Monday, August 10, 2009

One Step At A Time

As a blogger on the Design Style Guide Team, I was invited to write about my start in quilting, and how the process works for me. This is a copy of that article.

In 1977, I ordered a "Grandmother's Flower Garden" quilt kit from a woman's magazine. I remember the color scheme was Harvest Gold and Avocado Green, like everything else those days! When the kit arrived I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of pre-cut hexagons. At the time I didn't know any quilters, had never heard of a quilt shop, and had never seen a quilting-how-to book. I put the kit in a drawer, thinking that "someday" I would make it. Well, that project was never finished (okay, it was never even started!) but the desire to learn quilting persisted.

Then twelve years ago, during a particularly dark period in my life, I challenged myself to learn something new, something positive, something that might spark a little light in me. I saw a newspaper ad for a beginner's block-piecing class at a local quilt shop, and forced myself to register. That first day, when I walked into the shop, I felt immediately at home. Like many quilt shops I've visited since then, this one was located in the old part of town, in what we now call a "re-purposed" building. Whether in an old house, bank, inn or barn, these shops are invariably warm and cozy. Every nook and cranny is filled with fabric bolts, threads, patterns, and packets of "fat quarters." Sewing/quilting tools hang on pegboards, and sample quilts cover every inch of wall space. Shop owners and assistants never fail to welcome newcomers, and are happy to answer questions and offer advice. There is virtually no way to feel depressed in a quilt shop! I was instantly hooked. The photo below shows my small quilt from that first class, pieced and quilted entirely by hand. The bonus was that in the process of creating an actual, physical item, I felt powerfully uplifted. Since then I've heard similar stories from many fellow quilters. For us, quilting is a form of therapy -- almost a meditation. You can witness this on a mass scale during times of acute crisis. If you ever get the chance, visit the 9/11 quilts, or the AIDS quilts, or Hurricane Katrina quilts. In all of these, many, many blocks are submitted from quilters around the world, and assembled together to honor those who have died. On a smaller scale, most quilters donate quilts to a local charity, like a childrens hospital or rescue service.

My second class was hand-applique and hand-quilting, and resulted in the quilt below, which now hangs over a banister in my home.I also made a few baby quilts during those early years, still all hand work. It was the next quilt that marked some huge changes for me: I was gaining confidence in my ability, I joined a large guild for quilters, I started collecting fabric. I had previously bought only enough fabric for the project at hand. I had heard quilters talking about their fabric "stashes," but I didn't even know what that meant. Then my daughter asked me to make a queen-sized quilt for her. The block pattern she chose was a fairly simple star, but she wanted it to be a "charm" quilt. In a charm, each individual piece must be a different fabric; a queen-size charm in the star she liked would need over 1600 fabric pieces! I became a frequent visitor to every shop in a three state area. It took almost a year to collect enough to even begin piecing the first stars. Then I discovered online fabric sources, and became addicted to them. That sped the process up, but I was still piecing, quilting and binding entirely by hand, and Lisa's quilt took almost three years to complete. But I learned an important lesson with that quilt. In the beginning it seemed like an impossible task --- almost like the long ago hexagon kit that never got done. But this time around I realized this: I could only cut and piece one star block at a time. I did this regularly, and eventually I had enough blocks to make a row. I kept going until I had enough rows to make the main part of the quilt. Then I added borders and basted the top, batting and backing together. Finally, stitch by stitch, I quilted the layers together. Approaching the project as a whole was overwhelming. But breaking it down into achievable goals led to a really special final result. (See photos below.) This has of become my mantra, in life as well as in quiltmaking.

Lisa's quilt was the last one I made entirely by hand. After hers, I had a fabric stash to die for, and dozens of new projects dancing around in my head! There was no way to get them all done unless I switched to working by machine. I really resisted this for awhile, stuck on the idea that "real" quilters work only by hand. That was true back on the prairie, but few quilters work that way today. In fact, many only sew the top of the quilt, then send it off to be quilted professionally. The pro usually has a huge, long-arm machine, often computer-guided. They do beautiful work. But I like my one-step-a-time = finished quilt approach. Luckily the quilt world is now big enough for all of us!

I now have a sewing machine and a mid-arm machine on a 10 foot rack. No computers, but I can finish a large quilt in a week or two, rather than a year or two. Three years ago I started selling quilts locally, and then online. It's the best job in the world! I still can't live long enough to finish all of the projects I want to tackle, but hopefully most of them. I'm still learning something with each project, and continue to take the occasional class to update techniques and network with other quilters. I get inspiration from other quilters, workshops, books, and magazines. Most often, though, it's fabric that initially excites me; I especially like using the same fabric design in different colorways. Looking for the perfect block and layout to dramatize particular fabrics is what drives me.

You can find more of my work online at Quilts With Heart, or my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mid-Summer Update

If you are a fellow quilter (or maker of other home decor items) you may want to consider joining the Design Style Guide to showcase your work. Read my post on the DSG Blog to learn more about our team.

Also, my work was recently featured in Felicia Kramer's blog, "Felicia Kramer Has Another Bright Idea." Thanks, Felicia!

Finally, visit the DSG Team's main site to see a collection of quilts by members of our team.

I hope you're having a great summer of fun in the sun, but don't forget the sunblock! We just returned from a short vacation in Indian River, Michigan. My sister and brother-in-law have a cottage there, on Mullet Lake. The picture below is my daughter's dog, Ozzy, after his very first (voluntary!) swim in the lake. Last summer, as a puppy, he wanted no part of it. This year Lisa couldn't keep him dry!

Ozzy Norton, Mullet Lake, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Discover "Mystic Silks"

One of my favorite artists on is also a teammate on Design Style Guide. Her shop is "Mystic Silks," and I'm featuring it on my DSG Blog post this month. It will be published tomorrow, so be sure to check it out. I promise you will LOVE her work --- see samples below!

On another note, for those who may be wondering, my recovery from back surgery is going veeeery slowly. I still can't spend an entire day at the machines without pain, and I tire much too easily. I'm done with physical therapy now, and I rarely take pain meds. The surgeon says I'm healing "as expected for your age," (which, unfortunately, is old as dirt!) Hopefully I will be able to get up to speed eventually.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Supporting The Home Team!

The Detroit Red Wings are well on their way to another Stanley Cup. We could sure use some good news in this city. Besides, we are Hockey Town!

Speaking of red, check out my post tomorrow ( 5/21/09) on the Design Style Guide's blog. DSG is a team of artisans who produce handmade home decor items. We've joined together to support and promote each other as we build a catalog of home goods. Eventually the catalog will be targeted mainly to Interior Designers. But you don't have to be a designer to visit us and/or make a purchase! New items and artists are added daily, so visit often. And while you're there, check out my portfolio.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Baby Hero's Quilt

It's always fun for me to see the little owners of my baby quilts, so I want to thank new mom Susan for sending this photo of her beautiful daughter, Hero. She could make any quilt look great. I hope this one will become her beloved "blankie," and that one day she will sneak a worn-out corner of it into her college luggage. Welcome to the world, pretty girl!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Surgery Sells!!!

I had back surgery on February 19, and I'm feeling almost like myself again. But that might not be such a good thing, because I sold three quilts while I was drugged mindless! The drugs were legal and all, and there is still plenty of pain and indignity involved when those wicked surgeons put their masks on. But still: THREE QUILTS!!! I'm pretty attached to most of my organs, but there must be something rattling around in there I wouldn't miss....

Big Appendectomy Sale

Friday, February 13, 2009

Therapy In Session

(In case you've ever wondered what I look like.)

I have to close the shop next week because I'm having back surgery. I've been putting it off for years, but now the time has come. For some reason this has inspired a need to get my "affairs" in order. For most people this probably involves paperwork, but to me it felt absolutely imperative that I sort and label my fabric stash. (It might take another quilter to appreciate that thinking!) I decided to empty a dresser and chest left behind when my grown kids moved out. You'd think they might have missed the clothes they left here, but it's been years and they haven't yet. Too late now! The Purple Heart will be well stocked in the very near future.

I then emptied the overfilled-and-breaking-apart drawers on the old fabric storage unit. Out to the curb it went. I dragged the other empty chest and dresser into the quilt studio and started sorting fabric by color and/or theme. I put it all away, complete with drawer labels. I gave the room a thorough cleaning, and even hung some wall art --- including the self-portrait above. I feel so much better now! Well, except for the back pain...but hopefully that will soon become a thing of the past.

There's still a lot of house cleaning I need to get done before Thursday, especially since they tell me it will be six months before I'll be allowed to vacuum again. (Boo-hoo, huh?) On the plus side, the surgeon said I can start quilting again in two weeks, gradually working up to a full day by six to eight weeks post-op. Quilting really is therapy, for every quilter I know, so the sooner the better. In the meantime, I can fantasize about quilting in my completely organized studio!!!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Treasures From The DSG Team

Those of us who sell our creations online have found that networking with other artists is a good way to promote and market our work. Many of us link to each others' blogs and web sites, feature each other in our blogs, and often join ranks to advertise sales and specials. The paintings in the "Treasury" above are an example of one way we highlight our fellow artists. In this case, all of the artists are members of The Design Style Guide Team. There you will find more of their work, as well as that of many other artists. In addition to paintings, the DSG offers all manner of handmade home decor items. (Even, can you believe it, QUILTS!)