Sunday, January 31, 2010

Permission to Create

Here's a story that will inspire some of you. I was reminded of this recently because my small quilt yahoo group is working on a challenge this month to make a little quilt, any quilt, from my book Prairie Children and Their Quilts. A little while ago I received a letter from an 88-year-old woman who wrote to tell me that she picked up one of my books, American Doll Quilts (my first book), and had been inspired to make all of the quilts and projects in it. Then she sent a photo to prove it. What fun! Can you believe she made ALL of the quilts, one by one?  It was such a sweet, warm letter and she was so proud of what she'd done that I answered her and thanked her for being an inspiration to ME. She wrote back to tell me that now she's starting on the quilts from Prairie Children, and I wished her luck. I'm pretty sure she'll finish. It made me wonder what keeps some of us going so long, inspired to create?

The doll quilts that 88-yr-old Doris made.

I came relatively late to quilting, but I like to think that I may still be quilting myself at the age of 88 or 90.  Unlike so many other quilters, I didn't have the quilting legacy passed down to me. There are no family quilts; I am the first to make them as far as I know. Years from now someone will find them in a trunk and wonder about the woman who made them.

My mother was never very "crafty" herself when I was young, but I remember feeling good when I made things out of paper, scissors, crayons, glue, string or yarn. My specialty was little books made with pictures I either drew myself or cut from magazines and read to my dolls. Funny, the paths we end up taking--50 years later I'm still cutting out inspiring pictures from magazines but I eventually got a little help with the books.

My mother always encouraged me and smiled proudly when I showed her my projects, giving me implicit permission to create. But I don't think she ever felt she had the time to do anything creative herself. Her spirit was focused more on cooking, housekeeping, and other endless chores. This was before Martha Stewart became a household word and we learned that yes, there could indeed be creativity in cooking and keeping a house. I know she sewed a little and when one of my sisters took up sewing, I learned too.

My four sisters were a bit older than me--the oldest being 15 when I was born (can you say accident?)--so I essentially grew up with 5 "mothers" to encourage and nurture me. I became an aunt at age 11.

This turned out better than it looks here--she ended up coming around and being my friend.

When I was 18 and on break from college one Christmas I went out and bought a Simplicity pattern and made doll clothes for her Barbie dolls, and remember knowing somehow that the sewing fed my soul after the stress of going through finals. I still make little doll dresses, just for fun.

I clearly recall that uplifting feeling I got from being creative and sometimes try to tell my 16-yr-old daughter to just make something, anything, when she's stressed or feeling down about herself, when her finals loom or college planning takes over her world, to help feed her soul.

In high school a friend taught me to knit and crochet and when I started going nuts making things my mom became so fascinated with my "granny square" vests, macrame belts and crocheted floppy hats (I grew up in the sixties, did you guess??) that she let me teach her to crochet. After raising a family of 5 girls for lo those many years she finally gave herself permission to be creative and I noticed a calmness in her personality. Soon she had made afghans for everyone in the family and had a lot of fun making numerous silly crocheted toys, ornaments, etc. Playing with yarn.

She never knew my kids or my dogs, but they definitely feel something comforting when they cuddle under those simple afghans she made, I can tell.

I bought my mom a needlepoint kit once and then she quickly got into that too, like she'd missed playing for years and was catching up. It was fun to watch and it made ME feel so good, to know that I was the one who got her started making things, instead of the other way around. I think she had a lot of creative energy in her that she never allowed to come out until she was older. Too much time spent taking care of others, not enough time for herself. She passed away at a relatively early age (33 years ago this weekend) and I know for sure I would have gotten her to quilt at some point, but I started pretty late myself so we never had time. She didn't teach me to quilt, but she taught me to be true to myself and follow my heart.

I'm teaching my daughter (and probably my son too, come to think of it--he takes lovely photos and has fun writing poetry and song lyrics) the importance of making time to be creative, connecting to the process and letting it feed your spirit, giving yourself permission even when you think you're too busy. Not worrying too much about whether or not it meets someone else's standards or whether it's "perfect." If you wait for that, you'll never do it.

So I keep this silly hat around that I made when I was in college (yes, we really wore hats like this in the '60s, and no, I sure wasn't alone) to remind me of how I started on the path, how much I've always loved making things, even if they're silly, and Caitlin wears it sometimes. Maybe I'm hoping I can pass on the "creative hat" to her through osmosis? If nothing else, it sure looks cute on her.

American Doll Quilts, the book that started it all for me, is now out of print and I hear it's hard to find. I have copies I'm hoarding (see previous post about this problem I apparently have, LOL) but you can always download an e-book version at the Martingale & Co. website, here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Inspired by Fabric

My sewing room is a mess right now. But sometimes good things come from messes. I'm looking at the quilts I made for the new book and I'm grateful I was able to choose fantastic fabrics to make them, thanks to some of my favorite designers (and yours--more later). Some of the Civil War reproduction fabrics (my favorite) that are available today at quilt shops are so incredible it's hard NOT to be inspired to make gorgeous quilts. The best reason to browse.

Choosing fabrics to make my quilts is probably my favorite part of quilting. I love working with scraps or lots and lots of different fabrics. Most quilt shops sell reproduction fabric in fat quarters, charm packs or bundles. In addition to shopping at my favorite shops, I try to attend quilt shows where there are vendors and buy fat quarters or bundles from them too. Bundles "speak" to me because you can always pick up a couple of them quickly if you don't have a lot of time to shop. Also good because I like to use LOTS of different fabrics in my scrappy little doll quilts.


And sometimes, even if you're experienced, it's just plain easier to have a bunch of fabrics all pulled together from different designers and different lines that you might have missed on your own. I don't know about you, but it can get overwhelming looking at so much fabric and trying to choose even just a couple of cuts.

Also, I'm not afraid to go into a quilt shop and ask them to cut 10 different 1/4 or 1/8 yard cuts of different fabrics for me. One time I think I actually bought twenty 1/8 yard cuts. And the good thing about reproduction fabrics is that they're timeless.


True, fabric lines get discontinued pretty often to make room for the new ones, but I'll still always have enough of those reproduction fabrics that I love to give me that antique look we all crave. Some I've saved from years ago that will be just perfect for when I'm inspired by a certain block or antique quilt. I hoard  my favorite scraps and actually have some very small pieces from certain lines that I just can't part with in a quilt yet. (Oh no, you don't think they'll make me go on that A & E  show Hoarders, do you?) They're just waiting to be used in that perfect quilt. Maybe Dear Jane? Probably a good thing I saved them then, I think.

If you're wondering, like most designers, I take my time playing around with color before I make a decision about what fabrics I'm going to use in a quilt. So, experiment. I think the more time you spend looking at different quilts closely and deciding what it is you like about a certain quilt the easier it gets to choose fabrics for your own. Study pictures in books or go to quilt shows. Look at samples in shops. Ask yourself (and wait for the answer): What is it about that quilt that I love? I'm drawn to just about any quilt with blue in it and I use it so often I almost consider it a neutral. Simple, scrappy quilts with lots of blue PLUS pink or red make me drool, like this antique  spools quilt:

I don't know,  I wish I owned this quilt. Hey, wait, MAYBE I CAN REPRODUCE IT!!

There is such a wide variety of reproduction fabrics available today that you can reproduce almost any antique quilt. We had a small quilt challenge using this same block in SmallQuiltTalk last year. I didn't have time to make a quilt--only got as far as these 2 little blocks. Oh well, I'll finish someday. And maybe it'll turn into that big antique quilt above, ya think?

We really have to hand it to all of those quilters who spend the time designing and reproducing antique fabrics to make the wonderful fabrics we use in our quilts. Isn't this a sweet photo of Jo Morton, one of our favorite designers? I took it last year at Quilt Market. My husband also took one of the two of us together but my eyes were closed and I had a funny look on my face so I won't let you see it. NOT inspiring. Such a nice lady--she gave me her newest book and I gave her mine.

And, since we're talking about  inspiration, I surely couldn't make my quilts without Judie Rothermel's amazing fabrics . . .

That's her lovely wavy striped fabric on the cover quilt of Remembering Adelia. I spent quite a LOT of time trying to find a perfect border fabric for that darn quilt. Four different shops until I saw it and knew immediately that was IT. What luck to find just the perfect Civil War stripe. And blue, too. 

The quilt was made in 2008 and the fabric is no longer available, I'm told, but I still have some I'm saving (okay, yes, hoarding) to use in a doll quilt. Fabric lines change too fast sometimes. But I've seen others make it with a different stripe and it still turns out quite well.

Keep your scraps, you never know.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What Inspires You?

Darn, it's really hard to write a blog without being able to show you what I'm working on. For the past six months I've kept all of my quilts-in-progress under wraps and yet while I've still managed to write SOMETHING, it's been mostly NOT about my quilts lately (more pictures of puppies, anyone?). Since I can't show you what I'm making for the next book yet (16 NEW quilts and projects), I'll just have to go with some other inspiring photos. Just some of the things that inspire me and maybe will inspire you too.

Like some of you, I'll bet, I often get inspired by playing with my scraps. Give me some time, a nice cup of tea in a pretty mug and some fabric scraps and I'm ready to get creative. I've been itching to make a pink and brown quilt for a long while. Maybe one will appear in the new book, who knows.

This antique pinwheel quilt I saw at a flea market last year inspired me. Love the quilting. How much fun would it be to make a little one like this with scraps? So easy, too.

I'm aways inspired by indigo and red. Simple again.

Magazines are a huge source of inspiration for me and I subscribe to quite a few. There's something so exciting about going out to get the mail and finding a beautiful, glossy magazine in the box filled with inspiring images and projects I'd love to try. Home decorating magazines inspire me as well as quilting magazines and there's a pile of those on the floor next to my night table waiting for me to have time to read through them.

I filed these magazine pictures away for inspiration to use in decorating my NEXT house. Wishful thinking on my part, so don't presume my house actually looks this good or ever will--I can especially imagine the white sofa with my 2 dogs. But I love the light and airy primitive farmhouse look.

And floor to ceiling books!!

Sometimes I get inspired by seeing patterns or colors in things that are completely unrelated to quilts:

Like, when I'm shopping . . .

I need more dishes or bowls like I need a hole in the head, but I still love to browse anyway and shopping at places like Home Goods really gets me inspired. I absorb all of the colors everywhere and in everything and then somehow bring the inspiration home to work on quilts. Honest, it works. At least that's what I tell my husband when he asks why I need to run out to Home Goods again. It's for the inspiration, dear.

I didn't come home with dishes that day, but I decided I really needed this green cupboard for storage--the price was actually pretty reasonable. But I still hemmed and hawed and wasn't sure, took a picture to show my husband and then finally went back the next day to pick it up. Glad it was still there.

First thing I did when we got home was take off the green knobs and replace them with antiqued black ones from Lowes. Better, no?

I just threw stuff into the drawers to clear out some of the clutter in my sewing area, so when I have time I need to get everything sorted and organized. But it feels good to have some extra space to put even a few things that looks pretty. And it matches my mugs, LOL.

So inspiration is everywhere and I easily get inspired by just looking around me. And last, but not least, I always get inspired by simple litttle antique doll quilts.

What inspires you?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Return to Cranford

Last night my daughter and I were pulled back into nineteenth century England as we watched the last episode of  "Return to Cranford" on Masterpiece Classic, after being entranced by the original "Cranford" series about a picturesque village in 1840s England which aired on the same PBS channel several weeks ago. Have you seen it?

OMG, the cast is wonderful (Dame Judi Dench, for one) and the series so beautifully adapted from Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford novels. I was drooling over the fabric in the costumes and the awesome scenery the whole time I was working on quilting a small quilt. That was inspirational. I love seeing depictions of nineteenth-century life.

"Cranford" begins with the story of 2 sisters, Matty and Deborah, in their 50s or 60s, never married, and prominent figures in the town. Love some of the dialogue. A young woman assists a doctor in a difficult operation and he praises her as having been "the equal of a man." Deborah frowns and says: "No woman should ever be said to be the equal of a man. She is superior in every way." LOL

Deborah rejects the suggestion she read "The Pickwick Papers," a new book by the radical new writer Charles Dickens. She is too refined and will only read the proper classics, thank you veddy much. But Matty is the kinder, gentler one who brings the town together at the end after the railroad threatens to change their isolated world.

In the first part of the series, "Cranford," which is now on DVD,  the arrival of a single eligible young man in the town (Sweet Dr Harrison) sets the entire village in motion. My daughter likes to call this series "Sex and the Village" because of all the little trysts going on in this sleepy little town, but in a very proper manner, mind you. The dialogue is witty and the costumes and scenery gorgeous.

Well worth catching if you haven't seen it and can get it on video.  Next week, PBS is airing Jane Austen's Emma!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dear Jane--One down, 224 to go

Last year I vowed that THIS year I would begin working on a Dear Jane quilt. I know I don't have time to work on this quilt right now, but--here's my first block. I couldn't wait. I'll bet some of you are surprised I actually even got  THIS far, LOL . . . .

I bought the Dear Jane EQ software on sale with a gift card from my sister and just had to take a look at it to see if it worked, you know.

I had a lot of fun poking through my scraps, and then printed out the block pattern on freezer paper and hand pieced it all early one morning. It's not perfect, but pretty darn near, for me. The hand piecing went very well (I love hand piecing and hand pieced a small quilt to go in my next book). Of course, the block I chose was pretty simple--I'm going to ease myself into them and not do all of the easy ones first so I don't get burned out too fast. I've already picked out some scraps for the two blocks I'm planning to do next. I'm excited to make more after February, when I'll be finished working on the book and will have more time.

Here's the good part. My daughter will be a high school senior next year and has recently expressed interest in visiting colleges out east this year so--yay!--I may be able to stop in and see the real Dear Jane quilt at the Bennington Museum in Vermont.

Can you believe it? What timing. When she asked if we would take her to just look at a couple of eastern schools I could tell my husband was almost ready to say "No," because we both doubt she'll actually go that far away for college (and think she'll end up going somewhere in the Midwest to be closer to home) but I am a quick thinker and put my hand up and said "Wait, let her talk . . ." secretly thinking that this was my chance  to sneak in a trip to see the "mother quilt" just when I am about to begin working on one like it. Probably couldn't justify the trip any other way. Thanks, Caitlin!

Stay tuned. One block down, only 224 to go . . . Oh my.


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