Train Track Pennies

My last living grandparent passed away in early 2016. My dad's mom lived to be 90, and lived independently very nearly until the end. She was wonderful in many ways. She was sweet and funny, crafty and thrifty, made THE BEST scrambled eggs, popcorn, and lasagna, and had the greatest stories about her life as a young woman.

When I was a little girl (around 6 years old, I think), I spent 3 weeks at her house during the summer. It was much too long for a kid that age, and I was a homesick wreck by the end. Still, I have a lot of great memories from that trip. We took walks, put coins on the train tracks, picked Queen Anne's lace which we then put in a cup of food colored water. We made seed bead bracelets and I repeatedly spilled the bowl of beads we were working from. We would patiently pick them up together. Once I spilled an entire bottle of Calamine lotion on her carpet. Again she surprised me with her calm reaction. Coming back from one of our walks one evening, I ran ahead and locked the back door and the front door and then ran out again. I had locked us out of the house. I think I thought it would be funny, but I was soon in tears realizing it was not actually a good joke at all. Grandma took it all in stride, again, and calmly found a neighbor to help us pick one of the locks and get back into the house. 

Grandma and me, 2001

Grandma and me, 2001

I think because of the good experience of staying with her that summer, I always felt close to her. When I graduated high school, instead of staying home and enrolling in community college, I decided to move in with her and attend one near her. I was a terrible roommate, self centered and inconsiderate. I know she must have been irritated with me much of the time but once again I felt so close to her because of the time we spent together. We watched the first season of The Bachelor together and had to hide our eyes and giggle when things got too sexy in the last few episodes (same thing when we watched Coming Home with Jane Fonda). I was vegetarian at the time and she went out of her way to cook things completely foreign to her so that I could eat. We spent countless hours chatting in the kitchen as she washed dishes and I dried. She beat me at Scrabble many times. She was still playing with and beating my parents until a few weeks before she died. I wish I had recorded some of her stories somehow, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to make her a quilt. She only got to use the one I made her for a few weeks. 

One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

One of grandma's garments I included in the quilt

Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

Stack of clothes, waiting to be cut

My parents and sister did most of the work of cleaning out her house after she was gone. I asked them to set aside some things I could use to make a quilt. They delivered a large box full of clothes and bed linens, and also lots of my grandma's own craft projects, like doilies, or table runners she had embroidered. These items sat in my house for over a year before I was ready to cut into them and make this quilt. They carried the smell of my grandma's house so strongly. It was an emotional experience just to open the box. After a couple false starts, I finally got going. 

Ovals in progress

Ovals in progress

Ovals cut in half

Ovals cut in half

I decided to make these oval shapes to represent the pennies we used to smoosh on the train tracks behind Grandma's house. I used the six-minute circle method to piece them, and was happy to discover the technique also works for shapes that aren't perfect circles. Once the ovals were made I cut some into halves and some into quarters and mixed them all up. I felt inspired to include another design element... I had always been fascinated by notebooks full of Gregg shorthand that my Grandma used for practice during her time in secretarial school. The secret-codedness of it all was intriguing to me and I thought the lines were beautiful. I decided to applique shorthand symbols over the top of the flattened penny shapes, and I chose words that describe the attributes I most admired in my Grandma. Patience, generosity, love, curiosity, humor, service, fortitude, and neatness.

shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

shorthand symbols applied with a bias tape machine applique technique

This quilt was emotionally challenging at first. Then it developed into a technical challenge. I've never worked with so many different types of fabrics before. There are silks and polyesters in here, along with cottons of all different weights. There are thick fuzzy blankets, and nubby hobnail bedspreads. I put interfacing behind the stretchy fabrics and forged ahead. It's extremely thick in some spots but my Juki handled all the different fabrics beautifully. I quilted this one myself. I was proud to have it hang in the juried show at QuiltCon 2018. Thanks to Mitch Hopper for taking final photos for me, the last four images here are by him.

Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

Final quilt, measures 51" x 63"

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quilting detail

back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

back of quilt. I used a flannel sheet found in my grandma's house, new in its packaging.

Label and key for shorthand symbols 

Label and key for shorthand symbols 

Naive

Naive Melody by the Talking Heads has been a favorite song for years. I wanted to make another quilt using the Drunkard's Path alphabet I designed, and this lyric, "Never for money / always for love,"  emerged as a phrase I love enough to put on a quilt. I think of it as an unofficial, cheeky motto for my quilt-making. When you're a quilter, people are constantly asking you if you sell your quilts. And, well, here is my answer. 

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pieces cut

pieces cut

sketchbook and palette, inspired by a notebook cover

sketchbook and palette, inspired by a notebook cover

binding, pieced with leftover squares

binding, pieced with leftover squares

drunkard's path progress

drunkard's path progress

pieced top in progress

pieced top in progress

pieced top in progress

pieced top in progress

I decided to attempt matchstick quilting for the first time on this quilt. I had.... issues. In an attempt to hide, yes, I'll admit it, the puckers created by botched matchstick quilting, I decided to add lots of big stitch hand-quilting. That was two years ago. I'm still working on this quilt, slowly adding hand stitches in beautiful variagated embroidery floss. I love the look and the texture, but it's taking stinking forever. I've probably logged over 60 hours in hand stitching on this, and no end in sight. I don't know if I'll ever be officially *done* with this quilt. If I do ever finish it, I'll post updated final photos. 

matchstick quilting detail

matchstick quilting detail

color is off here, but you can see the hand stitches

color is off here, but you can see the hand stitches

Full quilt, measures 57"x72", hand quilting still in progress

Full quilt, measures 57"x72", hand quilting still in progress

2014 Goal Visualization Quilt

This quilt is a document of my list of measureable goals for 2014.

 

The wheels started turning for this quilt when my husband Nate asked me one day, "Has anyone ever used quilts as data visualization tools? Like infographic quilts?" I said I didn't know, but it sounded like an interesting idea. I thought about what data I'd like to document in a quilt, and settled on something very personal, my New Year's goals. I have always been a person who makes New Year's Resolutions, despite repeatedly reading that they don't work, no one every keeps them, etc. I didn't care, I made them anyway, always hopeful for the self improvement they might bring.

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A few years ago I noticed an Instagram friend talking about her measurable goals for the year. More specific than the hazy concept of New Year's Resolutions, measurable goals have a number attached to them. I decided to adapt her approach. For 2014, I had 14 measurable goals. I assigned a traditional quilt block to each goal. (I picked 14 different blocks that were made from half-square triangles, just blocks that I visually liked). The idea was to make a block for each of the times I was supposed to do each task. So if my goal was to host friends for dinner 4 times in the course of the year, I'd make 4 blocks. If I met my goal, those 4 blocks would go on the front of the quilt. For goals that I didn't meet, I'd break it down into a ratio. For instance, I only listened to 6 audiobooks, when my goal was 20 (too much tv). So 6 of those blocks went on the front of the quilt. The remaining 14 blocks were pieced into the back of the quilt. And if I exceeded my goal, I made the extra blocks in a different colorway (red/orange/yellow). There is a key on the label of the quilt, so viewers can understand it, and also so I can remember everything. 

 

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This quilt has a lot of tiny piecing and a lot of piecing in general. While I started it in 2014 when I was actively trying to accomplish all these measurable goals, it took until 2017 to finally finish it. Nikki Maroon quilted it for me, and Mitch Hopper helped me design the label, which I then printed on Spoonflower. Mitch Hopper also helped me take pictures of the final product. This quilt measures 53"x78". I was happy to have it accepted into the juried show at QuiltCon 2018.

The finished top

The finished top

Completed quilt

Completed quilt

Quilt label and key

Quilt label and key

Quilting detail

Quilting detail

Complete back

Complete back

Happy as Larry clamshell quilt

In the summer of 2016 I was lucky enough to attend a workshop taught by Latifah Saafir, hosted by my guild, Chicago Modern Quilt Guild. I love all of Latifah's work, and her glam clam pattern is brilliant.

I had fun picking out colors for this quilt. I wanted lots of candy colors, some pops of neon,denim, and some text prints. In picking my fabrics I studied one of Latifah's quilts, Neon and Neutral, that I have long admired. Her quilt inspired me to include the pops of neon and the text fabrics. Also, Kona announced Highlight as their color of the year in 2016. I was seeing it everywhere and I wanted to try my hand at using it.

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It was amazing to use a die-cutter to cut all the clamshell pieces. It was my first time using one. I was able to borrow a guild-mate's cutter at a sew-in. Cutting these shells was so quick and easy with that tool.

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I tried to make the layout pretty random, but with little clusters of color throughout the quilt. I'm so pleased with how this quilt looks. Clamshell quilts are so classic but I feel like the colors and prints here are really fun and fresh. This quilt just makes me happy. That's why I named it Happy as Larry. It's sort of a play on "happy as a clam." That seemed too on the nose, so I opted for another phrase that means the same thing. I first heard the phrase "happy as Larry" in the movie Strictly Ballroom, a mega-favorite from my youth. 

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Piecing the clamshells, row after row, can become a little tedious, especially as the quilt grows. By the last few rows I felt like I was really wrestling a beast under the needle. I felt so triumphant when I finished piecing this top. I had to celebrate. I finished this top at a Chicago Modern Quilt Guild retreat weekend, the perfect place to knock out a project. 

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Mitch Hopper took these photos of the final quilt for me. Nikki Maroon quilted it. Simple curves and grids, as per my request. 

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I tried something new for the back of this quilt. Society6 is a website where artists can upload their images, and customers can purchase them printed on a variety of products. So I ordered their product called a wall tapestry, with an image from a collage artist I've been following for several years, Ben Giles. The fabric is polyester, but it quilted up nicely, and I love the fun image on the back of the quilt.