Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Tattooed Quilter

My blog entries have been pretty mild as far as 'subversive stitchers' go. But let me raise the bar a bit with the lovely Karen McTavish of Duluth, Minnesota, who has a quilting technique named after her. Ever heard of McTavishing?

If you are into machine quilting, Karen and McTavishing are part of your experience. She invented the curling, waving form of machine filler stitch based upon the image of 'cartoon hair' -- don't think Betty Boop, think Brenda Starr with hair whipping out and curling around her fair face. Now take away the face and you have an idea of the origins of McTavishing. It doesn't just fill the space but gives the quilt a sense of movement as your gaze glides across its surface. It can be used in place of stippling or meandering designs. And looks beautiful on appliqued, pieced or wholecloth quilts, especially in conjunction with trapunto. Karen's gallery gives you superb examples of not only her skill, but of exquisite quilts.

Karen is making waves, garnering awards, and teaching others her techniques. She is causing movement within the quilt world with her innovative techniques and approach to quilting, raising it to an art form.

She has changed the image of quilters forever. Mention 'quilter' to the average guy on the street and he quickly envisioned white haired old lady with bun and Amish heritage. She wears an apron and cap, gathers around quilting frames with others of her kind and they discuss recipes and child raising while sticking little needles in and out and in and out of fabric. Even my own vision of 'quilter' turns more toward the image of Mom or Grandma. But one refreshing view of Karen and you'll never think of quilter quite the same. She is the biker chick with laughing eyes of quilting, and her 'needle' is the Harley Davidson of the quilting world.

She and her long-arm machine eat up the miles, travel down roads others have never traveled and feel the wind in her hair.... Well, you get the picture. One other thing you need to envision when thinking Karen McTavish: tattoos.

She translates her quilt designs into skin art. Now that's my idea of a subversive stitcher.

If you want to learn more about Karen's techniques with cloth, not skin, she has a new book out: Quilting for Show: A Practical Guide to Successful Competition Quilting is available. She has written several books. But it was her trivia game for quilters that caught my attention! Sew You Want to be a Quilter has a game board and uses colored spools of thread as game pieces. It comes with 500 cards filled with questions about what else, quilting! The players must travel to four quilting shops before they can win and all start out together at the gazebo. Answer questions correctly and advance the number of spaces decided by a throw of the dice. Informative and fun and something to do when not working on quilts. Or a great way to educate your family into the world of quilting. I want one! I want one!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Revving up for 2008

Have you made your list of New Year's Resolutions? Maybe finishing up what you started last year is at the top? Don't let that resolution keep you from starting something new! What techniques do you want to try in 2008? What quilt are you yearning to make? This is the year for experimentation, give yourself permission to get your hands dirty and to muck up a few projects before you get it right.

What's on your 'to make' list? Looking for ideas? Maybe block of the month sounds interesting? I loved the one Debbie Mumm put together for last year and here's one that kicks off the new year with a January flower motif from Quilt Design Wizard's website.

Maybe this is the year to start making journal quilts. A smaller version in which you can try your hand at new techniques that you've wanted to try, but was afraid to fail and ruin a big project. So these page sized projects can be just what you need to give yourself permission to try something new. And they fit together into a notebook so you can keep samples of various techniques and projects and inspirations. Or trade them, or enter them in contests.

Karey Bresenhan has put together a book, Creative Quilting: The Journal Quilt Project, to help you get started and of course it is available on Amazon.

My 'to make' list begins with: clean the 'crap', I mean 'craft' room, followed by 'buy a new sewing machine.' Yes, I'm still getting by with my 'vintage' 1970 Kenmore basic no-frills that I actually bought NEW in 1970. I've resigned myself that Santa is not bringing me the $5,000 Bernina I drooled over last summer.

But, once I get the sewing machine, I have a plan. It's called: Books on Tape quilting. I love the Diana Gabaldon series of books "Outlander" and Drums of Autumn".... and my dear husband bought me the first audio book. So, in order to listen to it, I need a sewing project to work on. It is that old 'blue collar' work ethic that says I can't just sit and listen, I must be DOING something.

Thus, I need a project and fast! I could go ahead and make the Christmas decoration that I never started. Hmmm. That might work. Maybe actually start cutting the fabric I bought almost two years ago for a quilt for my son and his wife. Now my other son is married and I need to make another quilt for them. What about one for our bed? And the guest room.... Pillows might be a good place to begin. I still have shams to make to match a window treatment. I've wanted to make something fowl -- as in chicken -- for the kitchen. We live in Oviedo, a place known for its free-range chickens that dominate the downtown shopping scene.

And I do live in Florida -- maybe a beach scene wall hanging or strip-pieced fish-shaped placemats. And I have been wanting to make a crazy quilt before I totally lose my mind.... Or maybe I've lost my mind and I'll try some Jacobean patterned applique or a Baltimore Album quilt. So many choices. I need to start just one.

What will you be doing in 2008? I'd love to see what you're working on.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tiptoeing toward Christmas

It is the day.

I finally dragged out the decorations, turned on Christmas music and dressed the tree in a few garlands, ribbon, and ornaments. It looks quite festive.

I have great intentions of making a tree skirt. In fact there is one half made in my 'to be completed' pile. I believe it has been there for about five years. I look at it every year and somehow never get around to finishing it. I've packed it up and moved it, but can't quite seem to find the time to finish it. Maybe for next year....

While setting knick-knacks around the house, positioning our stuffed reindeer family, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the nativity set, and Santa and reindeer, I kept wondering what I'd use at the base of the tree. Then inspiration struck.

Another antique quilt. If you'll recall my last blog discussed the crazy quilt that now covers the table near my husband's chair -- by the way so far nothing has been broken. Whew!

I keep my antique quilts packed away all year. Can't really enjoy them very much that way. They aren't heirloom quality, they are sentimental quality. I remember sleeping under the flower garden quilt that Mom had made before she was married.

She may have worked on that while trying not to worry about the Great Depression that settled on the land while she was graduating from high school. She may have stitched those hexagons together around the happy yellow centers as her parents were packing their things to move from the farm that the bank had repossessed.... But my memories of the quilt include only good times, happy dreams of a young girl.

So this year that worn, but still colorful quilt, encircles the base of my now decorated Christmas tree. A few presents lay atop it already. And I wouldn't be surprised if before the evening is over, three cats will have staked out a snoozing spot on it.

Yes it is an antique, but more than that, it is a link to family. And this year, I need all of the links I can forge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas -- something old, something new....

It has been a bah-humbug kind of year. Where normally we're decorating as soon as the lethargy from Thanksgiving turkey lifts, I'm just today getting the tree put together and standing it in front of the window. No decorations on it, yet, but the lights work.

One of man's best inventions -- the artificial tree with lights already on it. We could have bypassed all of those years of Derrol struggling with lights and then lamenting "when one goes out they all go out." Of course my favorite bubble lights are no longer part of our tradition. Too many years of trying to get those little suckers to stand upright and bubble...we gave up. Can you even buy them any more?

Now it is artificial all the way. We even invested in one of those fiber optic trees -- almost as good as bubble lights. And that is where my something old, something new comes together. This year I'm feeling adventurous. My husband, the clutz when it comes to breakables, makes it necessary to put all breakable decorations in safe places. Long before children I was 'Derrol' proofing the house. But this year on a table in the same room with my husband's favorite chair situated strategically across from the television, I am placing breakables.

The lovely white and gold gilt ceramic set of carolers and Christmas trees that my mother-in-law gave us is sitting beneath the fiber optic tree (a short three footer). The whole arrangement is resting on the antique crazy quilt my great-grandmother made. The carolers in their Victorian coats and hats, stand beneath a Victorian style street light. The quilt, a pattern from the Victorian era fits perfectly with the setting and even seems to embrace the new fiber optic technology. Wouldn't great grandma be surprised at that. When she was decorating trees, they still used candles -- real candles.

It just occurred to me that my great-grandmother would have been making this quilt, sewing the stitches, planning the squares, collecting the fabric, embroidering the designs during that pre-1900 era. That's goosebump worthy. Just think, a quilt has been around to see history made from pre-Civil War times. It is older than the automobile....what stories it could tell. I wish great-grandma was here to tell me why she chose the motifs she did and who the initials stand for and what those people mean to her. So much history in a quilt.

Maybe it was a Christmas gift? Maybe it is decorated with memories from her own Christmases. But for this year, the quilt, the carolers, even the little fiber optic tree come together to make a Christmas memory for us. The room is full of memories and family, even though we're miles from those we love.

By the same token I'll drag out the Christmas stockings -- made when our children were little and full of Christmas awe and hope.

Maybe with all of these old things, something new will develop and I can find my way past bah-humbug and embrace that Christmas spirit once again.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Log Cabin Christmas

People who swear they know nothing about quilts will often recognize the old standard: The Log Cabin quilt. And it is a pattern recognized around the world. The quilt speaks of home and hearth, farming furrows, barn raisings, simpler times that revolved around family and home. The traditional block begins with a red center block to represent the hearth of the home or heart of the family.

My sons slept for several years under log cabin quilts made using Eleanor Burns 'Quilt-in-a-Day' directions. One of those twin-sized quilts made the trip with us to Florida and each time I see it, I think of Mom spending hours and hours quilting in the ditch by hand. I believe she vowed NEVER to do that again. We used the Sunshine and Shadow layout for their quilts, but there are so many variations.

By varying the color or the width of the strips you can change the entire look of the pattern. Variations include furrows, diamonds, court house steps, pinwheels, barn raising, sunshine and shadows, well, there seem to be an infinite way of organizing the pieces in a log cabin quilt.

I particularly like this pattern using a pinwheel version of the Log Cabin pattern for a Star of Wonder Christmas wall hanging featured on McCall's website. Directions for making this quilt are included at this site.

The Barn Raising variation reminds me of a Trip Around the World design only with Log Cabin technique. It makes a great basis for an art or illusion quilt.

The Log Cabin pattern seems as American as apple pie and hot dogs. Quilt groups across the country and around the world have turned to the Log Cabin quilt pattern as a logo or name of their organizations. Although we like to think of it as American, Jane Hall, in her article on the Log Cabin pattern's history found that the pattern existed long before Columbus even visited our shores. During the Civil War and around that time frame, the Log Cabin became quite popular with American quilters. And it was slightly before that when archaeologists discovered the pattern in the most unexpected location.

Jane Hall wrote, sometime early in the 19th Century, "when the tombs in Egypt were opened, the British found thousands of small animal mummies, put there as funerary objects of respect for the departed royalty. Some of these are housed in the British Museum today and you can easily see the Log Cabin patterning in the way the strips of linen are wound around the cat or ibex."

Some items in the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland feature the Log Cabin design and are dated in the 1700s. Early farmers in and around Edinburgh cultivated their fields in a pattern much resembling the log cabin design.

To make the piecing even simpler, Billie Lauder came up with the 'faux log cabin' pattern. A 'mock log cabin' pattern begins with a four-patch. I'm a fan of four and nine patch patterns, so this captured my interest. The piecing seems much easier and quicker using this technique, too.

If you want more variations, perhaps the definitive book is by quilter and designer Judy Martin.

Want another variation on the log cabin quilt? What about a story book for kids? Check out Ellen Howard's The Log Cabin Quilt with illustrations by Ronald Himler (Holiday House, 1996 ISBN 0823412474.)