All Inclusive

CoExist Stars 2

I recently attended a guild meeting, where the speaker began her talk by making a statement along the lines of “those ugly charity quilts some people make are not art.”

Yeesh. Talk about divide the room.

I’ve been quilting since the late 1980′s, and back then the argument was that if it wasn’t hand pieced, or at least hand-quilted, it wasn’t a quilt, because our grandmothers made them all by hand.

Then in the 1990′s it was art quilting vs. traditional quilting. And now, it seems, the rivalry is modern vs. everything else.

What’s with the US vs. THEM thing? As a Facebook friend remarked last week, she’s so OVER the conversation of whether or not a quilt can be called “modern.”

I can’t help but think that, in this mostly female endeavor, any such divisiveness is just corrosive. Our grandmothers laid the foundation of feminism (in the true sense of the word, as in the respect of women as equal members of society), and I can’t help but think they’d be ready to swat our hands with a wooden spoon for not cheering on our sisters, regardless of how different from us they may be. Incidentally, I think they would also be howling with mirth at the idea we should turn our backs on sewing machine technology out of some Luddite-driven sense of reverence for the good ol’ days.

It doesn’t matter how you make quilts, or even why. Yes, I know that there are people who imbue every thread of their composition with deep meaning, and trust me, with an MFA in Fiber under my belt, I would enjoy the intellectual wrangle of a good chew on the “making meaning” conversation with you. But I’m also equally happy to cheer you on when you decide to make a quilt with pink frog fabric for no reason other than pink frogs make your heart soar.

You get to make the thing that turns you on. You get to spend your free time making charity quilts. You get to spend ten years piecing hexies for an insanely large bed quilt. You get to make everything in purple because it’s your favorite color. You get to try new things. You get to do the same things you’ve always done and be damned with the new-fangled stuff. You get to use nothing but batiks. You get to use Kona Ash in everything. You get to sweat the details on a competition-level quilt. You get to chop your points off because accuracy isn’t all that important to you. You get to quilt it on a home machine. You get to quilt it by check. You get to make your version of beauty. You get to abandon things that are not your cup of tea.

The point is YOU GET TO DO IT YOUR WAY. And the meaning it makes is the meaning you give it. This isn’t brain surgery, although I would argue that the pursuit of it is just as important… a surgeon can heal the body, but a quilt can heal the soul. But enough of debating all this. No more making other people’s art “wrong” – okay?

Just go make something you think is lovely. We’ll all be better off for it!

BTW – Did you join my mailing list yet? Do it here. I’m dreaming up groovy exclusive stuff for you!



Making a Quick Buck

Well! It seems that my last post about quilting patterns touched a couple of nerves… it seems that any of us who have designed quilt patterns got a bit prickly about the comment that we do it to “make a quick buck.” (insert hysterical laughter).

Bags on Mannequin

So I thought I would give you a peek behind the green curtain on how my Chunky Wee Bag pattern got designed. I wrote this up for Generation Q Magazine last year for their Sept/Oct issue. While it’s definitely a humorous look at the monologue in my head, please don’t miss how many times I made and tested the bag before I let it out of the house. Seriously.

Here goes…

The 17th Time’s the Charm – OR – What it Took to Make the Chunky Wee Bag Pattern (said in my best Rocky and Bullwinkle voice-over)

It started out with a need (necessity being the mother of invention and all that): I had a date with my son and Disneyland. I needed a small bag that would go across my body, and carry just a wallet, glasses, phone and a snack. My usual handbag is part backpack, and had previously proven hard to manage in the cramped confines of a rollercoaster, so I thought I would just whip up something else. I’m a miss-fancy-pants-pattern-designer, right? Right. Read on for a peek into the mind of a (mad)woman on a mission to make the perfect bag.

Studio. Hmmm… what size bag? Let’s start with 8” x 8” shall we? Love that square! Love that balance! Couple inches deep. Flap. No zippers! Definitely need pockets inside to keep stuff separate. (What does the Bagginses have in its pocketses?) A ring… to clip keys onto. Where’s the calculator? Graph paper! Sketch, draw, redraw, recalculate.

OK, I think I have it, wait… adjust that a smidge… strap should be narrower? Yes. Fabric! ORANGE! The robot fabric! (Bad Robot!) Aha! Needs something. Grey? Yes… but something else. (Garlic? Chocolate?) Ooh, the retro one with the boomerangs! Yeah, baby! Groovy, baby! (But with better teeth!)

Can I do it all with black thread? Yessss. New needle, walking foot… who put felt under my bobbin again? Drop of oil. Water in the iron? OK!

Cut, fuse, sew, pin, wrangle, sew. Ooops. Flap’s in backwards. Bah! Pout. Rip, rip, rip. Pin. Check. Really? Sigh. Re-pin. Re-check. Sew. Yes! Post picture on FB. Awww, lots of likes :-)


Disneyland! Wheeee! Works perfectly. Yay for pulling it out of my hat yesterday! Except for the flap needs Velcro. Why, thank you, yes, I made it! The strap could be a smidge wider. But still… success!

Home. I wanna use my cute wee bag! Too small. Can’t get the sketchbook in there. Huh. The tissues. The little box of emergency medical stuff that all mothers MUST carry even when their kid lives in a different state now. (I checked the handbook, it’s in there. Trust me). Pens. Nail file. Lip balm. Emergency chocolate.

Duh. Make it bigger.

Studio. What about 9” x 10”? Draw, calculate, funky Halloween fabric, cut, sew. Hmm. Don’t like the proportion much. Cute but… meh. Yes, you can have it.

DSC_9971 = 2nd bag Halloween

What about deeper? Chunky deep. Like four inches deep? Oooh. Need a base board to hold that bottom out square. And how to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap?

How to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap??

Really. How to get from a 4” side to a thinner strap???

Toss and turn. Wee hours… EUREKA! That’s how to do it! Throw on clothes, grab tea, OMG MY HAIR. But no one’s gonna see me today. I hope. Baseball cap. Car keys. Studio!

Template plastic, more robot fabric, cut, sew. Hold breath. Turn inside-out. Iron. YES! (By George I Think She’s Got IT!) Topstitch that thing and get it into the bag. LOVE IT. (I know).


Move stuff into the bag. Fits! HAPPY!

Inside the bag

Pattern? No… didn’t make a pattern for it yet. Yes, I should. Well, sure I’ll make you one while I write it. Have to test it anyway. And one for you. Oh, you want it bigger. That tall? To carry your iPad. Got it. Tall version coming up. Let’s try 8” x 10”.

Studio. Draw, calculate, cut, sew. Two sizes… officially a Pattern In Development. Flap’s funny on the tall one. Make it again. Try magnetic closures. Make it again. Ok, I’ll make you one. But I’m still working out this flap, OK?

Taller bag

Email blast to the Tester Peeps! Make a bag! Two sizes! Come on down!

Sorry for the hand sketches. Let me know if the writing makes sense. Yes? Argh, you’re right… I have no idea what I meant by that, obviously needed more chocolate. Yep, that sure is a better way of putting it. Thank you. That step should go first? Got it. Is the velcro in the right place? You think the flap’s fine? How are we doing? Ready to turn the bag? Yay! You made it! Pix for the blog!! THANK YOU!!


Still not sure about that taller bag. Flap still looks funny.

Rinse and repeat with second group of Tester Peeps. Wow, these gals totally saved my patootie. AGAIN. Whew.


Flap still looks funny. Harrumph. Back to the drawing board. Rules of design proportion? Rule of thirds? The Golden Rule? Shorten the flap? Yep, that helped. Still looks funny. The bag’s too tall. But it has to be 10” for the (#@*$) iPad. Too tall! Can’t shorten it. Waitaminute! I can make it wider!

Try 10” x 10”. Echino airplanes and scooters! Sweet fabric, but why didn’t they make it in ORANGE. Because not everyone luuurvvvess ORANGE, Sam. (Fools!) More for me! (Wicked laughter!) Cut, sew, flip, and BINGO – doesn’t look funny anymore. Love that square! Love that balance! Oh, you’d like one, but in linen. Sure. I need to test it again.

10 in square

It’s Karen’s birthday and I could make her one of these. Except for the small one is too big for her – she likes them wee (she’s a Scot!) Make it smaller. SMALLER? Are you NUTS? Hmmm… 6” x 6” could work. If I move that and squeeze this and keep it SQUARE, and how the hell am I supposed to get my hand through there and yes, it’s so cute! Perfect. THREE sizes for the pattern now. Oh, you’d like one? Sure. I’m still testing it. No, it has to stay SQUARE. Trust me.

6 inch

A pattern? Of course it’s a pattern. It will be out soon… I just need to run one more test!



  • What does it have in its pocketses? – Gollum, in The Hobbit
  • Bad Robot – J.J. Abrams’ production company (and on the end of every episode of Lost)
  • Yeah, baby! Groovy, baby! (But with better teeth!) – Austin Powers
  • By George I Think She’s Got It! – My Fair Lady
  • Love it. I know – (“I love you.” “I know.”) Princess Leia and Han Solo, in The Empire Strikes Back
  • Fools! – Mr. T from the A-Team

Chunky Wee Bag - COVER - 72dpiRGB

The Quality of Patterns – A Discussion

A friend forwarded a post from Marianne of The Quilting Edge this weekend, in which she invites discussion on the topic of poorly written patterns. Give it a look, and check out the lively discourse in the comments!

As a pattern designer, I’d like to address a few of the points from this side of the aisle!


First up: this is part of my internal “mission statement” when I design a pattern. I can’t speak for every other designer, but I do know that my closest designer pals are like me, all striving to do a conscientious job:

  • Mind the fabric. The fabric “generosity” in the materials list is a tricky tightrope to walk. I round up to the nearest 1/4 yard, or add an 1/8 yard if I’m on the 1/4 line. This only changes if the fabric is being used for cuts larger than an 1/8 (say an 8” cut) in which case I give you one extra large cut in case of an oops. C&T’s rule for my upcoming book was add 1/4 yard to my calculations. I do work hard at writing patterns that use up most of their parts… in several of my jelly-strip based ones you can use the strip scraps to make a binding (I happen to love the puzzle of using it all up!)
  • Be honest about my assumptions. At the beginning of every pattern, I tell you what the pattern assumes you already know: how to sew a 1/4” inch, how to rotary cut, how to layer/quilt/bind, etc. In my paper-pieced patterns, I give you links to several tutorials that I think will help you as my assumption on paper-piecing is that you will learn it from a book or video, not the pattern. And it just isn’t cost effective to put all that extra tutorial into the pattern – the paper cost goes up, and most of the time how you do it is not how I do it so it’s wasted.
  • The pattern should be the key to the kingdom on the cover. For me, this means I give you accurate steps to make the exact thing in the picture (exceptions noted above), and maybe a couple of other sizes. If it’s a special technique, then you get ALL the steps. I once bought a pattern that said the equivalent of figure out how big you want to make it, then figure our how many of these blocks fit into that, and have at it. I don’t consider that a pattern.
  • Be honest about the skills required. On the back cover of every pattern, I call out the skills needed. I don’t just say Beginner or Intermediate because I don’t think that’s enough information at all. I list the skills you will actually employ. As I write mostly for the Confident Beginner Peeps, I call out specifically if you need an accurate 1/4” seam, or just a mostly consistent one. If there are templates or paper-piecing involved, I say so. If you will be dealing with bias edges, I say so. I want you to know what you’re getting into, and I especially don’t want you unsuspectingly biting off more than you want to chew.
  • Draw as much as possible. Every one learns differently – some people need all the words, some people need the drawings. I attempt to add computer drawn illustration to as many of the steps as I can. It bulks up the paper, but I think my readers are worth it.
  • Make it MAKE-ABLE. I dream up a lot of things that, in the end, would be horrid to have to make or worse, explain. So I don’t turn those into patterns. Frankly, if my reader could make such a convoluted thing, she is probably figuring it out her own way, and isn’t buying a pattern to do it! Instead, I figure out how to break things down so you don’t sweat through them. I learned a little of this from a composer friend, whose superpower is writing music for each instrument that the musician could play easily (not writing it at the edges of the instrument’s range or sitting on its octave breaks). I fundamentally believe that quilting should be fun, so I try hard to write things that are fun, too.
  • Get it tested. I have a bunch of people on board to check my work. One friend is the master of sorting out my grammar. Another sorts out the flow of steps (“no, Sam, put this before that.”). Another catches the instances where the parts on her design wall don’t look a thing like my drawings. One hates to read the words, so she sees if the pattern can be navigated by the pictures. Another does the opposite, making sure my words actually describe what’s going on. Others spend their precious time and fabric stash actually making the pattern. It really does take a village – and most of them do it FOR FREE.
  • ‘Fess up when you blow it. While all of the above should catch everything, sometimes it doesn’t. When that happens, I fix the pattern, update the print masters and PDF files, and publish the oops on the Patterns/Errata page. And I’m eternally grateful to the person that told me about the problem.
  • Be open to feedback. Critique is necessary to making a better product, even if it stings. I do my best to listen openly to suggestions for improvement, with the understanding that I just won’t be able to please everyone.

And now, my answers to some of the comments on the Quilting Edge:

The shop that sold the pattern is responsible for the quality of the pattern. NO – the buck stops with the author. AND such gatekeeping just isn’t possible for most shop owners. Like you, they buy a pattern based on the appeal of the cover, and sometimes have it made into a sample if they think they can sell fabric or a class for it, but they cannot read the fine print of everything they carry. I would imagine if you let them know a pattern is a mess, they probably won’t buy more of them (or others from the same designer). It’s certainly how we did it in the last store I worked in. But like Target can’t be responsible for the content every crappy DVD it sells, neither can your LQS read and test every single thing. If you want to buy a pattern in a store, you can always ask to open it and give it a once over before paying (every store I’ve been in has been cool with this). I don’t think the LQS should foot a return because they have no way of ensuring the buyer didn’t pirate a copy before returning it – I know this screws over a scrupulous buyer, but unfortunately, there are more folks who wouldn’t think twice about copying and returning a pattern, thinking copyright law is merely a suggestion.

The pattern designer is trying to make a quick buck. If only! There are precious few quick bucks in the pattern business. If the designer does half the steps I listed above, they still worked on that pattern for DAYS. And bought a bunch of fabric too. Let me break this down for you… on a $10 pattern in your local quilt store – $5 goes to the store, $5 to me if I sold it directly to the store. My expenses to make the pattern (paper, printing, bags, assembly) come out of my cut. If one of my distributors sold it to the store, the store still gets $5, the distributor gets $1.50, and I get $3.50. And I still need to cover my expenses in that $3.50. So I get maybe $2.50 of that $10. Yes, I get most of the $$ on a download (minus hosting fees and banking charges) but still. Trust me when I say the buck is not quick.

The free patterns aren’t written well. Part of this is you get what you pay for – truly. Part of it is that a lot of the free patterns are paired with lines of fabric, and they often get written at the 11th hour before the fabric debuts at Quilt Market (and the designers get offered little or no payment). I have been approached by more than one fabric company to produce a fully tested pattern with a 2 week deadline before market for no payment (“we’ll show people your pattern!”) other than an offer of the fabric to make the quilt (not the batting). I certainly don’t do my best work in those circumstances, so I imagine other designers don’t either. It would also help if people stop expecting to always get it for free. If you expect a free download, then you should also expect that the designer or fabric company probably didn’t PAY a team of editors and testers to make sure it’s right. Yes – everyone should make the best product possible regardless (I certainly strive to – my reputation matters to me) – but as I said you often get what you pay for when FREE is involved.

The patterns aren’t well written – part 2. One comment was from a person who released a pattern that she said she had tested, but she also admitted that she doesn’t read other people’s patterns. I would hope that people who take pattern designing seriously take the time to learn their craft and research their competition. That said, you’re still likely to come across something that looks as cute as heck, but is perhaps written by someone who doesn’t have a depth of experience to construct things more easily, or even use commonly understood vocabulary (FWIF, I voraciously read other patterns to see how they are written and illustrated so that I can constantly improve my game – I do it to invest in my business). I wish some of our newest pattern designers would take some time to hone their craft, and learn from their fore-mothers (I’m a HUGE proponent of learning the rules before you go about breaking them). But I also accept that there’s nothing new about the new kids on the block wanting to blaze the trails a new way, and sometimes we get new and exciting techniques from it – yay for innovation! The other side of the coin is that we sometimes get caught when that new fangled stuff doesn’t work out so well. With the ease and speed of pushing content out to the internet, we are going to get a lot of amateur work out there, jumbled in with the good (just look at YouTube). I think you just have to accept that you will occasionally get rick-rolled.

The patterns aren’t written well – part 3. Just like in other industries, there is good and bad, and unfortunately, it’s up to us to determine which is which. One comment said we need a pattern review site – and yes, that would be wonderful. But would you pay to belong to it? Someone has to foot the bill to provide that service to you, and they should be able to profit from their labor, no? Also… would you take the time to write when things are good? I have sold a bunch of patterns in places that allow a review, and no one has written to say if they’re good. I’ve had more emails about my errors than I have had thanking me for making a pattern that was easy to follow. So unless you are willing to review the good, the data will be radically skewed. Another comment said that they felt no responsibility to write to a pattern author – but may I stick my neck out and say I’d rather hear WHY you think my pattern is lacking (in technical terms) than just sit here an wonder why the sales are slack?

In conclusion, the pattern making business is just like any other area of commerce. While, like you, I would love to never buy a bad pattern again, the reality is that there will always be good, and there will always be bad. It doesn’t excuse bad writing in any way, and it is the unfortunate burden of we buyers to sort through that. Hopefully the laws of business will take effect such that the cream rises and the people who write poorly cease to thrive and quit doing it. But I would also offer this… yes, it’s a bummer to pay good money for a pattern that doesn’t live up to your expectations. But I know you’ve also paid for disappointing movies or meals. It happens occasionally. NO ONE CAN PLEASE EVERYONE ALL THE TIME. If it happens to you, please take the time to write the designer to let them know what disappointed you, so that they can improve. The good ones will take this critique and up their game. As for the designers that choose to ignore it, you need not shop them again. And if you DO like it, please, please, please drop us a quick note. It might be the note that stops us from throwing in the towel on the design business. It might just inspire us to make more good things for YOU!

And yes… please comment away – I love a good discussion!



A new Art Geek App!


Early in my college art education, an art history professor assigned us a museum trip. We were charged with visiting one of three specific paintings, and to spend 15 minutes with the work while writing down everything we could about it: composition, color, subject matter, and anything else that popped into our heads. She said that the 15 minute part was imperative, and to time ourselves.

Thus, I dutifully sat for 15 minutes in front of a painting at the Getty. It took less than a minute to note all the big stuff, but by the end of the session I had actually noticed the subtle shading of the sky, the patterning of leaves, the delicate blush on cheek – all things I never notice on a quick pass. It was such a richer experience. For so many of us, a trip to see art is a high speed smorgasbord, where we see the broad strokes and big ideas, but we miss the details because we’re speeding to the next one. So I have a new rule (since that assignment) when I’m in a museum… I might take a fast pass around a room, but I will choose one work and spend TIME with it.

So with that in mind, you’ll understand why I want to share a new iPad app with you… it’s called Art Scrambles, and it’s an app that brings you beautiful works of fine art as puzzles.


Above is Jan Van Eyck‘s Arnolfini Portrait as a puzzle. You get to choose the shape and size of the pieces you want to play with (I use bigger shapes when I want to relax, and the smallest when I want to be challenged). The app is infused with subtle orchestral sounds, a sweetly clean interface, and best of all, ART. There are well known works that you would expect to find, like the Mona Lisa, but there are also a lot of works that you might not have seen, and discovering them through the use of the puzzle format is such a delight.

For instance, on Arnolfini and his wife (above), it took playing the puzzle for me to notice the fruit on the window sill (below). And I have actually seen this painting in person! (psst… it’s 24” x 36” – so much smaller than you’d expect!)


I have studied Pieter Breugel the Elder in passing as all art history students do, but to work one of his paintings as a puzzle is to really understand just how much he was interested in hierarchy.


There are also artists represented in the app that I wasn’t aware of. One is Utagawa Hiroshige, and all of his works seem to be perfectly tuned for puzzle solving. I think I would have missed the subtle transitions of color if I hadn’t been searching for the right place to play the pieces! Look at the way the background fades from red to cream to green in Plums, below.


Anyway – if you have an iPad, go grab this app – it’s free and blissfully free of ads. It has add-on packs of more puzzles too – some a sampler of works from an era like the Renaissance, others just one artist. There are three packs just for Vermeer! Heaven!


These Hands Make Things

If you follow any of the social media surrounding the current wave of feminism, you’ve probably noticed that we are beginning to see photographs of real people with little electronic alteration – a trend I find so welcome.

The latest version of Vanity Fair is the yearly Hollywood issue, and right in the middle of all that impossible glamour is a group of pictures taken by Chuck Close. The stars were instructed to show up without stylists and entourages, and Close shot the images up close and personal in his usual fashion.

My favorite of the group is this one of Helen Mirren:

Helen MirrenI love that she seems to not have messed with her beautiful face (that smile hints of delight and mischief), but more than that – I love the realness and honesty of her hand. It looks like a hand that has lived.

Which got me to thinking about hands in advertising… all those perfect hands with perfect nails. That always seem, somehow, to not actually look like they know what they are doing in the ads. They don’t look like they’ve ever slathered peanut butter on bread in a hurry. Or cracked a nail while grabbing keys off the counter. Or endured the tiny stabs and pinpricks of a daily life in the needle-arts. They might be real, but  they just don’t look it – anymore than those perfectly polished cover girls we’re trying to debunk.

Which then got me to thinking about my own hands:


I like these hands. I’m proud that, after 52 years and counting, they’re still working pretty well. They have made many beautiful things, and they bear the scars of a rich life. That knot of arthritis in the last knuckle of my right index finger is a present from grad school (along with bifocals) – the incredible volume of writing, researching and making did a number on that knuckle and it bumped up in defense. You can see a new burn on the same index finger – I’m still getting used to the oven in my new digs.

right hand

There’s also a cut on the side of my left index finger, a snick in a quick moment of making dinner for a friend. On the palm side of my left hand is a web of scars from a disagreement with a blender a year ago (I’ll spare you the picture with the stitches) along with an almost 30 year old scar from a minor surgery to remove a pesky cyst. And you can no longer see where I machine-sewed through my finger on one of those doing-too-much-too-fast days. And freckled over all, the salt and pepper of age spots.

But let me tell you other stories about these hands… they changed a bunch of diapers on a really sweet kiddo who is soon to turn thirty. They have hugged and hugged and hugged so many wonderful people. They’ve written serious term papers and typed silly statuses into social media. They’ve made oodles of shortbread. And they have made quilts. Lots of quilts. Hundreds of quilts. They have started a pattern business, designed a bunch of sassy buttons, and written a book. These hands are CAPABLE. They might not be cover-girl smooth anymore, but they know how to MAKE things. And that, to me, makes them beautiful.

So show me YOUR hands on the HDS Facebook Page and tell me a story about them. And if you’re using Instagram let’s give them a #thesehandsmake hashtag so that we can see them all together!

(With thanks to my friend Annie for the photo assist… hand selfies are not easy!)

JCP is ripping off an artist – UPDATED with GOOD NEWS!

Excellent news – JPC is working with the artist to sort out the copyright violation. See Kal site for an update.

Huzzah for a big corporation doing the right thing by the artists!!!


Original post:

To be in the arts means we are a maker of things. To make a business of art means we need to sell those things – and the internet is an effective way for most of us to do that.

It also means that the things we make are visible, even to the people that have no intention of parting with their money to own something beautiful that we made. The lesser beings in this karmic soup take the idea of another and run with it.

Kal's stolen work

It would seem that JCPenney is selling bags whose fabric in an unlicensed and un-permissioned copy. Kal Barteski, the artist whose work has been appropriated, writes about it here:

First up – DON’T BUY ONE OF THESE! Don’t support the theft of other artists’ work.

Next up – head to my FB page and pick up the post about it, and please, please please, forward it far and wide. Let’s help Kal get this issue VISIBLE. There is power in numbers.

We artist must ALWAYS have each other’s back, especially when dealing with huge corporations with lawyers on retainer. We Are SO Worth It.

Room for everyone – and vive la difference!

My dear friend Josh, the man in glitter behind Molli Sparkles has hit a nerve out there… he is part of a guys-only quilt bee group, and it seems that some gals have taken umbrage with the name of the group (No Girls Allowed Quilt Bee) not to mention the exclusion of girls from it.

Sigh. Let’s stop all this now, shall we? There is room in this for ALL of us. Ladies, gents, kiddos and cats too, if the pix on Facebook are any indicator of truth.

Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I want women to have equal opportunity. Yes, I am a member of a couple of women-only bees…. that in all honesty, we want to keep that way. (Or at a minimum, in our own female world view, we didn’t think to ask any fellas.) Yes, my first quilt guild got their bloomers in a bundle over the first guy to brave the biddy gauntlet and join (hell, they got all up in arms when Sam here volunteered to be president, most of them thinking I’m a fella because of my name – not once seeking me out to find out who I really am). But seriously – if we want to be treated inclusively, we need to TREAT OTHERS THE SAME. If we want to get into the locker room, we have to open the door to the powder room. I know the scales are still nowhere near balanced, but our playing narrow-minded and small isn’t going to rally anyone to the cause.

I urge you to read Josh’s follow up post here. It seems that the original post has reached a reader’s son, who now is excited that there is a welcoming place for him to explore his desire to sew. And the fellas in the bee are sending care packages to this lad. Ladies… we do this very same thing! We find the spark of interest, and we fan it with care packages of fabric. What on earth could be wrong with that??? Are we not here to get other people to fall in love with quilting?

So to Josh – bravo! – you done good!

To the young lad – welcome… we love having new people in the sewing tribe! (and please just ignore the biddies… the cool people already do)

And to the naysayers… get off the internet and go do a nice thing for someone today… maybe the steel around your heart will soften up a little!

Improv piecing and the Pope’s robes

photo (2)Despite living in Los Angeles for decades, I had never made the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA (ha… almost wrote Downton!) Yesterday, I changed that.

Just so you know, I don’t talk about how I do faith in public. I’m cool with how I do faith, and on board for however you do yours, but I find overt evangelism a bit odious, so when the topic comes up amongst anyone other than my closest pals, my response is usually “How ’bout them Dodgers?”

I went to the cathedral to experience it as art and architecture. I’ve been to many European churches and cathedrals, and they are usually marvels, testaments to the absolute best the artists and craftsmen of their time had to offer. A mason could work his entire (short) life on a magnificent edifice, knowing he would never see to completion, yet knowing that it might stand for generations to come. Sometimes I think quilting can be just that important too – they can outlast us if we make them right.

So this cathedral… impressive, but not my cup of tea. I understand that one doesn’t set out to build an old school Gothic cathedral full of soaring buttresses in 1996, but I found the postmodernist angles of this building to be, well, angular. My friend remarked that they didn’t inspire much comfort. I would have to agree. The tapestries, though, were quite spectacular and worth a visit. As always, I might come for the building but I stay for the fiber!


In one rather awkward little alcove, there were some mementos of the Pope’s visit to LA in 1987. There were a few press pictures of him saying mass in Dodger Stadium (and… how ’bout them Dodgers?!) wearing the robe and mitre in these pictures.

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And look… improv piecing done in myriad contemporary fabrics! Fancy that! I wonder who made these? And if she is now a modern quilter?

Come see me in Camarillo!

I’m back to the old stomping grounds this week… the Camarillo Quilters Association is hosting me for a lecture on the morning of Tuesday Jan 14 – stop by if you can and say hi! I’m also teaching Dingbats for them on Wednesday Jan 15, and I understand there might be a couple of seats left if you’re interested.

The lecture is going to include a trunk show of a lot of quilts – this is the first time I’ve done a trunk show out of a suitcase rather than a car, and I’m thrilled to find out just how much I can pack into a 50lb case. And I packed two of them!

While I was searching for the right quilts to bring, I unearthed this lovely Snail’s Trail/Virginia Reel:

Snails1It’s the only antique quilt I own. I bought it because, with all that ORANGE, I just knew it had been waiting for me to show up and love it. It’s machine pieced, but hand quilted, and still has a lot of pencil marks. It has the feel of a project that was maybe a big stretch in skill for the maker… there are a lot of points that don’t match, and there are lots of places where the orange shadows through the white at the seams because they should have been pressed the other way. The binding is a bit dodgy in places too. It is utterly charming for every spot that the imaginary quilt police might frown upon… the hand of the maker is delightfully evident everywhere! And I find myself cheering for her courage to try something that I know to be a bit tricky with all those bias-edged triangles. The last time I tried this block I paper-pieced it.

Here’s a shot of the quilting:



I’m told that the style of quilting and the quality of the muslin tell that the quilt was probably made in the 1920′s. All I know is I think it’s sweet and bold, and I slept well under it last night!



A day with Calder

All images courtesy LACMA’s site… no photography was allowed in the gallery.

A couple of weeks before I moved away from SoCal, I took a day off from packing to spend with a dear friend, and we caught the latest special exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – one of smaller works by Alexander Calder. LACMA’s group was a wonderful portion of work – enough to be sated, and not so much that it overwhelmed.

Calder 3

Most people meet Calder on a larger scale than can be exhibited in a gallery. His work graces a lot of big public spaces (hello Grand Rapids!) and are most easily identified by their ORANGE color, organic shapes, and their ever-so-slightly-spidery stances. The standing works are known as “stabiles” as counterpoint to the hanging “mobiles” that Calder also made.

This exhibition had a mixed group of smaller stabiles, a lot of mobiles, and several pieces that had elements of both – grounded but with parts that balanced in the air, and that moved gently with the currents made by we shuffling patrons.


While Calder’s large work can feel solid and serious, the small pieces are delightfully playful. They are perfectly balanced in a way that looks utterly effortless, each blade in a mobile perfectly placed in space. Some of the pieces felt quite refined, and others felt like they were perhaps early attempts at a concept, and showed more evidence of working out the puzzles of the design. My fellow viewers and I surreptitiously wafted our exhibition brochures and blew at the sculptures to get them to begin their dance for us. Several of the pieces gave me that great feeling of childlike wonder – when you’re a grownup, you’ve seen so much that awe seldom visits. I found myself happily grinning like an 8 year old as I watched the mobiles move. My favorite works were the ones that felt a bit like fish skeletons (I have an affinity for skeletons born of studying anatomy in a former profession). My friend Sandy was more taken with the pieces that were inspired by plant life (a topic close to her heart).


Just to note – none of Calder’s wire portraits were included in this group. If you get a chance to see some, take the time. They bring the linear aspects of drawing into dimensional space, and some of them have kinetic elements that add so much to the character (the portrait of Josephine Baker dances in space!)

Sculpture presents its own special problems in installation. Most of the time you end up with a large box of a room to work with, and the works get dotted around with hopefully enough space between them to walk. The difficulty in this is that there is seldom a way to look at one work by itself in isolation – there is always another work or people in the picture. This installation, however, was beautiful (LACMA’s images of it here). Each work had room to be enjoyed by itself, and most were installed against undulating backdrops that removed the delineation of “room” from the visual plane. I later found out that Frank O. Gehry designed the installation (read more about that here) – no wonder it was finely a finely tuned marriage of art and space! Several of the pieces were lit to emphasize the shadows cast by the moving parts. While all art interacts with its space, sculpture’s third dimension often brings shadow into play as an element that can also be used as part of the composition, and in this case it was beautifully shown.

If you want to learn more about Calder, I would highly recommend the American Masters episode on him, released as a documentary DVD that you can probably get from your library. The Calder Foundation also has film clips on their site. It’s worth seeing a little bit of the man in action to see his impish sense of play and whimsy.

And a last word about “no photos in the gallery.” Usually I find this utterly tedious… why not let people have that snapshot to jog their memory? Yes, yes… the establishment wants to sell their book… I get it. But really, I’m more for sharing the art far and wide – we make art to touch people. If the establishment wants to make some extra money, offer high quality postcards for a buck apiece… they are more likely to get a few dollars out of me that way. A lot of people can’t afford the book, or don’t want to read all the academic writing, and many tourists don’t want the weight of it in their suitcase. As for someone “stealing” the work? Thieves will steal no matter what – forbidding cameras won’t stop a determined thief. And having said all that… in this age of the smartphone, it was delightful to be in a space of people who were looking at the work and trying to interact with it, rather than documenting it (if you are trying to capture the moment, you are not IN the moment). Sandy and I had some lovely snippets of conversation about the art with other strangers, conversations that might not have been had if we were all snapping our phones. Food for thought…