Monday, November 28, 2011

You Can Make the Salad

Growing up, when my mother would ask me to help her with dinner I would be assigned to peeling the potatoes or grating cheese.  Most often, however, I would be told, "You can make the salad."  This continued even once I was grown.  I would go home for holidays and offer to help with the fantastic meals that my parents would plan.  The response? "You can make the salad."  I had a husband, a home, and children, but the salad was my contribution in my mother's kitchen.

And then, one year, when my mother came to visit she asked if she could help with dinner.  Without even thinking about it, I said, "You can make the salad."  We both got a good laugh out of that.  Apples and trees, of course.

Here's the thing, though: I have come to see "making the salad" as a way of letting someone help, but not so much that if they mess it up you have a problem.  My mother and my children helped me get some of my dolls ready for a recent event.  They sewed basting seams, gathered tulle into tutus, attached Velcro -- all things that needed to be done, but basically salad-making.

What was that? Control issues, me?

My mother's salad was delicious.  The dolls were just fine.  Maybe it's time to let people do more around here. I could definitely use the help.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Website is Live!

Go ahead.  Say it.  "Finally."  I know, it has been a long time coming, but now it's here.  Yay!

Please come visit at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Works in Progress

I was listening to NPR last week and listened to an interview with acclaimed author, John Edgar Wideman.  He said something that really made me think: a work in progress is not a waste of time, he said.  Rather, a work in progress is a privilege.

I have tended to look at works in progress as something hanging over my head that I must finish.  Considering Mr. Wideman's statement, however, perhaps a work in progress is a reminder that I have been given a gift and that the work is a manifestation of that gift.  That not using it would be the true waste.  That every time I create something, I am saying thank you.

I am back to work.  Thank you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sometimes, It's the Little Things

This summer started out with preparations for the New York Doll Show.  I had so much to do, and I felt like I was sewing every waking minute.  Then it was over and I asked myself, "What next?"  But it was summer, the kids were going to visit my mother in Michigan, and I decided I needed a little down time.  Which turned into a lot of down time.

I thought a lot of thoughts during that time.  I just didn't sew a lot of ...sews? Just to get back into the swing of things, I made a few postcards.

They were a good warm-up and I'm almost ready to answer the question: "What next?"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New York Black Doll and Craft Show

Last Saturday, my faithful assistant (also known as my daughter) and I were at the historic Riverside Church in New York City for the 2011 New York Black Doll and Craft Show.  This is my daughter standing at our table:

Our table at the Riverside Church

It was absolutely sweltering outside, but the hearty shoppers who made it to the beautiful air-conditioned church were rewarded by a fine array of unique African-American dolls and fabric art.  As always, we enjoyed meeting all of the people who stopped by our table.  Our thanks to Done Up! for organizing this showcase!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Word of the Year -- 6 Months In

There's been kind of a check-in on the QuiltArt list to see how the words we all chose at the beginning of the year were working out.  Some people had forgotten theirs, others had gone by the wayside.

My word was BUILD.  (I posted about it here.)  I am steadily building on what I started last year, but certainly not in the ways I imagined in January.  It's all good, though.  Let's see what the second half of the year brings!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Auction Quilt, or Where Did All the Time Go?

My plan had been to document the auction quilt as it progressed.  Good intentions and all that.  There were other projects along the way, and once I finished this one I realized I had not taken any pictures while I worked.  So here is the completed quilt:

Auction quilt for Hearst Elementary School, May 2011

And a close-up showing some of the memories the children wanted to me include on their road through elementary school:

detail from 2011 auction quilt

The children (and their parents) were very pleased when they saw the finished product.  

There is more to this quilt, however.  Seven years ago, when my daughter was in pre-kindergarten, I had been making quilts for only two years.  With the encouragement of my husband and parents, I volunteered to make a quilt with the children for inclusion as their class project in that year's auction.  It was the first time that I showed my work to people who were not related to me.  I was certain that I would be exposed as a fraud, a pretender.  Surely, someone who had more experience would point out all of the flaws in my work.  But no, the parents and teachers thought I knew what I was doing.

The encouragement I got from the school community was both unexpected and precious.  And along the way, I made new friends -- other moms who I could go to lunch with or press into service as needed for cutting and ironing on these soon-to-be-annual school projects.

One mother in particular, a friend since our daughters were in that pre-K class together, offered to help assemble the quilt top this year, the last one for this group of kids at this school.  She was my sounding board for the quilt's concept and I relied on her input.  She was sick, though, newly diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of cancer.  I kept her updated, especially since getting together to work on the quilt became...complex.  She was the first person (who didn't live in my house) that I showed it to when I was done, and I was rewarded with her radiant smile.

I didn't know then that the night of the auction would be the last time I saw her.  I didn't know then that the doctors had determined that there was nothing more they could do for her.  I didn't know then that, less than three weeks after the auction, she would be gone.

What started out as a chronicle of elementary school for the children became, for me, the story of a friendship forged on field trips, at bake sales and potlucks, and over countless cups of coffee.  I am grateful for that friendship, and miss her terribly.  I couldn't have done it without her.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My New Favorite Quilt

I appointed myself family historian years ago, before I started quilting.  Once quilting entered the picture, I would occasionally think about making a family tree quilt.  And then I would think about something else.  Time passed.

Then, this winter, I was commissioned to make a family tree quilt for my client's grandmother's 80th birthday.  "Sure," went my mouth when she explained what she wanted.  "You've thought about this before, remember? You have avoided this," went my brain.

Fortunately, there were no leaves on the trees then.  Have you ever really looked at the branch structure of trees?  I hadn't.  It is easy not to notice, but different trees branch differently.  I drew this somewhat stylized version:

Which became this in fabric:

And the finished quilt, with the grandmother's favorite Bible verse as a border. 

Family tree quilt, 50x54

I should have done this for my family a long time ago.  It's my new favorite quilt. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Displaying Small Works

There are many, many ways to display small fiber pieces.  I like this method because of its simplicity.  You will need:

a mat and backboard
paper hinging tape and water  (I use Lineco's gummed tape.  You can get it at art supply stores.  There are linen and self-adhesive varieties as well.  This works for me.)   

your artwork.  This piece is 5-1/2 x 7-1/2.  Make sure your piece is larger than the mat opening so that the edges will be covered.  This also gives you some room to shift the piece to show what you want.

1.  The mat will cover those unfinished edges, 
so don't worry about getting them perfectly squared.  Place your work on the backboard, then lay the mat over it to check your placement.

2.  Carefully flip the artwork up so you are looking at the back of your work and the top edge is exactly where you want it.  You will be making a T-hinge with the tape.  Moisten two pieces of tape and apply them long-ways to the top of the art and backboard.  Then take two more pieces of tape and apply them across the first pieces on the backboard to form a T.

Clearly, had I been thinking, I would have used something that would show some contrast, but the back of the work is beige, the mat is beige, the tape is beige.  I think you can still see the T, though.

3.  Flip your artwork back down.  See how that hinge works!  Now do the same thing to hinge the top of the mat to the top of the backboard.

4.  Let the tape dry, close it up, sign your name in the front right corner, and you're done!

Ok, so I hadn't signed this one before I took the picture, but you know what to do.  That's all there is to it. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Sewing Haiku for Poetry Month

Sewing machine hums.
Me, too, in the flow. Oh, shoot!
Bobbin's out of thread.

composed in the seconds before that became reality, April 14, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011


If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And of thy meager store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one and with the dole,
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
                Sheikh Muslih-uddin Saadi Shirazi, circa 1270

My grandfather used to recite this poem.  Every now and then he would ask, "If you only have two loaves, what should you do with them?"  The astute grandchild would chirp, "Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul."  It only took one time to get caught unawares before you learned the poem. 

Last week felt as if we were indeed bereft of everything: one of my uncles is facing a diagnosis that has left us all shell-shocked.  Struggling out of my own fog, I saw the poem on our refrigerator, went to visit the hyacinths blooming in my front yard, and set to work. I can't cure my uncle, but maybe my little hyacinths can be a morsel for his soul.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Frankly, my dear...

I am not a fan of Gone With the Wind.  When I was in high school, we had a requirement to read a certain number of books from their approved reading list.  This was early 1980s Alabama, so the list In frustration, I chose Gone With the Wind.  The length of the book (over 1000 pages) was not initially a problem for me because I love to read.  My problem was with Scarlett.  She spent 1000 pages mooning and pining over Ashley.  Ashley, Ashley, Ashley.  Everything she did was so she could get to Ashley.  By about page 100 I had determined that she was foolish, that she was wasting her (and my) time, and that she needed to get over this fixation and move on.  But did that happen? NO!  I read the rest of that book just waiting for Rhett Butler's famous blow-off line.  I looked for it in every scene they had together.  Little did I know that it came on the second to last page.  By that time, I was through with Rhett, too.  I was probably in my 30s before I saw the movie.  Better, but still not a fan.

So a month ago when I was asked if I could make a Scarlett O'Hara-esque doll, my mouth said yes while my brain was screaming "It's Scarlett -- NO!"  Nonetheless, here is the result:

Despite my antipathy, she came out kinda cute.  Better, but still not really a fan...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The More Things Change...

I started this piece in Pamela Allen's workshop almost three years ago.  The assignment was to do a face. Faces were a huge part of the reason I took the workshop (that and how much I enjoy Pamela's work).  She encouraged us to work quickly, so we did.  Realism was not a requirement.  This is what I came up with:

I pinned her up when I got home.  She had the good grace never to mock me, maybe because she is looking up, rather than down at my worktable.  I knew that her mouth was too wide, so that was an immediate fix.  I also thought the blue for her neck was too assertive.  It took me two years to make those fairly minor changes, and once I did, I decided that the background was a problem, too.  This is what she looked like last summer:

Then, a couple of days ago when I really looked at that photo, I knew there was still something not quite right.  The background again?  I auditioned different backgrounds and stayed with what I had, even though I wasn't crazy about the yellow in it echoing the yellow in her face and neck.  Lip color?  The purple lips called too much attention to themselves.  Five color combinations later, they were a purpley-brown that seemed to go with the rest of her face.

Still, something was wrong.  Shirt?  No.  Hair?  I hoped not.   I really liked her hair.  That fabric was one of my favorites.  I walked away, but every time I came back, it was the hair.  Durn! as my father would have said.

This is her current incarnation:

Her hair now contains swirls from the original hair fabric, in addition to some violet highlights.  I think she's ready to quilt!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Things My Father Told Me

William C. Bryant, Jr.
 My father once told me about a time when he was a young resident (intern?) doing his emergency room rotation.  One of his patients was a man who needed stitches.  This was the first time my father had done stitches unsupervised and he was nervous.  So nervous, he could not get the stitches to hold. 

In frustration, he says he mumbled, "I'm all thumbs tonight." 

His patient turned to him and said, "Then you'd better find the rest of your damn fingers!"

Since my father was ultimately able to get this man sewn up all those years ago, we all had a good laugh.

I doubt that that nameless patient was trying to be inspirational.  Motivational, perhaps, in a vaguely threatening way.  But I hear my father delivering that punchline whenever those seams are crooked and have to be redone, when the fabric is somehow wrong-side-up, or when that stray piece of fabric attaches itself unnoticed to the work.  Find your damn fingers, and get on with it.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Auction Quilt, Phase 1

Monday was the official start of the auction quilt.  Here's the idea: the silhouettes of the children will form the border of the quilt.  When they were in kindergarten, I let them paint their heads.  We're just doing simple black-on-white silhouettes for this one.

AMCC profile for pattern

The interior will look like a game board, with Pre-K in the Start position.  The squares that follow that will contain something that the kids remember from Pre-K.  Then kindergarten, first grade, and so on, with the second-to-last square for their graduation and a blank square after that (or maybe a question mark, the children were split on that). The class has 19 children, eight of whom started at the school in Pre-K.  They are a good, tight group of incredibly smart kids. 

The teacher liked the idea, so on Monday I went in to take the children's pictures for the silhouettes and get ideas for things to include in the game squares.  Because this is not the first time I have worked on a quilt with most of the kids, they knew that if I was there it must be quilt time.  They actually look forward to it, even the boys, which I find very sweet. 

One girl volunteered to record the responses and off we went.  I haven't laughed that hard in a long time.  They had fond memories of some years (We got lockers! Lots of field trips! We made our first quilt!) that I was happy to include.  They had not-so-fond memories of other years (That time the teacher got so mad and ...! We didn't get to do anything!) that, while honest and/or screamingly funny in their retellings, were highly inappropriate for what may be viewed as a sentimental journey through elementary school.

The auction is not until May.  Despite my careful calculations, I have no doubt that somehow, I have already outsmarted myself on this quilt and will only discover the problem when fixing it will be extremely time-consuming.  That aside, once I have a mock-up ready, I'll go back to the classroom and enjoy hearing what these lively, lovely kids have to say.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Reasonable Plan

Gaston:  LeFou, I'm afraid I've been thinking.
LeFou:  A dangerous past-time...
Gaston:  I know.

from Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast, 1991

This is something a friend and I regularly sing at each other when one of us confesses to thinking.  And I have been thinking. 

Last year, I moved from project to project never quite knowing where I would end up or what would be next.  And even though there is going to be a fair amount of that (my future-telling isn't working so well these days), I think I have some concrete things to accomplish this year.

1. Finish the last commission quilt. I have incorporated the first verse of Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing into a wall-hanging for a wonderful client in Ohio. 

All that is left is the quilting of the background and it will be finished. Which will free me up for...

2.  The auction quilt for my daughter's school.  She is in the fifth grade, which is now the last year of elementary school here, so this is a milestone year for the class.  On top of that, this is the first fifth grade class the school has had in several decades; until two years ago the school ended at third grade, though it had originally gone to sixth grade.  All to say, this is special and I had better come up with a fantastic idea.  I will be chronicling the development of this one.

The first auction quilt in 2005, with Alyssa's pre-K class

3.  I have wanted to write a children's picture-book for some time, and now I have a pretty good draft. The big thing is that I want to do the illustrations myself as a series of fabric collages.  This is a huge undertaking, but I am so excited I can hardly stand it.  Details will follow as work progresses.

Those are the three major projects I see for this year.  There may be a show here or there that I would like to enter, but here is something else I have been thinking: I can't do everything.  Easy to say, hard to remember, but I'm trying. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Where Are My Scissors?

This was supposed to be a post about my newest project, but I can't find my scissors.  These are not the scissors I am looking for.

The People Who Live in My House know not to borrow my scissors because they each have a function, which probably means that I put them down somewhere.  Somewhere is a mighty big place.  I just want my scissors back.