January 29, 2008


I've been rather tired this past week. As I thought, last week was rather draining with my work schedule shifting and then feeling under the weather. I did manage to get one more old stray piece finished and used Insul-Bright by The Warm Company for the batting. I bought it at Fabricland thinking of using it for tea cozies and maybe oven mitts, but wanted to try it out first in something more mundane. I thought instead of making another kitty quilt I'd make a little table mat that would do double duty as a insulating pad for hot pots, etc. while adding some brightness to the kitchen. It turned out fairly well. I love the bright orange and green fabrics! The green wave fabric I bought 20-odd years ago although I'm sure I've seen it or something similar recently. It is a Hoffman woodblock. The orange I picked up in the summer and love it's sparkle!
After making it for the table, I thought it would actually make a great kitty quilt, especially for an old kitty - they tend to feel the cold more and it wouldn't it be nice for them to have a cozy insulating quilt to sleep on? But really, I now have three kitty quilts and only two kitties, so I really don't need another.

As I thought I might, I lost a bit of steam with the scarf attempt. It's so long and takes up so much thread, and I'm still not convinced it will turn out as I'd hoped. I wanted to see if what I'd done so far would be okay, so I sewed back and forth horizontally about 3 inches up from one end, then cut between those sewing lines. I soaked the small piece in some very warm water and the H20 Gone (again, bought from Fabricland), dissolved almost instantly, although there is enough left in the piece to make it fairly stiff. I imagine with more rinsing and perhaps a dab of gentle soap this would all come out. However, here it is

And again - doesn't it look like some kind of jellyfish?

And again - rather stiff. I think it would lend itself well to being included in some sort of wall hanging.

It seems to be okay, so I will continue on with it and see what happens.
Keep your foot on the dogs!

January 28, 2008

Cotton has quite a history. Archaeologists found bits of cotton fabric and bolls in a cave in TehuacAjn Valley, Mexico and dated them to 7000 B.C. and There is evidence of cotton being grown, spun, woven and dyed in what is now Pakistan in 3000 B.C.. There are many species of cotton, but only a handful are cultivated commercially as they have the longest fibres and that makes for a better quality cotton. Did you know that there are species of cotton that are coloured? There are green cottons

There are brown cottons

And there are apparently blue and pink varieties, although they are now difficult to find. These naturally coloured cottons are not grown for profit because their fibres are shorter and so they produce a lower quality cotton fibre. It's a shame though, don't you think? I'm tempted to buy some seeds and grow my own this summer - just for fun. Just to make that connection with the plant that plays such a big role in my life.
The history of cotton is a long, complex story and an interesting read. I've put some links on the side and will add to them as I find interesting sites.

Only white cotton is grown commercially. China, India, and the U.S. are currently the largest cotton producers (see here for more cotton production info) and China is the largest importer. Pakistan also plays a part in cotton production as does Brazil, Uzbekistan, and Franco-African countries.
Unfortunately, cotton fabric manufacturing - from seed planting to the finished product - is one of the most chemical and water-intensive agricultural processes. Cotton requires vast amounts of water to produce quality bolls, the plant itself greatly depletes the soil's nutrients so vast amounts of fertilizer are required, and it's sweet sap attracts multitudes of insects so most commercial growers use alot of pesticides.
"Even at the agricultural stage, cotton is regarded as one of the most environmentally damaging crops in the world, with individual crops often receiving multiple treatments of powerful pesticides. Both cotton and other textile industries also use large amounts of chemicals in the processing, dyeing and washing processes. Many are produced in nations where there are fewer controls on effluent, and are high in biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), with high levels of suspended and dissolved solids. In some cases they also contain heavy metals and phenolic compounds." (see here for more)
This passage is from the UN Atlas of the Oceans website, and other sites I have visited discuss how cotton farming accounts for 11% of the world's use of pesticides, and 24% of the world's use of insecticides. And in some areas where cotton is harvested by machine, defoliants are sprayed on the plants to kill the leaves so that they won't interfere with harvesting.
Then there are the chemicals used in processing and dying, and because much of cotton processing is done in China and other countries that don't have environmental protection laws, much of the chemical waste is dumped untreated into the environment.
White cotton has been genetically engineered in recent years to be more pest resistant and less needy of water. Some sites I visited state that both these types of cottons, especially the cotton plant that has been created to be resistant to the boll worm (referred to as Bt cotton), have been very helpful in reducing the amount of pesticide needed to reap a profitable crop. Other sites maintain that the engineered varieties have their own faults that cause crops to fail.

There are many farmers now growing cotton in a more environmentally friendly way and as demand for such cotton grows, more farmers will turn to these methods.
Quilters create alot of demand for cotton fabrics dyed with beautiful colours so we can play our part too. Ask at your LQS which manufacturers use environmentally friendly cotton for their products and if there aren't any, ask when they will begin using it. If we put pressure on our cotton suppliers, hopefully they'll start demanding that their cotton be grown and processed in a more responsible way.
In the meantime, what to use? One can find organic cotton products, shirts, pants, etc., but I've found it very hard to find organic cotton fabric. I have found one place locally, Earth and Fire (at 416-203-4138, 489 Queen Street West, Toronto, upstairs) that sells an organic cotton/hemp blend that would be fine for quilting, but of course, none of the fabric is dyed, which means I've begun looking into dying with local plants - something environmentally benign. And of course, one could use only all ready-used fabrics for quilting - as some of our fore mothers did.
This of course raises for me the ethical dilemma of what I am willing to give up, if anything, and/or begin in order to continue quilting. Am I willing to stop buying new fabric if it's not environmentally friendly? Am I willing to travel to used clothing places throughout the city to buy bits and pieces to use in my quilts? Do I have the time and energy to dye organic fabric?
How about you? Will this information change the way you buy and/or use fabric?
I think every little bit will help. I think as we as a group start demanding environmentally friendly cottons, the manufacturers will begin supplying us with such. So let's start asking!
Keep your foot on the dogs.

January 22, 2008

What Is and What Should (Never) Be

" ' Ah my friend, what have you brought me? You know a traveler should not arrive empty-handed at the door of a friend like me. That's going to the grinding stone without your wheat.
The guest began, "You can't imagine how I've looked for something for you. Nothing seemed appropriate. You don't take gold down into a goldmine, or a drop of water to the Sea of Oman! Everything I thought of was like bringing cumin see to Kirmanshah where cumin comes from.
... I've brought you a mirror. Look at yourself, and remember me."
... What is the mirror of being? Non-being. Always bring a mirror of non-existence as a gift. Any other present is foolish.
... An empty mirror and your worst destructive habits, when they are held up to each other, that's when the real making begins. That's what art and crafting are."

The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, publ. HarperSanFrancisco, pg. 141.

Rumi was talking about the renovation of the soul, but here we are mainly concerned with fabric and quilting.
This is the essence of all creation/renovation: the gap between what is and what we picture in our minds; between what is and what should be, or what we think should be; the gap between the status quo and the best.
For quilters and artists creation lies between the fabric, thread, beads, ribbons, and what we envision and/or feel it could become. It is the privation of something that drives us to create. Every quilter I've known or read is always seeking to try something new or to improve on something - make their stitches smaller, make their machine quilting more fluid, get their points to match up. It's never ending.
It is also the pleasure and fun we get from that process and end product that keeps us returning to the sewing machine in spite of it sometimes being frustrating, of it pointing out some of our faults. Impatience is one of mine. I want something to be finished NOW, not tomorrow or next month. I have to learn to relax and let the process unfold - everything takes time, and I have experienced the fact that rushing tends to lead to mistakes and more frustration. That doesn't always mean that I don't rush, however.
Here's a challenge: look into that mirror and see one of your quilting faults and for this month, work on changing it every time you sit down to quilt.
Let me know how it works out.

I've rebegun the process of being more environmentally friendly. Years ago I was moreso than I am these days, and that bothers me - another gap between what is (living as I do, using the products I do) and what should be (living more eco-sensitively, using environmentally beneficial products or non-harming products). Of course the inevitable has happened: I've begun looking into the environmental impact of the manufacturing of our most beloved cotton. The news is not good. I'll update you as I learn more.

Keep your foot on the dogs.

January 20, 2008

Well I've made another kitty quilt with an old piece as it's basis:

I like it. And apparently so did my other kitty, Squeaky

Now that they've past the kitty test, time for the washer test. Both the red and this new "quilt" have double thickness of poly batt in them and I was wondering how they would launder, so into the washer and dryer they went today with me crossing my fingers and holding my breath. They faired the washer quite well in spite of its dogged determination to aggitate them apart. I popped them into the dryer and in no time, out they came


Well that was a good start to the day.

I had seen on one of the online shows a woman making a beautiful scarf by repeatedly sewing with rayon threads along a length of disolving stabilizer, then back and forth across the width. I thought I'd give it a try, but add bits of scrap fabric. I dove right in, but am now wondering if it will turn out. Here's a picture of it at the beginning

Here's a picture of it now

The shots were taken in different light - the first one is truer to the fabric colours. I'm not convinced that this will turn out well, in fact I'm beginning to doubt that it will, but I'll keep on it and see. Unfortunately, this week is a busy one at work, so I'm not sure how much time I'll have to work on it.

The picture behind my blog title is of a wall (it's changed now - see the picture here) on Queen's Park Circle - on of the University of Toronto buildings. I thought it was wonderful and would make a great quilt block - holyhocks in a vase. Another block to add to the list of wannadoos.

Keep your foot on the dogs.

January 13, 2008

There's work, and then there's "work"

"Work" interferes with life. Just when I'm getting excited about some fabric or a pattern, or how close I am to finishing something, it's time to go off to work. Damn work. Or I've come home from work and am just too darn sleepy to do real (quilty) work efficiently or successfully. Yesterday, however, was a little different. Yesterday was one of those occasional Saturdays that I work and while I was kept later than normal, it was a fairly good day. I met my partner afterwards for coffee at our favourite fair trade/organic coffee house, Just Us Cafe and had a delicious soy cappuccino with a piece of scrumptious cherry pie - I LOVE cherry pie. As we walked home along Queen Street passing fabric and bead stores - there are tons of them but few with quilting fabric - I stopped in to a couple to buy some Gutterman's white quilting thread. Can you believe that in the "Fashion District" of Toronto not one of those stores had the thread I needed? What craziness. Mac Fab has a wonderful selection of threads (and great upholstery, drapery and clothing fabrics) and that's usually where I buy thread - or Fabricland - but they are in the other direction along Queen and I thought surely, some other store will have white cotton Gutterman thread appropriate for sewing cotton fabric. Nope. I only use cotton thread to sew pieces together - I always keep in mind the caveat that when the seam is stressed, thread that is stronger than the fabric will simply tear the fabric. I'd rather have the seam go than the fabric. So, I came home empty handed.
After dinner we were watching tv. Now, we don't get or want cable or satellite tv. We just have our regular 7 local channels and if we can't find something on there, then it's time to find another activity. Saturday nights suck for tv watching here. Suck. Nothing of interest on at all last night - except for a couple of old movies on TVO, both of which we had seen. I kept the damn thing on, though, until my partner asked if I was stuck. I turned it off and whined about what to do and he, very smartly, said "Haven't you any unfinished sewing projects you could work on?" Say what, now? As a matter of fact ...This is a piece I began in early December - obviously a very simple piece.

I had thought of making cat & dog quilts both for my own cats, but also to sell for Christmas. I quilted it by machine along the squares, but the foot on my machine doesn't seem to have alot of pressure and it is extremely easy for pieces to wander somewhat - which is what happened on this. So I wasn't happy about that. I sewed the binding onto the front and was going to try what I've seen Eleanor Burns do on QuiltersTV or Quilters' News Network (when it was free), and that is to sew the other side of the binding down also by machine. She lines it up just so and the stitches end up being just at the stitching line on the front of the piece - hidden somewhat. But try as I might, I kept drifting too far over and the stitching line would end up 1/8" away from the front binding - a glaring mistake in my eyes - or I would go right into the binding itself. I just couldn't get it right. Each time I tried and I made mistakes, I unsewed the damn thing and finally I just put it on a pile and left it. Until my partner asked that question.
I finished the binding - mistakes be damned - here's one (mistake, that is):

I love the fabric I used on the back.You know how in the late fall, early spring, even sometimes in winter, those weeds in the fields in the country or on wasteland have tiny little dried flowers or seeds that are rusty coloured and beige and yellow? Well I love that. I love nature's flower and plant arranging. And this fabric looks just like those little rusty, yellow flowers at the ends of long grasses.

Coincidentally, I had the day before sorted out some of my fabric "drawers".

Oh, and here's a picture of one of my cats, Lenny, keeping my quilting chair warm for me)

And I came across a few little pieces I had put together back in the day with the possibility in mind of teaching basic quilting classes. There was one piece I really liked that uses a lovely green leaf print, but it wasn't well-executed. I had made them all with very small pieces - 1" square, which is small for me - and in this one piece the hst didn't match up that well. But I still liked it. So last night I pulled that out of a pile, ironed it out, found more of the red that I had used in it, and whipped it up into a little cat sitting quilt ... or something. I put two layers of poly batt in it and tied it with cotton and metallic embroidery threads. I left some of them long in case the cats wanted to play with them. I like it. Even with all it's mistakes.

Then my sister called and said that she was starting to make all natural herbal healing balms and shampoos for pets and would I be interested in helping her get the word out? Yeah, I said, but wait ... work already cuts into my quilty work time if I take this on too, when will I ever quilt? Oh heck, I'll figure something out.
Keep your foot on the dogs.

P.S. I've had such a hard time formatting this post that it's driving me nuts! If anyone can point me towards some help, I would greatly appreciate it (I haven't found blogspot's help very helpful)

January 8, 2008

Sister Blogs

I just had a quick stroll through some of the sites on the Quilt Studio blog ring, and am I ever inspired! If you haven't done so yet, check out some of these amazing sites and see the remarkable work people are doing. Here are a few sites to get you going:
Embelish Journal
If I Create It, Will They Come?
Sew Crazy

I think I will work next on making a table runner using the Rings That Bind Method. I really want to practice that technique and being completely inspired by Quilt Musings, I'm itching to get some long machine quilting practice sessions in soon. It's trickier on my old Bernina - no BSR, no open-toed foot, etc., but he's a workhorse and turns out some pretty nice stitches given the right amount of TLC.

Wish me luck!

keeping my foot on the dogs (until I start free-motion quilting)

January 6, 2008

My partner and I went to see the movie of the live satellite broadcast of The Met's performance of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at our local theatre. Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna played the roles of Juliette and Romeo and were spectacular! It was the first opera I've seen, but it definitely won't be the last. The Met is sharing some of it's operas live via satellite in HD in theatres around the world. The technology we have now is mind-bogling. One of the many things that caught my eye were the costumes, especially Roberto's. I was not crazy about the powder blue velvet tights he wore, or the matching cowboy boots (were they really cowboy boots?), but his jackets were lovely and put me in mind of soft, lacey crazy quilts . They were also powder blue, with satin ribons lined with beige lace sewed in diagonal stripes. I have looked and looked online to find pictures of beautiful cream or powder blue or pink or any other lightly tinted colour of crazy quilt, but without success. The closest I can come is a picture in The Rings That Bind of such a quilt made by Cheryl Phillips for her daughter. If you know of any pictures, let me know! Meanwhile, here is a lesson on how to make a crazy quilt. I have yet to attempt one of these spectacular quilts, but will at some point. I have a million different quilt ideas that I would like to get to, don't we all? My problem is in making the choice - what do I start on? And should I start another when I have unfinished ones?

UFOs are a fact of a quilter's life. This is a quilt top that I inherited from my mother - it was her mother's - Grandma Dede. The patches are hand pieced and the blocks are hand and machine pieced. Her stitches are so tiny!

And this is a top I picked up at a local used clothing store. The fabrics are wonderful, but I'm not sure from what time period - I'm thinking 40s or 50s. If anyone knows, let me know!

Again the stitches are tiny - it is all hand-pieced. I know that I would not have had the patience to make this top as the maker did - tracing out the patterns, cutting the little pieces, sewing each little piece to its neighbour. And both this top and my grandmother's tops have 1/8" seam allowance. How did they do it? It's amazing to me. I love my Olfa cutter, my Fiskars cutter, my Olfa mats and all my rulers and tools.
These are blocks of a quilt-as-you-go quilt that my mom began. She loved red. She hand quilted the blocks, but sewed them together on her father's Bernina (now my Bernina). She had congestive heart failure and found sitting at the machine sewing them together too tasking, so she wasn't able to finish. Now I have the blocks, and I read somewhere of an antique quilt whose blocks were bound then sewn together (have you heard of this method?). It sounded like the perfect way to finish my mom's quilt, so that's what I've been doing. I don't work at it often - I should, I know I should, but I just don't. Perhaps I'll start. It will be a lovely quilt to have on our bed for Christmas.

And finally, these are pieces of a lap-quilt top I began 20 years ago for my ex-MIL. She loved miniature daschunds and I was thrilled to find this blue fabric for her. Obviously, she never got it - never even knew I had begun this for her. Oh well. I still love the little dogs.

Those are some of the "unfinished" pieces I have. I don't know if I'll finish the top I bought, it needs some repairs as well, but I'll probably finish my grandmother's and my mother's. I'll never finish the doggie quilt - what's the point? But hopefully I'll find a new quilt-home for the fabric - it's so fun.
But I'd also like to start on a double wedding ring quilt and I've been plugging away at creating a whole series of blocks based on Canadian themes so I'd like to incorporate those into a quilt, too. Then there's the idea that came to me while looking out the window at work at the chain link fence across the street. Once you start being inspired by things around you, it begins to happen more and more frequently, until everywhere you look, you see a potential quilt pattern. Where to begin?
Until next time, keep your foot on the dogs.

January 3, 2008

Givitaway, givitaway, givitaway now

I recently read a brief, but interesting essay about the reluctance of artists to commodify their art, specifically in the quilting tradition. A good part of the essay focuses on gift-giving to organizations, for fundraising, to people going through some kind of hardship, etc.. Gifting quilts is as much a part of the quilting culture as needle and thread, but why? Why do we spend so much time and thought and effort on creating something to give away? I mean sure, sometimes we need a reason to make another quilt and god knows we can't claim to need one to go on the bed when we already have two for each season and a few more for whenever the whim hits us, and creating a quilt to give away is a great excuse to play with our fabric. But is that it? Or do we also feel that we are making an important contribution? And what do we expect from the people who receive it? Do we expect them to be thrilled? To recognize and appreciate what we put into it? To treat it lovingly and tenderly? How would you feel if you made a baby quilt for someone and next time you went to their home, the dog was lying on it? Or what if you just never saw them use it, if it just disappeared? (Check out this link to "Ugly Quilts").
Since my return to quilting I have made and given away two things - both to my father. One is a bed quilt based on two quilts his grandmother made, and most recently, a tablecloth (click here for the block pattern on the Quilters' Cache).

Here's one of the two bed quilts upon which mine is based.

I cannot remember a time that we didn't have the two twin sized quilts, but I imagine we inherited them when my grandmother died and I was a teenager. They were simple and not perfect - some of the patches didn't match up. The pieces were stitched together by hand and the blocks were assemble by machine. They were mostly hand-quilted, but the basket handles were machine appliqued - quite a feat for back then no doubt. Unfortunately, we sorely lacked in the appreciation department when it came to these quilts. They hung around the house for years, then when my parents bought some land and built a small stacked-log out-building that we ended up staying in for awhile (not this exact building but the method of construction is the same), we thumb-tacked (yes, thumb-tacked) one of the quilts to a wall as insulation and somehow the other ended up just rotting outside.
I began to notice the quilt. I began looking at the piecing, the hand and machine quilting, and I began to wonder about the maker. Who was she, why did she make them, how long did it take her? The more I wondered, the more I thought about making one myself, in part to connect with her, to have some continuity between my ancestors and myself. So this quilt, now so stained, torn, and battered, was my reason for taking up quilting back then, and it was the inspiration for getting me back into quilting now.
Did my great-grandmother have any inkling of the effect her work would have? She never knew me, she died long before I came along, yet in her making these two simple quilts she gave me a wonderful gift that continues to inspire me and that makes me wonder if any of my quilts will inspire some as-yet unknown descendant of mine, or perhaps a stranger, to take up the craft/art of quilting. As my father points out, you just never know what effect you have on others, and anything you do or make may one day be a gift of great importance to someone. Perhaps you will never know what happens to your gifted quilt, perhaps it will go to the dogs, or to a drawer, or never serve the purpose for which you made it. But maybe, it will serve a greater purpose, one that you can't even imagine.

Keep your foot on the dogs.