Friday, May 23, 2014

The Power of Art

All this talk about the American Made Brand Blog Tour got me thinking about fun things to do in my state of Illinois. So, the other day I decided I would try to do a tour of museums in Chicago and other surrounding areas this summer and then blog about them. If you're planning on traveling around this summer and happen to be in the Chicago area, maybe you'll get some ideas.

Yesterday, I kicked off my tour and went to Number One on my list -  the Art Institute of Chicago - with my husband, daughter and sister-in-law. Nothing revitalizes me like being in downtown Chicago.

Some of the wonderful things you can see at the Art Institute if you're ever in the city -

First, we saw the  Arthur Rubloff paperweight collection. Over two thousand (!) glass paperweights, filled with gorgeous color, pattern and design. Some paperweights are antique French (Baccarat); others are contemporary with an antique look. All are mesmerizing.

I've had  a glass paperweight collection for years - but with only one paperweight, sigh. . . . Time to add more I think.

According to the Chicago Tribune, paperweights also have an interesting link to Chicago.

"They're part of Chicago history, which makes this very exciting. Chicago is where the skyscraper was invented. And skyscrapers were without air conditioning, so you opened the windows. Sullivan and Burnham would have had stacks of pieces of paper, and open windows everywhere. How do you keep those papers in place? Why, with paperweights, of course."

 "Honey Bee Swarm With Flowers and Fruit" - honeybees floating over a cluster of flowers and around a honeycomb. The only place I would consider getting close to bees - when they're in a paperweight.

Next we went to see the Thorne rooms -  the miniature rooms I know I've talked about here before. The Thorne rooms were the "creative endeavor" of Mrs. James Ward Thorne, a Chicago socialite who began collecting antique miniatures at a young age. Inspired by actual rooms in historic houses and museums, the permanent collection features 68 rooms that were made (commissioned by her) between 1934 and 1940, constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot. As a child growing up in Chicago, I remember visiting and drooling over these tiny rooms and furnishings, my nose pressed up to the glass, and my daughter did the same (still does). I could have spent hours here.


Continuing on, we saw the Modern Art Wing, the American Art section, the Medieval Art section and much more.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Actually, I was more struck by this young woman and how she seemed to match the painting.

The museum also houses one of the largest and most significant collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world. Second to the Louvre in Paris.

It's hard to get near this famous painting - A Sunday on La Grande Jatte  by Georges Seurat. 

It helps if you're persistent, tell everyone in your group to go on ahead and then just wait it out (or push your way up to the front).

I love learning about how famous art is acquired - In the summer of 1924, Frederic Bartlett and his wife, Helen, had the opportunity to purchase Georges Seurat's masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Writing from an ocean liner en route to the US from Europe, he enthused:

"We had wonderfully good luck . . . as we were able to get almost by a miracle what is considered to be almost the finest modern picture in France, La Grande Jatte by Seurat."

Bartlett began assembling a collection of "modern" (at the time) paintings and in 1926 he gave the collection to the Art Institute in memory of his recently deceased wife. 

This painting has been one of my favorites for years - Paris Street; Rainy Day by Caillebotte. The people in the foreground look like they're going to just continue walking and step outside the painting right in front of you.

Well, that's it - you've seen a portion of what's there. We had a great time. As usual, I hope many of you weren't bored since it was not about quilting. I have a life too you know, LOL. This was a nice cap to my week and I wanted to share. There's nothing quite like a nice overdose of culture to make you feel good about life and art. Studies have shown that viewing works of art can not only give your brain a boost but give the viewer as much joy as gazing upon a loved one. Even art you don't like still sends a message to the brain and increases blood flow. So now this means there's scientific truth to what has been known for a long time – that beautiful paintings have the power to make us feel good, about ourselves and life. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Made in America

We're coming up on Memorial Day, blogger friends. Many of us in the US get sentimental about our country around this time of year for the holiday honoring those who died in service. Our thoughts turn to honoring our country in some way too. Some of you will be making or displaying red, white and blue quilts or other projects. Here's an idea - how about making something from fabric totally made in America? Can't get much more patriotic than that. As a quilter, I do love this idea.
Clothworks Textiles has begun a blog tour to promote their new line of fabric - American Made Brand -  featuring 50 quilt blocks designed by 50 bloggers to represent all 50 states.  Visit 2 blogs per day, learn about the states, then leave a comment and get a chance to win a delicious fabric bundle as well as other goodies. That's 2 winners per day. Follow the schedule here. Then, follow the directions on each blog to make sure you're included.

I was picked to make the block for Illinois and so you'll get a chance to win something here on my blog too. I'm enjoying playing around with all the wonderful colors while I slowly work on my block.
Coming up with a block that represents my state is turning out to be a little harder than I thought it would be  . . . . I've already tossed my first two ideas.

But I hope to have it finished sometime this weekend. Remember to stop by on Monday, June 2, to see my big reveal, post a comment and win something cool. Something Made in America.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Be Still My Sentimental Heart

I was anxious to finally get out and work in the garden today for a bit. Every year around this time I almost explode with optimism at the thought of a fresh start in the garden. It's always a challenge to get things back into shape and every year I learn something new. It looks like a few of our plants and shrubs did not survive the bitter winter; others show signs of significant winter burn. But I'm hopeful and waiting to see if they recover. Anything can happen at any time I've learned. You almost have to trust in miracles.

I read that if you shave a little off the stalk with your nail and it's green underneath, then it will recover. This rose bush has some green and a few buds growing so I'm not giving up on it yet.

Maybe I'm naive, but there's no way you can have a garden and NOT be optimistic. Remembering that only fifteen years ago there were no flowers and few pretty plants at all in this backyard  - just grass and dirt and a few hostas - keeps me going every year. Despite the shade and poor soil, I was determined to grow a garden and I did. Every year I try new things, new plants, and it evolves into something different. Some year I hope to have a cottage garden in the sunny front. I figure if  I can hang onto my optimism it just may happen.
The man who has planted a garden feels that he has done something good for the world.
-Charles Dudley Warner
I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago to see one of my Bleeding Heart plants peeping up from the ground. It's a plant I've always loved (Romantic me. I'm a Sentimental Gardener too, I guess.) and while I've bought more than a few of them over the years and tried planting them in different locations, I've never had one that would bloom for me. Yet, for some silly reason I've never given up. So, even though I've have had a hard time growing them successfully, I tried it again two years ago and bought a few from a trusted local gardener at her perennial sale. Plants from a real gardener's garden and not from a greenhouse - how could I lose?  For the first time, I was able to grow them. They seemed to be doing well and flourished for 2 years in a row. But I was still afraid they were too delicate to have survived this winter's Polar Vortex. 
Then, a week after the plants appeared in April, a bright green spot in the brownness of my yard, I let the dog out and in her excitement at chasing a squirrel she bypassed the path and trampled one of the plants. Ran right over it and broke the stems.  Oh!  You can imagine how my heart sank. I didn't yell - it was my own fault since I should not have planted them so close to the path in the first place. Looking at the little crushed thing it had become, only a portion of it salvageable, I was sure I'd get no blooms from it at all this year.  In a fit of  hopefulness though, I put up a small wire garden fence to avoid any more puppy mishaps. A few days ago, I noticed the perfect little pink hearts bopping around on the stems. They're back!
Gardening is a humbling experience-Martha Stewart

I love my bleeding hearts more than any other plant in the garden and what a thrill it was to see that this one came back from near decimation after all. All hearts should be this resilient after being trampled . . . . There's a multitude of life lessons in a garden.

Grow what you love. The love will keep it growing. 
-Emilie Barnes

Now, let's see if the lilacs make an appearance again. They were stupendous last spring for the first time in years and I'm counting on them to give me another lovely show very soon. My heart is depending upon it.

At the heart of gardening there is a belief in the miraculous.  -Mirabel Osler


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feeling Humble

Do you ever feel humble when you see a beautiful, perfect quilt? Made perhaps by someone with more talent than you possess? I've been studying antique quilts lately and to be honest I haven't felt very talented. I think many of us feel this way at times.  (I hope I'm not the only one!) Seeing antique Baltimore Album quilts or quilts with a lot of applique do this to me. But - when I do feel this way, I always try to put it into perspective. This quilter probably had many more years of sewing experience than I do and started quilting early as many women did in the 19th century.
(Courtesy: American Folk Art Museum. Artist unknown. Found in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1845–1850. Cotton with wool embroidery)
I know I will never be able to make a quilt as intricate or beautiful as that one if I live to be 90.  Despite my excuses, I guess I still have a difficult time reconciling THAT talent with MY talent. But it makes me wonder - did the maker of this quilt have a humble beginning too? What was her story?
Looking at my own early quilts always humbles me. But it's a rewarding kind of humility. I don't feel humbled in a bad way or ashamed that my early quilts leave a lot to be desired artistically. This little quilt below was probably the second or third quilt I ever made. (Will I show you the first one? Nah, don't think so. THAT would truly be a humbling experience . . . .)
I look at this quilt and I feel okay with my humble beginnings because I know I am a better quilter now than I was then. Like a child, all I could do then was make four patches. Putting them on point was a huge challenge for me I remember. I wasn't born a quilter. It wasn't a gift or a skill that was passed down to me either. I learned the hard way, all by myself, making the most of what I was able to do when I was able to do it. At first, I didn't really know how to use a rotary cutter or understand that you should not cut off block points, LOL. Early on, I was often too proud or embarrassed to ask for help, feeling humbled when I went into quilt shops or attended shows where I viewed perfect quilts. But I sure didn't let it stop me from going forward. I am always amazed that I persevered, considering how lacking in talent I felt. Here's what I found: quilting made my heart sing. And because of that I was humbled into trying to do better.
Although I've made some nice quilts, pretty even, they're hardly spectacular in any way. I often wonder . . . . what would it feel like to make a spectacular quilt like that Baltimore Album quilt? Despite all my negative ramblings on perfection, sometimes I think I really want to make a spectacular quilt one of these days. Just to see if I can.

When I teach, I often get asked by students how I come up with designs and color combinations for my quilts. How am I able to put fabrics together so that the pieces turn out pleasing? How can they learn to design their own quilts? Here's what I tell them: Study quilts. A lot. For me it was antique quilts. (I'm still studying.) Find quilts you like and try to figure out what it is about them that makes your heart sing. Is it the colors, or a certain color? Is it the complexity of the design? Or the simplicity? Is it how the blocks dance or flow throughout the quilt? Then, incorporate those qualities into YOUR quilts (but don't copy). I happen to love simple antique quilts and I think what I love about them most is their inherent humility. Or maybe it's that simple quilts are more in line with my talents right now. But, who knows, I may make spectacular quilts someday. I just made a promise that I will still be humble if I ever do  : )

I feel humbled when my quilts are on display at a show. (Apparently, I feel annoyed too, judging from the look I was giving my husband while he took photos . . . .) How on earth did I get here from that little four-patch doll quilt?
Sometimes I feel like it's a race. With myself, to make spectacular quilts, like so many others. I have to stop myself from going too fast, pushing too hard.  It will come in time. Remember: Quilters, it's a journey, your journey, and each one of us is trotting along at a different pace. If you dream of making spectacular quilts, well then, persevere and never give up. Remember and honor your beginnings and be gentle with yourself. Don't rush the process and don't compare. And stay humble when you get there.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Fun Way to Travel

There's a new movement taking hold in the fabric world right now. Clothworks Textiles has started a "farm to fabric" movement to restore the proud tradition of American textiles and is producing a fabric entirely sourced and manufactured in the United States. Check out their gorgeous American Made Brand fabrics.
I'm proud to be taking part in their upcoming promotional blog tour. Fifty bloggers from all 50 states were chosen to make quilt blocks and participate in a grand giveaway of American Made Brand fabrics. Just for you!

I will be designing and making the quilt block for my state of Illinois, which will be included in a finished quilt made with blocks from all fifty states. What fun! But you'll have to wait until June for me to unveil  my block (Oh yeah, and actually make it, haha. I'd better get started.). The tour begins later this month on May 19. Read all about it here.
As each blogger reveals her state block, you'll have the opportunity to enter a giveaway to win a fat quarter bundle (8 fat quarters) when you visit her page. I hear there will be lots of other goodies and surprises in store for you too so you sure don't want to miss out. There'll be a total of  2 winners every day. I've had a peek at some of the state blocks and they're very creative. What a great way for you to show your American spirit, by making a block from all 50 states with American-made fabric. Jump on the bandwagon with us!
Fifty gorgeous colors.
This is going to be a fun way to travel this spring. I know many of the bloggers are cooking up some surprises for you along the way - with fun information about the states that will entice you to take a tour of America and visit them all on your own someday. So make sure you bookmark the AMB page so you can keep up with the tour and have a daily chance to win some great fabrics that will bring the proud American tradition right into your home. Almost as good as getting into that old station wagon again and driving around to see this glorious country of ours . . . .

Monday, May 5, 2014

Charting My DJ Progress

It rained quite a bit last week and so I cocooned,  stayed inside and worked on some DJ blocks. I know I might not have a chance to do much in the coming months because summer is always a busy time for me. On Friday, I started to choose another block to sew using a red print and it occurred to me that I wasn't really sure how many blocks I'd made from red or brown fabrics - probably way too many - and where they were positioned. I "sort of" try to follow Jane's scheme, but not always. I enjoy using a wide variety of colors in my quilt. I'm afraid there will be clumps of red or brown blocks together though. I'd like the colors to be more spread out and hope the overall picture will not look too dull. (I won't even consider placing them in a different order. I'm a "Stickler" for them being in Jane's order, LOL. Get it?)

On Saturday, I took it into my head to create a block chart to see my progress and try to "catch" the colors for the blocks for when I sew them together. I do not have the space to keep them up on a design wall for years as I attempt to complete the quilt.

There's a block chart included with the DJ software by EQ and it worked for me for awhile. You scan the blocks and insert them digitally into the chart provided. Then, one day it stopped working. I just could not get it to work again, no matter how many times I tried. No suggestions worked for me. I tried EQ support and they could not help so I essentially gave up and just crossed off the blocks onto the print out as I finished. It was a lot of fun to make my own block chart, however, so I don't miss the old one.

My old block chart - too small and not very helpful.

I'm so happy to be able to view my quilt partially put together and also to see what progress I've made. At times I become discouraged because I don't seem to be making as much progress as I'd like. There are sooo many blocks left to go. (I've just completed 70, no small feat, but still . . . .)  Surprisingly, seeing the blocks laid out on the grid motivated me quite a bit and made me feel good about the progress I have  made. I am wondering if this might work for some of you and wanted to share. I know that in this day and age this is really an Old School way of doing things but, hey, it worked for me. Reminded me of school projects I worked on in the third grade, playing with poster board, cutting and pasting . . . . My husband kept laughing at how earnest I was, lining up my tiny blocks and pasting them into place.

Here's what I did.  If it helps even one Jane-crazed soul, then it was worth doing and writing about it. First, I bought a poster board, cut it into a 22"  x  22" piece, drew a grid of 1 1/2" squares to represent each block of The Quilt and labelled the rows. Then, I took photos of  all the blocks I've finished. I put them into a file and adjusted the size of each photo to be 1 1/2  inches square.  Next, I printed out the photo sheets and cut and pasted the photo squares onto the poster board. Voila! My very own DJ block chart where I can now just insert the blocks as I finish them one at a time. (If I did this digitally, by creating my own grid on the computer, I would have to print out the entire chart every time I finished a block.)

A much, much better way to view my blocks. Large enough to see the blocks but not too large to display or store.

It motivated me to keep working on the Trip Around the World motif in the quilt - diagonal rows that radiate outward and surround the center block. I can see it now! Mine is not as accurate as Jane's but similar as far as placing the pink and yellow rows. In between, there will be a brown/tan row and a blue row.  Wish I had been more careful with the reds so I'm not sure if I will do a red row. And I haven't been able to find a perfect lovely bluish-green fabric for the center block yet. But I'm looking.

Pinks for the center Trip Around the World placement.

Newly finished blocks I know I would not have attempted before starting this quilt.

This journey has been so much fun and I have become a much better quilter for it, learning patience and skills as I go along.  You cannot imagine how happy I am that I started this quilt and don't know exactly how or why it has pulled me in so deeply (along with thousands of other quilters).  I love the idea that if and when I finish it it will be a part of my legacy to my family and perhaps the quilting world someday. As well as a wonderful homage to the past.