18 December 2007

Fire and Ice

If variety is the spice of life, my job is providing a pretty spicy ride. All universities provide an array of diverse wonders on a regular basis, but not everyone working there has quite the E ticket that I do—it is my job to document such things.

So today, dressed like a Christmas cupcake in red velour pants and a Christmas sweater covered in happy little snowmen, I entered the extremely blokey underworld that is the sculpture room where metals are cast. Armed with my glorified point-n-shoot like some kind of hybrid between Martha Stewart and Persephone, I took pictures of the process involved in casting bronze statues. Three men completely covered in safety gear like welding masks, leather aprons and footwear only a vulcanologist could love hefted the molten bronze in crucibles glowing orange as lava. The mold is preheated to 1000 degrees so it won’t shatter as the liquid metal is poured.

My cheeks were still glowing from the heat as I snapped up my down jacket and headed back through the snow to my office through an unsuspecting campus devoid of students at the end of the term.

17 December 2007

First Christmas

Yesterday our local pet supply place had free pictures with Santa. I was washing Laddie there (can you tell he’s still a bit damp?) and swear I am not enough of a crazed pet owner to have made a special trip for a Santa photo, but I am glad to have this cute shot. Amazing how much a creature can grow in less than six months. The tornado has become a wonderful family member with a very agreeable disposition.

He enjoys the snow in such a direct fashion (face first, shake off later) that you have to laugh.

29 November 2007

One day long ago I started, with great energy, to explain something to my grandmother. She was about 80 at the time. I don’t remember what it was I thought so important to explain, but I do remember her reaction. She stopped me abruptly and said, “I don’t want to learn anything else, unless it is a card game.” As a fairly enthusiastic student of everything, I was appalled.

Yesterday, I offered to teach someone at work how to do something and she declined.

All I could think was, “Please God, never let that attitude overtake me.” The appendices to that prayer include, “may the higher end magazines never dumb themselves down to capture the beginner market (they have plenty)” and “may there always be classes and books teaching techniques I haven’t tried” and “may at least one new gadget or fiber or dye come out each year”.

02 November 2007

Enough for Cocktail Parties

Another quilt (called A Rose By Any Other Name) with no relation to this post.
My English teacher in my senior year of high school made us all learn to recite the first 3 lines of Beowulf in old English. He insisted that one need learn no more than that to get by at cocktail parties. This gave me a rather strange notion of what adults were up to at these functions. But he wasn't done-- my teacher allowed us the additional wickedness of "making it up after that because nobody would know."
It was, in a sense, license to dabble, to get the first steps right and then improvise, to join the club legitimately and then break its rules.
I can still quote those lines and it gave me a sort of relationship to that text that has me reading it again now.
And come to think of it, there probably is a relationship between that quilt and this post...

16 October 2007

Blessed are the Well Timed Teachers

A translinear edition of Dante’s Inferno given to me by my Latin teacher at the end of my senior year in high school now has pride of place on a shelf in my office at work. It reminds me of both the value of hard earned abilities and of teachers who appeared in one’s life story at just the right moment for maximum benefit.

Another such teacher is now my boss. That’s a rare twist on this theme, but I certainly benefit from finding a way to keep the lessons coming long after college.

At the little quilt group at the university where I now work, I recently did a demonstration that was more of a glorified show-n-tell. I gathered up the finished products and the various constituent parts of two classes I took a few years ago in Australia from
Chrissy Sheed and Susan Matthews. I wasn’t teaching other teacher’s techniques (I don’t do that without expressed permission) so much as letting our group have a close look and feel and a chat about ways to extend the possibilities. It’s nice to honor the gift one has received from one’s teachers.

Eventually, I’ll be teaching as part of my job, though only once every couple years. I’m looking forward to making peace with some new pedagogical directions that are now all the rage and will have the enormous luxury of reflection between teaching stints. I’m also a dozen years older, so I’ll bringing different tools to the task this time. Here’s hoping I’ll be well timed for somebody.

17 August 2007

Where the heck have I been?

If you were wondering why no blogging has gone on since July 25, well, the answer is to the left. Better photos will come, but he's a very wiggly subject.

Laddie is the 9 week old blond tornado (Golden retriever) who came into our lives 10 days ago. He's sleeping through the night 2 out of 3 times now so normal life can resume. He's quickly becoming a family member and is part of everything--including phone calls. I phone my 9 year old son at midday from work and our conversation is punctuated by forceful exclamations of "off" when my son's toes are being attacked.

I did sew the back for my "inspired by Gee's Bend" challenge which is due by 23 August. Getting that quilted by next Thursday may be a bridge too far!

I did see a magazine cover with a foundation pieced Golden Retriever puppy on that. Now that seems relevant!

25 July 2007

Before is My After

I’ve recently moved into our new home, a 50 year old house which does a good job of the nice features of older houses (like woodwork, arches and coved ceilings) while having a lot of the nice points of newer homes. Now I have the aforementioned studio. The cardboard boxes are empty and have been removed so now I have a lot of stacked plastic boxes holding my stash and tools.

The general plan is to preserve one wall as a design wall and then to make good use of the rest of the space—I’m tall so vertical is good. A few months ago, I acquired two long tables which are arranged in an L in one corner. Monday I got a snap-together very rugged 5 shelf unit that will hold the majority of my stash. All this stuff is hefty plastic—not one’s dream sewing room, but cost effective and useful in a garage or basement should I ever find myself in the position to upgrade some day to purpose built tables and cabinets.

As if to rub my nose in it, I saw a makeover of a sewing room in a recent magazine and the “before” table is just like mine! But then again, their “after” look seemed entirely impractical to me. One must have priorities!

Oh, and a tip: if you have large amounts of miscellaneous batting (wadding), get a huge vacuum storage bag and shrink it right down for storage.

10 July 2007

Mounting Textiles and A Room of One's Own

Paula, a co-worker of mine, found this very useful site on mounting and displaying textiles. Some of it is well presented received wisdom you may already be aware of, but a few of the entries are especially engenious and might have relevance for quilters as well as people who display rugs, tapestries, and other textiles. The page is attributed to Marla Mallett: http://www.marlamallett.com/mounting.htm

This week, my family takes possession of our new home. This includes bigger bedrooms and other desirables, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that having my own studio is overshadowing almost all else. Design walls and purpose built shelving are dancing in my head. Not that I'm getting either any time soon, but at least they are possible now. Studio space is all about the possible!

06 July 2007

Learning from other quilters

Some friends (see Erica and Brenda's blogs) and I are finding inspiration and lessons from the quilts of the Gee's Bend area of Alabama which have toured museums in the USA in recent years and have been the subject of postage stamps, books and great critical acclaim. See www.pbs.org/.../july-dec03/quilts_07-01.html for a nice news piece that you can watch or listen to on-line.

The picture (right) is my "etude" based on one of these quilts by Nettie Young. Hers is freer and more elaborate, but I learned a great deal about the formal relationships of the colors and shapes by trying a portion of the composition for myself. I rarely work in anything using fabrics that read this "solid" so it was interesting for me from that perspective too.

Please rest assured that once this quilt top is quilted and bound, my label will make the inspiration of this little exercise quite clear. I'm a big believer in attribution.

03 July 2007

It Really Isn't That Hard

When I arrived at work (GVSU is the largest of the comprehensive universities in the Midwest), I expected to find a quilting group on campus. I mean, it snows here so you could hardly avoid it, right? Instead, a well established group fo knitters came to light and a few individual names.

So inspired by a friend, Stephanie, who had moved from Sydney to Perth not long ago and was absolutely diving into the local scene, I decided that I should get the ball rolling.

Everyone was very helpful:
  • the director of work/life balance helped to get us off to a good start,
  • the local fabric store provided door prizes,
  • the quilters were supportive, and
  • three beginning quilters took the plunge at our first meeting.

I learned some things. Find a room that is accessible to people who need to avoid stairs. You need not have door prizes with number tickets--we had the names of quilt blocks and that was fun.

10 May 2007

Quilts you can't have

Those quilty jars got me thinking--how can I have more quilts in my life, especially ones by friends, even if these quilts are elsewhere and owned by others? Well, why not find ways to integrate more pictures of these stunners into everyday life.

I just got a Rolodex with little plastic-covered card holders. I put one up front with a picture of a great quilt by Brenda Smith that is on her blog. The link is in the Quilty Jars posting below.

This would also work with vintage quilt postcards or magazine photos, of course.

04 May 2007


Shakespeare in Spring

Bear with me. I'm going to have to go on a bit as one does who is coming from a climate with only two real seasons (and subtle transitions between them) to a place with dramatic seasonal change. These are picture taken just outside my office window in the Shakespeare garden (the flowers are all mentioned in his plays).

03 May 2007

Graduation purse

Most academic regalia does not have actual pockets. Some robes have a slit so you can reach pockets in your clothes; but if you are like me, not all of your outfits have pockets and I want more stuff with me than pockets comfortably hold.

I saw the foundation piecing pattern in the back of a magazine, enlarged it on the computer and made a simple purse that fits the digital camera, my keys, a bit of cash, Kleenex, safety and bobby pins--the stuff you need at graduation.

The strap (worn across the body) hangs at exactly the right level so that I can reach it through my robe slit--instant pocket.

I made the tassle. The button is actually a matching blue color (despite looking black in the photo).

13 April 2007

Quilty Jars by Friends

Sorry for the long absence. My family and worldly goods arrived and I got a sewing machine (phew!) and we had a late snow and any number of other excuses.

Brenda (http://serendipitypatchwork.com.au/blog/) has asked that I put my latest project up. This one is sort of quilting by proxy.

But let me begin at the beginning. A couple weeks ago I issued a Gee's Bend theme quilt challenge to my friends. I've been following their progress in their blogs (because they are more loyal bloggers than moi) and loved the results. (See also Erica's on http://www.creativedabbling.blogspot.com/) So I printed out their pictures and inserted a round excerpt into the lid "window" of these cool little canisters. I got them for a dollar each at the Target here. Very shallow and have a magnet on the bottom. Good for thumb tacks or rubber bands or buttons and they stick to the fridge.

I think they look pretty good and I'm enjoying my friends' beautiful work each day at the office.

11 February 2007

Cherry Potholders

I have now officially been to a fabric store in Michigan (Joanne Fabrics, not a proper quilt shop, but it was close). Five $1 fat quarters later, I have appliqued a plain potholder with two cherries with stems and leaves attached. It seemed the right motif for Michigan which is quite the sour cherry capital of things. Could have done blueberries as well for the same reason but speed shopping with a non-quilter meant I didn't think to get any blue. The stash arrives in a couple weeks, so any local produce becomes possible from that time onward.

06 February 2007

The Nostalgia Diet

Expats can engage in conversations about food that would put a gourmand to shame. Our ties to a place and its special comforts become a passionate yearning, best shared, for a particular condiment, confection or lowly breakfast cereal.

So returning to the USA means sudden access to every sort of food that one remembers with any fondness and into the shopping cart they go: Life cereal, graham crackers, bagels, the liverwurst that mom used to buy for school lunches, more bagels, New England Clam Chowder, A1 Steak Sauce, a Heath bar. Luckily some fruits and vegetables have also found their way into the shopping, but these indigenous comfort foods become the basis of my intake. So much for Atkins or South Beach, I’m on the Nostalgia Diet.

Luckily it has not been the undoing of a year’s weight loss because simultaneously added into the mix are extreme cold, more walking at work and several staircases in the house.

31 January 2007

Snow Prints

Beyond the hackneyed “blanket" metaphor, snow and quilts have some things in common. For one thing, they tend to capture a moment in time by providing visual signs of something that took place. For snow it might be the passage of a squirrel and for a quilt it might be the Suffrage Movement or Uncle Bob’s 80th birthday.

In the lovely snowfall we’ve had in Michigan recently, I’ve been enjoying the footprints of dogs walked in the early morning hours, the squirrels bounding between trees, ploughs, snowmobiles and hand-shoveled channels to the mailbox.

29 January 2007

Looks like a church

After finally closing a technological gap, I'm able to provide a picture of the house in which I now live. I sent this picture also to my son. His reaction was that it looks like a church.

That was a theme this weekend as I also picked up a call for entry for the 34th Annual Juried Spiritual Art Competition to be held next month. Is any of my quilting spiritual? By intent or just by-product? Not sure.

I sent a short story to a friend whose opinion matters a great deal to me. She tells me she cried (in a good way). You write to get a reaction, but when it comes you feel a bit bashful about having done that to someone.

18 January 2007

Finally a Picture

Finally--access to a camera. This shot of the GVSU campus here in Allendale, Michigan managed to capture the reflection of the flash on the falling snowflakes.
The days are getting noticeably longer. It is still cold, of course, but they had a snowstorm in Malibu so that distinction is being shared around.
Today I received (in a somewhat soggy box due to the snow) Michigan Quilts and a poster of the same title depicting a predominantly red Bethlehem Star quilt. This poster was only $5 (US) and would be a nice gift for any quilter. Michigan State University Museum's online store was my source (in the Traditional Arts section).

13 January 2007

At least three Rs

My husband, Terence has great experience in IT and has distilled some of it into a set of simple rules. Most of the time, one of the rules will solve your computer problem immediately. Trying all of them in turn will establish fairly decisively if the problem is outside your competency to solve. Either way you get a result.

They all seem to start with an R.
  • Reboot. Nothing like allowing your computer to solve its own problem. A fresh start is something we can all use from time to time.
  • Reseat. Don't just wiggle the power cord--take it all the way out of the outlet (and the back of the computer for that matter) and then put it in again. It is another sort of fresh start--just more mechanical than electronic this time.
  • Refresh. Especially when browsing the Internet, you have to remember that you are not always looking directly at the most immediate truth about what is there. Computers like to cache (remember) things and show you the memory rather than what is actually out there to see this very minute. I know some people like that. Living in the past because it is easy. So refresh the screen before you find yourself with old info.
  • Right click. All the good stuff you really need is available when you right click (such as Properties). Some people never right click--there be monsters out there. They hunt through only the known and don't find what they are looking for.

This has a lot to do with moving to Michigan too.

I'm going to be getting a new sewing machine before too long--that's always a new perspective. And seven weeks may be longer than I can stand to be without any fabric. I found myself happy that the hem came out (completely!) from a blouse I brought in my suitcase, and I 'm delighted to hem it. Good to have a needle in hand. Looking for excuses to sew is a sure sign.

Time to locate a fabric store in bus or walking distance--a button came off my jacket and must be fixed--tee hee.

06 January 2007

Warm Welcome

As I was leaving Sydney, Australia for our new life adventure in Michigan, dear friends in the Quilters Guild of New South Wales encouraged me to undertake a blog. Please visit their blogs on http://creativedabbling.blogspot.com/2006/12/power-of-friendship.html (Erica Spinks)
and http://serendipitypatchwork.blogspot.com/2006/12/farewell-quilt.html (Brenda Smith).
Among other treats, you'll see the wonderful Farewell Quilts they gave to me.

The global community of quilters should make us all brave about the changes in our lives. At one end you get a great send off and at the other a willing group of friends with a common interest. I haven't actually met these quilters yet, but I'm confident.

East Grand Rapids turns out to be a very lovely neighborhood of classically American homes which are currently decorated both for Christmas and in flags and bunting in honor of the passing of President Ford. In fact, I'm living a few doors away from a long-time family home of the former President.

Most of the basics have been accomplished such as basic kitchen set up and phone and internet access. My heavy coat arrived just in time -- we are due for some snow on Monday.

The rental house is great (so many rooms). The only bed was set up in the finished attic and I've bumped my head a few times, but the quilts are on the bed and it is starting to feel like home.