Just a central Pennsylvania gal that loves all things HANDMADE and HOMEMADE!
I grew up baking, sewing, knitting, canning and crafting with my mom; building, hunting, fishing, camping and DIY-ing with my dad. My paternal grandmother also lived with us; so I gained the benefits of her quilting and gardening as well.
Nearby, my maternal grandparents owned and operated a commercial orchard. This grandma saved the seeds from her garden every year & taught my mom to can tremendously YUMMY fresh fruit & sauces. I will always treasure memories of their AMAZING homemade bread + all of the family moments and stories that happened in the process of weeding, breaking beans, building a garage, & working in the shop- not to mention the time when my dad showed us why he didn’t belong in the canning kitchen by blowing up the homemade spaghetti sauce all over the ceiling. (NOTE to Dad’s everywhere- Tim Allen’s “MORE POWER” philosophy does NOT apply to canning!) Oh yes, high adventures!
As we made our way to destinations around PA & Maryland, I also gained the benefit of seeing my grandpa & uncle’s welding skills in bridges & buildings throughout the region. I enjoyed all the things they & my dad made for us in the shop.
As an adult, I realize that I took for granted always being able to call someone in the family or friends circle to come & make or fix something- or knowing how to do it myself. Whether it was taking out a dead tree in the yard, knitting a winter scarf, baking a loaf of bread, getting a haircut, or building a new bookcase, we just did it at home .
Later, I married a military man who came from a strong line of military & union service & we’ve made a happy life together. We value both academics & hands-on learning and are grateful that we grew up with non-traditional education systems- he being a product of Catholic School & me experiencing both public school & later homeschooling (which I loved!). I also went on to teach in some really incredible Charter Schools where I wrote curriculum for Spanish & Art that was highly project-based.
Along the way, I invented a new form of quilting that I call Yosaic Quilting™ which I also have a blog on. Feel free to visit: www.yosaicquilting.com
As you can see, we are a very “blue collar,” HANDS-ON family ranging in knowledge bases from nursing to teaching, military service, union work & traditional crafts and more. My favorite memories by far are of all the times we’ve spent making something together. I grew up with a can-do, inventive spirit that was a result of the can-do inventive spirits all around me. So, I hope you will enjoy the funny stories, learning experiences & projects provided here to help the next generation learn and enjoy the everyday adventures we have treasured. Here’s a great glimpse into a happy, rural American life!
Degree: Elementary Ed from Penn State, 3.86 GPA
Certification in Art K-12
Concentration in Spanish
2 Years Business and Marketing, Allegheny College of Maryland
10+ years Business Marketing/Advertising, Average 63% account growth annually. (That’s 4-8x’s the average sales!)
5+ years teaching: Spanish, Art, & English as a 2nd Language (also wrote Spanish K-3 Curriculum)
Inventor of new form of quilting- Yosaic™ Quilting, The New Impressionism. Learn more at: Yosaic™ Quilting
Baking, Canning, and Healthy Cooking (+ recipe experimentation)
Camping, Hiking, & Fun with Family
WHAT I’D LIKE TO LEARN:
Home Remodeling & basic repairs
Spinning (yarn making)
Smocking (a sewing technique)
Gardening (particularly indoor gardening to get through the long PA winters!)
WHERE I’VE BEEN:
Western United States: Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, The Grand Canyon, Temple Square during the 2002 Olympics, Mountain drive through Colorado
Washington DC/ Baltimore/ NYC
WHERE I’D LIKE TO GO:
Any number of Folk Art Schools and/or living history camps! (We’ve got a fabulous one right here in Somerset, PA at the http://www.somersethistoricalcenter.org. Barrel Making or Maple Sugaring anyone???) *Not an affiliate- just an amazing living history center!
England/ Scotland: Royal School of Embroidery at Hampton Court is a MUST 🙂 along with many other historic sites!
Of late, I have become fascinated with historical fiction novels that accurately depict the story of little known women in the midivil ages up through the American Civil War. I love the ways that they work the everyday details of their lives into the stories and how you get to see how much the little things like their sewing and tapestry work influenced their households and even nations. So much of women’s history is recorded in the sewing, knitting and the other household tasks that they did, even and perhaps especially that done by women of royal and noble households whose work was much better recorded. It is a great shame that for much of the history of humanity, women have not had the opportunities afforded them to read or write that their male counterparts did, but more & more historians and writers are piecing together the lives of these great women through the work of their hands, noble and common.
In a number of posts here, I will share some research that I have done on one sewing technique or another that I have been introduced to in these historical novels (all categorized under HISTORY OF QUILTING). Today it’s BLACKWORK EMBROIDERY- also known as SPANISH EMBROIDERY because it was brought to England by Cathrine of Aragon, the first wife of the infamous King Henry VIII.
Blackwork embroidery was something that I first became aware of when reading Philippa Gregory’s novel, “The Constant Princess,” which is the very sad, but absolutely entrancing tale of Cathrine of Aragon. (Note: this is an affiliate link. If you purchase the book through Amazon, I may get a small commission from the sale.)
“The Constant Princess” begins by diving into some of the conquests of Cathrine of Aragon’s parents, King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella of Spain during Cathrine’s childhood. I was fascinated by the description of how they took the palace at Alhambra from the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada (Arabs/Turks to my understanding) in what is now known as the Reconquista- (translated re-conquest). I never knew much detail of the Christian Pilgrimages to take back land in or around the Middle East that had fallen to non-believers, being Jews and Arabs, but this telling gives the reader a some idea of what they were like & why they were fought.
The battles that Cathrine- the Infanta of Spain- saw her mother take part in and plan as a child shaped her for her role as Queen of England. This book paints a picture of the warmth of the Spanish/Arab lands as well as the intelligence of the native people- their knowledge of mathematics & medicine- of cleanliness & regular bathing, which she finds rather lacking when she goes to England! It also shows how her mother, Queen Isabella was every inch the ruler that her father King Ferdinand was, & how she had just as much to do with the conquests of their reign as he did. Gregory’s book paints Isabella as a strong and decisive woman who prepared her daughters to be, not only queens, but rulers & even conquerers!
SEWING IS FOR THE SOFT & THE STRONG
The story interweaves the strength of decisive women born to lead with the ability to still be associated with those things which we think of as soft & feminine, such as sewing & fine embroidery. Queen Cathrine lead an army to victory & ruled a country in her husband’s absence (covered in the book). She was the rod that kept him straight & on an even course for nearly 2 decades. He only falters when he veers away from her. She could do all of that- & influence a sewing style that would grace nearly every fabric surface in England & beyond for 200 years.
In our modern world, we tend to separate the strong women built for leadership roles from traditional crafts, like sewing and quilting, that are considered “soft & feminine.” We have decided that any traditional art represents the weakness & subjugation of women, but they don’t have to. Strong women can quilt. Women who lead can sew. One does not deter the other…
QUILTING MAKES US STRONG
This is a bit of a soapbox for me, I suppose. There was a video going around Facebook recently of a female Astronaut who was quilting in space. (Awesome, right?!?) I was dismayed & quite angry to find that she was utterly & completely ATTACKED by other women online for it! Quilting was something she loved, something she was good at- & something she was scientifically testing to see how her hobby was different in space as opposed to on earth with gravity- and there were women there beating her down for it because it was a traditional craft. Fortunately, there were many more women from a worldwide quilting family who were happy to jump in & try to help problem solve + offer encouragement & support. They poured out a myriad of solutions & ideas for the road blocks she was running into with plenty of encouragement & admiration. That’s what I love about quilting- everyone trades ideas & encourages one another. That’s what women should do. Quilting & sewing doesn’t make us weak- it makes us strong.
Back to the book!
The author often describes the daily activities of the women in Queen Catherine’s household- the sewing they did for the Church & for charity, as well as for babies to be born & family. It is interesting to note that making things- particularly beautiful & highly skilled sleeves, embellishments & tapestries was the work of queens & noblewomen. It was the work of women in leadership positions! I also loved how the author noted the way these things were received when given as gifts & the difference a handmade gift could make in someone’s life- even someone as rough as King Henry.
Greggory notes that one of Henry’s favorite gifts from Catherine was a shirt with blackwork embroidery. It was unusual to the English court, but quite beautiful & prized- a gift of culture as well as labor & love.
If we look at the history books, we can see that Henry was not the only person impressed with her native embroidery patterns & skills. Blackwork embroidery spread quickly throughout the English court, decorating sleeves, hems, caps, shirts, and even cushions. It was comprised of geometric stitches sometimes filling in floral outlines. It can now be seen in more colors than just black- hence the name has shifted to reference the stitching style & not just the black thread on white cotton or linen design that it began as.
The painter Hans Holbein the younger- famous in King Henry VIII’s court at the end of Queen Cathrine’s reign & into that of Anne Boleyn’s- apparently also influenced the craft as the Holbein stitch (often used in blackwork) is named after him.
Blackwork embroidery seems to have reached its height of fashion during Queen Elizabeth’s reign a generation later. It can be seen in paintings on dresses covering the sleeves, skirt, & bodice of many upperclass women as well as the queen herself. When I look at pictures like that & think of how many hours it would take to stitch such intricate designs into a huge skirt or sleeve I can understand why it was a symbol of wealth. Hans Holbein, the painter that one of the blackwork stitches is known for, by comparison only has blackwork stitching on his collar!
I wonder, but haven’t yet found examples of what Blackwork embroidery looked like before Cathrine of Aragon brought it to England. I suspect that it has some Arab origins or influence because “The Constant Princess” references the geometry & mathematical knowledge of the natives of her country. Many of the native patterns that were there prior to the Spanish Conquests were geometric in nature & Greggory’s book paints Catherine as one who LOVED the native culture of her land- including the geometric designs of the palace at Alhambra.
After having fallen in love with “The Constant Princess” & being entirely entranced with how the quiet work of Queen Cathrine’s hands influenced a nation & is still popular in many countries today (her military conquests aside!), I am determined to try mixing some blackwork stitching into my Yosaic™ designs. Stay tuned for pictures!
If you’re interested in learning more about Blackwork Embroidery, here are a few books on Amazon to get started with. (Affiliate links)
The Quilting Brain is an amazing thing. I think most of us take it for granted. Common traits among quilters, crafters, and artisans include the ability to “steal” an idea- to see how something is put together & pull an idea from it. You might not go home & make the exact same thing, but you take something from it & make it your own.
I had a boyfriend who worked in a professional setting & loved to collect unique ties. He was crazy about them. He was also the first one to introduce me to the theatre. We went to see Les Miserables. One day at our annual Fall Foliage Festival in Bedford County, PA (if you’ve never been- it’s well worth the trip- people travel from all over the US!), I saw a vender selling homemade men’s ties. I decided that if she could make them, I could make them! I went home, asked my dad for an old tie that I could take apart to make a pattern out of & went to work. On the first run through, I did not know to cut it out diagonally on the fabric & ended up with a tie that twisted like a corkscrew! Hilarious! Thank goodness for moms who can come along & tell you what you’re doing wrong… I got the cutting problem straightened out & started major tie production. Eventually, I started to embroidery them as well. He really flipped out when I presented him with a stocking full of homemade ties at Christmas. But that’s a quilters brain for you. I want it- therefore I will make it!
Creativity like that can’t always be taught, but I think it can be learned. It comes from thousands of hours of labor & experience. When I began learning Spanish, the first thing I learned was to read the words & recognize them in print. It was surprising to realize that I also had to learn to hear the words & that hearing was separate from reading. It was the 2nd step. The final step in fluency was being able to speak because you have to be able to both hear the language, think in it & respond in a very short amount of time. (I was actually shocked when I first learned that I would one day think in Spanish & not just always translate English to Spanish & vice versa. I didn’t realize that it would become a part of me.) It takes more practice than you can imagine. You practice reading. You practice writing. You practice hearing. And, you practice speaking. If you practice enough, you begin to think in the language; it becomes a part of you.
THINKING IN THE LANGUAGE OF ART
People who are artisans- whether they quilt or sew or paint- don’t realize that they are learning a language- that they can think in quilting, but it becomes a part of them as much as any language. It took me nearly 40 years to recognize that the reason that I see & react to the world so differently, so incredibly uniquely is because I am completely immersed in the creative process- I think in quilting- I think in art.
How do you think in quilting or art though? One way is by approaching many facets of life using the design process.
The design process broken down simply is this:
Gather up all of your options (materials/patterns/etc.) & survey possibilities (like free writing in creative writing class)
Eliminate what doesn’t fit & begin to focus
Problem solve throughout the project
I follow this process at work. In sales, I gather up leads for potential clients to work with. I keep a large file (several boxes actually- kind of like a fabric stash!!!) & when I’m running low on appointments, I go through the box & pull out all of the ones that I might want to work with. Then I eliminate the ones that can’t afford my services, followed by the ones that aren’t as likely to advertise at that time of year, until I’ve whittled my selections down to the right ones to chase. Then I problem solve through the process of trying to land the account.
I fall back to the design process when I have any problem to solve, really. What are my options? (Gather up all of the possibilities.) Sweep away the stuff that is too hard, too expensive, ridiculous, etc. Reduce, reduce, reduce, until I can choose a solution. Implement. Repeat the process to further problem solve.
The design process spills over into a lot of avenues in my life and I’m proud to say that it’s a really practical & useful skill set that I have gained from my quilting & art adventures!
SEEING COMPONENTS & POTENTIAL
Another way that you can think in art is by seeing how things fit together & using that knowledge to pull anything apart, extract what you need & create something new. It’s an incredible talent that seems to be innate to most artisans; so we typically take it for granted. It’s part of that language of art- an integral part of how we think & process life.
I was totally guilty of taking this part of the language & the talents I have gained from years of making art in various ways for granted until I went to college. I was not a little bit surprised to find myself among a dozen PHD candidates who expressed amazement & stated that they couldn’t understand how I could alter an item of clothing by making my own pattern or take a couch that had been kicked to the curb, strip it, figure out how it was upholstered & how to reupholster it, when to me, it was just “common sense.” It was easy to look at things and see how they worked or didn’t work- what I could or couldn’t do with a given material & what might work on a proposed project if I tried because I had done it with so many materials & so many projects before. Skill sets & experience easily transferred over to new things.
MISTAKES ARE OPPORTUNITIES
But, of course, it didn’t always work. One time I ended up making myself a purse out of a blouse that I cut out with the stripes going the wrong way on one panel. But that’s another thing that the quilting brain does- it sees possibilities. That ruined shirt made out of fabric that I could no longer get more of at the store still contained brand new fabric. WHY waste it?!? ;-). Mistakes are opportunities.
ARGUMENTS FOR & AGAINST
Some might argue that this is not a language that I’m thinking in, but a skill set that I’m applying to various facets of my life. I think the bell could toll both ways. Because the skill sets that I’ve gained affects the way that I think & approach life, to me it has become a language. I also state this because the things we make convey meaning outside of words & to be immersed in the making of those things means thinking outside of words- it means to think in quilting or art.
I picked up a book last night about Scandinavian embroidery & was fascinated to learn about the custom that some of the folk women had at one point of keeping an elaborately embroidered bed made up at all times for show & nothing else. It was a status symbol among them. It conveyed meaning.
LANGUAGE AFFECTS PERCEPTION
So- yes. I think it’s possible to think in quilting. I believe that art is a language & that it can shape the way that you see, think & interact with the world. There are some fascinating Ted Talks on the subject of how different languages affect the culture’s perception of the world.
One of my favorite examples notes that in the US where we speak English we generally have 1 word for snow- and will add just a few adjectives such as wet or dry. However, the Eskimos have 21 words for snow! They live with it for much more of the year. They interact with it more intimately. Of course they see more types of it. My bet is that there are names for crusted snow verses drifted snow, dirty vs. pure & so much more. (If I recall correctly, the Ted Talk references this example as well, but I heard it in a different talk years ago.)
Another example that I love comes from my days in Spanish class, as well as the Ted Talk (linked below) that I recently viewed on YouTube (not an affiliate). In Spanish- there are no words that assign blame to the individual who forgot something. The literal translation of: “I forgot my keys.” is “The keys, they forgot me.” What’s interesting is that English speakers are much more likely to be mad at the person who forgot the keys and made everyone late, whereas Spanish speakers accept that sometimes things forget themselves! (Here’s the link to the Ted Talk for anyone who wants to watch it: How Language Shapes The Way We Think)
Languages really do shape how we see the world & the decisions that we make. When we immerse ourselves in quilting & art, it becomes a part of us- it becomes a part of how we think & see things. It is entwined into our vocabulary & vision. I believe it can only change us for the better.
I will not go into a lot of detail because the incident that I am about to describe is very graphic. However, I do feel that the most general parts of it & the things that I learned are important to share…
On a beautiful autumn day, I saw one of the most horrible things a person can see. I lived close to a major college campus & had gone to Church that morning. I wanted to go to a park & take pictures of the waterfalls that afternoon. The sun was shining, the sky was the most beautiful blue you can imagine, & the fall glory was blazing. It was Homecoming weekend on campus; so everyone at the college had partied HARD the entire weekend & the town was pretty ghostlike on a Sunday afternoon- just quite as a mouse.
GPS told me to go one direction, but I knew where it was directing me & decided to get on the highway up by the stadium instead because I hadn’t taken that route in awhile. I passed the stadium, the hospital, & one of the underpasses for an intersecting highway. My dog, M, was buckled into the seat next to me & was happily watching the scenery go by. Seconds later my life changed.
A car blew past me in the lane I had just moved out of. I watched the horrible crash that followed & was the first one on the scene to call 911. I think God led me there that day because I used to work across the street & I knew the area well. I was able to give clear & concise instructions to the first responders & they arrived quickly.
I got some minor injuries at the scene, but what I saw & went through with the person who had crashed hurt a lot more. I went home & went into shock. I took a week off work & talked & talked & talked trying to get what I had seen out of my head. What ended up helping was repetitive tasks that did not require a lot of thinking but kept me busy like doing the dishes, going for a walk, & cutting out fabric yo-yos. I tried a number of things- like working on a painting. I just couldn’t. It required me to think & I didn’t have the brain energy to decide which color to put where. But I could trace & cut circles all day long & that became my life-line.
DIFFERENT WAYS ART/QUILTING CAN HEAL
I thought that was interesting. Art can be healing in so many different ways. When I’m stressed from everyday life, getting lost in a project & making decisions about it is a welcome escape. Matching colors, choosing fabrics, creating a design- it usually rejuvenates me. But after taking a mental shock like that, I needed something more basic, more rhythmic, like just cutting out yo-yos.
That seems to be the case with other major stressors- like moving or when my schedule is too over-packed for far, far too long. In situations like that, I get so exhausted for so long, that I feel like I’ve lost brain energy & I need to do something, but I also need to not think & out come the scissors & yo-yo templates! So- I’ve realized that I need different types of art & craft for different times in my life & that I need to listen to my mind’s rhythms as well as my body’s.
GO WITH THE FLOW…YOUR BRAIN KNOWS WHAT IT NEEDS!
It’s important to make time for the things that give you sanity. It’s also important to recognize when something works for you & when it doesn’t. I’ve talked to other people that have been through trauma & encouraged them to have more than one person that they depend on when they’re having really hard days & I have to say, the same applies to your creative life. You can’t always depend on just one thing to meet all of your stress release or creative needs.
I think a lot of people beat themselves up for this- the tendency to hop around from one project to the next. Best case scenario, we make fun of ourselves. Don’t believe me? Google: “T-shirts dedicated to Quilting UFO’s (Unfinished Fabric Objects)” or go to a quilt show… You’ll see!
THE “TIME OUT” BIN
But— what if we actually needto do all of that hopping around? What if you’re just following what your body/mind is telling you that it needs at the time? On days when you need to block out the world, getting lost in designing a quilt or working on a complicated design will probably be a dream. Other times, you’ll sit down & try & try & try. You’ll rip out more than you sew & your poor project will go into the “Time Out Bin” because you just end up mad at it. Poor quilt! It’s not it’s fault. On nights when you can’t focus or concentrate on a complicated project, you probably need something that’s rhythmic- like embroidery work, hand quilting, sewing a bunch of mindless seams, etc. That’s not a bad thing…so give yourself a break! I made myself finish ALL of my UFO’s once & I’ve never been more depressed & uninspired in my life. It completely stunted my creative growth.
So- if quilting is your job, you probably need to find a way to stay on task & get projects done, but if it’s your hobby (as it is for almost everyone), give yourself a break & work on what you need to work on in order to be happy & find your daily sanity. Remember that what you need from your art life is going to change from time to time. It can be different types of quilting- or completely different art forms like quilting and knitting. Sometimes you might even need to throw in a different activity- like mixing your quilting time with swimming (for neck pain relief)! 😉 Find what works for you & don’t beat yourself up about it.
Today we think of art as something that will go into a museum or decorate a space. However, art was once a trade. Michelangelo was part of a sculpting guild & apprenticed under a master in the same way that masons pass on their knowledge of building & stone work to upcoming generations- both in ancient times and today. Artisans who formed these guilds & did the work of both building & beautifying their communities were highly revered specialists who performed extremely important work.
Today, when we think of an artist, the word “starving” is usually the first to come to mind. We do not value art or an arts education as we once did, much less folk art like quilting. Fine art is separated from craft & trade, devaluing folk art, craft & trade further. All are pushed to the sidelines of “core curriculum.” This is evidenced by the budget cuts to arts & trades education categories. They do not get the same funding that scientific programs garner because we do not see their application in society as readily. In our current culture, you’ll never hear a teacher say, “If you don’t learn how to draw or take things apart & make something new out of them, you won’t have a good future.” They say, “If you don’t study for this test & keep your grades up, you won’t get into college & you’ll struggle for the rest of your life.” We need a wholesale change in our education system to include applied arts that balances the heavy usage of technology with the practical everyday folk art, trade & skills of our ancestors.
Applied Art™ can influence not only its own field of craftsmen/women & fine artists, but can also enhance other subjects as well.
Art, Trade & Craftsmanship is scientific exploration. In order to learn how to draw, you first have to discover what the different materials do. Why does this pencil draw darker lines than another? Which one is harder to erase? Why? How do you draw with something other than lines? (Shading creates contour & depth- the perception of a 3D image.) In order to learn how to quilt, you have to know which fabrics with stretch & in what ways, how one color & pattern choice will affect another in the overall design of the quilt, the numerous ways that the fabrics can be joined together & the pros & cons of each method, etc. A good artist knows how to expertly manipulate the materials he/she is using. Practice in these fields lends itself easily to manufacturing. How does this material work? How far can I bend or manipulate it? What can I combine it with to create something that will solve a problem? How can I look at raw materials & imagine different uses for them? (Creativity & imagination!)
Art is also problem solving. When you have an idea of what you want to create, you both mentally & physically take it apart. You look at all of its components & figure out how they compare to one another. Nothing comes out perfectly the first time you draw it on a page, play it on an instrument, or weld it into place. An artist/craftsman/woman is continually looking for what part of their project is “different” from what they want. These pieces aren’t matching up the way they’re supposed to. One piece is longer than another. There’s puckering of the fabric where the thread bunched up. This fabric gets eaten easily by the sewing machine. Why? And how do I fix it?
As you move through the project you make changes until it becomes what you want. This is a constant problem-solving process from start to finish & produces patience, persistence, critical thinking & creativity.
Art is a way to learn other things. Indeed, it is often referred to as a language. We study language by itself, but we also use language to study other subjects. One pursuit does not detract from the other. In like manner, applied art™ which includes both art, craft & trade applications could be brought into the regular classroom & used to explore other subjects. It would be ideal for each school to have one or more arts & trades counselors who could work with the regular classroom teachers to create projects that allow the students to use creative reasoning & include hands-on experiences as they explore all of the other subjects. Indeed, Applied Art™ could be the solution to the Skills Gap.
APPLIED ART™ IN HISTORY:
There is historical precedent that tells us that this type of approach would not only bridge the skills gap but enhance “core” curriculum. During WWI there was a movement to “Knit Your Bit” for the soldiers. Not only women, but men left behind & children were called on to knit socks, scarves, hats & mittens for the soldiers. It was a patriotic duty that compelled some to knit in church & eventually in school. An amazing thing happened. Teachers everywhere noted betterbehavior in class AND improved testing. Today we know that the patterning & mathematical elements of this craft are highly important in a number of fields. As a result of this understanding, Waldorf Schools worldwide teach both knitting & crochet to improve reading, writing & mathematical scores beginning as early as kindergarten. The only question that remains is, “Why hasn’t the world followed?”
It has been said that the hardest thing about painting is getting started.
“It is so fine & yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
Quilters face no less of a challenge. Painters have a couple dozen colors to choose from; quilters have hundreds of bolts, patterns, techniques & variations to throw into their decision making process! (I say this being both a quilter & a painter & knowing the challenges of both.)
So, here’s the deal; the design process is MESSY- and that’s okay! First you become a hoarder- then you flip to minimalism! What do I mean by that? Well, when I’m designing a quilt, an event, my website or anything else, I start by gathering up everything (+ some!) that I could possibly want to include in the project & then I start organizing what I have & eliminating bit by bit until I get down to the simplest form of the design that I can create & have a concrete direction to go in.
It works with shopping. You throw everything you want into your cart & head for the dressing room. Trying things on will eliminate a huge portion of the pile. Then you sort out what’s left by what you can afford in the order of what you love the most, right?
It works with drawing. You start out with the general shape & keep erasing, redrawing & making small changes until the picture becomes what you want. You change, first this line, and then that one. Sometimes a line even becomes a smudge or a smudge becomes the ghost of a shadow. You might even change the composition at some point or decide to draw something different entirely.
It works with writing. Remember elementary school when they told you to write a rough draft & then edit & re-edit? That’s the process we’re working with here.
When you’re trying to figure out where to start- you start with the most general idea & the most details/quilting materials you can gather up! And then you work backwards eliminating bits & pieces until you have a simple & clear plan/project!
STASHING/ PATTERN CHOICES
So with quilting- you start with the hobby of STASHING. Yes- it has been decided- building your stash IS a separate hobby from actually using it! When I’m designing a project, sometimes I shop my stash & sometimes I hit the local store; usually I end up doing a little of both… Either way, I start out gathering up ideas & that means first sorting patterns or pattern ideas & then sorting stash fabrics & hitting up the local store. But let’s look at pattern decisions first.
When I’ve sorted through my top patterns or ideas, I can consider:
Is there a time line/ Is it a gift with a deadline?
What’s my budget?
What’s my goal? (Do I want to master a new technique, play with a favorite color palette or fabric, or run with a new design or pattern?)
It’s smart to consider that if my budget is small or my timeline is tight, choosing a big project (while unfortunately tempting & likely to occur!) is not necessarily smart.
Do I have fabric in my stash that I can use or do I need to buy more?
If I use fabric in my stash, make a mistake & need more- can I obtain it or will I have to change or scrap the project?
Do I know all of the techniques in the pattern I want to make or do I need to take a class or look up a tutorial?
If I make an unfixable mistake, is that going to affect my timeline- particularly if it’s a gift- & do I have a backup plan?
The biggest part of planning a project- & getting past the stupor of a blank canvas- of not knowing where to start- is asking yourself the right questions.
This works with picking out the fabric, too. Your eye will naturally go to patterns & colors that you like, but do they always go together the way that you want them to? That’s probably the biggest frustration for inexperienced quilters. Many companies have picked up on these insecurities & put together both patterns & colors into fabric families that work well together. The matching is done for you as long you stay within the product line, which usually includes pattern books as well. That’s a good place to start, but it’s not a good place to stay.
If you want to learn how to pick out the best colors & patterns for your quilts possible, you will want to ask yourself a few more questions
CONTRAST: Does your quilt pattern have any places where there are dark & light fabrics next to one another creating a contrast? It should tell you that you need a certain amount of a darker fabric & another amount of the lighter one.
FABRIC PATTERN SIZE: How large are the pattern pieces in comparison with the pattern on the fabric? This is important. A large pattern on the fabric will be lost on small pattern pieces. This is why I always choose a very small or blended pattern for my yo-yos. Look closely at the yo-yos in the picture above- you will see very subtle patterns- not giant, bold ones. When the fabric is gathered, any picture or large design is lost anyway, and it just looks like confetti if there are a bunch of color blocks in the fabric. So, for my Yosaic™ Quilting I steer clear of large patterned fabric. However, larger patterns for something like a block or stripping are great. They also work if you’re cutting the block out to specifically include the pattern on the fabric- such as a bird or scene.
TYPE OF FABRIC: Are you picking out the same types of fabric? Flannel typically doesn’t go next to a batik in a quilt because they won’t iron the same, lay the same or sew the same. With some things like crazy quilts, you can mix fabrics, but typically, if you’re making a batik quilt, you should be sticking with all of the batiks with the outside possibility of some cottons. Your local quilt shop can help you to understand all the different types of fabric & which one is best for your pattern or project.
WARM & COOL COLORS: This deserves a post- or several posts(!) all by itself. Warm colors vs. cool colors? How do you even know if a color is warm or cool? On one shopping trip, I was looking for brown fabric & my mom brought me a bolt that she thought would work. I shook my head & told her that there was too much yellow in it. She looked completely baffled & pointed out that it was a brown on brown print! Where in the heck was I seeing yellow? I explained that one of the dye colors in it was yellow & that it had a warm tone. I was looking for a cooler toned brown- something that was more on the blue side. It really threw her- & it’s probably throwing you right now, too.
Don’t worry! You don’t have to know THAT much about warm & cool tones to learn how to see the difference between warm & cool fabrics & to know which to use in your project.
Warm colors are the ones that you see in the fall & spring- particularly in the fall when the leaves are changing- think of warm sunshine, burnt orange, blood red, pumpkin, the hazy blues of the fall sky, the warm greens of the leaves before they change. You can also think about it as any color that you would describe as warm- like the warm sands on the beach. Conversely, cool colors we typically describe using words that denote a feeling of coolness- refreshing turquoise ocean, icy blue winter sky, etc. They’re also the colors that you typically see in winter & summer: winter white, grey skies, electric pink bathing suit, fuchsia flowers in the islands.
Now, here’s why that matters: a warm subject placed on a cool background creates a contrast that is as dramatic as light against dark! It POPS! There’s contrast that draws the eye & makes the subject more vivid. So, if you want a comforting, homey effect with your quilt, you might want to go for all warm colors- that blend & flow into one another- like farmhouse creams, browns, & greens. Use all cool colors if you want something that is as cool as the island breeze. But, if you want your medallion to stand out in the center of the quilt or your appliqué in the block, use a contrast of either light against dark or warm against cool tones.
I will write more posts at a later date that go into more depth on these subjects & give more examples…but here are 2 for right now. The butterfly below has those beautiful warm tones set against a summer blue sky. The wreath above also has those same fall oranges, reds & browns. Set against a grey wall, it pops!
To remember the difference, think about opposites: every other season we change from warm to cool colors. Winter & summer are cool & spring & fall are warm. With some practice, you will figure it out- & your quilts will thank you!
You can also print color wheels from dozens of places on the net & take those with you on your shopping trips. Anything that is at an opposite point on the color wheel is going to compliment its counterpart. For example- red is directly across from green; so red & green go together. Find one color you like & look for what’s exactly opposite it. That’s your best chance for a good matching contrast, although many other colors will work & your local quilt shop owners always have a good eye!
Quilting can be a big investment & deliberating on which fabric to pick & whether or not it’s going to work can leave you in a stupor at your proverbial blank canvas. So, if you’re not sure if what you’ve picked out is going to work, no problem! Do a colored pencil version first. Make a copy of your pattern. Get colored pencils that match your fabric & do some coloring to check your color choices. You can also cut out a tiny version of your pattern with the fabrics you’ve got to see if you like what you’ve got before you make that big commitment with the rotary cutter!
It’s not as intimidating if you break it down into questions to answer & individual steps to take. You’ll be making amazing quilts in no time!
I had so much fun recently at the restoration grand opening of a historic home in our town. As any quilter will do, I walked around GETTING IDEAS! Whooo-hooo! They had lovingly restored complex quilt pattern-like wooden flooring made from a variety of woods (the darker ones created shadows in the designs!). There were beautiful antiques all throughout the house true to the time period, gorgeous chandeliers, elegant fireplaces & the feeling of a very grand home. My favorite feature was the wood work on the walls in the dining room.
That evening, as I was chatting with a gentleman who worked for the bank that had endowed the restoration, he remarked that the old world craftsmanship was just breathtaking & he didn’t know how they had done it. I agreed with the breathtaking part, but was happy to show him how they had done it. I moved over to the wall & showed him how the long sections of wood were 2×1 inch boards of hard wood- probably oak or maple- running lengthways with shorter sections intersecting to make the square shapes between them. Within the intersections there were square pieces of board that must have been a 1/2 inch thick or so. They had also used 1/4 inch round trim to make a beveled edge between the intersecting boards & the square centerpiece. (So rotten of me but I just could not resist teaching. Lol!)
This man’s jaw dropped open & asked how I knew all of that- just as another man eavesdropping from part-way across the room interjected, “What do you do for a living?” The man who joined our conversation turned out to be the restoration architect who didn’t dispute a word of my description.
To answer both the first & second man’s questions, I explained that I was a QUILTER! & the design was quite simple to translate- minus the seam allowances! (Lol.) The architect nodded his head & we proceeded to have a great conversation.
WE STOP BEFORE WE START:
Complex projects- whether it’s woodworking or quilting- can be really intimidating. I was trying to show the man that if you look at the individual pieces & how they go together it becomes a doable project. This is the secret to progress in all labors of love.
I spent years wishing that I knew how to knit beautiful lace shawls, hats, scarves & sweaters. I first started learning how to knit when I was 6. I thought it was easy when I was just doing the knit stitch every row. Then I learned how to crochet- & forgot how to knit… (Slight detour!) It took me more than 35 years to pick it up again & even then I was extremely intimidated by what I wanted to do because I just didn’t know how or where to start. The patterns that I liked were long and complicated. They contained stitches that I could’t even imagine. The patterns changed every row. “HOW do you even manage to enjoy something like that!?!” I wondered.
And so, I let the intimidation of what I didn’t know how to do stop me from achieving what I wanted to do for a very long time. Then I made one crucial change. I decided that I would never knit the same pattern twice- that each time I started a new project I would look for a pattern that contained 1 new stitch or variation. I decided that 1 new thing to absorb was doable. And I was right! It didn’t take as long as I thought before I knew what all of those crazy terms were, was enjoying those long patterns that changed on every row, & had made it to lace!
It was just a matter of learning 1 new step at a time.
So- you can walk into your favorite quilt store, look at medallion quilts, fussy cuts, or paper piecing & convince yourself that you’ll never be that good, or you can pick a project that gets you 1 step closer to the kind of projects that you want to be able to do. It’s really that simple.
When you take enough of those steps, eventually you get to the point where you can even design because you’ve made so many mistakes & taken so many things apart in the process of putting something together that you understand how it all works- not just how to follow the pattern. That’s why I was able to see how the woodwork on the wall & floor was put together. It just takes time & practice to learn the properties of each material- how they can & can’t be put together- & then you can manipulate it any way you’d like. You can design your own dreams!
The real question is- Are you willing to do the work– one step at a time?
A few of my one steps…
This is the first set of cables that I tried- yes- the first! I am definitely crazy sometimes. Took a little while to get the hang of it, but so proud of it!
I can no longer crochet- the motion is different from knitting & bothers me post-surgery, but I was really happy with this simple, but beautiful pattern that I did years ago!
As I stated above, I’m not great with patterns. I prefer to create my own design; but I’ve pushed myself to learn arts like this so that I can expand what I can design. Here’s some piecing work- my first 2 stars!
Canning just goes with quilting- & it doesn’t get any funnier than this; so yes- you’re welcome in advance! (Home production for home consumption if you need to make the connection. 😉
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links for products related to the post. If you purchase any of these products via these links I may receive a small commission. *
Every summer & fall was canning season at my house. We grew a large garden & got regular fruit deliveries from my grandparent’s orchard. Spaghetti sauce & applesauce were big production events.
In case you’ve never attempted canning before, let me paint the picture for you. Canning spaghetti sauce in the summer starts with rototilling the garden in the spring. Then came rock picking. No matter how many times we pulled rocks out of the garden, they seemed to reappear the next spring. Had to be those darned garden fairies- or maybe garden trolls! Grrr.
FOR PREPARING THE GARDEN SOIL:
Some things we planted from seeds & others, like tomatoes, we usually got or made starter plants for. How do you make a starter plant? My maternal grandmother was well known for this. She saved seeds from each years harvest & in the early spring she started the seeds in small amounts of soil (usually in cups or egg cartons) in her window sills. When they got 4 inches high or so they were transferred to the garden. This allowed her to get the plants started while it was still too cold to plant outside- & I imagine gave her a longer harvesting season as well. I think we usually bought starter plants at a local market. Mom just didn’t have the time to do the starters herself.
Gardens need to be watered every day or so & ladybugs + other beetles need to be picked off the plants. Some years we dusted the plants with lime (I think) to keep the insects off, other years we went over each plant meticulously & picked them off. I remember being grossed out by this & my grandmother telling me not to make a big deal about it!
You have to pick the tomatoes & start your canning before they become too ripe. If you leave them on the plant for too long they will drop off & begin to rot on the ground. Typically when fruit hits the ground it becomes bruised & either has to have that part cut out or is more than likely no longer good for use. So- that meant keeping a good eye on the garden & making sure that we got the fruit & veggies when they were ready. You couldn’t wait until you felt like it or had a free day to work on it. You had to get & can the fruits of your labors when the plant was ready to deliver them. That sometimes meant hard work in the garden when I wanted to be watching a TV program or climbing a tree & I have to say that it was good for me. Later in life such discipline meant good grades & success in a number of fields.
So- when you want to make spaghetti sauce, you pick the tomatoes, spend some time washing them off & we typically cut them into quarters after cutting out the spot where the stem connected to the vine. (The vines will continue to produce after several pickings; so don’t break the vine off- just pick the tomatoes gently.). Then my mom boiled great vats of tomatoes with a little bit of water. This softened the tomatoes & helped the skins to peal away easily. (You can use soup pots for boiling the tomatoes or the Granite Ware canning pot that you’d use for water bath canning.)
THE EXPLODING PART…
Once the tomatoes had boiled for a little while, my mom poured the kettle of steamed tomatoes into the top of an hand-crank food strainer. This is a device that clamps to your countertop. It has a funnel on the top that the boiled tomatoes or apples go into & a crank that pushes the fruit through a screen separating the sauce from the skins. Nobody minded picking, washing, quartering or boiling the tomatoes, but cranking the machine was alternatively boring/abhorred & fascinating. I actually didn’t mind it at times… Everybody had to take a turn though so that no one got too tired.
My dad really DID NOT LIKE this job & one day he decided that there had to be a faster way. Apparently, he had disassembled & attached the motor of an electric screwdriver to my wind up swing when I was a baby &, while he wore out several drills keeping me swinging- the project did prove successful. He decided that he’d do the same thing for the food strainer!
It did work. For a moment or two, the sauce flew through the machine. Without a lid on the top of the funnel however, it also blew the tomatoes ALL. OVER. THE. CEILING. He was promptly banished from the kitchen- & never asked to help with THAT again. Lol. That may have been his design in the first place! At any rate, we learned that some things just have to go at a slower pace & be enjoyed.
What’s there to enjoy about standing around hand-cranking dozens of jars of spaghetti sauce? It’s a great backdrop for many a mother/daughter/grandmother talk. There were stories to tell & memories to make. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
You might ask the same thing about hand quilting, hand sewing or embroidery work. We have machines that can do it faster today. Why waste time doing that? As women, I think we have a unique ability to enjoy the process of making something by making memories together. We can fruits & veggies together, have sewing or quilting bees, get together for moving & packing parties & find all sorts of ways to go through something that could be time consuming and tedious and make it fun & memorable instead. So go ahead & pick up something old fashioned. It’s always a good time to make a memory!
If you’re interested in canning- below are some recommended products & books to help you on your way. I am an Amazon Affiliate; so if you purchase any of these products through my link I will get a small commission off the sale.
Life is more than a little bit crazy this summer. At Church, I have been asked to work with the regional activities for our young women ages 12-18; so we’ve had a week long girls camp, we’ve got a weekend long youth conference (both boys & girls from about 1/3 of PA) coming up soon, & then we’re planning a young women’s retreat for back to school + all of the fun fall activities like square dances & speakers & I don’t even know what yet. I love it. I absolutely do. I do events at work as well & I don’t mind juggling all sorts of different things, but this summer is really stretching me because- GASP– we bought a house (for the first time)!!! So, that’s events for work, events for Church & a move. I cannot even begin to say how much I am missing my sewing & knitting time right now, which, of course has been temporarily sacrificed to packing & moving…
MAKING THINGS MAKES LIFE:
Sewww- the more I miss it, the more I think about rhythms & routines & how making things makes life! We are creatures of habit. I learned that in my education classes in college. If you want to have a happy baby, establish a routine & NEVER- I mean NEVER deviate from it! The more we know what’s coming- regardless of whether we are 3 months or 39 years (Oops! Freudian slip!) the calmer we are.
When you think about it, holidays & traditions are routines. You do the same thing every year because that’s what makes it feel like a holiday and you feel better if everything goes the way it’s supposed to, right? Making your bed everyday can make your whole day feel good, too. I think that’s why making things & especially making things together just feels good. It has a rhythm & it becomes part of your routine. I typically knit at night while we’re watching TV, I hand sew when my husband is driving, I machine sew when it’s football season (& I stand no chance whatsoever of controlling the remote), etc. Picking up one of my projects every night lets me shift into neutral & de-stress! I think we’re missing that/seeking that a lot in today’s society.
BACKYARD CHICKENS & BEEKEEPING:
I laughed so hard that I stopped breathing the other night when I heard someone on The Tonight Show say, “Backyard chickens are a gateway drug to beekeeping!” Then I put it on my Facebook & it went wild with comments & interactions. Sooooo true though! They were talking about how many people worked incredibly stressful jobs & then go home & clean out backyard chicken coops for fun & give home grown eggs as gifts at parties, etc. It has become this incredible phenomenon along with the whole “make it” movement. Something inside our heads just knows that to balance out all of the tech & screen time & stress we need to get back to growing gardens, making things & interacting with animals. It’s nature’s chill pill. And, I believe it explains why, as we move further & further away from a society that makes things for a living, we have seen such a spike in mental health issues & stress related problems…
MOVING MY MOJO:
I looked at my husband the other night after panicking about something related to the move again & said, “I haven’t knitted enough; that’s my problem!” and I was right. We have moved my mojo right along with the house & I’m not going to get it back until I unpack my sewing room & my knitting.
So- go ahead- make those jokes about “I knit/sew & nobody gets hurt.” We all know- it really is true & it’s important. We need to acknowledge that it’s an important tool in surviving modern life. We might not need the things we make the way our ancestors did, but we need the process of making.
One of the most common phrases I hear when I’m demonstrating or talking with perspective students for art, quilting, or any hand craft is,
“I wish I could do that, but I just don’t have the patience…”
And it’s true. Part of what we have lost in modern society are the values of patience and persistence that are learned through handcraft and cottage industry arts.
CHILDREN LEARNED HANDCRAFT EARLY IN LIFE
The concept that “children should just have time to be children” is extremely new and is leading us towards a society that doesn’t know how to take care of itself. For millennia, children were part of the family industry from age 4-5 on up. It is well documented that not more than 100 years ago, children were required to knit a certain amount of rows on a stocking or sew a certain amount on the family tally before they were allowed to go out to play (“No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting” by Anne Macdonald). They had chores and responsibilities- and it was good for them. They developed patience and persistence in trying and trying again until they gained proficiency in a skill or craft. They had pride in being part of their family’s survival and in being depended upon. They grew up self-sufficient and able to care for younger brothers and sisters at a very early age.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT!
So, yes- there’s a reason that so many people today feel like they just don’t have the patience for sewing, quilting, knitting and other forms of handcraft. They haven’t learned to try and try again, and to keep on trying until they become proficient at a skill because they haven’t been taught. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that!
Just start- knowing that it’s going to take some persistence at first.
Choose initial projects that are small and quick to finish.
Progress to harder projects that build both skill and your will to work on something that takes more time.
I’M STILL FRUSTRATED…
We are too used to instant gratification in our society today & I think it can have a negative impact on us mentally. Traditional arts and crafts remind us to slow down and get involved in enjoying the process of something. They provide healing from modern stresses and mental storms.
That being said, if you do try a form of needle craft and are completely frustrated with it, there may be a reason outside of our new societal norms that many will never consider. That is to say that different forms of fine art and craft have different intrinsic rewards and it depends on what you are individually motivated by as to what you will enjoy. What does that mean? Here are a few examples to help you sort it out.
ENJOYMENT OF THE PROCESS
Someone like myself who likes to take on extremely long term projects (See the waterfall quilt at the beginning of this post!) that are often intricate as well as repetitive is motivated by the enjoyment of the process itself. This type of person often enjoys the rhythm of the work. They will likely enjoy knitting and crocheting in addition to hand embroidery or hand quilting. They don’t mind how long it takes to complete a project. The process of working on it is the reward itself.
ENJOYMENT FROM COMPLETION OF PROJECTS
Someone like my cousin’s wife is driven by the exact opposite- the completion of a finished project. She rarely works on more than one project at a time and often makes the same pattern over and over and over again because each repetition of it gives her greater speed. She feels like she has accomplished something when she completes a quilt or project and flies through several per week! AMAZING, right?!
HOW WE GET MIXED UP!
I would be extremely frustrated if I took her approach and she would be very discouraged if she took mine. If you have an interest in something- enough to say, “I wish I could do that,” you probably have a talent in it that can be developed. The trick is in staying with something long enough to know whether it is simply not the right type of hand craft for you- or if you just need some time to develop your skills. It takes real courage to let yourself fail at something when you first attempt it and to continue to persist until you can find the joy- whether it is in the process or the completion of the project.
Think about the kinds of things that you already like to do. If you are more mathematical and precise, you will probably like something with a pattern and instructions. You may be one who needs to finish one project before starting another. You may like the precision of using a machine instead of hand-sewing. Blocking out time specifically for your sewing might be important in making it an enjoyable experience. Following the pattern precisely and having perfection in your finished piece is likely to be what gives you satisfaction. You may become easily frustrated if there aren’t sufficient instructions or if you don’t have a pattern or class to follow. Or, you may master each step before you start to invent your own patterns or make variations. You probably get frustrated when someone else doesn’t do it the “right way.” And that’s okay. That’s your mojo. Go with the flow!
On the flip side, if you are more artistic and free-spirited, you may want to learn handcrafts that allow you to make a lot of modifications on the fly. (Yosaic™ Quilting is great for this!). You’re likely to be someone who has a number of projects going at once- which is perfectly fine! In fact, once upon a time I thought there was something wrong with me for having so many projects in progress and made myself finish them all before I started new ones. I have never been more depressed or artistically uninspired in my life! I discovered that flowing from project to project is what kept my creative juices flowing. So– good news! There’s NOTHING wrong with that! Work it, Girl! Work it! You’ll probably carry your projects with you and be perfectly fine with multi-tasking, getting in a few stitches here and there at the ballpark, in a waiting room, or wherever you have a chance. You’ll see opportunities and ideas everywhere. Something that has a precise pattern will probably frustrate you. No worries. Go with what you enjoy.
And, that’s basically the secret. If you don’t have the “patience” for something that you wish you could do, it’s either the wrong type of art or it’s time to learn patience simply from doing it- the same way our ancestors did for thousands and thousands of years. If you experiment, you’ll figure it out. Good luck & have fun!