Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Playing with Scraps

I get a little distressed when my sewing area is messy and that makes me not want to quilt. I've been so busy with other stuff and that's been my excuse, even though I know that the simple act of quilting will make me feel better. So, while I haven't quite taken the time to exactly tidy it ALL up, I  did start organizing some of my scraps (again and again and again). I love making scrap quilts and I have a few cute ideas but my method of making scrappy quilts requires a little planning.

Some quilters like to choose their fabrics at random when they make a scrap quilt, but I prefer to take my time and play with different colors until I find a scheme that I like. Takes longer, but I really enjoy that process. And I think that the simple act of playing around with fabric brings inspiration. Sometimes I simply choose a few colors to start a quilt and then use different shades of those colors over and over again interspersed with tiny bits of other contrasting scrap pieces.

I'm still trying to finish up the quilting on this quilt I started last year. Believe it or not, there's a theme here . . . .

Anyway, I usually start organizing my scrap pieces by taking them out of the baskets I throw them into when I'm sewing a project.

I will sit on the floor, turn on the TV and just mindlessly organize all the small pieces into piles according to color. Maybe it's silly, but I save even the tiniest ones because . . . well, you just never know.  And I love to place even a very small piece of one of my really old favorite prints into a quilt.

I place the scraps into zip-lock bags (according to color) and then put the bags into a "scrap bin" which I almost always take out when I start another project. This way I can easily see the colors of the scraps I may want to mix in with my new fabrics and have the choice of different shades of the same color right there in the bag when I want to make a block.

It's very easy to pull pieces and just sew a scrappy block -

Larger scrap pieces go into bins with drawers that are easy  to pull out if I need a bigger piece.

I have a hard time sewing if my space is messy and when this happens (right now, LOL) I can get lazy and ignore it and just get involved in something else. So the sooner I get it cleaned up, the more likely I am to make something fun. But, hey, at least the garden is looking good. One thing at a time . . . .

The peonies popped! And today they're fading already . . .

I haven't planted Sunflowers since the kids were little . . .

Do any of you have your own special organizing tips for making scrap quilts?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Forgotten Garden

My garden is like a patchwork quilt. When I first started gardening about 15 years ago, I jumped into it  rather blindly. We had a large shady backyard with a few big trees and plenty of shrubs but not much landscaping and nothing you would call a garden. I loved the natural look of it but craved some color.  One day, on impulse, I went to a garden center and bought quite a few beautiful, expensive plants. I had no gardening experience and could not get anyone to help me so I followed a couple of gardening guides and just bought what I liked. How hard could it be, I thought? You dig some holes in the ground and put some plants in the dirt. Hah!

That first year was sort of a hit-or-miss disaster. Gardening is a lot of work!  And a garden needs sun, something that was lacking in my backyard. By the next year only a few of the plants came back and some others had taken over the garden. I learned as I went along though. Every year I got a little better at it. Reminds me of  my quilting journey . . . .

Eventually, I got some good advice and had fun playing with plants and watching my garden mature and change over the years. I tried a lot of different plants to see what worked best. After a time, where there was once nothing but dirt and grass, my back yard was transformed into a more or less restful haven.

But it was still mostly green. The hostas have clearly overtaken the patio garden this year. They should have been divided in the spring - a couple of springs ago, actually - but I didn't get around to it.

I yearned for a cottage garden, though. There is little sun in the back and the only full sun spots are in the front. So a few years ago I convinced my husband to have a picket fence built near the front door and then he put in a small patio and dug out some beds so I could do some planting along it. I went out and bought some more of those expensive plants. And I got a bench for Mother's Day that year.

My sort of  homemade "cottagey" garden. A work in progress.

Today the shrub roses are going crazy, the Peony is getting ready to bloom and pretty soon there will be another burst of color from the Phlox. Not bad. If I manage to get in some annuals, I say we'll call the front finished for now.

One of my favorite spots . . .

This book has been on my shelf for a little while. Hmmm  . . . time to finally read it, I think.

I haven't done much in the garden for a couple of years, mostly because I was sick or recovering from surgery at prime gardening time and couldn't bend or lift or else it was because I was having trouble with my knee, whatever. Excuses, excuses. And for two years I simply did not have the energy to take care of a garden. But this year I'm all better and so excited to get back to it. Because it's been neglected a bit there's a lot of work to be done.

The back is a little wild and crazy and overgrown right now.

The yard has good bones though and there's plenty of space to work with -

Lots of room for dogs to play. But no color. I want to plant a shade garden all along the fence. I think it has lots of potential. Give me some tips on what to plant, all you shade gardeners out there.

So much work to do here it's pathetic.

I'll be dividing some of the  plants that are already in the garden and moving things around, playing with scraps so to speak. Last week I bought a bunch of perennials from a sale through a local garden club. They were very cheap and all so pretty. I like to experiment with plants and every time I buy expensive plants at a garden center, they flop or don't come back the next year. These are cuttings of established plants from local gardens in this area and I've done this before so I know they will do well in my garden too. As I was loading the plants into my car I had to laugh. I felt like I was making a quilt from scraps instead of going out and buying new fabric LOL. Something I'm very good at. We'll see if my scrap theory works in the garden.

I bought a Bleeding Heart. Again. I love these so much but have not had luck with them in the past. Third time is a charm maybe? Right after I put it in the ground, a little black dog on a mission to capture a chipmunk ran across it and broke a few stems. Arrgh!

My own mission will be to buy some Hollyhocks and Foxglove this year to put near my picket fence.

Hollyhocks from a few years ago.

This summer I'll be a regular at the Chicago Botanic Gardens near me, snapping photos, searching for inspiration -

The beautiful English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Gardens

Wish me luck in getting my garden back into shape. My sewing space also needs sprucing up but never mind that. One thing at a time. For now, I think I have my work cut out for me.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't Be Intimidated by Scrap Quilts

Reminder - get going on your Civil War Stars quilt if you haven't already. The quilt for this month is a very scrappy one.

I recently met some quilters who said that  making scrap quilts intimidates them. Many antique quilts were made from scraps and those of you who know my quilt style know that this is my favorite type of quilt. Not all scrap quilts are created alike, however, and you can always control just how scrappy your quilt turns out. If you are accustomed to making matchy quilts, just try going a little scrappy at first -  throw in a few different blocks amongst your matching blocks. It will grow on you. And take a look at antique quilts.

If you're afraid to go too scrappy - use the same colored sashing throughout to pull the scrap blocks together.

You can always try using different scrap blocks with the same background fabric.

When I lecture and show my quilts, I am often asked how I get that particular scrappy look in my quilts. I learned to  do this early on by studying old quilts that I was drawn to and determining what it was about them that I loved. In the quilt below, each block is made from different prints, no two color combinations are repeated. Antique quilts are often scrappy like this because they simply had to use what was available. I like to think that the women who made these quilts didn't just create them randomly, however.  In many of them you see that wonderful creative essence of play.

If I'm making a scrappy quilt, I like to make it using simple blocks. Simple blocks can be made to look more complex than they actually are by using a large variety of fabrics. And you can use the same block and  make another quilt with different fabrics for a totally unique look. Try it sometime.

Ophelia (Princess Lia)  is not usually allowed to play or sleep on my quilts but OMG how cute does she  look here? Poised and posed. If I stay perfectly still, like a statue, maybe Mom won't notice I'm on her quilt . . . .

 She thinks I'm playing when I yell at her to get off the quilt and she does this every time I try to set up my quilts for the camera.

What I love about this blue stars quilt (which was modeled after an antique quilt made with scrappy LeMoyne Star blocks on a light background), is that while the backgrounds of the blocks are blue, each is made with a different blue print.  Still blue, but using different prints gives it a subtle tone and keeps it from looking too matchy. A good way to go if you usually make matchy quilts and are afraid of making each block different. Just make the backgrounds of the blocks different. I think  it gives a nice old-fashioned feel to the quilt. And it's easy because the blocks are made using half-square triangles, no set-in seams. The quilt is in my book Remembering Adelia.

This one is in Adelia too . . .

I miss this particular quilt because right now it is hanging in the Grout Museum in Waterloo, Iowa for their Civil War Commemorative Quilts exhibit and will be there until Sept. If you have not seen this exhibit and are planning a trip to Iowa, please stop and take a look. It's a very nice exhibit. Scrappy quilts, antique quilts and lots and lots of small quilts too. I  blogged about it here.

But I'm getting off track. And sorry  - Blogger is messing with my fonts again and I can't change the type size or make it all the same so everything looks crappy, Arrgh! 

For many, the best way to make a scrappy quilt is to be spontaneous. I like to plan a little bit and always make extra blocks for a quilt. Use light prints with medium prints and medium prints with dark prints. Try making some extra blocks in varied colors and play around with them in the setting until you come up with a combination you like.  Set them together with the light and darker blocks contrasting for a nice flow. But don't fuss too much. It's not as hard as it seems if you just take the time to play and find what is pleasing to your eye. Throw in a lot of the colors you love and your scrap quilt will turn out just fine.

Monday, May 14, 2012

When Iowa Calls

I hope everyone had a Happy Mother's Day.  Last year at this time I was having an awful time of it in the hospital, recovering from yet another of my surgeries. My family visited and all I remember is that I could only eat  a liquid/soft diet. Seems so far away now and, even though my daughter is still away at school, this Mother's Day was so much better, as you can imagine. Yesterday, my husband and son took me out to a nice place for an early dinner to make up for it. And then my son, the starving graduate student, "let" me buy him a new pair of jeans and some groceries. After all, what's a mother for?

My trip to Iowa last week was great. Everyone in Grinnell was so pleasant and I almost didn't want to leave. My first class was located at Cornerstone Quilts, a great quaint shop in  downtown Grinnell.

Another of my classes was located on the Grinnell College campus, which was just lovely. Orange Peels were the order of the day and featured in one of my favorite quilts.

I enjoyed seeing the variety of  colors and prints my students used to make theirs -

Barb looks tickled pink.

Jean is having so much fun with color . . .

The ideal class allows some time for hand stitching and more than a little time for relaxing chatter as well.

And I like seeing lots of smiling faces too!

The ladies suggested that we stop at the Amana Colonies on the way home for a look at this group of villages with old world charm and a nice selection of craft shops and restaurants.

Handcrafted gifts by Iowans, what could be better?

More than a few antiques shops and  . . .

 . . . lucky me - another lovely quilt shop!

One of the little quilts from my latest book The Civil War Sewing Circle -  done in blues and browns. So cute.

They had a nice selection of stitchery patterns too.

Chris at Heritage Designs - a Top 10 Quilt Shop. Make sure you stop by if you're in Amana.

I could have spent a lot more time in this place but we were anxious to get home as we still had quite a long drive back to Chicago.

I love driving around the country, stopping at towns I might never have had a chance to see if I weren't visiting guilds. I know many of you travel to more exotic places and while Iowa may not be the most glamorous place to visit, as Oprah says - this I know - Iowa will be calling me again and I won't hang up. I'll be going back, that's for sure.