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…

Studio Life: Why I Can’t Just Finish All Those UFOs

I’ve been slow getting back into a sewing routine. Our summer was busy, and once it ended there was a lot to catch up on in the house and garden. I participated in two back-to-back craft shows (which are always a lot of work), and between my kids’ two schools, there was only one (!!) full week of school so far… And yet, I did manage to get back into my sewing room. I even started flexing my sewing muscles, by once more, tackling those never-ending piles of unfinished projects (also known as UFOs).

A few days ago a friend asked me why I can’t just finish one thing before moving on to the next. It is, after all, the logical thing to do. It would certainly clear a lot of studio space (as in remove the many piles from the chairs/bed/carpet), giving me more room to breath and move. Not to mention clearing the accumulating guilt…

Logic aside, however, I find that for me, following that advice is utterly impossible. I’ve been thinking about why that is, and–despite my wish to blame it all on sorcery–came to the conclusion that many different factors contribute to the accumulation of those UFO piles:

Distractions

This is probably the main reason, and it comes in many different forms. There are small distractions, like dinner burning on the stove. Or kids barging into my sewing room when I’m in the middle of sewing, wanting something. I usually stop whatever I’m doing, and when I get back to it, hours, days or weeks later, I sometimes move on to something else.

Every now and then I also need to sew things for family members. When school started, for example, my daughter got a new school laptop, and asked me to make a sleeve to keep it in. I gave this a priority, and ended up spending more time on it than I expected (as it took three different tries to get the laptop to fit through the zippered top).

There are also big distractions, like illnesses, trips, or summer vacations. These force me to stop whatever I’m working on for long periods of time. When I get back, I often find it hard to go back to the projects I was in the middle of.

And then there are huge distractions, like hosting house guests. Since I sew in our guest room, hosting means moving all of my sewing materials away. It takes me up to two weeks to move everything out, another week or so to move things back in, and then months to figure out what pile is which and where everything is (I’m still looking for items I can’t find after hosting family this summer…). Forget about finishing projects if you can’t even find them…

Design Concerns

Often, I find gorgeous pieces of textiles that I am really passionate about. Sometimes I’m not sure what to make them into. At other times I don’t have the exact fabrics I need to match them with. These go into separate piles. They wait patiently for weeks or even months, until I find all the other ingredients I need to make them into something spectacular.

I found this unusual piece, for example, over a year ago:

It took me many months to find just the right fabrics to go with it, ones that matched not only in color but also in texture. I completed this tote last week:

Yep, one less pile! (but there are already new ones in its stead…).

New Ideas

The biggest pile of unfinished projects is in my head. I constantly have ideas for new things to make, new quilts to sew, new bags to design and so on. Every now and then I just HAVE to try something completely different. It keeps me challenged and excited about my work.

I find inspiration everywhere, but especially on trips. There is something intense about going somewhere else, being exposed to new environments and new cultures, seeing lots of new things. After traveling I am especially eager to make new things. Like when I returned from Peru and made a troll.

Then there is a constant danger in sorting my fabrics, too. I really didn’t mean to start anything new before I finished those UFOs, but as I was putting things away I came across this amazing tapestry in my stack (so guess what?!):

And there are the scraps. My work results in many, colorful scraps of different sizes and textures, that happen to accumulate in my sewing room before I get to put them away. Often, seeing those scraps together gives me new ideas. Thus, even if I try to finish one thing, I can’t help but start another… Only yesterday I began working on this mini messenger bag, for example:

Seeing the leftover strip alongside other pieces made me think of a new artsy sling (I’ll get to it soon, I promise!):

Even putting those scraps away can be problematic. So far I sorted them into different boxes by approximate size. But a few weeks ago, when one scrap box started overflowing, I spilled them all out, and had the idea to sort them by color:

Which lead to some scrap playing:

Which ended up in this “Fall” mini quilt, that I love dearly:

Procrastination

Finally, there are the less-pleasant tasks. I’m sure you have those in your work, too. Every line of work has undertakings that are fun to do and activities that are … less so. Me, I love designing. Thinking of new items, matching fabrics, experimenting with colors and textures–these are the things that get me all excited. Ironing and sewing zipper pockets … not so much. And so, when I design Renaissance Totes for example, I really enjoy making the outer layer. Sewing the lining, however, with its zipper and many pockets, is a chore. And so there is currently a pile of outer layers of Renaissance Totes waiting for their linings. They’ve been waiting for a while. I’m ashamed to say how long. I will eventually force myself to finish them, but not this week…

When I shared my UFO predicament in a Facebook group I’m in, many creative members seemed to understand. One person quoted a known saying, about how, when you finish all your projects, it’s the end. I guess this, alone, is a great reason to keep going 🙂

 

ANY Texture’s Gray and Red Period

It’s that time of year again… Teachers are rejoicing, school kids are elated, and parents … well, parents are flooded with mixed emotions, I guess. Yep. The last day of school is upon us!

Next week my kids will be home full time. I’m looking forward to spending the long summer days with them. I’m old enough to realize how fast the years go by, and to appreciate every moment we still have together. But that also means I need to wrap up my sewing, which makes me a little sad. My many partially-conceptualized, half-started, unfinished, and almost-completed projects will all have to wait for fall. Sewing Season is over. Summers are for family.

So this week I’ve been busy finishing up one last thing: my throw pillow series. When they were all completed, I noticed a recurring pattern.

If you’ve seen my work, you know I love colors. Strong, vibrant colors in non-primary hues. I love purples, maroons, magentas, mustards and teals, to name some. But lately, it seems, I also started liking the combination of black, grays and terracotta-reds.

I think it started with my Dare! quilt:

Dare! My New Moths and Butterfly Quilt

Then I made a mini-messenger bag in that combination:

This was followed by a cross-body bag in those same colors:

A while later, I found a beautiful piece of textile in … you guessed it: black and red!

I sewed it into a Renaissance Tote, and really loved how it turned out!

Slowly, small scraps in blacks, grays and reds, leftovers from all of the above projects, started accumulating on my sewing room’s floor. Consequently, I started playing with them. I just couldn’t help it:

They ended up as cute, small artsy messenger bags:

When I made my unisex messenger bags, I realized I was still enjoying the same combination:

The pile of scraps kept growing. All the accumulated pieces gave birth to my latest new collection of gray-and-red patchwork throw pillows, the ones I finished this week:

I suppose you could call the first half of 2018 my “Gray and Red Period” 🙂

Wishing you all a wonderful, restful summer!

News from My Sewing Room: Getting Ready for Holiday Fair Season

I noticed that since I shared my Dare! quilt several weeks ago, I haven’t written anything about my work. Truth be told, I haven’t been as productive as I would have liked. The Market and Renaissance Totes I cut out in the spring are still patiently waiting to be sewn. We had a rough summer, and somehow I found getting back into routine a little harder than usual. In addition, I’ve been suffering from bouts of back pain that really pulled me down for several weeks. When I did get myself into the sewing room, I had so many ideas all at once, that I often didn’t know where to start. I spent a lot of time staring at fabrics. When I finally began one thing, I often left it unfinished, and then, the next day, started something new. As you might imagine, it didn’t take long for my sewing room to get messy again, with piles of unfinished projects all over…

Somehow time flew by, and, sooner than I expected, Holiday Fair Season is upon us. My first fair for the season is only a little over a week away. So in the past couple of weeks I forced myself to sit down and finish some of those unfinished projects. Here is a peek at some of the the things I managed to complete:

Butterflies

If you read the post about my above-mentioned moths quilt, you might remember that it took a few tries to perfect the butterfly. Those practice butterflies weren’t exactly what I needed for the actual quilt, but they turned out quite nice nonetheless. I wanted to use then for something, and eventually decided to frame them. Here is one:

After the Dare! quilt was finished, I remained a little obsessed with butterflies. I found them fun to make, and wanted to try some in happy colors. And so, I sewed a few more in blues and purples, and added some colorful wooden beads to brighten them up. I had a little pile of them sitting around, and couldn’t quite decide what to do with them. This week I bought a few barrette pins, and glued them to their back. The result: bright and cheery textile hair pins!

Necklaces

Last year I made a textile necklace for myself. So many people asked me about it, that I decided to make a few more. I made three a few months ago, but over the last few weeks played with several more. I’ve been experimenting with different combinations of fabrics and beads, and created several statement pieces.

So far, I’ve been working on two kinds of necklaces. Here are some of my tassel ones:

And here is an example of a pedant necklace, which is a miniature collages/quilt:

Handbags

The butterflies and necklaces got me into fabric-and-bead-combining mode. I thought it’ll be fun to try doing this with purses as well. So over the last few weeks I’ve been playing with fabric collages that incorporate some beads as well. These resulted in several asymmetrical, funky small cross body bags, that I like very much:

Fall Inspired

Finally, the cooling days and the turning trees inspired me to make some textile fall leaves. I made these of a combination of smooth silk and rough upholstery textiles, with a few glass beads for an extra pop. I think they, too, will end up as statement barrettes:

If you’re in the Bay Area, come see everything in person at the FabMo Textile Art Boutique on October 29!

The Scrap Project: Greeting Cards

I’m sure you are all familiar with one of my favorite children’s stories, the one about Joseph’s overcoat. Versions of this story, based on an old folk tale, have been written into many books, such as Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing, or Simms Tabak’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. The story is about an item (a coat, a blanket or something else, depending on the version) that Joseph’s grandfather, a tailor, sewes for him. The boy outgrows/tears it, and so the grandfather keeps transforming it into smaller and smaller objects. In the end, the last one is lost and a story is written in its stead, hence the making of “something out of nothing.”

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The Neglected Art of Self Love: Remember to Take Care of Yourself!

It’s that time of year again, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner. If you are like me, and I think many of us in today’s fast-paced world are, you are probably overwhelmingly busy, running around all day long doing things for other people. Amidst the craziness of tending to others’ needs, we often forget to take care of ourselves.

To make things worse, nowadays, in addition to the everyday stress many of us normally live with, there are the added tensions brought about by a precarious world. My anxiety level shoots up when I open the newspaper in the morning, and every time I listen to the news. Judging by the increasing number of newspaper articles about self-soothing and relaxation, I’ll make a wild bet that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

So, with the Holiday of Love upon us, I wanted to re-state the obvious and remind everyone that loving others has to start with loving oneself. Safety regulations on airplanes stress that you should put an oxygen mask on yourself before tending to other people. The same goes for Tikkun O’lam, Hebrew for “Fixing the World.” There is great want all about us, as well as much that requires mending in the world. But in order to meet those needs and do the fixing, we all must practice the art of self love first.

There are as many methods of self-caring as there are individuals, but here I will note only the most basic, obvious ones, which also happen to be the things that work for me. You might be practicing some or all already, which is great. But if not, perhaps you’d like to consider trying some. Who knows, these might help you, too:

  1. Get enough sleep. I know too many people who don’t have time to sleep and who are constantly sleep-deprived. These people might get more done in the short run, but in the long run they will end up paying a heavy toll. We need sleep, and when we don’t get enough of it we simply don’t function well. Sleep enough and you will be a lot more efficient when awake. You will also see improvements in your mood, health, and general well-being.

  1. Eat well. We keep hearing this over and over, to the point of rolling our eyes when hearing it once more. Yet, I have intelligent, educated friends who still skip meals to save time. Healthy eating, just like sleep, is a basic human need. You all know the drill: food should be nutritious, fresh, colorful, balanced, minimally-processed and organic when possible. You might save a few minutes by skipping a meal, but the long-term damages will be a lot costlier.
  1. Exercise. That’s a hard one, I admit, for it requires a lot of self discipline, at least for some of us. It’s easy to forgo exercise, but study after study proves just how important it is to keep moving. Exercise improves everything from mood to weight to health to life span. Make sure to find time to move, at least a few times a week. And if you have time constraints, research shows that even a one-minute-a-day intense workout can improve fitness.
  1. Pause. Take a few moments each day to stop running about and just be with yourself and relax. Sip a cup of coffee. Stare out the window. Breath. Clear your mind for a few still moments.
  1. Be mindful. David Gelles wrote an entire series of mindfulness articles in the New York Times lately. What he is trying to say, I think, is that we should all take the time to be present in the here and now, concentrate on what we are doing (rather than on what we did, what we should have done, what we will do next, or what we should be doing next), and simply, genuinely live the moment. If you think about it, the present is all we really have, and is the only thing we can actually control. The past is over, and despite our constant, long and elaborate plans for the future, no one really knows what the day will bring.
  1. Spend time with people you care about. Humans evolved to be social creatures. Spending time with others does wonders to our well-being, improves health and even makes us live longer. Find time to hang out with your family. Make a conscious effort to meet a friend. This, after all, is what life is all about.
  1. Hug. Yes, you read that right. Give and get a hug every day, the more the better! There is clear data that proves that touching other people is good for you. Necessary even. And if you can’t find anyone to hug, cuddling with a pet is the next best thing.

Hope handmade fabric card

  1. Smile. The simple act of smiling, it turns out, has many benefits. It reduces stress, improves mood and makes you more productive, to name some. It is, in fact, so beneficial, that even fake smiling helps! And if you smile at a stranger, you get the added bonus of bringing a ray of sunshine into someone else’s day. If that’s not a small step towards fixing the world, what is?
  1. Spend time in nature. Being outdoors, exposed to the sun and around plants has numerous gains. It definitely soothes the soul, so carve a piece of your day to be outside. This includes gardening, walking, hiking, or any other outdoors activity. Even just sitting outside exposes you to sunlight, which will do wonders to your mood.

And finally, if things get really bad,

  1. Disconnect! It’s OK to take time off from news or social media if that is what will save your sanity. Turn off the TV. Put the newspaper away. Don’t browse social media. Give yourself the permission and time to heal and recuperate.

Always remember that self care is important! And whatever you do, never lose hope! There is much goodness in you, in the people around you and in the world. So when things get overwhelming, think positive and keep on hoping! Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Hope handmade textile card

 

Falling Leaves Art Quilt

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent every free moment in my sewing room, laboring over my Renaissance Totes. I really wanted to get them finished in time for the German Holiday Market (tomorrow!), and did my utmost to make that happen. However, I couldn’t help but start another project on the side. I never thought I’ll manage to complete that, as well, but miraculously I did!

ANY Texture Falling Leaves art quilt

This all started when, around Thanksgiving, my workroom started to feel like a golden cathedral. The culprit was our maple tree, which remained persistently green until a day or two before Turkey Day, whence upon it metamorphosed seemingly overnight to its most glamorous state.

Being right outside my studio’s window, the tree overwhelmed the room, filling its windows and door with breath-taking reds and yellows, and shining golden light onto everything. My quiet sewing moments thus turned into a truly spiritual, almost meditative experience. In the presence of this awe-inspiring natural beauty I felt like the most lucky person on earth.

The maple tree outside my studio window

My maple tree in full glory

Beautiful fall leaves

Despite being engrossed with my new tote series, I felt compelled to do something with those leaves. And so, encouraged by my “Give a Hand” quilt, I started working on a smaller, “Falling Leaves” wall hanging. Since it required many relatively-short steps, I was able to work on it on the days the kids were on vacation, and in the short intervals in-between cooking and house chores. I also pulled a few late nights this past week, with the crafts fair looming near…

First, I started by selecting an array of fall-colored fabrics, onto which backs I ironed applique double-sided interfacing. I then drew leaves on the paper side, including some maple leaves but also interesting-looking leaves from other kinds of trees:

Getting ready to cut a leaf for applique

Then I cut them all out:

Cut red maple leaf

I deliberately chose different-textured fabrics, as that is the most exciting aspect, for me, of working with upholstery fabrics versus the more traditional quilting cottons. By incorporating this golden silk, for example, I think I managed to convey some of the radiant light that illuminates from real fall leaves:

Cut maple leaf on gold fabric

I arranged the composition, and ironed the leaves onto the background, fusing the pieces together:

Fusing fall leaves onto quilt

Now the piece was ready for the labor-intensive hand-stitching stage. I started with appliqueing around the leaves. When I worked on my Hand Quilt I used only a blanket stitch. This time I decided to use several kinds of stitches, to make the work a bit more interesting. I still used blanket stitch on some of the leaves:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

But I also incorporated other stitches, such as this chain stitch:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

You will notice that I learned a lesson from my previous experience, and used thimbles right from the start on this one! Upholstery fabrics are really hard to stitch through… Despite my precautions, however, I still got a blister on my thumb…

When all the leaves were appliqued to the background, I went on to embroider their veins:

Appliqueing fall leaves onto quilt

Then, as in any quilt, I sandwiched the three layers together: top, batting and back.

Falling Leaves art quilt sandwiched for quilting

And went on to quilt them all together, using big, noticeable stitches, Japanese boro style:

Quilting my Falling Leaves art quilt

I played with the colors of the thread as well as with the direction of the stitches to give the piece added interest. Here is a detail:

Falling Leaves art quilt details

And the whole piece quilted:

Finished Falling Leaves art quilt

The big stitches gave the background a crinkly look that I really like. It somehow reminds me of the bark of a tree, or of a forest floor.