Thursday, August 27, 2015

How the Slow Stitching Movement Saved My (Quilting) Life

I should probably say right up front that one of my mom's nicknames for me when I was growing up was Quicksy. To hear her tell it, I invented the art of multi-tasking. That might be stretching things a bit, but I will confess to a tendency to approach most tasks with the intention of crossing them off my "to do" list as quickly as possible. That said, I found myself drawn to Mark Lipinski's "Slow Stitching Movement" and was thrilled to secure a spot in his first slow stitching retreat this past April.

A little background about my foray into quilting will probably help explain why slow stitching came along at precisely the right moment. Although my mom was an accomplished seamstress, I had absolutely no interest in learning to sew by machine. In my twenties, I dabbled in crewel and embroidery, but as a southpaw, it was difficult for me to learn the stitches. I was in my 30's when I took my first cruise and I quickly became hooked on cruising. What a concept! Sit on deck all day with my nose buried in a book, then eat a fabulous dinner and catch a show before being rocked to sleep in my cabin. The only problem was that it wasn't much fun for my then-husband. It seemed I was expected to socialize and carry on a conversation (yes, despite the fact that this was my vacation!). Being the type-A personality that I am, clearly I had to find something else that I could do while carrying on a conversation and socializing. Following my usual modus operandi, I researched hobbies that would fulfill these criteria and a new quilter was born. Imagine my delight when I realized that I didn't have to waste time on a physical hobby. I could fulfill my wifely duties and converse while engaging my hands in a worthy occupation that produced a lovely end product. I had hit on the ideal solution.

Over the next 15 years, I pieced and quilted one baby quilt after another, most of them during school breaks and summer vacation. After learning all I could from the quilting books I bought, I took an occasional class on the weekend (ever the student) and became adequately proficient at my craft. Along the way I began to appreciate the Zen of stitching. But life was so chaotic and my free time still so limited that my quilting never truly evolved beyond a way to busy my hands when I couldn't work. Did I mention I'm type-A?

Then came the dissertation years when reading for pleasure and quilting became little more than distant memories. I actually informed staff that while they could continue to get pregnant, I would be unable to produce any more baby quilts until further notice. At the end of my 5 year hiatus, I found that quilting had undergone some major changes-- namely, many more quilters were machine piecing and some were even machine quilting their projects. Rotary cutters had replaced scissors and those pesky little templates weren't even necessary for machine piecers. I filed that information in the back of my mind and tried to resume my handwork, but my life circumstances had changed. A divorce, a career that took up more and more of my time, and ultimately a new relationship lead to even less time to spend on quilting.

Then, a few years before I planned to retire, I began to toy with the idea of learning to machine piece. My boyfriend bought me a sewing machine for Christmas and a year later I took it out of the box and set it up and began to teach myself to use it. By the time I retired in 2004, I was ready for a big girl machine and some formal instruction. Machine piecing seemed made to order for someone who liked to do things quickly and was something of an overachiever and so I churned out quilt after quilt, wall hanging after wall hanging, table runner after table get the picture. I'm not saying that my work was shoddy or that some pieces weren't actually quite good. But something was missing.

While I still loved choosing fabrics and patterns, the actual piecing generally bored me silly and quickly became very mechanical. And then my guild hosted a speaker who brought along some of her crazy quilts. I was inspired to take a workshop with her and rediscovered my love of embroidery. Handwork was something that I had enjoyed years earlier, but that I didn't pursue because it was so difficult for me as a left-hander to find instructions I could follow. It seems in the intervening years a number of very good books had been published that addressed this need. I began researching crazy quilters and soon had a library of books by Judith Baker Montano. When I discovered Allie Aller's  Crazy Quilting:  The Complete Guide , I knew I had found my passion.

My usual method of learning--researching, then jumping in--served me well since there weren't any local classes in crazy quilting available to me. My guild had one or two members who had done some crazy quilting in the past, but I was more or less on my own. I began to acquire books and DVD's on silk ribbon embroidery, beading, motifs, and anything else that was related to crazy quilting.  Happily, Allie's blog lead me to other blogs about my passion and I discovered the Hudson River Valley art workshops offered in Greenville, New York, just two hours north of where I live.  It was my good fortune to be able to attend a beading retreat offered by Nancy Eha where I made several good friends, including Nancy. A few years later I took several more workshops with her at the Vermont Quilt Festival.

As I began to create crazy quilts, I immediately noticed a difference in my approach to quilting. No longer was I racing to the finish line. Crazy quilting has no pre-established finish line. As the Yogi once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over" and that was one of the best things about my new passion. I decided when my work was finished, not someone else's pattern. I knew from the start of any project that this was not going to be a quick romp in the fabric. I allowed myself the time to explore new techniques; I played with color in a way I never had before; I began to focus on texture far more than I had in my sane quilting; I began to get in the zone when I was beading and embroidering. As I began to realize how much I looked forward to picking up my work each day--because now I was making time to stitch each day--I knew that it was time to pick up my sewing needle again. Because while all of the embellishments on my crazies are done by hand, I machine piece most of the blocks. That was still "busy work" that had to be accomplished so I could get to the good stuff. But something had changed: now I wanted to do the good stuff all the time.

I had taken up my yoga practice again and that, combined with the Zen of hand stitching and beading, was working its magic on my psyche. About this same time I began writing a food blog.  While I hadn't kept a journal since I'd stopped teaching writing, blogging filled that gap quite nicely. I still produced the occasional machine pieced quilt and even began playing around with free motion quilting, but these were mere dalliances. I had resumed my love affair with handwork. I liked the way it made me feel and I was proud of the work I was producing.

Enter slow stitching. Having listened to a number of Mark's podcasts during road trips with my quilting buddies, I knew who he was. I had bought his magazine and I had seen him at Quilters Take Manhattan. I was always seeing his blog being referenced on Facebook and it seemed that the moon was in the seventh house and his Slow Stitching Movement was making its appearance at the very time that I was becoming interested in the Lucy Boston quilts, which lead me to Inklingo, which lead me to Willyne Hammerstein's La Passacaglia, which took me back to hand piecing, which lead me to sign up for Mark's first-ever Slow Stitching Movement Retreat at the Lamberville Station this past April. Can you tell I believe in Karma?

While I brought my machine along with me to piece a utilitarian quilt I was making for my new couch, I also brought along my hand stitching. Waking up at the crack of dawn each day to join Mark and the other conference attendees (new friends-in-the-making) to write our morning pages, I was reminded of my years of teaching high school writing workshop. The stream-of-consciousness technique provided a wonderful outlet to cleanse my mind of all the "monkey chatter" that prevents me from falling asleep at night or focusing on my breath during my yoga practice. It also put me in the right frame of mind to approach my quilting with a new set of eyes and a renewed appreciation for the art that I was creating, not simply producing. Taking time to really see the beautiful palette I'd chosen to work with; to fondle the fabric that I was about to transform into my creative vision; to place each stitch lovingly and with attention--this was the heart of slow stitching. Taking pleasure in the process, rather than the product, became the point of my art.

I'd like to say that I ceased from that day forward to make any quilts or projects to fulfill some last-minute gift giving or class sample, but that wouldn't be true. What I can say is that my quilting has brought me far greater pleasure since that 4 day retreat. While I still move from project to project to keep my interest piqued, when I am working on a piece, I give it my full attention and appreciation.  One of my projects is definitely a legacy quilt: my hand-pieced La Passacaglia. I work on it almost daily, very deliberately using the suggestions that Mark shared with us. Doing so puts me in "the zone" and my stitching time nourishes me, both physically and mentally. I believe that my work has improved as well. My focus results in finer stitching, better use of color, and a greater attention to detail. I'm currently working on using these same techniques when I machine piece or quilt, but my progress there is in the infant stages. In any event, the race is over.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Another Stitch-along

Many years ago I tried my hand at crewel work. I enjoyed it, but it was difficult for me to learn because I am left-handed and illustrations and patterns then were all geared to the right-handed. My mother, though an accomplished seamstress and milliner, did not do much hand stitching. Over the years I tried to teach myself embroidery, but it was just 5 years ago when I became interested in crazy quilting that I recommitted to learning to embroider. Thankfully there are now resources for southpaws. Judith Baker Montano has a stitch guide with instructions for lefties and ___ has a whole book devoted to left-handed stitchers. The internet offers many video tutorials as well.

A few years ago I discovered Sharon Boggons' blog and gratefully joined her TAST (Take a Stitch Tuesday) group. Each week Sharon introduced a new stitch which I practiced and then added to a small crazy quilt that I intended to serve as my "sampler." It was a monochromatic piece using fancy fabrics with all embellishments done in gold. Thanks to Sharon's wonderful instruction, this piece turned out rather well and took a few ribbons at local quilt shows.

Another blog that I follow is Valerie Bothell's The Pink Bunny. Unfortuately, I fell behind on my blog reading and so was late to the party--Valerie's Facebook group, Joyful Embellishments. This is a faster paced endeavor as Valerie presents a new stitch every weekday. I missed all of January, which focused on 20 combinations using feather stitch. So, as I try to keep up with a new stitch a day this month, February being devoted to herringbone combinations, I am also playing catch up with the January stitches.

I've created "stitch pages" which will go into a book for future reference, then, I add each stitch to another crazy quilt "sampler." This time out I've used cottons in a complementary color way for my sampler.

I'm hoping to keep up with the group, which will be easier once I've caught up. So many projects, so little time.

Happy stitching.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cathedral Window Wall Hanging

Sometimes my enthusiasm for a project grows and, as is it does, so does the project. This was a case where reason won out over enthusiasm. What began as a king-sized cathedral window quilt, using a white Kona cotton as background, evolved into a wall hanging that is much more practical. Have I mentioned how much my cat loves to lie on my quilts? Enough said.

I've been wanting to make a cathedral window wall hanging using all silks, but I needed to make some decisions first. I prefer to make the background squares by machine, but love sewing down the windows by hand. I've usually sewn the background squares together by machine, but decided to do it by hand this time, whip stitching them to each other.

What I learned from this practice piece is that whip stitching them together, no matter how small your stitches, results in more bulk than I prefer, particularly since I put a false back on the quilt.

I'm shopping around at this point for silk to make my next wall hanging. I love the work of Lynne Edwards and highly recommend her book as a starting out point if you're interested in cathedral window. I do, however, use an amalgam of methods gleaned from surfing the web, looking at a number of books, and just experimenting.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Working with Silk

I have a lot of experience working with silk; it's one of my fabrics of choice when I'm putting together a crazy quilt. That said, I generally work with very small pieces of silk, so I was intrigued by a workshop offered by my guild and taught by Cheryl Lynch.

While I generally like to choose my own fabrics, timing made it more convenient to purchase one of
Cheryl's kits. It isn't easy to find silk dupioni in local quilt shops. My plan was to try out one of Cheryl's special curved rulers and to make this small quilt, which is the perfect size for a table runner.

I was so pleased with this ruler that I had to buy one. I can see many uses for it from curved borders to lattice-topped quilts.

There is no curved piecing at all. After sewing together strips of fabric, you use the ruler to cut curved strips which are then appliqued on using a decorative stitch.

While the color scheme matches absolutely nothing in my house, it will look at home in Longboat Key. Visit Cheryl's site  for more information on "curvalicious." 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Slow, but Steady, Wins the (UFO) Race

Now that the quilt show season is drawing to a close and I have "retired" my latest 3 crazy pieces from the circuit, it's time to assess my progress relative to finishing a number of UFO's.

  • Fabric portrait of Molly Bloom
After a frustrating afternoon of finding the right match of needle and machine settings to accommodate the monofilament thread, I'm pleased with the progress I've made. I spend no more than an hour at a time sewing down each individual piece of fabric that comprises this portrait. Today I worked on the right eye and nose. It's amazing how just this bit of functional sewing affects the overall portrait. I can't wait to begin the thread painting.

  • Black and White "Wonky" Quilt
I finally put the finishing touches on the third crazy quilted circle. I have the backing for this piece and am ready to sandwich and quilt it before appliquing the spheres onto the quilt. I have decided to use a medium grey Aurifil thread to do organic quilting. First, however, I will do some quilting in the ditch to stabilize the piece.

  • The Peacock Quilt
This top has been done for well over a year. The reason it hasn't been finished is my fear of quilting it. I tried to have it done by a longarm quilter, but the minute I mentioned the beading, she did not want to touch it. This is not the kind of beading you could do AFTER the quilt was made. I designed the four corner blocks and each of these took approximately 10 hours to bead. I don't even  want to know how many hours it took for me to apply the sequins. After much deliberating, I've decided to hand quilt this piece myself using perle cotton and "big stitch" quilting. The backing is ready to be pieced, but I'm waiting until after a workshop I'm taking in February to begin the quilting.

  • Cathedral Window Quilt
I've made cathedral window pillows and wall hangings in the past, but never a quilt or large wall hanging. After learning how to make the background squares by machine, I decided to make a king-sized scrappy cathedral window quilt. To that end, I purchased 4 bolts of white Kona cotton. Then reason set in. My cat LOVES to lie on my quilts. White quilt--cat lying on quilt. I decided instead to make a good-sized wall hanging and to use, instead of scrappy windows, a rainbow effect. I used graph paper to design the layout of the quilt. While I know how to join the blocks and sew down the windows by machine (in fact, I'm teaching a workshop on this technique soon), I personally prefer to join the blocks by whipstitching them by hand and to sew down the windows by hand as well. I have over 150 squares completed and decided to start joining them and adding the windows.

The only major UFO not mentioned here is my postage stamp quilt. It is king-sized and is over 90% done, but for some reason I can't seem to get back to it. I'm hoping as I finish some of these and it gets uncovered on the "pile," that that will change.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Quilt Show "Circuit"

I entered my first quilt show in 2010 at the suggestion of guild friends. At that time I was still relatively new to machine quilting, but I'd somehow managed to complete a king sized and a queen sized quilt. I did not even think about attempting to quilt them myself; rather, I sent them to a longarmer who'd been recommended by my local quilt shop. Imagine my surprise when I won two ribbons! One quilt received second place and the other an honorable mention. The judge's comments were tremendously helpful in terms of what I'd done well and what I needed to do to improve. I took my ribbons home and put my quilts on the bed and thought no more about it.

Flash forward to 2012. This is when I discovered that many of my guild friends entered the same quilts in several shows before "retiring" them. I decided to enter two of my quilts into more than one show and accrued several more ribbons, though not for the same quilt.

This spring, I entered 3 quilts into my guild's show and was thrilled to receive a first place ribbon and a NQA ribbon for one and a third place for another. This past weekend I entered the same 3 quilts into another local show and received a first place ribbon (for the same quilt I'd previously received a first for), a third place ribbon (for the same quilt I'd previously received a third for), and an honorable mention for the third quilt. I was over the moon.

Next week I'm entering two of those quilts (the first place and honorable mention) into another local show before "retiring" them to my walls. Fingers crossed.

I'm sure there will be many more quilts that I enter that will not be acknowledged with a ribbon, but I'm suggesting that if you don't already do so, that you enter your quilts as well. First of all, we wouldn't have shows to attend if quilters didn't take the risk of putting their work out there. Second, the judges' feedback is very helpful. Third, it's a wonderful feeling to hear others "oohing" and "ahhing" over your work. You'll never know unless you try.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Online Crazy Quilt Class

While I haven't posted in a while, I've been busy working to complete the online crazy quilt class while keeping up with my (many) other projects. Yesterday I took an art quilt class with Leni Wiener. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough of the fabric that I needed--hard to believe--but a trip to my local quilt shop tomorrow will take care of that. I've made good progress beading my crazy circles and will soon be ready to applique those on to my black and white wall hanging.

So here are some shots of the block that I've embellished using templates and a hoop, the primary reason I signed up for this class.