Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Birds

I started making birds way back at the end of 2007.  I made more. Then I started selling them on eBay. Then Pokey Bolton asked me to submit an article and pattern for a Quilting Arts special magazine called Quilt Festival Quilt Scene. Then she asked me to tape a segment for Quilting Arts TV and show how they are made. Now, as part of the promotion for the TV show, Quilting Arts TV has published the pattern on their web site. You can print it out for free and make your own birds, if you want to. Just go here. It is in the 600 series, #610. You may have to register, but it is free.

Now, if you make a bird I'd love to see it! My friend Maggie Turner brought me a bird that she made "many years ago."  Quite different from mine, but so whimsical and imaginative. I would name this "contemplative bird."

Here are a couple of my birds.The one on the right is the sample I made for the TV show, and is made from the pattern that was published. The one on the left is a new design, with the tail down and longer wings.

After the magazine came out I got emails from several people with links to birds they had made from my pattern. I love that even though it is the same pattern everyone puts their own spin on it and each bird has its own personality. Here are links to some of the offspring of my bird pattern:

I made birds like crazy for awhile, but I haven't made any in awhile and my Etsy shop is completely bare. I think I need to start on some new birds. If you want to know the truth, the best part of making the birds is picking out the fabric and I keep picking up fat quarters that look "birdable" so I have my supplies. I just need to clean the refuse of my last few months of feverish quilt-making off my work table and get busy. I am liking the "tail down" guy. He needs some company.

P.S. That picture at the top is an ad image for the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds. I'm sure you are too young to remember it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer night

Last night the windows were open and I could hear the frogs singing and smell the smells of grass and fir and earth. I looked out the window and could see my batik lantern glowing at the bend in the pathway. We walked out to stand in the darkness, look up at the trees and sky and feel that summer is finally here. Something about a summer night, moon and stars, frogs and crickets and softly swishing evergreens high above. It connects you with every human who ever stood in the dark, taking in a summer night.

When I turned to go back up to the house—the quilt framed by the window.  It was like seeing it for the first time.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Having been a sewer for years and years, I have had a variety of pincushions, including several of the classic red tomatoes. I once made myself a pincushion in a sake cup, which finally fell off the table and broke. I have needlepointed a pincushion and had one of those magnetic pincushions. Pincushions get ratty after awhile, except for the magnetic ones, but I just didn't like reaching into that mass of  poke-y pins.

My bad habit is that I end up sticking needles into my pincushions. The ones that have no thread quickly disappear into the innards of the pincushion. The ones that have thread make a big mess with the thread tangling through the pins and other threads. Most pincushions are, in my opinion, too small. I've been wanting a nice big, flattish pincushion that won't roll like tomatoes and sake cups do.

The other day I ran across this piece of needlework I had tucked away. It was something I found among my mother-in-laws things after she died. I don't think she made it. Perhaps it was a souvenir of a trip she took or just something that was given to her. I'm not sure of its purpose. Maybe kind of a doily. It is a punched kind of needlework that creates a surface that is somewhat like chenille. I liked the stylized tulip design and thought it might be the beginning of a new pincushion. I stitched a back on it, leaving an opening and stuffed it with little plastic pellets made for adding weight to dolls' feet and bottoms. They are about the size of rice, which I have also used to stuff pincushions in the past. It came out a little misshapen and too round, so I stitched a cord in the center that pulled the middle together a bit and flattened it. I worked the stuffing around to fill it out. The cord makes a loop that I can pick it up by.

I went through my pins and discarded all the bent and dull pins. You just have to do that every so often. I like nice sharp, long, glass headed pins. Those little short pins with the tiny, flat heads are worthless. I throw them away. I'm going to try to keep needles in the magnetic holder and I have thrown away my raggedy old pincushion.

I am loving our summer weather and I took my new pincushion out on the deck this morning and stitched a sleeve on the back of my newest quilt and trimmed off all the loose threads on the back.

Now, that is a useful pincushion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What a crazy week

Summer has finally arrived in Portland and I am very happy about that, but geez, it is nearly the end of June. I feel like we lost out on June this year. It is usually about the best month of the year, but not this year. The good news is that while it was raining and blowing and raining, and, did I mention that it rained?, well all that time things were growing and now the sun is out and it is gloriously warm and all is green and blooming.

This is the front garden and it is looking so beautiful. When we moved in here less than two years ago this area was lawn. Ray has worked so hard to get rid of most of the grass, plant all those gorgeous plants, get the pathways in and along the way deal with falling trees and branches. I put out my batik lanterns today and I finally got an iron bracket to hang Ray's gong/bell thing and he got it hung. It is hanging on the big Douglas fir at the end of the path. It is quite a wonderful thing. Several years ago when we were selling garden art at one of the garden shows near here Ray spotted these big bells, made from steel tanks that once held—??? I'm not sure. Oxygen? Anyway, they make a wonderful, deep "mmmmmmmunnnnnnggggg" sound when you swing the cord so the clapper hits inside. It is beautifully finished with a purply, coppery patina and the hanging metal sunburst.

I am hoping the coming week is less eventful than the past week. Last night was a full moon, but I don't think that explains last week. It included, on the minus side of the scale: a broken taillight on Ray's pickup, a trip to the emergency room when Ray got a piece of chicken stuck in his esophagus, Ray chasing and finally killing a mouse in Emily's kitchen, a car plowing through the outside wall of Sofia's daycare (don't worry, no one hurt), my first mosquito bite of the season which caused big time allergic reaction including red swollen leg and purple painful lump, burned hot dogs and a broken mug. On the plus side: visit from our niece and two kids, day at the Oregon Zoo with all the kids, Sofia's first dance class (OMG—so cute!), got my teeth cleaned and finished both my Banos quilt and my 12 x 12 quilt. So, nothing terrible, but just enough to keep us on our toes all week. Ray is fine and my leg is looking better every day. I bought a big bottle of insect repellent today. I'd like to lay in the shade with my book (The Girl Who Played with Fire), reeking of Deet and drinking iced tea this week. Probably won't happen, but I can dream.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Confronting the cliché

Here is the Baños quilt finished. There are many things I like about it, some I don't. I took a lot of liberties with the original photograph, leaving out a lot of details that were distracting and moving things (like the gate) to improve the composition. I also added the figure of the man passing by. He was not in the original photo, but in another photo. I simplified the background considerably. All this was fine. When I am working from a photo I feel no obligation to copy it exactly. It is simply a starting point. What I am not entirely happy about is that I seem to have "prettified" the old house more than I intended. One thing I especially like is the quilting on the foreground pathway.

I have been thinking a lot about  clichés, by which I mean subject matter that has been done so often it loses meaning and impact. There are a lot of them. I have joked with my friends that there should be a moritorium on heron quilts. (Do a google image search on "Heron quilt" and you will see what I mean)  Vine covered cottages, as the Baños quilt certainly is—another cliché. Thomas Kinkade has made a fortune on them. So, probably, are depictions of indigenous people in foreign locations. The thing about a cliché is, that it gets to become so popular because it is an image with great appeal. Me, I'm tired of so many heron quilts, but I can't resist snapping a picture when I see one standing among the cattails at the edge of a pond! So, the challenge for an artist, in my opinion, is not necessarily to avoid those oh-so-popular subjects, but to make them your own and offer a different approach to an old familiar subject. I had a discussion about this recently with a friend. I told her I was thinking about making a piece using a subject she has used frequently and referred to it as a cliché subject. I think I offended her and she thought I was saying her work was banal. Actually, I think her take on the subject is pretty interesting and I am trying to come at it in a different way—hopefully equally interesting, but quite different.

So, back to the Baños quilt. As always, I have been looking at it too long and have lost perspective. I am tired of seeing it and I know it will look different to me when I come back to it in a couple of months. But right now it strikes me as a bit of a cliché.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The object #6 Asian parasol

I found this lovely paper parasol in my grandmother's house, when she died. I have no idea where it is from, when it was made, why my grandmother had it. But I brought it home because it was so lovely. It resides in a basket of umbrellas near my front door. I have never figured out a way to display it. The paper part is a bit faded, but the design is very graphic and a favorite combination of indigo blue, white and orange-red. The bamboo handle has intricate little designs on it. I can't tell if they were printed or burned into the bamboo. The most fascinating part, for me, is the structure on the inside that supports the open parasol. It is made from split bamboo and strung with an intricate system of colored thread that seems to be both decorative and functional.

click for a larger view of this

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Distracted by real life

I have ignored the online communities of blogs and Facebook this week. We have visitors. Our niece, Melissa and her two kids are visiting. Melissa is the one who was born on the same day our daughter Emily was born, and like Emily, she is a teacher and the mother of a little girl and a little boy, as Emily will soon be. It is always fun to see the cousins that we enjoyed so much when they were children, bringing their own children to visit. Yesterday we took these cuties to the Oregon Zoo.

The sun has finally returned to Oregon and yesterday was a perfect summer day. The kids had a great time. Sofia loved hanging out with the big kids and copied every move Anna made. The adults had fun too. I love taking pictures of the animals. Don't ask me why. I always take my camera. I liked the underwater exhibits where you can see the tops of the ducks and the paddly feet going to town below the surface.

This crocodile (or is it a caiman?) creeped me out. He did not move a muscle the whole time we were watching him.

And, really, can anyone with a camera resist hippos and zebras?

I hope you are allowing the real world to get you out from in front of your computer occasionally. I recommend it!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The object #5 Photo of my Dad

My dad standing outside the house in Wyoming. Start of the Depression. A shy, but happy child, no doubt dressed in his brothers' hand-me-downs. But he didn't seem to have a care in the world. Just look how worn those little boots are. I wonder what that thing is in his hand.

Of course I never knew the little boy, but I see the man already there. The smile, the way he squinted into the sun. You can see that same expression here. My Dad was such a good man. Such a good father. Such a good son. Such a good grandfather. Such a good friend.

I feel so sad to read about the difficult, troubled and sometimes abusive relationships people have with their fathers. With my Dad it was pretty simple. My Dad just loved us—would have done anything for us. Except for the one thing he couldn't do, which was stick around a little longer. He's been gone for 12 years and I've thought of him every single day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

At the sewing machine

That is where I have spent most of the day today. I got a lot of quilting done on my Baños piece today. I am still amazed at how much quilting adds. If you ask me why I prefer to work with fabric rather than paint or something else, this might be why. Here is the vine with part of the leaves quilted and part yet to quilt.

And a closeup of the quilted leaves.

The quilting really is a fun part of the process for me—very spontaneous and free. I don't mark any of it. I just go at it. You can see that I am not really precise at all. Stitch length varies, which is kind of a point of disagreement among quilters. Purists strive for very uniform stitch length. I strive for "good enough."

After lunch I put the quilt aside and started on doll clothes. I rummaged through my stash and found everything I needed, avoiding a trip to the fabric store. I even had the buttons for the shirt in my tin of buttons. Sofia had specified that she wanted "pants and a shirt with buttons."  Nothing fancy here. No pockets, zippers, collar, trims.

This is Tati the tattooed baby. Not the prettiest doll I have ever seen, but beloved by Sofia. (If anyone knows a good way to remove ballpoint pen ink from vinyl I'd love to know. Emily and I have tried everything we could think of.) She has had the doll for a couple of years. It came dressed in a knit sleeper. Sofia has been quite happy to carry her around naked up until recently.

I also made her a pair of panties, not shown. Kristin's suggestion for a simple dress sounded great so I made this dress, gathered with elastic cord. The elastic makes it really easy to get on and off. I did fancy it up a bit with the heart applique.

Sofia will be over this evening for awhile and will probably be pretty excited to see the new clothes. In my rummaging I found a scrap of aqua fleece that I think will be perfect for a little jacket, but I will make that later.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A day

I have been able to spend most all of today working on my quilt. What a luxury. Ray was gone all day. I didn't have to babysit. I was here, alone, working on my quilt today. I finally assembled all the pieces and parts, layered it and began to quilt. Blessed sunshine poured in through the window.

I really began to feel like I was getting on top of life in general today. I have a deadline for this piece and then there is another I need to get to work on for a deadline. But there is a lot of life getting in the way.

Yesterday I picked up my granddaughter to keep for a few hours while her mom and dad got some end-of-the-school-year work done in my daughter's classroom. My daughter will be changing schools next year and having a baby in August, so she has a lot on her plate right now. I am trying, with limited success, not to take on her stress along with my deadline anxieties.

Anyway, my granddaughter met me at the door with her doll in her arms and big plans. "Grandma, we can make Tati some clothes." I had mentioned to her the day before that her doll needed some clothes and "one of these days" we would make some. Now she was ready for those clothes. "Go to the room where you make things" she said. I had to explain that I just couldn't do it right now. I had to make dinner, for one thing. She cried. She has been promised a lot of things and her three-year-old brain doesn't quite grasp time concepts. The baby brother that is coming won't be here for a couple of months. The dance classes don't start for another week, despite the fact that she has the shoes and the leotard and the enthusiasm. Her mama keeps telling her she will take her to the park and play with her as soon as school is out for the summer—still a week away. And I have promised doll clothes.

Today went really well. I can see the end of this quilt in sight and know that deadline will be met. As to the other deadline, I'm thinking doll clothes might be a higher priority.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


I have been thinking about the example I used in my post a couple of days ago when I was talking about my own fussiness about certain details of my and other people's art. I said it bothered me to see trees that taper the wrong direction. Well, sometimes I make these rash statements and then later I wonder if I even really believe what I said. Kristin left a really great comment saying that what bugs her is when art is done without intention. Yes, I think she really nailed what I was getting at. If you missed her comment I recommend going back and reading it. Jarring visual notes in a piece of art can work when there is intention. And I'm sure I would find a painting of fat-at-the-top trees intriguing, if intentional and part of a pattern of distortion that the artist was exploring. It is when the thing is supposed to represent a form and misses because the artist just wasn't very observant or mindful that the jarring effect lets the rest of the work down.

Well, this is, of course, just me rambling and wondering and not directed at anyone in particular. I googled "abstract trees" to see what I would find. Most of them were tapered in a naturalistic way. A couple weren't and looked unintentional to me. But, wow, what great trees I saw! Here are a few favorites. Click on the picture to see the sites I nabbed them from.

So, now I need to get back to my studio and work on a tree for that Baños quilt, and then start on my next 12 x 12 which is probably going to involve some trees. I better not screw it up. I'd probably never live it down.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

The taper in the tiles

Still working away on that Baños piece. The roofs specifically. After fusing a bunch of the tiles I had a revelation. There was something not right about those tiles. They didn't seem to lay down the way they should and I kept seeing stacks of thread spools instead of tiles.

Then it struck me that those tiles taper ever so slightly so that one end is narrower than the other. That allows them to overlap each other. So I peeled them off (I never fuse things very securely until I am finished, for this very reason) and trimmed each tile so that it tapers a bit. Do you see the difference?

It is a small thing, but it made a big difference to my eye. I read that originally those roof tiles were made by hand and shaped by rolling out a slab of clay that the maker shaped by forming it over his own upper leg, giving it just the right curve and taper.

I know by telling you this I am exposing that "fussy" side of my art-making that makes me feel a little defensive. I have artist friends who give me a hard time about needing to make things "perfect" and precise. The work I do is not of the very free-flowing and spontaneous sort of abstraction that a lot of fabric art tends to be.  But it is what it is and I really don't go to great lengths to be perfectly, precisely accurate. I love seeing that other kind of work, but it isn't what I was cut out to do. I used to worry about that. Now I don't. The kind of representative things that I make have a lot of abstraction in them and I am always a little puzzled by the observations of others that talk about precision. You can see in both of those closeups that the tiles are not precise at all. Making those tiles taper a bit actually made them less precise, but for me it made them more "right". It always bothers me, in both representational and very abstract art when planes and angles feel wrong. When lines are awkward. When composition is out of whack. It is all the same, whether meant to look like something real or not, it is composition, planes, lines, balance, color. The plane of that roof didn't tilt in the right direction until I tapered the tiles. I remember a college professor saying that even in the most non-representational work the laws of physics and gravity and nature still provide the sense of order that helps you make sense of what you see. I have a pet irritant in artwork—trees that taper in the wrong direction. I wonder, has this artist never noticed that tree trunks are larger at the bottom and smaller at the top? Or maybe it's irrelevant to them and maybe I am fussy. That really isn't something I want to be.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck. . .

It has been raining both rain and firewood around here for the last month. About a month ago I wrote here about the huge limb that fell and knocked the top off another tree. Then a week or so ago I went out one morning to find another huge fallen limb blocking our driveway. It was pretty good sized and had to be sawn into smaller pieces just to get it out of the way. Ray has been chopping and splitting and sawing and making piles of firewood. Here's a pile next to the house.

Here's another pile out by the picnic table.

And another pile.

And there will be more coming.  Here is the brush pile—the branches and broken bits.

Today Ray went out and rented a chipper to dispatch the brush pile. You feed the sticks in one end and wood chips come out the other end. Ray has done this before and the resulting stuff is pretty good for spreading around on paths and between rows in the garden. It might help the muddy area that resulted where the creek overflowed last week.

Of course the images from that gruesome scene in Fargo  (click on that link only if you have strong stomach) always come to mind. Yech! Ray just finished up after a long and noisy day of wood chipping, but he has a nice pile of chips.

Some of the wood that fell just can't be dealt with. The big, rotting branch landed across the creek right next to the bridge. It can't be budged, so it has become what we are optimistically calling "a feature". Ray planted a couple pretty little ferns right in the rotted out portion and it looks pretty good, don't you think?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Roof tiles

I have always loved the look of terra cotta roof tiles. I've always lived in a climate where they are impractical, so I suppose some of the appeal is they are a bit foreign and exotic, but the color and pattern they make is very appealing. In the warmer regions of the United States you see them pretty frequently and they are usually quite tidy-looking—uniform in size and color. The first time we visited Ecuador I was taken by the richness of the tile roofs. The variety in color and shape and the effects of time and weather had created a material that was both the product of human hands and equally of the earth and nature. My photos were taken from the rooftop patio at the school where Emily taught in Cuenca, where you could see tile roofs stretching for miles.

The tile roofs in the photo of the Baños house look very dirty and dull. I decided to attempt a roof more like the ones I really think of when I think of the tile roofs of Ecuador.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The object #4 Coca Cola bottle

This is an old bottle of Coke that has been in my china cupboard for at least 25 years. It still has the original Coke inside. I imagine it is pretty flat by now, but that's OK because I don't intend to open it. I got it at the time that the small, 8 oz. bottles were being phased out. You see them again now as kind of a nostalgic novelty, but you couldn't get them for a long time. In my opinion it is just about exactly the right amount of Coke to drink, but what do I know? Coke in a bottle tastes different than Coke in a can and you can finish an 8 oz bottle before it starts to get warm. Ice cold is the only way to drink it—right? 

I can't tell you how many bottles like this I have consumed in my lifetime, though I haven't drunk it on a regular basis for many, many years. When Ray and I were first married we lived in an apartment at the Pocatello, Idaho YWCA and were the caretakers for the building. There was a Coke machine in the kitchen that dispensed bottles like this. We were regular customers.

The reason I kept this particular bottle was nostalgia and for the molded printing on the bottom of the bottle. Can you read it? It says "Pocatello, Idaho". The bottles used to have the name of the city where they originated on the bottoms of the bottles. Of course the bottles were reused and they traveled so it was not unusual to buy a bottle in Pocatello that read "Casper, Wyoming" or "Albuquerque New Mexico" on the bottom. I always checked to see where the bottles were from. When I was a child my Dad, who had an engineering business in Pocatello, did work for the local Coca Cola bottling plant and became friendly with the manager of the plant, a jolly man named George Chaffee.  George took great pride in his product and my mother, a connoisseur of Coca Cola, always declared that Pocatello Coke was the best—the perfect amount of carbonation. If we traveled to Salt Lake City or Boise, and Mom had a Coke she'd say, "not as good as George's." George said he took great care to filter the water so there were no minerals to change the flavor. On Christmas George would drive around town in a shiny red Coca Cola truck and deliver a bright yellow, wooden case of Coke to each of his friends and business associates. We were lucky enough to be in that group. I looked forward to George's Christmas visit almost as much as Santa Claus. He gave my sister and brother and me lots of little Coca Cola trinkets over the years—key chains and toy trucks and little bottles of Coke that were perfectly doll sized. Most of them were lost, as such stuff tends to end up, but I saved one little bottle of many. It is in the china cabinet with its big brother.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Heart-shaped leaves

One of the things that attracted me to the falling down house in Baños was that amazing vine that grew across the stair rails. The leaves were big hearts. I really wanted to get that vine right. I drew leaves, then colored them, using a piece of coarse sandpaper as a rubbing plate to give them a little texture, then I cut them out last night while I watched TV. Several times Ray looked over and said, "that looks tedious!"

Well, it was a lot of cutting of tiny things, but I think it worked out pretty well. Today I stared fusing all those little heart leaves and it was a good approximation of the vine I remembered.

I'm glad you liked my foxgloves quilt. The bookmarks will be in the mail soon.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


The foxgloves are blooming at the side of the house, along with the roses. The vast amounts of rain this Spring seems to have been appreciated by the foxgloves. They are freakishly tall this year. I love foxgloves, though they grow wild around here and spread like crazy—little bit weedy, some people think. But I find them hard to resist.

I made a little foxglove quilt several years ago. It was for a QuiltArt Challenge called "The Straight and Narrow." All long skinny pieces. It is still up on the QuiltArt web site, though I think it has been at least 6 years ago.
I showed it at the Japanese Garden and sold it. It was on the postcard for the Japanese Garden show that year and I ended up with a handful of the leftover postcards. If I cut out the image of the quilt it is a good size and shape for a bookmark, so I have made several.

Would you like a foxglove bookmark? I have 8 to give away. I will send one to the first 8 people who leave a comment saying they would like one. Of course you will have to send me your mailing address. Don't leave your address in the comments, email me separately. Here's a link to my email address.