Monday, October 27, 2008

Interview with my sewing self

Mrs. Noodles, I understand you've been sewing for awhile.

That's right. My first sewing machine was battery operated, a Christmas gift when I was in second grade. It came with a little instruction manual that said on the cover, "Read this first." Because I then was of the mistaken notion that I had to read every page of any instruction manual, and because I always got bogged down on about page three of the tiny type in the booklet, I never did get to use that cute little sewing machine.

A few years later I started doing some hand sewing for my dolls, simple skirts and capes for my Barbies. I also loved to create sock dolls, sew on strips of colorful knit fabric for hair, and cloth them in hastily put-together scraps for dresses, skirts, pants, etc.

When did you start sewing for yourself? Was learning to sew difficult for you?

The first thing I made was a gathered blue gingham skirt when I was 12. Bought the pattern and fabric, pinned on the pattern pieces, cut it out, followed the instructions. This was the mid 60s, so imagine, the Beatles have come to town (I saw them from a distance), Twiggy has made the mini-skirt popular, and here I am, proudly wearing my homemade gathered gingham skirt. It came to the middle of my knees, of course, because that was the rule at my school.

My mother was absolutely the best sewing instructor. She said, "Read the first sentence of the instructions. Do what it says. Then read the next sentence and do what that says. If you need help, let me know, and I'll show you what to do." So that's what I did, and that's how I've come to believe that I can do anything, as long as there are good instructions.

Didn't you ever get frustrated with sewing while you were learning?

But of course! I remember having the urge, especially early on, to rip up the fabric and throw the sewing machine out the window. I hated it when something went wrong and I had to rip it out and do it over. Especially when the same thing went wrong several times in a row. But I loved the mystery of how my project might turn out, and the feeling of accomplishment when I was finished.

Did clothing styles have influence on your future sewing projects?

Absolutely. Because I was 5'9" at age 14 and weighed 110 lbs, the combination of the skirt-to-the-knee rule, my skinny frame fitting only items that were extremely short, and the mini-skirt being in style, I ended up needing to sew for myself. After the gingham skirt, I branched out into jumpers, A-line skirts, and dresses that were a little more in touch with times. Looking back, some of them weren't too bad. I tended to like bright colors and remember one of the guys in high school calling me "Jungle girl" because of a bright jungle print dress I wore.

What was your first sewing machine?

My parents bought me a little black Singer Featherweight when I was 14. It's a valuable part of my sewing "staff" staff to this day. It's a great little workhorse.

Do you still sew for yourself?

I haven't made my own clothing for about 20 years. There used to be three reasons for me to sew: 1) Save money, 2) Save time (I could sew faster than I could find something I liked and that fit me), and 3) Wear something unique. During the past couple of decades, fabric became more and more expensive, while the cost of clothing did not increase that much. It became more economical to buy ready-made, and once I started teaching school and had much less time, I gradually stopped sewing for myself.

I understand that you are now a quilter.

The first quilted item I made was in 1974, when I made leaf-shaped hot pads as a gift for my mother. I watched other people quilting during those years, cutting out dozens of pieces of fabric with little cardboard templates. It didn't look like fun.

Then the rotary cutter came along. Now this was more like it! I loved the tools. I made three Amish shadows wall quilts that I thought were lovely at the time, about 1990. Now I think they would make a good blanky for someone's dog.

Then I finally finished college, became a special ed teacher, and didn't do much sewing until 2005. Some dear friends, who knew I needed to occupy myself after my husband's unexpected death, encouraged me to go with them to a quilting class where we learned how to do paper piecing. We all made table runners, and they all look great.

How many quilts have you made since then?

I would need to count, but at least a couple dozen. Many for beds, more for the walls. I love making one-of-a-kind quilts, so though I appreciate traditional styles, I love contemporary quilts -- at least some of them. Some are esthetically hideous in my opinion, but those are usually making some kind of statement and I can appreciate them on that basis; there are many more that are so intriguing and inspiring that I can't wait to get started on my next idea -- once I get the four I'm currently working on completed.

Do you think you'll go back to making clothing?

Quilting is really my passion right now, and I don't plan to stop. But I am also interested in making some of own clothes again. I just came back from a shopping trip, and it appears the pendulum has swung back to where it again makes sense to make your own clothing. The last time I shopped for a white shirt, the average price was around $35. I don't think that was more than a couple of years ago. Now it's $65. I looked at just about every white blouse/shirt in the mall today, and the only one I really liked was $78, the rest being either too short in the body and/or sleeves or too transparent. I looked at the $78 shirt and said, "I could make that myself," so I stopped at the fabric store and spent $5.00 on fabric (sale! sale! sale!) and am ready to make the attempt.

What I really want is a dress form. I found out how you can make one: Make your own dress form. All I need is a good friend to tape me up!

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

My visit to PIQF last Sunday

PIQF is the Pacific International Quilt Festival, for those of you non-quilters.

I had originally planned to make the approximately two-hour drive with members of my quilt guild, but it didn't work out due to my Alaska-bound daughter's visit and the happy necessity of driving her over to spend the weekend with my Napa Valley daughter.

On Sunday I left the girls to their own devices so that they could do sisterly things, and drove through the mess of Oakland traffic (some event was taking place there) to Santa Clara.

The layout of the quilt festival, being in a huge L-shape, was a bit confusing to me. Rows of quilts were interspersed with rows of vendors, some rows perpendicular to other rows It was my goal to walk every row so as not to miss a thing, but after an hour I began to forget from whence I had come and which direction to turn at the end of a row; I may have missed entire sections. I wished for a big arrow on the ceiling pointing north or something. Maybe next time I will take a compass!

I saw Tammie Bowser (of Mosaic Photo Quilt fame - google her website for free software to make a fun and amazing photo quilt). She had been at the Nashville AQS, where I went to her lecture and bought the "deluxe" version of her software. She was busy with customers at her booth so I didn't stop to say, "remember me?"

As usual, there were vendors who didn't seem to be drawing the interest of those attending, so I stopped at a couple of places where the booth hosts were looking deadly bored and struck up a conversation about their product. My presence, as usual, attracted other potential customers (I should try getting paid for this!), and I slid off to go see what I had really come to see: the quilts.

The quilts were fabulous, some so unusual, so many fascinating evidences of creativity in the innovative category. I was inspired with at least two dosen quilt ideas, even though I already know that I can't live long enough, even if I live to 93, to create the ideas already lodged in my head.

Interesting contrast between AQS and PIQF:
At AQS, there was so much interest in the vendor section that one could scarcely move in the aisles, and not as many people eyeing the lovely, more traditional quilts.
At PIQF, many more were looking at the unusual quilts than perusing the vendors.

Of course, I went every day to AQS, while I was only able to be at PIQF during the last hours on Sunday, therefore my commentary above may not be an accurate contrast.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Enough already with the picnic quilt

Photo: Here is the "picnic quilt" I previously showed draped over a chair; this gives a better idea of it, since that cell phone pic was fuzzy and orangish.

To take the photo, I laid the quilt on the floor, stood on a chair to take the picture, but still had a keyhole effect that I had to skew into squareness with Photoshop. I normally take pictures of my quilts by hanging them up on my shelves; that way the only photoshopping needed is to delete the background.

I am amazed at how OK the quilt looks, considering that I chose the fabrics in about ten minutes, and decided the layout without the aid of a design wall.

Since my new machine hasn't made it here yet (being shipped from 'Bama), I am holding off on quilting some of my finished quilt tops because my new machine will do it much better -- and because both the older machines I have at home need physical help. I took the Kenmore to the shop today for an overhaul. The very nice repair guy told me it was made by Janome. Janome is the hidden manufacturer behind a number of sewing machine brands, I understand.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A day in Amish country, continued

I see that my last emailed post was too long to get here in one piece, so here is the rest of it:

We had time to stop at Kings Korner, a favorite shop I have visited several times over the years, in addition to the quilt museum and store (also a favorite stop and where I have purchased quilt fabric in the past), and the main tourist location at the shopping center in Intercourse where even in the heart of do-it-yourself Amish country one finds most souvenirs are crafted in China. If I were purchasing, which I wasn't doing this trip, I'd make sure what I bought was locally made.

We stopped at a couple of the farms boasting "home made root beer" signs, hoping for root beer that was made from genuine sassafras, but it appears that such is not available these days.

Lunch was at Dienner's Restaurant/Buffet, a large and busy establishment a few miles from King's Korner. The selections were numerous and delicious, and I really don't need to eat again for three and a half days (she says as she tries to fasten the snap on her jeans).

A day in Amish country

Photo: Horses waiting to serve customers in Intercourse, PA.

Driving around Lancaster and Chester Counties, PA, is always an edifying adventure with sis-in-law Linda, because though she knows her starting point and destination, she makes the intervening turns purely on gut instinct, with an eye on the directional compass rather than a map. There are enough winding crossroads and between-farm breaks to make such a trip successful, and no big rivers to impede progress. I love these little driving adventures we have in that beautiful area of the country.


Some of the leaves are just beginning to turn, but we will miss the height of the color season by several weeks. The countryside is beautiful and green, with the multicropped Amish farms creating a huge quilt across the rolling land, much of the beans, corn, and alfafa ready for harvest.

Amish farmers guided their teams through the fields, standing on their harvest wagons or machinery. No sitting for them. As Linda says, these are Real Men; they've raised and trained the horses, planted and grown the crops, and have their teams of sometimes six horses under perfect control.

We saw numerous enclosed black buggies, each drawn by a single horse, scurrying along the two-lane highway, buffeted by passing traffic. A group of children played games in an Amish schoolyard, the little boys picturesque in their straw hats. An Amish or Mennonite woman made her way along the highway on a scooter that looked like it had been fashioned from a bicycle, one foot on the running board between the wheels, the other propelling her along. She carried a bag that appeared to contain goodies from a shopping trip.