A Day to Play

Saved that blue Japanese one for 10 years!

Many things have changed in my daily life.  This is not a “woe is me” story.  But, it is very fair to say that how I now feel about the stuff I have been “saving for a truly special project” has definitely shifted.  I have a closet full of wonderful and unique fabric, awaiting to be sewn into the “perfect thing”…no surprise there, right?  I accept the fact that at this point I may simply be the curator of all this truly inspiring fabric for someone else’s use in the future.  In an odd way, this “fresh thinking” has freed me to actually use some of it!

Unexpected alliances ferreted out of the “sea” of fabric (should have had a photo of THAT pile!)

Case in point:  the pillowcases in the photos…such an ordinary use for such treasured cotton prints.  But, guess what happened?  Once I decided to use some,  I spent two wonderful and engaging afternoons pulling out “the good stuff”, pairing up interesting combinations, working with what I had (NO NEW PURCHASES ALLOWED)…”playing”, figuring it out, ripping, sewing, pinning, pressing…and ended up with a stack of very extraordinary versions of a very simple, useful thing: a pillowcase for my bed.

I have come to realize there was “more at play” in this activity than simply ending up with a stack of pillowcases.  I am using them (rather than saving them for “company”).   Each night, as I get in bed, I feel special savoring such a lovely (and ordinary) thing.  It is soft, it is pretty.  Each morning, as I make my bed, I get a little gift of “grace”:  “I did this for me…how nice.”  It is a  simply wonderful way to start my day.

End of the day!


Truly EASY Instructions for Making a Pillowcase:

Choose two fabrics.  Rip the larger piece from selvage to selvage to get the edge aligned with the grain.  Measure 22 inches along the selvage and rip again.  This is the body of the case.  For the band, again rip from selvage to selvage to align the grain; measure 14 inches…and rip again.  

Fold the larger “body” piece in half, right sides together, aligning selvages.  Sew a half inch seam along each “long” side (and again, along these seamed edges with a zig-zag stitch to prevent fraying).   Turn right side out. Press seams flat.

Take the smaller “band” piece.  Stitch the short ends together.  Right sides together, stitch the band to the body, matching side seams.  Press a half inch “hem” along the remaining raw edge.  Turn pillowcase body wrong side out, fold up band to just cover sewn edge, matching side seams; ease as needed;  pin and sew (Do this on the “out” side of the case…this is where the stitching will show…if it is a little wonky on the inside (and it probably will be), it won’t ever show…no worries.  Voila.  Done.  Press well.  Sweet dreams ahead!

One small caveat:  All 45″ cotton fabrics do not actually measure a full 45 inches.  Sometimes the “band” fabric you have chosen will not be quite long enough for the “body”…I viewed this as an opportunity to insert one small piece of a third fabric!   To plan ahead…check the length of the ripped band against the stitched body edge, before pinning them together…and add whatever piece is needed.  Easy, truly.

Not So Random Thoughts…

I am thinking of this post as an experiment:  Can I actually get my thoughts and work “out there” once again?  After a while, the “maybe I will do that tomorrow” begins to feel a bit cowardly, right?

I am back in my studio in a somewhat regular way…both of them, actually.  ( I have the ultimate luxury of a space for “paper” and one for “fabric”, i.e….the two empty bedrooms).  After a long time of putting others first (for truly excellent reasons…no regrets, there),  I am now trying to once again engage in a daily, creative practice.   In the one spot, I am working on the Passacaglia…which is something of a “once in a lifetime” piece of work…more on that another day.  To counterbalance the awesomeness of that effort, I am also making tiny collages using up scraps from other work.    The little book in the photos below is a small 3″ x 5″ Moleskine.   Every day I try to do something in it…if I complete ONE page, it is “enough”.

The process, though, has become something more than simply cleaning up.  All of the paper is scrap…the under-papers created when making more “important” work.   And, therein lies the joy in the process.  Each page is just “something from nothing”…on a very small scale…using simple tools…ruler, scissors and glue.

The underlying “restriction” or challenge for all in the book is to create a small collage in which one can “see through” to what is going on underneath the top layer.    A secondary expectation is that each of the collages on a given open spread should relate to each other in some way.  That’s it.

In a very odd way, this book and its contents have become very important to me.  Each page is a reminder that I have given myself time.  I have fiddled with little pieces of paper until they make me happy.   Simple idea…it doesn’t always have to be hard.

Passacaglia Update

Not sure that this is truly the right moment to be trying to write a post…my camera is once again challenging my editing “skills”..(.more like the “lack thereof”)… I am WAY beyond frustrated.  My cogs are looking good on the table, but not on the screen.  I will keep trying; I think I need a new blogging strategy, but for today (since I know what the rest of the week looks like), I am going to just go with what I have.

img_6091The thing is moving along.  That is the true beauty of this quilt (and probably how most people manage to actually get it done).  There is always some part of it that can be moved forward…whether it is the tracing and cutting when one has the light and time to consider the interplay of colors and patterns; the basting, taking advantage of odd moments, here and there;  or, the actual hand-piecing of the rows of shapes.  (The stars are surprisingly fun to stitch!)

img_6084 I am working on multiple cogs at one time in an effort to have the final layout be “one song” rather than simply a compilation of pieces and parts (literally!!!)  That said, one has to truly pay attention to the working diagrams…which has led to some “waltzing” around of the circles/cogs I had already stitched; the big cog had one too many stars!  I have learned my lesson though…count twice, check again…THEN, stitch.

Time to Address the Mess

IMG_6056Sanded and painted my “Disney” cabinet in record time.  It is now in place in the “paper” studio, where everything that is not stitched gets worked on.  This room has also become the dumping ground for any and everything “not fabric” for the past three(!) years. The ten foot long table in there is a far-too-tempting flat surface for whatever is in hand…(a habit I hope to break in the very near future).

Before I spent most of Friday in there sorting things, finding spots in the cabinet for the things that “stay” and making piles just outside of the door for the things that don’t, I took photos (intending to impress with my organizational skills).   “Ah!  So many messes!  But look!  Presto!  a table is under there!”  But none of them even survived editing!   …the consequence of trying to move off of the AUTO  button (forgot that “one crime at a time” thing…blue photos, anyone?)

I had sorted and organized for hours.  The table got neater, outside of the door did not.  Hope reigns, though.


ps:  The observant reader will notice that there is no photo of the table top after those “hours of organizing”.  It is a bit of a work in progress.

Not Quite Sunday…

IMG_0581Saturday leads to Sunday; it is inevitable.  We spent last Saturday at a “mud auction” (think I have written about these before).  They are unique to our area…co-operative fund-raising efforts by the local fire companies and the Amish/Mennonite communities.  Early Spring and  “just-about-now” are mud-auction seasons (when it is either too muddy to be out in the fields, or when most of the harvesting is done).  On any given Saturday there will be at least one in a town nearby…Most everything (except for the yummy local food) is sold by auction: antiques, handmade birdhouses and yard “ornaments”, farm and carriage equipment,  random donated “stuff”…and plants.  The last are what entice us to spend a day outside under a tent.   We haven’t quite figured out the economics of it (are they donations?  consignments? not home-grown, but certainly local).  Vendors bring wagonloads of stock, set it all out for perusing and admiring…and then, auction it off.  A  few dollars can score a treasure!

We always have fun considering the possibilities, envisioning garden spaces full of color (in lieu of weeds).   Inevitably when driving home, the van is loaded with flats and pots, even the occasional tree!   But the excesses of Saturday bidding mean that Sunday is spent planting…and thus, no blogging.


That isn’t to say that nothing is getting done.  I think these will be rounds 5 and 6 in the first BIG rosette.  I vacillate between thinking the color switch is “great” and wondering if it is all too much.  Up to this point, most of my center rounds look pretty subdued…not sure if that is a “sophisticated” take on the pattern…or just  a “safe” one…


On a far more pressing issue:  Scored this quirky cabinet for $25.00 at the auction last Friday night!  I have been looking for a good (read that as “classy, and therefore, rather “sedate”) storage solution for the mountain of art supplies piled on top of the studio table.  Finally, gave up.  Bought this.  Have just finished sanding it.  Am going to paint it with Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint.  The room is “somewhat” purple…am thinking “robin’s egg blue”…”sedate” is over-rated and probably has no business taking up space in the studio anyhow…headed out now…stay tuned…


Passacaglia Update

IMG_6025I am truly into it now.  That might be a somewhat optimistic view, given the over three thousand pieces in the finished quilt.  I probably have two thousand five hundred to go.  What you see above are just a few of the tiny pieces used for the FIRST row of stars and diamonds…

The process starts with a simple center of five diamonds.  Mine are cut from finely woven ikat cottons woven in Indonesia.  I have “embraced” the variations in the patterns, figuring they will only add to the quilt’s “charm”.


I have made many more of these than I will need…more on that later.  The next round are the elongated diamonds.  Originally, I thought to make them all with a pattern on a black ground.


But, as I started to figure out what I might do for the next round, the dark centers began to look too much alike…so I began “branching out” with some color (a slippery slope).


Round three, a ring of ten hexagons, is actually surprisingly fun to sew together.  I am using hand-marbled fabrics that have been hoarded for YEARS (too “special” to use?).  I “fussy” traced and cut each hexagon to be able to play with the movement of the colors within the shapes…


Changing in and out the center stars is entertaining…have made very few “commitments”.


Round four is a somewhat? intimidating ring of stars and diamonds.  This is when the construction of the rosette begins to get “interesting” (challenging???)  There are SO many variations possible in this row.  I really like the stars, though.  So not sure how much I will play with other possibilities.


To tally up my progress:  I have sewn together all of the 37 star centers, plus about ten more.  I have stitched most of “round two”; still have the “color” ones pending.  I know I will have far more than I need.  Maybe they can be used “here and there” on the border or the back?  About half of the pentagon rings are stitched.  I am beginning to wonder if having them all be made of marbled fabrics will be “boring”, or, if “boring” is even possible given this pattern…The star row in the photo above got plopped down on a “pink center” as stuff got pushed aside to make space to work…and it POPPED!  Stopped me mid-shove.  So, am considering that.  The last thing one wants to do when paper-piecing by hand is to have to rip anything out.  This is a quilt that requires COMMITMENT!

Which brings me to the question under-laying this post.  The way I have been working on this quilt is entirely unlike my usual process.  I like to make way too many of the chosen block/motif; to play with colors, stick them up on the design wall, move them around… and, tease the “vision” that inspired the work in the first place.   The Passacaglia is such a dynamic (and, brilliant) design.  But it proceeds slowly: very, very slowly.  It is stitched entirely by hand.  Each piece is traced one at a time to make the most of a fabric’s print or color; and then, pressed.  (I baste by hand, and the iron makes that work so much easier.  I know the current wisdom says “glue-basting is fine”;  but, I just can’t go there.)  The basted components are then hand-stitched together with  very small, and close overcasting stitches (making them extremely tedious to “un-sew”).  The goal is for very even stitching that doesn’t show on the front (a worthy goal, at least).  As the rings around the center star begin to radiate out, the number of pieces (and, pieced pieces…those little stars???) grows quickly.  By the final rows one might be tracing, cutting, pressing, basting and stitching together  more than 60 shapes to complete the ring.  How much experimentation does that process encourage?  What if I “guess wrong”?   More to the point, will it still be “fun”?

The jury is out.  As Jerry Jeff sings, “sometimes you have to trust your cape”.  Still flying; still playing…just a bit more thoughtfully.




A Slight Detour…

IMG_5858Sometimes, totally unexpected things get done.  A few days ago I wandered into my studio, looking for a large piece of cardboard.  I found one; two, actually.  And, that was the moment my day took a “turn”.  Nestled inside the cardboard were 10 sheets of Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper that I had ordered way back in the early days of settling in here.  At the time, no art was getting done, but I was “feeding the beast” by looking at a lot of things online…especially the handmade, and very inspiring journals of the wonderfully creative Teesha Moore.

I pulled the papers out.  (Totally ignored that cardboard!)  It was a snowy miserable day outside…one of those that is beyond depressing.  I hemmed,  I “hmmmmed”… and then,  I decided to play.  I went back and reviewed her You Tube videos once again, set up my paints on the kitchen counter (did I mention that John was “out of town”?), and got to “work”!  Can’t say I would recommend cutting, binding, and painting ten journals in one day…but that is exactly what I did.






I haven’t done anything except admire them…because… I got distracted once again! (update to follow…I am almost hoping this miserably cold weather just keeps on coming…)


As Promised…the Snow-Dyes

Gave up waiting for a sunny day…these photos tell most of the story…

All of the shirts below are from thrift stores; they rarely cost more than a few dollars.  For me, that means that I can take some chances.  This shirt is one my sister added to the pile. What happened here is that the embroidered strings of dots are stitched with polyester threads…which don’t take the dye!  Gives a bit of pizzazz to the look, don’t you think?


A similar thing happened with my shirt below…one can pretty much count on this when using the Procion dyes.


Another thing I might search out is a shirt that has some texture in the weave of its fabric.


The shirt below is made of rayon.  I like the effects that happen when the dye hits its finer weave.  Often the “fracturing effects” of the dye are more detailed, as well.


The four scarves below were over-dyed (duds from a past dyeing session).  They were pretty dull going into the bucket.  The dark purple scarf in the back is rayon velvet devore. Always get interesting results with that fabric.  The three scarves in the foreground are silk of one kind or another.  I especially like working with silk charmeuse (center); the chiffon scarf on the right is nice and breezy-looking (the clear beads along its edge did not hold any dye, but still add sparkle)…and notice the scarf on the left.  See how its texture adds to the richness of the dye on its surface?


I also like to dye old (and damaged) damask tablecloths…see why?  (I cut or rip them into manageable pieces…and to get variety among a related set of fabric.)


And this time, I tried throwing in a set of linen napkins…they were originally a Pepto-Bismol pink…now, they are just fun…each one different, but still, a set.  They were in my linen drawer for years!  I have used (washed…and, ironed) them twice already!  Proper, but not too “prim”!


What else?

These are the “keepers”…




If you look closely, you can see that I dye over prints, textures…embroidery…whatever…

These are the rejects.  They will go back into the “to be dyed” pile and will get their chance to be lovely in another bucket…


The surprise bonus in the very bottom of the dye-pot…all these small silk samples…They just got randomly thrown into the buckets…some real potential here…maybe a chance to try some improvisational piecing?  There are hundreds!!! of them…


This was my first pass at snow-dyeing (versus ice-dyeing).  If I did it again, I would not put so many pieces into each bucket.  I WOULD put in a single layer of things to be dyed…with a HUGE pile of snow on top, rather than the layered version that I used this time.  The snow melts much faster than the ice.  In many cases, this resulted in colors that were too intense for my liking.  Most often, the dye did not have enough time to “fracture” as the snow melted, before it hit the fabric.  This was an experiment.  I learned quite a bit.  Fabrics get ever more interesting each time they are thrown into the dye-bath…so maybe, this is just Chapter One of my story.  And, THAT is why this process is so engaging.

In the Mail!

IMG_5634My cards are done.  As always, there were many challenges along the way…some inherent in the process, itself…and then, those others which have to do with trying to live a creative life inside of my day-to-day one.

The brief seemed simple: create a paper angel who would carry a Christmas message to friends and family.  But then, I had to come up with an angel.  What would she wear?  How would she fly?  What message could she bring?  And, lastly (and believe me, avoided until the VERY END) how would I create her face?…the face of an angel?  Many artists do A LOT to avoid drawing faces.  Been there.  Done that.  Decided to rise to the challenge on this one.

And so, early on, my angels were heads attached to legs.  Then, they acquired stenciled dresses.  Each is different (essential, I think) and figuring out how to do that is an important part of what makes designing such a project engaging).  On first look, that might seem like a tedious process, but in truth a large sheet of sturdy rice paper was spray painted with various metallic colors over “stencils” (found and real) of lace-like patterns.  When the dress and sleeve templates were traced and cut out, every “dress” became unique.  The body pattern (head to toe) was traced onto an old piece of poster board; arms and wings, as well.  They were good, so they even have haloes!  All were glued together in a very straight-forward, step-by-step process…and angels gradually appeared!

Except, they had no faces.

Perhaps someone smarter or more practical would have drawn in faces before all the rest of the assembly.  Then there would have been room for error, to toss aside rejects, maybe even to change the design so that faces weren’t really needed…tempting, that last thing.  I KNEW that…danced around it, as a matter of fact.  But, since I HAD already invested so much effort, I was forced to truly engage with the challenge (I know myself well)…and, I made faces!  They are not perfect.  One angel in particular truly looks like she would rather be doing something else…but, each has a bit of personality.  And, each is unique: my goal from the very beginning.


I sent them out…they are in flight.  Merry Christmas!


An Entertaining Diversion…

IMG_5572It has been a long slog through the “detritus” on the studio floor…the table…the windowsill…out in the hallway…this is the “tough stuff”…the things I truly want to keep close at hand: newly re-discovered…many, many treasures that will surely inspire NEW work… but which refuses to get “categorized” and then…stashed…  I want a clear table to work on (one can dream, right?).   Ambling through Pinterest has been a sanity-saving respite from “organizing”.   In the random way that one gets inspired, along with my current activity of winnowing through my stuff, I encountered “dryer balls”…and, one thing led to another…

Over the years I have bought odd skeins of yarn out of the “clearance bin”.  The original purchases were meant to be “doll hair”, and then, later, for “texture” in other fiber work.  Never aspired to be a knitter, so I rarely bought more than one of anything.  As many artists  know (and probably others, as well), it is much more fun to “imagine and buy”, than to “work and use”!  And that is how stashes get out of hand…which after 20 years, was definitely true in my case.  I am NOT a knitter…why did I have SO MUCH yarn?

So back to the dryer balls.  “Made of wool”…”no more dryer sheets”…”saves energy”…hmmm.  So, I winnowed through my stash, pulled out all of those skeins and odd balls that I was certain were 100% wool (roving was recommended in the “pin”), and started winding balls…  I admit, it was fun finally using those lovely yarns… and a somewhat mindless activity…playing with colors, always my favorite thing.  Yarn changes were easy.  I simply started wrapping the new yarn over the previous one, being sure to catch the end of the first securely.  With the final wrap, as the yarn grew short, I threaded a large-eyed darning needle and secured the last foot or so, by stitching at intersections, burying the spans between them in the ball, itself.


I pulled my trouser nylons out of the trash (had just thrown them out the day before…didn’t like them…was NEVER going to wear them…had been cleaning out that spot too…serendipity!)  Then I carefully stuffed and knotted the balls into the stockings.  Tossed them in the washer with detergent and very hot water–(felting requires soap, heat and  agitation). Then, ran them through the hottest cycle in the dryer.  (The noise was tough to take…so I eventually threw a couple of towels in there too.  Figured they might actually aid in the felting process.)  When I untied the first ball, it did not seem to be completely felted (the outer threads weren’t totally secured) so I repeated the entire process.  I eventually started throwing in my regular laundry as well…

IMG_5576In the end, most of the balls took at least three passes of the washer/dryer process to get completely felted.   Opening them up was a bit like “Christmas”.  I like them…they are far more “fun” than a dryer sheet.   Now, I just have to give them a “test run”…they might actually work…


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