Monday, October 31, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Seems strange to use the title "Winter Wonderland" for a post written on Halloween.  That is until I look out my window at the 6 inches of snow that still remain on the ground after Saturday night's nor'easter.  Instead of jack-o'-lanterns on my front lawn, I've got two snowmen and a snow-manatee (complements of my creative daughter).  The snow has me in a winter frame of mind so today I'm going to introduce you to my Winter Wonderland quilt.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is a scrappy table runner featuring pine tree borders and snowball blocks in shades of ivory and blue.  The simple piecing and big stitch method I used for quilting made this project fast, fun, and easy to create.  Good news!

But the best news of all is that this quilt is featured in the American Patchwork & Quilting 2012 Calendar!  That's right, call me "Miss January!"  I guess if you're not exactly calendar girl material, having one of your quilts in a calendar is definitely the next best thing.  I've gotten a sneak peek at the calendar and it is gorgeous.  The quilts and the photography are stunning and the calendar comes with patterns/instructions for each of the featured quilts.  Look for the calendar at your favorite quilt shop or, to order, call 1-800-826-4707.

So while it may not officially be winter yet (all evidence to the contrary), it's never too soon to start a project for your winter table -- or to treat yourself to this beautiful calendar.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Not Afraid

To paint, or not to paint?  That is the question that has been dogging me for a month.  I’ve been thinking about taking an art class and today I must decide.

I’ve always wanted to try painting.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE quilting, but sometimes I’m impatient with how long it can take to see the end result of a project and while there are some amazing landscape and art quilters out there, so far I am incapable of capturing a scene or an idea in fabric.  My grandfather was a wonderful painter, as are two of my aunts, a cousin, and my sister-in-law (check out her work).  Their work inspires me and fills me with envy and I fantasize about what it must be like to be able to render a beautiful landscape or still life.  Secretly, I also wonder if some of their talent has rubbed off on me.

The only drawing my instructor liked.

 A couple of years ago I dipped my toe in the water and signed up for a drawing class thinking it was a logical first step towards painting.  At first I thought I was doing pretty well.  My instructor, however, repeatedly asked me "What is it going to take to get you to let go?"   This, of course, really helped me to free myself.  

Yes, it's an apple.
I tried another baby step – this time a pastel class.  I thought using color might be the key to unlocking my creativity (not to mention I got a deal on the class because I signed up with two women from the drawing class).  Turns out pastels weren’t my thing.  Apparently my paintings were a bit "overworked" and "muddy."  I decided to take some time off and focus on my quilting.

But lately I’ve been wondering if it might be time to give it another try.  A local gallery is offering a fall class on acrylic painting.  The course fits into my schedule, the instructor said that even though I'm a beginner, I will "have a blast!" and everyone I've asked thinks I should take the class (I tend to live my life by committee).  No brainer, right?  The truth is, I’m afraid.

What if I spend fabric money and quilting time on the painting class and I don’t like it? What if, despite my carefully cultivated background in drawing and pastels, I’m terrible and I embarrass myself in a room full of expert painters?  Worst of all, what if the bubble bursts and after all these years of hoping I might be able to paint, I learn that I can’t; like how I used to think I would always be able to pull off the short haircut I had when I was 16, only to cut my hair and discover to my horror that 20-some-odd years had left their mark on my face and a pixie haircut just didn’t work anymore.  Years of hair growing ensued.  I’m not sure I could take another blow like that.
Anyway, I’ve managed to put off the decision for several weeks, but over the weekend I had a conversation with my daughter that finally tipped the scales.  My daughter has been planning to join her school’s Drama Club, until she found out last week that she would have to sing as part of her audition.  She is 13, with all that entails, and even though she really wants the chance to do a fun activity with her friends, she doesn’t think singing is her thing and she may not try out.
I found myself alone in the car with my daughter on Saturday and while I had a captive audience (trapping your child in the car is so effective!), I gave her the following advice:  "You should try it, you might like it and you might be really good at it!" and  "Even if you aren’t amazing, it would probably be so much fun!" and "I’d hate to see you let your fear of looking foolish keep you from trying something new!" and, my personal favorite, "You won’t grow as a person if you don’t try something new." 
In the midst of parenting, it occurred to me that I had an opportunity to lead by example.  So I’m finally going to sign up for an actual painting class.  Hopefully I will be able to let go and have fun and be inspired with new ideas that I can carry over to quilting.  Maybe I'll discover that I do possess a hidden talent and I’ll turn out to be the next Picasso, or maybe I’ll discover that I should stick with painting house trim.  Either way, at least I’ll be facing my fears and in so doing, I hope I can inspire my children to do the same.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Finishing

It's a beautiful fall day here in New Hampshire.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and falling leaves are dancing around on a light breeze.  It's the perfect day to work on a fall quilt, especially given my recent obsession with the color orange.  Except I spoke with my mother this weekend and she happily informed me that she was starting her Christmas quilting projects.  Suddenly, even though I'm knee deep in orange and black fabrics with two Halloween projects on the go, my Christmas fabrics have started calling to me.  Ordinarily I would set aside the orange, haul out the red and green, and fire up the EQ7.  But not today and here's why.

The other day I met a woman while talking to a friend in the pick-up line at my children's school.  The woman was glowing and excited, having just returned from a fabric shopping spree.  Instead of quilting, she sews clothes for her children and accessories for her home, but apparently the fabric high is just as good.  I recognized a kindred spirit until she said, "I've got $150 worth of fabric in the car, but it's ok, I'm a good finisher."  Yes, you read that correctly, and I'm not referring to the $150.  She called herself "a good finisher."  I was startled and I've been thinking about it ever since.

I wouldn't say I'm a bad finisher.  I'm especially good if I have a strict deadline.  I'm also pretty good about finishing gifts -- although there was that year that I gave my father a piece of denim and two dowel rods for Christmas (it would have been a handy log carrier) and, if memory serves, I once gave my sister purple fabric and a pattern for a blouse that I never made (isn't it the thought that counts?).  I've got about a dozen UFO's, a handful of unmade kits, and several stacks of fabrics and patterns collected for future projects that I've been carting around for years.  OK, so clearly I'm not in this woman's league.

And it's got me wondering what it would feel like to be a better finisher.  Imagine buying fabric without guilt knowing that you would use it in a timely fashion, thereby freeing yourself up to buy more fabric.  Imagine how much fun it would be to start a new project with the decks and design wall cleared.  Imagine what it would be like to fill others with inspiration (and maybe a little envy) by calmly proclaiming yourself a "good finisher."

Of course the lazy, non-finishing, bargaining side of me is asking whether quilting might be less fun if I force myself to finish before starting something new.  And I wonder if you lose the idea, the creative spark, if you don't immediately follow the energy.  I don't know.  What I do know is that this woman seemed dynamic, happy, and confident and it's worth a try.  So today instead of pulling out the Christmas music and getting a jump on a gift or two, I'm going to resist temptation and finish what I've started.  And when the Christmas fabrics in my closet begin to whisper, "J-e-n," I'm going to whisper back, "Shhh, not yet...                                                                        ...maybe tomorrow."

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Apple Blossoms" free pattern

Well, it's Columbus Day, Canadian Thanksgiving, and Monday.  The kids are home from school, I woke up to find the phones dead and the internet connection not working, and it's sunny and 75outside.  Seems like a good day for a short post.  To compensate, here's a link to a free pattern for one of my quilts.

It's called "Apple Blossoms" and it's a table runner that I designed to accompany an article I wrote entitled "Zen and the Art of Binding."  The article was featured in the June/July 2011 issue of Quilters Newsletter, but the free pattern was a web extra and it's still available.

"Apple Blossoms" features super simple piecing, embroidery, and rough-edge appliqué.  I came up with the idea for this quilt while binding another, but it was really inspired by the first chartreuse leaves of spring and the blossoms on the apple tree in my front yard.

I made the double-sided apple blossoms by fusing together scraps of pink fabrics.  After I cut out the blossoms, I attached them to the quilt using french knots.  This gives the quilt added dimension and texture -- in other words, it's fast!  With handling, the blossoms fray ever so slightly giving a shabby chic look that I really like, but if it doesn't work for you, you can give them a quick trim or try making them out of felted wool.  Have fun!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Orange On My Mind

My mother has always loved the color orange.  She has even been the proud owner of not one, but two orange cars.  But I never took her love of orange seriously.  After all, she was also a big fan of avocado green.  When I was growing up, even our colander was avocado green.  I'm sorry to say that a couple of years ago I broke that avocado green colander in an unfortunate pasta draining incident.  Yes, it was an accident, but I digress.

This year, I've decided to work on my quilts seasonally.  Let me clarify.  Usually I try to work seasonally, but I tend to fall a bit behind and after just finishing a Valentine's Day project two weeks ago (7 months late), I've vowed to finish my projects before the holiday or season arrives.  So now that it's October, I'm working on my first ever Halloween project and I am LOVING the color orange!  Who knew!  Orange has all of the happy qualities of yellow and then some.  It pops next to purple, it sings next to green, and pair it with black and it instantly evokes Halloween.  For a girl who usually quilts with muted reds and browns (think Kansas Troubles fabrics), orange has been a revelation.

That's one of the things I love about quilting - it changes the way you look at the world.  I decided to make a Halloween quilt and orange was the obvious choice.  Because I'm a scrap quilter and one orange simply will not do, I get to shop for several shades of orange - yellow orange and red orange, pumpkin orange and rust.  Then, of course, there is the fun of choosing fabrics to complement the original color, in this instance, I was drawn to black and purple (but not just one shade of purple...). Then it's on to washing and pressing the fabrics and cutting them into small pieces.  Before I assemble a single block, I'm intimately acquainted with a color and by the time I finish a project, I'm in love. 

So now that I've discovered the joys of orange, I'm seeing it everywhere - in pumpkins, mums, pine needles, and falling leaves.  I'm imagining orange paired with blue, with red, and with yellow.  My cutting table is littered with orange fabrics and the orange stack in my fabric closet has quadrupled in size.  I'm a convert.  Just don't tell my mom.