Monday, October 23, 2017

The Pond at Old Tranquility Farm; Kexy and the Fairy

Quilt No. 120
October 2017

Over the last year or so I kept seeing fairy creatures everywhere.  This hadn’t happened to me since I was five, and my dad and I worked our way through “Fifty Famous Fairy Tales,” one story at a time.   I still have the book’s alarming illustration of a green-ink line drawing of Rumpelstiltskin seared into my brain.  The artist certainly captured the rumpel, not to mention the stilt and the skin!  Fairies are once again popular.  They’re in gardens where they have houses, furniture, flower pots, or just humble doors backed up against tree trunks.  They grace t-shirts and cupcakes, make their appearance in calendars and continue in their unbroken stint as popular Halloween costumes.

So I thought -- wouldn’t it be fun to do a quilt with a fairy on it?

I looked at lots of pictures of fairies in Google images.  They certainly were plentiful and elegant.  Once again the lush illustration style popular in the early 20th century story books caught my eye.  So many enticing fairy creatures to choose from!

I’m also rather fond of quilting frogs, so when I found Ida Rentoul Outhwaite’s 1922 painting with both a frog and a fairy, I knew it was the one.  The fairy was particularly beautiful, so gentle with her captivating pink dress and gauzy wings.  And the frog!  He was the quintessential frog that we all dream of – plump and green with an essence of royal frogginess that hinted at a princely lineage.

Ida Rentoul Outhwaite's Original Artwork
I was in fact, so enamored with Outhwaite’s artwork, that I completely took leave of my senses, forgetting the rules I have about things that I don’t quilt:  hands, faces,  feet. There’s a special subcategory of frog hands and feet that I particularly like to avoid, having previously driven myself to the brink of insanity while trying to needle turn the fabric to make slender frog fingers.  It was just like childbirth.  I completely forgot how wretched it was the first time around, leaving myself open to repeating the suffering.  And in terms of suffering, the frog and the fairy did not disappoint.

Their genesis in fabric was long and dizzying in its repetitiveness.  I became a card carrying resident in the land of Do-Over. At one point I was calling the quilt The Six Faced Fairy, a much needed bit of levity that took me through the six tries it took to do the fairy’s face.  Her arms took four tries, and her hair, dress, and legs a mere two attempts.  Only her wings were nailed on the first pass. What I learned (re-learned) from this was that my rule about no faces, hands, or feet, is completely valid.  However, I didn’t think Ms. Outhwaite would have approved of me adding galoshes and mitts to her fairy. 

I like to name a quilt early on in its creation, but this one remained nameless until after it was completely finished.  Nothing came to mind other than the utilitarian “Frog and Fairy” possibility.  Ugh.  I didn’t even know their names or their story.  Observing them, it’s clear that they are embroiled in a situation.  A question is being asked, or a plea is being put forward, or maybe a controversial point is being painfully explained.  Yet, despite having birthed them from the fabric fragments in a drawer, I could only guess at the topic of their debate. 

I needed to find out more about these two characters who had eaten up six months of my creative life.  The illustration is from the story book, The Little Green Road to Fairyland.  It’s an Australian book written Annie Rentoul, and illustrated by her sister Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.  Ida’s illustrations were so captivating that the stories were crafted around them, not the reverse which is the usual case.  While very popular in Australia and England, I don’t think any version of the book was released in North America.

According to the combined international listings in the online WorldCat catalog, only one library in Canada has a copy, (none in the U.S), and that library is over 800 km from where I live.  Considered a rare book, it seemed unlikely they’d be willing to mail that out on interlibrary loan.  Purchasing a used copy of this almost 100 year old book was also out of the question at a cost of over $US 200. Sadly, no copies are scanned into Project Gutenberg.  I was going to have to get creative if I wanted to dig up the name of that frog! 

Wouldn’t libraries in Australia have a copy of the book?  I looked in the online catalogs of their national and state libraries, and they did indeed have the book in their various collections.  On the website of the State Library of South Australia, located in Adelaide, I noticed that there was a form I could fill in to ask a reference question.  Bonus - international requests were accepted!  And what could be a more important international question than the names of this frog and fairy?  I filled in the form and sent them a photo of the quilt so they would know which illustration was of importance to me.  After two weeks and plenty of breath-holding on my part, my answer arrived.  The frog is named Kexy.  Disappointingly, the fairy has no name, and is simply referred to as “Fairy” but the location in the book places them at Old Tranquility Farm.  I had my answer and my title They became The Pond at Old Tranquility Farm; Kexy and the Fairy. 

I still don’t know what their debate is about, but since they refused to reveal it in the six months we spent locked in mortal quilting combat, perhaps it’s too personal and I shouldn’t pry.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Polar Bear Dip

Quilt No. 119
June 2017

I live far enough north that bears are a constant source of conversation. I’ve encountered them quite frequently. On the edge of the city where I live they’ve come within a few feet of the front door.  They’ve roamed around our yard with police in tow.  They’ve climbed trees in the yard, refusing to leave until  someone got serious with a tranquilizer gun.  (No bears were hurt – but one wheelbarrow was demolished by a falling bear).  At our cottage bears have graced all parts of the property with their blueberry spiked droppings, left half-eaten fish on the path, and found and mauled our food cooler that had been sitting on the deck for less than five minutes.  So for these and many more reasons, we think about bears quite a bit.  Of course, we are not that far north, so all of these bears are black bears.  This is a desirable state of affairs, since black bears are generally quite easily frightened off.  Polar bears?  Not likely to be shooed away by your thrown sneaker.

It seems kind of unfair then that I would do a quilt with polar bears rather than black bears, but whoever said that life was fair?  (Your mother doesn’t count).  

The polar bear design that I turned into a small wall quilt originated at Needleworks Studio Canada in Cochrane Ontario.  It was designed by Christina Doucette for Row by Row Experience.  For the uninitiated, Row by Row Experience goes on in quilt shops in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.  Each shop designs a block that incorporates the theme for that year.  Each one usually has a local flavor.  The blocks are long and narrow, meant to be sewn together with other “row” blocks.  Add borders, and voila, a full sized quilt emerges.  Of course you don’t have to combine rows, you can stay with just one and use it as a wall hanging or table runner. 

Polar bears are perfect for a block that originates in Cochrane.  It isn’t far enough north to have polar bears dropping by, but it does have a state of the art Polar Bear Habitat.  You can even watch them live if you aren’t lucky enough to be within driving distance.

My husband liked this block when he saw the kit displayed in the shop.  I pretended not to notice that he was hinting that I buy it.  I already had too many unfinished projects on the go – no time left for bear essentials. 

It kind of nagged at me that I hadn’t been more generous and offered to make if for him.  A year later a friend was down-sizing her stash and gave me the pattern and some fabrics she’d already picked out for it.  Destiny was looming.  The bears were coming for me.

I went ahead with some of her fabrics and some of my own.  I found a short fiber plush-like fabric in my drawers of “whites” that was pretty much the most ideal polar bear fabric in the history of mankind.  Clearly this was karma in its purest form.  I even managed to get the nap of the “fur” going in the right direction.  Once you’ve touched one of the polar bears on the quilt it’s as addicting as stroking a cat.  You will be back for more.

The northern lights proved problematic.  I didn’t want to risk pulling in a small section of the background with the close stitching of “thread painting”. Without proper planning you will pay for this with ripples somewhere else in the quilt.  I tried some fancy stuff with organza, but just like everything else I’ve ever tried to do with organza it was a flop. Actually, I came up with something that looked like a smoky shrub, a foolish object for an Arctic sky. I finally hit on the idea of using up some of my precious wool roving (where DO you buy that stuff without having to buy something the size of a football and the price of a car?).  It worked out pretty well until I ran out of it.  I consulted my Weird Wool Drawer and found one ball that had wool varying in size from skinny strings to fat wool.  I stripped out the skinny strings, chopped out the fat wool parts, and I had some DIY roving.  Best of all, I’d finally used something out of that drawer.  It’s a sizable collection of wool oddities that are almost never useful. I think it’s in cahoots with the organza. 

The Weird Wool Drawer


Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Quilt No. 117
February 2017

This is the thing about being a card-carrying rule follower – challenges become irresistible.  All those delicious rules!  They channel unbridled creativity right into the cozy end of the funnel.  Instead of falling prey to the loosey-goosiness of too many possibilities, there is a path that is already laid out.  Certain things can be done, certain things cannot.  It’s pure heaven for a rule follower!

The year’s quilt guild challenge was to create a “medallion quilt”.  My definition of “medallion” is personified by Mr. T. and mountain of bling.  How would I ever come up with a quilt based on that?  Fortunately, as the description of the quilt version was revealed, it became clear that it had nothing to do with gaudy gold neckware. Whew!

A medallion quilt is one that has the center of the quilt as its focus.  Borders are added around that portion.  The center can be a printed fabric panel (sometimes a picture) or something pieced to give the impression of a whole, for example a lone star.  Turns out - thanks to my sister - I had just the right thing for my medallion quilt lying around in my bloated pile of impulse purchases. 

The center panel of this quilt is a piece called Greeting the Moon, from Red Rooster Fabrics. I saw it when I was attending the Quilt Canada 2016 event.  I wanted it, but I also wanted pretty much everything that fell within my line of sight. So I didn’t allow myself to buy it.

On Day Two of Quilt Canada I casually mentioned the crane panel to my sister.  She knows I’m pretty fond of red-crowned cranes, having used them before in my Hibakusha quilt.  I still have a bit of fabric left over from that quilt.  I would it put in a safe if I had one.  It’s that special.  I’ve used that crane fabric a few times for postcard quilts for friends who were battling cancer.  So far these cranes have been very successful.

“I saw this panel of cranes that I really liked” I commented as we wandered on blissfully blistered feet.  “Did you buy it?” she asked.  I admitted that I had not.  “Well go get it now” she said.  I started stammering about having already bought enough stuff and how I didn’t know what I would do with all of it.  My sister was already dragging around a pack sack loaded with my purchases, pretending she wasn’t my personal pack horse.  (Did I mention she’s a non-quilter, and just about the world’s greatest sport?)  She short circuited my blathering by drawing herself up to her full Big Sister Height.  Then she lasered me with her well practiced Big Sister Glare.  “I said GO. Get it. Now.”  I knew better than to defy her.  She is older than me and taller than me and she has assured me that she is smarter than me.  I’m at least smart enough to know not to argue with her.  I obediently slunk over to the vendor and bought the crane panel.  I didn't even worry about what I might do with it. 

A few months later the President’s Challenge was announced at quilt guild - the medallion challenge.  Too bad I had nothing, nothing at all that I could use for this challenge.  What a lack of foresight on my part, considering that quilt stores sometimes shop at my house, due to my vast fabric selection.  Maybe I wouldn’t be able to muster anything at all for the challenge.

Eventually, during one of my rummaging sessions in my fabric stash, I unearthed the cranes panel.  It was an absolutely ideal starting point for the challenge!  Turns out my sister is right.  She is smarter than me.  Do not let her know I’ve confirmed this.

I’ve added five borders on each side of the panel, and four on the top/bottom of this quilt.  I was going to give it a “light” machine quilting using metallic thread and just outline a few waves here and there.  Meh.  I’d be done in two hours.  But...once I got started on the waves, a few lines here and there made no sense to the eye or the quilt.  It became every line that got quilted.  

Of course, the bottom of the quilt became narrower and narrower in comparison with the top.  Quilts must be quilted with equal density over the whole surface, or you get rippling. This is a rule that can’t really be gotten around, kind of like gravity.  If you go crazy quilting it tightly in one section, you must repeat your act of craziness in all sections. This meant I had to climb that mountain of quilting all the way to the top, equalizing it by adding in waves and clouds.  I actually thought I might never finish, that I would perish at my machine because I’d failed to take along enough supplemental oxygen to get me to the summit.  By the end, my sewing machine and I had become one, a cybernetic organism that lived only to make stitches and trips to the snack drawer.  We took turns doing both.  

Eventually it did come to an end - I couldn’t find even a tiny section left where I could add any more stitches.  I declared the quilt finished and my love affair with cranes over.  Completely over.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Dave the Dachshund

April 2017

It can’t always be about quilting.  I know.  It’s a travesty.  It ends up being necessary to put everything in life into one of two categories: 
  • Category 1:  Quilting
  • Category 2:  Not Quilting

Category 1 takes in all quilt related activities including thinking about quilts, talking about quilts, reading about quilts, and actually occasionally making quilts.

Category 2 takes in, well, everything else, including eating, sleeping, and painting the kitchen.  Ugh.

Category 1 is quite elastic and can be stretched to include sewing if the item in question can be somehow related to quilting.  For example, sewing pyjama pants is a quilting activity, since sometimes I wear them while I’m quilting.  Sewing to repair clothing falls into Category 2, as it is an essentially nasty pursuit that misuses time that could be more appropriately devoted to Category 1.

Watching the TV series The Great British Sewing Bee is a Category 1 activity.  This show is a low calorie version of The Great British Bake Off.  I had to abandon watching that one after I dragged the TV into the kitchen so that I could commune with the chocolate chips during the show. 

They don’t do any quilting on The Great British Sewing Bee, but it does cover a lot of the same skills that quilters use. I’ve completely fallen under its spell.  It’s the stitchery equivalent of Survivor – 10 sewing enthusiasts duke-ing it out for top dog status.  One person must leave “the sewing room” each episode.  At this point, the moderator who makes the announcement chokes back tears.  The sewing contestants all cry, and I sob inconsolably into the arm of my leather chair. 

As the GBSB camera wandered from table to table, it became evident to me that all the cool kids had huge and amazing pincushions they had made for themselves.  The one that made me whimper with envy was the dachshund.  Who doesn’t love this adorable unpronounceable and un-spellable breed of hound?  The beloved “wiener dog”!  I wanted my very own wiener dog pincushion.

I currently keep all my pins in a dish on my psychotically cluttered quilting table.  I rarely have a session at the table where I don’t knock this dish onto the floor, strewing the contents all the way to the house next door.  It’s become a ritual that I’ve learned to endure.  Picking up all those pins every day is keeping me flexible. My fine motor skills are top notch.  I could get one of those magnetic pin dishes, but then the pins get magnetized and my scissors become an unusable porcupine-like object.  Un-clamping magnetized pins is worse than a crawl around the carpet and has no therapeutic value whatsoever.  But... a pincushion that doubles as a cute animal companion?  That struck me as the ideal solution. 

I easily found the free pattern for Dave Dachshund at Sew magazine.  It wasn’t too complicated.  I even managed to avoid being dissuaded by the word “gusset”.  (It’s on my list of Hated Words).  Within a singe day, Dave was lolling on my quilting table and radiating advanced cuteness.  I couldn’t actually stick any pins in him though.  My Facebook friends (pet lovers all) were quite vocal about implementing a “no-stab” rule for Dave.  I didn’t have the heart to point out that Dave is made of cotton and lacks a nervous system.  So the pins have stayed in the dish, and Dave has been put in charge of it.  And to his credit, he’s only spilled it twice.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sailing at the Farm

­­Sailing at the Farm; A Paper Bag Challenge
April 2017
Lois/Joan/Julie Collaboration

Never turn down anything chocolate - or anything quilt related when the challenge gauntlet is thrown down.   This quilt is the end result of one our “paper bag” challenges at our guild. The challenge works like this.  One quilter fills a paper bag with some fabric scraps and notions.  Whoever gets the bag has to make a small quilt using the contents. They’re allowed to add their own thread and imagination, nothing else.   At least a piece of every fabric or item in the bag must be used.  To add to the fun the bag contains a whole bunch of alarmingly unharmonious fabrics.  Some people love this challenge.  Most are neutral.  The rest would rather have their hair set on fire. 

Last fall Lois was charged with coming up with a challenge. When she revealed the two paper bags, everyone in the room either looked at the floor or suddenly noticed something of spellbinding interest in their purse.  To be fair, everyone already had at least one too many projects in their queue.  I wanted to grab one of the bags right away, but I hated to appear greedy.  I’d done this type of challenge before  (Light and Dark in the City). It was time to let someone else to have a chance. 

It took a while for the two bags to get picked up. Both went to people who volunteered an absent member for the project.  Hint: never miss a meeting.  One bag got passed around, and eventually it reached my friend Joan.  She did the background and then became the victim of evaporated enthusiasm. She set it aside.  We kicked around some ideas, but I could see she’d already moved on.  The quilt got added to her pile of unfinished projects, with the fabric-in-waiting and the things that were no longer as much fun as when they were started.  If you are a quilter, you know this feeling well. Projects that once tapped you on the shoulder while you were sleeping and dragged you to your machine at six a.m. eventually became dreary.  You start thinking about breaking up with them.
Joan's Background
I offered to take this one and finish it under the pretense of heroism, but the truth was I’d wanted to do one of these all along.  And, since the background was completed, all the heavy lifting had already been done.  All I had to do was swoop in and find the story. 

There were some blue and white blocks in the bag that hadn’t been used yet.  Turning them on point, I recognized their true calling. They were sail boats!  I added grey strips to the water, and added more grey fabric at the bottom of the quilt.  I reduced the size of the sky.  A beautiful day for sailing emerged.  

From the bag, I added the flowers (buttons) and used the 3 colours of embroidery floss for stems and leaves.  The unseen farmer was way instantly way happier with his little house by the sea. 

Finally, I machine quilted it with metallic thread in the water and sky.  I would never normally have added a light coloured binding, but that was the only fabric left that was big enough.  Surprisingly, it made the piece look like a snapshot of a farm by the sea. There was still one jarring piece of brown fabric left.  It fell into conflict with every other fabric in the quilt. I used it on the back as a border for the label.  No one had specified exactly where the fabric had to be used.

And the fate of this quilt?  It will find a whole new home as the door prize someone will win at our upcoming quilt show.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Finding Mankind

Quilt No. 118
March 2017

This is one for the doodle addicted.  You know who you are.  You embarrass yourself at meetings as the doodle that began as a few innocent marks in the margin of your notes becomes cultivated into pages of swirls and triangles and leaves with veins and warts.  Harry Potter is defeating a Lord of the Rings dragon, and both are wearing top hats.  Suddenly, you snap back to reality in a quiet room.  All the faces around the meeting table are now turned to the bloom on your page.  The question the chairperson has directed at your deaf and doodling ears is a complete unknown.  You dredge up your best all-situation answer - “It could be possible.”  I’ve learned this the hard way.  Corporations frown on doodling.

The other circumstance that fosters doodling is the telephone call.  Meetings held on the phone are the worst.  At the end I must tease out my notes from the grip of butterflies.  Fish with large eyes muddle the key points and bubbles obscure the phone number of the key person I’ve been assigned to contact.  I’m also a home doodler.   I was talking to my sister on the phone when Finding Mankind found me.  She is unaware of my doodling ways, and I find it best to keep it that way.  At the end of the phone call I look over the doodles and then throw them away.  However, in this particular one I spotted a man.  He was difficult to distinguish from the background, just like mankind cannot easily be extracted from his environment - despite lofty thoughts to the contrary.  In this quilt you must look carefully. Eventually you too will find mankind.