Monday, June 22, 2015

Quilter's mistake

This past weekend I packed up my quilting tools and two projects to attend the DC Modern Quilt Guild's meeting in Falls Church, VA for an all day sewing meeting.
The completed reconstructed triangles added Sunday
 I usually don't get much sewing done at the meetings because there are so many interesting people to meet and visit with that I often spend my time that way. This time I decided to take along two projects one to complete for show and tell and the other to catch some simple sewing time after that first project was done. I have been building these blocks row by row or border on border for a while now. I have the steps worked out in my head and I thought this would be easy to complete one at the meeting. Just cut  the square in two and add it to the center medallion for a finish, then there will be just one more row to add and the block should be finished. Well best laid plans didn't account for the simple self assured speed with which I screwed it up.
on the right the wrong cut I made at meeting. 
I built two blocks with the intention of cutting them on the 45º angle and making them triangles to frame the center diamond medallion in a block after careful planning this worked on the first side I cut at home and attached but at the meeting I got going to quickly and I didn't consider that there was a right and a wrong 45º direction. I found out just about as fast as I cut my block in half.  I did it the wrong way through my two HST that were meant to be the pinnacle of the triangle not the corners cut in two. Insert frowning face here.
The way I intended to cut the square to make my triangles 
Once I got over that surprise I was glad I brought my Denyse Schmidt improvisational blocks and fabric to work on and that was the work I did the rest of the day.
Stopped into a favorite grass fed beef restaurant "Elevation Burger"  down the street. Its just a few blocks down the street from our historic Church meeting rooms,
 Hope we get to use this Church in Falls Church again for our group is big and we need a lot of space and tables, chairs electric outlets and it doesn't hurt to have a kitchen and open room on floors for layouts... So many needs for so many quilters I am beginning to think that this organization needs paid staff but then the price would be so high the numbers would shrink. Well that is a round about way of saying thanks to our administrators who did a great job with this weeks meeting and the big Denyse Schmidt events two weeks ago! Thanks to each of you on the board.

This is the church that that gives Falls Church, VA. it's name. The original was built in 1764 during the colonial era of Virginia. The grave stone there by the enormous Oak tree was installed in 1808 and there were others further to the left under the shade of this great tree even older than this one. 
Now it's time to get back to work on my blocks for the Tumbling Block applique medallions quilt for this week I want to finish up the last block of nine and begin putting them together to quilt. 



Monday, June 8, 2015

Denyse Schmidt's Pure Improv Workshop: the experience.



Today I want to record a very exciting experience that deserves more than a passing flash of colorful pictures and hash-tag (#) labels. My Washington DC Modern Quilt Guild hired the renowned designer Denyse Schmidt to come give us an improvisational quilt piecing workshop class. It was months in the planning for the guild to pull this off and I have to thank all those board members who made it happen so flawlessly. There were no glitches and it really was a lot of fun as well as a really memorable experience. 20 quilters and one instructor in a big long room where we each had a table to ourselves, so luxurious for a guild gathering. Rented class room was at G Street Fabrics in Seven Corners.
The project we undertook after getting introductions done see in this image where we told Denyse a little about our quilting experience and what we hoped to get out of this class. Next we got instructions how to begin a quilt block called Shoeman's Puzzle a vintage block from her last book. We made templates and cut our two tones of fabric into  the triangles and then assembled them as a traditional quilt block is made. 
Anjeanette cutting her first blocks pieces using the templates we all made. 

Then we had to do the same block free hand cut and sewn. It was done with a slightly larger square of fabric to allow for a bit of less accurate seam sewing on our hand cut blocks. It was hard to tell the difference once we all made our 4 blocks two each from the two techniques. 

with the pattern

free hand cut beside pattern cut; can you see a difference?

For fabrics I used a nice orange and a red-orange as my two colors. They are close in value and intensity of hue as well as tone. These colors were not a surprise to anyone, given the reputation I have. The next step was to begin the improvisational block making. We were allowed to cut the triangles from a slightly bigger square to allow for shortened blocks in the end but we had to take care not to anticipate what the end result would be. Denyse told us not to try to save fabric she said just cut, sew and see what came out!  Working without trying to see the end before we began or during the process of making. That was very hard for an experienced quilter wants to get the most out of each cut of precious fabric and one wants to be "in control" start to finish. This is the challenge of the day: let go and don't try to be in control of the results until you get to the finishing process. It sounds like it is all in your head and it is. To let things happen without knowing what the result will be feels uncomfortable but as Denyse tried to explain that is when some of the most delightful things happen in improvisational quilting.
 
You can see everyone behind me was working hard and deep in the making process time just flew by when it was time for lunch we were well on our way towards beginning. After lunch together in the room out of Panera Boxes we set back to work with about two hours left to sew and a half hour for critique and discussion. Denyse was there all through the class ready to answer any questions and I had a few. Mostly worry about how the end result was going to fit together or something like that... my felt wall fell once and she kindly helped me rehang it and put the blocks back up. 

As we got a nice selection of blocks made and began looking a little at how to assemble them on the design wall the question of came up of adding a third fabric. It was suggested we try to stick with just the two for most of the day but when we felt we needed a change we should begin to try out a third fabric. For me the beautiful colors of red and purple Melinda was using just down the row were calling out to my oranges. I was dying to get a little bit of that purple into my composition and I was getting sick of red and oranges, sick to death and I felt blinded by the colors because they were so much the same. I decided it was time to cut a nice patterned hot pink-magenta fabric square and work it in with the red-orange first. I got two made and began the second pair and the bell went off and we had to Stop for our final discussion critique. I slipped in one more before the talking really got going. 
Melinda's purple red combo behind Denyse was near my station.
Before my design wall fell for the second time it looked like this... thanks to Cathy who's work station was beside mine and took a snap of this arrangement.  

Jamie's new born came with her to this must not be missed workshop. I never heard a peep out of her and I know her mom was really glad to be there in spite of the stress and dad came came along to help hold her while mom sewed! 


Willa used high contrasting colors and therefore her layout changed to reorganize the colors in a way that appears organized. 

Gray and white gauze was Jenny's combination and she began adding a little oxford shirt blue a subtle shift in hue but the value is the same! Very nice. 

 I got an autograph on my Denyse Schmidt book! The cover is orange by the way and I was drawn to it in a bookstore in Colonial Williamsburg year before last and asked for it as a gift! It's a great inspiration and meeting Denyse and hearing her story later at the slide lecture she gave made me realize we have a lot of similar interests in the arcane crafts of past, she learned stone letter carving and I went into hand book binding and letterpress printing. She was drawn to Appalachian quilting traditions, music and folk dances are some other areas of creativity I love like she told us she does too. She even participated in NYC East Village performance which I did back in the 1980's as well so if I ever get the chance it would be fun to see who she knows I know from that era as well. Whatever I learned late was great because I could tell when I read her book we liked history and the folk culture of American Appalachian people. It's funny that she is working in the same city in Connecticut where I first saw the Yo yo coverlet that inspired me to make my own when I was twelve years old... I would love to share that story with her but a day of quilt improv block making was a real treat.

In conclusion I wanted to say that this was a good class. I felt like I was back in college again because we had a lot of time to work with our materials and there was lots of professional attention and support from our instructor. Denyse gave us just the right amount of challenge and freedom, she added a dose of confidence: she would be there to answer any and all questions. She pushed us to use this time to try something admittedly uncomfortable but that could give us a lot of exciting new possibilities if we let go of control to allow accidents to show us new ways to use patterns. 
I realized when I got home and laid on my bed which is next to my current improvised quilt design that I was seeing all these finished tumbling blocks (see 5 below) in a whole new way! I realized I was perhaps being too tight and even though I am having a blast fussing over the colors, patterned prints and symmetry there are so many possibilities I had overlooked or not allowed to happen. So there are a few more tumbling blocks to build to make a complete quilt but now with my new education and renewed excitement about the process I have permission to let some of that tightness go and see where it takes me. I also have a great new Orange quilt to work with in the coming months.
Thank you Denyse Schmidt and DC Modern Quilt Guild for introducing me too. 






Monday, May 4, 2015

birds nesting

Last week we had a pair of mourning dove appear on our windowsill next to my desk where the promptly build a nest and began laying eggs!
first one egg appeared...

next afternoon a second egg...

I tried my best to keep the blinds closed and leave them in peace but it was an ill fated spot for many reasons. Not long after this photo the mate was devoured by a hawk which Keith saw as he was coming home one afternoon. That evening we listened as the survivor called but got no familiar reply... and eventually abandoned the nest and it's two white eggs. 

In the following days we watched for the lone dove out the windows. Out back I found that it found a new partner who was very attentive, they preened together in the cedar trees. 

Then they started a new nest in the tree about ten feet from the old nest still holding the eggs abandoned and undisturbed. 
It's close but not easy to photograph, the drama continues in that area each day. I took a short video of them early in the process of building that new nest. 

video

In the backyard I hung the usual house wren house for the wrens I heard singing it's mating call back in early April. Now that house is full of twigs and when I went out to sit in the garden I noticed a mate has joined the male bird who built the nest and began adding her own grassy bed on top of the twigs. 
Look closely you will see she has a fine sprig of grass in her beak and the big twigs hang out the bottom thru the air vents at the base of the house.
Behind me in the choke cherry tree which is beginning to flower another nest! This year, lets hope the cats or raccoons don't attack it, on a branch another dove is nesting and keeping a watchful eye on me in the garden. 

It was a great spot that some robins built in last spring and raised a brood of three orange breasted babies. 


Now all we need is a bunch of tent caterpillars to spin their nests in the native choke cherry tree to provide food to these babies that will soon arrive looking extremely hungry! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Walking the bluebell trail along Bull Run

I went for a walk at the beginning of the bluebell season the native flowers that are so many shades of purple to blue and even white in some rare cases growing in the flood plain where they get watered a lot this time of year. Bull run is the creek that passes under the old stone bridge in the Manassas Battlefield park where this bluebell trail begins. There are lots of different native flowering plants that poke up their heads up in these early spring weeks between freezing cold and the forest's leaves open and blocking the light that falls warming the earth below. All these native flowers are a delight and I have gone to the trail a few times this year to check on the bluebells progress.

Blue bells are the largest and most dramatic of the native flowers in the woods. They stand about a foot high and grow in clumps forming a carpet of lavender blue and fresh green on the edges of the creek in the low flood plain areas.





 The flowers are difficult to photograph as the eye sees them, the blue really jumps out  of those green areas but I haven't found a way to show that the same way we see.
 Mixed in the flowering forest floor are little spotted leaves and bright yellow flowers the Trout Lilies.
  
 Near by and a little earlier were the Dutchman's Breeches a cousin to the bleeding hearts so many of us love in our own gardens. Spring beauties also are abundant along the trail and are very short beside the taller flowers but native bees depend on their abundant early blooms.

On a sunny day the best places to take the wildflower photos is where shade falls from the tree's trunks so the high contrast is reduced and the colors show up. 



Tree frogs are singing to their mates all over the wooded areas along the creek's edges.
 On my hike, I met a group of three Park Rangers riding on horseback who said hello and continued down the trail towards the bridge. As it was free day they didn't ask for a pass or anything but greet me and keep on walking... 
This trail comes to a point where the creek banks are too steep to continue at the edge of Bull Run and the flora change as the trail turns up towards the wooded hill and an evergreen area. Mosses and a few ferns as well as one of my favorites the bluet a tiny blue flower with four petals that is sky blue. My photo blew out the color and made them look white. Found in the damp shadows they are so small you have to hunt for them at the trial edge not far from the mossy areas that are bright green this time of year. 



Moss sends up it's red stemmed flowers. 
tiny ferns grow in very specific areas. Here in a depression of a big tree trunk and all along the edge of a rocky cliff over the creek below. 



Wintergreen's leaves are still showing deep in the woods 

Pine trees and hemlocks are at the top of the hill and the trail edges are covered with fallen leaves in addition to the red pine needles

At the top of the hill the trail opens out to a huge field and runs along the edge for a ways where the wind has blown over many trees but reveals the flowering red bud tree seeking light it's a native that is wide spread and domesticated for home gardens as well as roadside when you drive through the country. This area gets lots of sun and wind and the old Virginia Red Cedars and scrub pines take a beating as well as bleach out to a fine silvery color when they fall. 



the panoramic view from the top of the hill on this trail of the battlefield opens to the big blue sky. 

Back to the bluebells... and if you look closely you might see the spring beauties little white flowers near by in these photos. 


Here I saw a pond that is collected rainwater 50 yards from the creek's edge in the flood plain area. Can you make out the green topped with bluebells? The National Parks are a wonderful experience when every you have time to go and enjoy a visit with nature. The bluebells are a great time to go but I can't remember ever going when I didn't enjoy visiting with the plants and creatures of the parks. I am thankful for the conservationist movement that created these amazing natural retreats from our over developed communities.