Digital Images-NYPL

While I do think that the internet sucks up my time and not always in a good way, occasionally there are places that are interesting to visit, to gain inspiration.  The above image is from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.

These two prints are by Maurice Pillard Verneuil from 1869.  More are found *here.*

I went into their Printing and Graphics section from the main page, then randomly clicked on the list as I didn’t want to wade through all the images.  Here’s another:

It’s harder to see this one, but the catalog indicates it has plant forms, peacocks, and a waterscape.

And this one could provide ideas for machine quilting when the quilt is done.

Applique, anyone?

So how does this relate to quilting?  By encouraging me to see new shapes and new relationships between shapes.  I sketched up a block, taken from some of the ideas in the first one, then played with it in my quilt program (flipping and twisting the block), gaining the slightly weird, but somewhat intriguing design below.  While I have to work mainly in solids on the computer, I could see this in rich florals, or another type of print where the edges blur from the colors overlapping from one square to another.

The idea, at least for me, is not necessarily to have a quilt to bang out in one week, but perhaps to tuck these doodlings away in a sketchbook, whether it be the digital or colored-paper-and-pencil kind.  The idea is to make new connections.  The idea is to have an idea.

Where do you get your ideas?  Other blogs? Flickr groups?  (You’ve already seen my take on Portuguese Tiles.) Nature? Quilt shows? Something a friend has done? All of the above?

June Flowers/Tulip Tutorial

Every June the jacaranda trees put on their bluey-purple-periwinkle display of flowers, and we all wander around wondering how we got to be lucky.

And like clockwork, every June they dominate my photos — exquisitely colored blossoms on hills, around bends while the rest of the year these trees blend into the landscape.

And I’m heading to a class with Becky Goldsmith (the designer of the quilt I did last year: Come A-Round) and we’re doing a flower in class, so I chose a night-blooming plant for color inspiration for fabrics to pull.  This comes from the Sherwin-Williams paint website “Chip It,” where you load up a URL of a photo and they provide their colors.  I just like how it looks, and it helped me pull from my stash.

So when it came time to decide on a block for the Far-Flung Bee, that was easy: a flower.  I also wanted something of simple construction (9-patch) because of my fabric requrements–I wanted some fabrics with text to be incorporated into the blossom.

Here are two versions of that tulip/flower block, and the text fabric is used two different ways; one is in the background fabrics and the other is included in parts of the flower.  That green fabric saying Blah Blah Blah is a treasure for me as my friends Bert and Rhonda sent it to cheer me after my surgery in December.  I’ll always think of them when I use those fabrics (thanks, guys!).  So here’s how to do it.

For one 9-inch flower block:
Cut four 3 1/2″ squares–3 from the background fabric, 1 from the flower fabric
Cut four 3 7/8″ squares–2 from the background fabric, 1 from the flower fabric, 1 from the leaf fabric
Cut one 2″ by 3 1/2″ rectangle from the background fabric
Cut two 2″ squares–1 from the background fabric and 1 from the stamen fabric

Working with the 3 7/8″ squares ONLY, place one background square on each of the flower and leaf blocks.  Draw a diagonal line from corner to corner, or if you have the Quick Quarter tool (shown above), draw a line on either side.  You’ll stitch just inside this line (towards the center), or if you have drawn a single diagonal line, you’ll stitch a SCANT quarter-inch seam on either side of your drawn line.

Cut from corner to corner, inbetween your stitching.

Press the seam allowance away from the background triangle, as shown.  Notice those dog ears on the corners? We’ll cut them off later.

Working with the 2″ square blocks and the one rectangle now.  Seam the stamen fabric block to other 2″ background fabric block.  If you’re like me and getting up and down to the ironing board gets tiresome, just finger press that seam towards the stamen fabric.  Then seam the rectangle onto this unit.  Okay, now go to the ironing board and press that flat.

Lay everything out. Smile, because it looks cute. AND it’s fast!  Seam them together in rows, working across the block.  Keep track of which direction that bottom leaf goes.  I did it wrong twice.

Now it’s time to trim off those dog ears.  (I actually trim them as I seam the pieces together, not waiting until a final moment, but this is just a reminder to get them off now).  I use that old fashioned tool that works so well: scissors. Snip snip snip while holding it over the trash can.

  I’ve flipped it over to show the directions for pressing.  Basically you want to have the seams going in opposite directions so they’ll “nestle” together when you go to sew the rows.  Lay it out again, the sew the final seams, joining the rows.  Double check that bottom row twice, so you don’t sew it in wrong (like I did).

You’re finished with one block.  Eat Your Vegetables, by laying a ruler over it and truing up the block to 9 1/2″.  It will sew down to a finished 9″ block in your quilt.

Here’s a mock-up of one layout, using 1″ sashing and corner squares.  I’ve also thought that since it’s based on an easy nine-patch block, that a grouping could be made of half-sized (4 1/2″ finished) blocks that could be interspersed for a more random look.  That’s for another day.

Enjoy your spring flowers!

Practical Applications of Quilting

Whenever my husband and I clean out the garage and are trying to put everything back, I can see where boxes will fit. . . and where they will not.  My husband is a brain, really smart, but I think that my years of working with pieces of fabric, shapes, sizes, corners — all that quilty stuff — allows my eye to notice how things fit together.

Another time, when I was a long-term sub, the 9th grade students needed some help with basic math and geometry.  Since by this time the lesson plans had long run out from the regular teacher, I developed a series of lesson plans that were ordered around quilt patterns.  I gave a lesson on a few shapes, then turned them loose with their pencils, rulers, colored paper and one piece of black paper to use as their foundation.  The results were dramatic and wonderful; I found out later these “quilt blocks” were left up all year long, even after my sub job ended.  I chalked it up to the enduring power of quilts.

So I was thrilled to receive a flyer from a biologist friend of mine, touting a lecture given at the University of Alberta, Canada: “Quilts as Mathematical Objects.”  The above quilt was on the flyer, and was made by Gerda de Vries. She describes herself this way: “I work as Professor in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the University of Alberta.  I am an applied mathematician, specializing in mathematical biology.  I am interested in understanding and explaining physiological processes through the development and analysis of mathematical models.”  So she invents a rule, applies it to her quilt design and carries it through.

This one’s titled “Cyclic Permutations (Study in Red, Black and White #1).”  The rule on this one that each triangle has a certain number of pieces, with the colors laid out in a particular order.  If you study it you can start to see the “rules” she applies.  I started listening to her lecture, “Quilts as Mathematical Objects” available on iTunes, via iTunes U (type in the title in your iTunes–she gave it at McGill University) and can hardly wait to finish.  I only wish I could have been there to see the visuals–which is what matters to us quilters.

She also does traditional quilting, as evidenced by this beautiful example.  She writes on her website that “I have a soft spot for ethnic fabrics.  This quilt highlights my collection of fabrics from the Netherlands.  Most are reproduction fabrics purchased at specialty stores; others were donated by relatives.  Traditionally, these fabrics were used in costumes (shirts, aprons), as well as home furnishings (bed sheets, mattress covers, curtains).  Also featured are a variety of so-called farmers’ handkerchiefs with traditional patters, purchased at town markets throughout the country.  I took particular delight in the construction of this quilt by fussy-cutting most of the fabric pieces.”

I think sometimes we operate in an insular world, in our own little quilty bubble, or at least I do, so it’s interesting for me to think about practical applications of our skills as quilters.  Perhaps if we relish in the color of quilts, we extrapolate that to our clothing, or our home dec.  Perhaps if we like the intricacies of quilting–matching up corners/seams/pieces just right, we will have perfectly ordered drawers and cupboards.  Or perhaps, as in the example of Ms. de Vries, we make our vocation (the thing that pays the bills) coordinate with our avocation (what we love to do) in creating beautiful and interesting quilts.

Orvieto, Austria and Quilting Designs

I’ve been working on posting to our travel blog (The some photos from a trip we took to Italy in 2007 (I know, I know).  And given that my last post was about a contemporary artist who inspires me, I thought I’d mention that many old architectural sites inspire me too.

This is a pillar on the front of the Duomo (cathedral) in Orvieto, Italy.  Can’t you just see some of these very old (13th century, some of them) inlaid mosaic designs being made into a quilt?  Just simple shapes, really, but really fun to think about. Here are some more shots of that cathedral (it’s what the town is known for).

I love digital cameras.  Before I’d be whipping out my sketch book to take it all down for a future quilt, rather than waste my film (always limited on international trips).

The one on the left is from a trip to Asia (my husband is a scientist and has spoken at seminars all over the world.  I try to go along when I can).  The sketchbook on the right is from a vacation to England long, long ago.  I think I was sketching the armor patterns from the Tower of London.  Of course sketchbooks are always handy when The Powers That Be won’t let you take photos.

And this one’s from my honeymoon with my scientist husband.  I was a single mom with four children and he married me us, then took me on a honeymoon to Austria (hence the notation above of “Wien” was Vienna).  Yep.  He’s a gem.  We just celebrated 22 years together–it took us that long to get all the children raised and out on their own.  And I’m still grateful to my parents for watching the children so we could start our married life in a memorable way.

This post has taken a bit of a detour, but sometimes when I reflect on the path that has brought me to where I am, I marvel at my good fortune.  It has not been without difficulties, like many of your lives, but we are very fortunate to be at a place in time and space where we have blogs, and lots of access to fabrics and sewing, and have the ability to make quilts, both for art’s sake and for use in our lives.

My road has taken me to many places, but I’m always happy to come home, unpack the bags and take up the reins of my life again.

Everyday Use

I teach college English and currently we are studying short fiction.  I had a nice moment the other day when my vocation interlocked with my avocation and I was able to talk about quilts in class.  The short story we were studying was “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker and it’s an interesting riff on how our quilts become valuable to others once they become a commodity, or have a price put on them.  In this scene, the returning daughter named Dee (who calls herself Wangero) is going through the house looking for decorations, and fixates on some quilts.  Ignoring her sister Maggie, who is in the kitchen doing the dishes, her actions are narrated by her mother:

            After dinner Dee (Wangero) went to the trunk at the foot of my bed and started rifling through it. Maggie hung back in the kitchen over the dishpan. Out came Wangero with two quilts. They had been pieced by Grandma Dee and then Big Dee and me had hung them on the quilt frames on the front porch and quilted them. One was in the Lone Star pattern. The other was Walk Around the Mountain. In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had won fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.
“Mama,” Wangro said sweet as a bird. “Can I have these old quilts?”
I heard something fall in the kitchen, and a minute later the kitchen door slammed.
“Why don’t you take one or two of the others?” I asked. “These old things was just done by me and Big Dee from some tops your grandma pieced before she died.”
“No,” said Wangero. “I don’t want those. They are stitched around the borders by machine.”

I found pictures of Gee’s Bend (above) and made a Google Doc slideshow about the quilts that these women made.  While the quilts mentioned in Walker’s story appear to be more traditional than the Gee’s Bend quilts, I thought it would be interesting for the students to see this body of work.

            “No,” said Wangero. “I don’t want those. They are stitched around the borders by machine.”
“That’ll make them last better,” I said.
“That’s not the point,” said Wangero. “These are all pieces of dresses Grandma used to wear. She did all this stitching by hand. Imag’ ine!” She held the quilts securely in her arms, stroking them.
“Some of the pieces, like those lavender ones, come ftom old clothes her mother handed down to her,” I said, moving up to touch the quilts. Dee (Wangero) moved back just enough so that I couldn’t reach the quilts. They already belonged to her.
“Imagine!” she breathed again, clutching them closely to her bosom.
“The truth is,” I said, “I promised to give them quilts to Maggie, for when she marries John Thomas.”
She gasped like a bee had stung her.
“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

So the title comes from the returning daughter (Dee/Wangero) aghast that these treasures would be put to “everyday use.”  She goes about raiding the house for things that ARE put to everyday use: the top of the churn dash, various other household items.  The final straw for the mother (who is the alternate voice in those two passages above) is when Dee/Wangero is asked what she’ll do with the quilts:

“Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts!” she said. “She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”
“I reckon she would,” I said. “God knows I been saving ’em for long enough with nobody using ’em. I hope she will!” I didn’t want to bring up how I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told they were old~fashioned, out of style.
“But they’re priceless!” she was saying now, furiously; for she has a temper. “Maggie would put them on the bed and in five years they’d be in rags. Less than that!”
“She can always make some more,” I said. “Maggie knows how to quilt.”
Dee (Wangero) looked at me with hatred. “You just will not under.stand. The point is these quilts, these quilts!”
“Well,” I said, stumped. “What would you do with them?”
“Hang them,” she said. As if that was the only thing you could do with quilts.

I also took in a utility quilt I had made with Roberta Horton in a class I took when I went to Houston.  Roberta didn’t allow us to use our rulers (which made the quilt very “wonky” and crooked), and made us put in an “ugly” fabric so we could learn to work around it.  We also had to sew a few of the patches in backwards, but the general appeal for me of this quilt was the idea that quilts don’t always have to be perfection, an idealized thing of beauty.  I liked learning that quilts were sometimes made in a hurry and were made to be used.

So it was a lovely few minutes in class, and I resisted the urge to keep talking about the quilts and quilters and focus instead on the Englishy part of class: Walker’s story.  But the underlying thread — that many quilts are made to be used and not hung on a wall — resonates with me.

And perhaps it’s why this photo of my grandson Riley is so pleasing to me.  He and his two sisters came for a visit this past weekend, and he toted along the baby quilt that I’d made for him.  That first morning, he called me in to show me that he’d made his bed, and I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of him, standing atop his quilt.  It’s being put to good use — everyday use, even when he comes to Grandma’s house.


An example of ikebana, the art of arranging flowers.

Mirei Shigemori and Sofu Teshigahara felt ikebana was so important as an artform they created the New Ikebana Declaration.

“New ikebana rejects nostalgic feelings.
We can’t find a vivid world in anything nostalgic.
There is nothing but calmly sleeping beauty in the nostalgic world.
New ikebana rejects formal fixation. Creation alway brings forth a fresh form.
Fixed form is like a gravestone.”

Shigemori went off to to do his wonderful garden work and Sofu became a number one believer in ikebana as an art form. (from Julia Ritson)

I’ve seen a lot quilt blocks in my life.  Lots.  I have books and books of quilts and I love looking at them and getting ideas. But I often try to find a new way to create in this fabric grid of the quilt world.

Maybe I’m channeling Teshigahara?