Friday, December 19, 2008

Quilt Challenge, Take 2

So friends, here's the story of "Illuminated Grove." As you know, I was all set to submit a landscape quilt for the quilt challenge. Well, "all set" may just be an exaggeration. I had about 1/3 of the quilt top designed, before going to the quilting festival in November. On the last day, I took a class on design in making a block by looking at a piece of a picture, especially close up. I found this gorgeous picture of trees in a grove, with light streaming in. I fell in love.

So then I started creating 10" X 12" blocks, each one representing a portion of the whole. My vision was that each block would be in a different color, producing a gradation of colors to show how the light progressed from the top left to bottom right. My other thought was that I was going to use all fabrics in my stash, and not go out and buy more.

There were a few adjustments to these goals in the end. One of them being that I ended up sneaking a little bit of an adjacent color into each block, in the hopes that they would show continuity of design. Once I realized that I was having much more fun with this design than the one I was planning to submit to the competition, I decided to finish this as the quilt I would submit to the competition at the end of December. Suddenly this quilt of exploration became something more important. I wasn't just doing it for myself, I was doing it for a purpose.

Of course, this meant buying more fabric.

It also meant creating a second purple block, to incorporate the challenge fabric. Here are the original blocks:

You can see the challenge fabric in the purple block at bottom left; it's the marbled fabric used for the tree trunks. The design process went along happily, and before I knew it, the blocks were done. Then there was the small matter of putting them all together and finding some way to quilt them. I knew that I wanted to keep the blocks separated by some sashing. I tried a few fabrics between the blocks, but only this beautiful black would do. Here's how it looked, as I auditioned the black fabric as the sashing:

Originally, I meant to piece the blocks in with the sashing and borders. But then, as the blocks came together, I realized that the seam allowance would eat key design elements. Thus, I needed to find a way to float them on top of a background fabric long enough for them to be quilted in. I didn't want to add more fusible to the thickness of the blocks, but in the end I would pay for not doing so. Everything else that I tried was only marginally successful at tacking down the blocks to the background fabric long enough to quilt. As with every project, I learned something in the process.

But, in the end, all worked out almost as planned. I'll post soon with pictures of the final piece.

White Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today was the first snow day of the year, in the true sense of the word. A nasty winter storm blew through Chicago last night and into this morning. I got to work from home with Puppy by my side. I took her out this morning for a walk, and these are the pictures I took:

Pictures, Glorious Pictures

I've been promising pictures for ages now, but been distracted by silly little things like a killer workload and actual work on that quilt deadline (December 31). So, here we go.

This here is a drawing I did a couple months ago in class. We have done all kinds of other things since this drawing, and I've been pleased with many of them. But this drawing is the one that's lived on my fridge.

It was created using charcoal on grey paper, so it was more an exercise in adding dark and light tones to a medium tone, which was the paper.

Now in class we're doing figure drawing. I don't think I'll be posting any of those drawings, though. I feel like I'm learning loads from this class. I'm starting to see what I've learned with this class apply to my quilting. I'm more conscious of shading and more confidant in my ability to just sketch out an idea. Sadly, my last class of the session is this weekend. I'm planning to take a break from classes next term, but will make a concerted effort to continue practicing until the next session of classes comes around.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I won!

With one day to spare, I won NaNoWriMo!

That's right, friends! That's 52,127 words, and I've sailed past the finish line. The best thing of all was writing that last line, the line that has been in my head for YEARS. I finally got to the end of my story, and I was able to write them.

Check out my nifty winner's badge on the left.

I'll be back this coming week with pictures of quilting progress. In the midst of all of this, the NaNoWriMo-ing, the Thanksgiving with parents hosting duties, I have managed to make some progress on the quilt I started during the festival two weeks ago.

Awesome. In a creative groove, and signing off for now...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quilter, Reborn

Recharged and Reaffirmed, the Quilt Obsession Continues

Doubts and dread on the quilting process have plagued me since the great fiasco at the end of last year and beginning of this year. It was such a harrowing few months that my faith and interest and love of quilting was shaken. Then there was our wedding, which provided me with plenty of excuses not to dive back into the fray.

A few months ago, I decided to get my feet wet again with a quilt for a competition that's due in December. I agonized over fabric choices, hitting every quilt store that I came across--in three different states! I got these fabrics home, washed them, ironed them. And then plodded through the actual steps of constructing the quilt design. I just wasn't into it. I was still feeling the scars from my quilting misadventures. The deadline began to loom, and I began to detach myself. It just wasn't exciting.

And then.


Then came the Greater Chicago Quilt Festival, this past weekend.

I spent three days solid in classes for various parts of the process: technique, design, and free-motion quilting work. I came home a little smarter and a lot braver. I'm pumped and ready to go, filled to the brim with ideas for quilts and projects.

The most radical idea that has come to fruition is this: I'm putting aside the landscape quilt for the competition. Instead, I'm going to work the competition fabric into one of the quilts I started in class this weekend. I'm really excited about this design; it's stretching my abilities and my mindset in terms of creating a design. With only a few short (and busy) weeks between now and the quilt deadline, I need the boost that this excitement will provide.

I'll still return to the landscape. But I'll return with a different perspective, and a much healthier attitude.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November Again

It's that time of year, folks. The days are getting shorter, the sun is fleeing in retreat, and the leaves are turning brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red. I relish the drive to work, down a tree-lined street filled with these vibrant fall colors. And, now that daylight savings time has come to an end, my trek home is no longer a battle with the sun. (The sun, my friends, always wins. Always.)

November also means two things, if you're a Megan:

1. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an endeavor that I am undertaking once again this year. That's right: 50,000 words, 30 days. I'm also bound and determined to make it to some of the local NaNoWriMo events this year, including parties and gatherings to crank out some of the aforementioned prolific prose.

2. The deadline for my quilt competition draws ever nearer. My quilt has to be in their hot hands no later than Dec 31, which means that I need to be sending it in the beginning of December to ensure victory. With the project only marginally underway, this means that I will be cranking up the production on this quilt through the month of November.

Meanwhile, the drawing class keeps on keeping on, homework and all. Every Sunday I trek over to the art studio and imbibe as much artistic instruction and knowledge as I can. We're starting on figure drawing this week, which is sure to be both difficult and interesting. I feel like I'm gaining a lot from this class, and am looking forward to taking more classes in the future.

So, the tasks before me this November are to write a novel, finish a quilt, keep up with drawing, and did I mention host my parents at our place for Thanksgiving? It's a busy month, but that's what makes it interesting. Looking ahead at the calendar, which already is filled with scribbled obligations and goals, I can't help feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation for the challenges ahead.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Zen and the Art of Ironing

My least favorite task in any quilt project is ironing. I hate it. I mean, I hate it.

I dream of a day when I have gobs and gobs of money. The first thing I'll do is hire myself a minion--someone to do my ironing for me. And maybe, chop my vegetables when I'm cooking. But that's a different matter. For now, my complaint is with the seemingly inordinate amount of time I am required to sit or stand at the ironing board, passing the iron back and forth before me.

As I write this, I'm reminded of Tillie Olsen's story, all of which takes place in front of an ironing board. A mother contemplates her relationship with her daughter.

There's something about ironing that brings on meditation of some nature or other. Maybe it's the repetitive motion of the iron moving back and forth or the slow, slow, slow progress that's made. Perhaps it has something to do with the painstaking attention to detail the task requires. But rogue thoughts of things that need to be done or what's on television fall way. All that is left is the iron and the fabric.

Back and forth, back and forth the iron goes, smoothing it's way along the fabric that the laundry machine mangled. There is a certain amount of satisfaction that you get from seeing the wrinkles disappear. That's the work of the iron warrior, even though the work does not feel like waging war. It is peaceful, if not boring. But again, the repetitive and simple nature of the task smoothes the way for quiet contemplation, even meditation.

Staring at the fabric in front of me as I vanquish wrinkles from it, I am allowed time to consider its colors, its patterns, its texture. I get closer to it and understand it more than when I played with it in the fabric store. The colors speak to me and I contemplate how their pattern and scale will fit in with the overall design. How will these fabrics fit together? What role will they play?

Maybe, in this way, the act of ironing is more than just a means to an end. Perhaps it's a crucial step in the creative process--this, the least creative act in the process.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Drawing, Drawing, Drawing

The painting class ended, and now I'm taking a longer class in Beginning Drawing. I'm hoping that the skills that I'm learning in the class can transfer to what I'm doing with my quilts. What I want is to feel like I'm not so limited in what I can create. Yes, I love trees. Yes, I love a good landscape. But, I don't know that I want my message to be limited by the things I can draw. So it is that I'm working on still lifes in my drawing class. Here are some of the things I've done so far:

On the first day of class we did some gesture drawings, which means that you work really fast, and use sweeping movements to create a picture of what you're looking at. It's meant to be a warmup for the main drawing, but I find it's a good way for me to get out of my own head and put lines to paper. In the end, it's not as scary as I make it out to be.

Along the same lines, we did some mass drawings, which were similar, but you used the whole piece of charcoal to create areas of shading and fill in between the lines. But, it was still a fast drawing, with not much time for second-guessing, and no time for erasing. I was surprised at how liberated I was by the process.

On the first day we also did some contour line drawings, in which you draw with one continuous line--without picking up your charcoal. It makes for an interesting look. Especially when you're then asked to do it without looking at your paper (blind contour). The first of these pictures was a contour drawing, the second a blind one. Isn't it pretty?

Finally, I'll leave you with some drawings from the second day of class, where we spent an hour (rather than 2-4 minutes) on each drawing. Our focus was different materials: metal, wood, and glass.

Progress, I think

Last we checked in with our quilting hero, she was traveling the states to different quilt shops in search of the right fabrics for her competition project. First, a little more about the competition.

The parameters for entries were threefold; the quilt has to address the theme of the competition, "What makes life good"; the quilt has to be within a certain size range; the quilt must incorporate a noticeable portion of a certain fabric, the "challenge fabric." I have settled on a landscape, inspired by a photograph I found taken in Alaska in June. It's beautiful, and the colors are luscious. Which is what makes the fabric selection process so important, and so excruciating.

After countless visits to quilt shops, I have come to terms with the fact that I have all the fabric I can buy for this project. That doesn't mean, however, that I have all the fabric I need. So, on Saturday, I set out to create some. I used some of my sun paint, but just didn't create a heliograph pattern with any objects. My first goal was to get the right shade of blue for the sky. I was looking for something so subtle you barely noticed it as blue. Here's what I came up with:

Mission completely accomplished! You don't even know that it's blue, do you? Okay, take a look at the fabric next to some that is still white (white fabric on the right):

Subtlety accomplished! It may be too subtle, but we'll just have to go with that.

Next, I wanted to create the right color of magenta, in all the shades that I would need to portray the flowers in the landscape. It was important to have dark and light values, to create the subtle variations in shading on the petals. Here's how it turned out:

I think I got the color I was looking for spot on. In the end, the variations in shading in the fabric may or may not help me; I may end up going back in and painting on some of the shading onto the bigger petals.

But, I have some of the mixed paint in reserve, so that shouldn't be a problem.

And now I've reached the point in the process where ironing must happen in order to forge ahead. And then, the decisions and creating can really begin! Until then...

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Shopping, errr Creating Process

Okay kids. The project in the works right now is one that I hope to enter in a competition this year. The deadline is December 31, so I have a few months to make this happen.

The competition is one that involves a theme and a challenge fabric, which means that there is one fabric that I am required to use; I can use any number of other fabrics with it. So, I've chosen a picture for inspiration, and off I've gone!

The more I contemplate this goal, the more I think about how to actually achieve it, the more I realize that I'm embarking on a journey that will, at the very least, expand my comfort zone and push me to another level. My bag of tricks is getting bigger as we speak.

In the meantime, I'm still in the planning stages, where I'm trying to find the pieces of the puzzle that I'll need to bring the picture together. This weekend, I was in Baltimore for a wedding, and took the opportunity to scope out a few quilt shops in Maryland. On this adventure, it struck me how organic and nonlinear the creative process is. All it takes is looking differently at one thing, before doors are opened, and you've changed the scope of your search.

Case in point: I was struggling with how I was going to depict the grass in the foreground of this particular picture. One of the things I love about the scene is that the perspective creates a huge contrast between foreground grass and background grass. This grass in the foreground is long, straight, and very defined. I was finding it impossible to find grass like this anywhere...or even a pattern that would double for it. But then, I looked over at a fabric this weekend with fern leaves and butterflies, and saw it. The pattern I was looking for all along, in leaves, not grass. Now I'm looking all over for fern leaves that are not ridden with butterflies.

It's like that with never know where you'll end up, but sometimes I think finding your way there is the most fun. And a key component to the creative process.

Monday, July 14, 2008

She's Baaaaaaaack!

Your favorite burgeoning quilter has returned from the wedding and the honeymoon...both wonderful. I'll be posting pics of the honeymoon on the honeymoon registry blog soon. (When I say soon, I mean within the next two weeks, I'm hoping to do this.) The site address, just in case:

I've been having a bit of a hard time getting back in the quilting swing of things, so to jump start my imagination and hopefully take my design/quilting skills to the next level, I've enrolled in a painting class at a local arts center. I had my first class yesterday, and it went pretty well. So far, we haven't made an actual picture...yet. But, we experimented with value, shading, color...the works. And already, my quilting brain is turning around, finding a way to apply what I'm learning in this class to the projects to come.

So, boys and girls, stay tuned. I'm getting back in the saddle, back on track, and back to quilting!

Monday, April 21, 2008

New Projects?

Okay, so I confess to falling victim to something I would like to term as "Wedding Brain." It seems as though, no matter how small and simple a wedding you want, there are still zillions of tiny details that are involved. The closer we get to the actual day, the more there seems to do. But, through the mires of RSVP cards and ceremony details glimmers a beacon of the quilter within.

I have been half-heartedly playing at the quilting game. I started a v. small wall quilt for a friend of mine who has been jokingly requesting one for a year now. I have yet to put the pieces together and make this a quilt.

Next up is a quilt that I had meant for somebody, but is being instead repurposed for Charles and I. I had already bought all the fabric, so may as well do it. However, the fabric in question is slicky, and shifts very easily. This makes it a nightmare to work with, so I'm taking it slowly. Very slowly.

Finally, I want to use up a lot of the fabric that I have in my stash. I've been trying to think of what sort of quilt I want to work on with this material. Then I was inspired by television. I kid you not.

I was watching this episode of Ace of Cakes, where a girl visited the bakery and helped work on a cake as her wish for the Make a Wish foundation. The whole episode was pretty inspiring in terms of the power art and creativity can have for those who are facing serious illness or obstacles in their life. Then I remembered the Project Linus chapter I had contacted earlier this year.

Project Linus is an organization that gives homemade blankets (quilted, knitted, crocheted, doesn't matter) to children who are in traumatic situations, like in an abuse shelter or a hospital. The idea is that the kids, while stuck in a very sterile environment that isn't homey, get to have something that someone made for them. It's a morale booster, and from what I've read, it makes a big difference in these kids' lives. Check out their website:

So, fast forward to me sitting on my couch, watching Duff Goldman make a difference in this little girl's life through cakes. I became inspired, and now have the seedlings of a design for the next great quilt adventure.

And, don't worry, I have another surprise or two up my sleeve. If only this pesky wedding could take the backseat!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Grandma's Quilt is Done!

And here are the pics to prove it! Pic #1 is the whole quilt in one shot.

It all started here, with the center panel of the quilt. Look close enough and you'll see a little scene with pagodas and cute little paths and bridges. You can see the quilting stitches in this pic. Since I started quilting with this part of the quilt, the stitching here is at its most dense.

Here's a little bit wider of a view, with the center panel and levels of fabric surrounding it. I'm really happy with the fabrics I found for this quilt. They were so wonderful to work with, and exactly the perfect ones for the quilt giftee.

Speaking of those beautiful fabrics, check out these:

I bought them at a quilt festival in November. I spent quilt a lot of time with these fabrics, even before I started stitching. I tried out the fabrics against each other to figure out what would be the best configuration to piece the quilt top. This quilt was a good lesson in the fact that you can never really buy too much fabric, but you can buy too little. I thought I bought plenty of fabric at the festival, but once I started piecing, it turned out that I still needed more to fill out the design.

Now check out this dragon fabric. It is gorgeous, and I think it was my favorite of the whole quilt. It works so well next to the red and green tree fabric.

The green fabric I used pulled a lot of the fabrics together, and the gold flecks in it were perfect against the bamboo fabric. This pic is a perfect showcase of all that stitching that drove me crazy with this quilt.

Speaking of that bamboo fabric, now we've made it out to the edges of the quilt. I love this bamboo fabric. Also note the binding at the edge of the was stitched on by hand; I still have the remnants of calluses to prove it. I love the way these bindings turn out, but they are the one bit of the project that must be finished by hand.

Finally, we're at the end of our quilt story.

And the big moment...

A happy Grandma!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Catching Up

So, another quilt finished. The quilt for Charles's grandma was completed and handed off last week. It was only a couple months late...

Finishing this quilt brought so many emotions to the surface. Chief among them is relief. I feel as though this project, more than any other in my brief history as a quilter, held me hostage. So much went wrong, I had such a short time-frame, and the knowledge that I had missed the deadline for the first time ever was tough. Even more devastating was the problems I had in actually quilting the piece, the most ambitious quilting job I have tackled yet. I definitely bit off more than I could chew, and was heartbroken when it yielded results I didn't like.

I took a break from the quilt after Christmas, and the break had a mind of itself. Time stretched on, and I was stuck. I wanted to be quilting, but I couldn't move on to another project, and I had to screw up the courage to finish this one. It was the hardest thing I've done as a quilter to dive back in, not once, but twice, into working on this quilt.

In the end, of course, the quilt was beautiful. But, by the time I finished quilting the dang thing, there was little more to feel than relief. And now that it's completely finished and I have no projects on my immediate agenda, I feel free. Free to dream, free to play. And free to know that for now, and for a long time to come, there are no big humongoid quilts to finish.

So, now is the time for rest and for posting photos. I have some pics of the Christmas Inchies I made at the end of the year, and a ton of pics of the Grandma quilt. I will be posting them shortly.

For now, peace.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Something that I'm doing is not right.

Something that I'm doing is leading me down a road without an option of reverse. It's screwing up the entire backside of the Grandma quilt, and I feel like there's nothing I can do about it.

Here's what's happening. As I quilt, the backing fabric is bunching up and getting sewn in puckers and grossness. Everything looks great from the front, but the back is worse for the wear. My concern is that it's not going to feel comfy to sleep underneath, and it's going to wash poorly. Really, when I think about it hard enough, the problem is that it's very NOT perfect.

When quilting in general, I think there's a certain amount of imperfection that I have come to accept as part of the craft. If you want something perfect, you would get something from the store. I am making hand-crafted love via cloth, and that means that some things are going to be uneven, and it will never be perfect. But, I also expect everything I do to be pretty. This, what's happening on the back of this quilt, is NOT pretty.

I was having this problem before I stopped working on the quilt, but thought I had localized the damage and could start over. In the end, I would just make the damaged portion of the back the spot where I put the quilt label. But now. But now.

Last night I started quilting on the other side of the quilt, thinking it would be a fresh start. A fresh chance to get it right and keep things straight. NOPE. It started again. More bunching. More creating folds and creases that would carry out and out and out in the quilt. At this point, I'm too far in to start over. There are 1500 yards of thread stitched into this quilt, so it's really irreversible. I have to either accept it or trash the whole thing. And, after the zillions of hours and hundreds upon hundreds of dollars I've invested, trashing it is an unthinkable option.

I just need a quilt fairy to come down and tell me what the hell I'm doing wrong, how to fix it, and what to do now. Does anyone know a quilt fairy?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Realisitc Expectations

Last we heard from our little quiltress, she was racing to complete two quilts by the end of the week in order to reach her Christmas goal.

She failed.

Here's the story. I got to a point, the day before we left town, when I realized that no matter what I did, I was not going to finish the quilt for Charles's grandma. So, why was I driving myself crazy? Why was I torturing myself over the quilt and going crazy? I had lost out on so much already, was I going to lose out on the Christmas holiday?

So, I stopped work on it and focused on finishing the quilt for Jacquelyn. Which was finished on time and VERY well received. I don't know that I've ever felt happier giving one of my quilts away. I know that it's something she'll have and treasure for a long time. I'm glad I could give it to her.

Unfortuantely, I got so caught up in the moment, and my camera ran out of batteries, so I don't have any pics of the finished product. But, being close to the new owner, I'm sure I can get some pics in the next time I see her.

So, what's next? Finish the Grandma quilt. I'm set up to start back up on it as soon as I get the nerve. Which needs to be soon, because otherwise I can see momentum going out the window. After the Grandma quilt, I have two other large quilts I wanted to make. However, I feel that I need a break from the large tradtional quilts and may focus on some smaller art quilts for a while.

The biggest lesson I've learned is to accept my own limitations and take one day at a time. No more panicking about self-inflicted quilt deadlines!