Quilting Art

The first time I ever went to the big International Quilt Festival in Houston I wandered through in complete awe of the gargantuan display of quilts, fabrics, supplies, and textiles. It was sensory overload.  1500 booths with fabrics, patterns, ideas and possibilities, all the newest and the best the market has to offer.  Not sure how I decided what to focus in on but somehow, I stumbled onto a booth that was selling new, upcycled and vintage Japanese fabrics.  I was completely enchanted.  The pieces that were the most appealing to me were roughly handkerchief squares called Japanese Boys Day banners.  They were a lovely cotton, bright colors and the designs were decidedly Japanese, which I love. I bought at least 5 and I have made 4 quilts with them.  This is one of my favorite quilts of all the quilts I have made.  I made it to sell, ( I sold it) then I made another one just like it!  The rendering of the Antique Japanese Woodblock print “The Great Wave” by Hokusai on the high-quality cotton for just a few dollars and all ready to sew was appealing to me in a way that is particularly delicious.  I love getting to interact with those colors, with that fabric, with that beautiful famous piece of art!   You might look at it and say it was a framing exercise rather than a full-blown original piece of quilting.  I am ok with that. I work best starting from an inspiration piece and I truly love the process of searching and then finding the perfect pieces to complete my little design party.  That is often how I quilt. Quilting on Art.1175448_10151814141686878_1291823541_n

What Creativity Feels Like

Creativity as a concept is sometimes hard to get your brain around. It feels intimidating to many people. It seems completely foreign to others. But it pops up in our lives in many ways.  At its core, creativity is taking things from unrelated places and putting them together to make something new.  We do it in business, we do it in the kitchen, we often do it to solve a problem or figure out a way to make something work that isn’t working. Some cultures practice and promote it more readily, some people do it more easily and some educational systems encourage it more intrinsically. It is an ability we all have and it is often necessary to make life work.  I am fascinated by creativity.  I have made a decision to establish a career that revolves around the creative process.  I am naturally inclined to be creative, had a childhood conducive to it and I feel very comfortable with it.  When it is for enjoyment.  The idea of creating as work is, and I am being brutally honest here, terrifying.  The reason is, the outcome is totally unknown.  I have no real idea of how my creative process will be received and what will happen after that. I put my raw soul out there on the line every time I create and share it with the world.  The world can be a very harsh critic. I spend time online and I know what people say in the anonymity of the virtual world. Trolls have left the fairy tales and are now in your comments section waiting to totally demoralize you in a few blinking sentences.  I have no real idea of how this choice will look or turn out over the next few years. It is like leaping into outer space. I have no idea– what the outcome will be.  In private that is pure joy. In public it is pure terror. Every time I put something out there the encouraging words you all give me is like a precious gift, the gift of not falling to my death, in a void, alone. I thank you for that61645864_10157166199316878_1235057217930002432_n from the depths of my soul. I am working on getting to a place where my love of the process and my commitment to whatever patches of goodness I can contribute with that creative process that helps, soothes, informs, connects or maybe even heals can be my purpose.  Such that, even if I never make a dime or enjoy “success” in the American vernacular of the word, even if the trolls come up from under the bridge to eat me alive I will still create, and connect and sleep well at night and love my work and continue to do do that work.  That is my goal.

Patches and Panels


I wanted to share this quilt because it is not a typical quilt of any sort.  I simply wanted to put together pieces drifting around my sewing area in the colors that the mommy of little Liam loved.  I wanted to do it organically and make it work.  when I looked at it and held it I felt like I had succeeded!  I really enjoyed making this quilt. I felt a lot of love and deep connection with little Liam and his family while I was making this quilt.  It is loosely inspired by Rayna Gillman’s book, Inspired Free Form Quilting which I love!  I made a quilt for my 3rd grand daughter’s birth from her book and it was not only one of my favorites but it was so much fun!

It may have become obvious to some that I have been quilting for a number of years and still not really explored the arena of traditional piecing. I have to admit the obvious, that  1. I am not good at exact detail work and 2. I don’t like the exact detail work of piecing. 3. I really wanted to quilt anyway. 4. Liam does not care! For the traditional piecing experts consider my blog ‘remedial quilting’ and if you are new to quilting and nervous about getting into it due to the intimidating complexity of traditional piecing  consider my blog a wade into the shallow end of the quilting pool to get the hang of it and build confidence.  It is an amazing hobby and it does not have to be so difficult it keeps beginner sewers out of the pool entirely. So play around with your scraps, have fun and jump in.

The Addicting Lure of Potential…

I cannot explain just how excited a pile of beautiful fabrics in deep colors and saturation levels makes me.  It almost sounds obscene to describe it. I suspect it begins with the drooling greed we feel for a new box of crayons at age 6 or the giddy thought of walking through an art supply store with a pocket full of money and a summer of no obligations!  It is positively heady and I am drunk with it.  (Does this mean I am supposed to be an artist?)

Some quilters worry about the circumstance of having more fabric than they have years left in their life to finish sewing.  I worry that I will not have enough energy to get all the fabric hauled back to my house that I can discover, fall in love with and purchase!  (Lucky for me these fabric bundles of potential are often cast off, completely undervalued by others or perhaps from collections that outlived their dreamy owners! ) No, but really this is about that feeling of true and real potential.  I simply love that feeling! The feeling that these lovely piles of cloth offer endless potential of creating anything I can imagine and pull off.  I continually feel that with enough inspiration and time that could be literally anything. Me, my fabric stash, my machine and the sky is the limit! My endless belief in my future skill dovetails with this passion for potential. While I am wildly imaginative, I am not a highly skilled craftsperson, so it is kind of funny when I sit back and think of it. The level of optimism here is off the charts.  (I think it means I am meant to be an artist)

It is more than a mad passion for raw material.  There is a mood around here when the kids are done with school for the year, homeschooling duties on hiatus, huge chunks of free time carved out, my confidence and inspiration flowing, I dive into my piles of potential. Add a little Attention Deficit into this mix and I have crafting periods that begin with six projects at once.  That is exactly what this collection is, my early June 2016 projects.

Draped across my sewing table right now is a queen size quilt I am making for my daughter, a random anything goes quilt for my living room, a baby quilt in progress, a baby quilt that needs repair laying over stacks and stacks of grouped fabric for multiple projects and random finds layered into that mix. I sometimes alternate during a day and sometimes alternate projects on days and sometimes in one sitting I will work on several projects at once all while eyeing the piles that surround me.  ADQD. I call it Attention Deficit Quilting Disorder.

My sewing style often feels messy, overwhelming and strange. The magic number of projects for me to have in progress at any given time is 3-5.  Any less and I start digging through my stacks while I am working on a quilt! I have to entertain the reality that I am a chaotic lunatic (who thinks she is an artist) OR that this is a direct outgrowth of my absolute  passion for the lurking, fantastical, just ready to be revealed potential in every pile of fabric. I am simply in love with the undiscovered ‘masterpieces’ waiting to be brought to life and apparently too impatient to reveal them one at a time.

“Its alive! It’s alive!”

Making the Leap: Free Motion Quilting

I started quilting this baby quilt I call Dragon Ball Baby as a gift for a Round Rock High School Graduate, in the usual way: walking foot on, not many curves, feed dogs up and fighting me every stitch.  The results as you can see in the photos is okay.  Not horrible, somewhat creative, following the dragon design on the fabric but still a little stilted for what I am trying to achieve.  Sometimes I feel like I am trying to paint a landscape with a hairbrush or perhaps fighting a ball for fabric for my very identity.

I am quilting this with clear monofilament thread and pre wound embroidery bobbin.

I must reposition and shift the whole quilt frequently using this method if I want to go around or echo the design elements of the quilt.  Using the walking foot and traditional sewing techniques works fairly well if you are mostly quilting straight lines.  I use this technique and frequently try to quilt curvy lines.  I call it quilt frustration.

At some point in this process I became disgusted with myself and said “This is ridiculous!” I have a machine (actually several machines) that will lower the feed dogs and have a free motion foot (or two). I have been practicing doodling free motion designs for 3 years or more (since I took that class on Free Motion Quilting and decided that not only was I NOT a natural but I actually was horrible at this particular sewing skill) and the only hope I had was to muscle train my hands to make the designs.  I have all the equipment, hell, I even have a machine with a stitch regulator! (lets not discuss that fact that I am scared to use it at the moment)  I decided at 10:30 in the evening in early November, I am running out of time, the baby this is for is 2 most old already and I have to get it to her in New Zealand. I am tired of trying to quilt this way, this is stupid, JUST DO IT ALREADY!

So I took off the walking foot and the standard A foot of my Viking Diamond machine.  I loaded up the free motion foot, figured out how to turn on the free motion setting , quickly picked ‘floating’ vs ‘free motion spring action’ (I have no idea which is better but if I overthink it I will chicken out) and the open toe foot.  I don’t remember if I practiced briefly or not but I put the quilt in position and started.

Now, my experience as a seamstress, craftswoman, and quilter have yielded mostly results that I felt were acceptable but often a tad disappointing sometime downright awful and discouraging. I can honestly say this was an exception.  I was blown away by the results! Only in design/color/arrangments do I ever find such satisfying results in my work.  I guess that is the payoff for staying with sewing for over 30 years.  You might actually become proficient or in my case miracle of all miracles, good.


I guess I can comfortably add free motion quilting to my list of sewing and crafting skills.  It was actually a stated goal of mine to achieve proficiency at quilting my own quilts above novice.  Quilting my own quilts that I would be comfortable to sell and to replace the long arm service that I have paid for over the years in many  of my nicer quilts.  With my dearly loved and appreciated long arm quilter retiring, I was faced with the hated situation of establishing new relationships (that might or might not be satisfactory)  OR establishing a new skill.  Looks like the skill was the lesser of two evils AND a big punch off the goals list.  That retirement was just the kick in the pants I needed.  It looks like my long armer will be building houses for Habitat for Humanity and I will be quilting my own quilts.  Not a bad arrangement I think.

Sweet Stripes Baby Quilt: II

I have made two of the Sweet Stripes baby quilts, using the same design premise and many of the same fabrics for two separate sweet babes in two families.  This one was for my niece whose name is Lia Kaliani and I am thrilled to say that she loves her quilt!  She will be two in a few months and so I completed her quilt quite late. I did give her a quilt I bought at the Austin Area Quilt Guild show when she was born.  The joy of giving her a quilt made with my hands was significant.  That she loves to sleep with it and pulls it up over her head every night is the icing on the quilting cake!

I have had a policy to send my large quilts to be quilted on a long arm professionally, but the many baby quilts I make to give to friends and family I have quilted myself. My quilting on this quilt is unsophisticated and looks somewhat stilted to me now. It was one of the last made before I decided to stop being scared of free motion quilting and JUST DO IT already!  I have entered a new era in my quilting journey and started quilting with a free motion foot and the feed dogs down and I am truly on my own!  I will track that process in another blog post.  I am not apologizing for the simple quilting here because learning to quilt and really being at the stage you are at is part of the process.  We cannot all be expert level when we begin and too many people deny themselves the joy of crafting and the arts due to feeling they must be perfect or at least good. I say that is nonsense.

It is the process that is a large part of the joy. I have loved learning to quilt over the last 21 years and much of it did not come naturally to me. I was not great at it. I came to quilting from a design standpoint ( I loved the design process of  a quilt) and my crafting ability was mediocre at best, my attention to exact detail nonexistent.  Designing, choosing fabrics, and sewing quilts is a difficult process with multiple steps and a dozen or more skills.  Especially if you are not using a pattern but are designing your own.  So many skills to learn, so many abilities to master. I did it even when I was not sure I could or I felt the outcome would be crappy. And sometimes it really was.  There are new studies that show doing something creative helps humans be happier and healthier even if they are not good at their chosen craft.

And it did make me happy and it did improve the quality of my life, as creativity does every single day. So I have keep on doing it and it makes me happy still, even when my quilts are not perfect. I am enjoying the process, being exactly where I am in this creative journey. I am pleased to say that little Lia seems to enjoy this quilt with all its imperfections that are so lovingly stitched.


Delicious ‘Sweet Stripes’ Baby Quilts I

I feel a deep and satisfying compulsion to make baby quilts, so many baby quilts!  I wish that I could make one (or more) for every couple or young woman/baby I am connected to. It is somehow an extension of mothering; almost as though I can reach my arms around that baby in a baby quilt hug.  I have been known to say ” I don’t think I will ever finish a masterpiece because I stop every few months to make a baby quilt!”  I word it like a complaint but truly I think it is more fun and more satisfying to finish and give a baby quilt than any masterpiece.  I cannot really make that comparison yet due to not completing any such masterpiece. When that day finally comes I will describe the comparison properly and blog it dutifully  right here. For now my masterpiece is  a “mommy piece”  and I think that baby quilting is the perfect bridge in my efforts to transition between full time mommying and full time art/crafting.  It is somehow a little of both.

This was my first “Sweet Stripes” baby quilt pulled together from random and close at hand scraps and a few carefully chosen prints and batiks from the shelf. I was completely winging it, as I like to do when making a quilt for daily use. I try to create that professional quilt look from the random fabrics I have and sometimes I like the result and sometimes I am not sure…

That spray bottle in the foreground is 505 spray to baste the 3 layers together that makes the quilting process SO MUCH EASIER!! I learned that little trick at the Ricky Tims seminar I attended and blogged about here An Open Letter to Ricky Tims.  It cuts the time it takes me to make a quilt by a half to a third.  It also cuts out one of the least fun parts, involving all those safety pins and pulling, taping and worrying!

I think the best best thing about making these quilts is seeing the mommies that I gift them to, wrap their little ones in them and carry them around until they fade and almost fall apart.  It is kind of a funny response when so much of quilt work is quilt preservation and careful handling so that they last the longest!  The sweet mommy that I gave this to carries it everywhere she goes and it simply warms my heart.

It is not perfect and as I wrote to the mommy who thanked me via Facebook the picture below,  “I enjoyed making it! It isn’t perfect but that is never my goal in a baby quilt–snugly, colors that work and lots of love in the stitches!”

If It Looks Like Fabric…Or Stash Transparency

I have a (not so) secret obsession.  I used to keep it mostly in bins, boxes and closets–in the back of the house.  Something happened, something went wrong, horribly wrong.  (as I write that I am smiling gleefully inside my minds eye, the same minds eye that is picturing my fabric stash) My fabric stash has grown since I moved into this house in 2004.  When people notice that there are an exorbitant number of books and stacks of fabric in my house, I feel guilty, I squirm and try to explain…I tell a lot of people that I inherited my beloved grandmother’s stash of fabric when she died–and it is true I did!  She had a LOT of fabric. It is here, I sew with it, Lexi and Jianna sew with it and we do projects with it. I tell a lot of people that my friends move overseas and bring me their fabric, books and various treasures that they are not taking with them.  And it is true!  That really happens.  I explain that I keep clothing that is made of fabrics I like to cut up and sew with. And it is true! I do, I really do and I have for a long time.

But seriously, I have gone beyond that amount by about 10 times at this point.  I can’t believe I am really writing this. Sigh, I want to come clean about my stash.  It is like nothing I have ever seen except in one place.  I was watching a video about quilting that I love and have watched over and over and there is a short clip on a Quilt Artist filmed in her studio.  The studio is about the size of a large 3 car garage and is filled with those white folding tables.  Every table is covered in bolts of fabrics lined up standing up and down bolt edge on the table! An incredible amount of fabric to be sure.  She was unapologetic and her work was fairly well celebrated on this show.  I frequently want to whip out a picture and say “see there are quilters with even MORE fabric than you are seeing here in my living room/hallway/storage container/guest bedroom!” 

If you are sensing a bit of conflicted feelings about this fabric, you are a very astute reader! I am conflicted.  I want neat orderly areas to work and sew and live and store the materials that I work with and create among AND I want to have access to thousands of excellent options for sewing and crafting and designing and quilting at any given time. I want to be able to think and say I am a moderate person who does not carry material goods to excess  AND I want to own any and all fabric that I see, would like to use in the future and is accessible to me as well as keep any and all fabric that I have ever owned or had the option to own for the same reason.  I want to be moderate, but for me and my work style this is moderate!

My habits as a quilter/seamstress are somewhat disorderly in that when I am working on a project I start with an inspiration piece and then I begin digging and looking and sifting and sorting through my stash, looking for the perfect colors/prints/textures to complement my inspiration piece.  As you might picture to do this successfully lends itself to a large, messy, accessible stash of fabric. My greatest nightmare is that someone comes along and puts all my fabric in boxes.  You would think it might be losing my stash but with it all out of sight, I might as well have lost it because I can’t work with it that way.

Perhaps I am an extreme person, not exactly on the same scale as everyone else (I think some professionals refer to that as being on a certain end of a certain spectrum). Perhaps I am trying to set up for the way I work.  Perhaps if I called myself a quilt artist, had all this fabric in a studio and was not apologetic in the least it would simply be the materials an artist will work with.  But somehow I am not there yet.  Somehow I feel both guilty and completely justified and an artists delicious anticipation at such a vivid variety of fabric (paints) to work with.