Monday, March 12, 2018

That One Person

Audrey Gayhart, the real treasure

I think most of us can think back to a particular person who was instrumental in setting us on a fortuitous path. As far as my quilting is concerned, that person would be Audrey Gayhart, who I recently learned had died at 81 years of age, surrounded by her pets and her quilts. Audrey is one of those friends who I exchanged Christmas greetings with, a once a year chance for us to catch up once we no longer lived close to each other. And when I didn't hear from her this last Christmas, I feared the worst. Fortunately, her daughter snagged my card and wrote me a lovely note to break the news, including Audrey's obituary and funeral card from which I've scanned these images.

Our Wisconsin "Cabin in the Woods"

Audrey and I first met at her guild's quilt show that was held in an historic home in Menomonie, WI. My husband and I had recently moved to Wisconsin, had a home built on 6 acres out in the country, and since I no longer had to work, my days were filled learning all I could about quilts and how to make them. 

The loft became my first dedicated sewing space - big enough to set up a full-size quilting frame and a ping pong table as a work table

I'd dabble enough in it before the move to realize this is what I wanted to put all my creative effort towards, sorry previously interesting cross-stitch, needlepoint, knitting and the like. I checked out books from the library, watched quilting shows on PBS, pored over the few quilting magazines available at the time. There in those magazines, I found information about quilt shows I could enter (this was prior to the availability of information on the internet that we are now so accustomed to), and as I honed my skills, I got brave enough to send quilts off to shows far and wide, gaining valuable feedback from the judging sheets. And of course, I kept my eye out for local exhibits like this guild show where I could see quilts up close and watch demonstrations. But if anyone asked me about my quilting, I'd blush and refer to myself as a closet quilter, not confident enough in what I was doing to admit to it in public.

But I was curious about this guild thing, picking up a flyer on my way out to see where this group met and when. This is when Audrey, sitting with a few other members on the porch of this lovely house, struck up a conversation with me. I believe I deflected her warm invitation to come to a meeting by saying, "I don't know, I'm sort of a closet quilter," at which I believe she said with a smile, "Well, maybe it's time to come out of the closet." I remember her as quiet and non-threatening and gently coaxing as she encouraged me to come to a meeting, assuring me that I would enjoy it and that I'd like the gals in the group. And please, she added, call me if you have any questions or need directions. Turned out she lived on a farm not all that far from me, on the way to the little town where the guild met. Oooooh, I don't KNOW, all my insecurities cried. But in the end, I made the 40 minute drive on back roads to attend a meeting, and Audrey stayed right by me to be sure I felt at home and included.

View from our property - a long ways from anywhere

I was active in this guild for probably less than a year, personal plans radically changing which required us to move out of the area. But I learned so much from these gals, had so much fun at the meetings, and probably best of all, gained confidence that I was indeed a quilter, and a pretty good one at that. Audrey and the Hearts and Hands Guild drew me out of my closet and showed me the social side of quilting which I would continue to pursue. And Audrey continued to impress me, not only with her quilting skills but her people skills, in the way she gently but firmly kept things on track during meetings and made sure no one felt slighted or embarrassed or too proud of their skills at the expense of others.

Wyoming Valley Star Exchange Block Quilt before quilting in 1995, completed December 1996

One of the activities this group introduced me to was block exchanges, an opportunity to work with a particular block which everyone else involved in the exchange was making and maybe be lucky enough to win those blocks, enough to make a quilt out of. I was nearly out the door when the last exchange was announced, and I felt since I'd committed to the exchanges for a designated period, I should take part in this last exchange even if I was gone. So I asked that they send me all the information and I'd send a block to fulfill my obligation. In this exchange, each person was assigned a color to use and mine was yellow. I wasn't happy with how it came out and remember thinking, I'd better remake this, in case I win the blocks, and so I made a better version to submit. I was very surprised and extremely happy that I actually did win the blocks. Fate or rigged? It was supposed to be a blind drawing, but I accused them of rigging it so I'd win the blocks as a remembrance of the guild. They did not deny it!

Audrey's block

The nice thing about the way this exchange was set up was that it was based on a finished quilt design, which we would not see until the blocks went to the winner. Not only did you get a set of blocks, but you would get the directions for finishing the quilt, and in my case, I think they even sent me the muslin for the sashings. All I had to do was make those smaller stars with fabrics from my stash (so fun going through all my fabric to pick just the right ones.) Each block was labeled with the maker's name, so I decided I would quilt a cartouche in the sashing under each block and ink in the maker's name, and elsewhere on the front, I added the guild information. I hadn't yet gotten into machine quilting so this special quilt got the hand quilting treatment. I've never used it, only folding it to drape over a rocking chair. But since moving to my latest digs, I've had no room for that chair, instead placing the quilt folded on a cedar chest in the bedroom, where it is often covered with discarded clothes. So I haven't really looked at it for a long time. Still, when I uncovered it to photograph Audrey's block, I knew right away which one was hers, which I find rather remarkable. I've lost touch with the others in this guild although some names do spark a memory or a face. Audrey has always been the constant link.

Audrey's Twin Brook Farm
Before moving, I did go out to Audrey's "Twin Brook Farm" that she spoke so lovingly about, viewed her quilts, her sewing room, listened as she described farm life as we gazed out the kitchen window. It would give me the visuals I'd use for years as Audrey recapped her experiences and family news and updated me on guild activities and members every Christmas. I am, understandably, sad she is gone (although she lost her husband the previous year and had health issues of her own so there's a little bit of blessing for her in her passing). I know that these last few years, she was very concerned about her UFO's and what would become of her many finished quilted items. I could relate, even though Audrey was quite a bit older than me and I theoretically have more time to work. Tick tock, time relentlessly moves on and we quilters have so many quilts we want to make, (and often so many made that we don't quite know what to do with). Thank goodness for people like Audrey, who encourage us down that path and continue to inspire and support us right to the end. Maybe someone else later on would have eventually drawn me out of my closet quilter mentality, but I am so thankful that it was Audrey with her lovely smile and gentle way, and thankful for the friendship she extended and maintained over the miles and the years. She's that one person who nudged me along when I needed it, up the path I'd tentatively started on that led me to where I am today. Job well done, Audrey, not just with me but with so many quilters' lives that you touched.   

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Raw Edge Applique Sans Fusing

"Oh man, I hope this wasn't a mistake." This was my thought as I started "collaging" my fabric onto the muslin base. I really didn't want to use fusible this time, especially since we'd been instructed by the person who will be doing the quilting for us to stitch the edges of all applique we might use on our slice. Doesn't matter that my fusible of choice does not need this step as it stays put, even along the edges, even through a wash. She's obviously had trouble in the past so I don't want to make her sigh unduly by not following her wishes. I've done applique without fusible or needleturning in the past, I think with satin stitching around the edges or taking care of the edges during the quilting process. I've not done it before quite on this scale where I will NOT be doing the quilting and where I don't really have pattern pieces to mark and cut out. Just trying to do some freeform cutting here. I also didn't want to "tack" pieces in place with glue stick or basting glue. I just wanted to lay down the pieces, pinning as I went (as I found in one tutorial), and then stitch along all those raw edges. Boy, I sure hope this is going to work.

And to my relief, it did work pretty well. The bush and grass definitely started looking better when I went from rough-cut blobs to releasing some of those leaves from their background.  I used invisible thread and a size 60 Microtex needle because it doesn't matter how invisible the thread is, the needle still leaves holes, so they may as well be as small as possible.

That batik at the bottom is one of my very favorites for portraying grasses. I have it in two colorways but both are eight yard cuts - long and skinny and not much overall. So I use it judiciously and couldn't resist adding it here. I'm wondering if I should add branches or slender trunks to the orange blob like I am seeing in the photo, but frankly, that's the sort of thing I would do with quilting. Until you are not responsible for that last step, I don't think you realize just how much you depend on it to add details and bring the design to life. Maybe the need for branches will seem obvious to our quilter. She did a great job of quilting our barn slice quilt, bringing all our individual quirks into a cohesive presentation. But before I can send my slice off to her, I still have that bridge to build. You can see I've gotten out some threads to try out on a sample.

Speaking of the barn slice quilt (scroll to the bottom of this post to view it), our group had decided that after it had toured some quilt shows, we'd eventually donate it to a charity for auctioning.  We chose Empty Bowls in the Eau Claire, WI area (where the other members of the group reside) which recently held that auction at their yearly event. To our great surprise and delight, it raised $400! So often, quilts go for a pittance at auctions, so this was exciting news and has renewed our enthusiasm for our current endeavor.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Applying "Refresh" To Studio

It may be March but that doesn't mean we're done with snow. This was the view out my studio window yesterday, after several hours of very wet snowfall. It was supposed to have arrived overnight, and I figured it would all be cleaned up by the time I was ready to run my Friday errands. Instead, I proved myself a true native northern Idahoan, making my way through slush and slick streets in my Subaru Outback while the big flakes snowed down on me! I was happy to arrive home safely and equally happy to settle in my studio for the rest of the afternoon.

Two things I've noticed about the way I've been approaching and feeling about the time I've spent in the studio since I established my "refresh" resolution word. I've always struggled putting into practice the idea that I don't have to wait until I have a big chunk of time before going in there to work. Not sure where this all-or-nothing mentality comes from, but it is my default thinking when getting ready to tackle anything, creative or everyday. To my delight, I've noticed a reversal in my thinking from "not enough time to really do anything" to "just enough time to do a little bit." I know, it is such an obvious thing, and I've tried before to make this change in thinking without much success. Maybe this time it will stick, my "refresh" reminding me that every little bit of progress adds up over time whereas doing nothing gets you nothing.

The other thing I've noticed is how relaxed I've been as I've worked on various things. I'm generally pretty wound up, stressing over design decisions, deadlines, a pile of things I want to get to but have to prioritize. It often makes me physically tense while working and can certainly take the enjoyment out of the process. I'm not sure why I've decided to work calmly with more pleasure, but it is a good refresh to the studio practice.

But deadlines still exist and here it is March, with me facing the same March madness of the last few years - 3 time-consuming projects barely started (two art related and the other taxes), all with mid-April deadlines! It was keeping me awake the other night, when I realized I'd done that to myself again, perhaps being a bit TOO relaxed about working in the studio and failing to factor in the unexpected like a week sick on the couch. Ok, I think I can still work calmly AND ramp things up a bit. Time to stop thinking and planning and dive into the actual work of the bridge slice quilt.

Plans are important, especially here where some design elements need to be in the right place to match those of the surrounding slices. That would primarily be the bridge, which we are all realizing has very small pieces. I'm still not 100% sure how I will carry it out but I do know that I will be stitching the outlines of it from the back of the muslin that the applique will be built up on. So step one is to turn the grayscale photocopy of my slice over and trace that bridge as well as its reflection in the water. I taped it to the window to do this.

Transferring bridge design onto back of muslin

Then I placed the muslin over it to transfer the bridge onto it. I have to say that the structure of the bridge was a jumble when viewed from the front and the color photo supplied. But in making the tracing, it finally started to make sense and I could see better in what order the pieces would be rendered. I also found myself hearing Lynne Chapman's admonition to not try to capture every detail - I knew something from my Sketchbook Skool course would carry over to my quilting! After tracing, I flipped the photocopy back over and taped it to my cutting mat, then flipped over the muslin and taped it over the photocopy, thinking I could make out the bigger sections of the design through it.

Masking off my section which is second (of four) from the left

Speaking of the color photo, I decided to tape strips of paper on either side of my part of it so I could more easily see what I was dealing with. I can flip them up if need be to study what will be on either side of my slice. I think I'm glad I'm not on an end again.

And then I hit my stash. I'd already picked out a sky fabric and several possibilities for water. Now I found something for the hill behind the bridge.

Tracing large areas of the design onto quilter's paper

Unfortunately, I simply couldn't see my "pattern" well enough through the muslin so today I tried plan B (always good to have a backup plan). I removed the muslin and traced the design elements I needed to see onto Golden Threads Quilting Paper.

The quilting paper tracing flipped down to check applique positioning

Now my pattern is no longer hidden under the muslin but available for reference. The muslin was taped back down and the top edge of the new tracing "hinged" with tape along the top of the muslin so that it can be flipped out of the way when placing a piece of applique on the muslin base, then flipped back down to check that the placement is correct. I can also see better the shapes I need to cut. Tackling the water is next, trying out a bit of collaging to utilize a too narrow piece of fabric.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

A Bit Of Admin

Comments. I love getting comments on my blog posts. That is, if they are not spam comments, which is what I was getting prior to eliminating the "anonymous" option for those wishing to share thoughts on my posts. My Wyoming reader's difficulty in posting comments has caused me to go back and look at how I had things set up, and yes, I'd forgotten about eliminating anonymous posts, and no, I didn't realize that the other options for signing in were so limited, and in this reader's case, impossible to comply with.

And so, I've reconfigured the comment requirements, opening them up to anyone, that is with one caveat. I did add that extra step of "prove you're not a robot." I'd not wanted to do that before because I knew my own frustrations at having to read and type in the captcha letters/numbers before allowing my comment to go through. But low and behold, it looks to me like it now only requires one extra step, just clicking on the "I'm not a robot" button, no codes to enter, before hitting "publish".

I still will monitor each comment before it shows up on the blog so don't be dismayed when your comment disappears from view once you take that final step. I hope changing these things to make it easier for readers to comment will open the door to others who perhaps were willing but unable to speak their mind here. If you have any issues, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at

Let the commenting begin! 

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Little Bit More . . .

It's not much, but it's a start
Vestiges of the cold are hanging on but each day I am a bit better and itchy towards late afternoon to get back to something creative. Yesterday I decided it was time to take action on that overdye that produced such an interesting zigzag design. It's been pinned to the wall in my office, then pinned to a wall in my livingroom, places where I could stare idly at it and ponder what to do with it. I don't want to fold it up, and there isn't room for it on the design wall while I determine a "master plan". But I have come up with a possible first step, and now that I have, I was finding it irritating to see it hanging around. Time to act and at least cut a backing in preparation for layering and quilting. While I was at it, I cut the foundation that I will build my section of the bridge slice quilt on and marked where the edge of the design comes.

That really wasn't much and didn't take long so I soon found myself considering batting for my long beautiful piece of fabric. I often use Hobbs Thermore unless I feel I need more heft and stability, in which case I generally use Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 batting. But having recently been through my stash, there were several others I wanted to consider (a cotton/bamboo blend, a polyester fusible, leftovers of a Fairfield 80/20 blend that despite their marketing I found nearly impossible to handquilt through). Much to my amusement, I ended up using that Fairfield batting as much because there was a piece of it that was wide enough and only a bit longer than what I needed, or as Harriet Hargrave discovered swayed many quilter's selection process, it was "the right size" (see previous post). Well, sometimes that really is an ok way to determine what you will use, all things being equal.

These one of a kind specialty pieces are usually difficult for me to work with. My initial reaction is often that I don't want to do anything to them because it might detract from the design and subtle textures in the dyeing. I certainly never think I can cut them up. I talked with my art group about my toe-in-the-water thought of quilting along the edge of the light part of the zigzag and maybe attaching some of these leaves that I am having a terrible time finding an appropriate home for. So as long as the piece was lying on the table, so close to my thread collection, I could not help getting one spool out I'd been thinking would be a good color for that first delineating quilting. And then the Oliver Twists came out, and the more I studied it with those threads, the more I found myself losing my fear of spoiling the design in the cloth and being drawn to ideas that would enhance on every level.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

About That "Precision"

I've been couch-bound most of the week, a seemingly innocuous cold turning feverish, and I've learned the hard way that pushing through these times when the body has its hands full fighting off these bugs only prolongs things. Best to succumb to tea, chicken soup, mostly horizontal rest, and when awake, light reading and/or tv watching - the Olympics coverage has been good company!

Yesterday though, I was out of the fog, temperature down, and getting antsy to be doing a little something on the sewing front. I settled on piecing together the binding strips for the baby quilt, as they were already cut and wouldn't take much mental energy (although you'd be surprised at what an effort it was!). When you know what you will use for binding a quilt, sometimes it's nice to have it all ready to go ahead of time. I picked up this trick somewhere quite some time ago for taming and storing long lengths of pieced binding. All you are doing is accordion-folding it about every 18 inches or so and then feeding the folds on one side onto a large safety pin. It holds it neatly together until you are ready to apply it, at which point you remove one fold at a time from the safety pin as you come to it, the bulk of the folded binding resting in your lap.

I love when I get comments on a post, and I especially enjoyed the ones I received about piecing batting. Good to know I'm not the only frugal person out there (remembering what Harriet said was the number one reason quilters listed for choosing a particular batting was . . . it comes in the right size!) There was also a theme there I decided should be addressed in its own post, because it was something I'd been thinking about, even as I went through my process and described it to you. These things I often do that I am fully aware many quilters don't bother with and do not make their quilts any less than mine have their basis in traditional quilt making of BED QUILTS, not wall quilts and certainly not art quilts. The type of join Harriet Hargrave suggests will stand up to a quilt being washed and tugged during use as well as stay mostly invisible. It's a matter of practicality born out of observing how antique quilts have held up over the years and how these methods might help our own quilts last longer under heavy use, or at least to make us less hesitant to take them off the shelf and use them.

Mill Stars 2002 which won many awards including this blue ribbon at an AQS Nashville Exposition. It is far from perfect and not an original design, but I did obsess over making it as perfect as was within my abilities.

And then there is the whole quilt exhibit and competition thing, where every single technical and design portion of a quilt is scrutinized to within an inch of its life. You might not be bothered by seeing the faint line of a batting join on the quilt you snuggle under, but a quilt judge will see that and make a big point of it, no matter how beautiful and well constructed and well quilted the rest of it may be. That's just the way it is, and I used to enter these shows all the time. So yes, I was always striving to do my very best on every part of the quilt process, and managed to win a few ribbons in the process! That made all that effort worth it for me.

But I didn't realize just how stressful all that made my quilting process until I left the world of quilt shows and focused on art quilts. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized, with some relief, that no one would be inspecting the quilt stitches on the back of the art quilt I was working on, so I could relax and just worry about the front. With the exception of not worrying about a neat back, I still tend towards neat and tidy and yes, often precise, in my designs and in carrying them out, but that is as much about my aesthetic as it is about my training. But trust me, I have loosened up immensely since my traditional quilt-making days, and do things now that my old self would be aghast and very disapproving of! But when I do get back to making something like the baby quilt or a lap quilt that I know will be used and washed, the old ways kick in.

That you think I work with precision I take as a compliment, but really, I think it is just the way I am most comfortable in approaching all parts of my life, with a certain order and neatness in which I find enjoyment and satisfaction. So methods presented to me early in my quilting that fit my need for order and neatness that were also backed up with reasoning for doing them, why they worked or solved a particular problem really appealed to me and became my standard go to methods. It would make sense that I'd carry those over into my art quilting, even though some of them aren't really necessary for a successful outcome. I DO use spray baste on many of my art quilts, especially when I am concerned about the holes that safety pins might leave, but also because I'm in a hurry. If heavily quilted enough over any joins of butted pieces of batting, that basting spray which will not be washed out should sufficiently hold those joins in place - yes Margaret, God has weighed in on that! ;-) As for the basting tape, Mary, I've not actually held it in my hand to know how lightweight it might be, so am suspicious about the bulk or stiffness it might add to the join. That suspicion might be totally unwarranted, so if anyone has actually used that product, please chime in.

I'm still not quite up to snuff to start tackling the quilting of the baby quilt - just the use of the word "tackling" shows you how I feel about the machine quilting that lies ahead - but I am so pleased with the top and its color combinations that are somewhat unusual for me to use, and excited to try out the ideas I have for quilting it. And I am secure in the knowledge that I have prepared it the best way I know how to make the quilting process go as smoothly as possible.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Do You Do This?

Oh how glorious to have a mostly uncluttered space to work in! I pieced together the backing for the baby quilt and taped it to my work table, then dug around in my batting stash (yes, somehow I have acquired a stash of batting) for a large enough piece of the right kind. I had lots of choices, some I have not even tried yet, but in the end, I opted for what has become one of my  favorite and dependable battings: Hobbs Heirloom 80/20. I don't have to worry about bearding (a concern since this has darker fabrics in it and I know it will have multiple washings) and it provides enough loft to show off some quilting. I generally buy the largest size of known quantity battings as it is cheaper with less waste in the long run. Still, I'm often left with pieces not quite long or wide enough and narrow pieces too big to discard. My solution is to splice pieces of batting together. Anyone else out there do this?

I chalk it up to several things, not least of all being raised by parents who lived through the depravities of The Great Depression, impressing upon me the importance of "using it up or doing without", and my own experiences living through the infancy of the environmental movement which often touted the same message but for a different reason. I probably would not have thought to splice together batting had it not been for the influence of batting and machine quilting guru, Harriet Hargrave. She is proof that knowledge of your materials and techniques is never wasted, that good and reliable results are not just luck. Her book, Heirloom Machine Quilting (newer editions available), has been a well-thumbed reference on my shelf for twenty years and has an extensive section on batting. And in it, I learned how to splice batting together.

Click on the photo to better see my stitches

Ok, I have to admit I was in a bit of a hurry this time when I pulled out her book to refresh my memory. The page above is technically showing how to splice batting when using the quilt-as-you-go method. I totally forgot her primary method shown earlier in the book, one that eliminates the hard line and ridge left from the traditional method of butting and whipstitching pieces together.  Ideally, one should overlap the two pieces of batting 6 to 8 inches so that you can make a serpentine cut, removing the end of each layer afterward, and using a herringbone stitch to complete the join. Oh well, I don't think on this quilt it will matter much. It always takes me a minute to get my head around this stitch though, as it is done "backwards" to me. For a right handed person like me, the needle takes a bite right to left, but then rather than continuing to stitch to the left, you "back up" to the right for the next stitch. When done loosely as she suggests, this stitch allows for some movement in the batting and really doesn't show through the quilt top.

Still a smidgen of clutter at the end of the table but not in my way.

And here it is, said quilt top, completing the sandwich and mostly pin basted. I keep my basting safety pins in an Almond Rocha tin and close the pins with the help of some kind of cuticle stick that has worked well for decades. I sure wasn't using it on my cuticles!

I managed to snap this photo from an upstairs window of my snow removal elf, hard at work yesterday, getting on top of our latest storm. We went from no snow on the ground except for a few small piles here and there from plowing to another 10 to 13 inches in the last 24 hours. The winds kicked up today while the temps dropped, so drifting has been a bit of an issue. But this guy is so cute the way he's quick to apologize if I come out and he hasn't totally cleared my side of the driveway. Today when I went out to clear my steps and short sidewalk, I was a little surprised to see he had removed what fell overnight from his side and not mine, unusual for him. He was working at the end of his driveway and hurried over to explain to me that with the direction the wind was blowing, all he'd be doing with his snow blower was watching the snow blow right back onto the driveway. Believe me, I know how demoralizing that is, having had the experience of tossing a shovelful of snow to the side only to have it blown back into my face. But really, how lucky am I to have this guy as a neighbor?