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.