Friday, May 28, 2010

the new quilt--a question

I was going to write a very simple short post about the new quilt that was just falling into place. If you remember, this quilt just started itself. It's been slow--a few blocks a day. (As you may know I'm at the studio in Shelburne Falls about 8 hours a day so I am spending a LOT of time working on this piece.) But still--so far--it's been rather well-behaved, if you know what I mean. And now it's almost done.

Of course--as soon as I start to write this post--the quilt decides to become ornery. It's almost done but I'm not sure what color comes next. Let me show you. Here's the quilt on my design board. Just a few holes to fill in.

But what color goes  next in the center? That's the question.

I had thought of another purple--lavender. Is this too much purple?

What about a green--I try this brighter green--hmmm. Too much green isn't it?

Maybe a blue lavender? Too blue perhaps.

It's hard to get the colors just right.

I want it to echo the other colors but also it must be interesting. I try again. Maybe a bit more olive in the green. What will that do? I stand back. I squint. I try to imagine it in my mind.


Maybe a bit more olive since there won't be that much of it and your eye will focus there. Interesting.
So what would you do? Which color would you choose?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

weeding my garden and my fabric stash

Today I'm a woman with a purpose. Tuesday's my day off--I go up to my garden. I am going to get it in order--I've been neglecting it for far too long. The weeds are definitely winning.  It's been so dry this spring-- there is satisfaction in pulling up the long shoots of grass.  I weed and mulch the peas--the ones I planted in March are almost two feet tall. I tuck leaves I raked last year around them to keep the roots moist and cool. How neat the rows look. I feel almost motherly to them.

I move to the lettuce and parsley. The tomatoes are beginning to take hold. My DH calls this "the garden formerly known as the vegetable garden."  I am not a very serious gardener--my dad was on the farm--we needed to eat. I have friends who have long serious rows of vegetables. Not me--there are a few things one must grow--tomatoes, basil, peas. But I also just have to buy flowers--day lilies, Siberian iris throughout the garden.  I always find more flowers to buy--what will they look like? I cross my day lilies--why not? Who knows what might happen? I don't think about space until I try to find a place to plant peppers and cukes? What about green beans? Maybe some carrots? Kale definitely.

If I get rid of some of my perennial mums--they are getting scruffy anyway--I can move my miniature iris down to the rock garden. Suddenly a whole new row is available.  How nice that area looks already. Beans can go along that fence.

Then I see another area--a few iris. Lots of violets and monarda. Now I do love the bright red of the monarda. But it has spread everywhere. I don't need this much. Out it comes. Room for the peppers. I plant the kale seed. Maybe I can even put a couple eggplants here.

Still I need more room. I have day lily seed to plant still.

Alas I come to the strawberries. Now these strawberries are everywhere. They are an ever-bearing variety a bit interbred with wild strawberries by now.  I love to sample them when I go up to the garden in June but I do need this space.

However, the strawberries already have little green berries on them--already plumping up. I can almost taste them.  Wouldn't it be heartless to destroy so much goodness?

What would you do?

This gets me to thinking about my fabric stash. Now those who know me realize I am always buying fabric. This is what I do. Fabrics go in and out of style--right now I can't get a good teal-turquoise to save me. I need new inspirations. Eventually though I don't have enough room for what I have--I can't find anything. Slowly I try to go through--pull out a few that I know I'll never miss.

Like this one--what was I thinking?

Or mushrooms--I considered appliquing them on potholders. Once. Not really my style.

Or this is actually an interesting fabric. I wonder if I'll regret getting rid of it. But I persist--it is not my style. If I've not used it in 10 years, I can let go of it.

But then there's this one--no I haven't used it. But it still haunts me. There are still things I could do with it--maybe I haven't grown into it yet. Maybe by next year I'll be able to let go. What do you think?
How do you decide what to keep and what to let go of?

Do let me know your thoughts? How do you do it?

Monday, May 24, 2010

wow--I started a new quilt

Sometimes it just happens. I go into the studio planning on finishing some orders and then--I just start a new quilt. Just like that. The orders are sitting there waiting to be finished. Now I've probably been thinking about this quilt for some time. Sorting fabric.  Playing with it over and over in my mind in the early morning. Making some sketches.  Maybe I've even chosen the next piece I'm going to make--a nice earth brown and rust quilt that I need to finish an order. Or those lovely green and mist blue hosta colors.

But then another quilt just happens. And suddenly I'm cutting the fabric. Hunting for that right color. Do I have enough? I find a few scraps. I sew a block. Don't even think if I'm starting in the right place. Will it be too dark?  What comes next? I just put the block up on the design board. It looks almost lonely up there. I make another block. (For those who wonder--the white is the cotton batting. I use a method I call "quilt-as-you-go" which I just blogged about-- check it out if you're interested.

OK--so far so good. I sketch the quilt to get the sizes right. Hmm--it wants to be a bit larger than I want it to be. That's OK--this one is for my booth. I do need a new blue quilt. Let me think.  Yes, it needs to be that size.

There's a lot I don't "know" about this piece.  That's why I need to make this piece. Many of the colors I don't see yet. But I want to discover what it will become. I  start sewing. I don't have enough fabric in the right colors. Oh well--I can buy some more--this is not just an excuse to buy more fabric--I don't need an excuse anyway--do I?  But for now I can find tiny scraps if I search.

That first rough sketch up on the design board.  Later the agony when I figure out what comes next. Tomorrow  I'll clear the design board. Right now I sew.

So where does this come from? Annie Truitt in her wonderful book Day Journal talks of pieces that reside just below the level of consciousness--just waiting to emerge. Is this one of those pieces?  I need new wall hangings--I have a craft fair July 31-August 1 in Wilmington, DE through the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftspeople. Check it out. It is nice to have a purpose.

But why this quilt? The Siberian irises are just starting to bloom. around here. I am crazy about those colors. This is the iris prizm--lovely isn't it?

And the wonderful dark blue columbine that self seeds--with morning dew on it. Gorgeous.

How fickle I am. My need for colors shifts with the seasons--from hosta to iris in one week.  For now though, this quilt is a gift. It says make me--which I will. And you--do you ever just start a piece--not knowing what it will look like. What inspires you?

Friday, May 21, 2010

it's spring!!!

I don't know if you've had days like these--although you must have? Finally the weather is just the perfect temperature, the sun is shining. Just a slight breeze.  No bugs--not even any of those dreaded no see-ums. I have just figured out if I remove the chrysanthemums from the rock garden, I'll have plenty of room for more iris and daylilies.

But I have to go inside and work. After all I do have a one woman show in Tarrytown NY in July--this is the quilt on the postcard.

But guess what--I don't want to come inside. I want to be outside. All day. Playing in my garden. Supervised--if that's what you call it--by my three cats.

Now, before you casually suggest that I just take the day off--my studio is open to the public in lovely Shelburne Falls, MA. Gorgeous location.  I get tourists by. And I do have orders to fill. So there is  work to be done. And people I don't want to disappoint.

My internet friend Annie Taylor who does amazing paintings of trees--the most magical trees I have ever seen in my life--also has a blog where she poses interesting questions. Her question this week is--have you ever been through a tough winter where you just don't feel creative. Check it out--I'm sure you'll have thoughts.

And of course I'm worried about not having any interesting creative thoughts ever again. Us artists types do take this very seriously you know. Indeed I have been through my own series of dry spells. And I sure don't want to tempt to goddess of art--if you know what I mean. No thinking about it--no jinxing it.

I have too much work to do to allow myself the luxury of thinking I won't be creative. I HAVE to make work. Indeed I have lots and lots of orders to fill so I don't even have to think about being creative, I just  have to fill the orders. It's like clearing my rock garden of the dying chrysanthemums. If I fill the orders, then I'll have room to make something interesting. Like more Siberian Iris.

But that doesn't mean it's not hard to come inside--away from the perfect day.  Away from the rock garden. After all next week-end is the Western Massachusetts Iris Society Sale--Saturday--at 1:00 at the Buckland/Shelburne Community Hall--that's on Main Street in Shelburne Falls.  Ooops--I shouldn't have told you that. I want to get there first and get the wonderful iris. And I do have regular hours. I love that aspect of having an open studio. At 5:00 I'm a free woman--no guilt. I won't have to be back there until 10 tomorrow am. Plus I never know what may happen during the day.

So how do you motivate yourself when you just want to be outside. Don't you agree that spring is a lot harder to be creative than winter. Would you make it inside to work?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

hostas--all research should be this fun!

OK--when last you left me, I was trying to decide between bright blue and hostas for my next quilt. Hmm. The bright of a day at the beach. Hostas--the softness of the mist and rain. Hard to decide. Sharon commented that she saw memories of Ireland that she was just visiting. My friend Kari Lonning said hostas--so many different greens, blues, whites, even chartreuse. Now for those who don't know Kari--a wonderful basket maker--she also has an amazing blog about her garden--do check it . But to continue.

I must confess I've been thinking about hostas myself.  Now in the past I've considered them  plants for well-manicured  suburban front lawns. You know those entryways to elegant doors.  Sophisticated.  (Please--don't throw your trowels at me.) This could be just because I've killed more than one hosta.  But then I planted one in a rather difficult location by the side of our house. And as it grew,  I grew to love its study in green form and texture. Just look at that color against the red barn board--yes I see those lilac shoots--later.

So yesterday it was time for  more research--and of course for me the best place is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, MA--so close to my studio.

The tulips are about finished and have been replaced by hostas at the entry way. Isn't this lovely?

Did you know the blueness is because of wax on the leaves? Interesting. It can wear off later in the season.

How different this one looks. Brilliant fresh greens.  Pointed patterns of leaves.

Or the wonderful patterns of gold and white in these leaves. It is important to look at the texture and substance of each leaf--almost meditative.

I walked across the Bridge--stopping to look at other hostas--some the most adorable miniatures--others in great varigated colors. At the other end is a little pond and weathered wooden fence.  The perfect shaded area for even more hostas. So relaxing. Studies in green. There's a wishing well here--what do I want?

A brilliant chartreuse against the rocks. (Why do I always think chartreuse sounds like a purple when I know it is a fresh yellow green? Do you make the same mistake?)

Oh this was love. Or at least lust. I drove  to my favorite nursery--Wanczyk Nursery in Hadley-- a family run operation with 80 acres of endless rows of trees, shrubs, plants. Amazing place. Their sign promises modestly that you'll be surprised how big they are--and they aren't kidding.  And I began my collection. But still I want more. This Saturday is the annual Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale-- from 9-noon in Shelburne Falls.  I'll get there early.

Meanwhile what is it about hostas that so intrigues me? Clearly they are  calm and complete in their designs. Such wonderful very subtle patterns and variations.  The need for careful observation. There is also a mystery in the space between the leaves. And so much more to learn--some of them even have red accents. There's a whole series called mouse ears. I simply must get at least one. I have only just begun.

And how to I make a quilt using my style to capture their essence? What fun to do this research!! Something to ponder. What do you think? Have you studied hostas recently? Do you have a favorite plant? What inspires your work?

Monday, May 17, 2010

time to finish the quilt

OK--I've been working with the color taupe for a few weeks now. I figured out it's the color of newly plowed fields. Or bark--at least black cherry. The dark of a woodland pond. Aged barn board. It's lovely--a complex color with lots of possibilities. And it's the color--or at least one of them--of the new quilt I've been making.

Don't you just love the textures and shades?

But-guess what?  I'm tired of this color. I'm dreaming of bright happy blues. The intense blue of summer sky. Siberian iris. Or maybe the softer greens of hostas. Hmm. Interesting decision.  Or should it be purples. Not sure. Just something different.

First though I must finish this quilt. It's pieced. I pin it up on a board in my studio as I make each block so I can check the colors. If I'm worried about it, I may take its picture to make sure the colors work.

Sewing it together is not my favorite part. I have to be careful.  First I pin two blocks together and sew a seam.

Then I cover the seam with a binding. I just cut it from fabric I have. You can choose your own fabrics.

Iron it flat. And whipstitch in place. I may feather the seam if I can sew it has less bulk.  (There's a lot of time to ponder--bright blue or hosta, bright blue or hosta while doing this hand sewing.)

Repeat until I get rows done. Then I sew the rows together using the same process.  (Bright blue or hosta....) Do note that I alternate the direction I finish the first seams so the end result isn't as bulky.

Bind it, sew on the Velcro, sign it, clean it up. It's done. Sure sounds simple doesn't it? What a relief--although always a bit of a feeling of emptiness.  What do you think?

OK--that's it. How I make the quilts. And now I have to decide--bright blue or hosta? Will the quilt maybe just come to me? I've never made a hosta colored quilt but I know how to make a bright blue quilt.  What do you think?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

quilt as you go--I begin the piecing

OK--I've bought as much fabric as I can justify. You know that feeling. And now I really must get to begin making desert hills. It's always a bit scary to start. I have to get the feeling and colors right since even the first block will determine the next block until--finally--the quilt is done.

I have cut lots of fabric and now I must begin sewing. The process I use is very simple--I call it "quilt-as-you-go"--indeed  I wrote about it for Threads magazine way back in 1999. It's based on a method used to make the old crazy quilts of the Victorian era--then Michael James worked on this technique for one of his early books. I tried his method--joining the blocks was too hard for me so I added a few twists. Others have also worked on this method--you may already know it. If not, let me show you.

I begin with a block for the back and a piece of batting--I like the traditional cotton batting for most projects.

Then I take two of the wedges of fabric and put them with their right sides together. I stitch the seam with the stitches going through onto the back.

And press the seam open. I do leave my iron on while I'm doing the piecing. I have it set up right by my machine. Don't you love the automatic shut-off irons?

Now I just continue doing this until I have made the block.

This is what the back should look like. I do suggest keeping your machine clean--you can't hide these backs.

Then I just cut it to the size I want and pin it up on my design board.

Doesn't it look lost up there? The trick will be to piece all the other blocks so that the quilt achieves the overall effect. I don't want the blocks to match too much--I like the discovery of new fabrics. But I don't want any fabric to stand out. This is the hard part.

So have you made a quilt using this method. Any luck. Will the quilt in the end work?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

more confessions of a fabricaholic

OK--as you probably figured out. I love to buy fabric. Indeed as you may know,  Tuesday is my day off--which means it's the day I go and buy more fabric. Just don't tell my DH--he's still not sure that is what I should be doing on my day off. How can I explain to him that it's fun? And I do need more grays for the custom quilt--desert hills--don't I? Of course. At least it's a good excuse.

So last Tuesday, I got to spend an hour at A Notion to Quilt, the other fabric store within 10 miles of my studio. Didn't I say that I'm a very spoiled quilt maker.  Two fabric stores in 10 miles. This store  has two to three thousand bolts almost all of which are different from those at The Textile Company. Located half way between Shelburne Falls and Greenfield on Route 2, they're in a renovated office building--one of those strange modern places you pass and wonder what went on in there--I heard it was the American headquarters of a brush factory from Switzerland-though don't quote me on that one.

Inside it is very light and airy. Becki--the owner--knows exactly what's happening.  Actually this is also a family affair-- Becki, Lenny and Nancy--I just usually deal with Becki.   I swear she recognizes voices from a distance and remembers exactly what project everyone is working on.  Even the entrance--which is around back--is very neat and modern. They actually share the space with Metaphor Yarns in case you need even more color and fiber.

Rows and rows of fabric. Some wonderful grays here with the browns.

Lots of fun prints. No, Ann, not this time. Don't look. Step away from the fabric. I do need an excuse to come back soon, right?

And if you want ideas how to use the fabric--quilts hung all over the store. More traditional than my work. But still gorgeous. See how high the ceilings are.

So hard to choose. Have you noticed how gray is frequently filed with other colors--the gray green, the taupe, the gray blue? A search in itself.

Well, I was successful. Now I have no excuse not to get this quilt done.

For those who want, there is a long arm machine that can be rented. Lots of classes, get-togethers, time to sew. I don't know how she gets it all done. And you, do you have a favorite fabric store or two?  Maybe another place for me to visit on Tuesdays? After all, I do need more fabric, right?

Monday, May 10, 2010

desert hills--the story of a custom quilt

For me, there is nothing harder than making a custom order. After all if you think about it, a customer has actually trusted me to make a piece that not only fits into a specific site but also meets their vision.  Personally I think it is one of the most difficult things that I do. This is especially true when I am working on a custom order.

Let me explain by using a particular quilt "desert hills" as an example.

The original piece was part of a series of color studies I made where there was a wonderful sweep of color that convey different feelings of the landscape. In "desert hills" I was trying to capture the subtly of color and shape on the desert. 

As you can tell from this snapshot the colors here are dusty--similar to the colors of the desert. Golds and grays. Subdued shades. Just the hint of dusty green. Dry but not dead. The contradiction of the desert.

This piece however was too large-- 40x56 inches. The client needed a quilt 32x48 inches-- significantly smaller. There are two major challenges for this work. First, I need to figure out the fabrics that will work. Second I'll need to condense the quilt to fit the space. This means that I must use fewer fabrics and color ranges to convey the essence of the piece. Each fabric in fact will have to work harder at doing its job.

This was a quilt I had made a couple of years ago. Shortly after I took the order, the quilt got its own "happy home." I'm left to examine the snapshots I've of the piece and my memories of the feelings that this quilt evokes for me.

Obviously I no longer have many of the fabrics used in this quilt. Even if I did have them all, the quilt would still take on its own life. Each sliver of fabric predestines the next fabric. So my next step is to begin to assemble lots of the fabrics that could be used to create this piece.

I begin by playing with the fabrics that I have. 

Even the simple light colors have to be looked at carefully. Some have too much pink in them. Others have brilliant white. This one for instance is far too yellow.

Other fabrics are too bright or too intense. I need colors that are muted. Fabrics printed with lots of white in the design. Lots of calming influence in the color. Nothing pure here.  For instance consider these darker colors. They all look like there is almost a fog calming them down. Pure colors will not work for this quilt. For now I'll work on something easier as I wait for the colors to digest.

And you, how do you begin a piece? What process do you use to create the right colors?  Will this quilt end up working when I get it pieced together?

Luckily for me, there are some wonderful new muted fabrics out there. Complex colors in greys and browns with just a hint of pattern. I grab them all and gaze at them.

This process can actually take me a long time to get the colors right. When I think I have the color palette, then I cut small wedges in all the fabrics that I think I'll use. These I assemble on my sewing machine table. Ready to begin the process of sewing them. But that'll be for tomorrow.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Bridge of Flowers--my Mother's Day special

Walking back from the bank yesterday I took a slight detour across the Bridge of Flowers--ah ha,  the perfect post for Mother's Day. Every where I go--DC, Philly, Evanston-- people know the Bridge of Flowers--or as many call it the Flower Bridge--in Shelburne Falls. Definitely world famous.
Maybe you've seen a picture of it.

Now I'm not writing about it just because of flowers and Mother's Day. Really--that would be too easy. There is more to it than that.

But first, a primer on Shelburne Falls which I call a figment of the imagination. The downtown areas of the Town of Shelburne and the Town of Buckland separated by the Deerfield River, it has always had a special place in this part of western Mass.  The towns share a fire department and a water/sewer system but have separate police departments and town governments. Between the two towns there are at least 3 separate libraries--we do have our priorities straight.  Shelburne Falls is the commercial center for this part of western Mass. It was where the early high school was--and where the new regionalized high school is--well, sort of.

And what a great view there is. I took this picture looking upstream from the Bridge.

Back before the advent of cars, farmers would bring their families into town for the winter. Indeed when I moved here 29 years ago, there still were a couple of winter homes for farmers from the more remote areas.  The trains stopped here--just above where my studio is actually. And it is because of the trains that we have the Bridge of Flowers.You see, back in the early 1900's the existing bridge was not strong enough for the new rail and trolley lines so a new bridge was built across the river.  It's worth checking out these pictures of the construction--elegant arches in wood frames. The river still flowing over the rocks. Of course as frugal Yankees they put the water pipe between the 2 sides of the Village through the bottom of the Bridge.

Aren't these arches wonderful? This is the view from my studio--there are actually two bridges in this picture--the Iron Bridge for cars and the Bridge of Flowers. And yes, I do spend far too much time looking at it--wouldn't you?

The trolley ran down from Colrain--8 miles north. Indeed I've met a couple of older women who took the trolley into Shelburne Falls every Monday morning to attend high school--there were no high schools in Colrain. They stayed in boarding houses. On Friday they'd take the trolley back home.

However, in 1927 the advent of the automobile doomed the trolley. The bridge itself was weed covered and standing in disrepair but it couldn't be torn down because of those water pipes--remember. A local woman had a brilliant idea that the Women's club should plant the Bridge in flowers.

The initial project cost only $1000 although I'm sure that was a lot of money back then--this was the beginning of the Great Depression. In 1975 concern began to grow about the deterioration of the condition of the Bridge. Fund raising began and through a combination of grants and the contributions of more than 500 individuals, more than $500,000 was raised to totally rehabilitate the Bridge. During this time all the plantings were removed from the Bridge and cared for in private gardens. Pictures of this are posted here:

A couple of years ago the Bridge just celebrated its 80th birthday. The head gardener Carol DeLorenzo and her assistant Tish Murphy are constantly working on the Bridge--applying compost--digging and planting new and unusual flowers. I love walking across it and seeing what's new. Later in the spring volunteers are busy picking up the ornamental apples from the crab apple tree--yes, there are a couple of trees on the bridge. The soil is 9 feet deep at the arches.  Others are brushing gravel back onto the walk or dead-heading the flowers. There is always something new. Volunteers are welcome Wednesday evenings 5-7 and Friday mornings 8-10 a.m.

The Bridge is still managed by a special committee of the Shelburne Falls Area Woman's Club. They hire the gardeners and help raise the money to support it. Each year more than 15,000 people visit the Bridge strolling along the gravel paths and taking photos of the latest flowers blooming. I consider myself lucky--my studio is just down river from the Bridge--I can walk across it to go to the Bank, go to the Post Office, get groceries at Keystone Market--(Wednesday and Friday they have a curry special). And I love the fact  the primary force behind the Bridge is a group of wonderful, dynamic women--some of whom are descendants of the original creators of the Bridge. Others have just moved to the area. All interesting in their own way.

Isn't this what mothering is about? Taking something and nurturing it--bringing it to fruition and then meeting the problems as it matures. Aren't we all in some ways mothers to our communities. Do you have a similar concept in your town?