Life seems to be speeding up, now that I don’t have to go to work. Funny thing about that.
I’ve done quite a lot since I last brought you up to date on things. Nothing particularly momentous, but oh my I’ve been enjoying myself. First off, the annual Valentine’s Day tea and quilt show, hosted by the Westbridge Women’s Institute. I’ve only made it to this event once before, because I was usually at work on Valentine’s Day and thus unable to accompany my Greenwood public library quilting friends. But this year, even though Valentine’s Day fell on a Tuesday, I was able to go. Simple pleasures.
Westbridge is about as big as a minute, consisting of a slightly more concentrated density of buildings at the junction of Highway 33 and the Christian Valley Road than one finds elsewhere in the valley. Westbridge was very hard hit by the forest fire that tore through the valley in 2015, and the evidence is still everywhere, in the form of blackened trunks of trees.
It’s very fortunate that the Westbridge community hall wasn’t touched by the fire, since it’s the centre of local life (by the way, if you’re a fan of thrift shops, the one here in this hall is well-known as excellent: open Fridays and Saturdays). You can see that right across the river (covered in ice and snow, just behind the bench and picnic tables), the fire took everything in its path.
The Westbridge WI is a small group, and only a few of them are quilters, so a month before the show, as is often the case, the call went out for local guilting groups to help round out the show with quilts. I think my little Greenwood group contributed nine (three were mine), which amounted to more than a quarter of the show. One quilt I had seen before but not in a good light was this one by Judy, which strikes me as fulfilling all the best aspects of a scrap quilt.
I can’t show more than a section of this quilt because it was hung under a very bright window, which distorted all the colours and values and because three people of substantial girth were sitting directly in front of it, blocking much of it from view. It’s a queen-size, I think, and it’s a glorious thing.
Judy chose a rich palette of golds, rust reds, and greyed blues, and then spiced things up with all sorts of unexpected sparks like the pink paisleys patches you can see on the right above. Quilts based on this traditional pattern often use value to emphasize the diamond shapes, but Judy decided to sprinkle her values randomly, and I think she was totally successful. The diamonds are still there, still apparent, but they seem to shift in and out of focus, which I think adds an extra level of interest to her quilt.
One of the really fun things for us, as Judy’s friends, about looking at this quilt is that all of us can see individual fabrics that we have given her over the years. All of us have quilts like this, that include fabrics we’ve exchanged with each other. I can see at least two fabrics that I gave Judy in the shot below, and there are probably more.
Sigh. So satisfying. This quilt glows. I would have been proud to have made it and I learned a few things about colour and value and pattern choices in fabric by studying the choices that Judy made.
We were all taken with this kildeer scurrying around the icy, muddy parking lot at the hall, wondering what it was doing there so early in the season. A very handsome bird.
A trip downstairs to the thrift shop rounded out the day. A welcome diversion in the middle of a cold and snowy winter, and a good day of laughter and chat with friends.
The next day, we had our own oddly out of place avian visitor, a grouse, who made its slow and stately way across the yard, stepping carefully because the snow was soft. I’ve never seen a grouse so close to the house and have no idea why it was there.
It felt like spring that day, not least because it had warmed up enough that we had water standing in the driveway, picturesquely reflecting the sky and trees.
It was a bit exciting, plowing through this water and snow and slush in my low-slung Mazda, hearing the chunks of ice scraping the underside of the car. But I never got stuck.
The very best thing about retirement so far, other than not having to get up early, drive on sketchy winter roads, or wear myself out with exercising patience, is the long stretches of time I’m now able to spend in my studio most days. I can’t quite believe it, that I’m not actually supposed to be somewhere else, doing something a lot less fun.
I confess that the first hour I spent in my studio after getting back from Vancouver was supremely uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out where to start or what I wanted to do. Fortunately, that stage didn’t last long, and now, a few weeks later, I’ve got a year’s worth of projects lined up in my mind. First, though, I decided that a major overhaul of my fabric collection would help simplify my studio life and clear out a lot of visual clutter. A sewing table that looks like this isn’t conducive to creativity.
I decided to start with my scrap bins. Like most quilters, I have a lot of scraps, some from my own projects but even more that people have given me. I’ve even been known to buy scraps in fabric stores. I just love them, scraps. I’m not much of a plan-ahead quilter, and scraps offer up infinite possibilities for designing on the fly as I like to do. But sometimes, scraps become overwhelming and that’s definitely the stage I’d reached.
I have four large bins into which I sort scraps, not by colour but by value and saturation. I have a bin for brights, one for pale/pastel fabrics, one for darks, and a fourth for neutrals. Each is so full that pulling it off the shelf and manoeuvring it into the centre of the studio floor so I can get into it is a major undertaking.
Here they are.
Darks on the left below, brights on the right.
Neutrals left, pastels right.
These categories aren’t totally fixed, and fabrics often migrate from one bin to another. But the bins aren’t particularly accessible and it’s difficult to find anything at all in any of them. I spend a lot of time plunging both arms into a bin, picking up a pile of scraps and trying to flip them over so that I can see what was hidden at the bottom.
So I decided to take these bins in hand and do some radical re-organizing.
I started with the bright bin, and focussed first on pulling out all of the strips. A strip is any long, skinny piece of fabric. It can be as short as a few inches or as long as the width of the fabric on the bolt (usually around 44”). Strips are particularly irksome in a large bin, because they wind themselves around each other and everything else, creating something like a tangled ball of yarn.
After pulling all the strips out of the bright bin, I moved on to the pastels. After I’d done those, I realized that the tower of strips was threatening to engulf my whole cutting table.
So I spent hours pressing, folding, stacking, and storing these strips. And I was astonished, once I was done with just the pale strips, to discover that the pressed and folded strips take up only a very small portion of the space required by the jumbled mess. I think that by the time I’m finished with these strips and with bringing the other scraps into some sort of order, they’ll require just two bins rather than four. Wow. That will allow me to move other bins from off the studio floor, which will add to the sum of human happiness.
As for projects, it’s hair straight back busy in the studio.
I have two on the go at the moment, both of them reprises of long-ago-sewn blocks for which I could find no clear resolution. One is a collection of wildly wonky star blocks in shockingly bright fabrics. This is what I started with.
Obviously, this riot of colour is not optimal, even for me. I think perhaps my eyes have changed over the past few years, because I’m not as enamoured of a full-scale explosion of pure bright colour as I used to be. Let’s have a little balance! So you may be surprised at what I’ve come up with to finish off these stars. I’ve made some progress, but I’m not yet ready for a full reveal, so you’ll just have to wait.
The second project has sprung from a tiny bit of inspiration, a block of fabric that I sewed from strips a couple of years ago. I found these strips in the scrap bin at Poppins Quilt Parlour in Penticton and just had to sew them together. And there they sat, in the pastel scrap bin, where I found them a couple of weeks ago. Along with another bit of constructed fabric I made while carried along by the same colour palette.
Every six months or so I’ve hauled out these two small bits of constructed fabric (each is about a foot across) and attempted to pull other scraps that might work with them. I get dozens and dozens of scraps pinned up to the design wall, step back, and decide that the whole thing is both too dull and too sweet to be worth pursuing. And back it all goes into the pastel scrap bin again.
This time, however, I had a brainwave. I decided that what was needed was a counterfoil to all this sweetness. A strong, assertive turquoise corralled these pastels very firmly, and I’m well on my way to a finished quilt.
Here, as a teaser, is a stage early in the process.
What a difference a totally different colour and intensity can make! And the green border has the same effect as the turquoise.
I’m working hard on this quilt, building it one border at a time, designing as I go, and I’m having a fabulous time.
My dear husband was puzzled about why I was working on two quilts that to him harked back to the past rather than moving into the future. He would prefer that I spend my time exploring variations on some of my most successful quilts, the ones that depend on constructed fabrics in solid fabrics. As I told him, I needed a way to get started again that didn’t put create too much pressure. I needed to have fun and I needed to work on some familiar themes rather than give myself the challenge of going way out on a limb. I hadn’t sewn much for more than six months, and the idea of starting in where I had left off, back in July before my Dad had heart surgery, seemed far too daunting. If that had been my only option, I might still be working up my courage to get into my studio at all.
No, these are reminder quilts, places to get my skills back, to make the mistakes that are inevitable after a long hiatus, to practice what I know and get my confidence back.
So on the back burner are three main projects, waiting until I have the mojo to tackle them.
One is a commission by one of my uncles, a whole-cloth quilt for which we bought the fabric back in August. I don’t want to start on that one until I feel that I have my hands solidly back on the lines. That will be a challenge, quite unlike what I’ve done before.
A second is merely an idea, an entire series of quilts in the same general vein as the quilts I’ve made since I learned from Nancy Crow in 2010 about strip-piecing in solids.
The third is a quilt in progress, one that was on my design wall through the summer and fall. You may recall that I took a class with Jean Wells back in June 2016 and created for myself a formidable design challenge. Remember this?
The lighting is awful in this photo. The quilt isn’t yellowish at the top and blue at the bottom: that’s just the effect of the very warm-cast light of the halogen bulbs in my studio spotlights. The right side of the quilt is all pieced together, but the left side is still largely in bits. And it’s even more in bits now, thanks to Winston. A few months ago, I carefully removed all the bits from the wall and pinned them in place onto an old sheet, so that I could roll up the sheet and store the quilt in progress and still know where all the bits belonged.
Unfortunately, I laid it across a table in the studio, on which Winston has one of his four studio cat beds. Last weekend, I was just in time to hear him gag and, when I turned to look at him, to see him vomit copiously all over the quilt, wrapped up in its sheet. Oh, what a moment. I managed to unwrap the sheet in a flash, and to unpin the sections of the quilt that might be damaged before they were soaked. Fortunately, most of the mess landed on a dark border section, not the vulnerable light and/or unsewn sections. But I had to unpin everything and put all the loose bits together into a bag. Thank heavens i have the above photo, which will allow me to reconstruct what I was doing at this point. But how unlucky! I’ve learned a valuable lesson about sharing a studio with a cat.
Particularly a cat gifted with an amazing capacity to catch rodents, which he then eats. But can’t digest.
He makes Django look like the ideal studio pet by comparison, despite Django’s ability to lie exactly in the wrong spot on the studio floor no matter what I’m doing.
He’s a good boy. They both are.