Journey to Japan

I appreciate all your comments and I like what you taught me.  I learned that if I wanted something rich and visually multi-layered, the black background was the one to lean towards.  And while I don’t like the acid yellow/green, it struck many of you as the way to go.  I started thinking about why green worked and realized that I don’t sew with a lot of greens, that is, I don’t lean to the greens as a dominant color.  So it makes the stars stand out.

Just after 9/11, my husband and I traveled to Japan and to Shanghai, China as he had been asked to speak at a conference.  Since it was right after the horrors of the twin towers falling, nearly half of the American contingent of scientists cancelled their trip.  We went, flying out of a nearly empty Los Angeles airport.  Yes, it was very eery.  But I loved the trip.

Ireland is known for being green, and it may be, but Japan is saturated with greens.  Maybe they’re noticed because they are smacked up against the painted vermillion temples.

And one rainy day in Tokyo we ducked into this shopping arcade.  Two soggy Americans who spoke NO Japanese.  But I could recognize fabric when I saw it, and one little shop had rolls of  yukata fabric, 13″ wide and in rich colors. Of course I bought some, ironed it after the trip home and hung it in the closet, too precious to use.

Until now, some eleven years later.

I had gone to the fabric shop on the way home from school on Friday, and yes–the hot pink with the purple dots didn’t work as well as the Kaffe Fassett Stencil fabric, in two-tones of green.  I liked it . . . but I didn’t love it.  And remembering what Elinor and Bert and others had said, I knew it had to sing to me.  I didn’t touch the quilt all weekend.  I would walk in and out of the studio, did a day’s work on grading and lesson prep, ignored it, studied it.  I unfolded the half-stars, arranged them all neatly and went to bed Saturday night.

I awoke Sunday morning, and I remembered that deep in one of my closets were these pieces of yukata, so I pulled them out.  They were “flat” visually, and I had four small pieces in various shades of green.  I slapped them up on the wall, just before we went to church, snapping a picture to show Tracy at church (another quilter).

Yukata slapped up on wall, underneath scrappy stars

When I got home, I looked at it again.  I’ll have to fussy cut, so as to avoid the big blotch of white, and to strategically position the other parts, but it just might be the fabric that works.  I can fill in with the other domestic pieces of fabric, for this is, at heart, a quilt based on scraps.  And the lesson from this is–trust your stash, and your heart.  Buy when you can, and don’t hesitate to save fabric bought on a rainy day for eleven years.

Quilt Scaffolding

Climbing up the Statue of Liberty one year, I was amazed to see all the scaffolding that held up Lady Liberty.  Surprised even.  I still think of that.

One of my favorite Broadway shows is Noises Off, because you see the first act pretty much straight on, then they flip the stage to show you what’s going on six weeks later in the run, and you see all the pratfalls, the nearly missed cues, the backstage angst.  And in the final act, we see the front of the stage again and the show is made all the more hilarious because we now know what’s really going on.

I used to see on lots of blogs this little button with lots of artsy arrows and squiggles and the words below that proclaimed “I took the Process Pledge!” and the quilter would show us how she/he arrived at the gorgeous finished quilt.

Here’s where that idea all breaks down, and becomes an exercise not in honesty about construction (although that can be interesting) but an exercise in boredom.  Because I’M bored with this process, yet like the rough part of your nail that catches on everything and you fiddle with and and pick at until you can track down a nail file and smooth that sucker off, I can’t let go of trying to make this work.

Here are six pictures of seven different background to my scrappy stars.  While you may think this obsessive, I’m not showing you the picture with the cherries, nor the green background with the butterflies, or the black background with the swirly waves.  Scroll through them and ask yourself these two basic questions:
Question #1–Which one makes the stars really stand out?
Question #2–Which background is the richer and more interesting?
Okay.  Ready, set, meet you at the bottom.

Background #1

Background #2

Background #3

Background #4

Background #5

Background #6

Background #7

I’m sure you noticed that the two questions are in conflict with each other after viewing the photos.

I’m also sure you are hoping that I soon figure out which it is and get on with the thing, because the fallout from the idea of me taking the process pledge–showing the scaffolding to my thinking about how this quilt is coming together–is driving you crazy.  Or to a state of complete boredom.  And you wish I would just show you a tutorial about how to  I put those stars up against a field of white and head on to the next agonizing step.  Borders.  (And P.S.  I hate the color on Background #3, so if you say that one, you lose.)

But just for fun–if you decide to leave a comment, give me your answers to Q#1, and Q#2.  And any of your thoughts and ideas might also help this move along, too.


There’s this favorite cartoon of grad students everywhere by Matt Groenig.  It was tacked up outside my husband’s office, courtesy of one of his grad students.  But my favorite square was the one above: “read another book” to avoid the “stomach-churning agony of having to finish your thesis.” (The full cartoon is embedded below.)

The quilting corollary to avoid that “stomach-churning agony of having to finish your quilt” is to make another block.  Or in this case, another star.  Above are fabrics I’m auditioning for this, as I’ve found that the more disparate the fabrics are, the better the star.  Too matchy matchy, and the star’s a wimp.

I’m feeling like a wimp. I like the stars all arrayed up on my board, but I don’t just want to border it and call it a quilt.  I keep thinking about my quilt Come-A-Round, and wonder if this scrappy star quilt couldn’t use some Piece O’ Cake treatment with applique borders, like the ones above.  I still haven’t decided what goes in the empty spaces between the stars, either.  Definitely a Work In Progress.

Many thanks to Lee of Freshly Piece Fabrics for hosting us all on her blog.  Zip over there and see a veritable quilt show.  Even though it’s advertised as a Work-in-Progress display, there are many interesting quilts.  I’m looking at some for ideas for the gingham quilt that Krista and I want to make this summer.

Here’s my collection of ginghams.  There are some really interesting pieces in here and all sizes.  I’ve started collecting ideas on my Pinterest Board.  I’m thinking a snowball-type quilt, or bowtie, something that has some breathing room.  I don’t know what Krista’s thinking about.  Sometimes thinking about a quilt is a very fun part.

Unless, like above,  I’m stuck.


Sewing Up A Storm (or a maybe a Breeze)

So why lead with this picture?

Usually I put up a quilt (keep scrolling, they’re coming!), so you quilters all go ga-ga and quickly pin it into a file or a pinboard, and because, mainly, I try to keep this site aligned along quilt lines.  But this is a prelude to explain what I did this weekend.  That is a photo of my daughter and I, and now she has a little girl–actually two.  But once upon a time, before puberty hit and all you-know-what broke loose, I used to sew us matching clothes.  This was a summer outfit: Laura Ashley jumper and blouse for me, sweet little ruffly pinafore with eyelet slip (and a blouse) for her.  I was a Clothing and Textiles major in college and sewed clothing before I could sew quilts, but have done them in tandem since I was young mother, like many in the blogosphere.

I haven’t sewn a lot lately, but last week on the way home from school I stopped *here* and bought this:

It’s some of the Riverwoods Colletion by Karen Combs, which looks batiky, but isn’t.  I bought extra of the one on top (who wouldn’t?) yet realized that it would make a wonderful summery skirt.

I got out my roll of Zyrtec examining-room-table paper, given me by a former rep for a drug company, as it is perfect for clothes patterns (ask your doctor for some!), and got to work duplicating a pattern of a favorite skirt.  Why, even though I have that pattern sitting there for a prop in the photo?  Because the skirt I like is cut on the bias, with a comfortable waist and the right amount of ease.

I wore it to school today.  And while you can’t see them, I have blue toes to match (that took six rounds of trying different blue nail polish).

And since I’m headed into making another skirt (Oooh–we wanted the Scrappy Stars!  Nope.  Not today), I thought I’d show you what some of my quilting friends are doing.

Bert Garino, who is the creator of the In Perfect Harmony quilt, flashed this picture up on Facebook one day.  Wow.  I was totally blown away (reference back to storm in the title of this post) by the colors she used.  Okay how many of you have made a quilt using the Storm at Sea block?  Okay.  And how many of you used sea and storm colors?  Yep.  Just as I thought.

It would take a woman of Bert’s vision to turn this quilt into a total stunner by using such delicious jewel tones in her quilt, and avoiding those aquatic sea-colored tones the rest of us use. So I wrote to her and she sent me some more pictures, including the label, as she is one of those wonderful women who makes stunning quilts and gives them away:

Thanks, Bert, for sharing these.

Lisa stopped by last night to show me her watermelon table runner, for which she’d borrowed my triangle ruler to fit the end pieces together.

She also has been busy with EPP, too:

Lisa’s daughter is in band — if you have ever had a band kid, you know what we’re talking about — but in case you haven’t, that involves sitting around a lot, waiting waiting waiting.  She said she would have gone nuts had it not been for piecing together her rose blocks.

My friend Judy went to visit her sister in Utah, and that sister and her daughter were working on the above quilt.  At first you can’t quite tell what’s going on, but then your eye begins to believe that you’re seeing hexagons everywhere.

And then you see that it’s a triangle–kind of a kaleidoscope/StackNWhack sort of enterprise that is happening here.

But instead of that awful (sorry, but it’s awful) dresden-plate looking affair with the stacked-n-whacked medallion plopped down into a sea of plain blah (like the one to the left–in the old-style way it is usually made) this quilt is sheer brilliance for how those pieces interact with each other.

The niece’s name is Lisa DeLong and her website is  And maybe she has hexagons on her mind because she just entered a fairly prestigious worldwide art competition and was accepted, and her piece of art is based on hexagons:

Prayer Circles • Elise DeLong • Handmade watercolor and ink on paper

And last but never the least, is Elinor Peace Bailey, the dollmaker of quite-a-bit-of-reknown.  You know her daughter, Laura Gunn, as the woman who brings us that beautiful painterly fabric which we all love.  Elinor has been making dolls and dolls and dolls but her creativity just leaks out of her in boundless ways.  I was entranced with her recent bag, and asked if I could show it on the blog.

She said Yes, as along as I mentioned her upcoming hand-made journal-making retreat in July.  Here’s the flier:

Maybe since I put up the flier, she’ll let me show you a doll.

Title: Sweet Harper and the Clown.

I’ve always been in love with Elinor’s dolls–and certainly Elinor herself.  She’s actually my sister’s friend, and once gave me some very good advice when I was going through a divorce.  Elinor can cut right through the mustard on any topic you want, and I needed some mustard-cutting at that time.  Every time I think a clean, fresh modern look is for me, I haunt her blog and come away convinced that More is More and that I’d better go out buy some buttons and bric-a-brac or something and embellish a suface.  Seek her out and take a class from her; an experience of a lifetime!

Nebraska’s International Quilt Study Center

Hunter’s Star quilt top, c. 2003, unquilted

Recently I commented on another Debbie’s block, titled Hopscotch, saying that it was an interesting variation on a Hunter’s Star block.  She wrote me back, included the link to the pattern she used, and said she couldn’t find a Hunter’s Star block that she thought resembled what she was making.

So I had to go and look at it again.  Yep–she was right.  It wasn’t a variation on a Hunter’s Star.  And, yep.  I was right.  It was a variation on a Hunter’s Star.  I could see that the author of the pattern had changed up the triangle to a 60-60-60 from a right-angle, and had extended the strips on the outside, leaving the center in a different fabric.  But not wanting to irritate the Copyright Gods who are already pretty cranky this month, I wrote back to say that I LIKE blocks that have more than just a hint of traditional blocks, for I believe “that creating a new twist on an old favorite, or dreaming up something new that has overtones of the standards, makes me appreciate the long and rich heritage we quilters belong to and participate in.”

While doing this research I dragged out my Barbara Brackman Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns (which if you don’t have, save up the grocery money and get one) and then headed over to my other favorite source: the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (IQSCM).  If you haven’t seen this website, head over there.  Click on Collections (in the black bar at the top) and then spend time scanning triangles or Log Cabins or whatever you feel like.  My advice is to set the number of the results per page to 50, as you can scroll through them quickly, stopping to enlarge the ones that catch your eye.

Like this one, made between 1930 and 1950. Info below.

Or this one (IQSC Object Number: 2003.010.0009).  I think the maker, who put this together sometime between 1940 and 1970, may have had our modern sensibilities when she made her colorful creation. Why are we always so quick to declare ourselves free of these amazing women and their quilts?  What is it about our quilting community now that only wants to have the latest thing on the block?  It’s well-known that any new idea is really only about 10% new, and while I hope to have a few new ideas here and there, I recognize my debt to these early quilters.  I also love seeing what women in THIS day and age are creating.  To me, it’s one big happy quilting world.

I think it’s interesting to notice in this screen shot of the listing, that there is a place for the “Brackman #”  (another reason to buy that book).  I have compiled hundreds of numbers of quilt blocks I want to make from Brackman’s book.  Pinterest (of which I also like for the ability to “curate” my own collections of ideas) has feeble numbers of ideas compared to the riches of Brackman and the IQSCM.

(Note to Pinterest Users:  Please don’t “pin” the IQSCM quilts without their permission; they allow only a one-time use of an image, with complete documentation per publication (digital or print)–with the IQSC Object Number.)

Happy Quilting, to all of us quilters–both modern and vintage, new and old!

Loose Threads–Krista’s Questions, Answered

Krista, of KristaStitched, challenged a few of us bloggers to answer some questions:

1.  Starch or no starch?
I always think of our clothing and textiles teacher who warned us about little bugs who would come to feast on the starch in our fabrics.  So I rarely use starch on fabric I’m going to store away, but do use it occasionally as I’m appliqueing, or assembling a quilt.

2. Prewashing or not?
Didn’t used to, until a bunch of reds (shown above, along with my Japanese toys) wouldn’t stop bleeding into the rest of the fabrics (I think it was right after formaldehyde was banned as a fixative).  Now I like to throw them in the washer right as I come home, dry them until damp and press them up.  I lay them out on the guest room bed until they are fully dry, then fold them into 12″ squares (approx) for storage. I guess it’s a way to get a jump on playing with the fabric.

3. Solids or prints?
Done both.  I’ve made a lot of Amish quilts, so have had my love affair with solids already.

4. Dogs or cats?
A cement rabbit, who sits under the end table in the living and doesn’t poop, eat, or move.  I visit a friend who has two cats.  I have to throw my clothes in the dryer when I get home to remove all the cat hair.  Had a Golden Retriever once.

5. Big quilts or little quilts?
No preference really, but not a fan of king-sized quilts.

6. Thrifting or buying new?
Both, but probably buying new, because at this point in my life, most of my stash might be considered vintage.  Kidding.  Sort of.  I used a scrap of my very first quilt in my Scrappy Stars.  It’s that blue/white piece of fabric on the right, above, and was purchased in 1973, and is over thirty years old. (Gosh, I sound ancient.) In that same quilt, I used some sheets, too, but I don’t have any scraps of that, but if I did, that would be something.

7. Wood floors or carpet?
Both.  And tile, too.  And I’m always cleaning up spots in the carpet.  What is it with this?  Where do they come from if you don’t have pets or grandchildren hanging around?  I’m always accusing my husband, but really, I have no idea.

8. Beer or wine?
Neither.  Chocolate. Heck, yes. (I’m just quoting the chocolate bar in the photo above.)

9. Staying in or going out?
Some of each.  Sometimes if you’ve been in too much, you’ve just got to bust out and do something a little different, like when we went to see the Big Rock being moved from out our way into Los Angeles.

10. One fabric line per quilt or mix and match?
I love how the bundles of fabric look when one line is displayed, but haven’t ever made a quilt where I wasn’t rummaging in my stash, looking to add a piece or two of something else.

11. Watching tv or listening to music?
I like watching movies so I can sew on my EPP.  I like listening to tunes while working in the sewing studio, but also like listening to books. My 84-year-old mother chooses the books.  She nails ’em, as I love everything she picks. And oh, BTW — I totally look like this when I’m listening to my music, complete with the pink lights in the background.

Rachel, over at The Life of Riley, is playing along too.  Hop over there and see what she’s written.

If you’d like to answer Krista’s questions, drop me a note in the comments, and I’ll update this post with your blog address.  I had more fun answering these than I thought I would–thanks, Krista, for some great questions!