Wednesday, December 06, 2017

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

I'm beginning to feel like one of Santa's elves...beavering away at Christmas commissions and gifts.  There are some more "Stops" and some more "Starts" as I keep moving right along...

First...some "Stops"...

A sweet baby sweater for the new daughter of a cousin in Quebec, which I mentioned in my last post:

Ain't She Sweet?

Baby will be 1 month old on Monday of next I hope it will fit.  It's been over 32 years since I had such a tiny person in my arms, and this looks so-o-o-o-o-o small!

Next...those shams! In this photo, they are finished, quilted, backed, flanged...and hanging -- folded from side to side -- on my design wall.  The two together, turned sideways, give the full design of a single one which means -- thank Heaven! -- they match!!


On the art front, my client picked the "birdie" piece she wanted...and this went into the mail today:

Answering the Dinner Bell (C) 2017

And the SJSA blocks went into the mail to California on Friday.  I've taken some photos but with 7 blocks, and photos that only show part of the story...well...I will do something more about those pieces in the not-too-distant future.  Suffice to say it was a very special project on which to work, and I may do a bit more for the group in the spring...

There's one more 'almost stopped' Christmas gift ...but as the recipient reads this blog, I will say no more!  😉

And now for "Starts"...

On the knitting front, second socks of pairs.  And mittens -- from a pattern entitled "The World's Simplest Mittens" which, this close to Christmas I really need!  (I can't seem to find my trusty olde pattern book of family sized mitts...probably lent it someone...sometime...)

And to keep me focused...Clue #2 of Bonnie Hunter's "On Ringo Lake" Mystery is fully prepped:

And I even managed to put some of the flying-geese units together...though as you can see by the remaining stacks, I have more to go!

Bottom row: finished 'geese'
Top 2 rows: more unassembled parts!

That's where everything sits for now. I'm linking this up to WIP Wednesday over on The Needle and Thread Network, and to Bonnie Hunter's MQ Link-up for Mystery Week #2.

I'll leave you with a musical memory and wish you a great rest of the week, everyone!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Babies, Birds and Blocks

It's a b-b-b-busy time of year...and I feel like I'm on a roll!

The delight of a new wee one in the family is at least in part responsible for some of the energy. cousin R 'down East' has a new grand-daughter (born Nov. 11) I just had to put a new little sweater on the needles:

Pattern: Bluebell Cardigan designed by Schneckenstrick - free on Ravelry
Yarn: Schachenmayr Bravo Color (discontinued)
Colour-way #2084

The photo above is just the start of it.  It's a top-down, and I've done all the increases.  The sleeves are on stitch holders and I'm working on the body.  Another inch or two and I'll be finished that, ready to complete the sleeves, and finish it off.  Before long, it will be ready to send off to Baby M.  (No, she's not named after me!)

Then there was the commission to do a 'birdie' piece for a friend to give as a gift...and I made three, finished yesterday:

Answering the Dinner Bell 
SOLD to my client

At the Tween Stop (C) 2017

Home for Christmas (C) 2017

Home for Christmas - Detail

I couldn't help myself with that third just called to be done.  If not sold before, these will be available at the Lacombe Art Show and Sale in April (again, assuming I am juried in once more). allow my brain to rest, I worked on Clue #1 for Bonnie Hunter's 2017 Mystery: On Ringo Lake.  She started us off  with classic nine-patches...and having reviewed her instructions for cutting strips, I was delighted to find that mine intersected beautifully around the centre square!

For some reason I have more than are called for.  No worries!  I'll find a spot for the extra ones somewhere along the line.  :-)

What's up for the rest of the week?

  •  Regular Car Maintenance (while knitting on Xmas gifts) tomorrow;
  • Work at The Shop on Thursday (and it's our busy season);
  • Friday and over the on those commissioned pillow shams...the second one is ready to be marked and sandwiched for quilting.
  • Bonnie's Clue #2 lands on Friday!

It's all good!  Linking up to WIP Wednesday at The Needle and Thread Network...and wishing you a great rest of the week!  😊

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ups and Downs, Starts and Stops

Gretchen Rubin once said, "The days are long, but the years are short."  As we move toward the Winter Soltice up here in the Northern Hemisphere,  it seems to me that both the years and the days are short right now!  November is slipping away -- albeit with lovelier-than-usual weather -- and according to All Things Consumerist, the Holiday Gift Giving Season is on our doorstep.

For those of us who make gifts -- whether to give to loved ones or for others to give to loved ones (or both!) have been gradually ramping up since late summer (or maybe earlier!)  Certainly, my days are full of fabric, fibre and floss at the moment, and I'm hard-pressed to want to go anywhere but the Sewdio.

I'm working on "birds" again and will soon have three pieces ready, one of which is a commission for Christmas.  All have been stitched and one has been beaded.  Next up: "snow" and a mat.  I'd not done any mono-printing for a few months when I got the request, so I wasn't entirely happy with my initial results:

See how 'smudgy' they look?

The good thing about them, though, is that the printing was visible through the fabric, so...I simply turned them over and stitched on that side!

The three white pieces have become "bird" pieces, but the long, narrow blue one (upper left corner, above) turned into this:

Autumn Skies (C) 2017
12" W x 4" L
hand-dyed and batik fabric, free-motion quilting
wrapped around stretched canvas

Autumn Skies - detail

It's being put in a floater frame, and I hope to pick it up tomorrow.  I love this 12" x 4" canvas, and made another one that's only paint and stitch, directly on the canvas:

November Evening (C) 2017
free-motion stitching on painted canvas

November Evening - detail

The painting is done with watercolour, and I found I had to do 4 coats -- 1 before stitching and 3 after -- to get it to really show up.  This piece, too, is at the framer's, but will be picked up soon.

Speaking of the framer...Andrea Hatch at Cabinet of Curiosities in Stettler, Alberta -- the gal who also cuts my mats -- is an award-winning framer and a real authority on preservation framing etc.  I always enjoy stopping by her shop.  She's put these into floaters for me now:

Highland Hills (C) 2017
5" x 7" framed to about 6" x 8"
Paint and needle-felting on stretched canvas

Fifty Shades of Green (C) 2017
5" x 7" framed to about 6" x 8"
Paint, quilted hand-dyed fabric, sari silk
 on stretched canvas

On the piecing front...About a month ago I posted about a pair of pillow shams I was making for a client to give as a gift (to match a quilt made a couple of years ago).  The post was about figuring out how to convert a quilt/block pattern into shams, and the math involved.


I got the first sham top pieced, and most of the second...

First sham top pieced
(Here's where the "down" in this post's title makes sense)

I had a limited amount of fabric from the earlier quilt project; I was careful to pre-cut all the pieces for each sham before I started.

Or, at least, I thought I had.  😡

BUT...I got to the outer 'Labyrinth' border...and was dismayed to find I'd not cut the four dark brown rectangles (each 3 1/2" x 6 1/2") for the flying geese therein.  What had I done with the last of that fabric?  Sliced it up for the narrow borders, that's what!!  AAAAAARGH!!

There followed almost 2 weeks of hunting...and a generous donation of two completely ineligible pieces of fabric by a sweet soul on the Quiltville community FB page.  But...blessedly...the fabric was found in a shop in Calgary, bought, shipped, received...and both tops were finished!

Side by each on my design wall

As of this afternoon, Sham #1 has been quilted -- but not without it's "downs"! 

What happened? machine -- taken in for its annual spa treatment in September while I was away -- spit an oily substance of some sort out the back (when the presser foot lever was raised) that landed on (you guessed it) the lighter fabric in the piece -- in four spots!!  Thanks to Grandma's Secret Spot Remover followed by the application of some mild detergent (Sunlight) with a soft old toothbrush...disaster averted -- only to be nearly thwarted by a thread with "just the right colour" that refused to play nicely with the bobbin thread...but that was taken care of replacing it with something that would! 

It also wouldn't be the latter part of November without the temptation of Bonnie Hunter's Mystery Quilt.  It comes at a time when I am ready for some cutting of fabric, clearing of stash, a new project to distract from all the other STUFF I have to do, and definitely from all the STUFF going on around the world.

If you tap into the link above, you'll see that though it's a pieced bed quilt, it's inspired by a landscape beloved by Bonnie...and not too far off the landscape around where I live.  I shopped my stash and discovered I have fabric in appropriate colours that would work.

HOWEVER (there's always a 'however', isn't there?!) before I could entertain the thought of a new mystery quilt project, I realized (to my chagrin) that...erm...the last one I'd attempted (in 2014) lay in pieces in trays under the ironing board in my Sewdio, where I could trip over them more often than not.


The good news was that when I sorted that out, I discovered I was only 2 clues shy of a finished mystery that would fit my twin bed (sorely in need of a new quilt) I got to work -- et voila!  The top is finished and will be taken to my friendly long-armer for quilting in the new year.

Not-so-Grand Illusion!

I may have trouble sleeping under it, but I sure love those cheery colours!!

And now for On Ringo Lake...with a lovely nature-inspired colour palate...and (so far) all from my stash!

Sunrise/sunset skies, the earth, water...
and for me, the neutrals signify the inevitable snow

I've saved and printed the Intro and Clue #1, and will turn to them over the course of the next few weeks, even as I finish the Annual Christmas Boxer Shorts, some Christmas knits, those pesky shams, the 'birds' in their bushes...and welcome in the holiday season.

Blessings, Gentle Readers...have a lovely rest of the weekend!

Linking up to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday, for which I too am very thankful!

Friday, November 03, 2017

Order Out of Chaos

It is not the subject that makes art religious or sacrilegious, but the impulse behind it.  You sometimes get an artist who is spoken through despite his own professed atheism, because it's the creative impulse to look at the seeming chaos of the universe and then to express this chaos in terms of pattern and of order and of love and -- perhaps most important of all -- joy.
"From Chaos to Pattern", from Madeleine L'Engle: Herself, Reflections on a Writing Life -- compiled by Carole F. Chase, Shaw Books, Waterbrook Press, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2001.

Now...I'm not an atheist (as anyone who's read this blog for some time has undoubtedly realized!) it's not really the first part of this reflection that captured my attention, but the last part: the part about "the creative express...chaos in terms of pattern and of order and of love and -- perhaps most important of all -- joy."

Since I began my art practice in a serious way, I've sensed a tension between those whose creative impulse seems to express terms of pattern and order...but also of fear, anger, darkness and a distinct lack of joy -- and those who include in their expression of chaos that love and joy, and...a certain light and hope.  Sometimes, yes, the former is needed to jolt viewers out of their determined complacency in the face of such chaos.  To make a point.  To inspire action.  And often times, putting those expressions "out there", sharing them with the world, can heal and restore peace and order within those creators.

But I believe that too much of it can lead to a diminished ability to see hope and light in the chaos around us.  Joy can become eroded and may even be belittled as naive and unsophisticated, in favour of cynicism and pessimism.

My 'statement' pieces and participation in such projects as Threads of Resistance and the Social Justice Sewing Academy have come about because I felt compelled by the issues at hand -- and I've learned a great deal from those experiences, from making that work.

But I can't live there.  I cannot dwell in the realm of despair, righteous anger, ongoing fear and anxiety.  Even as I resist the dull, grey wintry days with injections of "those little birds", I resist the temptation to be drawn into a permanent home in the sturm und drang of current events...

And so I find myself returning to colourful piecing and to making more of those little canvases of which I am becoming particularly fond.

Here's my latest offering...finished on Monday of this week...the first in my "Inspired by Scotland" series. (And yes, it will be put in a 'floater' this one.)

Highland Hills I - (C) 2017
5" W x 7" L (unframed)
Mixed media on stretched canvas:
acrylic paint, wool, wool roving
Needle-felted, machine quilted

The fun of this came at the end when I actually followed a "what if...?" to its conclusion (instead of ignoring it or dismissing it as silly or impractical)...

Side view -- see the clouds of roving?

Front detail

Another close-up of those misty hills ;-)

There will be more of these -- and some in other sizes (though not, I expect, larger than 12" x 12").  But these take time.  Despite the myriad of photos from my trip and the ideas swirling about within me like those misty clouds swirling on those hills, the ideas take a while to coalesce, a while for me to figure out how I want to express the loveliness, the light and the joy of being in a beautiful landscape -- whether it is in a far-off land or outside my own back door.

So, Gentle Readers, I leave you with my answer to Nina Marie's question this week, even as I'm linking up with her Off the Wall Friday.   She's written about 'creativity exercises' and wondered aloud what sort of 'calisthenics' her readers might practice when feeling 'creatively challenged'.  

My challenge, creatively, is of having too many ideas pulling at me all at once, without a clear way to sort them and get them out into the world.  My 'creative calisthenics' in this in this case is more akin to stretching, rather than jumping jacks!  As I mentioned in my last post, when I find myself 'tectchy' and at loose ends, in between specific projects, or 'coming down' from a major project (like this), I often turn to piecing and/or fabric cutting, or re-organizing my sewdio.  Creating order and pattern out of the chaos of fabric and scraps enables me to bring order to the swirling thoughts in my mind while bringing colour, light and joy to my world.

May your weekend be full of that same colour, light, love and joy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Into the Mystery

I'm out of sorts, "tetchy", at loose ends.  The weather, unlike yesterday when it was clearly miserable, is uncertain.  It's by turns snowy and less snowy, and the roads are unpredictable.  The wind rises and falls.  There are ice patches on the highway at the edge of town.  I had some errands I wanted to run (because I couldn't, yesterday) and just when I think I might risk the highway, the snow and the wind both pick up.  😣  Sigh.

I've worked on some knitting (gifts-in-the-making); I've stitched on the third SJSA block; I've sorted some more of my Scotland photos.

I shovelled (including my driveway), commiserating with my neighbours and Miss Pookie, who pranced delicately about in the footsteps dented in the snow, rather than risk an all-out gambol.  I went to the Post Office (no mail).  I ate some lunch, and caught up on blog reading.

Bless Bonnie Hunter!  As I was reading her latest post -- and commiserating about her late night at the Emergency Vet's with her beloved pooch (all shall be well now but it was a long evening!)...I remembered.

The annual Mystery.

It's that time of year again -- and she's recently posted the introduction to this latest quilt-along.  Why not take a look at it?

Who am I kidding?!  I didn't participate last year (the use of templates is just not my idea of a good time), but maybe this year...?  My current commission is stalled -- temporarily.  I need more of one particular fabric, and while my LQS is holding some for me pending inspection, I can't get there because of the questionable road conditions.  A Quiltville (Facebook) Community colleague in the U.S. is putting some in the mail today with the hopes that it's a between those two sources, I am hopeful. 

But while I wait...I'm antsy.  I finished another small canvas yesterday...but I don't want to do another today.  Yes, I'm an art quilter, but my hands want to piece -- so I printed off the 2017 Mystery intro and took it into the sewdio.  Cutting and piecing is rhythmic for me; it might just relieve the tension of waiting for the weather to clear.  Why not at least audition the fabric?

It didn't take me long to notice, though, that there in a series of Styrofoam trays on the floor under my ironing board Unfinished Mystery: "Grand Illusion" from 2015.

Well, then!  I could hardly start a new one when that one was in pieces on the floor, could I? (rhetorical question! 😉 

"Grand Illusion"
Clue #2 units finished
Clue #3 units finished
I did a quick check of where I was -- counting out finished units -- and realized that I'd finished up through Part III of five "clues".  Two more, and I could put together full blocks.  I can do this! 

And I've just enough time to work on it today and to pick it up over the coming weeks, even as I (finally) finish that commission, and those knitted gifts, and perhaps a few more canvases.

The realization was just enough to reignite my Quilting Mojo -- and that, Gentle Readers, is the blessing, the miracle and the mystery of the creative process.  Onward and upward!

Linking up to WIP Wednesday at The Needle and Thread Network, and gettin' back into the sewdio.  I've fabric to cut!

Friday, October 27, 2017

It's All About the Math

Time and time again I hear a groan from customers at The Shop -- usually when I begin to explain 'gauge' (aka 'tension') and how to calculate how much yarn you might need if you're substituting one brand for another.

"You mean I need to do math?!  But I hate/am no good at math!"

I've heard this before from quilters too.

It may be tough to swallow, but it's true.  Knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, cross-stitch...all involve math at some time or another, but most particularly in the planning and/or design of whatever the project.

In my recent art piece, Oh! Those Highland Hills!, in addition to figuring out how to fill a 10" square space, I needed to get 'right' the proportion of the sky to the foreground.  On the left side (below), you see the full 10" of the edge of the piece...and on the right, the sections split into painted background (sky/mountains) and fabric foreground.

These proportions were intended to mirror those in the original photo -- which I first had to convert from a rectangle to a square...

...but as you can see from the above photo, I decided to play with that a bit, and the foreground is a bit "deeper" in the final piece than it is in the inspirational photo. Yet I think it still "works"! 

This week I turned my hand to the commission to which I referred in my last post -- a set of large pillow shams -- and as a result got myself involved in a whole lot more math. 

The inspiration for the work was found in this quilt that I came across (done in a couple of different colour-ways) at the Sylvan Lake Quilt Show this summer:

"His and Hers"
Made by Wendelynn McCutcheon
Quilted by Howell

The pattern is entitled "Labyrinth", which I tracked down to Janet Wickell at a post from "The Spruce".  The pattern released me from the need to call on the Team at Math-Net to solve the mystery of how it was assembled, and boy, am I grateful!  😉

As an adjunct to the pattern, I printed out the photo of the inspirational source as a full 8" x 10" and then focused on translating the centre square into the size I'd need -- before borders. 

The 'centre square' is actually composed of a centre block -- which I calculated would have to finish at 12" -- and two outer borders. 

I broke that block down into its components per the afore-mentioned pattern, thus:

Preparing the centre block

I then added the first Labyrinth border...

The centre block + First Labyrinth Border

And then the second...

The centre block with both borders
= the Centre Square

Altogether, the Centre Square is 24" x 24" (not including seam allowances).

This now needed to be converted to a rectangle to complete the top of the first sham of the pair, measuring 36" W x 26" L (not including seam allowances):

Sham #1 -- before quilting

This needs to be quilted before the back and decorative "flanges" are added.  I have enough batting on hand, but need to get a light-weight fabric for the back of the quilt sandwich.  (Regular-weight quilting cotton would make the sham too bulky.)

Thus, this weekend, I'll assemble Sham #2, and next week, go in search of that backing fabric!

For today, though...well, I'm due to limber up with a brisk jog, and then will spend some more time on my contribution to the SJSA project.  Block #2 of seven is just about finished! 

While stitching, I think I might just pop over to Nina Marie's "Off the Wall Friday" to see what everyone else is up to.  Won't you join me?

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Yes, as I mentioned last week, I'm "Back at It" in the Sewdio, and enjoying the variety immensely.

While ideas for a 'Scottish Landscape' series fill my head, I've been working on prior commitments and gifts.

One of the gifts is (yet another) hedgehog...which I presented today to my friend J, on the occasion of her 87th birthday...

Ain't he (or she) cute?

Another is a set of pillow shams for a client to give as a gift.  For now, let's just say that the pattern has been drafted (a traditional quilt block as the focus) but it's complex enough that I may do a mock-up in miscellaneous fabric before I dip into the fabrics for which the client's paid!

And then there is a Very Special Project.

By this, I'm referring to a series of fabric blocks that have been created by students at the Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), publicized on the SAQA Blog a couple of months ago.  Young people are being encouraged to engage in discourse and activities to support civil justice...and a number of them are involved in creating these blocks that will become art quilts.  Volunteers were needed to add embroidery to the prepared blocks. 

I learned to embroider around age 11, just a few years after I learned to knit.  I love it almost as much, and use these skills frequently in my art work.  I even took a Certificate in Contemporary Hand Stitch from Gail Harker in La Conner, WA,  a decade ago.  AND  I have a huge healthy stash of embroidery floss with which to work.

It only made sense that I would volunteer with this project!

But...I was going away for most of September.  Could it wait till I got back?  Of course!

So...a week ago a package arrived in the mail...from the U.K.  I have no idea why that happened, as SJSA is based in the U.S., but there you are.  In the package were seven (count 'em!) large (15" square) blocks, each with images applied to them...with some sort of glue....and with a 30-day turn-around time!!  I managed to get that changed to six weeks, thank you -- and set to work.  Here's some of that Work in Progress...

A's Block (1)

A's Block (2)

A's Block (3)

U's Block (1)

U's Block (2)

Each block comes with the first name of the artist, a short statement about the work, and if desired by the artists, any special requests.  Above you can see that in U's block, there are grey clouds that have been applied in the sky, opposite the image of the sun.  I put those clouds in, as this is one of her requests, as was the red stripes on each flag in the photos.

I am being very careful to work on one piece at a time so that I can absorb what each artist is saying in his/her work...and plan my stitching accordingly.  While I have complete freedom to select the colours and type of stitches I make on each piece, I am trying to use materials and stitches that will enhance quietly the work and thought behind them.

I know that I have probably never experienced any of the challenges that these young artists have faced in their short this has given me a glimpse at their personal journeys and a great admiration for their courage, as well as gratitude for those who work with them to bring to our consciousness important issues, while providing a means of creative therapy that comes from the expression of ideas, thoughts, experiences and feelings through the realm of art.

I thank the organizers of this project at SJSA, and hope that my modest contribution will be of use and benefit.

To find out more about SJSA, or to take part in this work, click HERE...

Linking to Nina Marie's Off the Wall Friday, where this week she's been talking about picking a colour palette.  (Note that in the SJSA pieces above, there is a distinct palette selected to convey the message of the work.  As I'm not sure these young artists have been especially taught this concept, I'm proposing that some of our colour selections are intuitive -- they "just make sense"...But a little knowledge can work even more artistic magic, don't you think?)