24 June 2011


So, my really rather new laptop needs serious tech support and I'm not going to be able to get that done for a few weeks because I'm going to be camping in Canada then sashaying around Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City and then various parts of Maine.

I have other gadgets with me that will let me read blogs and look at flickr, but as far as me posting anything?  I think that's not going to happen until I've reached Burlington Vermont, where I'm staying for a bit.  Basically, July 15th at the earliest.  Sad.

Oh well, hopefully when I come back, I'll have photos of moose.  I'm dying to see one in person.

And maybe I'll have some more cathedral windows.

Good ol' hand-sewing project!

as far as I got

In the meantime, if you need something to chew on, chew on this:
"My father’s an artist and I remember talking to him about wanting to be an artist and saying to him if I can do art that changes people over time, shows them something for a second or a minute, changes their mind about something, that would be really worthwhile."  --Phil Toledano  via The 99 Percent.

I don't like the distinction that craft produces "useful" objects and art produces "not useful"and I love this sentiment about the use of art...to change people, to show them something, to open them up and get them thinking.

22 June 2011

How to square up huge blocks.

A common step in any block-based improv quilt is squaring up the blocks.  When I was making blocks for Stinky's quilt, I squared them up with each additional "wall" that was added to the block--i.e., eight or nine times per block.

Now, for a while I was just working with my cutting mat and ruler and rotary cutter in the usual manner.  I found this very frustrating.  Since rotary mats work on this logic:

This "origin point in a corner" logic isn't great for squaring up blocks that are "whatever" size but have a definite middle.  To cut with that kind of mat, I had to find the middle of the block, measure out from the middle in four directions to figure out where to cut (because if it is 7.5" to the north, 7.7" to the south, 7.6" to the west and 7.8" to the east, I need to cut all to 7.5").  And then actually cutting involved some math again.  What's 7.5 less than 21?  13.5? 12.5? I can do advanced statistics, matrix algebra, and more, but this sort of basic arithmetic on the fly will give me the stupids.

Also, measuring twice and cutting once using this method means measuring over 500 times just to square up 9 blocks seven times each.  No thank you.

I knew that I wanted a cutting mat with this logic--which might be called "origin point in the middle"

Because I couldn't find a mat like this in the shops--and probably couldn't afford one even if I had found it--I set my noodle to figuring out how to make one myself.  Eventually, I was successful.  I'll explain how to set one up yourself below.  First let me explain what I was able to do with my little set up.

The center of each block marked with tape throughout the whole making of the quilt.  When it came time to square up a block, I would push a thumb tack through a spot marked on the tape (the center of the block):

I would use the tack to put the center of the block into the center of my board, which had an "origin point in the middle" grid marked out on it. I would slide my rotary mat under one side of the block in order to save my rotary blade from wear and tear.

Using the grid marked on the board (not on the mat) I would line up a large T-Square, and then use my rotary cutter along the T-Square to make the cut.

Then I would move the mat and T-Square to another side and cut again, repeating until all 4 sides were done.

Now, this is how to make your own big squaring board.  You probably only need to buy items #1 and #2, so this will run you about $22.

1.  drywall t-square (look at hardware stores, order online from Amazon.com)

2.  mdf panel big enough to accommodate your largest block.  I bought two of these from Home Depot to lay down next to each other to get enough surface area 

**these 2' by 4' pieces fit in my car and are easy to store under my bed, by all means, use bigger pieces if you can, but make sure the pieces are exactly square or exactly rectangular, or you'll have trouble with your t-square going off at angles.

**my carpet is plush and so the two boards stayed abutted without hardware.  if you are going to use this on a hard floor or up on a table, you may want to consider buying hinges or straight flat brackets or whatnot to hold the pieces together.

3.  drill (Optional.  You only need it for two seconds to make a divot in step 2 and could get by without.)

4. Permanent marker or pencil

5.  large rotary cutting mat

6.  rotary cutter


Step one:  Lay your MDF panel(s) on the floor.  If you have more than one panel, decide if they will stay put without you joining them with hardware.  If they need hardware, join them now.

Step two:  Decide on a location for your origin point and mark it.
Mine is 1" over from the seam between the two panels (the sides) and halfway between the top and bottom.  I used my drill to put a divot in the MDF a the origin point.  This divot is a hole that doesn't go the whole way through.  It makes it easy to be assured that the thumb tack was stuck to the right part.

If you find, as I did, that the tack doesn't do a good enough job holding the block in the same spot as you cut, try using the thumb tack to position the block and then immediately replace it with a dressmaker's weight (or a big jar of rice) to hold the block in position as you go around cutting.

Step three:  Mark out a grid on your MDF using the T-Square and pencil or permanent marker.  I have mine marked every inch from 15" to 35"  You can decide for yourself how many markings you need, but be sure to use good measuring practices as you do this since you will be stuck with your wobbly inaccuracies if you make them.

Step four:  Stand back and marvel at your work!

Step five:  Think of all the possibilities now that you can make huge, perfectly square blocks!

17 June 2011

All wrapped up!

On Tuesday the quilt was wrapped up in secrecy...

then taken to Grandma's where my cousin Stinky tore into the box...

to reveal her graduation quilt!

Stinky was pretty pleased with it.  As she should be, given that she picked some of the fabrics.  And...
it matches her room!

By the way, this is the long shot on her room:

Okay, let's try it in the guest room at her house for a [much tidier]  side view...

I've taken to referring to this variation on the log cabin as "particle board cabin" because of all the little pieces I joined to make up each piece of the "walls."

Squaring up blocks this big is a feat of engineering.  I took a few snaps of how I did it and will share that part of the process soon!

It is labelled on the front, with a strip of written-upon fabric (look in the above photo, bottom right corner).

The quilting is similar to the DoublePlusGood Quilt--hexagons and extra lines, done by Bernie.
The back is an awesome print from Tula Pink's Full Moon Forest line.  I bought 10 yards of this several years ago when I spotted it on sale for $4/yard. I chose to use it on this quilt because Stinky likes stripes and nature.
The binding is a yellow wood grain print that I picked out the other day.

I'm very pleased with this quilt and proud to have finished off the tradition of graduation quilts for my Grandma--Stinky is her youngest grandchild, so we're done!

10 June 2011


I grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  It's a small city with the Mississippi River as its western boundary, bluffs to its east and south and marshland on its north.
La Crosse Bridges
[photo by Ken Maurer was taken from one of the bluffs, facing the river to the west, with Minnesota visible in the distance]

The name of the city comes from the sport of La Crosse, which was played by the native population using sticks that, to the French fur traders who came to the area, resembled a bishop's crozier (la crosse in French).

This morning, I headed just north of the city to Olive Juice Quilts (a great shop!) to meet up with Anna, who you may know from the blog Noodlehead. Anna and I do not know each other from school as I'm a smidge older than her and went to a different high school.  But, as with any small town, we know a few people in common and are always happy to meet people with similar interests.

Anna and I had lunch last November, and occasionally email each other.  After I expressed my extreme love of a bag she had made (something she's very good at) she even sent me the bag!  I've been meaning to post about it and had taken pictures months ago, but was waiting for an excuse to share...here it is!

Isn't it great?  It's my #1 bag this summer.  You can buy the pattern from Anna for $7 over here:  Noodlehead Patterns

Today we didn't just eat lunch, we went fabric shopping.  My cousin's quilt is quilted and I needed to pick out binding.  I pulled out some options, and Anna helped me make the final selection:  the yellow woodgrain fabric.  It's going to look great!
Because my schedule meant that we needed to meet up at a time Anna had her kids with her, I got to meet little Emily and Natalie.  Adorable, energetic little monsters!

I had made up a fabric store bingo game for Natalie to play.  She did really well with it and even posed for a picture after winning.
Here's a close up of the card:
I doodled this up in no time, just thinking about typical fabric motifs.  Plus I only had to make one.  If you had more kids old enough for this activity, you'd have to make a different one for each kid, with the pictures shuffled around. Feel free to use this idea if you ever have kids you need to keep busy in a fabric store! 

04 June 2011

More on modern

The quilt for Miss Stinky is done and at the quilters and I am safely ensconced in my childhood home for the next two weeks. Every good road trip starts with unwinding at Mom and Dad's right? Plus, there are puppies and brothers here.

Also, a sewing machine.  I had my old sewing machine tuned up before leaving town and have brought it to my parents' house. This will be its new home.

My mom knows how to sew, but has not done much of it in recent years. This is partly due to busyness on her part, but also due to the fact that her supposedly rather nice sewing machine stopped working properly before she got her money's worth out of it. I am hoping that using my old machine will revive her interest, it is also nice for me to have a machine to use while i am here.

I brought along my strips from the kelp quilt and am planning on finishing this top next week.

These strips are from the Mid Mod Bee.  Speaking of mid-century modern, in the comments to the Modern Day Quilts interview, Rachel said,"I see the correlation to mid century modernism being very clear in modern quilts but other modern inspirations not being so well represented. Is this a personal choice? A fashion of the time?"
This is a question that I have as well.  I love mid-century modern design and so it does tend to be what I am inspired by.  I do sometimes see some more minimalist work and things that are more beatnik or mod.  I think I start to lack the vocabulary for some of these though...if someone could recommend books or documentaries that tease out the threads in modernism, I'd be eternally grateful.

Kate wrote, "Crafts, to a large degree, have also changed from a handed-down tradition to an individual pursuit, in the vacuum of the craft room, with input from the internet."
Does anyone know if this is true?  I have been looking for, and failing to find, any rigorous studies of craft traditions and the extent to which they have been solitary, community based, or mediated. I have a mental picture of Laura Ingalls Wilder learning to sew from her mom, and the novice of today learning from YouTube, but anecdotes and easy-conjured mental images aren't evidence of how craft works in people's lives. Have there been histories that document this rigorously? 

Quite a few people wrote about craft vs. art.
These words just seem like "master's tools" for elevating what rich white men do with their minds and bodies (it's art!) and devaluing what women and other minorities do with their minds and bodies (craft!).  Am I wrong? When and why is this distinction useful?

Rachel said,  "One of things I love about the  'quilts' I love is how well crafted they are. Sometimes I am kind of freaked out how badly some of the Modern Quilts are made. In photos, its hard to tell the level of craftsmanship so it doesn't seem to carry any weight.  I get great joy from the 'making' and have been repeatedly told that  'craftsmanship' is a 'traditional' value. Is this so? "
Well, I can't really speak for how much "craftmanship" matters to other people, but I can answer for myself and speculate a bit.   For myself: I piece improvisationally, so i don't need to have PERFECT scant-1/4-inch seams on everything, because blocks are always going to get cut down and squared up as part of the process.  I make good, stright seams that will hold up to wear.  I press carefully and resew on the rare occassion that a seam is too skinny to be durable.  I don't have puckers or stretching or fudging.
From what I've seen in pictures and in person, most modern quilts are well constructed.
I think that craftmanship carries weight. However, I don't think that modern quilts are celebrated for their technical achievements, but rather for their designs. So, I don't really care if you tackled inset-seams unless I love the result of that tackling.  It's all about how it looks in the end, not how crazy you went trying to get there.
Also, what does not carry weight with me as far as craftsmanship goes is any notion of how things are "supposed to be done" or are "supposed to look" that doesn't add to a quilt's longevity or strength.  I will show stitches when I want to.  Combinations of colors, prints, and materials are of my own choosing.  If I'm confident that the fabrics won't shrink unevenly, I will combine voile, quilter's cotton, linen, and more.
The traditional quilters that I know are far more interested in following rules.

One last question from Rachel: "I love print and tend to believe 'more is more' having been told that 'solids is Modern' do I have to put solids in my quilt to have it be Modern? isn't it more about the design? "  
I think the use of negative space is one of the bellwethers of a modern quilt.  This is usually accomplished with solids and near solids.  However, I don't think that using solids or lots of negative space is a requirement of modern quilts--you can have the disease without manifesting that symptom, as it were.

Dana noted, "It's interesting to me that so few people notice that 'Modern Quilts' are so heavily influenced by African American quilting and African fiber traditions."
I have seen that influence noted repeatedly and in the lecture I gave on modern quilting listed it alongside Japanese aesthetics as a major influencePerhaps it should be brought up more often so that people can pull at that thread and rediscover those quilts.  What other influences do people see?