Preparing for a Selection Event at FabMo

A while back I wrote about FabMo, the wonderful non-profit organization where I source almost all of the textiles I use in my work. I wrote about how it came about, about where it collects its exquisite fabrics, and about the teams of volunteers who sort these fabrics and prepare them for selection. Today I’d like to talk about the next stage, which is preparing for a Selection Event.

Hannah collects fabrics every Monday. Once a  week volunteers sort these new fabric batches by size. But FabMo holds Selection Events, that is–allows the public to come to pick fabrics–only once a month. Therefore, for about four weeks the fabrics need to be stored. After volunteers sort the fabrics and place them in big plastic containers, therefore, these containers are piled and stored on shelves in FabMo’s warehouse. There are many shelves and many boxes, a true fabricoholic heaven!

A day or two before a Selection Event, the Setup Supervisor, who is the volunteer in charge of the setup, clears the big tables in FabMo’s main room. The tables need to be cleared since they are often used for other tasks, such as sorting or measuring. Once cleared, the supervisor covers the tables with white table cloths:

There are currently five “stations” throughout the main room, each made of a cluster of tables:

After the stations are ready, the supervisor rolls boxes in from the adjacent storage room. She piles boxes high on top of wheeled dollies. Fabric is heavy, you see, and big tubs of it are hard on people’s backs!

The setup volunteers then arrange the piles of fabric on the tables according to a set formula. They first put plastic tubs full of “sheers” (=thin, transparent and sleek fabrics that are impossible to put in piles) in the middle of each station. Then they place bigger pieces, usually 18″ square and the larger rectangles called “Place-mats” in FabMo jargon (because they look like … you guessed it: place-mats!) in the corners. Piles of bigger pieces are more stable, and won’t slip off easily…

Volunteers then put the biggest upholstery swatches, nicknamed “Longs,” in the middle of each station.

After the bigger pieces anchor the arrangement, the volunteers place piles of the smaller pieces in-between. Some of the standard sizes are 12″ square, 10″ square and 8″ square. There are also different sizes of rectangles, as well as irregular-sized pieces:

The piles have to be high enough so that volunteers won’t need to refill non-stop during the Selection Event, but not too high to collapse. So the volunteers try to make them about as tall as their hand. This is an art, not a science, but after some wiggling things usually work out nicely.

The result is a beautiful mosaic of textile piles, that make textile lovers like myself drool:

Every Setup has a Setup Supervisor and up to six volunteers.  Depending on the number of people, setting up for an event takes between two to five hours or so.

When done, the room is ready to receive the crowds:

Can you guess what my next FabMo post will be about?

If you’d like to learn more about FabMo or get involved, check out their website.

Looking Back at 2019

2019 just ended. For me personally, it wasn’t only the end of a year or of a decade, but also the end of an era.

My year started well, with a fun trip to Cambodia and Thailand followed by a happy celebration of my mom. Then, in March, my father passed away unexpectedly.

The death of a beloved parent is a life-changing event. For months, it didn’t seem real. It still doesn’t. Everything I did before my dad’s passing came to a screeching halt. For a long while, I could hardly function. Simple tasks were overwhelming, with grief sneaking up in the most unexpected moments. I didn’t find the energy to be creative.

My father passed away exactly half-way through my Calendar Quilt project. I started this self-imposed challenge in October 2018, with the intention of making one mini-quilt for every month of the year. In the few months following my father’s death, those monthly minis were the only creative thing I did. Every month, I forced myself to design one small quilt. Getting started was hard, but once I began sewing I miraculously felt better. It felt good to touch textiles, with their soft, comforting textures. Hand stitching slowly and quietly was meditative. Concentrating on the simple act of pushing needle and thread through fabric made me forget other things, if only temporarily…

By working on these mini quilts, I slowly stitched my soul back together.

Once this series was done, I didn’t want to stop stitching. I started working on a new quilt series, which I tentatively called the Color Explosion Series (a name I later changed). This new series allowed me to play with colors and textures to my heart’s content. No excuses needed. And it allowed me to stitch until my fingers hurt.

The more I stitched, the more my creative juices started flowing. I was finally able to get back to some of the projects I started before my dad passed. I finished a batch of bags, then a bunch of journals. A family of noisy raccoons inspired me to make a small raccoon quilt.

Then, at the end of October, I was called for jury duty. For one week my life was put on hold, as I had to go online every few hours to check my status. In that week I decided to use up two large ziplock bags full of small, oddly-shaped scraps. I started a series of 5-inch-square stitch-meditation sketches.

On the last day of that week, one fuchsia pile of scraps refused to become a sketch, and forced me to create a zipper bag instead. That was the beginning of a magical month of creativity. It resulted in fourteen artsy pouches, which I gave as holiday gifts to women I care about.

My piles of unfinished projects haven’t shrunk at all in 2019. I haven’t finished most of the works I started in 2018 (or before). In fact, I haven’t accomplished a whole lot. I really needed time to mourn, however, and the mental space to rearrange my shattered world. Along the way, my priorities shifted. I had a lot of time to think. Where this will take me remains to be seen…

I ended the year with a major cleanup of my ever-messy sewing room. Although I didn’t go into every shelf and drawer, I managed to bring it back to a functional condition. It’s now ready for a new year of creativity.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! I hope 2020 will bear only good news, to each and every one of us, and to the fragile world we live in.

Calendar Quilt Series: My Winter Mini Quilts

A second before the year ends, I though I should finish writing about my year-long project: the Calendar Quilt series. I wrote about the spring quilts, about the summer quilts and about the fall quilts, but somehow missed writing about the winter mini quilts. So I figured that now, in the midst of winter, it would be a good time to catch up.

My Winter Mini Quilts: Influenced by Cooling Weather and the Pursuit of Warmth

“Hope,” My December Quilt

In December, the temperatures drop. Rain starts falling, pulling down the last of the glorious fall leaves, leaving trees bare and stark. The days get shorter rapidly, culminating in the shortest day of the year. December is dark and cold, sipping joy out of people’s hearts. It is no wonder, therefore, that many cultures celebrate light-bringing holidays at this time, to lift up people’s spirit.

My family celebrates Hannukah, an eight-day holiday which involves lighting an additional candle every night (one on the first night, eight on the last). Traditionally, Hannukah menoras (candlesticks, also called hannukiyas) are meant to be put near a window, to be seen by passersby and help brighten the darkness outside. The bright, colorful candles bring light and warmth, piercing the darkness of long, cold nights.

For me, the week of Hannukah has an additional bonus: after my beloved grandfather Israel passed away, I got to inherit his hannukiya. I light it with my children year after year, just like my grandfather lit it with me and my siblings as we were growing up. As I look at it, I think of him, and remember.

My December quilt is about darkness pierced by light. I called it Hope, because light brings hope amidst darkness, reminding us that days WILL get longer, brighter, and that spring will eventually come.

“Snow,” My January Quilt

I grew up in a warm place, and feel highly uncomfortable in extreme cold. I appreciate the beauty of snow and the aesthetics of snowy landscapes, but don’t like chill on my face, numb extremities, or the confining layers of clothing that snow requires. My kids, on the other hand, don’t seem to notice the cold at all. They love playing in the snow and skiing. And so, many a winter breaks I’ve found myself up on snowy mountains.

“Snow” is my January quilt, and it depicts a snowy, mountainous landscape. I did cheat a bit, though, and instead of using cold whites I used somewhat warmer hues of cream and beige. I do need SOME warmth, after all, even in the snow…

“Warmth,” My February Quilt

By February, most of us had enough cold and dark. Three long months of winter are usually enough to leave people yearning for spring. In February we huddle by the fire, seeking its comforting warmth. I believe Valentine’s Day plays into these natural yearnings, too. Who doesn’t need reds, magentas, chocolate and love to break the dreariness of a long winter?

My February quilt is called “Warmth.” I made it out of the warm reds of fireplaces and Valentine chocolates. I added circular boro stitches to mimic swirling smoke and warm air rising.

Now you know the inspiration behind my entire Calendar Quilt series!

If you like any of these quilts and want to add some warmth to your own adobe, prints are available in my store.

A Dragon Quilt for My Beloved Boy

Prologue

I took my first quilting class while pregnant with my first child. Her baby quilt was finished before she was even born. Shortly after she turned one, I made a beautiful album summarizing her first year of life. Then, when she was about four years old and all into princesses, I sewed her a flowing magenta princess cape.

Her little sister got her own cape (but in blue) at the same time. She was barely two years old, and wanted everything her big sister had. Caring for two toddlers didn’t leave me with much free time, however, so my second daughter only got her baby quilt when she was about two and a half and much too big for it. I didn’t get to make her baby album until after she turned three, when my parents came for a visit (giving me some free time). 

My third child turned five without getting any of the above-mentioned markers of motherly love. By then he understood what getting the short end of the stick meant, and so he pestered me about it continuously. “When will I get my own cape?” (although he fit into his sisters’ old ones); “when am I going to get an album?;” and “what about MY quilt?”

I suspect he might have overheard me confessing my guilt to whomever was willing to listen, and that his words reflected my own bad conscious. But there is was, nonetheless.

So I finally sewed him his own cape–a knight’s cape, complete with sword and shield. I pieced a baby-quilt background, and took an applique class to learn how to applique the vehicles I wanted to put on it. But I never got to the actual appliqueing… Several months into his kindergarten year, I spent my free mornings combing through his numerous baby pictures, carefully selecting the best ones. For over a month I lovingly printed them, glued them, wrote nice captions beneath them. I kept thinking of how happy he will be to finally have his own baby album.

Then, on his sixth birthday, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the wrapped album in his hands, holding my breath to see his reaction. He tore the wrapping, glanced at it, and … burst into tears. This was not the birthday gift he wanted. He much preferred a set of Legos…

Needless to say, I never finished that quilt. It still lies buried, to this day, somewhere deep in my Unfinished Project piles… My son doesn’t even like vehicles any more, and yet that quilt has been sitting silent between us, all those years…

Fire-spitting Dragons

A few weeks ago my son, now in fifth grade, came by to show me a drawing he made:

I loved the composition, the lively colors he chose, the meticulous details. I immediately sent a proud picture of it to my mom and siblings.

And then I kept thinking about it, and thinking some more…

Finally, I enlarged his drawing, and printed it on four sheets of paper:

I taped them all together to form a bigger version of his creation:

My sewing room is pretty low-tech, but sometimes necessity is the mother of all inventions…  I put the enlarged print against the window, and traced the outline of the drawing’s different parts with a pencil:

Now I had all the elements separated:

I cut each piece out:

Then, I selected a fabric for the background. I had several light-blue swatches that seemed perfect, but they were all too small. There were less options among my bigger pieces, but I finally found something suitable. I went on to choose additional fabrics from my scrap boxes in colors matching his work (they do come handy, those scraps!):

Putting the paper outlines on top of the fabrics, I carefully cut the pieces out:

I laid them all on the background fabric, then pinned them down:

Two of the clouds proved problematic: the cloud behind the wings, and that behind the head. Somehow, they just didn’t look right when translated into fabric. So I exercised some artistic freedom and moved them elsewhere…

I zigzagged all around the pieces, using black thread to mimic the drawing’s outline:

Then came the exciting part… When my son was a baby, I once took a free-motion quilting class. That was very long ago. I wasn’t good at it then, and I haven’t practiced since. In fact, I haven’t even used my free-motion foot in all those years, and barely remembered where I put it. But now I had to fish it out and use it to draw the scales. So I did.

It was nerve-wracking. I was so tense, that my arms started shaking after a while. But I kept at it. I put scales on the tail, on the body, on the head. Even on the legs. But I decided to leave the wings unscaled, diverting from the original drawing, because the fabric I used already looked scale-like. I was pretty happy with the result, and quite proud of myself, too! This is how it looked from the back:

I decided to add a border, since the blue alone looked too pale against the wall. My son loves red, and red matched the fire. So I added a red frame. I sandwiched the quilt, using a checkered fabric for the backing:

Then I started quilting. I used wavy horizontal lines to quilt the background since they gave it a bit of movement, and also somewhat mimicked the lines of the folder paper my son originally used. Finally, there it was: a dragon quilt for my beloved son!

At first, I though I’ll wait until my son’s birthday to give it to him. Turned out I was too excited for that… So I decided to give it right away instead, as an early birthday gift. I could hardly wait for my son to come home from school. When he finally did, I asked him to close his eyes and put his arms out. I carefully placed the quilt, back-side up, in his hands. My heart was pounding hard. I didn’t know what to expect. I held my breath…

My child opened his eyes and read the dedication I wrote on the back. Then he turned the quilt over. His eyes expanded in wonder. “How did you do it??” he asked once, and then again. “How did you do it?”

For a split second I felt like a magician, with textile art as my magic. How did I do it indeed?

My son ran to his room and brought his original drawing. He put the two side by side, drawing and quilt, and looked them both over. 

My work passed the test. He absolutely loved it!

And me? I loved being a magician, if only for a little while…

Quilt debt paid.

 

A Creative Challenge for a Jury-Duty Week

I was recently called for jury duty. The postcard I received told me to check my status on a Friday evening. On Friday, the website said to check again on Monday morning. And so it went. For an entire week I was on call, checking my status every few hours. I couldn’t make any plans, and didn’t want to start working on anything big. So I looked around my sewing room and noticed my scraps.

Out of principal, I use only upcycled textiles. I’m passionate about  zero-waste and reducing textile waste, which means I tend to keep every little scrap. I store all of my rectangular scraps in plastic bins. But I also have some very small and oddly-shaped scraps, which I’ve been collecting into two large zip-lock bags. That week I decided to use the latter.

I gave myself a creative challenge: I decided to create small, 5″ square fabric studies. Each were to use my tiniest scraps, pretty much as they were. I could cut them to fit, but I wasn’t allowed to alter their shape. My idea was to try to make interesting compositions out of existing shapes.

I started by sorting the scraps into color piles:

Then I chose a purple and blue color palette, and worked on creating the first composition. Since composition and color were what this piece was about, I took my time moving fabric scraps around to find just the right balance. Once I was happy with how it looked, I machine stitched the patches in place. I proceeded to add some hand stitching with embroidery floss. I love the look of hand stitches. To me, they add character and life to a piece of art. At that point I decided to add some yellow to give the piece more spark:

I expected this work to be a quick sew. Surprisingly, it actually took a few hours start to finish. But I was quite happy with the result:

The next day I chose a blue, red and orange palette, and created another piece:

In my work, I try to let the fabrics speak for themselves. I see fraying, loose threads and imperfections as a part of the work, something that adds interest and character: 

On the third day, I settled on some narrow strips, about 0.5″ wide, in purple, magenta and olive. The evening was cold, and so it was very relaxing to stitch this piece in front of the fire!

This is how it turned out:

On the fourth day I was intent to start a fourth piece, but the scraps had other intentions. As I was about to plan a new composition, they forced me into designing a zippered pouch instead… That was the beginning on a zip-bag extravaganza (albeit one that followed my original creative challenge) that continued long after my jury duty ended. Alas, this is a story for another post…

The sculptures of Edgardo Carmon, Cartagena, Colombia

Walking through Cartagena, Colombia, one can not but fall in love with the sculptures of Edgardo Carmon

A Cartagena native, Carmon is a mechanical engineer with a long career in machine design and steel-building construction. He suitably creates his sculptures out of sheet metal and found objects.

There is a large cluster of his sculptures on Plaza de San Pedro Claver, right in front of the Museum of Modern Art. These sculptures depict people engaged in typical professions/activities:

The above picture shows people playing cards on the left, and a man pushing merchandise in a cart on the right.

Below is a typical fruit seller:

A barber:

A scholar (?):

And one of my favorites: a seamstress! 

Another cluster of humor-filled sculptures of Edgardo Carmon is located within walking distance, on Plaza del Pozo in Getsemani, right outside the wall:

Carmon is a renowned artist. In addition to Cartagena, he showed his work throughout South America, Europe, and the United States.

Quiltspiration: 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival

The 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival is open this weekend in the Santa Clara Convention Center. Yesterday I went to see it, for the second year in a row. Knowing what to expect this time, I was a little less overwhelmed than I was last year, but my back was still complaining towards the end of my visit…

So many beautiful quilts, from all around the world… Visiting a quilt show is truly inspiring! I came home wanting to run to my sewing room and lock myself in, but with the million half-started projects I already have, that’s probably not the best idea… So instead, I thought I’d share my favorite picks with you. Choosing wasn’t easy, with all the gorgeous works all around, and of course my picks are very subjective. But here are some of the quilts I personally liked best.

Animal Quilts

Technicolor Dream Parrot by Roxanne Nelson from Canada is a color extravaganza:

Roxanne loves the bright colors of the Red Lored Amazon Parrot, and really let them shine in this quilt! She was inspired by the collage quilts of Susan Carlson, but applied some of her own layering techniques, too.

The Elephant in the Room by California artist Sandra Mollon is also a collage masterpiece:

I enjoyed the combination of monochrome and color:

If we’re talking elephants, I also liked Indigo Elephants by Andrea Schwenk from Germany:

Andrea dyed the fabrics herself from indigo she grew in her garden. I loved how she incorporated doilies into the quilt to give some poetic texture:

Missouri quilter Joann Webb’s Espalier is a monumental king-size quilt that couldn’t quite fit into my lens:

It was impressive in its detail, and also because of the fact that it was pieced, appliqued and quilted entirely by hand!

Man-made Landscape Quilts

This show had a few man-made landscape quilts that caught my eye. This is Country Road, by Japanese artist Masumi Kako:

From Germany, Petra Van Den Daele sent Reflecting About Life:

Her quilt aims to show how light and darkness intermingle:

Colorado quilter Pat Sprague’s Bisbee is made after photographs of Bisbee, Arizona:

California artist Kath McCormick’s quilt Puzzled Houses/The Loss of Affordable Housing (quilted by Cindy Jo Willey) has a whimsical look that appealed to me, even though it represents the very serious housing problem now facing parts of California:

Natural Landscape Quilts

When I saw Ruth Powers’ quilt Beneficial Burn II, I immediately thought about the devastating wildfires we had in California last year. Then I realized that Ruth is from Kansas, and her quilt is about the beneficial fires that make grasslands healthier:

Korean artist Eunhee Lee’s Looking at the Horizon, has a similar color scheme, but represents the beauty of the morning glow on the horizon:

Alicia Merrett from the United Kingdom sent in Estuary in Blue. Almost abstract, this quilt represents the unusual ecosystem of the Salcombe-Kingsbridge estuary in South Devon:

Abstract Quilts

It might not surprise you to hear that some of my favorite quilts in the show were abstract.

I liked the colors and composition of Not Quite Lemon Bars or Red Velvet Ladders by California artist Darlene Talukder:

Rise Up Singing by Sue Fox is made of necktie silk, and has an appealing sheen and interesting stitch-created flow:

To See and to Hug by Israeli artist Niza Hoffman has a lot of interesting detail to look at:

12 Shades of ? by Australian  quilter Pat Forster has a different, more structured aesthetics, yet a lot of interest:

Uta Lenk’s Shapes 29 from Germany has a strong color combination with interesting textural details:

Another Time and Place, a quilt about the feminine aspects of numbers by Robbi Eklow from Nebraska, appealed to me in it symmetry and color combination. Probably also because of the fact that it is meant to be a meditation quilt:

New York’s Marcia DeCamp’s Sunset by the Sea has some of my favorite colors:

And also some simple-yet-fun quilting:

Last but not least, my absolute show favorite quilt arrived all the way from Germany. Bricks’n Gears by Claudia Pfeil has fun colors, a complex composition and meticulous quilting. It actually won a ribbon for best long-arm quilting:

If you look closely, you might be able to see the tiny shiny beads that Claudia glued inside the pattern to give the quilt a bit of extra spark:

Bay Area folks: the 2019 Pacific International Quilt Festival is open until Sunday. Head on over if you have the time, and let me know which quilts jumped out at YOU!

 

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Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

The old city of Cartagena, Colombia, is a charming, colorful place filled with beautiful Spanish colonial architecture. A fun tourist heaven, it has enough to keep you busy for several days.

In the Walled City Itself

Walk Around, Get Lost

The old city is not big and is very walkable. Just walking around, absorbing the architecture, colors and vibrant life is a pleasure. Don’t be afraid to get lost–all streets lead to squares, and with a simple map you will be able to find your way back easily. Make sure to walk at different times of the day, as the city feels different as the day progresses (hint: due to the heat, it really comes to life at sunset!).

Make sure to walk on the wall, too! Sunrise or sunset are the most spectacular times.

Eat!

Cartagena has food everywhere. Try some street food.

Visit a restaurant. Sit outside at a table on a square in the evening, and pay one of the musicians to play you a song.

And yes, as all the guidebooks recommend, do go sit on the wall at Cafe del Mar at least once.

Museums

There is a surprising number of museums for such a small place. I suggest starting with the Naval History Museum (Museo Naval Del Caribe), as it has a good coverage of the city’s long history from pre-Colombian times on. The museum is mostly in Spanish. If you can’t read Spanish, I highly recommend hiring the English tour guide who usually sits at the ticket office booth. This will make your visit significantly more enjoyable and helpful. After your visit you will find that you understand much more of what you see in the city itself. 

You don’t need to bother with the nearby Museum of Modern Art, unless you really have a lot of time on your hands. Even as an avid art lover, I found this museum underwhelming.

The small Gold Museum is also a must. While I was there, the museum was under renovation, and the small exhibit was temporarily housed in a nearby bank. Even then, I really enjoyed seeing the display of beautiful pre-Colombian artifacts.

The Inquisition Museum is no longer dedicated to the Inquisition, and is rather a municipal museum instead. It has a room or two with Inquisition artifacts on the bottom floor. Go if you have spare time, but keep expectations low.

Whether or not you visit the museum, do walk around the corner of the building to find this little window:

This is where the residents of Cartagena left anonymous notes, telling on their enemies and neighbors to the Inquisition…

You will see signs to the Emerald Museum, and your book might recommend it, too. It’s actually a small, somewhat-amateurish display attached to a shop. It explains where emeralds come from and a bit of history, but is not a must-visit destination.

Shop

Cartagena offers a wide array of things to buy. Peddlers carry displays of items, like these hats or jewelry:

Artisans sell their wares at street markets scattered about the city:

There is a nice cluster of artisan shops at the former military storehouse at Las Bovedas:

There are also many high-end galleries and shops, selling beautiful handcrated items from throughout Colombia:

Outside the Walled City

Getsemani

This is a neighborhood right outside the wall on the city’s southeast. In colonial times, it used to be a lower-class neighborhood. Its architecture, therefore, isn’t as grand as that found in the walled city. Until fairly recently it was run down and full of crime and prostitution, but in recent years it has undergone gentrification. Now it’s mostly the backpacker tourist area. Go here to to see colorful street art or to hang out at bars.

During the summer, there’s a month-long artisan market right at the entrance to the neighborhood, opposite the city gate. It is well worth visiting!

Castilo de San Felipe

The Castilo was the largest Spanish fort in the New World, and should be high on your to-see list. It can get very hot when you stand on top, so make sure to bring lots of water.

You can always take cover from the heat in the many tunnels that burrow through the fortification–a great attraction for kids!

Convento de la Popa

You will need to take a cab to this monastery, located on hill overlooking the city. you can explore the monastery itself, and enjoy a panoramic view of the city:

To Keep in mind

Cartagena is a great place to visit, but the ghost of darker days hangs about it. The city began as a small village surrounded by spikes topped with enemy skulls. Under the Spaniards, its used to be the largest slave port in the Americas. It’s beautiful biggest square was a bustling slave market. In the days of the Inquisition, many of its residents were tortured and killed in grizzly ways.

Nowadays there is a slightly different undercurrent. Once you get used to the picturesque beauty, you will start noticing the many beggars, many of them destitute Venezuelan families trying to eek a living. And while we were not bothered as a family with kids, when my husband went alone to pick something from our hotel, at 10:00 am, he was propositioned by people offering to get him “anything he wanted.” There were even signs on walls warning against the prostitution of boys and girls (suggesting that anything else was OK).

So, by all means, enjoy what the city has to offer, but also make sure to use common sense and keep safe.