Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mary Ellen, It's NOT Okay!

Opened my email today to find a new post from The Snarky Quilter, saying that Mary Ellen Hopkins has died. One of the truly great quilting icons is gone--even though she had retired a few years back, it was good knowing that she was still with us.

Now, this is not the post I had envisioned writing today, but ever since I read the news, I've been thinking about Mary Ellen and what a great debt so many of us owe to her. She was one of the first really original thinkers in the quilting world, and did a major part in sparking the revolution in quilting and quilt designs.

I never heard her disparage traditional quilts, or have anything but praise and admiration for the accomplishments of quilters who made wonderful masterpiece quilts. Her approach was that, for the rest of us, it would be a great thing if we could make our quilts quickly and simply enough so that it was, indeed, "OK to Sit On My Quilt."  Her theory was that we could find our own PPM--personal private measurement--and use that to develop quilts that had accurate seaming and corners that match. Quick and easy didn't mean sloppy and mismatched!

The quilt at the top of this post is one I did from her theories. The whole thing is based off the measurement of the smallest units, those 9-patches in the lower right corner. It also uses her brilliant development of "connector corners" which are those folded-over triangles. Wow, triangles you could sew without templates or bias edges? Brilliant!

Her real gift was teaching, whether in small group workshops or lecturing to hundreds of people at a time. She was small and feisty, quick of wit, a taskmaster who insisted on accuracy but never left a student feeling silly or embarrassed. I was lucky enough to attend several of her talks as well as taking workshops with her. She did several for Road to California in the early days, and it was such a blissful way to spend a weekend! She always insisted that the room where we set up had to be available 24/7 to accommodate the night owls and the early birds--as long as there were 2 or more of you in there, you could sew as long as you wanted to!

When she wrote her Log Cabin book, she told us all that we now had a lifetime's worth of patterns--every one of the blocks in It's Okay could serve as a Log Cabin layout! The only caveat was that you had to cut your strips no larger than 1.25" wide, because otherwise you'd be able to upholster the side of a building!

I still call my rotary cutter a whizzy-whacker, and I still use a lot of her techniques. In fact, my pinwheels owe a lot to her methods--that sew-down-both-sides-of-the-middle is one of her ideas. I think one of my happiest moments as a quilter occurred very late one night--actually well into morning. I'd gone down to LAX to pick up Himself from a late flight, and in the baggage claim area, there was Mary Ellen, also waiting for her bags. Then, "Hi, Marie, what are you doing here at this hour?" and a nice chat about where ind she'd been teaching and what she'd been up to. I was gobsmacked that she not only recognized me, but remembered my name--I'm kind of quiet in classes, usually, so I don't expect teachers to really know who I am.

It's kind of sad that she was so active before the days of social media and You Tube videos, so the current generation of quilters can only know her through her books and her legacy--even though they may not know where some of the ideas and techniques came from. I know what she'd say to that, though--it's okay!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fifty More!

 No, I'm not talking about 50 more adorable pictures of my sweet Quilting Supervisor, although he certainly wouldn't mind posing for that many!

I'm talking about progress on the pinwheels, of course.

I now have the first 100 rectangles sewn to the pinwheel squares. I even laid out a block to see how it would work, but of course I took the picture with my phone and can't get it uploaded here.


I'll figure it out, I'm sure. It just struck me funny when I typed that sentence--"I took the picture with my phone."

Okay, I'm old. I grew up when phones were black rotary jobs that were hard-wired into the house, and had party lines that were shared among three or four families. We had a distinctive ring--ours was two short--so we wouldn't pick up someone else's calls.

My grandmother didn't have a phone of her own for a long time. She'd use ours if she needed to make a call--or, a lot of the time, she'd ask my mom to make the call for her. Grandma was functionally bilingual, but she didn't always trust her English when it came to talking to bureaucrats. Or people who talked fast. 

Anyway, I learned to take pictures on my grandpa's camera, which was the kind you had to load the film into in a dark room. I think my brother still has that camera. My first very own camera was a Brownie Hawkeye with a flash attachment. I used it for a long time; it took really good pictures. But the flashbulbs were expensive, and so was developing.

So nowadays I have a digital camera, and my smartphone takes pictures, and so does my iPad, and I don't have to think twice if I want a picture. And if it's a crappy photo, I can delete it and take another one till I'm happy with it. 

Oh yeah, I like these modern times just fine!

I can take cute pictures of my cat, and put them up on the interwebs for all of you to see, and I can share the progress of my Pinwheel quilts too.

The last picture here is my latest string of piecing. I counted out the rectangles as I was cutting them, putting them into stacks of 50--if you look really closely at the top left of the picture, you can see all those little stacks of white. Those are the rectangles. The box holds one set of "spinners" and the others are those stacks of blocks in the middle. So I can grab one stack of 50 rectangles, sew them to a series of blocks, and then I'm cutting them apart and stacking them in 50s. Once I get the first 3 sets done, I could start adding the yellow center squares if I want to. I may just try to get all the rectangles sewn to all the spinner squares first, and then I'll be able to assemble all the blocks at once.

Still thinking about whether I want to do 600 and put those three quilts together, or just go ahead and do all 1200 at once. Since there's no real pressure on me to finish these, I think I'll just see what kind of mood I'm in when I'm sewing.

Meanwhile, there are a LOT of sashing strips to cut. I've got a lot of 2.5" cornerstones cut, and I didn't count them--I figure if I wind  up with extras, I can always use them in another project, right? After all, some of the stores are selling bundles of 2.5" squares in different fabrics.

No, I haven't bought any. I can cut my own!!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Dear Jane, I Don't Really Hate You...

 A couple of weeks ago, when I was blog hopping around, I found a couple of references to the Dear Jane quilt, which reminded me of something...

... which is that back in 2010, a couple of friends and I had taken Brenda Papadakis' Dear Jane class at Asilomar, through Empty Spools.  If you're not familiar with either of those things, go ahead and click the links.

I'll wait here for you to get back!

I talked to my friends--well, actually, I sent them an email that said,Dear Jane, I hate you! and suggested that we get back to working on our blocks. The result was that today we had a group of Janiacs, and never-wanna-be Janiacs, sitting around my dining room table working on Dear Jane and a few other projects.

Getting ready for this involved doing some excavating, because quite frankly my Dear Jane materials came home from Asilomar with me and promptly were set aside, not forgotten but not in active rotation either.
(Side note: While I was up at Asilomar, my father took a turn for the worst and passed away. I spent a lot of my time there on the phone with my brother, in Massachusetts, who was making arrangements. As soon as I got home from Asilomar, I was on a plane east. My dad was 94 and had a good, long life, and he'd gotten to meet many of his great-grandchildren. But that's another story for another day.)

So the top picture is my notebook--I had my book sliced off at the local office supply store, and put all the pages into clear sleeves. The second picture shows one of my blocks inside the sleeve with its pattern. I've done this same thing with some of my other books and patterns, like the Civil War Tribute quilt. Keeps the pages clean and organized but easy to take out and refer to.
I had signed up for the Dear Jane Block of the Month from Stitchin Heaven  in the indigo and cream colorway, which is what you see in that third picture. I know it looks like a tote bag full of plastic bags...which is basically what it is. I've since moved all this to one plastic tub, gotten all the monthly pieces in order, and they're now much easier to access.

 So that was Saturday's project, and along with hunting down all my Jane supplies, I did some reorganizing and rearranging of some of the stash. I think I posted a picture of that last time. The rest of the weekend I managed to do a little more on the pinwheels...

Here you see the top of my kitchen island, transformed into a cutting table. Yes, I cut all the strips for the side rectangles to go with those pinwheels.
 This required a bit of fortification along the way. The Hornsby's was left over from the Fourth of July picnic potluck.

I guess the PT is beginning to show some results, because I was able to do all this cutting without too much trouble. I'm learning some new standing techniques and some ways to mitigate the pain, and generally building up my muscles to compensate for the weakness in my arthritic joints (that is, all of my joints!).

Naturally once I had all those strips cut, it was time to sit down with the DVD player and some Roderick Alleyn stories.

Below you see the first 100 little rectangles.


 Naturally I had lots of help from the Quilting Supervisor.

He did think the stack of white strips made a good post from which to supervise my activity.

I mean, if I wanted to do something besides pet, skritch, and nuzzle the cat, I was going to have to work for it.
 Look at that expression, would you?

Is that the picture of wounded innocence?

Then he relocated to the cutting board.

He wasn't thrilled with my choice of entertainment, but I didn't want to watch a couple of hours of "cat TV" and I'm the one with the opposible thumbs.

 Moving right along. Today was the first meeting of the group--I think there are now three people who are determined that they will never tackle this quilt.

But Anne and I were not discouraged. Here are two of Anne's blocks, hand appliqued.

She's got quite a few blocks done, and she has a nifty chart that she's been sticking little pieces of her fabrics onto so she knows what colors she's used in relation to the others.

Since mine are all blue and white, I don't need to do that. I think I can remember which colors go where...

 Among the treasures I unearthed while doing my reorg (I'll call it's the most polite word I can think of) was a whole tub of leftover class samples,  scraps from other projects, and a baggie full of these.

Dresden Hearts, all set up and ready to go, more or less. The top one is all pressed and turned, and pinned into place on its background fabric.There are five more, pinned onto backing fabric and ready to be stitched and turned.

This was a class I taught way back when, several times. It's a cute variation on the Dresden Plate pattern--my copy of this pattern has a copyright date of 1989. So yeah, from back when I first started teaching at the old Bearly Stitchin'. No link, because the shop moved to Arizona and has now morphed into an online and quilt-show shop selling patterns and kits, called Desert Stitchin.

These will get stitched and pressed, maybe even this week, since Friday night is another Quilknittys session, and I usually bring some kind of hand work. Turning these little guys and getting them pressed nice and flat would be a good project.

I've also still got all the templates. No, I'm not tempted to start another one...but you never know.
So here's my major accomplishment for today: one more block! Not my finest hand applique, but as Brenda has emphasized often: "done is better than perfect."

It's been quite a while since I've done any hand applique, and I'm sadly out of practice. I also did this using the freezer paper on top method, not my favorite way of doing needleturn. At least I was able to jump back into it, and I actually started on another block as well.
Ethel didn't have a project of her own to work on today, but she (says) loves doing the hand part of binding... and I just happened to have a quilt that needed binding sewn down!

I had this one down to the last side, and thanks to Ethel it's now all finished. I put it on the guest bed for its photograph. Tomorrow it should get its bath, and then it will be ready to be added to the stack of finished quilts.
You can see the butterfly design quilting on its back. I can't wait to see how it will look once it's been washed!

And then she picked up another one of my binding-in-progress quilts and started sewing it down, too.

I'm beginning to hope that these quilts will be done soon. I have a whole lot of things that need to be quilted, all of them things I want to quilt myself.  I just need to find a place to pin them that won't kill my poor back.

After everyone went home today, I went back to the rectangles. This last picture shows you all 1200 of them, cut and ready to sew onto the pinwheels.

You can see that the supervisor was totally thrilled with this process. Uh huh. Sure he was.

I also sorted through the trimmings and leftover bits from cutting all the colored pieces, and made a stack of 2.5" strips to cut down to sashings, and cut a bunch of 2.5" squares to use for cornerstones. I did figure out how many I need of each, but it's the kind of numbers that makes my head hurt, so it's much easier to just cut a few now and then do the math another day.

The supervisor and I are headed up the wooden hill to the bedroom, where I will feed him and he'll let me sleep till the first rays of dawn.