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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Healing with Quilting

Based on the pattern "Crazy Hearts" from the book by Karla Alexander
Stack the Deck! Crazy Quilts in 4 Easy Steps
There's a story of love and hope behind this quilt. I began constructing this quilt in 2007 for my husband, as a celebration of our love and commitment in marriage. I am attracted to the creativity of the design Alexander calls Stack the Deck (now available as an eBook; she has many other books as well). I worked at it here and there over the proceeding years, and now the top is finally completed. 

I followed these steps to make it:

Each applique is different!
  1. Cut an assortment of fabrics into 8" squares (mine are all from the green color family).
  2. Stack nine squares together and re-cut squares into 4 pieces (they become like puzzle pieces with only straight edges).
  3. Shuffle the 4 pieces of each stack of nine squares so that they are "scrappy" (each square is now made up of four different fabrics).
  4. Reassemble (sew) each square back together (mine has 144 at 12 blocks by 12 blocks!). Trim to 6" squares. Arrange into rows.
  5. Cut out 144 scrappy hearts for needle-turn applique (no raw edges for mine).
  6. Applique each heart applique onto each block with decorative stitch of choice (I did some by hand, and some by machine). 
  7. Add sashing (mine is purple fabric).
Even my "running hens" like it!
Back view

Now I will create the "quilt sandwich" by basting it to a backing fabric with the batting (wadding) in between to prepare for machine quilting, probably by long-arm machine on 
which I can rent time. Then I will label it and lay it on our bed.

I like the scrappy-ness of it, which seems folk-art-y to me. I enjoyed the search for the assortment of fabrics for the hearts--blue, red, pink, purple. Its design and assembly presented a satisfying challenge. This quilt is not "perfect."

Healing with Quilting

Some of you may have heard a recent story about some research concerning the brain and quilting. Your can listen or read it here, by clicking on this link: 

Learning A New Skill Works Best To Keep Your Brain Sharp

My quilt is a symbol and culmination of healing for me and our entire family. I have a story to tell and I want to warn you: it's not pretty. Please don't feel like you have to read it, though it may save someone else's life or relationships.

Our family has been through much pain and confusion over many years. We finally discovered that I had a non-cancerous brain tumor in 2006, and I had surgery to remove it two weeks later. The devastation that took place prior to the discovery is a nightmare that we sometimes shudder to recall. We were truly "on the brink," on the precipice of destroyed relationships, especially me.
Making progress step by step

This tumor had taken up residence over 20 years ago in my body and our lives, and slowly grew and smashed the tissues of my brain against the hard confines of the skull. While doing so, it was altering my personality in subtle ways. The changes were easily ascribed to other possibilities: age, pre-menopause, depression, etc. As the tumor got larger (to become the size of a fist in 2006!), my personality changes and behavior became more extreme and odd. I know that "zombie" movies are popular now, but can you imagine actually being one or living with one?? I didn't suck anyone's blood, if that's what they do (I don't watch these movies!), but I was quite capable of doing things that would seem abhorrent or immoral, and we are glad that it didn't get that far. What I really became was a 'nothing'. I don't know how else to describe who I was, how I felt, what it was like to be 'me'. I alienated everyone around me and I didn't care, nor was I capable of caring or expressing my own frustrations. It was equally terrible for my family members. It was a horrible time.

As I mentioned before, I finally had surgery, but keep in mind that no one, not even the neurosurgeon, could predict the result. While I blithely went into a serious 6-hour surgery (I'm not kidding), my family waited with fear.
complexity and creativity!

Recovery from this surgery is an eight-year story all its own. While our lives had become a "hell" of sorts prior to surgery, it became it's own type of "heaven and hell" afterwards. Rather than go into all the details, I want to tell you about the part that quilting, and knitting, played for my healing brain and relationships.

After surgery, I had a new surge of energy; it was like I'd been asleep for 20 years! I felt like I was in a hurry to make up for the time lost, literally (can you imagine??). This extreme impulse, or surge, was tempered by fatigued. When a brain is healing, it is exerting a lot of unseen energy making new neural pathways (connections). This is exhausting! It requires rest, regardless of all my dreams and plans. I could barely get through a day emotionally--doctors explained that I had no control over this healing brain, and it would swing from one emotional extreme to the other, adding to the exhaustion.

In spite of my warring desires, I had to take things slow. Interests that I'd had prior to becoming really ill, such as sewing, quilting, knitting, etc., became options again. I discovered projects I had started, some over 20 years before, that I'd never completed (lack of motivation due to brain tumor in the frontal lobe). I wanted to do them again, but I had to do so slowly. For example, something like shopping, so necessary for such creative pursuits, was a particularly overwhelming and fatiguing activity as being out in public (not to mention driving) was an assault to my vision, hearing, and decision-making, and more. I even suffered from flashbacks and what I'm sure is PTSD, which is so unpredictable.

Sometimes my only low-key activity option became watching television. I chose to watch the programming for arts and crafts which had become prevalent on the public broadcasting station (while I was "sleeping" my life away, literally), including quilting and knitting. I found Alex Anderson, Kaye Wood, Georgia Bonesteel, Fons and Porter, and Eleanor Burns. I devoured the content and my creative "juices" began flowing again!

That's how I got back into quilting. I had many things to learn because the techniques had changed during my "absence." I didn't even have a rotary cutter or a cutting mat! I decided to begin with fabrics I already had in my possession, and later discovered there is a distinction between quality quilt fabrics and other fabrics! I didn't know what a quarter-inch foot was--I had so much to learn!

What's particularly fascinating to me is the intrigue I found in patterns and complexity of quilting. It requires math. It involves colors, angles, problem-solving, creating, configuring and re-configuring, matching, ripping, construction--it is quite complex! and this fed my hungering brain.

I sincerely believe that quilting, and knitting, have been significant contributors to my healing, not to mention inspiration and outlets for expression. I think it's helped my internal circuitry to reconnect as well as build new pathways.

It's been eight long years of healing. I have restored relationships with my husband and my children, my sister and her family, and other family members as well, including a few friends. There's so much more to the story, but I'll stop here. Thanks to the skill of a neurosurgeon, I am finally beginning to feel the "normal" I haven't felt in a very long time.


Connecting with you through:
WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced  AND  Sew Fresh Quilts

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's Time to Dabble in Free-Form Quilting ala Author Rayna Gillman

What is Free-Form Quilting?

In 2011, Rayna Gillman published a book through C & T Publishing called Create Your Own Free-Form Quilts: A Stress-Free Journey to Original DesignI am so happy that I came across her book and had the good sense to purchase it. Her ways of breaking out of the 'norms' and 'rules' of quilting are refreshing! The photos in the book are fabulous and inspiring. If you're looking for ways to break "free", consider her suggested techniques: " seams have to be lined up, no corners have to match, and you are free to do what you like." (p. 20)

Some of the chapter titles to entice you:
  • "Start Stripping"
  • "Slice, Dice, Combine"
  • "Add, Subtract, Multiply, Divide"
  • "Fearless Color"
  • "Reinventing UFOs..."
With inspiration bouncing around and filling my head for the past few days after reading and looking through her book again, I found some time today to do what she calls "therapy sewing." I needed it!

First I took out my plastic tub of miscellaneous scraps from other projects.

I selected various strips of fabric that were each at least 6-8" long.

I sewed them together somewhat randomly, varying lengths and colors. I tried not to get stymied by fabric colors, tones, patterns, motifs. These are the types of concerns that usually give me "creative constipation." I'm not confident when selecting fabrics for quilts, and I get overwhelmed by the vast array of choices and decisions I need to make.

Here's two blocks I made from the strips, after slicing, dicing, dividing, multiplying, and subtracting:
8.75" x 10.25"

8" x 10.75"

Which one speaks to you? Can you visualize a use for either of them? Can you imagine them being surrounded by neutrals and allowed to be the main feature? What about combining them somehow? What about transforming them yet again by slicing, dicing, dividing, multiplying, or subtracting? Could they become a free-form interpretation of: a tree? a house? a landscape?

They're both different sizes. I don't have a plan for their use yet. Thanks to Rayna, I'm not intimidated by these and other details. I can let my free-forms percolate in my mind for however long they need. I know I'll find a place for them to appear someday. They may get chopped up and used in new ways yet again! I'll just enjoy the process and let myself be free of constraints. 

This is a nice way to break free! Are you ready to take a break, too???

Connecting with inspired people like you through:

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced  AND   Sew Fresh Quilts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I'm seeing green & yellow...Quilt!

Here's a project that some friends from church and I have almost completed:

This is Diane's Green & Yellow Quilt because she's a University of Oregon fan (the mascot is a Duck)! I will create a label for it, and then we bind it.

I did the free-motion quilting on my domestic machine, using the motifs of flowers and leaves for about 104 blocks! It measures out to be an over-sized twin.

Free-motion motifs on the top of quilt
Since I don't have a large table that is level with my machine's sewing surface, I had to muscle it around and do the best I could. I found this to be an awesome opportunity to practice my free-motion skills, which I do enjoy. I think I'll concentrate on doing smaller projects on my machine in the future though. With a smaller project I can experiment more and use smaller fill patterns.
Free-motion quilting on the back
Since she is a duck fan, there had to be duck fabric. I searched and found this:
"Everything but the kitchen sink" fabric by Yuko Hasegawa for RJR Fabrics

The photo doesn't do it justice, but it's very cute and would make a darling quilt, place-mat, outfit, handbag, etc.

Being a University of Oregon fan myself, I'm just ducky on what's going to be a rather hot day for May in the Northwest. How about you?

Linking up with creative people like you at:

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced   AND  Sew Fresh Quilts

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stash Busting: Throw Pillow, Improv Block, Potholder & Small Quilt

*First "Work in Progress":  "Friends" Throw Pillow

I used to embroider by hand much more than I do now. I find sewing/stitching by hand a relaxing, creative activity, giving me something to do while I'm doing something else. I came across an embroidered panel that I'd finished several years ago which included seed
beading. The red beads encircle the hearts and accent the tulips. I'm inspired to make use of it...finally! Invading my stash, I found two good print candidates to border the main panel and solid blue for corner accents. Then I found another fat quarter to use for the back with an all-over leaf print to continue the top theme of leaves. 

I pieced the top and decided that I could embellish the solid blue corners with machine embroidered hearts. I just have two more to do! I'm happy with the results.

*Second "Work in Progress": Cat Quilt? Throw? Wall hanging?

I have some novelty fabric of cats. I thought they'd look nice cut apart and set with machine embroidered cats I had stitched out using a variegated thread.
I needed another fabric to offset the 3 panels, so I auditioned the panels with some other fabrics from my stash and chose the red. I don't know who this will be for nor what it will end up being, but it's a creative process!

*Third "Work in Progress": Improv Block

Block is cut down to measure 9" x 9", per her request.
A member of my Modern Quilt Guild asked some participants if they'd make improv blocks for her. She provided some fabric scraps with some general suggestions...VERY general suggestions. I did some research and decided on the "Asterisk Block" on Moda Bake Shop. I added a small scrap (the yellow strip) from my stash with her fabrics. I like it and thought you might like to try it, too, or others shown on their site.

*Fourth "Work in Progress": Paper-Pieced Potholder

Another optional monthly activity our Modern Quilt Guild sponsors is a swap. Each swap features something different to make and exchange with others who choose to participate--we never know how many will actually do the swap until we're all at the monthly meeting. I haven't participated until this month, but last month they made small clutch bags, the previous month they made wrist pincushions, etc. The chairperson suggested we make potholders this month and try our hands at paper-piecing.

I've done paper-piecing and have some blocks that are still uncommitted to any project. I am using one of the paper-pieced house blocks and will finish it for next week's meeting:

The purples in my block match the spring bouquet
from a neighbor's and my yard :)

*Projects Finished: Quilt Label & 4th Mystery Quilt Star Block

I machine embroidered and sent this label off to my sister for her latest quilt for a healing friend:

I also added the bordering triangles to my (4) fourth star blocks for Eleanor Burn's Mystery Quilt.

It's been a productive week!!

Linking up with friends like you:
WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced   AND  Sew Fresh Quilts