Saturday, September 26, 2009

Use Your Scraps!

I know we all love to collect our little scraps and save them to make doll quilts someday, but don't forget to use them! One of the best ways I've found to get motivated to do this and actually make those little quilts is to first take the time to organize your scraps. Otherwise, I get bogged down by the clutter and don't know what to do with those little pieces.

Clutter can sometimes make it more difficult to create. For me, it's a huge visual distraction. A clean desk or sewing area definitely helps me be more productive. For others, the mess is necessary for the flow and disturbing the flow can stop the inspiration. I see this in my daughter when she gets creative. For years, before I understood, I wanted to continually clean up after her while she was in the middle of painting, beading or crafting. Eventually, I let go and just let her be. We all create in different ways. The end product is the real point, isn't it?

Does being creative = messy to you??

When I do get around to sorting my scraps, sometimes I turn on the TV, sit on the floor and toss them into different colored piles somewhat mindlessly. The last time I did it it actually wasn't that bad and went a lot quicker than I thought it would (I finished before the movie ended!) and I found quite a few scraps I had forgotten about that I love. If you can't get motivated to begin, ask a friend over to help you sort away.

I put the larger scraps that are left over from previous projects into separate shoebox-sized bins according to color and then place the tiniest scraps into ziplock bags, again according to color. When I begin working on a project and think I'll need a few little pieces (like a pink, purple or poison green print to add a little ZING to the blocks), I bring out my little bags of colored scraps and keep them nearby and just pluck what I need--easy to do since I can readily see the colors through the bags. I wish I could promise that all of my scraps will now stay organized but I know that I'll have to go through the sorting thing again soon, probably many times in the coming months.

I have to admit, my sewing space is often a mess when I'm working on something, especially when it's several projects for a book at the same time (No time to organize, too many things to do! More coffee!). Then it becomes a real chore when it's time to clean it up. But if I do it often and keep it up, it feels SO good to know where everything is, like a cleansing. Sometimes it's almost like getting new fabric because every single time I find a piece or two or three I forgot I had.

Here are a few ideas to help you use up those tiny scraps.

From American Doll Quilts

Also from American Doll Quilts

For the pincushion, I used 1" strips and those decorative stitches on your sewing machine that seldom get used.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Light, More Light!

CAUTION:  Not for the medically squeamish 

Last weekend I suffered a recurrence of a problem I had 2 years ago--a spontaneous tear in the retina of my eye. The retina did not detach, thank goodness (that can lead to blindness if not treated immediately), but that is always a concern and the Dr needed to use a laser procedure last time to make sure the tear was sealed and the retina remained intact.

The cause? I wish I could say that I was training for a triathlon or taking skydiving lessons, but it just happened because I am very, very nearsighted, middle aged (who me? Yikes! When did THAT happen?) and, as my Dr explained, the shape of my myopic eyeball caused the retina to stretch too thin until it just popped. Then there's a little tear that causes bleeding and results in cloudy vision for quite awhile. Not painful, but it's the worst annoyance--overwhelming and totally frustrating, particularly now, as I am in the middle of writing my fourth book. I simply CAN'T SEE out of my right eye and my livelihood currently depends on good eyesight. The last time this happened, it took over a year before I could focus clearly without thinking about how one eye was slightly blurry. I was also between books.

Rigby as seen with my left eye:

Rigby with my right eye:

Actually, it's a little worse than that but that's as blurry as my photo editor would go. The eyestrain from using one eye causes constant headaches if I try to do too much close work or sewing and then I have to give both eyes a good rest before I can do anything else. I can't exercise or lift anything for awhile. So the going will be slow. I alerted my editor and the new book will remain on the schedule. They're willing to work with my disability; I'll simply have to work at a slower pace and get help when I need it with some of the projects. But at least there will still BE a book, so there's that to be grateful for.

In most other respects I've been blessed with good health--this thing happens to have a genetic factor because 2 of my sisters also experienced the same problem within the last several years and my adult niece  had a retinal detachment a few years back. Luckily for me, I recognized the symptoms. Two of my friends who are my age also have had the flashing lights experience and they too avoided retinal detachment. Seriously, nothing to mess with. I had a million questions and my Dr assured me I did nothing to cause this. It also has NOTHING to do with straining your eyes from doing close work like hand quilting, too much reading (guilty) or sitting too close to the television for too many hours, LOL, as our parents warned us.

More info than you probably care to read about retinas . . .

So let this be a lesson AND a public service announcement--Visit your eye Dr regularly for a thorough exam, particularly if you are near or over 50, have seen ANY flashing lights in either eye or notice even a slight loss of vision or an increase in floaters. I shudder to think what COULD have happened if I had not been quick to seek medical attention when one day out of the blue I noticed a flood of floaters .

In the past 2 years, full spectrum lighting has become my quilting friend and I have a hard time sewing or reading without it. I even use those OTT light bulbs over the kitchen island to spread more light everywhere so the whole family can benefit. According to many in the health field: "Light has the profound power to heal our bodies and restore our spirits." As Martha would say: Light--it's a good thing.


I'll be using it even more over the next couple of months. (Please escuse any typos.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Back to School

It's the middle of September and that always means back to school at my house, although technically school began last month. Somehow it doesn't seem like it officially begins in the Midwest until the weather cools off and the air gets crisp. Because of the school connection, to me September always means a fresh start, much more so than Spring or the New Year. (It's also my birthday month--another reason for a fresh start.) Being in "back to school" mode gives me structure, organization and routine. All good things since I'm on a schedule to write a quilting book.

Back to school on the prairie in the 1800s

Little Red Schoolhouse quilt from Prairie Children & Their Quilts

When I lecture, I love to tell the story of how I became inspired to write my second book, Prairie Children & Their Quilts. The town we live in has an original one-room log cabin, which is the oldest standing building in Lake County, IL, dating back to 1837. It is a part of a small historic village that also houses a replica of a one-room schoolhouse.

Every year the fourth-grade elementary school students study a unit on the pioneers and also learn a little about the town's local history. When my kids were in that grade, their teachers had them write a daily diary or journal from the perspective of a child emigrating from a European country to the U.S. in the 1800s. They were supposed to write every day and "recall" things like the trip on the boat as well as describe where they settled and the homesickness they endured after they left their old homes and began new lives in the U.S.

My son wrote: "Dear Diary, the boat rocked so much I threw up 40 times on my folks before we arrived in the new land."  Ha ha, always the humorous writer, even at age 9. He's taking a creative writing class at college this semester, let's hope his writing has improved.

The unit culminated with a field trip to the local historic village to spend a day in the one-room schoolhouse to experience what life may have been like for schoolchildren during the pioneer era. The children were encouraged to dress up for the full effect.

My little prairie girl, sad at leaving behind her old home for a new life

My daughter really got into it, especially the dress-up part. I found an old dress packed away in the basement for her to wear (yes, folks, I actually WORE that Laura Ashley prairie dress  myself in the '70s and saved it!), made an apron and gave her a basket to hold her lunch (pioneers didn't have zip-lock bags, the teachers reminded them!).

Always a prairie girl at heart

I don't drink, but now I wonder what was in that cup to make me think I could get away with that look. Frye boots completed the outfit. It really WAS popular to dress like that, wasn't it?? I THOUGHT I was on the cutting edge of fashion when I was in my 20s. I'm so old now I can't remember.

That diary project of my kids got me to thinking--were there REAL diaries from the 1800s written by children about their experiences traveling west? What kinds of quilts would the children have made? There it was--I had an idea for a book I would write several years later, again inspired by my kids.

Turns out there WERE diaries and letters written by children during the 1800s and I was eventually able to track some down and incorporate excerpts from a few of them into the book, along with patterns for small quilts based on popular quilt designs of the time. In 1846, 12-year-old Virginia Reed, of the ill-fated Donner party, wrote a letter to her cousin Mary describing her experiences: "O Mary, I have not wrote you half of the truble we have had but I wrote you anuf to let you know that you don't know what truble is. . ."  Other than that entry, my editors wouldn't let me include some of the somber details of the Donner party excursion into the book. I wonder why not, LOL. My husband agreed with them and said that when he read my first draft, he felt so depressed he didn't even feel like quilting anymore! (He doesn't really--wondering where my son gets his humor?)

A schoolhouse featured prominently in my next book--

Adelia Thomas, from  Remembering Adelia, lived in McHenry County, IL, in a town called Cary Station, which is now just called Cary. While I was working on the book, I met a woman, Shirley,  who had written a book about barns in the area and who was very interested in local history. She took me to the spot where she thought the Thomas farm may have been situated. It was a rainy day and, as we stood on a bluff overlooking the Fox River, I got chills thinking that the rubble below us was where Adelia's actual farmhouse may have been and where she lived and wrote in 1861.

As we drove away I noticed a street sign—"Thomas St"—so I knew we were in the right place and that the street had been named long ago for her family.  A few months ago, almost a year later, I coincidentally met another woman who attended one of my lectures who had not bought my book yet and never heard of Adelia but actually LIVED on that very same THOMAS St in Cary, IL and remembered playing as a child in the ruins of an old building down in the woods at the end of the street. What are the odds of THAT?? We think it may have been what was left of Adelia's farmhouse and I'm wondering if I should go and take a closer look myself someday. Read about more coincidences while I was writing Remembering Adelia here.

Then we drove a few more blocks and Shirley pointed out the local funeral home, which was built around an original school building from the 1800s. I looked up and saw a bell tower and knew it was probably the old schoolhouse that Adelia mentions in her diary--where she went to "singing school" and "spelling school" every week and where Mr Bennett knocked over the kerosene lamp that almost burned the place down. I feel lucky to have read and reread the original dairy many times. Much was cut from it (she wrote every day) and you have only a smattering of the entries to read because Remembering Adelia is a QUILT PATTERN BOOK above all (my editors had to keep reminding me) and there wasn't room for most of the history.

Here's the original schoolhouse building from Adelia's era (1860s) as it stands today with the funeral home addition built around it.

Here's a midwestern prairie schoolhouse from the 1800s:

"Schoolmarm" doll

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Love with My Scraps

Most of the quilts I make are made with scraps from my scrap basket. Some of the scraps are pretty old--not vintage, just little pieces of some of my favorite fabrics I've saved over the years that are left over from other projects. If you're like me, when a fabric calls to you, you just have to buy it even if you have no particular plans for it. I have a habit of hanging onto my favorite pieces (some of them are now pretty small) and lovingly spreading them throughout my scrap quilts. I never get tired of some of them. Those of you who have all of my books and are pretty sharp may have already noticed that I like to use some of the same scraps over and over in the quilts I make. You'll see that same lovely blue print everywhere you look, LOL. I've had it for years and it's almost gone.

This quilt was made in 2003 and I'm STILL hanging on to some of the same scraps to use in other quilts someday.

It's not that I don't have enough other fabric (goodness) or because I can't afford to buy NEW fabric, I've just formed attachments to some of them. Somehow it feels very satisfying to use those scraps and place the ones I particularly love in several different quilts. Then, every time I look at one I have to smile because I feel a little tug. Seeing the special fabric might make me recall where I bought it or what else I did that day (shopping or lunch with a friend?)

These are a few of my favorite scrap quilts from my latest book, Remembering Adelia.  I love how you can see the Baptist Fan quilting design, a traditional quilting design that was common during the 19th century. The quilting doesn't really show up very well in the photos in the book. I had my machine quilter use this design for two of the quilts. I'll have to see if I can find a Baptist Fan stencil to use for hand quilting someday.

Every scrap quilt looks better with a "scrappy" puppy, however, don't you think? Don't let the relaxed pose fool you though--this was one of the 3 minutes out of the day she didn't pester me to play, taken after she did several laps around the yard.

Here's an idea--can you make a quilt entirely from scraps in your scrap collection? In these "dire economic times," maybe that's not such a bad idea.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Red Hatters

My youngest older sister retired from her job earlier this year, sold her house and dragged her husband into one of those over-55 communities. I have to say it seems to be working for her. She used to be pretty crabby a lot of the time and stressed out from working so much. This new place has a pool, tennis courts, clubhouse, bike paths, etc. and while it's not in Arizona, she's having a great time and especially enjoyed watching the house being built and picking out all new appliances and those things that make it unique. She joined the Garden Club, the Early Morning Walkers Club, takes an Aquatic Fitness class, shops a lot and is totally enjoying retirement to the fullest (even though I have not been able to convince her to take up QUILTING, can you believe it? I think she'd rather I just make her the quilts myself and save her the time.)

Last week she told me she joined the Red Hat Society, God bless her. If you knew my sister, you would find this really amusing. She is typically very shy and introverted, even more than I am. Large social gatherings were never really her thing. So I thought. But, WOW, the RED HAT SOCIETY?? I hear those ladies are pretty flamboyant. Will a feather boa be on her Christmas wish list??

When I need a break from quilting I enjoy making simple jewelry and have made oodles of earrings, necklaces and bracelets for all of my sisters and friends (Actually, anyone who walks in the door usually gets a bunch of earrings to take home. That's how crazy I am sometimes about this jewelry making. If you happen to be wearing blue, have I got a pair of matching earrings for you!)

Last Christmas I gave Ingrid and Linda 7 pairs of earrings each--one for every day of the week, all labeled, you know, just like the days of the week underpants we all had when we were kids?? (Or was I the only one?)  So, when my sister asked me to make her a pair of red and purple earrings for her RED HAT meetings, I went all out and made six pairs of colorful, flashy earrings and told her to pass them out to some of the ladies. I'm thinking that this will intrigue them enough to want to know what else I do in my spare time and then maybe I can eventually convert them all to quilters sooner or later . . . .
I love playing with colorful beads almost as much as I love playing with fabric. Back in my "pop bead" days (2nd or 3rd grade. Remember those?), I had quite a bead collection, thanks to some pretty decent trades at recess, and I guess I never gave it up. My bead collection now is almost as bad as my fabric collection. I mean, almost AS GOOD. So, when my head starts to spin and my back and shoulders ache and I need a break from quilting, I make jewelry. Simple, scrappy, beaded jewelry. What do YOU like to make when you're not quilting?