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.

Calendar Quilt Series: My Autumn Mini Quilts

Earlier this week I finished the September mini quilt. This quilt sealed not only the sub-group of my autumn mini quilts, which I started last year, but also the entire twelve-months Calendar Quilt Series. Finishing this quilt was a bitter-sweet moment. I was happy to complete this year-long project, and was also proud of myself for sticking with it despite life’s hurdles. But, on the other hand, I was also sad to see it over–as you might know, this past year was personally challenging. At times, the Calendar Quilts were the only creative thing I was able to do, and they were a much-needed outlet. Now that they are complete, I feel a little lost…

My Autumn Mini Quilts: Influenced by the Colors and Flavors of Fall

“Change,” My September Quilt

There is a large maple tree right outside my sewing room window. It keeps me company while I work, alone and in silence. The changes it foregoes throughout the year remind me of what season it is, and helps shape my moods and my work. A few years ago it prompted me to make one of my earliest art quilts, “Falling Leaves.” It keeps inspiring on an ongoing basis.

The tree was bright and green throughout spring and summer. Now, with the nights turning cold, it is starting to change. Patches of red and yellow are creeping into the green, hinting at the change in the air, and of future changes to come.

I fashioned my September quilt after this tree, and called it “Change.” Life in general changes in September, together with the temperature: the summer ends, school begins, routines change course…

“Fall,” My October Quilt

Fall is probably my favorite season. I love the cooler days, the cozy cocooning, the warm colors all around. I love turning trees, pumpkin patches and squash soups. Autumn is also the only season when I can shut myself in my sewing room mostly uninterrupted.

No wonder I started this series with October, and called that quilt “Fall.”

“Spices,” My November Quilt

Many years ago I came to the US as a graduate student. Over my first Thanksgiving here, when most of my colleagues went home, I stayed in a mostly-empty dorm on campus. My graduate adviser, one of the kindest professors I have ever met, invited me and a few of the other foreign grad student to celebrate Thanksgiving at his house. I didn’t know much about Thanksgiving then, but it immediately became associated in my mind with a warm home, nice company and FOOD. Since then, Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite holidays. It’s a time to pause, be grateful for everything we usually take for granted, enjoy the company of family and friends, and yes, feast on on lots of comforting food!

My family loves Thanksgiving and the traditions we built around it. We love the special group of friends that comes year after year, the festive table set up, sitting together around the fireplace. The kids also love the food. And every year, come Thanksgiving, I’m thinking of my professor and remembering his long-ago kindness.

My November quilt is therefore composed of the colors and flavors of Thanksgiving foods. I called it “Spices.” I hope it also conveys the warmth of a cozy house on a cold day, of good friends spending time together, and of grateful people gathering around a fireplace.

Sadly, I completed this quilt a few short weeks before my graduate adviser passed away, a few short months before my own father did the same…

Twelve quilts, one short year, yet a completely different world, my life transformed. I think “Change” is an appropriate name for the last quilt in this series, for more reasons than one.

Calendar Quilt Series: My Summer Mini Quilts

Last October I embarked on a self-imposed challenge: to make one small art quilt for each month of the year. A while back I wrote about my spring quilts and what inspired them. Last week I completed the last of my summer mini quilts, and can now show you the inspiration behind those as well.

My Summer Mini Quilts: Influenced by Summer Activities and Nature

“Flavors,” My June Quilt

June proved to be a real inspirational challenge. As hard as I wracked my brain, I just couldn’t come up with any special characteristic for that time of the year. Then, one afternoon on the first week of the summer vacation, my kids asked to go downtown to get some ice cream.

Inside the ice cream store, which we frequent often, my eye kept going to the unusual dark purple/maroon patch of the blackberry/wine ice cream (top right below):

You don’t often think dark, deep colors when you think ice cream, and this just happens to be one of my favorite colors. I also loved how the vivid colors of the different ice creams clashed with the cold sheen of the metal frames surrounding them…

Each of my kids picked their favorite flavors, and I ended up choosing the wine ice cream, just because I liked its color.

Although my ice cream didn’t taste quite as good as it looked, it did give me my quilt inspiration! I called it “Flavors.”

“Breeze,” My July Mini Quilt

July was a hot month, and our schedule was respectively full of water activities. The inspiration for July was therefore pretty obvious:

This month’s quilt if full of the blues and turquoises of water and sky, as well as the yellows of sand and sun. I called it “Breeze.”

“Parched,” My August Mini Quilt

Whereas California springs begin with a whirl of fresh greens and the vivid colors of flowers, its summer end with a dry, golden landscape. Every year by August the weeds in my garden dry up and wither. The hills all around likewise turn into rolling waves of gold:

The landscape itself presented the design for my August quilt, which is all about the dried-up lushness of spring. I think “Parched” describes it exactly, don’t you think?

So, which of my summer mini quilts do you like best?

The Door Knockers of Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia has a long and complex history. It has seen many ups and downs throughout the centuries, but today the old part of the city is a pleasant tourist heaven filled with old colonial charm.

I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Cartagena this summer, and very much enjoyed exploring its colorful streets. Much of the Spanish colonial architecture has been beautifully restored and preserved, turning every stroll into a walk back in time.

You might remember my fascination with old doors and windows. Well, Cartagena has plenty of beautiful doors and windows that could probably tell amazing stories if only they could talk…

In Japan, I immediately noticed the unusually elaborate man-hole covers. In Cartagena, people seem to be expressing their creativity through the display of ornamental door knockers. Once we realized that, finding fun knockers became a family pursuit. My kids enjoyed running ahead to find interesting ones (kind of like what they did with street art in London).

Door Knocker Designs

I found that most door-knocker designs in the city fall into a handful of groups. There are door knockers shaped as objects, such as vases (?) or leaves:

Some doors display fish of various kinds:

Other showcase other kinds of sea creatures, like turtles or mermaids:

Lion heads are a commonly-seen design:

As are lizards (mostly iguanas):

The rarest shape of door knockers, but possibly my personal favorite, are those interpreting the human form. I especially like the one designed in pre-Colombian style on the right:

The History of Cartagena’s Door Knockers

Today, Cartagena’s door knockers are merely decorative, but this was not always the case. The knockers were a Spanish influence. The Spaniards built the city in 1533. At that time, “A tal casa tal aldaba,” or “To each house its door knocker,” was a popular saying in Spain, where people displayed their profession or social status through the design of their door knockers. This became true for Cartagene residents as well. 

Merchants decorated their doors with sea creatures or mermaids. People in the army or militia put up lion heads. Members of the clergy had door knockers in the shape of hands (I personally didn’t find any of those, and it seems there are only three such knockers in the entire city). Lastly, only royals decorated their doors with lizards.

The size of the knockers mattered, too. The bigger the knocker the higher the family’s status.