Something to Think About

Flame-out? or Creative Spark?

If you are anything like me, there are multiple ideas in your head, lurking in the fabric you’ve purchased, or photos on your phone of projects to make. And if you are really really like me, there are some old magazines piling up — perhaps dragged home from your Guild, or pages ripped out, or maybe even a filer drawer somewhere with the label “Future Projects.” You like to browse your favorite on-line shop web-pages, you happily accept emails from your favorite designers and your Saved to Quilts tab on Instagram is ever-expanding. All of this doesn’t even begin to address the folders on Pinterest, or the patterns you’ve acquired, or the drawers stuffed with new tools, new rulers, or quilting notions.

The term flame-out has multiple meanings, but the one I’m referring to is “lose power through the extinction of the flame in the combustion chamber.” My sewing room is my combustion chamber, so to speak. I bring lots of fuel there (see first paragraph), but somehow things can flame-out. I’ve noticed a healthy amount of January blahs in Instagram, but maybe it’s just that the projects your Past Self wanted to do are not the projects your Present Self thinks are worth tackling.

Laura Entis wrote an interesting article about the getting back the “flame in the combustion chamber,” or turning that creative spark into something that can help you fly. She lists several components: 1) paying attention (done…see first paragraph), 2) write it down (see first paragraph), but it was her third idea that caught my attention: 3) put a stake in the ground. She interprets that to mean going public, and many of us do (see our Instagram accounts), but I think for quilters there is a further aspect. It might mean washing/drying/pressing the fabric and putting it with its pattern in a drawer or a box. It might even mean cutting out some of the basic units before even one stitch takes place, like we do when we have a Mystery Quilt we’re making; they always want us to prep with this step. But any way you do it, putting a stake in the ground can mean committing to sparking that project into life.

I also liked her Step 6: Map it Out. At the end of last year, I became immersed in a project that overwhelmed me. It didn’t help during this time, Mom was dying in a state far away, or that I got really sick in December, and January has me battling a painful sciatica (can hardly wait to see what February brings…not!), but the project felt overwhelming. I should have mapped it out, so I could envision the flow, the places it was going. She got that idea from Kelli Anderson:

When Anderson embarks on something new, whether it’s for a client or a self-directed project, she sets a final deadline, and then breaks down the project into stages. “I draw it out visually,” she says, sketching out each phase in proportion to how long it should take. Next, she maps the visual sketch onto an actual calendar, translating periods of time into numerical blocks. Even the best laid plans can go awry, however. “The schedule is just a suggestion,” Anderson says, one she regularly refines. “If you are indulgent and you spend too much time on one part you can oftentimes make it up later at another stage.” (from here)

So, here are some of my “stakes in the ground”:

My latest quilt is back from the quilter, who did a wonderful job; now I need to trim it and get it bound. The thing that bogged me down was writing the pattern, but I ended up selling a different version of this to a magazine, so come fall, I’ll let you know where and when. (The pattern for the above quilt will come a year after that publication.)

Chris’ quilt. I made a quilt for my grandson when he came to my son’s family (he was a boy) and within about 20 minutes he out-grew it. I’ve promised him one forever and decided a large format quilt would be fun to make. It has been.

I’ve even mapped it out, as Entis suggested, in a book that helps me break down all the steps. I’m so pathetic I’ve even listed <wait> while it’s at the quilter. I’ve made you a PDF of this format so you can map out your projects, too. Click on the DOWNLOAD button below to get your copy.

Last, and okay-I-know-how-I’m-spending-my-February:

My house is nearing fifty years old. We’ve done some cosmetic updates to the kitchen, and bigger updates to the house, but it’s time to really get serious and update the kitchen. So we’re fridge-counters-cooktop-stove-vent-hardware-sink-etc. shopping. We feel pretty fortunate to be able to do this at this time, and keep wondering if we are too old for all of this. I was encouraged by all the comments left on my Help-Me-I’m-Remodeling post on Instagram. If you have any tips, let me know. I’m really leaning heavily towards an induction cooktop as I think it’s the way of the future. And double ovens? Yes? No? Who Cooks This Much? Leave me your ideas in the comments!

PS: Yes, I was able to attend a bit of Road to California, and saw my quilt, Eris, hanging there (happy dance!):

Clothing · Sewing

The Sublime and the Mundane

The Mundane

That is, if making a Wild Geese quilt block can be considered mundane, which makes me think back to the Days of the Babies, when the only time I could find to sew was about a 45-minute block once they went down for naps (and only if I weren’t taking one, too). But those minutes might be considered sublime, don’t you think?

You can read my Instagram post to find out why I was trying to beat the blahs, but in a nutshell…it’s January. Need I say more?

73 years ago. Nice to know I’m not the only one — thanks for all your nice comments on IG.

Because I was inspired by this beautiful quilt made of half-square triangles, and because I’d promised a grown grandson a quilt long ago in blue and white, I drew this one up in EQ8 and thought “Gosh, I could do a block a day and have it finished by the end of January.”

Yes, that goal is a far cry from barely being able to drag yourself out of bed, but it’s that thing about small steps, about sticking with a task, about creating. I listen to most episodes of the Ezra Klein podcast and found that a recent one, on “Sabbath and the Art of Rest” contained so much great advice for me personally. I learned a lot about the idea of the Sabbath, of taking a rest, of leaving space, of joyfully getting together. The guest, Judith Shulevitz, was fascinating, the conversation sublime and at one point she said this nugget:

“[I]t’s like anything else. It’s like writing, for example. You sit down, you don’t want to write, but you got to write. And there will be three hours when it’s a slog and that one hour when your mind opens up, and you’re in the flow, and you get it. You get why you’ve created the schedule where you have to sit at your desk from 9 to 1, or whatever it is, as unpleasant as that may be, as many conflicts as there may be. And nothing good is easy….You have to work to get to the experience of flow, to get the experience to the experience of God, to get to that what Émile Durkheim…called effervescence, which is that collective joy.”

I made the 5″ finished triangles from my stash, using the 8-at-a-time method, then made one more HST to get nine. This quilt will finish as a large lap size. The first two large squares (white and blue) were cut at 12″ square, then marked as shown. I sewed on either side of the diagonal lines, cut on all drawn lines, then pressed and trimmed to 5 1/2″ square. It went very fast. Just what I needed for January. Was I in the flow? Did I experience effervescence? Not really, but it was a mood lifter, for sure, to see my progress pinned up on the design wall.

The Sublime

My husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and after we crossed off the yacht, the furs, and the jewels from the list, I said I wanted to go the Bowers Museum in Orange County and see Guo Pei’s exhibit of her couture clothing. So who is she? If you remember back to the Met Gala in 2015, when Rhianna wore that gorgeous yellow dress…that was Guo Pei.

Many of these dresses took thousands of hours to make, and are heavily embellished. The shoes can be outrageous, too. This is not the clothes you wear for schlepping around to the grocery store, but they are the clothes that are admired, that ideas come from, maybe even a bit of effervescence. Enjoy. {Click on an image to enlarge it.}

So many of the clothes were made from man-made materials, a huge departure from our quilting world insistence on natural fibers. I loved this fringed dress.

My sister Susan came down for my birthday weekend, and she, my husband Dave, and I all liked this grouping the best. This was from a collection she titled Chinese Bride 2012. These were made of silk, with gold and colored threads used for the embroidery of “standard and shaded satin stitches.”

I’ll put some video up on Instagram and link it in a couple of days.

A movie was made about her (here’s the trailer):

Thank you, Guo Pei, for your beautiful clothes.

Look what we found when we came out: a very fancy quinceañera dress!

P. S. This was fun to see. It’s all my Instagram monthly markers for 2022.


Happy New Year 2023

“Time is draining from the clock,” says 2022 and Mary Oliver. Your loss, my gain says 2023. And here we are again, in a quote/poetry slam. (Quoted works are at the end.)

I made a few quilts, but not as many as usual. I think I made a lot more small makes, like a purse, or pillow tops, or patterns. Or maybe my “time is draining from the clock” and as someone who once had a “confident and quick” walk, I may be slowing down. Or distracted. Or sad. Or really happy. Or on a road trip. Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s like Oliver Burkeman says, that “The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.”

Or making quilts. Or immersing in creative endeavors. Or writing a thank you note to someone who doesn’t expect it. I took this last one from another book I read, where the author’s mother noted that we should be thanking everyone for everything.*

So, thank you for reading. Thank you for your letters. Thank you for the conversation that allows me to know people from all over the United States, and from all over the world!


*THE GIFT by Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.

TO BEGIN WITH, THE SWEET GRASS by Mary Oliver (excerpt)

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It’s more than bones.
It’s more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It’s more than the beating of the single heart.
It’s praising.
It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
still another.

What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be…
(excerpt from MORNINGS AT BLACKWATER, by Mary Oliver)

Arguably, time management is all life is. Yet the modern discipline known as time management—like its hipper cousin, productivity—is a depressingly narrow-minded affair, focused on how to crank through as many work tasks as possible, or on devising the perfect morning routine, or on cooking all your dinners for the week in one big batch on Sundays. These things matter to some extent, no doubt. But they’re hardly all that matters. The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder. (from Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, by Oliver Burkeman)

“We all owe everyone for everything that happens in our lives. But it’s not owing like a debt to one person—it’s really that we owe everyone for everything. Our whole lives can change in an instant—so each person who keeps that from happening, no matter how small a role they play, is also responsible for all of it. Just by giving friendship and love, you keep the people around you from giving up—and each expression of friendship or love may be the one that makes all the difference.”
from Will Schwalbe. The End of Your Life Book Club. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Patterns by Elizabeth of OPQuilt · Quilt Patterns

Continuously Hung up In Bias (aka Failing Forward)

Not that kind of bias. I had to teach that subject when I was an English teacher, and it was a struggle getting the ideas of Preferences vs. Bias into college Freshmen Heads, as well as why they should avoid bias if they can help it.

So you know I’m working on this new pattern, and in one section it calls for a lot of self-made bias, kind of like a self-made woman, but less flashy. I knew I needed about 1044 inches, so I thought–sure, I’ll do it all in one swoop.


If I put this into the pattern like this you would all get out your seam rippers and come after me. Thinking about this, I wound it on a large envelope (above), winding and winding and winding.

So the basic drill is cut a giant piece of fabric after doing math that involves square roots (!), then slice off a chunk on a 45-degree angle and sew it to the other side. NOT like the arrangement in the first photo, but more like the arrangement in the second photo. Two bias edges on either side and cross-grainy bits on the top and bottom.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. (Samuel Beckett)

Usually, then you draw lines parallel to the bias edges the width you want your continuous bias. I looked at several websites, but Ann of Obsessive Quilter had the best explanations I’ve seen. Thank you! I was swimming in a sea of geometry and square root equations. She has three versions of the next steps, and I liked (and tested out more than once) her method of cutting strips:

Using rotary cutter was the selling point. None of that 1000 inches of using scissors for me!

So lovely, I hung it on the wall <cough>. Then proceeded to get it all tangled.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Untangled and getting ready for the next steps, which are a hybrid of Ann’s. I tried this two more times to make sure I could do this and write it up so you can do this. Instructions will be in the pattern. Which is coming. [Because of recent events, November was obliterated.]

One fails forward toward success. ~ C. S. Lewis

This Quilt Is A Mess, from ages and ages ago — a real genuine failure

Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward, a quote attributed to John Maxwell, was ringing in my head as I cut and cut and tried and tried to master continuous bias. I only seemed to get stuck — not really a failure — but I tried to learn from each of my stuck places. Trying to make all the quilt’s continuous bias all at once? Not a good idea. Figuring out how long the bias needed to be? Thank heavens for scientific calculators (an iPhone tipped on its side while in Calculator mode).

But over and over it’s the user of this pattern I think about. I love the design, although it didn’t come easily. I try to write detailed patterns with clear directions and probably too many illustrations, some drawn in Affinity Designer, and when my skills fail (there’s that word again), I turn to photography. I keep trying to fail forward.

A circle made of my bias tape, then machine appliquéd

Sara Blakely, the woman who invented Spanx, had a question asked of her (and her brother) every night when she was growing up: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment. “What he did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely said. “And instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.” However, Ron Friedman notes that “Failure, per se, is not enough. The important thing is to analyze the failure for insight that can improve your next attempt.”

I fail a lot in regular life, but after hanging around a sewing machine for the better part of my teenage and adult life, the sewing failures are fewer. However they do arrive in new ways.

Like continuous bias.

P.S. If you want my 1044 inches of 1-1/8″ bias tape (using high quality quilting fabric), please leave a comment. If there are more than one of you who want this, I’ll draw a name from a hat. Bias tape has been distributed.

P.P.S. There is a sneak peek of the quilt in my PayHip shop; the quilt is currently at the quilter and will be revealed soon. It went up because the people at PayHip offered some new designs and I jumped, redesigning my site.
Above is one of the photos. (And no, we didn’t carry the quilts to Italy, Berlin and Spain. I inserted them with my Affinity Photo software…but it is kind of fun to see them like this!)

Quilt Finish

Stella di Natale • Quilt Finish

I started this quilt as another class sample for the Triad Harmony quilt pattern. The name “Stella di Natale,” is my version of Star of Bethlehem, but it is also a cake and the Italian name for the poinsettia plant. Every time I make a pattern, I try to do them three ways: the way it came to me, one in a completely different style of fabric, and of course, a Christmas version.

Having come home from my mother’s funeral with a roaring cold (no covid!) and Overwhelmed by Everything, I sat down at the Sweet 16 the next day and quilted away while listening to the latest Inspector Gamache novel, by Louise Penny. The label:

Back in October 2020, this is how it started. It all was about those wedges of flying angels, the last bits of a fabulous Alexander Henry Christmas fabric. The first two images are before the Run to the Fabric Store (I was trying to use my really old stash). I like the last one much better after a fabric transfusion.

I made a video of how to construct this for my Guild Workshop, and these are some stills from that video. It’s all explained really nicely in the pattern, too. If you click through to the workshop post, you can see all their versions of this pattern.

I never quilted it up, because I used it in teaching to show the back — how I pressed the seams, and other questions about that center point (just be bold and follow the pattern directions). But this past week, as I thought about my own personal star in heaven — my mother — it just seemed time to quilt it up. So I did. By the way, that first picture of it surrounded by dried leaves is how December looks here in Southern California, when all the leaves of the wisteria vine coat our patio.

Here’s a shot of another quilt, but in a wintry landscape; this was after the graveside service was over with, and our two boys (now, men) helped hold Jingle Bells for a photo.

My mother was laid to rest where she was born: Paradise, in Cache Valley. Yes, it was very cold that afternoon, but the morning services in Salt Lake City were lovely, the talks heartwarming (all seven of us children spoke), and the scenery at her little cemetery was beautiful.

Here’s another wintry quilt. It’s Shine: The Circles Quilt made up in snowman fabrics and with a unique and playful setting, all done by Linda Kucera. I have a closer look at her blocks in an earlier post. Most of the Shine blocks are free on this website, and the index is found above.

And this happened. I entered two, but only Eris will be in the show. Now I have something to look forward to.

detail, Eris

I now close a chapter in my life: that of having a mother nearby to call, to talk to, to share something like the good news about my quilt. I’ve observed from many of you that this may be a long transition. On the morning of her service, I sat quietly in the corner before it began, so bereft, so incredibly sad. My niece Melinda sat down beside me and said “I know there will be times you will want to call your Mother. You can call me, instead.” Her words were a treasure, as was the support from my husband, family, sisters. This past month I also have received many treasured messages of love and support from all of you, and so appreciate them. Thank you all for your kindnesses; it has made this difficult road easier to travel.

Stella di Natale • quilt #271 • 34″ wide x 31″ high

Other posts about the Triad Harmony quilts:

Triad Harmony • Quilt Finish

Triad Harmony Workshop

Secret Garden • a Triad Harmony Pattern Quilt Finish

Spectral Light (aka Eris) • a Triad Harmony pattern quilt

Eris • a Triad Harmony Pattern Quilt Finish

Choose Something Like a Star • a Triad Harmony pattern Quilt Finish