March Reading List

red panda visits DC at

Red panda in the cherry blossoms.

March just flew by over here. We’ve got next year’s schooling sorted–my oldest moved up the waiting list to get a seat in his first-choice STEM magnet high school program. High school! He was just a toddler. My youngest will be switching to the local Montessori school, where she’ll get an age-appropriate amount of both recess and independence. (The local public school doesn’t provide enough of either, in my opinion.) I read more books this month than I did in either January or February, which I’ll chalk up to ending the month with flu-like symptoms and being unable to focus on sewing much, and also I didn’t need to abandon any books I began this month. As always, books I really liked have an asterisk, but if it’s on the list, I liked it enough to finish it, and I don’t finish books I don’t like because why. Reading isn’t an endurance test, it’s something I do for fun.

You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz *
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout*
Pax, by Sara Pennypacker*
Husband and Wife, by Leah Stewart*
All the Houses, by Karen Olsson
The Opposite of Everyone, by Joshilyn Jackson*
The Beast Side: Living (& Dying) While Black in America, by D. Watkins
The Portable Veblen, by Elizabeth McKenzie
George, by Alex Gino*
The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr*

Art Quiltlet: 13/52

Blues art quiltlet at

We’re one-quarter of the way through 2016, and I know this because this is my thirteenth weekly quiltlet. I’ve been feeling poorly for a few days now (something flu-ish but we’re not saying flu) and I was a little concerned if I’d get one done by the end of the week, but I split this between two days (which was necessary anyway, as you’ll see). This is an exploration of an idea in a different way than last week’s. That was, How can I interpret this scene using cloth and thread? (A question with many solutions, by the way; my result is just one way to solve that problem.) This week was an exploration of, What will happen if….

I had an idea in my head of a patchwork of blues, so I rummaged around in my bag of clothes scraps for different shades of denim, then I began piecing them with wrong sides together, so the raw edges would show, because one of the wonderful things about denim is how it frays. Right away, you see, I broke one of my rules for this challenge, which is to start with a whole cloth top, not pieced. Tough. My challenge, and I can break the rules if I want to.

Once the strips were sewn together the obvious next step was to throw it in with a load of towels to encourage my cut ends to fray. That’s why this was a two-day process–I ran out of time to do laundry yesterday before leaving to do some art with a group of kids, and last night I was in bed at 7 pm with my flu-ish self.

Once it was out of the dryer this morning, I began adding some quilting lines. I don’t always show what a piece looks like before cropping, but when it makes a huge difference, it’s fun to see:

Blues quiltlet before cropping at

Usually I draw the cropping line with pencil, but there was no way that was working here! Fat black Sharpie was definitely needed. I really enjoy the process of working on a piece and then leaving things out. I don’t do it all the time, but it’s a really fun design exercise. It’s like revising in writing–some work is going to get left on the cutting table. But without doing all the work, even the stitching that doesn’t even show up in the finished piece, the finished piece won’t exist. I needed it all so I could cut on the angle and get the final quiltlet.

I like the back of this one too.

Blues quiltlet, back, at

Just some simple lines, repeated evenly. Nice and clean.

Art Quiltlet: 12/52

cherry blossom photo at

Our view from our picnic spot at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial.

My kids are on spring break from school this week, and in a happy coincidence for our first year here, the DC cherry blossoms hit peak bloom this week, too. So I took the kids into the city so we could see them–and, while we were there, the Jefferson Memorial and the Botanical Gardens as well. It was the photo up above, however, that inspired this week’s art quiltlet.

I thought about how to approach it quite a bit before starting it. Here’s an in-progress shot.

cherry blossoms quiltlet in progress at

I quilted the cloud-like lines on first, using free-motion stitching, then appliqued the Washington Monument on top of it. Then I switched back to free-motion stitching for the tree branches, which I lightly sketched on with a very soft pencil beforehand–more as an idea of where to go then a firm stitching line, and I continued to use the photo as loose guidance.

cherry blossom art quiltlet at

The finished quiltlet.

This is the first quiltlet I’ve used any hand-stitching on, and that was to sew the blossoms on. They’re layered, white cotton, then organza, then tulle. Finally, I cropped and bound, choosing the cream color of the Monument.

I really, really like this one. If I played favorites, which I don’t, it might be my favorite so far. Some of these quiltlets I’ve planned out a bit, and some I’ve approached as pure play, but this is the first one that I seriously considered the idea of a small quiltlet like this being a study for something larger. I can see it as a possibility, now.

Sewn: Baby Quilt Number 2

When one of my husband’s colleagues is expecting a baby, I make something. For a long while, I knit. Sweaters and blankets, mainly. Then last fall I made my first quilt to send up to one of his co-workers at his previous job. That was pretty fun to make, so I decided to make another one for the latest expecting co-worker. I have to say, if you work with my husband, even peripherally (he knows lots of people worldwide; I’ve knit for some of them, too), it’s kind of a nice bonus that his wife is crafty.

I mean, look at this quilt.

HST baby quilt, front,

This is composed of 100 half-square triangle blocks. I kind of love the HST, mainly because arranging them reminds me of playing with pattern blocks. I didn’t consult a pattern for this, although I’m sure one must exist, since this is fairly basic. Rather, I got out graph paper and fiddled with various possibilities and decided upon this one. I aimed for roughly 40″ square, which meant ten four-inch blocks across and down. (Math is handy stuff.) I sewed this in February, and in-progress photos are on Instagram; I fell in love with it a little more each step of the way.

The piece of fabric I bought for the back should have been big enough, but was just shy. So I made some more HSTs and inserted them.

HST baby quilt, back, at

Those are pink and green elephants in the main fabric. A little more juvenile than the front, but it is a baby quilt, after all. Oh, that selvedge quiltlet I posted a couple of weeks ago–those are from this project.

It’s high time I made a quilt to stay in this house, I think. I’m working on a sampler block quilt that I still haven’t posted yet. And I think I need to make one for my daughter. Safe to say I’m well on my way to falling right down the quilting rabbit hole.

Art Quiltlet: 11/52

black & white art quiltlet at

Black and white this week. Simple, enjoyable, engaging to make. Like sketching with fabric, trying out ideas of composition. I labeled this one “Black and White I” because I’m sure I’ll be doing more with just these two colors. Reducing to just shape and line, no distraction of color–I like to do that.

Here’s a view of the back along with the scraps I cut off when cropping. The scraps are interesting to look at in their own way.

quiltlet back and cropping scraps,

The past several weeks, the quiltlet sewing has been pushed to later in the week. This week I felt the need to play first thing Monday.

I’ve been sewing almost every day lately. I remember when I first got my machine, how every time I sat down at it, it was a crapshoot on whether things would work the way they should. I don’t even mean not making mistakes sewing, I mean whether the thread would jam or the bobbin would behave. It was stressful; I didn’t feel comfortable with the machinery itself. And then after a while I did, and if something went awry, I was confident I could adjust it.

The same thing has happened with free motion stitching. I’ve pushed through that period when I wasn’t sure anything would go as it should. Yesterday I realized I switched from regular stitching to free motion almost seamlessly. I switched the feet, adjusted the tensions, dropped the feed dogs and released the IDT–all the things I need to do to set up the machine–and I sat down and stitched free motion without a hitch. It’s so good to tackle those learning curves, stick with it, and get to the other side, where my mind isn’t constantly occupied with the mechanics of the skill but is gradually freed up to think more about what to do with the skill. It’s very cool to keep learning new things.

Art Quiltlet: 10/52

Labyrinth art quiltlet at

These small pieces are perfect for practicing or trying new things, and that’s what this week’s was mostly about. It began with one of my hand-carved stamps printed on linen, with the intention of tracing the labyrinth with metallic red thread. I learned that metallic thread isn’t worth the trouble–it kept breaking. Perhaps there’s some trick to it that I don’t know. Then I spent a while picking what felt like foil stitches out so I could start over with normal thread in a different color. I chose blue because I had matching backing fabric, and it was still bright. So, my free-motion stitching has gotten much, much better (I’ve been practicing; those pieces are all on Instagram), although I still need work on handwriting, so I added some words.

I always hand-stitch binding onto the back, but I decided to try machine stitching it. Ugh. I do not like that nearly as much. I’m not good at stitching in the ditch, which is part of it, but also I don’t like how I couldn’t control the neatness on the back like I can while hand-stitching. Good to know. If I make a quilt that I think needs machine stitching on the binding, I’m going to have to practice. In the meantime though, I so prefer hand-stitching, both doing it and the look of the final result.

Since this is the tenth week, I decided to photograph the quiltlets thus far all together. On a wrinkly white sheet of course.

ten art quiltlets at

At the very least, I’ve kept it up for ten weeks in a row. And skills are improving, and it’s still fun. So, one-fifth (more or less) of the way through the year, this is still working for me.

Art Quiltlet: 9/52

selvedge quiltlet at

This week’s quiltlet was created with a pile of trimmed selvedge edges from a recent project, which I haven’t shared here yet (but will soon). It occurred to me that this is a nice way to remember projects that get sent away, as this one will be. Of course, I have scraps of the fabric I used, too, but I like these overlapped and sewn down here as well.

I also like the back. I think I’ll be doing more white stitching on white fabric.

selvedge quiltlet, back, at

Short post! Simple quiltlet.

February Reading List

liquid watercolors at

Liquid watercolors, ready to go to class Thursday afternoon.

So far the first week of March feels an awful lot like February, but at least there’s sunlight shining through those jars of liquid watercolors, right? It’s taking more effort than usual this year to combat the seasonal blues. February contained lots of sewing, which is not a bad way to cope. There was also reading. As always, books marked with an asterisk were especially enjoyed, but if a book’s on the list, I liked it well enough to finish it, which isn’t always the case.

My Year of Running Dangerously, Tom Foreman
The Watsons Go To Birmingham–1963, Christopher Paul Curtis *
The Girl From the Garden, Parnaz Foroutan *
Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg*
Happily Ever After, Jen Meyers
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer *
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout *
Seventh Heaven, Alice Hoffman *

Art Quiltlet: 8/52

Circles art quiltlet at

I’m calling this “Circles” but I feel I could have called it Kitchen Sink, because I threw a lot in there. I started by printing some white dish cloth fabric with bubble wrap painted with black and red acrylic paint. Then I cut circles out of some plaid-ish Japanese cotton.

Circles art quiltlet in progress at

I sandwiched my quilt layers before stitching on the circles, then changed to white thread for some free motion quilting practice. It’s kind of a meandering trail because I kept losing track of myself a bit, but the stitching is even, so I’m calling that a win. Then I sewed on some plastic netting, I believe from a box of clementines, that had been used for printing at some point and had mostly black paint on it. So some printing, applique, free motion stitching, and collage. It was fun to make. I’ve only made eight of these so far, but I seem to be moving back and forth between more planned ideas and just plain playing around. That’s a good mix for a creativity practice.

Short post today because I’m off to teach the first meeting of an after-school art enrichment class at my daughter’s elementary school. After getting dinner prep out of the way first thing this morning, I spent the rest of the day playing with my sewing machine and painting another sample for class, and soon I get to make art with some kids. Can’t complain–Thursday is pretty good.

Art Quiltlet: 7/52

This has been a jumbled-up week, with one scheduled and one unscheduled day off school, rescheduled appointments, and general unexpected upheaval. February is traditionally the hardest time of the year for me mentally, and we didn’t move far enough south for me to escape that. I’m struggling this year, but I’m gritting my teeth (literally; my jaw aches all the time) and holding out for spring. Meanwhile, I’ve spent all of my sewing time this week working on a quilt, so I decided Friday morning would be art quiltlet time.

"Grow Tall" art quiltlet at

A little reminder…

I actually began this on Monday, when I printed one of my stamps onto linen. I used Speedball fabric block printing ink, which I really like (I like the smell too, so much), but it does take time to dry thoroughly. I decided to print some of my blocks and stamps to use in free motion practice. I’d really like to get good at free motion stitching, and it’s one of those skills that just takes practice, practice, practice. My bobbin tension is a wee bit off here, but I do see improvement.

free motion practice at

practice, practice, practice

My sewing machine instruction book, by the way, says that presser foot should be locked in the up position for free motion quilting, but my machine hates that. The bobbin wheel jammed every time. So I’m leaving it down, because if the machine is happy, I’m happier. The machine and I, we are learning free motion stitching together.

I stitched ribbon over the raw edges. This isn’t a true binding–I didn’t miter the corners or anything fancy, just left raw edges and used a separate strip of ribbon for each side. I like that I have no rules for these quiltlets other than size and that they’re quilt sandwiches. I can do whatever the heck I want. I can leave raw edges. I can use something else to cover them. I can stick paper or plastic on these quilts. I’m self-taught (with the help of books and the internet) on just about everything, and I have no internal voice scolding, You can’t do that! That’s not done! I don’t know what’s not done. It’s very freeing.

And here’s a picture of the back, because I enjoy those behind-the-scenes looks and maybe you do, too.

"Grow Tall" art quiltlet, back,

It’s not perfect. That’s okay! Practice practice practice, and spring is coming, thank goodness. Every year, it shows up.