Monday, September 22, 2008

Ricky Tims inspired weekend

The weekend loomed before me without major projects, scheduled work, or anything I really needed to get done. Yes, I could do laundry, cook, clean, the usual chores, but nothing pressed. That elusive thing called 'free time' stood invitingly before me.

With my favorite Outlander audio book playing, I settled into a comfy chair with a few quilt books, seeking inspiration. Something not too hard. Some new technique, but not overwhelming. Something I wouldn't need my left-brain to figure out. Math and me -- not a great combination.

The word 'convergence' jumped out at me. What was it doing on the front of a quilt book? What a great word. Especially when followed by the terms: mysterious, magical, EASY, and fun. My kind of quilt project for this lazy weekend. Thus I opened Ricky Tim's book: Convergence Quilts.

In truth I've been looking for something to hang on the bare walls, something not too wild, but a little modern, a little artsy, a little different. Since we're living within a no-frills budget at this time, something I could make with what I already own, seemed the way to go. Ricky seemed to think I could do a convergence quilt. He nudged, "In my experience," he wrote in the book, "the most successful way to learn is to move past idle curiosity to actual exploration and experimentation."

He further nudged by suggesting that these quilts go together quickly and take up little time. Somewhere along the way I sensed that ugly fabrics, those I don't know what to do with or are not favorites would be perfect for a convergence quilt project. So I dug through my stash, came up with some leftovers from other projects and one with a rather modern larger design, and one that made me wonder why I had ever purchased it. Ricky's examples were mostly made using hand dyed fabrics and his finished products had a delightful artsy feel to them. Modern, perfect for my house. I used none such fabrics.

I read, followed directions, probably messed up one step at least, and proceeded happily zipping my little rotary cutter along fabric after fabric, stitching, reading, ironing, and then imagining. What I had created looked like a background. I added borders. I knew I had some fusible interfacing so I cut out some silhouettes from black fabric and ironed them on. And suddenly I have something that makes me smile. Will it win awards?


Ricky addresses worries about making MY quilt verses one that looks like those made by award winners. He seems to stress just having fun with the project. Enjoying the process as well as the end product. I like this guy. I like the idea of making a quilt while wearing a cowboy hat. And I like the way he combines beautiful words, music, (harmonic convergence) and quilts.

It was a fun weekend and I will soon have something to hang on my wall. Although now I need to paint the wall to 'harmonize' with my new wall hanging. Modern? Artsy? Well, not exactly. But, well, it turned out better than I expected, so whatever style you want to call it, it will hang on the wall until I make something better. And each time I look at it I will remember this weekend spent with fabric and cats and my husband whooping in the background because America won the Ryder Cup.

Photos: (top) Quilt top with inspiring book and cat patterns. Center photo: Ricky Tims. Last photo: Quilt top with cat silhouettes pressed in place.

Monday, September 15, 2008

MY VIEW: Review of C&T Print Books

In honor of complete disclosure, let me confess that I am an armchair quilter. Like an armchair quarterback I can sit on the sidelines and observe others successes, failures, near misses, and award winners. I'm much handier at looking through the books, watching videos and television programs, and mentally listing all of the quilts I'd like to make. It may be the perfectionist in me, knowing that once I cut the fabric, the quilt will never measure up to the one I envisioned. Most of the time I admire quilts with wonder, usually an "I wonder how they did that?"

Jan Krantz's video (previously reviewed) gave me insight and confidence that I can actually create what she demonstrated. Three books, released in August, 2008, by C&T Publishing, caught my interest and gave me confidence.

Nothing would please me more than to combine my love of minutia, memoir, and computer with quilting. Krista Camacho Halligan's book Photo-Fabric Play ($16.95) gives me directions for a variety of projects from blocks and shadowboxes to the usual assortment of wall hangings and quilts. She takes time to explain required equipment and then how to use it to accomplish the required tasks. Her projects feature children or are for their use or their decor, but with imagination and creativity could easily be adapted to other members of the family or to display antique possessions or copies of them.

Since I'm not a scrapbooker with a cache of rubber stamps and embellishments, I need to purchase the materials for each project. Scrapbookers might be better prepared. The wall hanging and quilt designs featured basic easy-to-accomplish layouts and patterns with the focus on how to use the photos and embellishments rather than design art quilts. Once one incorporates her directions into a quilt, the design can easily be altered to the makers' taste.

Mary Mashuta's Foolproof Machine Quilting ($20.95) surprised me. I've been a fan of free motion machine quilters. In awe, I worshipped the trapunto and intricate designs often featured on award winning quilts. My own experience were little experiments with pillows and I treated the quilting as regular sewing with the feed dogs up. It worked, but I hadn't seen anyone advocating this type of machine quilting for competitive projects and set it aside. Mashuta's book encourages such quilting and shows how truly lovely it can be. She carefully encourages and explains the use of walking foot attachment and adds the use of paper cut patterns to eliminate the need for markings. I particularly appreciated the terms 'foolproof' and 'No Math!" declarations.

No, this is not the equivalent of free motion quilting, but for a fraidy cat like me and one who appreciates a short-learning curve, this gives me hope that I can indulge in machine quilting and have instant success.

The third book, Applique Jubilee, ($26.95) from the editors and contributors of McCall's Quilting provides 16 projects with hand, machine and fusible applique. I can see my purist ancestors pursing their lips and shaking their heads in horror that I would not only give up hand quilting for machine, but would now resort to raw edge and fusible applique. Getting past these purist attitudes, I admit, give me pause, but I so want to put my visions into cloth and I'm not getting younger, so quicker, more accurate, less tedious methods certainly attract me. I will admit that this book didn't offer anything I hadn't seen before. But it is a nice group of simple patterns for all seasons. For someone just venturing into applique, this might be just the book. A good gift for a new quilter perhaps.

As always with C&T Publishing's books, they are beautifully made -- lovely strong colorful covers, clear directions, lots of photos balanced with white space and helpful hints. The authors offer authority and insight and most of all encouragement that makes me feel that I can create what they include in their books.

Now, time to get out of the armchair and into the game. Stay tuned -- will my first project be applique? A pieced star? Or some machine quilting? Hmmmm. So many possibilities.

Monday, September 8, 2008

MY VIEW: Review of C&T Publishing's latest release: "Jan Krentz Teaches You to Make Lone Star Quilts" on DVD

C&T Publishing offers a series of 14 DVDs which feature master teachers. I reviewed the DVD featuring Jan Krentz teaching to make Lone Star quilts. It was released August, 2008.

Quilter, teacher, designer and artist, Krentz, has earned her title as master quilter. Involved in the craft since a mere slip of a girl, Krentz has written a long list of how-to books and was named 1998 Teacher of the Year by Professional Quilter magazine. Most of her classes and publications deal with diamond block piecing and the star quilts and variations that result such as the Lone Star or Hunter Star.

Krentz paces the DVD at an easy-to-follow rhythm that could lull you to sleep if you aren't captivated by the tips and techniques as well as secrets and helpful hints. The only time my lids closed was toward the end when she sewed basic seams connecting squares and triangles to the diamond shaped legs of her star quilt top. Her smile and willingness to admit mistakes adds to the lessons' appeal. When she accidentally sewed wrong edges together, she turned it into a lesson and showed how to correct the mistake, acknowledging that ripping is definitely part of sewing.

Her lessons include everything from choosing the right tools and fabrics to calculating pattern sizes, allowing for the width of the pencil lead -- that's accuracy! The design mirrors that allow quilters to see a finished star from just one section worked like a magic trick. The DVD was filled to the brim with helpful hints, tool suggestions, and how-tos. Perhaps my favorite aspect, the one that would send me racing to buy a DVD rather than print book, was watching her doing each step of the project. For a novice quilter, this alone got my fingers itching to try it myself.

Additional features introduce viewers to the quilter through her own words and to a gallery of her work. Of course the tour of her studio left me with fabric collection envy and an urge to visit the closest IKEA store. As a bonus, she breaks down the making of a more complex quilt, although it is a bit misleading. She only addresses the central panel. To finish the quilt one would need to study the 'How to Make a New York Beauty" and probably some paper piecing as well.

The DVD cost, approximately $21, seems a reasonable price to pay for the opportunity to spend a few hours with a master quilter. One-on-one with your favorite teacher, repeat as often as you want. View, rewind, review, and keep learning until you master the lessons. New technology to view the lessons, and modern techniques to construct such a classic quilt -- perfect combination.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Stitching their way to freedom!

We quilters love the romance of the quilt, finding messages hidden in plain sight, buying into the underground railroad quilt patterns that pointed slaves toward freedom. And then there is the real deal. Alive and well, and historically proven: the arpilleras.

Arpilleras or cuadros are exquisitely detailed hand-sewn three dimensional textile pictures, that usually depict the life and trials of the Peruvian or Chilean people.
These 3-D quilts are made almost exclusively in Peru and Chili and have a fascinating and disquieting history.

According to the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, "During the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, many Chilean women created complex tapestries depicting the harsh conditions of life and the pain resulting from the disappeared victims of Pinochet’s repression."
Not only were these fabric creations art, they serve as reminders, diaries, documentation of the criminal acts committed against the Chilean people. They became a symbol for the women's protest against Pinochet and his dictatorship.

Through arpilleras workshops women learned to hold leadership roles as president, treasurer, etc. And the arpilleras became a form of income as they found markets for their creations.
Online there are several locations where these art quilts can be purchased and, according to the sites, the proceeds benefit the impoverished women of Peru or Chile. Threads of Hope is one of those sites. And here's another site with arpilleras for sale. And another.

I particularly liked the story of how women who were imprisoned in Chile smuggled messages out past the guards, hidden inside of the three dimensional appliqued figures.
Guards, male of course, saw sewing as 'women's work' and did not see any threat in this passive domestic art.

In Her Hands: Craftswomen Changing the World by Paolo Gianturco is a fascinating book with great photos that includes these art quilts and other products made by women around the world as a means to support themselves and their families and get out of poverty.

I admit that I'm a sucker for subversive stitcher stories and this is one of the best I've heard in a long time. Around the world women are struggling to make a difference, using whatever tools and skills they can lay their hands to. Many of them have picked up a needle and pricked the conscience of the world. In Chile, they toppled a dictator.

The photo depicts city market day with goods of every kind. This 18-inch square is for sale at The Folk Art Gallery for $62 plus taxes, shipping, etc.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fiber Arts Collective for inspiration

Fiber Arts Collective members include my dear friend Eileen Doughty and nearly 50 more artists who strive for originality without sacrificing quality. I particularly like their statement about what binds them together:

There are underlying threads that bind us together as a group:

  • A commitment to excellence in our medium
  • High standards of honesty in our professional life.
  • Ongoing educational programs about fiber and art.
  • Open handed generosity toward others in our field.
Members are available for speaking engagements, gallery shows and group exhibits and some may be available to teach classes.

One member, Ann Harwell, makes her quilts as communication devices -- sharing stories, feelings and ideas. Concerning the construction of her quilts, she says, "I especially want to unite and enhance diverse fabric designs and colors with original template design, intricate precision piecing, and exorbitant quilting." Her quilt "Looking for Heaven on Earth" as shown here certainly tells a story. So much to see. In addition to the story depicted in her quilt, you can see the work of a fine artist. She is just one example of what's being created in this collective. Quilters, weavers, stitchers of all kinds can be found here -- but all, no matter if the medium is called a 'craft' -- they are artists.