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Pressing Matters

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Getting up early on Saturday mornings when there are no cartoons to watch has never been my favorite thing to do, but for special reasons I will. Yesterday, I went to Calico Station for a Demo Day presentation. Lots of great tips and intriguing rulers that I will be back investigate further. Marsha had a lot of helpful tips and pointed out that pressing seams open is coming back into vogue. When I remember the first quilts I made, scorched fingertips come to mind.

Pressing is the true key to having neatly finished blocks. Heavy irons make weekly ironing a chore, I prefer a lighter weight for blouses, etc. And at first I thought an iron is an iron, but the weight of the iron is important in pressing quilt blocks. I found a Rowenta iron at a big box discount store and treated myself to a birthday present (Not a Me kind of present, my friend is the one who likes to receive appliances and I probably would have passed on it had my birthday not been coming up in two weeks). My quilt blocks looked sharper using the heavy Rowenta. Who knew?

It took less effort to get a crisp  seam with the new iron. Quilt classes taught me to Press to the Dark Side and that has served me fairly well over the years. It didn’t work in every situation because if you are making a star block like this one, it was sometimes difficult to have the seams interlocking in the right direction. And if it was a triangle heavy block that had four sets of seams intersecting, perfect corners could be hard to achieve. There has to be a way…

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The block I am working on is from a pattern called Lucky Stars. It’s a fairly traditional, no triangles method of sewing a flying goose block. Red square in corner of white rectangle, sew seam, cut off extra part of the block with 1/4 inch seam allowance and press to the dark. Yesterday I took it one step farther and pressed open the seam. When I added the other square, trimmed it, and pressed the second seam open, I realized this was a flatter seam than I usually have.

And there was an added bonus. I could see the white point so that when I sewed the next seam, I could watch the needle move just a stitch into the dark fabric at the point. Perfectly lined up when I pressed. In fact, when I surveyed the back of the finished block, I could hear my grandma telling me that the back looks good. That was a big deal when I was learning to embroider. She checked the back before she admired the top.

All in all, a joyous quilting weekend!

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Connected by Thread

             In junior high I learned that the Fates control our life. A thread of indeterminate length is spun, measured out and cut off. Seems like a nice, orderly process. So how come it feels like there’s a cat lurking near them who loves to get in there and tangle the thread?

             Some days I think that is exactly what happens. I have prepared a nice to do list and, thinking I am in charge of my life this day, I begin checking tasks off as I complete them. Then life happens and I lose the power that comes from checking off an item complete.

             But I digress. This post is about thread and sanity. Creating art out of multi-hued threads has been the one constant in my life of detours. Needlework connects me to my family. All I need to do to have family around me is fix a meal. Some of my most cherished possessions are dish towels embroidered by my grandmas. I have a small collection of pot holders crocheted by great aunts, a few roses crocheted by my dad add another dimension to a plain surface and then there are the tablecloths and afghans worked by in-laws.

             My sewing area contains implements passed down from my family. When I was small, my grandma came to live with us. She taught me to embroider and to do a bit of crochet. The summer before junior high, Mom added sewing machine lessons to the mix and, a dozen years later, I had the confidence to begin quilting.

             Working colorful threads through a piece of cloth is a peaceful process. All the day’s worries are pushed aside as I study the pattern and work the stitches. I found that I can’t be stressed, or I rip out twice as many stitches as I put in. A perfect day is one that lets me put on some music, fix a cup of tea, gather my project and work until the light fades.  After a few days like this, I have a piece of functional art to decorate my home.

Wall hanging inspired by churches in Lugano, Switzerland

            (Oh, who am I kidding? Dozens of quilts made and I have two. They go out the door as fast as they are done because someone always says, OOH! I like this. Is it mine? Christmas or birthdays are never that far off and adios, project.)

            Of my two quilts, one is finished and one’s been in the quilting hoop for about 5 years. My goal is to finish it by Christmas. The one in the hoop is a memory quilt created out of old kitchen linens: fussy cut tablecloths that belonged to my mom and grandma and a set of cherry curtains and a red tablecloth from an Iowa farm sale in the 80s. Most of the fabric is vintage and I know that means the quilt will be more decorative than practical, but it’s the connection by fabric and thread that is important to me.

            The farmhouse quilt has inspired me to become a pattern designer instead of a pattern follower. Vintage linens are an addiction that fill my closets. My quilting closet and baskets of embroidery and crochet threads will help me create pretty things to decorate my house.

Which is the Detour? What difference does art make?

My friends Carol and Joyce and I used to go to a different small town fish fry every Friday night. It was a straight trip to the restaurant, a leisurely supper, and a meandering detour home. Our one rule on the trip home was drive straight until we reached a stop or T in the road and then one of us said right or left. We proceeded in that direction until the next decision point. Since we knew that all gravel roads led to one of about six main roads, we were not going to get really lost. Our time spent on the road was put to good use laughing and looking for “fixer uppers” for me to buy. We all knew my teacher’s salary wasn’t going to buy the well loved, shabby chic Victorian houses that I wished for. But, a girl’s gotta dream.

Those dreams have led me on some great adventures over the years. One of my earliest dreams was to teach literature and it led me to a small Iowa town on the Mississippi. It was there I learned to quilt on snow days and make small dolls to sell in craft shows. I had classrooms full of indelible students who taught me how to not take life so seriously. Who knew that one could begin every day with the Pledge followed by five minutes of burping and farting? The price you pay teaching freshmen boys Romeo and Juliet, I guess. Together we plotted and painted school windows. We routinely ventured into “the Frozen Northland” to a Minnesota Spanish language camp to sing and dance the weekends away having snowy adventures that were anything but ordinary. I learned that I had to be smarter than the projector screen in order to make my class presentations work. The most impressive event of my time there is that 20 years later I have been able to reconnect online with a surprisingly large number of students who remember how much fun we had decorating for proms, working on class projects, and eating spaghetti. Dream fulfilled.

Sometimes the orange traffic barrels and cones do not clearly mark the road and it’s difficult to tell which is the detour and which is the road. I am currently in one of those stretches. Everything seems to be merged into one superhighway. Reinventing yourself is tricky under the best of circumstances, but when the economy is tanking as it has been, you learn to breathe deep and drive forward. Just as if you were heading back from a fish fry in a pop up blizzard.

I plan to use this blog to navigate the detours in search of the artful bits that feed my soul and keep me sane. I hope there will be adventures in all the things I love: needle arts, cooking, writing, and travel with all the people I love best. Maybe some day I will finally figure out if the arts are the main road or the serendipitous detours.