Wednesday, March 31, 2010

are quilts like children?

Have you ever noticed that quilts can be like children--they find a home that you never would have anticipated--but it works?

For instance consider the quilt--"dawn on the hill".

My husband is a school teacher so we get up very very early in the winter. After I send him off with a kiss and his coffee, I love snowshoeing to the top of a nearby hill and watching the sun rise. Did you ever listen carefully--the air seems to go quiet just before the sun breaks through. Wonderful and dramatic. Awe inspiring.

So of course I had to make a quilt to try to capture this.

But I never thought of this quilt hanging over  a canopy bed that has traditional covers.  Doesn't it look great though? Isn't this just meant to be?

It is at a lovely bed and breakfast just outside Shelburne Falls--do check it out. Larry and Susan are some of the nicest people around and who knows, you might get the room with this quilt.

What do you think?

Monday, March 29, 2010

the unfinished quilt--a mystery

I've been a lot of thinking today about the process of finishing. Rereading my well worn copy of Anne Truitt's Daybook--wonderful book--hard to read the whole thing at once-- she talks about the energy requiring for the final push to bring a piece to completion. The exhilaration and also the slight sorrow that happens when art is out into the larger world-- on its own--separate from me, the artist. Will it work? What will the others say about it?

Let me try to tie a few thoughts together about finishing.

First the weather--isn't this what spring is all about? March in New England. Still patches of snow. The lawn that drab brown color--you know it--before the little hints of green start showing. Only a few lonely crocuses taunt us with the promise of color. Don't tell me that April is the cruelest month!

And the quilt, right now the quilt and I are having what I might call a "dialogue" in polite society.  I'm forced to wait anyhow--a Boston TV station wants to see a quilt in progress. 15 seconds of fame. They wouldn't understand that pacing or thinking or staring is part of the process. So I leave the quilt almost done on the design board. And begin the tension mounts? Will the quilt work?

Are the darker colors of the quilt at the bottom of each zig the key--or do they distract?  I go over and over in my mind's eye. Maybe.... If only.... The genesis of new quilts is here.

But in the end I won't know until I sew it all together. So for now I wait. And worry.

This takes me to a quilt I've been thinking about.  I know I was meant to have this piece even though I don't know who did it or why. Let me begin...

But first I must tell you a bit about my aunt. Now I don't know my aunt as well as I'd like though she was my mom's older sister. My first memory ever--I was 2 1/2-- was of sitting at the top of her long staircase--she lived on the second floor. My little red suitcase was all packed. And I wanted to go home. Now!!! There was no way I could understand that I was going to get a new baby sister--I wanted to be home!!  Not a good way to start a relationship with an aunt whom I didn't see that much anyway.

Two husbands. Two divorces. For years she ran a dress shop in her town--it kept her very busy. Then there was golf, bridge until her mid 90's, her son, church. Her friends. She was always involved.  After my mom died,  I learned that if I wrote her, she'd answer me--asking questions about business, art, life.  As my sister says, she had SPUNK.

Now my aunt didn't make this quilt--she was a painter. Actually she was pretty good. She'd studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. She even sold some of her paintings. But sometime in the 50's an older friend of hers had given her this quilt. She wrote me that.  Why the friend had given her the quilt--I have no idea. It had belonged to the friend's mother--or maybe her grandmother--my aunt wasn't sure. My aunt wasn't meant to finish it--that much I know--but it was too precious to throw away.  So it sat in my aunt's trunk until 2004 when she saw an episode of Antiques Roadshow and thought it might have some value. I was the quilt maker in the family. So I got it.

Clearly it was Victorian--a log cabin pattern done in silk. Lots of detail and a spontaneity about the use of the colors. Tiny pieces--the whole quilt only about 24x36 inches. All hand sewn. The centers--or chimneys as they are called--all maroon.

What did the quilt maker dream of when she started the quilt? A cover for her wedding bed? A throw in the parlor?  Or was it something she started because that's what her friends were doing?  All I know is she made some blocks, starting sewing it together, and then stopped. The blocks not all sewn together.

Big basting stitches still there.

Why? Was it love? A change in circumstances? Or was she just discouraged? Afraid to finish it.  Did she think of it later, pull it out and start to sew it again? Clearly it was important to her. She kept it, passed it down, her daughter--or was it her granddaughter--passed it on to my aunt--who also kept it.

And maybe that is all that is needed. The quilt does tell a story--we just have to write it. As to my aunt--her life too is almost finished. Last fall she finally moved out of her walk-up apartment with the long staircase I stared down. She will turn 99 on Wednesday--won't turn 100. But with such grace and acceptance. This is life, she writes in very shaky letters. A good life. Wonderful memories. Can't complain. Hospice comes often.

As to the quilt I am working on--perhaps another row while I wait for the TV cameras. Maybe that will finish it. Make it complete.

So when do you know a piece is complete? Are you just a bit sad? What are your memories? And when will I finish this quilt?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Not my grandmother's quilts?

Not my grandmother's quilts!!!  I beg to disagree. Recently there was a debate on the Studio Art Quilt forum about the traditions of quilt making. Some felt that the continued reference to tradition keeps contemporary art quilts from being considered art. Some even suggested that we drop the word "quilts" and call the pieces "fiber art". Can you believe that?

This is a bit of a long story about one quilt and why I personally will never forget the quilts of my grandmother and especially one particular quilt--here is part of it.

Now before I continue I must tell you a bit about MY granny as I remember her. She was a spry woman--tiny--I don't think she ever weighed more than 100 pounds. Her hair always neatly in a bun. Outside she waged a constant battle with the dandelions. Inside she read and re-read her books--Reader's Digest, books she had sent away for. Little notes in tiny handwriting--always in pencil--"read in 1952-took 3 days-not worth it", "re-read in 1956-still took 3 days--still not worth it". She even annotated her Bible.

But the story started long before that. When she was 7 her father died leaving her mother to support two daughters--there were boarders, laundry for the boarders, ironing for boarders. A hard life. But she was always making sure she had enough money to send Granny to the Teacher's College and her sister to Nursing School. Aunt Jo liked being a nurse. Granny did not like being a teacher. When she met Grandpops, she thought that he was her way out-- he was so silent he must be very smart. Alas he just had nothing to say.

Grandpops had a farm west of town so that's where she went. Life there must have been tough for her. Money was tight.  She took a job at the local high school to keep the farm during the Great  Depression--driving the old black Ford six miles into town every day.  In the winter, the road wasn't plowed--you just followed the ruts left by the other cars--all cars were the same size back then anyway. But I digress.  At home there were more hired hands to feed. Sausage to can. Soap to be made. Dill pickles to be preserved.

But there were also her quilts. The log cabin quilts made of my dad's old wool pants--they added warmth to the beds. These were made upstairs on the treadle sewing machine looking across the fields to the river. Even the hired help got a couple of these quilts.  Then there were the quilts to cover the beds. To be carefully folded each night before going to bed. Made from feed sack cloth in wonderful flowery designs. She had the double wedding ring, Grandpops had one with sunflowers.

Now back then the newspaper published a different quilt pattern each week. She carefully clipped out these patterns and stuck them into a large manilla envelope. Not that she would waste her good money and time making someone else's design.  No, this was just for inspiration.  

So when she decided to make a quilt for the CLOSET of the guest bedroom--the quilt that would be one of her crowning achievements-- of course she had to make her own design. On the eastern half of the farm, the pasture was a virgin oak forest--I remember seeing the path that was cut when they used to drive herds of cattle through into Chicago. Large wonderful friendly Burr Oaks.

Of course the design would be an oak leaf. She must have traced and retraced the design for the leafs and the acorns until it was just right.

Look at all the curves she had to cut. So many intricate designs. For this quilt she bought fabric--just the right shades of browns and tans--this quilt deserved better than feed sack cloth. And she painstakingly appliqued the leaves and acorns in her tiny stitches. Even the border had an intricate matching design.

I'm sure she took the quilt to the local quilting bee--she had to--they were her in-laws. But then she would come home and pick out stitches that were too big. Look at the detail. Even the quilting design had circles of acorns. When needed she added not one but two rows of stitches for emphasis.

 She made other quilts after that but this is the one I remember most. Occasionally she would take me up to the guest bedroom--walk into the big closet there--and carefully unwrap the quilt so that I could admire it again and again.

Now the farm has long ago been sold. Her house has been torn down. The furniture in the guest bedroom is in my guest bedroom. I  have the oak leaf quilt--still folded. Still too good to be used.
We can debate if the quilt is art or fine craft--but it remains in many ways the ultimate statement of her quest for beauty and order. In my opinion my quilts and even my life are influenced by the traditions of my grandmother. I know I can't forget my grandmother and the traditions she taught me. Every time I make the back of one of my quilts, I am honoring her. What about you? What traditions do you have? What do you think?

Friday, March 19, 2010

slow cloth

OK--despite the title, this post is not about me grumbling about how long the quilt "endless fields" is taking though it seems like forever.  Just read through to the end--there is a point but first I must prove there is progress though not nearly enough:

I've figured out I can make ten blocks each day. No more and I'm too tired. No less and I won't get it done. You may think that's a lot--but considering  I'm working 9-5 every day that's just a bit more than a block an hour.  So so slow.

Now why you may ask. Well each block contains not one but two color ways which I have to create by cutting and piecing maybe 15-20 fabrics together. The blocks go from light until dark and each one is a different size. And each color is a slightly different palette--let's make life as interesting as possible.Why did I do this to myself anyway?

Here is just one block--and it's a little one.

Can you figure out where this piece goes in the quilt-- hint, it is already there.


Did you find it? OK--so as you've probably figured out, I love what I am doing. I wouldn't be doing it otherwise. Trust me--there's lots of easier ways to support myself. But I do love it and I love getting lost in each quilt.

Guess what, I just found there is a new movement that honors this type of work. Can you believe it? It's called "slow cloth" --see there was a point to the title of this post--like slow food but it's about people who work with fabric.  I first heard about it through this article on the web Of course I joined their FB fanpage right away. It feels like home.

There are 10 principles--it was hard to decide my favorites but here are a couple. Do read through and tell me what you think. They are from The Ten Qualities of Slow Cloth. Which one is your favorite?
This is copyright by  Elaine Lipson, 2008, 2009, 2010 and used with her permission Check out her link for all ten.

Slow Cloth has the possibility of joy in the process. In other words, the journey matters as much as the destination.

Slow Cloth is thoughtful in its use of materials and respects their source.

Slow Cloth supports community by sharing knowledge and respecting relationships.

And while you are at it feel free to check out my website too:

Monday, March 15, 2010

the endless "endless fields"

OK--I have been working 10 hours a day--every day--on the new quilt for the Smithsonian. Choosing the colors, getting the colors to go from dark to light-- each row a different color--but enough fabrics repeated so the quilt will hold together. "Endless fields" is the name of the quilt--and it sure feels endless right now.

Every bone in my body is tired--my back hurts, my feet hurt, my hands hurt. I am tired of making decisions. How slow it seems. How many more blocks to make.I try not to think about it. I complain but I do love my work.

I know this part of the quilt will look great when it's sewn together. Now comes the real fun part--how to get the rolling hills that I dream of for this quilt. Let me explain a bit.

I like the way the road turns in this quilt--"bend in the road".  I am intrigued by this piece. Will rows of the bends be too much? Or will they be interesting?

Luckily my studio is fairly large and I can pin pieces up and squint. Sometimes I take pictures with my camera to get more distance. Drawing doesn't help me--but I can also see images of the quilt when I shut my eyes.

Or maybe I can make the pieces darker like this.

Or should I have the pieces move slightly as they might in "real" life?  Is that too busy?

So many choices. I will think about it at 6 am. I think I know what I'll try first--after I buy more fabric of course--what would you do?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

endless fields--the quilt that took on a life of its own

OK--the question is have you ever had a quilt that has taken on a life of its own? It refuses to wait its turn but demands that you make it right now.

Let me set the stage. First you need to know that I am fortunate enough to be doing the Smithsonian Craft Show this April 21-25.  This should probably be in all caps with exclamation points since this is not just a craft show, it may be THE craft show. It is incredibly hard to get it. Set in the National Building Museum in Washington, DC--an absolutely spectacular location with tall pillars, a gorgeous carpet and lots of history. Some of the very very best craft artists in the country are in this show with work so fine it takes my breath away every time I see it. The finest porcelain. Paper cutting so delicate it seems woven. I could go on--but check out the website for yourself:

As a friend of mine says you want to show your most stupendous pieces there.

And to make matters harder, I sold the quilt I had been using at the back of my booth in Baltimore. Not that I'm complaining--trust me, I'm not. But still--I need to make a new piece and I need to do it soon. There is no room for mistakes or error.

Obviously prairie sky is a great quilt that few have seen--you may remember it from my most recent blog.

I figured I already know lots of the secrets of this quilt, it would look great in my booth. A no-brainer. So, I buy all sorts of wonderful blues, purples, teals. Lots of stars. I am all set. I just need to pack and ship one small order and then I can start. Right?

Wrong!! Because of course on the drive back from shipping the order, was my mind thinking about prairie sky and how I could start making it? No, of course not. I kept thinking about the new quilt--endless fields--which I have never made before--I have never even made a quilt like this before. Each piece has to be significantly different from its neighbors--while still also being related to it. There are more than a dozen colors all with their own color progression. Design questions that I can't begin to know the solution for just yet.

Sure there are parts that I know. This is a quilt I have been pondering for years.

For instance "rivers of autumn" has great diagonal stretches of color. A good sketch for this quilt.

And the fields in "red barn, blue silos" though these are not the colors I have in mind. And I certainly don't want a barn or even the sky. Just fields this time.

And a couple of great great grand quilts--I guess you might call them--so old that they don't have digital images. But I am hoping I can remember bits and pieces of them as I work.

So why does "endless fields have to be made now? Am I a fool not to just tell this quilt "No, not now."
Has this ever happened to you?

Monday, March 8, 2010

prairie sky--the story of a custom quilt

OK--this is the quilt--"prairie sky" and yes, it was a custom order. Now I know "artists" these days aren't supposed to like doing custom work. Think of that Woody Allen movie--was it Manhattan?--and the artist who got outraged that the buyer wanted to match the yellow sofa. Imagine that!!!

Not me--I actually like custom orders. Sure I feel a huge responsibility since not only am I working for myself but I'm also trying to fulfill the dreams of a particular customer.  But I learn so much by adding their ideas and meeting their needs. Whether it is just changing the size--which of course can change the entire design--or maybe the color needs to be tweaked--how does a particular piece look in that shade of red?  Even if I am just making the same piece again, to paraphrase  Garrison Keillor  "A quilt never bounces the same way twice." (He was talking about jokes not quilts--but still it's true--if I change one fabric and of course I do--then all my other fabric selections also have to be rethought.)

Enough about theory though. This is about one particular quilt designed for one lovely couple. They loved "prairie dawn"--but weren't sure about the red center. They also thought the sky was too light near the horizon for them.  But they wanted to keep the stars in the night sky.

They also liked "first light"--you can see the colors they had in mind--but not the yellow line of the sun.

In addition they wanted the quilt large enough that it would fill a particular place in their home. But if they moved, they wanted the option of using it as a cover for their king size bed. (As I told you, this was a great couple who thinks far ahead.)

So after some thought and playing around we came up with the idea that the quilt should be slightly darker at the horizon and the sky should have the glow of just before dawn.

Piecing was a challenge because the quilt was so big I had to remember what I had previously done and use my experience to make sure it worked. And of course I had to use different fabrics. It wasn't until I took it to my wonderful photographer John Polak that I got to finally see the quilt as it was meant to be seen. I was so thrilled that I just kept staring at it. It really did glow and the images of Saturn and Jupiter provided just the right sparkle to the night sky.

But would it work for both a bed and the wall?  What do you think?


Friday, March 5, 2010

color--it's the weekend!!!

Wow--that week went by quickly. My local NPR station always sats that on the week-end you less hard news and more fun programs. What a great idea.

So--when I blog on the week-end--which will not be all the time I promise--I decided I will try to post a couple of fun things that I pick up here and there.

The first is actually really cool--it is  a color test that I found posted on a daylily robin. The object is to move the colors until you get a perfect spectrum. The directions are on the site--very easy.

OK--how'd  you do? I kept mixing up one area of blues. Was it the light? My monitor? Me? Nah!! How low was your score?

And then I did promise I would post a few pictures of Gretchen Tanzer's work. Good thing I promised
since I messed up her website--it's These weavings range in size from 8 inches to 36x58 inches. Look at the detail and the color--there is a theme to this post--really. I'm sure she'd love to hear from you but for now sit back and scroll down--you'll see why I like them.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

memories of the Baltimore Craft Show

Well I survived the Baltimore Craft Show and I am SO eager to get back to work. Yesterday my legs stopped aching from all that walking and I organized the studio--well sort of--refolded fabric, made a few potholders. Today a new wall hanging--I can't wait.

But first though--a few memories of the show. For those who haven't seen my booth set up, it is full of color. In a 10x10 space the colors echo off each other and add a warmth and feeling of light. And yes, the booth is 1 inch steel poles more than 8 feet high that I set up by myself--doing craft fairs builds strong muscles how many ways?

At the show I was across from the inimitable Myra Burg--you may know her for her "quiet oboes"--long colorful poles wrapped in threads--very funky and colorful. Sunday morning is always slow--who gets to a craft show at 10 am on a Sunday so Myra and I had some fun arranging our work together with our pieces together--what do you think?
You can see more of her work at

There were lots of other great artists at the show too. One of my favorites--Natalia Margulis--was in the next row over. A most interesting person--born in Russia, studied biology and graduated from St. Petersburg University before coming over to the US.  Her work combines classic embroidery techniques with her own imagination and skill. I love it. The booth image just gives a hint of the detail and designs--I will post more about her work later or check it out at


And finally I would be remiss if I didn't mention my friend Gretchen Tanzer--a weaver from Cape Cod who won--for the second time I might add--an Award of Excellence at the show. Certainly it was a most deserved award. Her simple geometric designs and great colors are a constant inspiration to me-- check it out--   I do need to post more about her too later.

But now, to work, to sew. To dream.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

prairie dawn

There has been an interesting discussion on the Studio Art Quilt Association forum about whether realistic or abstract pieces sell better. I am not sure there is a standard answer to this one although usually I find that my simple color studies do better than my more realistic pieces. For instance my quilt red barn, blue silos is loved and admired--although I still own it. Maybe there is too much detail or I just need to find someone who knows what a Harvester silo is.

On the other hand, prairie dawn just got a new home because of its title. In this quilt I was trying to capture how large the sky was on the farm I grew up on. Interestingly, its new owner bought the quilt precisely because of the title--she grew up in North Dakota. Now I want to make a whole series of quilts capturing the hugeness of the sky and the feeling of freedom it implies. Tomorrow I will get more blue fabric--wonderful navy, rich purples, and all the teal I can find.
 Luckily I will be having a show at the Blue Stone Gallery in Milford, PA with Karen Henderson this May entitled "A Sense of Place" so I can continue exploring this concept.  Check it out at I will write more later.