Friday, June 29, 2007

Border Crossings

What a week. They've piled so much on me at work that my shoulders ache. This is usually not a problem (at least not too much of one), but for some reason this week I've felt utterly exhausted. I can barely drag myself through the day. Does that mean I haven't worked on arts & crafts? HA. I wouldn't be posting if that were the case, because I would be dead. That's the only thing that will stop me from picking up a paintbrush or flicking on the sewing machine stitch.

I'm traversing a strange border between traditional and art quilting. Or maybe, several borders: sort of a Four Corners of the art world, where traditional quilting, art quilting, painting, and collaging meet. Maybe this will make more sense if I post what I've been working on this week:

1) I found a great book called Creative Embellishments: For Paper, Jewelry, Fabric and More, by Sherrill Kahn. Kahn's work is vibrant and inspiring, and even though I've created many of the embellishments she demonstrates in the book--fabric beads, paper beads, shrink-tags, angelina fibers--the ways she puts them to use in her art are wonderful. I made bead-wrapped beads, yarn-wrapped pipe cleaners, and melted-plastic & thread shapes. Then I was inspired to paint a canvas and add embellishments to it.

2) I'm trying to finish up something practical: placemats for the breakfast-room table. I find it fascinating that my house is completely decorated in these muted earth-tones, yet my art is much more vibrant and contains lots of blues, greens, and purples. The only blue in my house is painted on the walls of my craft room, which is a holdover from when it was my grandson's room. I whine every day about how I should have repainted it before filling the room up with so much stuff.

3) I'm painting fabric. Not just painting as in coloring it with fabric paints, but actually painting on top of that with geometrics, flowers, whatever pops into my head.

4) I've started a miniature art quilt; not really an art quilt, more like a practice art quilt (I'll post a pic soon; battery is dead on the camera). I dislike the design intensely and am debating on whether I should cut the center section (which I like) out and reattach other fabric as borders, or whether I should push along until its done. Sometimes I hate something 1/2-way through, but then end up loving it by the time I've finished futzing with it.

Is this more of my inability to focus on any one thing for too long? I like to think that all these interests will one day converge into something that fits nicely with who I am and what I love; maybe a little border-town of creativity that draws from the best of many worlds (and harbors a few eccentric characters and a couple of crazy outlaws; but what's art without them?). For now, I'm traversing back and forth across the borders of my various interests, but the lines are starting to blur a bit. Sometimes, if you're not paying attention, southern Texas looks just like northern Mexico, and quilting begins to look a little like painting, and vice-versa.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Off the Beaten Path

Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I feel like I'm a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. I always have a ton of projects going at any one time. The good thing about that is that I'm never bored . . . .

I started my drawing class last Saturday and have only had one lesson, but my drawing has already improved dramatically. This is not due to any innate talent on my part--drawing is very hard for me, but the instructor says she loves teaching this class because students see rapid improvements. I tried to do one drawing every day this week (although it was a hectic week so I did miss one or two days).

I'm still trying to work in my art journal occasionally. Earlier this year, I spent a solid month working every day in an art journal, and at the end of that time I had a collection of drawings, paintings, collages, and other crafty endeavors that I was really proud of--not because of the quality, but because I let myself be free and play and experiment. I still have an art journal handy to "catch" leftover paint, thoughts, and doodles. The background on this page was some leftover Setacolor paint I had used on fabric; I couldn't throw it away, so I slapped it in the journal. This week I drew the flowers, inked them (India ink is fabulous! It's waterproof, so once it dries you can keep painting over it), then added watercolors on top.

I've also been reading whenever I get a chance. I'm still working my way through Alice Hoffman novels. I've now read Seventh Heaven, Turtle Moon, and Blue Diary, and I've started Here on Earth. I managed to slip in an Anita Shreve novel a couple of weeks ago (Body Surfing); I was wary, because I've been so disappointed with her last couple of books, but this one was pretty good.

All in all a fairly satisfying reading season, until I got to the book I just finished: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This pushed my reading experience right over the top. It was the most amazing book I've read in a long time (maybe ever?). It's non-fiction, and Gilbert describes the year she spent in Italy, India, and Indonesia (Bali, specifically). It's beautifully written, engaging, intriguing, uplifting, and inspiring. I'm buying a copy for everyone I love.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

One for the Dog

When I was young and my Mom made pancakes, she would always say the first one was "for the dog," which was confusing at those times when we didn't have a dog. Nevertheless, what she meant was that, while the pancake was edible (I know, I snuck a bite once), it was the tester. It might look ugly, or be a little too doughy in the center, or maybe too tough. It was the one that she wouldn't serve to anyone because it always took one pancake to get everything right: the heat, the batter, the cooking time. But everyone knew the dog wouldn't care, and would love the pancake--no matter what it looked like, no matter that it might be a little under or over done.

I think the same thing happens in quilting.

This isn't my first quilt. The first one was blessed with a great deal of beginner's luck, I think, and when I gave it to my DP she swore it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The second one was for my 7-year old grandson, who would probably eat the first pancake without even commenting on it, were I to serve it to him.

But I'm running out of people to give my quilts to who love me so much that they oooh and aaaah and get all shivery at my gift and pretend like there isn't a single thing wrong with the quilt. And believe me, there is plenty wrong with this quilt. Too much to list here in detail--or maybe I just can't bear the humiliation of pointing out every flaw in detail in such a public forum. Let me just say that I understand now why trimming blocks may not be such a good idea (especially when I'm no better at trimming blocks than I am at piecing them); and that yes, I probably should take that machine quilting class, if for no other reason than to learn how to correctly set my tension so that my top thread doesn't "bleed through" to the back fabric where I've free-motion quilted.

So, that just leaves the dog. In this case, the dog is Max (short for Maxine), who seems to like the quilt almost as much as she does pancakes. She doesn't seem to mind in the least that her new quilt has quite a few flaws. And, we both agree that she looks very nice perched on the quilt.

By the way: I said a month ago that I wasn't making any more pieced-block quilts; instead, I was going back to freeform, patternless quilt-making as with my first quilt. What I discovered is that I really don't like block quilts, but they're good for me. I can practice cutting, seaming, and pressing, and I know when I'm off because my blocks are off. I still don't know how NOT to be off, but at least I know I need a lot more work in those areas. So maybe I will occasionally make a block quilt, like this one--or better yet, not like this one, but like one that is right. I only have so many dogs.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Friendly Natives

After my drawing class this morning (which was fun; we drew hands and feet. Either my foot is very ugly or my drawing is--or both), I stopped by The Quilt Store on Anderson Ln. in Austin. Everyone was very nice and offered assistance. They have a wonderful array of fabrics, and tons of fat quarters and 1/2 yards. I bought a lot of 1/2 yards of batiks to play with. I'll definitely go back! They've restored my faith in quilt shops.

Unfriendly Natives

I visited a quilt shop for the first time yesterday. Well, not the first time ever--last year at this time we were in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and a charming little quilt shop in a charming little square beckoned to me. From outside, the fabric colors looked like candy, and I couldn't resist stepping inside to run my hand across the bolts of cloth. I was enchanted by the beautiful mix of colors in the bundles of fat quarters; at the time, I had no idea why these little squares of fabric were mixed and bundled together, but I loved them.

Several months ago, we were having lunch in Salado, and my DP pointed out that the quilt shop next door might have that mini-iron I needed for melting crayons and chunks of wax. The quilts on display were amazing, and once again, I tried desperately to think of something I could with these beautiful pieces of cloth--something, of course, that didn't require sewing.

I guess I should say that this was the first time I visited a quilt shop since I've been quilting. We had been to Reunion Ranch in Georgetown for my DP's company picnic, and heading back, she exclaimed, "hey, it's a quilt shop!" Not that she has any interest in things crafty--in fact, her standard response when I just "drop by" Michael's or Jo Ann's or Hobby Lobby for that one that thing I desperately need is, "I'll wait in the car. Take your time." But, as I've written here before, she's incredibly supportive and never complains that I'm spending us into destitution with my hobbies.

So I whipped into a service station, fed a couple of quarters into the air/water machine, and proceeded to wash my feet. We had been gifted with a huge thunderstorm at Reunion Ranch during the picnic. Yes, I know "gifted" seems like a bizarre word to use, but typically it's in the mid- to upper-90s at this time, and we dread the picnic because we know we'll sweat buckets and come close to passing out from heat exhaustion. This year, we ended up huddled together--all 300 or so of us--on the covered pavillion, shivering as the temperature dropped into the low 70s. It was wonderful. Slogging through the mud to get back to the car was less wonderful, and we rinsed out sandaled feet with bottled water well enough to drive home.

A visit to a guilt shop, though, required more care. After my feet and shoes were spotless, I brushed my hair, since it had curled up in the rain and was alternately stringy and springy. I checked my mascara to make sure it hadn't run. I felt like I was getting ready for a date. We turned around and headed to the quilt shop. The minute I stepped into the shop, I was magically rendered invisible. Women were chatting at the cutting table about fabrics and quilt guilds and piecing. I was lost for a while in amazement at all the beautiful material. Before, it had just been pretty stuff; now, my mind was whirling, imaging various patterns and colors in finished quilts. I wandered and fondled and occasionally glanced up to offer a perky smile to the shop staff, but they were always busy greeting someone who had just walked through the door.

I thought at first maybe they all knew each other; Georgetown is fairly small and has always seemed like a friendly place. We drive the 20 minutes from Round Rock every couple of weeks to visit the shops or eat at Monument Cafe. But that didn't seem to be the case.

I wished I had some of my UFOs with me, because I was certain I would find the exact thing I needed here to turn them into lovely, finished quilts. I picked up a beautiful bundle of fat quarters and shivered a little at the price, but thought about all the amazing things I could with them. At that moment, I glanced up and saw one of the shop's staff in her perky little apron eyeing me. She turned away to greet a woman who had just walked in. I put the bundle back and left.

I'm still baffled by this treatment. Even coming from a rained-out picnic and wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandles, I'm pretty sure I don't look destitute, nor like a shoplifter. I wonder if I somehow offended them by allowing my 7-year old, 1/2-Hispanic grandson to accompany me into the store, after gentle reminders not to touch anything. He took one look around, didn't see anything that interested him, and headed back to the car to wait with his Mimi. I wonder if they sensed that I'm a lesbian and that the beloved waiting for me wasn't a DH, but a DP. But most people assume I'm straight, so I really didn't think that was it. I wondered if there was some secret sign I was supposed to have flashed to let them know that I was a fledgling quilter. Mostly, I wondered why I felt snubbed. The only thing I'm certain about is that I won't go back, and that this shop won't be helping divest me of my disposable income for the next several years.

I'm headed this morning to a drawing class I've signed up for. It's in the opposite direction from Round Rock--south to Austin rather than north to Georgetown. I think I'll stop by a different quilt shop on the way home, and see if the natives there are any friendlier.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Littered Landscapes

I convinced myself, when I began quilting, that I would never be plagued with these things quilters call "UFOs"--unfinished objects.

Never mind the piles and boxes of glass projects waiting to be "finished" in the workshop.

Never mind the stacks of hand-painted paper, embellished journal covers, and 1/2-finished collages in the craft room.

Quilting would be different. For one thing, I wasn't going to buy a lot of fabric just because it was calling my name and begged to be part of a stash on a shelf or crammed into a cubby. For another, I really needed to focus on all the skills required to complete a quilt, from cutting to piecing to quilting to binding. Quilting would be my methodical hobby, where I started and completed projects in sequence.


I have a drawer full of painted and dyed fabric, but that can be easily justified: it's just more stash, waiting for the perfect project to come along. What haunts me more are the pieced blocks of various fabrics littering my dining room table (re-designated now as the sewing station); the quilt top that is waiting for backing & batting and machine quilting (that I'm afraid I'll ruin with my fledgling and amateurish machine-quilting skills); the beautiful harmonic convergence 22" square that refuses to cooperate and harmonize with any border fabric. And now, this convergence piece, made from two pieces of cotton brought to life with Setacolor and sunprinted. I have no idea what to do with it. Every day, I study it as if the next step will come to me if I just concentrate hard enough. I ponder adding borders, cutting it up to use as fabric journal covers, cutting it into horizontal strips and re-converging them. Nothing.

I'm not quite ready to relegate it to the UFO pile yet. But I can already feel the beginnings of wanderlust, the desire to open the drawers in my little stash cabinets and start laying out fabrics for the next project.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Making a Nest

There's been a lot of talk on the quiltart list about tidying up, reorganizing, cleaning out the stash, etc. This might explain why, even though I was exhausted Saturday night after sweating and selling glass all day, all I could think and dream about was cleaning my craft room. I got up early Sunday and proceeded to do just that. But it wasn't just cleaning the room needed, since I was out of space. I needed more shelves, better organization, more places to put my STUFF. And as you can see, I have a ton of stuff.

All of my glass supplies have always been in the garage, which is now my workshop (even though my DP occasionally still MISTAKES it for a garage and stores bug killer there, or plugs her electric edger in, or uses the compressor to air up a tire. I'm a patient person, so I try not to complain. Plus, she doesn't say a word when I haul home more glass, fabric, paints, and books, so it seems like an even trade).

The one area of glass-making that managed to make it into my craft room has been the torch, because I thought I could get away with running that in the house, and thus getting the benefit of air conditioning while working inches away from a flame hot enough to melt glass. My lovely DP built me the big, beautiful, tiled table for the torch and my lampworking supplies. Unfortunately, my torch uses a mixture of oxygen and propane, and I could always smell propane in the house after lampworking. I've decided to relocate it to the glass workshop (once I clean and reorganize and make enough space for it out there; gosh, does it ever end?). The good news is, this frees up my big beautiful table for all sorts of other projects. The only other workspace in the room is the countertop-desk against the wall (which my lovely DP also built), and it's typically buried under piles of paper, paints, brushes, and other crafty stuff.

Now, I know seasoned quilters are thinking, "but where's all the fabric?" Well, remember, I've only been quilting for a couple of months now. I only have 50 or so fat quarters, and another 15 or 20 yards of assorted batiks, backing fabrics, and painted whole cloths. Those are all stuffed in the little 4-drawer plastic chests. It's not a long-term solution, of course, because I already know that in another few months I'll have fabric piled and stacked and stashed everywhere. But it works for now, and it gives my lovely DH the comforting impression that I'm not going nuts buying fabric I might not use for years (if ever). I like to be considerate and provide her with a little hope, especially when she starts eyeing all my stuff and I begin to see the dollar signs whirling in the little calculator in her head as she ponders how we'll live when we're old and broke. I like to remind her at those times that even if we have to eat cat food, at least it will be served on beautiful fused-glass dinnerware, atop fabulous quilted placemats. For some reason, that doesn't seem to reassure her.

At any rate, it may not look as if my craft room is clean, but I can see the floor and two work surfaces. That's beyond clean--it's close to miraculous. Oh, and don't worry--I don't have to make space for the sewing machine in this room. We weren't using the dining room anyway . . . and if occasionally my DP gets confused and tries to eat in there, I'll pull out the fused-glass dinnerware and the quilted placemats, and I won't say a word.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Back from the Fair

Well, I had an exhilarating week "visiting" my old glass world. I finished several pieces I had started forever ago--mostly small, painted elements that I incorporated and fused into larger glass pieces. I didn't finish some of the larger pieces that have been in process for months because I didn't want to rush them--but I now know I DO want to continue working on them, especially when the weather cools off some and I can work comfortably again in my "shop" (which used to be the garage until I took it over). I have two air conditioning units--one a window unit that would require cutting a hole in the garage wall to install; the other a compressor and air handler that would heat and cool the garage really well, but that requires running ductwork and all. We're holding off making any decisions about that since I'm hoping to be able to build a small shop in the back yard at some point. It has to be big enough for my two kilns, glass storage, and my lampworking torch.

I briefly considered giving up glass altogether and selling everything, but after the past week I'm certain I don't want to do that. At the same time, I want to continue to explore other mediums, and maybe even combine them with my glass work. I've already done that with some suncatchers I made. I painted watercolor sunflowers, scanned them into the computer, printed them on vellum, then sandwiched them between glass and copper-foiled them (which simply means I wrapped them with copper foil and soldered the edges). They really are beautiful with the light passing through them.

And of course, I'm anxious to continue learning to quilt.

Our booth was at Austin's Pride Festival. This is one of the few places we continue to have a booth so that we can support Equality Texas while we hang out with our friends. Fortunately, we had a big beautiful shade tree right in front of the booth, so lots of people set up their chairs in the shade and hung out with us. It was fun but MISERABLY hot. The temperature was in the mid 90s, and while Austin is typically pretty humid, the humidity this weekend was off the charts. I think I'm waterlogged from taking so many cold baths and showers this weekend.

We've gotten lazy with our booth since we don't really do shows any more. I didn't even bring most of the glass stands or acrylic boxes that I use to display the pieces. By the end of the day, everything was covered with a thick layer of brown dirt. We didn't sell as many pieces as last year, but we made some money (to buy more "stuff," of course!).

Now that the festival is over, I'm making my way back to the land of quilting. It's not as familiar and perhaps not as comfortable as the world of glass, but I do love a challenge. And quilting is something I can do inside, in the air conditioning. Don't ever underestimate the importance of that to a Texan in the summertime!

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I was skimming other blogs this morning and ran across a posting on DubiQuilts. She had a suggestion passed along through a line of blogs to Google your name along with "needs" and see what comes up. I tried it, and here's what I got:

Michele needs help adjusting her body regularly
Michele needs to learn to be more careful with her voodoo
Michele needs to create names for her imaginary friends
Michele needs to be healed desperately
Michele needs to win something in her own league first
Michele needs our prayers
Michele needs you to buy tickets for cousin Nick
Michele needs hosting

and lots more. Anyway, a fun diversion. I think if I ever need an idea for a novel, this would be fabulous!

A Visit Home

We went to a fundraiser Friday night for Project Transitions (a hospice/housing organization for people with HIV & AIDS). We always donate a piece of glass art or two for the silent auction, and I was inspired to work on glass again for the first time in months. Good timing, too, since we have a booth at a festival next weekend and I have some pieces I've been meaning to finish forever. This is one of them. The technique is "reverse frit painting," which involves reverse "painting" with crushed glass--or "frit"--on the underside of the glass. I then fired the glass just enough to hold the frit, flipped the piece over, cleaned it, and added more frit to the top. It looks dull and hazy at this point because the frit is not fully fired, so the color hasn't come to its peak; and because I added a spray to the top to keep the glass from crystallizing ("devitrifying"), which can make the glass look permanently hazy and dirty. Once the piece is fully fired to about 1500 degrees, it will be much brighter and shinier.

This technique was invented, as far as I know, by a wonderful glass artist named Richard La Londe. I attended a workshop with him last year at his home on Whidbey Island in Washington (just outside of Seattle). It was an amazing trip and he was such a gracious host. Whidbey Island is beautiful, and it has a huge number of working artists--there's just something in the atmosphere that feeds the spirit.

Going back to my glass roots is nice, but I immediately feel the pressure of perfection; that little voice in my head kept repeating, "don't screw it up! don't screw it up!"

Friday, June 1, 2007


The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!

Wait, that's not right. The new Ricky Tims' Convergence Quilts is here! Not quite as catchy, but a whole lot more fun than a phone book. And I should note that the book itself is not new--it's only new to me.

I was anxious to get started on my own convergence quilt, and tired of fretting over trimming blocks, so I plunged into one of the projects in Tims' book. The hardest part so far is picking out the fabric. Other than that, it's simple, straight-line cutting, seaming, and pressing. We'll see how it turns out . . . (btw, the seams only appear wonky; it's because the strips are laid out, but not all of them are sewn yet).