Friday, January 18, 2019

the stuff you are making...

"the stuff you are making is also making you"

i read those words the other day, over on sarah swett's blog

i've already paraphrased it down to "what we make makes us"

for simplicity's sake

but regardless of how you say it, the outcome is the same

it's pretty hard to become fully engaged in the process of making without some kind of change happening, in both how how you perceive yourself, and your relationship to the world around you

the more i work with teeny tiny bits of fabric, the less i want to waste - of anything, not just fabric or thread

the more i make use of what i have, the less i want to buy

the more potential i see in the things that surround me, the more things i notice

the more things from the natural environment i incorporate into my work, the more open i become to the creative possibilities of that which lays at my feet

the more i do handwork, the more handwork i want to do

it's like this great big burgeoning ideal, that just keeps growing and growing

i want to make fewer things, but i don't want to spend less time at it

i want to take the time to do it by hand, add in all the detail a piece needs, enjoy the process every step of the way...
 not racing to the finish, just to tick something off the list and add something new to it

the last time i did machine quilting i cursed and carried on  the whole time - how i despise machine quilting - and then I wondered why, if i disliked it so much, why did i persist in doing it?

why not go back to hand-quilting?

and so i am...

and just for fun, i decided to add it to my teaching roster for this spring

a hand-quilting class

to see if there any others like me

this is one of my samples for the class - using a commercial stencil, tiny stitches, the usual puckered up result that begs to be touched

my stitching is not perfect, by any stretch, but I'm ok with that

light grey thread on a cream chambray fabric

below is a small doll's quilt i made a few years back, machine pieced, hand-quilted

little hearts and criss-crossing the blocks

below is the wrong side of another quilt i made many years ago - about twenty-eight, give or take... 

i actually made it twice

the first time i made it i took the quilt top to the evening quilting group i belonged to

it was the first piecework i'd done and i was proud to take it and show our group

six basket quilt blocks, set on point with two plain setting squares - perfect for an intricate hand-quilted design
{back then hand-quilting was pretty much it... our group's introduction to machine quilting came about a year or two after this}

everyone commented on how lovely it was, pretty fabric, nicely done - all those wonderful encouraging words a beginner needs

i took it home and put it away - piecing was still the name of the game for me and i didn't want to tackle quilting just then

six months later, ready and raring to go, i took it from the cupboard, unfolded it and felt sick to my stomach... almost every single point of all the triangles that formed the baskets were cut-off

not one was pointy, as any good triangle should be

how did that happen?

how did i not notice it before?

why did no one say anything?

the answers were pretty simple:

because i wasn't careful about squaring up my blocks

because i didn't know i should be paying attention to such things

because they didn't want to discourage me

after stewing on it for a few days i decided the only way I would learn to pay attention was to take ownership of the mistakes so i took the entire quilt apart, pressed and straightened all the edges, re-sewed the blocks, squared them up and then put it all back together

lesson learned

making this quilt and then making it again made me more engaged in what i do than any words of advice ever could have

everything I've ever created has changed me 

the trick is to understand how...

Friday, January 11, 2019

a journey...

when it comes to making, well, for that matter, when it comes to me and making, i'm usually flitting from this to that, caught by passing fancies... always eager to try something new, figuring it out, moving on...

for more than a year though, i've been  somewhere between obsessed and absorbed when it comes to working with scraps of cloth and thread

it actually began a few years ago when i first heard of "slow stitching" and decided i wanted to make a patched and stitched cloth from all sorts of scraps of fabric; some leftover from quilting projects and others, off-cuts and lace edges from old table linens that had been cut up and used in other work

at first the plan was simple - piece the cloth with raw edges visible (no turned under seams), and then kantha stitching to add texture and strength

it went along well for a while but the repetitive nature of the stitching, though pleasant enough, was not exciting and the cloth became a thing i picked up and put down but never really made much progress

then I bought the book "the geometry of hand sewing" by natalie chanin and saw linear stitch patterns used for filling 

that was the day the cloth changed and I started filling in sections with feather stitch, herringbone and chain stitches

so delightful

from there I discovered boro stitching and along with the straight lines of kantha, i began to add the little upright cross stitches that add such higgledy piggledy charm 

boro also introduced me to mending and patching and I enjoyed having some of the ground cloth showing, working with fabrics of an irregular shape
(off-cuts from other projects)

an introduction to block-printed Indian cotton added a new element to the work, along with stitching on the background fabric itself, now not limited to stitching on the patches only

from there i got the idea to make coasters, useful things that didn't take long, using bits of fabric and thread that were often so small they would normally be thrown away

learning about "mottainai"
a japanese term that conveys a sense of regret for waste, a respect for the resources that surround us, and an awareness of just how precious they are 

i've made almost forty of these so far and have ideas for at least many more

next up is to go back to leaving some of the ground cloth showing, stitch into it, and use some of the beautiful indian prints

experiment with variegated threads

use some of my own thread dyed with dandelion flowers 

and when that's been done enough, i have plans to weave coasters with my homemade leaf-cord, adding embroidery, again with my plant-dyed threads

it's interesting to look back on the progression but more than anything, it makes me wonder what's still waiting out in front of me... just around the bend...

Saturday, January 5, 2019

things to work on...

happy new year!

the past few months have been a whirlwind... family fun, work, teaching, and on, and on... I'm sure it's been the same for all of you

"how have you been?" is a common question for us all... 

"oh, you know, busy.." is the standard answer

one of these days, just for fun, i'm going to say " oh, you know, sitting on the couch all day, watching soaps, eating chocolate..."

haha - as if... but i am tired of the usual "busy" answer so am working on a different response...

in the meanwhile, or perhaps, to help with that, these are some other things i am hoping to also work more over the next days and weeks

first up, this little featherweight sewing machine, generously gifted to me many years ago by a very dear friend...

we were just down in oregon for a week,  and in a charming quilt shop in sutherlin, I found this beaut of an extension table, coloured black, and complete with gold details, a perfect match for my little machine

thrilled, to say the least

i love this machine and having this extension table makes it the perfect thing for piecing as well as machine quilting

next up is these pretty prints by "in the beginning"

they remind me of liberty prints - dainty, delicate floral prints, looking even prettier in combination than they would separately

no idea what to do with them, but for now they are being patted constantly
and in quarter yard lengths, there is plenty to play with

then there's these beauties - cotton velvets, hand-dyed

the actual colours are deeper and richer than they look here but i haven't yet figured out how to turn off the flash on my iphone camera (if that's even possible)... regardless, I love velvet and these will be a treat to work with
they have been languishing in a drawer for far too long

below is the only thing i've done with them so far - english paper-piecing using wool fabrics 

I love the contrast of the wool and the velvet

another thing i'm bound, bent and determined to work on is this hand-pieced, hand-quilted bag

tumbler shapes using japanese taupes

couldn't be simpler... but making it up as i go means it could be faster - sigh

and then there's that book cover, pieced in a boro-style using scraps and bit of favourite fabrics
I started it a year ago as well, and it has also sat... waiting...

then of course there are the coasters i was completely absorbed with in the fall
I'd like to make a few more of those-
still so many ideas, colour combinations, stitch ideas, different layouts... on and on it goes

also to work on for the new year is work inspired by a day calendar i found featuring charlie harper's art
fabulous work that makes one look at line and shape in a completely new way

full of inspiration, this will be a treat to putter away at for the whole year through and will help me to be a little more creative perhaps, especially when it comes to working with shapes

and then of course, i want to work on this - "wynken and blynken and nod", in stitch

haven't done a thing with this in a year as well, so it's time to haul it out, and dust it off,
along with all of the above

I  even started a list - it has all these things and more, but i know busy days are happy days and i ain't complaining

so if you see me on the street and ask me how i am, don't be surprised if there's a lengthy pause whilst i try to think of something else to say than "oh, you know - busy..."

I'm working on it...

Friday, November 16, 2018

same old, same old?

seems like i've been doing the same thing for a while now...

bits and scraps of fabric, cobbled together into a patchwork of sorts, then embroidery added here and there for a little visual texture

coasters in the making

don't ask me why but for some reason or other a few months ago i decided that coasters were just the thing for the upcoming local spinner's & weaver's guild christmas sale

and now that i'm well on my way to making more than thirty  of them, i hope i'm right

i suppose it was because they're useful... and also because they're small and don't take much time or materials... also maybe because they're unique

addicts can always justify their addiction can't they?

what i really like about them is how useful they are for playing about with colour and texture

endless variations of layout

endless variations of stitch

each one scratches an itch

my latest foray has me playing with traditional quilt block patterns

still done in a free-form way, cutting with scissors, no measuring, over-lapped raw edges

whip-stitching holds everything in place

this one, in the log cabin pattern, is a particular favourite

though stray threads abound, thanks to all those raw edges!

it's amazing to me how the smallest of pieces add the biggest impact

with all this patching and piecing of bits and scraps, I just couldn't resist one more idea...

a little rag-tag snowman

patched and mended he is, and his hat and scarf too

so, so much fun to make this scarf

and of course, now i want one of my own

would that be too weird, do you think?

i'm tempted...

there is a real benefit from immersing yourself in a particular style of work or technique

you get a lot of ideas out of your system, though quite often you end up just replacing them with more

i am grateful though, when I try something new and realize it's not for me - than can be quite gratifying, not to mention a big relief

but this business of working with bits of fabric and thread in a haphazard way has as much appeal to me now as ever and i see no end in sight - modifications maybe, an evolution in style or technique, surely, but i see no end in sight...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

what's in your pocket?

I'd love to say it all started here...

England's Lake District, a year and a half ago

having such a habit begin in a place such as this would surely make it far more respected than if it began in almost any other place on earth

for in this landscape, which is steeped not only in an unparalleled beauty in nature, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, steeped in a history of poetic and artistic observation, one could easily be forgiven for gathering just about anything if it inspired one to write or paint or draw... 

but I just can't say that...

stuffing things in my pockets has been a lifelong obsession

 sticks and shells and leaves and flowers and heaven knows what else

an unusual colour or shape of an everyday thing that catches my eye
anything that strikes my fancy or sparks an idea is sure to make it's way into my pockets or handbag - whatever us handiest

several years ago I broke down and bought a gathering basket...
an ingenious contraption with a strap for putting it around your waist or over your shoulder

a hinged lid for easy emptying

a small hole in the side for easy stuffing any bit or bob that comes my way

the trouble is, I never have it with me when the really interesting stuff captures my eye... but I almost always have pockets

the stick and stone and sheep's wool followed me home from a walk in the hills above Ambleside 

I have no plan for them other than to look at them any time the mood strikes

and each time I do I see something different, even though they've sat like this, on a dresser-top, since the day I came home

a few weeks ago my son suggested we go to see the Adams River salmon run
we took my mom and step-father and it was a grand day

such a beautiful place...

though you could see the fish well enough in the deeper water, it was in the streamlets where they were most visible

As we walked toward the river I saw several birch trees downed

already cut into smaller lengths, most with the bark curling away from the trunk itself

naturally I peeled some off and stuffed it in my pockets... interesting driftwood and rocks followed suit

by the time we got back to the car and my son held out a bag he found in the truck, my pockets were bulging, and as I emptied handful after handful, his laughter grew... shaking his head the whole while

back home, I washed the bark and then pressed it, between sheets of drawing paper, weighted down with a stack of heavy books

{I had to improvise as my flower press is still full from foraging whilst in the Yukon in August!}

and last week I read about making twine by twisting the leaves of day lilies, irises and cattails

day lilies and irises are in my back yard, cattails, just down the hill at the little lake...

these are my day lilies

I've been mucking about, experimenting with how to preserve them 

after twisting, I want to weave with them, but as they dry they'll shrink and become brittle

I first thought of rubbing some kind of oil into them but plant-based oils might go rancid, and petroleum-based ones just seemed wrong

then I remembered some roses I had bought many years ago that had been preserved with glycerin

they looked dried but were beautifully soft

information online was sketchy at best so I've been experimenting 

it's kind of a goldilocks sort of thing... you don't want them to soak for long or they'll be oily, nor for too short a time or they'll be too brittle

it has to be just right - soft, but natural

I think I've just about worked out a method I'm happy with that yields the results I want

this is just one of my twisted twine - I still have to snip off the bits where I've added a new leaf, but it's coming along just fine

soothing and addicting

the irises are just about ready to pick and soak

cattails are in a bowl soaking as I type this

and there isn't a plant out there safe from scrutiny

so much fun...

and my pockets are empty and ready to go

Friday, October 12, 2018


When I was about seventeen my favourite perfume was "Y" by Yves Saint Laurent

I remember it as being a very nice scent, but if truth be told, I also liked the responses I would get when people me asked me what perfume I was wearing and I answered them

I hadn't thought about any of that for years, but today the memory drifted through my mind as I once again took up my fountain pen and practiced a little calligraphy... 

I first learned it in an evening class almost twenty years ago - I believe we met for about five or six weeks and we played with several different fonts

 the instructor had a penchant for swirls and flourishes 

it was great fun

this time, I'm entranced by what has come to be called 

"modern calligraphy"

I think of it as handwriting, elegant and flowing

practicing up-strokes and down-strokes, thin lines and thick

graceful, flowing curves

over and over again

when that became tiresome, to relax, I turned back to what I first learnt...

one or two spins through the alphabet and muscle memory kicked in, my hand and head in concert

this was part of today's effort...

and below are pages from my first go round with the craft

I loved adding the roses - now I want to try tree branches

the "Merry Christmas" you see below was coaxed out of me, rather unwillingly, but I'm glad I did it

I doubt I would ever do anything this fancy ever again, but it was fun to fiddle about with it for a while...

I've also been busy with the coasters... and below are more bases, that, in the evening, when the day is done, I stitch on a little more

making them up as I go

the only "plan" is that I don't stitch on all the sections; some, mostly the florals, are left plain

resting places for the eye

I love the light-coloured patch above, with two rows of over-lapping cretan and one of herringbone with straight stitches

below is feather stitch, and below that is a favourite scrap with simple cross stitches in the open space

the weave details on some of these fabrics is amazing and I try not to have the stitching I add interfere with that - enhance maybe but not detract

it's a delicate balance but I do find that using just a single strand of dmc helps a lot

I did use two on the feather stitch though - it needed oomph

and then smyrna crosses, always a favourite 

I've figured out the packaging for sets of four

the calligraphy is part of the plan for the sets of two

it's fun to swing back and forth between the two...

Sunday, September 2, 2018

a sampler...



1. a piece of embroidery worked in various stitches as a specimen of skill

2. a representative collection or example of something

I've loved stitched samplers since I first heard of them, and have loved "sampling" techniques and ideas for even longer

this post then, is a sampler of what life has been like for me for the past little while...

I've tried getting back into my daily stitching practice, now that summer's waning - I love it but it is a struggle to do it everyday

this week I tried to entice myself by using my favourite plaids
it's helped but still an effort...

every day for seven days I work on one textile piece, adding something each day

I lost my way with this one on day four, tried to correct the problem on day 5 and am now just stewing on it - the piece you see above is what I had after two days and this is when I liked it best - sigh...

  I'm working on a sampler "roll" - the plan for this is actually quite broad...
I'll use chunks of vintage cloth for the base, attaching small textile experiments done over the years that up til now have been languishing in a box

some will get further embellishment, others are good enough as they are, embroidery stitches will be added randomly, as the urge to experiment with a stitch strikes and/or to fill in areas that feel too blank

because I'll roll it on a large wooden bobbin when it's finished, I know the width needs to be approx. 9 1/2" but the length will be what it will be...

working on this is such a treat and I'll not only have the joy of doing it, I'll also the joy of having it when all is said and done

I'll be teaching again this fall so class samples have been high on my to do list all summer long...

below is one end of a table runner I designed many years ago but just gave an overhaul

the main part of the house is pieced into the runner itself and the doors, roofs, windows etc. are appliquéd after

there are a few patterns out there now that use this assembly method but when I designed mine I'd never heard of any so I thought I was pretty darn clever for coming up with it myself

I almost always design some kind of snowman each year and the little fellow you see below is this year's offering - again, my own design
{there are snowman bodies buried all over my sewing room - a testament to how many tries it took to get the shape I was after}

he's patched and mended through and through
body, scarf and hat
{you can't see much of the mending on his body at this angle but I'll try and get some better pictures of that soon}

seems there are still as many, if not more, scraps in the scrap box so I'll definitely be making more of him in the coming weeks

a little of this, a little of that - a sampler of what I've been working on for the past six weeks...

and in between all this creativity I took some time for a trip to my happy place

ten days in the Yukon was just what I needed to feed my soul for another year...

the blue, blue water and even bluer sky, punctuated with miles of evergreens and pops of fireweed pink

a landscape that is painted on my heart

several days spent at marsh lake, place of childhood dreams... this one isn't just on my heart, it's in my dna

I brought from there a bag of driftwood and a bucket of water, and now that the busiest days of summer are behind me, I have creative plans for both... stay tuned...

it was wonderful to traipse down memory lane, re-visiting favourite places, but the piéce de résistance of the trip happened just to the right of the rocky outcrop you see below

our daughter got married...

the most beautiful ceremony in a most beautiful setting
her dress was the colour of the water
his suit, the colour of the sky

it was splendid, the loveliest of days
and a joy that sits with me still, weeks later

an omen for the visit, on a walk right after I arrived in the Yukon I came across this...

a heart-shaped stump

so fitting...

the day I left I went for a morning walk along the river's edge, sparkling silver light on the water, gentle golden light in the sky

and love, laughter, joy, beauty all around me

a sampler of life