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.

 

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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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.

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

Calendar Quilt Series: My Spring Mini Quilts

I love sewing bags and other functional items because seeing people use my work makes me happy. At the same time, however, I’m just as passionate about creating fine art. In the first couple of years after starting ANY Texture, I made quite a lot of the first. Sadly, I hardly got to work on the latter. My sewing time is usually quite limited. Making an art quilt requires many days or even weeks. Between trying to prepare for fairs and maintaining my Etsy store, I simply didn’t have enough time for both. I ended up completing only three art quilts in two or three years (“Give a Hand,” “Falling Leaves,” and “Dare!“). I desperately wanted to make more.

Last fall I resolved to creating one small quilt a month. I decided to make one 12″ x 12″ art quilt for each month of the year. I hoped that this would get me into a routine of creating fine textile art, and would get my creative juices flowing.

I’m several months into this self-imposed challenge, and so far I’ve been enjoying it tremendously. Working on these quilts forces me to think of what each month means to me. It allows me to play with colors, textures and shapes. It also turned out to be a great source of comfort at a personally difficult time: since my father’s unexpected passing in March, I haven’t been able to return to my sewing room on a regular basis. I did, however, force myself to work on the monthly quilts, and found much solace in that slow, meditative work.

Recently I completed the third and last of my spring mini quilts. I thought this would be a good time to tell you more about them.

My Spring Mini Quilts: Influenced by Nature

“Rebirth,” My March Quilt

I live in California. The state suffered from an eight-year-long drought that officially ended on March 5th of this year. After many years of hardly any rain and strict water restrictions, we finally had a really wet winter. I will never complain about rain again, but this last winter did feel long and dreary at times…

We don’t get snow where I live, but it does get cold and dark and–this year, finally!–wet. Many trees lose their leaves, and there are no flowers to be seen. Its nice to stay indoors and hibernate, but as the weeks stretch on one begins to wonder whether the winter will ever end.

I have a garden where I spend many hours when possible. When I look at my deciduous trees over winter, bare for months on end, a little part at the back of my mind wonders whether they will all wake up come spring. I worry that some might not. Over the years, two of our trees actually didn’t. One died a couple of years ago, and the other this very year. And so, for me, March is a time when I hold my breath, so to speak. I always experience a sense of great relief when I see the first buds forming on trees, and when the first flowers erupt. There is a kind of reassurance in the awakening of trees, in the end of a long dormancy. For me, therefore, March is all about the gradual awakening of nature, and the the sigh of relief that accompanies it. 

This is what my March quilt is all about. It is dominated by the various browns of still mostly-bare trees, punctured by the bright pinks of freshly-blooming flowers, and the gold of newly-emerging young leaves. I call this quilt “Rebirth.” 

“Lush,” My April Quilt

By April, shrubs and perennials start to stir, too. Plants grow fresh leaves, often in light greens and lime greens. The first flowers add pops of color to the world, attempting to erase the browns and grays of winter. Weeds, too are happiest that month.

After I returned home from mourning my father, I spent several days in the garden pulling out waist-high weeds. My father was an amazing gardener, who taught me everything I know about plants. Working outside, surrounded by fresh greenery, some of which he planted for me, was a kind of catharsis, a medicine for my aching heart. 

My April quilt is dominated by the fresh greens of early spring, sparkled with pops of new blooms. It also has some of the curves of fragrant peas, which dominated my garden this year. I call it “Lush.”

“Bloom,” My May Quilt

May is my favorite month of the year. It is the peak of spring, full of colors and smells. This is the month in which my garden puts on its best show; when all my flowers are at their best. This is when I see results for all the work I put into the garden in the fall, when my efforts to paint the world with flowers bear fruit. Everything in my garden feels vibrant and alive, humming with buzzing insects. In May I gladly trade my sewing machine for hoes and pruners, and spend as much time in the garden as I possibly can.

Oh, did you know that my favorite color is purple, and that so very many flowers just happen to be exactly that?? Essentially, May provided the best possible excuse to make a quilt in the colors I like most! I call this one “Bloom,” and I’m sure you see why.

So, what do you think? Did my spring mini quilts succeed in capturing the essence of the months they represent?

 

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