a site dedicated to art quilts and their amazing artists located in upstate South Carolina. The site and group are called Focus. Their mission statement explains, "Focus was formed to provide active support, stimulation and motivation for its individual members to express their creativity, in particular through the medium of fabric. A key objective of Focus is to increase public awareness of the art quilt through the unique message of each member's own work."

Take a look at the gallery and see what these Focus members are producing. You'll recognize some of these women and their work, I'm sure. If this doesn't inspire you, maybe you need more SEX -- you know "stash enhancement expeditions."

Happy needling!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Family Heirlooms as Art

Shirley Roeder a friend and member of the Town and Country Quilters made the first photo quilt I had seen. She featured photos of her son's experiences in high school. Like most of us, she copied the photos onto fabric and set them together with boarders to make a traditional square patch of photos and frames. If I remember right the photos tended to fade and those first photo quilts had a short life span.

Technology has opened up all kinds of possibilities for using photos and fading is no longer an issue.

FiberArts Magazine, 2004, offered a look at what some artists are doing on the topic of Immigration and the photo included here was drawn from that article.

The photo also reminds me of the quilts made using traditional patterns such as the Ohio Star or Churn Dash that has traditional 12-inch patterns with a large quilt-size version of the pattern that comes forward from the use of color and piecing choices.

I also like the idea of using ephemera or photos of accessories and ephemera to tell a story about someone. To make a quilt of Mom -- I would include photos of her hands, her bible, the stained glass window of the church she attended from childhood through adult. Her glasses, her pies, recipes, letters, favorite books, her crochet hook -- all would remind me of stories and memories. And these pictures would probably be set together in a flower garden design or that pattern would be incorporated. Maybe a double wedding ring or the big bold Bethlehem Star. Being a teenager in the 1930s certainly impacted her life and much of her quilting reflects the patterns of that era.

Just thinking about a loved one for only a few minutes would give you plenty of ideas what to include to remind you of them and the memories you have of them. At the site Stories Untold: Jewish Pioneer Women the artist has set pages of handwritten diary in blocks along with a photo of the diary's writer. She used various quilt block patterns to further enhance the message and memory. A few other ideas:
  • Think about combining ink stamps with photos.
  • Lay out your quilt as you would a scrapbook page
  • Embellish with doilies crocheted or tatted or knit by the photo subject, or add antique buttons or scraps from their clothing or a lace collar.
  • Use the subject's favorite color or as Shirley Roeder did, set photos together using school colors.
  • Include a glove or sock or other clothing in its entirety
  • My father always used a red bandana -- use those as quilt squares
  • My uncle worked for the railroad -- include logos, items and signs and symbols of your quilt subject's work or employer.
Once you get started, there is no stopping the possibilities of what to include. Setting those photos and ephemera together in a unique juxtaposition -- now that's the challenge.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Purrfect combination: Cats and Quilts

If you have a love for cats and for quilting, the two shall soon become one. I have yet to meet a cat who can resist a quilt, particularly one under construction.

Cats and quilts have always been a part of my life. During childhood our many miscellaneous cats helped Mom at the quilt frame or kept the quilt in use between sessions. After all, what is a quilt for if not to cuddle up in? Currently our sweet yellow tiger, Bernie, wants to have a hand er I mean paw in (and a say) about construction of anything. But he has a definite curiosity about fabric projects. He even takes a turn at clean up. He carries away scraps and threads like a dog with a bone. Bernie is king of our household and our two older cats have learned to make the best of it. Above Marcel (the dark tiger) shares his favorite chair with ornery Bernie.

A quick web search brings lots of cat related projects together beginning with a favorite of mine: Jinny Beyer's tesselating tabbies kit with everything you need to make a quilt top and binding. She also offers a free pattern for her tesselating calio cats.

Lots of websites refer to cats. Judy Heim has dedicated her website Cats Who Quilt to ummm well, cats who quilt. And she has written a book aptly titled: Cats Who Quilt with illustrations by Irina Borisova. She has a heartwarming section dedicated to readers' stories about their cats. Some will tug at your soft spot, all will make you want to hug your cat.

A book or series of pattern books by Carol Armstrong have caught my eye. She incorporates light box applique into each highly stylized design and she specializes in the most delightfully personable critters. These books may find their way into my collection. I may not make many quilts, but I have a killer book collection. Rosie, Queen of the Rose Pattern and Cats in Quilts: Purrfect Projects, are just two of Armstrong's books full of her designs.

If you haven't tried your hand at coloring your own quilt blocks, but would like to give it a try, HGTV has a step-by-step project. The show's guest, Sheila Haynes Rauen, provides the pattern and instructions.

But, my all-time favorite cat-themed quilt or wall hanging is provided online
by McCalls. It is Stairway to Cat Heaven. It fulfills all of my needs in a quilt -- nine patch (I don't know why, but I have a weakness for those little squares!) and cats.

Want to make an easy Catnap Quilt for you or for your cat, this pieced pattern makes use of scraps.

For a change of pace -- something you can buy already made for those days when you must leave the quilt frame or hurry to a quilt meeting and its raining umm cats and dogs -- a cat and quilts umbrella!

A page of patterns for cat lovers will get you in the meow mood.

And on a more serious note. For all of those cats and kittens, dogs and even hamsters, living in shelters, maybe you would care to make and donate a snuggle for a shelter animal. Hugs for Homeless Animals have many ways you can help these orphans find homes.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Poetry as Visual Art

Today I discovered poems that speak to me in a way that makes my heart race and lips smile. It is an ah-ha moment for me. It is a kind of art that I can wrap my arms around. Poems that reflect my love of words as well as my obsession with visual fabric art. Sadly I'm not finding the images online to share with you. Above is one from DeviantArt

These poems should be seen rather than heard. They have various names for basically the same thing: calligrams, concrete poems, shaped poetics. They all rely on visual images made up of words.

We've probably all seen them before, maybe even made them. Teachers use them in the classroom. One of the most common arranges a phrase such as this one: "I walk upstairs and walk back down." And the words forms the stair steps that go UP and back down. Or use words as in this accompanying photo from Shelley Paul.

Another aspect of these visual poems that excite me comes in the way they can unite or at le
ast introduce some of us Westerners to Islamic calligraphy. Just writing the alphabet in Arabic looks beautiful, but place those letters into words and words into pictures and it will refresh your soul.

This form looks like something a quilter, embroiderer, fabric painter,needlepointer, paper artists, could have a lot of fun with.

And as the Aga Kahn,leader of the world's 15 million Ismaili Shia Muslims believes, art can become the medium of discourse that transcends barriers".

"The essential problem, as I see it, in relations between the Muslim world and the West is a clash of ignorance," he said in a recent speech.

What a beautiful way to connect to other worlds -- through fabric, words and beauty.

Another form that just begs to be included in pieced are Patchwork Poems. I understand them to be drawn from other poems. I line here, a word or phrase there, then pieced together into a new, original poem of your own. Ultimately the new poem should make a statement, have meaning, too. How fun to combine the two into Cali-pieced poem.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Ohio Star and variations

I'm a native Ohioan. One of my favorite traditional patterns has been and will always be the Ohio Star. No surprise there. It has been a popular pattern for a good many years, first appearing in 1815, according to DawnPages quilt history.

What surprises is what people have done with this simple little pattern of squares and triangles. Check out the photo of Kaffe Fassett beside one of his dazzling Ohio Star quilts at the Festival of Quilts, 2006. offers directions for constructing a basic Ohio Star block. The Quiltaholics offer a variation based on colors and turning a few squares into triangles. Quiltville offers a variation based upon size of the individual blocks, setting them together in a colorful, pleasing configuration. It is a good choice for a quilt made from a block exchange. Quiltville also offers great photos and step-by-step directions on piecing blocks efficiently. And if you want to make it in a day, check out Eleanor Burns, she even has some cute socks sporting Ohio Stars for sale on her site.

How about an Amish version?

An antique quilt at Stella Rubens Antiques shows how an Ohio Star pattern changes with added borders. And miniaturist Kate Adams demonstrates what Ohio Star quilts look like in antique fabrics and teeny tiny pieces. Note that Adams frames her finished quilts, a fantastic idea for displaying your own projects and turning them into art....

Then, check out what artist and quilter Rita Denenberg does with an Ohio Star. Rita writes on her site,

I took the traditional Ohio Star pattern,
blew it up and gave it dimension. I left the traditional
blocks in the corners. This quilt is hand pieced
and hand quilted.

And we can't forget the luscious, amazing and startling version of The Ohio Star that Caryl Bryer Fallert created and offers for sale at only $3,000.

For a departure from the basic fabric quilts, check out the barn project where traditional patterns have been painted on barns across Southern Ohio.

This is only a tiny sampling of what I found on the Internet this evening. As I find more variations, I'll be adding them. If you have some to add, please let me know!

Addition: A beautiful antique Ohio Star and Carolina Lily quilt circa 1920 offered by Betsy Telford in vibrant Christmas colors on a pristine white background. And below is a book devoted to Ohio Star variations by Jackie Robinson
available on Amazon.

Fellow writer and quilter, Marijke Durning sent me a photo of her version of the Ohio Star. She used a flowered fabric to showcase the center of each star. A friend from Town and Country Quilters in Lima, OH made Ohio Stars using the center as a place to showcase a miniature of another pattern -- sail boats, card tricks, even small Ohio Stars.

Quilt designers Jean Wells and Marina Anderson offer a book, A Celebration of Hearts that features heart quilts. One pattern is an Ohio Star variation. I believe it is the top middle block.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Starting small

I'm one of those needlers who started learning the sewing arts as a 4-Her. Every summer I attended meetings in the elementary school home economics room, if I remember right. There we learned how to sew straight seams, circles, and hems from Carolyn and Kathleen McCague and from Clair Schick's Mom. I suffered over that first apron and pincushion more than any project I've made since. But I learned enough to make most of my clothes and those for my children and shirts for my husband. It was the 70s -- sewing and baking and gardening were in style. And they benefited our meager budget. While Mom crocheted afghans and pieced quilts using the patterns she loved from her teen years during the 1930s -- flower gardens, double wedding rings, Star of Bethleham.... I dreamed of making all sorts of things, but never got around to it.

So now I start small with little miniature quilts, a birdhouse wall hanging using directions by Debbie Mumm, and fabric bowls.

The bowl projects was the first time I had tried to make something that wasn't to wear or to cover up with (the birdhouse wall hanging came later). I stumbled across Linda Johansen's "Fast, Fun and Easy Fabric Bowls" book and just had to give it a try. I became totally fascinated by adhering fabric to rigid interfacing with that iron on bondable stuff, like stitch witchery only better. The secret to great success is to iron on the paper side, not on the fusible side -- it could destroy a hot iron in the blink of an eye.

But, it is this use of unusual materials (for me, they're unusual) and new procedures that has drawn me ever closer to making art quilts. Remember my mother is a traditional quilter, a daughter of a long line of traditional quilters whose roots harken back into Pennsylvania Dutch territory. Transitioning away from the tried and true fabric quilts made from traditional patterns for utilitarian purposes, took some doing.

I go to quilt shows and am drawn to the art quilts, trying to figure out the techniques used or the amazing array of fabrics incorporated into quilts. Tulle and organza-- I would never have thought to use it, but it works so beautifully. And the use of dissolving fabrics so that the stitches seem to float, well, they do float and create a new fabric all their own. And the appliques, the use of fabric paints and markers, embellishments, found objects, paper and print and photos....The list is endless.

Now, as soon as I can convince my husband that I can't live without that $5000 Bernina sewing machine that embroiders and quilts with or without me, then maybe I'll be a giant step closer to making my own art quilt. In the meantime, I peruse a variety of websites and drool over the work of such gifted quilters. Quilters I hope to interview and discuss in upcoming blog entries.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Quilting World

Everyone seems to begin their quilting tale with 'when I was a child....' and go on to tell about quilting or sewing with Mom. I'll skip that part -- its true, but it didn't lead me to become a great quilt teacher or designer (like Carol Soderlund) or even train me to make a quilt....I'm still working on all of that.

In the meantime, I write about quilters and quilts and the quilting community. So let me kick off this quilting blog -- I mean the world really, really, really needs another blog -- with one of my favorite quilt essays
about my favorite guy.

Real Men

by Dawn Goldsmith
(previously published in Christian Science Monitor Home Forum, photo credit: Derrol Goldsmith)

He loves me. I know he loves me, but when my husband, Derrol, agreed to accompany me to a quilt show on a Midwestern May perfect-for-fishing day, I got an inkling of the level of his devotion.

He had second thoughts while hunting for a parking space in the crowded lot. He watched the clusters of women streaming toward the entrance and muttered, “I’ll be the only guy there.”

And walking in the front door of the local community college, he issued an admonition, “Don’t you dare ask me to discuss these quilts with you.”

I agreed to his terms, knowing how little he liked to analyze anything except accounting reports and spreadsheets. I grabbed his arm and joined the queue of women, anxious to soak up the display of fine fabric art and imaginative interpretations in cloth. Maybe my enthusiasm was contagious; for it didn’t take him long to stop dragging his feet and start eyeing the various ‘blankets,’ as he called them.

“That one’s not bad,” he volunteered.

“I like the colors,” he said, admiring a vibrant black and orange creation.

We strolled up and down the corridors bordered on both sides by bed-size pieces of art that not only provided beauty but a more basic offering of warmth. What other kind of artwork can wrap around its admirers in a fabric hug?

I ohhed and ahhhed over the tiny stitches, more than 16 to an inch. I stood back and leaned forward while examining the fabric, color choices, intricate quilting designs and perfectly executed piecing and appliqué. I marveled at the teeny tiny pieces of fabric sewn in place, the perfect place, and held there by invisible hand stitches. Thousands of stitches in each quilt. I saw the same pattern used by various quilters and admired the totally unique quilts that sprang from the same triangles and squares, but took on one of a kind personalities through color and quilting, borders and appliqués. My favorite geometric quilts held Derrol and me captive as they performed their illusions. One minute we saw ocean waves, with a turn of the head or a squint of an eye, the pieces broke apart like a kaleidoscope and presented another design.

We had almost completed our tour of the auditorium when a PA system announced the guest speaker, California master quilter Patty McCormick would soon begin her presentation. She would speak about her role as a ‘quilt expert’ during the filming of Steven Spielberg’s movie “How to Make an American Quilt.”

“Do you mind?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Sure, whatever you want. Any excuse to sit down.”

We sat in the last row of chairs gathered around a makeshift riser and a backdrop of quilts that had been featured in the movie. I couldn’t wait to examine the colorful appliquéd quilt, the central figure of the movie, and I admired the simplicity of the African picture quilt, but my eyes kept returning to the black velvet embroidered baby quilt. The thought, “I could do that,” kept running through my head like a streaming tape until she began to speak.

Patty, a middle-aged pixie, reeled us in with her energy, humor and ease. We relaxed and listened, laughed and applauded.

“Let’s meet her. I’d love to get a picture of her and me. Would you mind?” I asked Derrol at the conclusion of her speech.

He jumped up, shouldered the camera case and said, “Let’s go.”

We headed toward the front where the speaker and author of “Pieces of An American Quilt” signed and sold copies. By the time we worked our way through the crowd Patty had stepped away from the table and was mingling, attempting to find the exit and escape. I tentatively asked, “Ms. McCormick, would you care if we took a picture?”

“I would love it,” she crowed and threw herself into my husband’s arms. “I saw you at the back of the room and so appreciated your smiles,” she said grinning up into my husband’s beaming face. “It takes a brave man to spend the day alone with hundreds of women.”

I hesitated, gaped, then reached for the camera and asked them to pose.

Patty wrapped her arm around behind him and leaned against his chest, snuggling into his arm that automatically embraced her just like he held me. She lingered a moment after the flash and said, “I enjoy seeing a man who appreciates quilts.”

“Oh, yeah. Quilts are great,” my husband responded, not moving.

I took another picture.”