Sunday, September 29, 2013

PA Quilt Show, Part Two: Quilts That Made Me Laugh

I started working on this post several days ago, the second of the photos I took at the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza. There are so many photos to go through, decide which fit the theme, upload them, then give them some description.

If you missed my previous post with photos from the quilt show, go back and read it. Those quilts made such strong statements, as only quilts can. 

But quilts can also be humorous. There was one quilt I didn't photograph, that featured a fat-faced toddler with a sock coming out of her mouth (the sock was a real sock, within the appliqued mouth). The quilter described it as a portrait of her granddaughter who liked to carry her sock in her mouth. All I could think of when viewing this quilt was, "this is the ultimate blackmail piece when this girl is a teenager and brings a date to meet grandma. Grandma will pull out this quilt to show boyfriend, and teen will 'die' in agony and embarrassment." I'm sure that wasn't what the quilter intended, but that was my reaction. The quilt still made me laugh, though, because it was so well done.

"William", by Sheila Kramer, Jackson, NJ, for the Hoffman Challenge. This is a beautiful quilt that just made me giggle, because hippos affect me that way. I primarily took the photo to share with a friend who loves hippos, but thought I'd share it here, too. As my mom said, a quilt can make "even the less-than-glamorous very beautiful."

By Kathy James, Fort Washington, PA. The Philadelphia Modern Quilt Guild's challenge was to create a quilt that fit a stool cushion; no embellishment, as that would hurt to sit on. Ms. James stated in her quilt's description, "I thought it would be funny, no, hysterical, to sit on a blueberry pie." I agree with her, and this is one reason why I love reading the descriptions that go with the quilts on display at shows. She did such a good job of weaving the crust strips over or around the blueberries!

Apparently, bikinis were a big deal this year. Especially yellow polka dot bikinis. This was the first one I saw there. "Bikini Body" by Lee Anna Paylor, of Severna Park, MD. But my camera can't quite catch the really amazing thing about this quilt: parts of it are 3D. Like the bikini babe's chest and belly, her tote bag, and her towel. Maybe this second photo will show it better:

But also notice, in the first photo, that all the other women are wearing one piece bathing suits. Anyway, this quilt gave me a good laugh. The quilter's description read in part, "This feisty bikini wearer is a self-portrait of how I'd look back in Florida today." I can only imagine the personality of this quilter, but she seems like a lot of fun!

Polka dot bikini number two was not worn by a feisty self-portrait, but by something else:

Yes, that's a bear, wearing a yellow polka dot bikini. (Can there be any other kind?) "Dancing Bear" was made by Ginny Rippe, of Woodbridge, VA, for the 2013 Hampton Challenge issued by Cabin Branch Quilters. They all made quilts based on a song with a color in the title. ("Purple Rain" was a popular choice, plus at least one Elvis song and several Christmas songs.) You already know the song, right? The combination of bikini-wearing and surfing bear is just too funny, don't you think?

Owls were apparently a thing this year: they were everywhere, on quilts, on fabric, as felting projects, etc. These owls were just so cute I had to take a photo.  "Friends in High Places", by Jean Roesler, Grand Junction, Colorado, for the Art Quilt Association. Again, these little critters were kind of 3D: 

Their 'ear' tufts are just the cutest things, and their expressions are priceless. I did note that at the bottom of the description it said this quilt was available for sale. Hmmm...

Staying with the animal theme...

"Wave Goodbye", by Ruth Wilcox. Her description said that there were joints and seagrass weights, so if I wanted to I could have asked one of the white gloved assistants to pull the seagrass to see the claws move. I didn't. But, I think it's a funny idea. I remember one year, a quilt said "TOUCH ME" and had specific instructions to let anyone feel it. I loved that quilt, as it is so much about what quilts are to me: textures to be felt and experienced and loved. Still, these fiddler crabs were so colorful I had to share them.

"Eloise Joins The Circus", by Janet Fogg, Milwaukie, OR. Um, why is there an eiffel tower on that elephant's head? Anyway, this is still a beautiful quilt, and it did make me laugh in surprise when I realized it wasn't a typical party hat. 

"Gossip Girls" by Sandy Curran, Newport News, VA. I love these birds, I love how Ms. Curran pieced the top and bottom sections. And I love the description: "Can't you just hear them chatting together. I hear them saying, 'She didn't!'" Just brings a smile to my face reading that and looking at the busy bodies.

"Making Her Exit" by Pamela Allen, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Ms. Allen stated this is kind of her life, going from a "sameness of my former career" to a "life of infinite choices" as an artist. I just love the exuberance of the artist side, all the color, and check out the roller skates on her feet.  

This is someone who seems to be living a second life, and I can only wish her well on her travels, with a smile.

Somehow, I failed to make a note of who made this quilt. Someone obviously had fun fussy-cutting women for this one! Check out the close-up of a few of them:

The little head in the jar ("Getting a head") and on the platter ("Head waitress") caught me totally off guard! And, taking this quilter's advice, I'm going to "quilt while I'm ahead."  :)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Affordable Care Act and How You Already Benefit

I'm going to do some cross-blogging today, because I think the topic is that important. There is too much misinformation (and, to be honest, straight out lies) being thrown around, discussed, and shared about the Affordable Care Act. 

I'm not trying to be political here; I don't care if the law was passed by a Democrat or a Republican. What I DO care about, as a reference librarian who believes in finding legitimate, authoritative, accurate information, is trying to make sure people understand what they are actually talking about. You know those people whose careers kind of define their personality (or vice versa)? Yeah, that's me all over. Even on Facebook I can't pass up the opportunity to find an answer for someone or help them out. (Example A: helping Erin get access to her My Patchwork Life blog again.)

I also really care about how screwed up the health care industry and health insurance industry are. I'm hoping that there are more changes going on than we really know about; I read an article recently about how the ACA is already reducing some costs that many aren't aware of, I think involving the insurance companies and hospitals working to improve quality of care over quantity of care. (And I can't find that article again; dang, I hate when that happens! But I'll keep looking for it. I am a reference librarian, after all!) I have health problems, as does my husband, and even though we both get insurance through our employers the law will still help us out. It will do even more for those who do not have insurance for one reason or another. 

UPDATE: This article is along the lines of the one I read earlier.

But rather than re-post everything here that I've already said once, I'm just going to put up a link to the blog I write for the Pottsville Free Public Library Reference Department:

If you don't want to visit my other blog, I encourage you to learn more for yourself from an unpolitical source, the Kaiser Family Foundation Health Reform site.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

So, I Made a Trip to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza Today..., Part One, The Serious Stuff

The Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza is one of my favorite events of the year. It's only about an hour and a half away from where I live, the displays are always incredible, and, well, there are more quilt-related vendors than you can shake a stick at. I took lots of photos, some because the quilts reminded me of friends and family, some because I really liked the pattern and want to add them to my "someday" list of quilts to make, and some because they made me feel something. The latter are what I'll post here. Quilts can make such a powerful statement, both in looking at them and in reading the descriptions included by the quilters. I love reading the descriptions and learning more about the quilter and the quilt's story.

Forgive me, this is going to be a really long post, because there is just so much I want to share. And these are just the quilts that had a message; next time I'll post the quilts that made me laugh. All photos were taken by me today (Sep. 22, 2013) at the quilt fest, but obviously the quilts are property of their makers. I am truly awed by the talents of the women and men who contribute quilts to these shows.

"Echoes of the Past", by Sandy Curran, Newport News, VA. I just thought this portrait of Harriet Tubman was incredibly well done. The quilter even added a railroad track in the quilting (close-up), along with three words that describe Ms. Tubman so well: courage, sacrifice, freedom. 

"Brother Against Brother", by Bonita Cantrell, Vernon, AL. This was one of the first quilts I saw when I walked into the quilt show, and it hit me hard. Mostly because, in many ways, for many reasons, we are still a fractured nation with deep divides and much hatred. 

"Symbols of Peace", by Zahra Golami and her nephew, Karajh, Iran. Simple, but still gut-wrenching. Part of the "Quilt for Change, Inspiring Social Change Through the Art of Quilting" exhibit. Their theme was "Women, Peace and Security". 

I didn't take photos of all of the quilts in this category, but there was one more that I want to share here:

"The Mending", by Lea McComas, Superior, Colorado. This was constructed from photos that were printed on fabric, ripped apart, shot at (those little red circles at the top), and burned (see red amoeba shape on left side). The red yarn is stitching together the life again. (Don't those arms look incredibly realistic? I keep thinking someone stuck their arms in front of my camera.) You can see fuller descriptions of this and the other challenge quilt at the Quilt for Change web site. 

"Gone", by Laura Bisagna, Winchester, CA. This woman found out her house was destroyed by a fire from an online photo, while she was still evacuated. The plaid "houses" are from pajamas she packed in her evacuation suitcase. The black plots are actually holes in the quilt; the black is really the divider behind the quilt. Obviously, there were a lot of others who also lost their house in that fire.

"Come Hell or High Water", by Brenda Zangre, West Hempstead, NY. This portrays the heights of the tsunami after the earthquake that hit Japan in 2011; the long orange 'finger' pointing toward the right reached the US coast. And I didn't notice until I read the description, but the photos are loosely arranged like a 'cause' ribbon. Her description ended, "Sadly, sometimes you just can't go home."

From too much water to too little:

"Nature's Beauty", by Shoshi Rimer, Bat Yam, Israel. This quilter portrayed a waterfall as being made of gold, illustrating the value of the water after a drought. 

All of these focus on serious topics, showing how much can be said with a quilted image. Quilts have historically been used to encourage social change, and the artists today continue to push boundaries to grab you by throat. 

Peace, friends.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Am I Doing Here?

Ever start doing something new, and suddenly wonder what the heck you were thinking? I'm sure we've all been there at some point, some of us repeatedly.

Tonight I headed over to the gym after I did some hand quilting. (Sewing student hurt her wrist playing soccer so our lessons have paused until she heals, poor girl.) When I started there at the end of July, my goal was simply to use the treadmills. I knew I needed to get moving to keep weight and blood sugar under control, and walking at home or in the neighborhood was fraught with problems (which I won't go into now). I also knew I loved using the treadmills whenever I stayed at a motel. So I decided to take the plunge and join Anytime Fitness, so I could use the treadmills any time I wanted to. (Seriously, if I feel the need to walk at 3 a.m., I could go over there.) It was just within my budget, but health-wise I figured it was more than worth it.

So, I just planned on using the treadmill. I was building up my time on it, as well as my speed (still just walking, never been a decent runner in my life), and I was feeling pretty good. Then I had to have a session with the personal trainer. And, as personal trainers do, she challenged me to do more than just walk. "Muscle memory," she said sorrowfully, shaking her head. "Don't keep doing the same thing. You'll get bored, and you won't get much out of it."

Okay, fine, I'm willing to try new things. Oh, you want me to learn to use those torture machines??? At least, that's what all those weight machines look like, just with more padding. I lost count tonight how many different machines there are in that small space. I've also decided, for now, which I'm willing to risk using (and risk looking like a fool using -- there are some serious muscle people who go to that gym). 

I discovered I really like the twister. No idea what the real name is, but you kneel on padding, hold on to handles, and then twist your lower body. I was a bit concerned about my back, but figured anything that can improve my abs will most likely help my back, too. Some days I do the exercises gingerly, and my back feels better after I'm done. Excellent, that's probably worth my monthly membership fee right there!

I've started using a device that you can use backward or forward, working the front or back of the shoulders. With all the tension I store in my shoulders, I thought that might help a bit. I haven't been using it long enough to really notice a difference yet, but I feel like I'm actually working shoulder and arm muscles when I use it.

And this week, I've started using this bar that you pull down toward your chest. (Don't you love how I know all the technical terms here? Ha!) Again, aiming at my shoulders and back. 

Oh, yeah, and I've figured out which settings I really like on the treadmill. Love the "hill" setting, which randomly throws in different inclines between level stretches. Think that's my favorite one. Occasionally I'll keep it flat and go for speed for as long as I can handle it.

I've even tried the elliptical machines, aka crosstrainers, and they are just tough on the body. My record length of time on those things is about 17 minutes. The athletes who go to town on them for long periods of time have my complete respect. I keep trying them, though, along with the exercise bikes, just to change things up a bit.

To get back to the beginning of this meandering, tonight I was using the front shoulder machine, and another person came over to start using free weights. She looked like she really knew what she was doing. I glanced to my left, where another serious fitness person was using another machine. And then I looked around at all the other machines in the area, and thought "what the heck am I doing here??!?" I felt like that game, "which one is not like the others." What was worse, there was a mirror directly in front of where I was sitting, so I had to watch myself work out. Sheesh. I was really tempted to close my eyes, but figured that would look even goofier than I already did. 

So, I finished up with that weight machine, wiped it down (considering how many people I heard coughing and sniffling at work today, I'm tempted to wipe down everything I touch everywhere), and went to a machine I knew I could use without feeling silly. Treadmill, here I come. Let's rock that hill setting and get my confidence back on track!  :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

September is National Sewing Month

I remember seeing posts on various Facebook groups about September being National Sewing Month, but didn't think too much about it. I've been sewing more lately, so didn't need additional reasons to do it. However, after a discussion at work, I decided to look into it a bit more.

 Internaional Sewing Month

Did you know that National Sewing Month started with a declaration by Ronald Reagan in 1982? I didn't, until I found the site at Click on the link for "History of National Sewing Month" to find the previous years' themes. There are a few free patterns and articles on this page, but there are many more at I plan on exploring their "Charitable Sewing Projects" section when I have more time.

Personally, I like this year's theme, "Take your skills to a higher level," as that is what I've been tackling in my own sewing life. I recently completed a machine applique wall hanging, with machine quilting and a totally-machine-sewn binding (well, except for the one little bit that got missed on the back and needed a needle and thread to attach), all learning projects for me. I have only done one applique before, a small dove for a small flag, so this multi-part fused applique was something new for me. The pattern was free from Fons & Porter's website, and seemed appropriate after my experience with my own seam ripper a week ago. (I needed to take apart 24 blocks that had been put together in the wrong direction.) The Grim Ripper:

At work, circulation desk staff were looking for something "exciting" that they could use as a theme for a new display. Before they could reach for Chase's Calendar of Events, I suggested the sewing theme, and they were thrilled. Off to find sewing books to display to our patrons! If you are trying to find new patterns, you might check your own local public library and see what they have to offer. You might be surprised!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Same Questions, Same Answers; Same Time Next Month?

I find it interesting that, no matter which Facebook quilting group it is, the same questions keep getting asked: Which sewing machine should I buy? Which iron should I buy? What do you all think?

And the same answers keep getting posted: I love my [Pfaff, Janome, Bernina, etc.], I've been using it for years. I have a cheaper machine from a big box store and it's been a workhorse. I love my Rowenta iron, I wouldn't trade it. I hated my Rowenta, I went out and bought a cheaper brand iron and love it.

The people posting the questions don't know that the question has already been asked 10 times this year in this group. The groups are so prolific that it's almost impossible to go back to view previous posts. 

It reminds me of doing any research on the internet before buying anything. "X worked really well for the first two weeks, then it stopped. Returned it, bought Y, and never looked back." "X is amazing, much better than Y." "Only newbies even think about buying X or Y; true users will go with Z."

Conflicting answers, from so many unknown backgrounds that it seems we can hardly compare anything now. Perhaps the best advice I've seen (and have started giving) is, try them out if you can. What dealer is closer to you? Service is important, regardless of what you are buying. And remember, a company's reputation from 10 years ago doesn't always translate to rock solid manufactured items now.

So, what do I use? I have two sewing machines. The first, a Singer I bought from Hills when it was going out of business, worked great for many years. Until it started eating fabric in October 2011, when I was trying to make a quilt top for my brother-in-law's upcoming wedding. Ack! It got stowed until I could take it for repair (the repair place is at least an hour away, I don't get to that city very often), and I ran out to WallyWorld to buy a Brother sewing machine. I bought it because it was in my price range and it emphasized quilting on the box. And now I love that machine, even when my Singer was repaired, refreshed, and returned to me. The Singer is sitting sadly in the corner, waiting for the day the Brother gets hauled in for a tune up and it can come out to play again.

My Singer requires me to play with discs in order to change the stitches; my Brother lets me hit a button to do the same thing. The ease of use of my Brother machine has encouraged me to try applique (I've done it once, now, a dove for a flag for the "To Boston With Love" project) and machine quilting. 

And now I think I'm really happy with where I'm at, machine-wise. I have no Janome-lust (or Bernina-lust, etc.). I'm not planning on doing king-sized quilts on a machine, so there's no need to look longingly at the long-arm or mid-arm machines out there. I'll keep playing with my Brother sewing machine, which is easy enough for my 11 year old sewing student to use. 

And I'll probably give the same answer next time someone asks, what machine should I buy?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Glad to be Where I'm At

Watching the US Open semi-finals, I am reminded how glad I am that my paycheck does not depend on me facing Serena Williams. Her serve is terrifying, and her dominating play right now is just plain fierce. 

I am one of those quilters who has to have something playing in the background as I work. My preference is for sports, almost any sport. Baseball, softball, tennis, football (college or pro), ice hockey, college basketball (women or men), Olympics, ... even golf if I have no other choice. If there are no sports on, I'll find some kind of music, but sports is better. I played field hockey, basketball, and volleyball in high school, and field hockey in college, but I have never considered myself an athlete. I played for fun, and happily now watch true professionals show their grace and talent and hard work. With sports on, I can sit and hand quilt or piece for hours on end.

I also am in awe of those quilters who do their work so precisely, so flawlessly, that their quilts are true works of art. I'm looking forward to going to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in a couple of weeks. I'll take my camera, and look in wonder at all the gorgeous quilts on display, and make note of a number of patterns that will go on my "I'll make one of those someday" list.

But make no mistake, I am quite happy to be the quilter I am. Oh, sure, I would like to learn new techniques; someday I'll tackle a Bargello, someday I hope to try sewing curved seams, and my triangles are still works in progress. I make cozy quilts that will never be considered works of art, and that's okay. I recently made a baby blanket (only two layers, so not a quilt) for a friend's niece. She thanked me for it and said it was so pretty she'd hang it in the nursery. My immediate reaction was, okay, but it was constructed to take the beating that children's blankets tend to get. Only wall hangings get sleeves; everything else I make I expect to be used, frequently. It's okay to throw my quilts in the washing machine and dryer, because that means the quilt is being used and loved. That's the biggest compliment someone can give me for a quilt I've made.

So my latest project has been preemie quilts: tiny quilts, 20" on a side, intended for incubators and take-home. I have four done so far:

They are so addictive, as they take so little time to construct the top. And now that I have a walking foot for my sewing machine, I can machine quilt them pretty quickly, too. (The blue one above is hand quilted, as it was originally just a project to practice my running stitches.) It's so very tempting to keep making more, especially as the group is trying to collect 150 by December to distribute to hospitals for Christmas. (Hence the Christmas theme on some.) So this afternoon I started piecing yet another, and have fun Christmas fabric picked out to make more as the Fall goes on. It's nice to have so many finished projects!

All these little projects are done while I work on bigger ones. I am in the middle of piecing a scrappy quilt top, throw size, no specific recipient, based on the cover quilt of the August 2011 issue of American Patchwork and Quilting:


I grabbed all the less-than-one-eighth-yard scraps from my scrap pile, started cutting them into 1.5" x 5.5" strips, and sorted them into 'light' and 'dark' piles. I'm aiming for 12 blocks wide by 15 blocks long, which will make it slightly smaller than the twin size directions in the magazine.

I'm adding in my own touches, however. The butterflies were made after a discussion in one of the Facebook quilting groups about simple patterns for butterfly blocks. I kind of created a simplified block of my own, had so much fun I made several, then realized they were the exact size to add to this scrappy quilt. I'm also including several 5.5" squares of fabric that have fun prints, like the books and the parasols. Then there are the "baked goods" squares that are also thrown in occasionally. This is one five-row section of the quilt that's done so far:

Okay, enough of a break; back to sewing!  :)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Who Inspires You?

As I'm sitting at my sewing machine, working on the binding for a 20" preemie quilt, I was thinking about those who have inspired me in my quilty life.

I started making my first quilt in high school, after visiting my grandmother one weekend. She took me to visit my step-great-grandmother, who lived nearby. This old woman seemed about a foot shorter than I was (and I was tall for my age then), hunched over because of osteoporosis, and yet she had this large quilt frame filling up her living room with a quilt she was working on. In my arrogance as a teen, I thought, "If this little old woman can make a quilt, why can't I?" And so I started. And found out quickly it wasn't as easy as it looked! I still have that first quilt, even if I still haven't finished quilting it yet:

I suspect this is my personal quilt-that-will-never-ever-die. The construction is bad, the binding is awful, and the blue on one end is faded from sunlight (it was on my bed in grad school, and I left my curtains open a lot). But the dang thing has survived any number of washing machines, not always on the gentle setting, and it has not yet come apart in the more than 20 years since it was made.

Just recently I had short discussions with two bloggers I've been following. I started following Erin's My Patchwork Life last fall, when I found out she was making quilts for victims of Superstorm Sandy. I joined in the project, ended up putting some of the quilt tops together for her because she was overwhelmed with donated blocks, and made a great new friend. Her blog has partially been my inspiration for my own. (My discussion with her today was about how she was having trouble making updates, so the posts there right now might seem a bit old. Give her a chance to get back on again, it's worth it!)

More recently I've been following Eric's Eric The Quilter blog. He is a fairly new quilter, but has been extremely prolific in the short time he's been quilting. He's also honest about his struggles with depression, and how quilting has helped some with that. He's also created some funny e-cards and shared some great memes. Nothing like quilting with a smile on your face.  :)

And then there is my mom. She is more of an artist than I am: she can draw things that look like they are supposed to (I can't, unless you want a hand or an electrical outlet; long story), she does beautiful picture quilts with applique and a wonderful family quilt that she finished for her 50th wedding anniversary. We talk quilting often, and she sometimes sends me fun fabric for my birthday (this year it was the official Wisconsin fabrics from a particular shop hop near her home).

My husband deserves lots of credit. He is creative in his own ways (see my previous post about Mazz Press!), and has never had a problem with me buying fabric, or making quilts to give away, and he quickly learned to compliment me on my matching points.  ;)  I made a scrap quilt for him early in our marriage, but it really wasn't him; too floral.  So, I'm now working on one that is very definitely him:

You can tell I'm still hand quilting this one! I've finished the first row (right of the hoop), and am on the 3rd block on the second row. Six rows total, so not too bad, but it's flannel-backed so the AC really needs to be cranked for me to work on this in the summer.  :)

Oh, and here's a shot of that preemie quilt I'm trying to finish:

The binding is really the backing fabric folded over to the front; it's pinned right now, just needs to be stitched. I bought this wholecloth square from a vendor at a quilt fest a few years ago, and decided it would be a good project to practice my quilting running stitches. (Normally when I hand quilt it's using stab stitching, but occasionally I try to do it "correctly".) Finished the hand quilting this weekend, and realized it's the perfect size to send with the other preemie quilts I have ready to contribute to a Facebook group. 

Back to finishing that small quilt. Have a great day!  :)