Friday, December 30, 2011

looking forward not backward

OK--it is December 30. The radio is busy summarizing the highlights of the year--actors we lost, best songs, controversies that weren't. You know the gist of it--they do it every year--just the details are different. That's what people do at this time isn't it? Auld lang syne--singing in the new year with memories of the old.

Not me. Not this year. Sure there were good things in 2011. I started working with very thin strips of fabric. I loved the concept when I began last winter and I still love it now, don't you? The wall hangings that have that splash of intense color.

The smaller pieces--the eyeglass cases, the purses, the wall hangings--that just have the power of those tiny strips. Love them all. Hard to keep them in stock actually, I guess that's what you call high class worries, isn't it?

Of course, there was Tonks. I must remember that I got her this year. What a sweetheart.

 I can't forget how wonderful my DH was. What a hero. Working tirelessly to help me after my studio floated. And speaking of help--I must also say how amazing my friends, the community of Shelburne Falls, other quilt makers and the crafts people and artists and my customers are. The most generous, kind, giving group of friends anyone could possibly have. I just can't thank you all enough. Amazing how people show there true nature in such times.

You see, I am avoiding talking about the obvious. My friend John Sendelbach published pictures of Irene in his blog if you want to see them HERE.  He has got the videos posted there too. I looked at them yesterday--or was it the day before--I have met people who saw the images when they were in France. South East Asia. Australia. Not what I need to see again thanks. I loved that building. I didn't need to get my 15 minutes of fame like that. Nope. Thank you. Enough.

So that is why I am thumbing my nose at 2011. No farewell for me. Think of that word--fare well. Nope. Not this time. It is good bye, good riddance. Don't forget to shut the door on the way out. Can't wait to see the end of you. As for me, my DH and I are going out on New Year's Eve to celebrate the arrival of 2012. Remember I have the walnut table in my studio--that is where I come from. You can read about it HERE. We will raise a glass to 2012. Cheer. Celebrate the dawn. It has to be better, doesn't it?

And you--how do you plan to celebrate 2012? What will you remember about 2011?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the turning of the seasons

Today is officially the first day of winter. The solstice occurred at 12:30 am this morning--that mysterious time of year when the earth seems to slow down and dark prevails. Soon the days will get longer until finally the longer days will lead to spring and  the return of warmth. Already, thanks to some strange rotations of the earth, the sun is setting a couple minutes later in the afternoon--don't ask me to explain, I just know it is (and if you are really curious you can read more about it HERE.)

For me, it is time to stop concentrating on eyeglass cases and potholders and think of new designs.  My sketchbook is full of ideas. Directions to pursue.The Baltimore Craft Show is only eight weeks away--YIKES!!!

But first, I must finish orders. The ones I took at the craft shows--the ones the customers did not need until January. Free my slate so to speak. First, the big one I saved especially for this time of year. A smaller version of endless fields.

Now maybe you remember this quilt--the wonderful lush colors of the fields changing and stretching into the horizon. How simple and complex this quilt is. How rich these colors are. I made it last year. Love the quilt. Love the design. I even made it in more greys and browns as you may remember.

This time, I have an order to make it smaller--single bed size. The color progressions will have to occur more quickly. The fabric selection must be just right. There is no room for error.

I spend months shopping for just the right colors. Replacing the burgundies and greens, the reds and rusts that I need to make the quilt sparkle. I make a special trip to get enough wonderful blacks--some with a bit of pizazz so it is not just a solid band of black.  New blacks with spirals and leaves. Black blues and black greens.

I study the quilt--trying to absorb the colors and movements. I make more placemats, purses. Yes I am procrastinating. Winding up for the large project. Wind up. Take a deep breath. Try to overcome my fear.  The customer is kind and patient but this is the time to begin. Now as many of my readers know, my  studio in Shelburne Falls is open to the public. I like it this way since I never know who may drop in. What may happen.

But that also means that during this time of anxious anticipation--as I await the holidays--I am in the studio working.  So much to do. A meal to prepare. Gifts to wrap--will the step children--such wonderful young adults--like their gifts? What tales will they have to tell. What about my DH--he has been so wonderful this year--I can't thank him enough. I didn't even do Christmas cards this year--I hope everyone understands. Will I get to see my young friend who told me that she had been in Hollywood too long--unless a movie is a blockbuster, it is just another film.

I know myself--making this quilt will anchor me. The slow steady progress of a large piece. One block at a time. Until the quilt finally takes off. Assumes its own life and propels me forward. So I make the first block. How lonely it looks on that board by itself, doesn't it?

Am I moving in the right direction? Are the colors right? Will it work? Amazing how a few more blocks create a pattern. The light is faded in the image but the design shows through.

Do I need to make the colors change more quickly? Are the greens getting light enough? The burgundies the right shade? So much to think about as the light returns. As I check off one more order from my to-do list. As I welcome the visitors to my new studio.

And you--what do you do as the seasons change? How do you prepare for the New Year? How do you schedule those large works? When do you notice the days getting longer?

Friday, December 16, 2011

can a quilt be too thin and too purple?

Now I must admit I tried very hard not to express my fears as I kept discussing the order with my customers. Sure I agreed with them that the color and design of red sky were wonderful.

It would be easy to make a quilt half as wide. Keep the sunrise--or is it a sunset. That would be fun. But--that was not what the customers wanted. No, they wanted the quilt one panel wide and long--64 inches long. And they didn't want the light colors up at the top. Just colors as dark as possible. With a hint of the sun. One panel of the ocean at the very bottom of the quilt. And they wanted it before the holidays. Sigh!!

Of course I smiled sweetly. After all, they had ordered from me before--twice. And I could certainly understand why they wanted it before the holidays--their daughter was coming home. She lives across the country and of course they wanted to show off the new quilt to her.

But quite frankly this has been a very exhausting year--as I am sure you can understand. Even if my studio had not floated down the river, it would be hard to have enough different colors of purple and blue to create an interesting piece.  Now--with a reduced fabric selection, the challenge would be even greater. Would the quilt be too dull? Too thin? Too dark? Where would the story come from?

As you can tell,  I was more than a bit wary of this project. Sigh!! Where would I find the energy to work on this piece that might not even succeed--no matter how hard I tried. Well, there was nothing to do but take a deep breath and start to cut the fabric.  I made the first blocks. Added some dark grey to create interest. And kept piecing. Hmm.

The first effort looked great--but not as warm as red sky. OK--add some navy and blue. I have just time to remake the quilt. See if that is closer to the initial design. Put up a test piece of the yellow sun.

Yes, this is working. Will it look better when I sew it together? More polished and complete?

 Yes, this is a quilt.  Not bad.  I see lots of possibilities. Maybe I should make several. Hang them in an arrangement. Oh, don't you love it when a custom order points to new directions? New ideas?

What other colors can I use? What other designs? Should they be the same length--or different? Change the colors? Sold in groups or individually?  How to display them? Can I get a few ready for the Baltimore Show in February? Or is this an idea that I should not pursue? What do you think?

Friday, December 9, 2011

the walnut table

Now of course I never met her--she was before my time--although I have seen pictures. She was a stolid, solid woman of uncertain age that you did not mess with.  I knew her house quite well. It was a modest two story wood frame house painted yellow. You have been there and can imagine what it looked like.  Downstairs was the obligatory parlor separated by a sliding wooden door, living room and large country kitchen. That is where the walnut table with the many leaves reigned supreme. Upstairs were where the bedrooms were supposed to be.

That changed though after first her infant son and then her quiet kind husband died suddenly leaving her with two young daughters to raise and of course the house. Her options were not great back then--move in with relatives and become a second class citizen, remarry to an uncertain future. The poor house--yes there really was such a place just outside town--was not even considered.She would not give up her children.

She chose to take in boarders.  Moved her two daughters down into the parlor and rented the upstairs to single men working in town hunting for a clean room, solid hearty food two or three times a day on that same walnut table. For extra money she did their wash and ironing--spread newspapers on the table and heated those big flat irons on her cook stove. That much I know for sure--the table bears the imprint of the newspapers.

Somehow she scraped together enough money to buy a piano for the living room--maybe it was there already. Give her daughters piano lessons--that was what young ladies did in those days. Her daughters were to study not help with the boarders.  They were going to be prepared for life. After graduating from high school, the older--my Aunt Jo--went to nursing school--became the first public health nurse in the county. Although she never married, she did know love--but that is another story (and a good one, I might add.) She lived in that yellow house until she died. Sleeping in that same parlor that became a bedroom. Eating at the same table covered in oil cloth.  Doting on her nephew--my Dad. You see this is a very personal story.

I have written about the younger one before. You can read about her quilts HERE. She was my grandmother. The one who made quilts. She was sent to the Teacher's College. Oh how she hated boarding out with the farm families in the south part of the County. She quickly married a handsome young farmer who said little and came to resent his silence. But she had my father and her quilts. Her degree--the training served her well when she had to go to work in the local school system to save the farm during the Depression.

And I always knew that this walnut table would be mine some day. But first after Aunt Jo died, it was in my parents' kitchen. They replaced the oak table that was almost a carbon copy with the walnut table full of memories. Always covered in oil cloth. Then when they died, it was shipped to my home in Massachusetts where it was of course covered with more oil cloth and placed on the porch for our summer meals. How glad I was to have it.

Then after I lost my studio and got settled in my new space I realized I needed furniture. I thought of the walnut table just sitting there unused for half the year. Sure it was a bit beaten with age. One leg is cracked. There are a few dings and scars. I had forgotten the memories of this table, the stories that are a part of the fabric of my life. But don't I need it right now? We can find another table for our porch for a while.

It was heavier than I remember.  I rubbed furniture polish on its smooth surface. No oil cloth this time. Did my great grandfather the carpenter make it? I don't think so. My sister has the baby cradle that he made. The table looks to be of a standard design. I have looked for his initials but I don't think that matters anyway.  There it sits in my new space. Proudly showing the newspaper print which some day I must try to read. Proudly sharing its stories. Reassuring me that I come from a long line of survivors--don't we all? That we all have stories that help make us who we are, don't you think?

And you--what stories do you have to tell? How do you tell them? And if you are in Shelburne Falls, I do hope you will come into my new studio and see the table. It does look pretty good there doesn't it?