Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday "Quilty as Charged" Anybody?

I know, I know. I have so sorely neglected this blog that I deserve to be kicked out of the blogosphere for all of time and eternity. From the "excuses, excuses" list, please note that I was on that book deadline, and then I needed a break, and then I had to gear up for a hysterectomy, and then I had the hysterectomy, and now I am still recovering from that, which really is taking as long as they said it would-- six weeks. Which is kind of a drag because I'm tired all the time.

But I have a speaking gig at a quilt gig lined up for next Tuesday, and another three gigs lined up for 2009. And I'll be selling my book, "Quilty as Charged: Undercover in the Material World" at these events. Which got me thinking-- you need not be present to win and all that. So if you would like to send a signed copy of "Quilty" to some quilt nut you love who would love to receive it for the holidays (or for no particular reason at all besides quilt love), let me know. You can email me at Yes, it is cheaper to order from UT Press, so feel free to do that. But if you order from me, like I said I'll sign it and I'll also wrap it real nice and mail it direct.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Book Finished! Everything Coming Up Roses!

Once again, I've let a good stretch lapse between posts. I finally had to buckle down and get the book finished. The deadline was September 1st. I turned in the manuscript late on August 31st. The goal was to go to the beach for a few days to unwind after that but Hurricane Gustav dashed those plans. And also, without stopping to breathe deeply, I dove right into researching my next book, a lost-at-sea saga that is going to be very intense in both the organizing and the telling.

But despite that, I am feeling some relief at finishing Quilting Art. And to trot out an overused analogy, writing it was like making a quilt. I had all this great material to work with, material I had gathered all over the place in my travels. And I had to cut it and piece it together and make it into something others can appreciate.

Even though it's a tired metaphor, it remains apt. And I actually reminded myself, as I worked, that really, I was working on the written equivalent of an art quilt. The book was such a departure for me-- my first three books were memoir/first person. And even my fourth book, which was about quilts, had a big first person component. Not this one. Yes, I do a little first person commentary in the introduction. But after that it's me telling the stories of others.

That turned out to be a great experiment for me. I know I'm not totally done writing accounts from my own life. Which, of course, is why I blog. But a part of me feels at peace with a lot of the stuff I used to work through in my memoirs. And I realize that, after over twenty years of reporting-- my bread and butter work-- I've gotten really good at listening to other people's stories, and observing them closely, and zooming in on the details needed to paint a decent portrait of them.

So now the writing doesn't feel hard. Which isn't to say it's easy. But I'm not swinging in the dark anymore and I have a good idea, going into a project, of the size and shape it will take in the end. Very nice to be on this perch after literally decades of honing my skills.

Hopefully, very soon, I'll resume running interviews and stories here of art quilters. For now, it's nose to the grindstone with the new book proposal and, okay, a little relaxation, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Boo Davis Rocks Out with Her Quilts Out

Wow. Keeping up with the blog and trying to meet the book deadline while simultaneously working my other jobs is... well, let's just say it's a good thing I like a challenge. I spent time last week polishing off some profiles and also talking to Susan Else, who does these amazing, 3-D sculpture quilts. But I still haven't told you about Boo Davis, whom we visited in Seattle weekend before last.

Boo is a designer and illustrator by trade. Earlier this year, she ditched her day job to pursue the quilting thing full time, a choice she admits has its hurdles. There's the COBRA insurance plan (expensive), the lack of ready company she had at the office (though her cats do stand in as coworkers now), and the need to generate enough work to stay afloat. Toward that end, she recently got a contract to do a book of quilt patterns. Alas, the book will not exclusively feature her Evil Rock Quilts. The publisher wanted some, uh, kinder gentler patterns, too. But at least there will be some of her trademark heavy metal work.

Boo really is a metal head, who used to listen to Ozzie Osbourne while wrapped up in a quilt at her grandmother's house when she was little. After making lots of baby quilts for friends, she decided to do a mash-up of her love of sewing and her love of metal. I'm pretty sure she's the only quilter out there doing this thing as a full time gig.

Here's another one of her pieces. And you can see more at her web site:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hanging Out With Margot Lovinger

Warren and I had a great time visiting with Margot Lovinger in Seattle. I have, in my years of learning about alternative techniques, seen an awful lot of innovation. But I have to say that I have not ever before seen anything like Margot's work.

I ask just about every artist I interview to tell me what they think about the word "quilt" as a description for what they do. Some shy away from using the term "quilt artist" to describe themselves, preferring "textile artist." This isn't so much a shunning of the craft root of quilting. Sometimes what it's about is recognizing that some gallery owners, art buyers, and museums pass unfair judgment and are immediately dismissive when they hear the term. Others embrace the word quilt and find that it opens doors for them because so many people instantly get a good feeling when they hear the word. Even if they view a portfolio of work that doesn't match the mental image that "quilt" initially conjures, the fact that that initial connection got made makes for a good start in some cases.

It's not a black and white argument, of course. And plenty of artists see both sides. As for Margot, she doesn't have a problem with the word "quilt" or, as her fellow artists in the Contemporary QuiltArt Association sometimes jokingly call it: "The Q Word." For Margot, it's just hard to come up with a term that accurately describes what she does. Does she use fabric? Check. Does she use layers? Check. Does she use stitches? Some, but not that many-- not nearly as many as most. Still, she incorporates all the basic components of quilting.

Her background is painting and her passion is figure painting. She attended both Parsons School of Design in New York and The Museum School in Boston. By her own admission, her attempts at painting figures wasn't what she wanted it to be. She fell into painting with fabric by accident. Working on a huge quilt to honor her deceased father, she created large wings comprised of thousands of "feathers" made of sheer fabric. She spotted "a piece" of fabric across her studio that was a precise color she wanted to work with. Upon closer inspection, she saw that what she was actually looking at was several pieces of sheer fabric layered. Which is when it dawned on her she could create an infinite color palette by layering different colors.

This led her to where she is today. She'll begin by taking about 200 photos of a model and then, through a process I'll detail more in my book, she eventually creates a map on the fabric. She then "shades" with colors she creates with layers of tulle, organza and chiffon. She doesn't use paints or dye, just fabric. This seems impossible to believe, even when closely inspecting the results, which I had the pleasure of doing.

Really, it's just astounding stuff.

So thanks, Margot, for the great art talk, the delicious lunch, and the chance to learn about yet another incredibly innovative way to use textiles to create art. Here's another:

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Textile Delights in Portland/Astoria/Seattle

David's quilts hanging in the Blue Scorcher Bakery in Astoria, Oregon

Warren and I spent the weekend in Seattle. We were there to interview and photograph Margot Lovinger and Boo Davis for the Quilting Art book. I’ll tell you about each of them in posts later this week. For now, let me say, Warren and I LOVE Seattle. We were there less than forty-eight hours but during that time both of us announced, numerous times, how much we’d love to live in such a cool city. (And we know from cool cities—Austin is fabulous in its own right.)

I actually flew to the Pacific Northwest earlier in the week, to Portland, to meet up with my ex-brother-in-law, David, who is a quilter. He’s got a place in lovely Astoria, a couple of hours from Portland, and he’d invited me to stay there with him. Astoria is where the Columbia River meets the Pacific. It’s also where Lewis and Clark finished up their little walk. The views there are stunning and many of the quilts David makes are inspired by the view out his second story bay window at an every changing, multi-layered horizon, a sandwich of river and tree line and mountains and sky. For my part, I got to sleep out on the deck in a tent, in weather that included rain and temperatures in the 50s which was such a welcome relief after leaving 100+ degree Austin.

This was my third trip to Astoria and so I’m starting to remember how to find my way around town, and the names of some of the locals. On the flight to Portland, I finished listening to the audiobook version of Julia Child’s, My Life in France. I keep meaning to file a gushing book report here about that book. I found it so compelling. Okay, wait, let me stop the Seattle report for a minute and deliver the mini book report, since I want to relate it to my Astoria trip. Here we go:

So Julia Child and her husband Paul worked for the US government and Paul was eventually posted in Paris. They arrived when Julia was in her mid-thirties (and Paul in his mid-forties) and she spoke no French. Nor, in fact, was she much of a cook. But she fell in love with the city instantly, determined she would learn the language and, as time marched on and she was seduced by all the amazing restaurant food, she set out to learn French cooking methods for herself. This led her to the Cordon Bleu School.

There was a lot to love about the book—Julia comes across as pretty ballsy and pretty brassy but that was fine, not annoying. Because when she dictated the book to her co-author, she was in her eighties, and it wasn’t like she was telling tall tales of her plans for taking over the world of cooking. She’d already proven herself. This was recounting, and reminded me of Isadora Duncan’s ballsy, brassy autobiography, My Life, which, though far more tragic, shared thematic elements with My Life in France. Namely, both women got it in their heads to change the face of something that already existed with deep, cultural roots—French cooking and dance. And each did it.

The passion exhibited by each inspired me to no end. To the point that, while I’ll never be a dancer, I did spend a lot of this weekend fantasizing that I might become a food writer who travels the globe in search of the next gastronomical orgasm, getting paid handsomely to write about my experiences while Warren, ever my accomplice, snaps gorgeous photos of food so obscenely beautiful and delicious that eating it fills me with the perfect amount of guilt, which I compensate for by giving 75% of my hefty celebrity-food-writer salary to hungry children around the globe, children hand selected for me by my close, personal friends, Brad and Angelina and their seventy-five children. Yes, that is how inspired I was by Julia Child, and inspired even further that she didn’t really get going on her career til she was about 45.

OK, wait. Where was I? Oh, I was passionately praising authors who are passionate about their work to the point that their passion inspires passion on my part. This is not unlike what I experience when I meet and talk to art quilters around the country. I am reminded of the many parts—good and bad—of leading an artist’s life. This in turn rejuvenates me when I am fighting to reclaim time for my own creativity, or when I am struggling to express myself creatively in a way that really represents what I want to say, and doesn’t go treading into commercial waters. That’s not always easy, since I do so much commercial work there’s bound to be a little leakage.

As I listened to Julia C’s book, I was struck by this low grade jealousy I sometimes feel when I read/listen to accounts of people jet setting and partaking in the sorts of rituals that seem forever out of my reach. I just don’t think I’ll be building a country villa in Provence anytime, soon, you know? Or hanging around in my kitchen mixing up some duck blood and veal hearts for internationally renowned chefs and over eager magazine writers from Vogue.

That said, it did dawn on my that my yarn buying ritual in Astoria is the sort of experience that, if I think about it, is my own version of an annual pilgrimage to France, the stuff that exciting memoirs are made of, the sort of accounts that make others appropriately jealous. Because each summer, for three summers running, I have taken advantage of a chance to buy yarn from Margaret Thierry. Margaret used to sell at the Astoria Farmer’s Market. That first time I met her yarn, I didn’t meet her. Her booth was being run by Shannon. More on Shannon in a minute.

The second year, last year, I did meet Margaret. I bought some hand dyed mohair from her, bright red, which I made into a top-down sweater. Actually, being a sloppy crafter, I mismeasured my arm length calculations and so fixed things by renaming the sweater a shrug. It’s just beautiful if I do say so for myself. I also got some cool green worsted weight stuff from her, which I made into a scarf for Warren even though Warren, being a guy, said something like, “I already have a scarf, what are you making me another one for?” when I started the project, not understanding the importance of letting one’s girlfriend make one a nice homemade scarf.

Me modeling Warren's scarf which he now appreciates and which matches his eyes perfectly

This year, when I got to Astoria, I was standing in the Blue Scorcher Bakery (which I wrote about here and here), when I spotted a woman who looked familiar. I could’ve sworn I’d seen her the year before knitting outside the cafe.

“You’re a knitter, aren’t you?” I asked.

She gestured at my hand-dyed Manos sweater, which I’d made myself, and said, “So are you.”

That was all we needed to get the conversation started. I asked her, over coffee, if she knew Margaret. She laughed and said not only did she know Margaret, she was living in Margaret’s house with her two kids when the house burnt down. Shannon and her kids made it out safe. Margaret, it turned out, had moved away to Washington before the fire.

Though I hadn’t known about the fire, I actually did know already that Margaret had moved away since, on my way down to the Blue Scorcher, I’d called the number on her website. Margaret told me her Astoria days were over, but that she’d be in Seattle on Sunday. My heart leapt. I would get to stock up on her beautiful mohair after all.

Meanwhile, I still had some time in Oregon to enjoy. Shannon and I reconvened the next day and she said to me. “Hey, the first time you bought Margaret’s yarn, was it two years ago? And were you with a guy?”

Bingo. When she asked that it came back to me. She’d been working the booth, I’d bought a bunch of chartreuse-ish mohair. I was with my then-husband and we were on our honeymoon, no clue that the marriage would last less than a year. She described the yarn I’d bought before I could. And then I remembered out loud that she’d been knitting a bra when we met, a memory she confirmed. I told her what I’d done with the yarn I bought—it was far too beautiful to give away or throw away, but it reminded me so much of my ex so I couldn’t keep it around the house. Since I worked with the yarn during therapy a lot, knitting away as I sorted through the hell of divorce with my therapist, when I finished the lap blanket, I asked if I could leave it at the office. And that is where it remains, there to offer comfort and warmth to other people working through stuff.

I bid Shannon good-bye on Friday and David and I headed up to Seattle where Warren flew in that night. Saturday morning Warren and I wandered off to Pike’s Market, the famous tourist spot with live music, acres of fresh cut flowers, piles of lavender and, yes, fish being thrown around. There I met another Margaret, who makes these cool bags that look like those old pot holders I made as a kid, or like rag rugs. She also makes bags on a simple loom using bulky wool. Here are some pictures. I was in textile heaven.

A cool rag rug style bag

cool bags

more cool bags

Margaret who makes cool bags

Then we visited Boo and Margot and, like I promised, more on them soon. The crowning moment came Sunday when we went to the Ballard Farmer’s Market, totally bustling on a gorgeous, just-barely-chilly morning, and found Margaret and her yarn. Margaret is a trip. She’s seventy, an artisan and craftswoman. She’s got the long gray braids I always fantasize about growing (though, once again, I just cut off all my hair because that’s the kind of girl I really am). We had such a lovely time and I got all of this very cool yarn.

Margaret The Yarn Dyer at Ballard Farmers' Market in Seattle

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This Is Not A Light Bulb

I am having a grand time imagining the quilts I'm not actually making. But, no, really, I swear I will one day. After talking to a number of artists and hearing about their series work, I've decided I should do a whole series called This Is Not...

The series begins with the This Is Not a Cigarette quilt-- I'm actually going thrift shopping in hopes of finding what fabric I need for that today. Then I will do This is Not a Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cake, which will have a thin layer of purple and white at the top, a whole lot of dark brown in the center, and maybe a big fork on the back. What appeals to me, besides the silly homage to Magritte, is that, frankly, these pieces will fall in the Very Simple category, which is what I need to get going. Oh I find the process daunting, still haunted as I am by my eighth grade home ec's teacher palpable dismay at my "skill set" at the machine.

Today's addition the the This Is Not a Series In My Head series, is the This Is Not A Light Bulb quilt. And it is inspired by my trip this weekend to meet with Joan, Joanie and Ai. Joan and Ai both have really organized workspaces (which is not to say Joanie doesn't-- I didn't get to see hers). And Joan and I were discussing how it's important to each of us, when embarking on a new project, to clear the space.

I'm not the neatest person in the world. And as I move toward a deadline, papers and magazines and other detritus can pile up around me. But when I am really ready to move on something, I organize, sweep, mop, the works. Inspired by the conversation about art, the organization of space, and my confessions to Joan about a novel I really want to start writing, I came back to Austin and had a major light bulb moment. Big pieces of the novel started flying at me. So I started cleaning my office, which had fallen into quite a state these past few months.

As I cleaned, I listened to Fresh Air, and a segment about the new Batman movie made me realize instantly a major theme I want to include in the book. It was like the universe was rewarding me for making time to clean, because if I hadn't stopped to do that, I wouldn't have heard the radio show and thus wouldn't have had light bulbs popping on. One thought led to another and, knowing how my brain works when it comes to writing, I made myself wait about an hour before sitting down and typing up the notes that were racing around up there. That's not stupidity, the risk of losing ideas. It's pure percolation. And it worked.

Then this morning, I sat down to do my daily meditation, which is when ideally (but rarely if ever) your head clears out. Not mine. More light bulbs lighting up all over the place. I sat as long as I could (not very long) then leapt up and wrote down more notes. Pretty soon, I'm going to start using every free moment I can manage to squeeze out of the day working on this thing.

This is such a huge, added benefit of researching Quilting Art. What a privilege to get to spend so much time talking to artists, discussing form, function, process, inspiration, etc. And I just cannot wait to get cracking on the novel.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quilting Art: Visiting Ai, and Joan and Joanie

[Joan Dreyer's Flag from the Homeland Series]

Last Friday evening, Warren and I hopped a plane from Austin to Newark for our latest round of interviews and photos for the Quilting Art book. On deck for Saturday was Ai Kajima, originally from Japan and now living in Brooklyn by way of Chicago. Sunday was designated for meeting with Joan Dreyer and Joanie San Chirico.

Let me say that, while the flight to Newark was excellent, the flight back was awful (stuck on the runway for three hours, two of those without air conditioning—really). And riding buses and trains and subways to and fro NY is hardly my idea of a good time—over at my other blog I bitch and moan incessantly about poor, woe is me in the city!

But as for actually meeting my goal of capturing great material for the book? Well that, despite all the logistical hurdles, was a smashing success.

Oh where to start? I want to not give away too much, since I am writing a book about all of these artists. Meeting Ai was really interesting because she is, as far as I can tell, very much a free agent, not especially connected to the quilting art community. Which is not to say she has a shunning attitude. It’s just that she went to art school in Chicago and then followed an art path and happens to be into working on her own. There’s a gallery that reps her in NY. And she spends much of her time working on these really interesting collage quilts, which often feature pop cult characters and images. One work-in-progress we saw was a huge montage centered by Jasmine from Disney’s Aladdin embracing a buff and topless Bruce Lee.

[quilt by Ai Kajima]

Ai clips these characters from recycled fabric—kids’ bed sheets are a favorite—and fuses them together, usually without a back piece, just directly piece on top of piece. The quilting itself is fairly microscopic and, as it follows the images on the front, winds up looking like a thread painting on the back, which is typically black.

Next stop, back to NJ. Sunday morning Joan Dreyer picked us up at our hotel and immersed us in such a humongous pool of hospitality and art talk that I’m still processing the kindness and the education. I’m excited about every single artist that’s going to be in the book but I was really drooling for a chance to see Joan’s x-ray “quilts” up close. I’m not even sure I should put quotes around the word quilt there. Technically Joan uses layers and stitches and so, there you go, that’s a quilt. I suppose some critics might disagree but really, who cares?

In addition to Joan, we were lucky enough to get to meet Joanie San Chirico, who is a friend of Joan’s and who lives close enough that she volunteered to drive up. The four of us spent hours talking quilts, art, textiles, and history. Both artists explained their philosophies and also gave us super up close looks at the detail work. I came away feeling like my brain had grown some. Not only does it still sometimes surprise me that I’ve wound up writing about this world, but I’m also continually amazed at the education I’m receiving. The more I talk to the artists, the more I semi-joke that I’m going to go back to school to study the history of textiles.

[from Joanie San Chirico's Catacombs series]

I want to send out an enormous thank you to all of them. Warren and I are pushing it hard, packing in these weekend trips on a tight time/money budget, and Warren especially is pushing it, since he has traditional work hours to keep during the week. That all of the folks we’re meeting are being so generous with their time and knowledge and food and hospitality continues to make us increasingly excited about a project we were already thrilled to take on.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pictures from Our Missouri Trip

A couple of photos from our trip to visit Pam and Russ RuBert in Springfield. One in front of a neon sculpture Russ did and the other in front of their warehouse-turned-studio.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ce N'est Pas Une Cigarette (This is Not a Cigarette)

I’m a huge fan of the painter Magritte and I’m lucky enough to live about 2.5 hours from a good collection of his work. This is housed at the Menil in Houston. I was just there recently, sad that my favorite Magritte, Empire of Light, wasn’t on display, but delighted that I was able to find a new favorite, The Origin of Language, which very much made me think of a recent trip Warren and I took to Hawaii. (Yes, we are spoiled with all of our traveling.)

[The Origin of Language]

One very famous Magritte that was not hanging—though an early sketch of it was—is Ceci n'est pas une pipe (This is Not a Pipe). As I recall from a long ago trip taken as a chaperone with a bunch of eighth graders to see this and other works, the title is a reference to the fact that, though you’re looking at a pipe, really, you’re not. You’re looking at a painting of a pipe.

[This is Not a Pipe]

That said, l was thinking yesterday about my ongoing battle to quit smoking. After smoking for about fifteen years, I quit in 2000. To do this, I first took up knitting and then, when my hands were really obsessed with the knitting, I made the leap to quitting. It worked and I stayed quit for six years.

By that point, I was in a really bad marriage with some really angry stepkids who, despite the fact they were legally adults, frequently acted like tantrum throwing toddlers. Now that I’ve been away from them for over a year, I can have a bit of compassion. I think that what they were most angry at wasn’t me. I think they were furious that their mother died when they were little, and no one helped them grieve properly. So when I showed up, it was final proof that their mother—who’d been dead eleven years at that point—wasn’t coming back. All hell broke loose and they got really ugly with me. And then they got violent. And my anxiety shot through the roof.

I began smoking again.

I’ve been trying to quit ever since. I’ve had days, weeks, and even months of success. Then I backslide. I wait for others to bully me into it, like my kid or Warren. But my son doesn’t live with me anymore so he’s not around enough and, besides, why should he be in charge of my dirty habit? As for Warren, he has no sense of smell whatsoever. I could be smoking in bed next to him and, if he were sleeping, he’d never even notice.

So yesterday, as I was recalling how knitting got me over smoking that first time, maybe I could make a quilt to get me through this time. Even though I’m a lousy quilter, once the idea of quilts was introduced to me, I did get a quick case of Quilt Head, where everything I looked at had the potential of being turned into a quilt. Looking out a plane window at patches of land, being in an Olympic sized pool—that big rectangle a beautiful blue dotted with colorful swimming caps and bathing suits.

So I thought, maybe I’ll quilt a big cigarette. Or a box of cigarettes. Though I think an actually cigarette, as if it were unrolled and flat (but still lit) might be funny. Orangish and gray stripe at the top to suggest a burning ash. White for awhile with three gold stripes where filter meets rolling paper. Something like that. And, for the back? Bright pink with appliqu├ęd lungs done in even brighter quilt. And perhaps, in French, This is Not a Cigarette-- Ce N'est Pas Une Cigarette.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Quilting Changed My Life!"

[Pam RuBert's In Bed With a Bad Cold]

Warren and I had the best, best time in Springfield, MO this weekend visiting with Pam and Russ RuBert. I mentioned in an earlier post that they live in a 22,000 square foot warehouse. This is a great example of journalistic error. They actually live in a super cool house with a super cool dog and they work in their super cool warehouse—she on her quilts and he on his sculptures, aluminum and neon. Her work shows all over the country at quilt shows. His is displayed as public art.

We were there for a whopping 36 hours but I have to say we packed in a full week’s worth of vacation fun in addition to our “work.” I put work in quotations because, even though Warren and I are working on this quilting book, it’s such enjoyable work that I think there needs to be a different word for it. I interviewed Pam (and Russ a little bit, too) for a couple of hours while Warren shot pictures of her quilts and studio, which is this super awesome space filled with all sorts of surprises—cool old collectibles—and covered with her work.

When we flew in Friday night, they picked us up at the adorable little airport (I am a huge fan of small airports) and drove us to a nearby park, where Russ’s 23 foot K-Man is the main attraction. As it happens, there was a ballgame finishing up at the stadium next door, and when it concluded, they set off fireworks, which were bursting in the air above K-Man’s head. I suggested they’d orchestrated this to impress Warren and me and to secure a spot on the cover of the book. Pam and Russ also took us out on their boat, and Warren managed to get vertical water-skiing (I didn’t even try—I know my limits), which prompted him to say, “Quilting changed my life!” We pointed out they were setting the bar awfully high for the other quilters we’ll be visiting. Now we expect a personalized theme park treatment from everyone else.

[Russ's K-Man]

I looked at some of the pictures last night and they turned out great. We’re scheduled to meet with a bunch of other quilters over the next six or seven weeks and it’s going to be a major task narrowing down which photos to use for the book.

I was so thrilled that this, our first trip, was so fruitful and so fun, that I got heavily into the fantasy of spending the rest of my working days writing about subcultures and profiling people with niche passions. When I first started writing about quilts, I was interviewing Hollis Chatelain—who’s won a ton of prizes—for Quilty as Charged: Undercover in the Material World, when she told me something that stuck. She pointed out that, like the world of fishing, the world of quilting is this place that, if you’re unaware of it, is a secret, unknown mystery thing. But once you find it, and immerse yourself in it, it’s massive.

There are around 30 million quilters in the US – bear in mind this includes everyone from the fulltime professional artists to folks like me who have some pieces cut out that we keep meaning to get to but sort of never do. Of these, if I’m recalling the stats right, there’s around a million dedicated quilters—those who spend x amount of dollars per year, and lots and lots of time on quilts. And many/most have a dedicated quilting room. A million is a pretty lot, you know? And if I profile them all, twenty at a time (as I am in Quilting Art), well that could keep me busy for a long time.

As for me, when my roommate moves out next month, I’m thinking of turning her room into a dedicated quilting/sewing room. This is sort of funny—last time that room was vacant I made it my dedicated yoga room, by which I mean I put a yoga mat in there, closed the door, and never went in. Hopefully though, I’ll have better luck using it for crafts.

Meanwhile, thank you Pam and Russ. What a weekend!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Book, The Book, We're Working on the Book

So the deadline for my new quilting book, Quilting Art is coming up fast-- September 1st. I'm profiling twenty quilters, and there are going to be lots and lots of photos. Warren (the blog pseudonym for my boyfriend) is taking a lot of these photos and he's organizing the others, previously shot quilt pics. It is a ton of work for both of us.

I just got off the phone with Karen Kamenetzky, who does these incredible hand dyed and painted pieces that she bases on cellular biology. Karen is also a psychologist. Quilting and psychology being two of my passions, I have to say it was a most excellent conversation.

Late today, Warren and I are flying to Springfield, MO, to interview and photograph Pam Rubert, who has a cool series featuring her alter-ego PaMdora. I'd seen one of her quilts at IQF in Houston so when my editor at Voyageur Press suggested Pam as a candidate for profiling, I was all over it. Pam and her husband Russ Rubert, a neon sculpture artist, live in a converted peanut butter factory which doubles as an art studio. They have graciously offered to host us. Should be an exciting weekend.

Then, between now and August 24th, we are also going on trips to NY/NJ, Portland/Seattle, Denver and Washington DC and, perhaps, if time and our tiny budget allow us to, maybe one other locale. Happily, I'm due to go on a knitting and yoga retreat in Maine the third week of September, for what I'm sure will be a much needed break from all this hustling.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How To Make A Button

Over at my other blog, I recently wrote about how I went to a David Sedaris reading. He recommended a book of short stories by Miranda July. I was saying how much I love Sedaris AND July. This post got the attention of the folks at Vice Mag in England. They wrote to tell me about this very funny, very short video featuring Miranda July called How to Make a Button. Check it out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fashion Camp!

For many years, I ran a little writing camp. Up to twenty kids per week would join me for a few hours each day and do writing exercises and perform skits and have what I came to term (to their delight) Unhealthy Snack Time! As the years progressed, I added an arts & crafts component for the last twenty minutes or so. The kids loved this. It wasn't that they hated the writing part-- they made fun magazines and fast friends. But arts & crafts, now that was something.

This led to little craft workshops over the years. And then, last summer, I held Fashion Camp for a couple of weeks. I did this in part to reach out to my estranged ex-stepdaughter, who had had a huge hand in the death of my marriage. She is an excellent seamstress, but she'd never held a real job. So I hired her, and let her lead, and the kids really enjoyed the projects she helped them create. But I was trying too hard then, and though we got through those weeks okay, the closeness and bonding we'd had before I met and married her father (she'd been a student of mine) was gone. I just couldn't get past the hurt she inflicted. I sense she felt the same way.

But I held on to the fashion camp idea. And this past winter, when we were returning from Mexico, I told MaryJ, one of my traveling companions, about the camp. She's got a background in costume design and she is an incredible businesswoman and overall force of nature. We agreed to work together this summer.

Tomorrow marks the end of two one week sessions. We culminate with a fashion show, which the kids just love. They sashay across the stage of the theater in which we hold camp, showing off simple designs they've come up with with the help of MaryJ and our two teen assistants. MaryJ and I get a good laugh over the fact that, though I am a lousy seamstress, crap with money management, and sometimes don't feel terribly patient (which I try not to let show), I am at the helm of an endeavor that calls for all these things.

But I think the key is to just let the kids have some creative freedom, not to be too imposing on them. They get to dig through big bins of old fabric we've accumulated and to take multiple t-shirts and cut them up and reconfigure them into something new, some personal statement. We also do pillowcase skirts and accessories.

All this reminds me of my mother who is an incredible seamstress and who, I think to preserve her sanity, often set her nine children down with lots of inexpensive craft items and let us have at it. I never lost my love of crafting. And though my sewing is lacking to put it mildly, I'm an okay knitter, so I'm not a total loss in the textile creation department.

And now I'm off to another day of humming machines and giggling girls. We'll do a rehearsal today, and put up our set (a big cardboard box painted with a summer scene). And the excitement will build until tomorrow when, at 11:30, we will commence to having a short but thrilling show.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hi Everyone

I hear that Quilter's Home is out with the piece about my heart shaped rocks. Yay! Glad to hear it. Sorry I have so neglected this blog but there's LOTS going on with me and quilting, including six (!) upcoming trips to visit with and interview quilters for my upcoming book. I will post a real post very soon. Just wanted to say hi and thanks for the alert that the magazine is out.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ironing and Used Fabric

Well, the goal *was* to post here a lot more regularly but man I have been busy. Some of this busy-ness is courtesy of working on my new book, Quiltng Art, featuring cutting edge quilters who push the art form to new places. I had the honor of interviewing Loretta Bennett recently. She's a Gee's Bend quilter. And last week I talked to Boo Davis, who does heavy metal quilts. Both talked about how they enjoy using old fabric in their works.

My last fabric purchase was fairly expensive. I went to the Quilt Store in Austin and picked up a lot of khaki colored material to use as sort of a canvas, upon which I planned to use some randomly cut pieces of deep red and equally deep turquoise. I'm not a huge fan of khakis and beiges, but on that day, the quilt spirit moved me to get it. I still have mixed feelings about it.

I then washed and dried this fabric and put it in a heap on the ironing board, where it sat for a month or so. During this time, I was over at Warren's one day, and I had on a house dress I picked up at a thrift store. It's really pretty-- at least I think so. But Warren took one look at it and said, "WHAT are you wearing?"

Warren doesn't really care if I dress in trash bags. He was just surprised to see me in this atypical ensemble. Usually I'm a Levi's and flannel shirt kind of girl. I got defensive. Then we both looked closer at the garment. The pattern is pretty. But really, the style isn't me at all. So I decided that I'll cut it up and use it in this new quilt.

Thus inspired, I went through the closet and found another pretty article of clothing. This, too, I got at the thrift store. And it also is not exactly my style. But the deep red flowers match the solid red new fabric I got. And so out it went, to the ironing board, designated to become part of a quilt. Now a part of me is inspired to only work with used fabric from here on out.

Meanwhile, yesterday, as I often do on Sundays, I hung out with my friend, Will. Will is nineteen and has autism. For many years, I was his part time attendant, taking him on adventures and just hanging out with him. We lost touch for awhile and reconnected this year. As it happens, Will LOVES to iron. One year, for Christmas, I got him a teeny tiny seam iron-- it looks like a little spade on a long handle.

So Will came over and we listened to music and I swept and mopped and he busied himself ironing some of the fabric. He did an excellent job and I am finally feeling motivated to start cutting pieces.

Here are some pictures of the the house dress, and the red print blouse:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beverly's Story

When I started this here fledgling blog, I said I wanted to share stories of other quilters. I got an email from Beverly Hagewood that included a picture and the following story. Great story, Beverly, thanks for sharing. I hope the rest of you will send in stories, too.

Beverly's Story

My name is Beverly and I originally come from Boston, Mass. I moved with my (now ex-husband) to Tenn. in l994. About l l/2 years after I moved to Tenn. my neighbor and dear friend Margaret taught me how to hand piece and hand quilt. She told me to go out and find a wall hanging to start with and when she returned from Little Rock Ark. she would show me how it all goes together.

Well hardheaded as I am I went out and got a pattern in a quilt magazine for a king size Dobbins Fan quilt. While she was away for 2 weeks I pieced them all together and then sandwiched the quilt as she explained earlier to me. I tried to hand quilt it but it didn't look like hers, so I waited a few more days until she got home. I showed her what I have done and she remarked about "wall hanging Beverly not king size.” I think she said it about 20 times. I lost count.

Well she showed me her technique and I completed it and loved it. I still have that quilt twelve years later. Now that I know a lot more about quilting I call it my oops quilt. (I still love it).

Well since then I have quilted in my own way dozens of quilts both on the sewing machine and a lot by hand. Also since then I have gone through a divorce with someone I thought would be my life long partner and lost and found and lost my mother. I remarried in 2002 and also lost my mother-in-law.

In 2004 we had to relocate to Sparta TN.. I hate change and it seems that is all my life has been. Shortly after relocated here and not knowing anyone around I found myself in my little sewing room and decided instead of losing my mind and thinking of all worries and do's and don'ts in my life and what the heck and I doing, I decided to make a quilt. I knew flowers and color made me happy and that’s what I needed. I found inspiration in Victorian wallpaper designs and various patterns on the internet and a dessert prairie rose flower design.

This quilt took 5 or so months of my life to hand piece, applique and quilt. I cried many of tears, prayed for forgiveness, talked to my mom and mother-in-law and talked to God throughout this quilt. I laughed to myself at life’s little moments of times gone by and with each stitch reminded myself of life as a gift every day I awake and good times to come. I also thanked my mom and Margaret for the inspiration they gave me to make this quilt. This quilt I call the Love of Quilting. It was my recovery and renewed outlook on life.

Monday, April 14, 2008

My First Real Quilt

Soon, I will post the story of another quilter-- I'm super busy right now since one of my many jobs is wedding officiant and in Texas, April is the June of the wedding season since June is pretty darn hot. And I'll talk about an interview I just did with a Gee's Bend quilter. For now, a picture of Warren holding up the very first full sized quilt I ever made, a sloppy sloppy scrapaholic that I just love. It matches the little yoga quilt I made for Bubbles. I should note that, even though I saved the picture rightside up on my computer, apparently my computer is also sloppy and insists on uploading the picture sideways. As with my other attempts at photography, I ask that you consider this "art."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Another Sloppy Hobby!

My friend and boss, Julie, hooked me up with an awesome digital camera so I can share pictures of my sloppy quilt progress. I noted in an earlier post that I am crap with following directions. So instead of finding an online manual for the camera, I decided to be sort of an impressionistic painter with it. By which I mean, until I see Julie again and she can remind me where auto-focus is, these lovely blurry images must be referred to as high art so I can get away with posting them. Mostly it's me just practicing. What we have below are a couple of shots (one close up) of my next quilt, i.e. the pile of fabric on the ironing board, which also holds an iron, photographic proof that I own such a device. Also, a picture of Princess Bubbles, one of four of my dogs, the most spoiled, the alpha, she of the Napoleon complex. She is posing with the very first quilt I ever made, a tiny scrapaholic number. For fun, I'm also including a full shot and detail of the Cat Pee Quilt, which I picked up at a flea market. I was admiring it and the guy said that, seeing as his cat had peed on it, I could have it for free. But I wanted to pay something, so I think I gave him five bucks. As you can see, the Cat Pee Quilt is falling apart. Maybe one day I'll learn how to repair it. But I love it as is, love how old it is, and that I can invent stories about how it was made with tremendous love, by some near blind grandmother in her rocker by the Franklin Stove, and then used to cover up her visiting grandchildren. Never mind about the part where it falls in the evil paws of the ungrateful cat.

Anyway, I plan on posting lots more pictures soon, crisp, clear, gorgeous pictures worthy of printing and framing and hanging. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This Is An Iron

I mentioned that a cranky home-ec teacher was the number one reason I opted out of sewing from the ages of 14 til around 40. Not sewing meant, of course, not quilting. But overcoming fear of seams was only one deterrent. Another huge obstacle was this: the need to iron.

I am not kidding when I say that, except for a tiny travel iron I had at some point (can’t even remember when), I just never had an iron. I also don’t have a TV, a vacuum cleaner, or a dishwasher. I like to “keep it light enough to travel,” as a favorite song lyric of mine goes.

But when I did decide to try out quilting, well, of course I had to get an iron. I remember this very well—I got a cheap iron and even cheaper ironing board and set these up in the living room. Two different friends, upon seeing these devices, had comments that went something like this:

Michael: I almost had a heart attack when I saw you bought an iron.

Jill: On, the iron is for quilting? Good. (sigh of relief) I was really worried you were going to start ironing your clothes.

I have seven sisters. I’m pretty sure none of us know how to iron. The topic came up last week when I went to New Jersey for my father’s funeral. One of my younger sisters was bragging that her husband was great at ironing. I don’t know if he had the skill before he met her or if he had to acquire it as a form of adaptation. But suffice it to say, while the Gillespie girls might accommodate their men on some counts, keeping their clothes crisp and wrinkle-free is not one of those areas.

We grew up learning iron-avoiding tips like: If you have an appointment in a half hour and your clothes are wrinkled, throw them in the dryer with a damp washcloth for a little while and they’ll be just fine. Or, if you have the luxury of realizing you have an appointment the next day, you can just hang the clothes on the shower rod and take a hot shower and the steam will do its magic.

I mean, really, we are totally allergic to ironing.

Many years ago, I began taking care of a kid with autism. He’s a young man now. After caring for him for eight or ten years, we lost touch and only recently reconnected. This friend of mine, he’s obsessed with ironing. He loves it. Once, I bought him the tiniest iron ever, a seam iron I picked up at a little quilt shop. He loves it.

Since I’m now in the process of contemplating my next quilt, I’ve taken out my iron and ironing board (models slightly better and more expensive than those I bought when I first entered the world of ironing at the age of forty). They’re just sitting there, waiting, with about ten yards of balled up fabric looking like some bad sculpture waiting to be re-crafted.

My friend came by a couple of weeks ago and I offered him a chance to iron. He jumped right on it. I only gave him scraps to work with but that was enough—he was happy to iron and re-iron them for a long time. I’m hoping his good attitude about the task rubs off on me.

And I will say, once I get into ironing, I don’t mind so much. I put on some music or an audiobook and I just iron and iron and never get all the wrinkles out but do the best I can. I hear Ricky Tims in my head, talking about “aggressive pressing,” a technique he first taught me when I attended a workshop of his (as a reporter, not a participant). Aggressive pressing is his solution to dealing with puckers when one attempts to flatten out curvy seams, seams I have no business using but, what the heck, I try, since when I ask Warren to design a quilt top for me to create, he—not knowing how hard curves are—thinks nothing of sketching something that’s curvier than the Venus de Milo.

Really, I’ll post pictures soon of my ironing progress. Soon as I get around to plugging the iron in.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

How I Became a Sloppy Quilter

I don’t want to give away too much of my book, Quilty as Charged, but to explain how I became a sloppy quilter, it helps for me to recap a little of what I wrote in the book.

This whole quilting thing for me starts back in the sixties, when my mother used to give us kids (eventually there were nine of us) craft projects to do. I think I recall her telling me, years after the fact, that this wasn’t just good parenting and the encouragement of imagination. It was a way for her to keep from going totally nuts. As in, Here ya go kids, some glue and yarn and scissors and construction paper and stuff, now leave me alone for a little while.

My mother was also an incredibly seamstress, and she made a lot of our clothes for us. Again, this probably had more than one driving force. I like to think she enjoyed sewing. But also, she was on a supremely tight budget—my father was a truck driver and, as noted, there were an awful lot of mouths to feed and bodies to clothe. It’s entirely possible that my mother did not sleep between 1958 and 1977 because she was so busy being our tailor.

While I loved a lot of the crafting of my youth, sewing was not something I was drawn to. In junior high, the girls were forced to take home ec classes and the boys took woodshop and automotive repair classes. Mrs. Haggard—her real unfortunate name—was my sewing teacher. In my memory, she was haggard, her pinched face growing more pinched as she scrutinized my horrible attempt to make a skirt, as if I gave her a perpetual migraine. It’s even possible that, like a cartoon character, upon seeing my (un)handiwork, she slapped her hand over her eyes, as if my seams hurt her eyeballs too much to look at for more than a few seconds at a time.

Thus discouraged, I happily quit sewing, and stuck with that plan (save for the occasional button replacement) all the way until around 2002. I did take up knitting—which I still do all the time. In fact, here’s a picture of me wearing some handcuffs I knitted for Warren:

Then in 2002, my friend Sarah, an avid quilter, took me to IQF, mostly so I could have a look around and write an article or two on the topic to pay my rent. Over stimulated by all that fabric and all those tools, I did buy a few things and decided I’d try to make a quilt. It turned out to be more of a comforter —big flannel squares hastily sewn together on a borrowed machine and then tied, not sewn, to batting and back. This I gave to my son, and like to think he loves more than any other possession, even his electric guitar. (Son, if you’re reading this, please don’t spoil my delusion.)

From there, Sarah showed me the scrap-a-holic pattern, and it feels like it took me maybe seventeen years (though I know the math doesn’t add up) to squeeze out another messy-seamed quilt. Which I loved. And which I still love. I’ll get Warren to take a picture of it soon—it’s also featured (hilariously enough) on the cover of my book, in the company of several real, astonishing, carefully sewn quilts made by IQF champions, sort of like if my picture appeared with all those underfed movie stars on the cover of Vanity Fair’s famed Hollywood Issue.

Off and on over the years—as with exercise, vows to quit smoking, and attempts to eat healthy—I have pursued quilting very off and on. I acquired first one thrift store machine and then another, the latter less reliable but guacamole green and thus winning my heart. I finally broke down and bought a new machine—a $100 Singer—the idea being that, just as I vowed never to learn to purl (eventually I did) I have vowed never to learn stippling or stenciling or anything but (my version of) “straight” seams.

Just thinking about being a sloppy quilter reminds me of one Christmas, when I was very little, and Santa brought me this art kit. It was a flat board, with the outline of a jack-in-the-box printed on it. As I recall, you peeled off paper to reveal adhesive. Upon this, you placed string, which you carefully wrapped around and around—does this craft even have a name?—until the picture is “colored in” with thread. What I most remember of the experience is that I rushed through it, didn’t read the directions, and that my mother commented on my insistence to not read the directions. So yeah, that was sloppy, too, but still gave me an enormous sense of satisfaction. It hung on my bedroom wall for years.

Well, that don’t-follow-directions has followed me into quilting. I absolutely drool over point perfect traditional quilts. But I’m a realist. No way am I ever going to be patient or traditional enough to make one of these. When I sit down at the machine, my motto is: What I lack in skill, I make up for in speed. And so I zip along, crooked seams be damned, and happily apply the term “art” to the end results.

But it’s not art you hang on walls. I’m just as big a fan of art quilts as bed quilts. So I pretend to be the master of the art-bed-quilt. Which is to say, I want something that looks funky but that I can also run through the wash seven thousand times (I have dogs and my dogs love to sleep on the quilts), and something that will keep me warm, especially at Warren’s since we are one of those couples where one of us thinks it is a criminal act to run the heater ever, even when it’s ten degrees out and the other of us (guess who) likes to wear wool socks when sunbathing in August.

Along the way I’ve found great encouragement for my sloppy quilts, especially from Ricky Tims and Jeanne Williamson. Which is not to say that either of these art quilters is sloppy—you should see Ricky’s seams. But both have really encouraged me to just have fun with what I do.

And so I do.

Soon, I will post a picture of my latest quilt-in-progress by which I mean the balled up pile of fabric sitting on my ironing board. Starting a quilt for me is a lot like starting a sweater (which I did last night). The idea of it is so daunting that I procrastinate and procrastinate. But then, once I get going, in my dream world, it’s full speed ahead, no stopping to do my day job or meet up with my kid or walk the dogs.

But for my next book, Quilting Art, which comes out next year, I want to have a few quilts to include to show off my, uh, style. I mean, in addition to the sloppy lopsided chicken quilt I made my son for his sixteenth birthday (every boy’s dream gift), and the mini quilts I made for the dogs, and the scrap-a-holic thingee, and Warren’s curvy quilt.

I have no plans to follow any patterns for any of these imagined quilts. I’m just going to get out my scissors and my rotary cutter and let ‘er rip and gleefully imagine Mrs. Haggard turning over in her grave.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Hello Everyone,
I'm Spike Gillespie-- author, journalist and blogger. This is my newest blog, dedicated to my life in quilts. I don't want to say my life "as a quilter" since, as the url says it so well, I am a sloppy quilter to put it mildly. However, I spend a lot of time seeking out and interviewing some of the best, most passionate, most amazing quilters out there. I profiled a number of these wonderful quilters for my first quilting book, Quilty As Charged: Undercover in the Material World.

Now I'm working on a new quilting book, Quilting Art, for Voyageur Press. I am so psyched about this opportunity. My boyfriend-- his code name in blogs is Warren-- is a photographer. So we're collaborating on the project. I'll be interviewing twenty or so innovative quilters and he's going to shoot the quilts (so to speak). Hoping to have this ready for IQF 2009.

I'll tell more about my quilting adventures in future posts. I'm eager to hear from quilters from all walks. While my focus is non-traditional quilts, art quilts, and stuff that really pushes the envelope, I also have a deep love for traditional quilts, which I happily sleep under every night with my Boston Terriers. Well, except when I'm at Warren's, where I sleep under the sloppy quilts I've made.

Please let me know who you are and what kind of quilts you most like working on. And, if you want to stay updated, you can subscribe to this blog.