Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Sewing

When the family is home for the holidays, after many of the traditional holiday rituals, we tend to fall into a ritual of finding our way to the sewing room.  This year the sewing room is sporting a new feature--a television.  It has taken me a long time to make this decision.  However, as our family has matured, I can see that favorite movies, football and laughing at some shows is a together time.  While some of the family who enjoy the action, adventure fair for movies are in the family room, others have picked on favorites and now are loving having music from the 70s.  Nice addition.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Welcome to Iowa, Mr. H.P. Ueltschi

H.P. Ueltschi is the fourth generation owner of Bernina International.   We were privileged that he selected our store to visit on his recent trip from Switzerland to the USA.  More than 120 guests attended our Open House welcoming Mr. Ueltschi to our store.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Best Thing About Retreat

The best thing about retreat is the people.  Our daughters have been attending retreats with us as they were able ever since the beginning.  The girls are ages 18 to 28 and they still love to come to retreat at any given chance.  Our oldest daughter Monica lives in Detroit and while she doesn't get back often, retreat is a special time for her to re-connect with women who have impacted her life and whom Monica loves to share her love of sewing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Birth of the Aliens

This is my last overnight at our weekend retreat, and I thought it important to announce that three aliens were birthed at this retreat.  The proud makers believed they were a bit weary looking and not photograph ready to be presented with their new-creations, Alien #1 and #2 and #3.  The Alien babies are awaiting appropriate names but it remains to be determined that the gender of the three before naming progresses.  Bill, Will and Tillie were vetoed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Didn't Know You Could Draw

One day my daughter was helping me clean out a closet.  When she came across a couple of my drawings from high school, she exclaimed, "I didn't know you could draw!"  Funny things we don't much reveal about ourselves.  It is also very telling to me that drawing and creating is hard for me to find time for.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Life Happens...Just My Turn

I have had a couple friends complain that I am not keeping up on my blog.  First off, I want to thank the two of you who have prodded me <grin>.  And of course, you know who you are!  But, more important, it is always a good reminder that life happens and it is my turn.  This is not to say that I am not inspired ("Jill Inspired").  But rather I have been so inspired and have had a chance to see so many insights that I am nearly breathless with all the inspiration around me and haven't been able to juggle the priorities around to documenting this journey.  While I could express regret that I've not done more, I try hard to never live in regret.  So, let's just take the newest happenings....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Combining Art Forms

Having been a doodler and one enchanted by drawing, I have found myself playing more with drawing to translate to my sewing.  The brain can see what the hand imitates regardless if it is a pen, a crayon, a free-motion dance of the sewing machine or even drawing in the sand!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Retreat Memories

Has it REALLY been a week since I was on retreat?!  I think the euphoria of sewing for four days has left me a bit dazed.   I am amazed at how much everyone else gets done.  They are all a bit modest when we take pictures (as you will soon see). But, what they accomplished is no small feat!  I loved every show and tell that we got to see.  We had brand new sewers on this retreat and experienced.  We all had a great some rest, got in lots of sewing and even enjoyed a massage. 

It was fun to see people sparking off other peoples' ideas.  Judy came not sure what to do with a panel she wanted to work on and then was inspired by Lisa's work on a panel she was making for a toddler's quilt.  And they BOTH got their projects done within hours of each other. 

Some people were drinking coffee to wake up in the morning.  Others would drink caffeine to stay awake into the night.  It was a very eclectic time frame.  I love most that everyone is quite comfortable doing their own schedule.   Therese told me recently when she was a little girl, she would long to be a grown up so she could do what she wanted to, when she wanted to.  I laughed and asked her how it was working for her now.  But, I think her description of "being grown up" is what retreat is...doing what you want to, when you want....

When I got to the last day of retreat, I was scrambling around because I realized I hadn't cut out all of my applique pieces.  Visioning what it was going to take, I was sure that I would start losing applique cut-outs on my way home.  Memories of "...where did that go..." and " could I have lost a snowman applique..." haunted me.  On the last day, I ironed together (onto my Applique Pressing Sheet) all the lonely pieces so that they were matched up and ready once I had more time to finish my applique.

I even shocked myself that when I got home on Sunday night, I went immediately to my sewing room, unpacked everything and finished cutting and ironing my last row.  The memories of things I have lost and misplaced must have really spooked me.  Or, I was wholly inspired by those project-finishing retreaters I'd spent the weekend with! 

Wonder if that is wisdom kicking in or is it fear that I will forget where I left off?  Whatever it is, I don't really mind because as I age and lose more bits of my memory I realize there are some things I should have regret and self-recrimination. 

I certainly came home rested and kicked back a bit and soaked up the last of my retreat experience (oh, and that might be WHY the April calendar didn't get posted until April 2).  None of this seems like a good reason to be tardy or fall behind on deadlines....but I know my family was sure happy to see a rested Jill return home.   For my part, I was excited at how much inspiration got sparking around my brain.   So refreshing! 

Our fall retreat is November 4-5-6-7.  Mark your calendar.  Shalom Retreat Center is one of the best getaways I have ever been to.  Private and semi-private rooms, beautiful surroundings, ample sewing space, fabulous food...the best! 
I am also so excited because this week, Therese and I pulled together many of the events we are working on for the next eight months.  With a family wedding, summer vacations and plans for more fun at the store, we had to get the things we really wanted on our calendar.    It was like a festival just planning all the guest speakers, making phone calls and making arrangements.  A visit from Kaye England in September, along with a presentation of Project Sewing Workshop with Linda Lee this summer...then a couple of days with Vicki Tracy at the store...this is sounding like a great party already.  Made a phone call to Ricky Tims to get some dates for a bus trip to Colorado.   We are getting ready to start our next BE THERE, GET YOUR SQUARE early this summer with batiks and the most amazing blocks you will ever see.   Want to keep up to date on all of these happenings, go to our web site and register for the email that will keep you updated on the events at the store.

So many times when we are exercising our creative muscles, we think it is about what it is doing for us.  Yet, I think it is so much more about sharing and spreading happiness through encouraging creativity in others.

All the Best to You, jill

Friday, March 26, 2010


Another (of the millions) of good things about retreat is that I realize that I probably am not as productive sewing around my world because what I sew really does take a lot of time. 

I have been working on applique with "You Can Build a Snowman."  I have loved every part of this work and am now down to doing the blanket stitch.  I discovered a cool tip quite by coincidence.  Each row of this piece is very wide and not very tall.  Applique on this long segments means I would be handling a lot of raw edges as I am doing all the turning.  I backed my row with the Aqua Clean & Tear (which will be perfect for this project as I don't want to stress my stitching by all the pulling).  As I cut off a loooong strip of stabilizer to back the row, it curled up and rolled the fabric into the roll.  When I "let" the fabric roll inside the stabilizer, I realized that the long ends were now protected as I worked on the inside of my now-scrolled row of fabric.  This is an amazing revelation and is doing a great job of protecting not only the raw edges of my applique but also the outer edge of my strip.

Another thing I tried out was that each row I cut was a different width.  I hate standing at the cutting table and having to try to read and sort out all those different measurements.  I usually then mis-cut one of them as I forget the number as my eyes go from the pattern to my fabric and ruler.  So....I took my pigma pen and WROTE the size of the piece I was to cut on the selvage of each of the strips.  Writing them on the selvage is just fine because when I finish the height and go to cut the width, I will be cutting the selvage off.  WOW.  How much easier that was!

Hope you are retreating and sewing at least an hour today!  All the Best to You, jill

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Did I Really Pack All THAT?

Hi ho...hi's off to retreat I go!!  Four days of sewing fun with my daughters and friends.  It does not get better than that.

I am not well-known for a lot of advance planning when I travel.  Being pretty low fuss, I am not terribly bothered by throwing everything in the suitcase the night before.  It seems if I start much earlier, I over-pack and over-fret.

However, when I considered this sewing retreat, I followed the advice of some very wise retreaters and did my cutting ahead and started the stacks of projects to pack.  I set them on a bench and just put them in a suitcase.  I was SURE that I had not over-packed and that I am absolutely going to get everything done this time.  Imagine my shock when I realized that AGAIN, I have filled an over-sized suitcase with projects.  I can ease my angst that some of this over-packing has batting in it.

We'll see how this trip goes.  I will post pictures of what I actually work on.  I consider a retreat successful not when I finish everything but that I TOUCH everything.  Some projects just need to be caressed and appreciated....and that might be enough for some of these beloved friends.

The precious applique piece you see in my suitcase is one of my favorite little patterns from The Country Quilter.  I have pulled together bundles of fabric for this adorable little quilt that I have loved for more than ten years.  I have saved this fun pattern that long for JUST THE RIGHT FABRIC.  Now to let the little planes SOAR!

All the Best to You, jill

Saturday, March 13, 2010

My Favorite Thing...

I have been sewing since the dawn of time...seriously.   My first machine was my mom's straight stitch Singer.  It had the curved wood carrying case, the first "portable machine" and was powered by a knee control.  It had no speed control, only did a straight stitch and didn't have a button holer or reverse stitching.   I made bound buttonholes for everything before I knew there were other options.  I sewed garments on that machine into my first year of college when I invested in a $200 machine that had my first zig-zag and buttonholer.  Since that time, I have owned most every sewing machine made.  It didn't take me long to realize that not all machines are created equally.

When I found my way to Bernina machines, I found a whole new world of performance.  While I will admit there were features on my other machines I thought I would miss, I realized that many of those "features" were actually compensations for  performance shortcomings.

Perhaps the first two biggest amaze-ments to me were the stitch motor performance and the true quarter inch.   When I sew decorative stitches with my Bernina, I don't need to shove or "help" my fabric through to make accurate stitches.   While some of this is needle performance and thread, more of it has to do with having a motor on the Bernina machines that can accurately truck the fabric through the feed-dogs evenly for the stitches to place as accurately as possible.  The other features on the Bernina that allow it to do this well are having presser foot pressure adjustment.  I can adjust the presser foot to be tighter or lighter against my fabric into the feed dogs.   But perhaps better than decorative stitching was how the motor would let me plow through bulky layers of fabric without binding up the machine or shoving the needle out of place.  WOW.

As for a quarter-inch, quilters have been sadly deluded with the concept of a "scant quarter inch".  Such a creature should not exist.  2.5" strip sewn to a 2.5" strip with a quarter inch measure, should be a 4.5" finished unit.  If you are still using a scant quarter inch, you are either using thread that is too thick causing the fabric to buckle over the threaded seam or you are using your iron as a "fix-it tool" shoving a pleat into your work.  Perhaps it is because we believe we are bad at math that we accept the "scant quarter inch", but it just is NOT necessary.  When I moved over from all my other machines that gave me a metric measured quarter inch with all kinds of adjustments to my Bernina, I realized something about the Bernina 1/4" measurements....they are accurate because they are NOT metric.  A "metric quarter inch" is an adjusted measurement.  There is not a metric measure that perfectly matches the English quarter inch.  (Don't you remember conversion charts for changing from English to metric....always leaving a hanging decimal point?!)  So, they tell you to move your needle out of center position to "adjust it more".    For all of you Singer Featherweight lovers, this is what will drive you crazy.  As soon as you move your needle out of center position, you are putting a zig in the back of your fabric because your needle is now having to reach over to pick up the bobbin thread.  Throwing more thread into your seam causes as much mess as heavy thread.

At any rate, when I first started piecing, I had moved from my college machine to my first "big kid machine".  Having been a pretty good garment sewer, I figured how tough could a quarter inch be.  It WAS tough.  As much tape as I adhered to my machine and contortions as I tried,  I couldn't get an accurate quarter inch.   I bought every foot I could find from thick plastic boys to every metal foot I could rig onto my machines.  Then I went the route of talking to machine dealers who each convinced me my issue was my machine and I kept moving machines.   At one point, I even owned a couple of Featherweights.  While cute and charming and good stitchers, I was too accustom to computerized features such as needle up and down and more to stay friends with an FW for long.   Of course, I loved the journey as I learned so much about not just quilting but much more.

Then I met Bernina machines for piecing and the magic began.  I didn't have to stick my tongue out and hold it with my teeth to get an accurate stitch.  My Bernina machines have the 1/4" tooled to fit the ENGLISH quarter inch....just as I am cutting....with an English system.   Yes, I thought the whole world would be metric by now....but it isn't and I am glad because I have too much invested in yards of fabric to switch metric and now that my quarter inch is happy, I am happy.

What is your FAVORITE FEATURE of Bernina machines?  Tell Bernina via their blog.  They will be selecting winners from those who COMMENT on their blog.    Feel free to comment on my blog too.  I like to hear from you and hear about your sewing journey.

All the Best to You, jill to find the Bernina blog?  CLICK HERE  (You will need to go to the blog for March 10, 2010 and post by the date to be eligible to win.)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Secret to Finishing Your Studio

There are THREE SECRETS to finishing your studio.
1.  Have company come....soon.
My son called four days ago to tell me he was coming Friday night and was bringing friends and they were staying overnight as they are enroute to southern Iowa.  Oh yeah...."could you make food, Mom?  I think about 12 of us will be staying.   We can sleep anywhere--don't worry."   (We had 14 of the most gracious, appreciative house guests I have ever enjoyed.)
Then Darling Husband asks if I could clear the pool table because he will surely want to take some of these people on in a game of pool.  The pool table infringes on my studio taking up the better portion of the center of the room.   However, this has always been the case and generally the vantage point has educated me greatly with the continuing education I get as I am privileged with a silent spot in the room as I listen to the goings on that are typical of a pool hall.  Besides, in its off-season, a pool table serves as a very fine horizontal design wall for laying out a quilt top or studying a large array of fabrics.  Very easy clean up with an upholstery vacuum tool.   Tragically my own billard skills don't advance past those  I acquired as a five-year-old rolling the balls to the pockets without a pool cue (we weren't allowed to play with them!)

With the mountain of fabric and notions under, on top of and in every walkable space of the room, I was doomed.  My last cabinets had arrived but I wasn't planning to open them until Henry returned from a trip to Minnesota on Friday (at the earliest).

While panic should set in, a familiar calm engulfed me.  Once again, a deadline would serve as my motivator.  If you are not familiar with this emotional status because you are an orderly person who always holds a tightly planned schedule, you might be missing the grand rush of adrenaline against the impossible.  Mountains aren't so challenging to climb once you realize there is much to be seen from the vantage point of the top.  However, pushing oneself out of the recliner and into hiking boots is often the most difficult step to climbing any mountain.  The wisdom of aging has brought less anxiety to these challenges because there are secrets I have learned along the way.  The first secret is ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE OF "COMPANY IS COMING."

I have even had houseguests visit when I was in the middle of painting a whole level of the house.  You know you have real friends when you can push aside paint cans and drop cloths and serve a meal.  Either that, or those people you had over for dinner while painting the house will have a doozy of a story to tell THEIR other friends.

When the deadline of guests coming or an event happening is upon us, we tend to get realistic about what we can accomplish and what might need to put aside for another time.  In this scenario, at the very least, I had to get the pool table cleared off.   Worst case scenario, I would clear a path around the pool table, vacuum it and shove everything else against the walls of the perimeter.  Had I had only a few hours, THAT is the exact path I'd have taken.

I had all the tools to get this job done, I had just been procrastinating and needed a good reason to get moving.  Didn't really want to dig through all that stuff.  But once I got rolling, it got easier and easier to decide what to keep, what to toss and what to shelf.  I also am not real torn up that it isn't all sorted.  I am not a real alphabetizing sorta girl when it comes to my toys.   Actually, I think I just try to keep organized enough to find things and not seem totally out of sorts in my days.

2.  Once your attitude is adjusted on the reality of the challenge ahead, recruit some help or relinquish some of the tasks.  Living with a man who believes that saving everything for someday is sacred, I have learned that Henry is not the person to recruit on my sorting forays.  He is not interested in tossing or giving away stuff.  Generally, I take these journeys on my own and then wave my hands at the miracle while he looks around for what treasures I might have taken to the curb.

When our kids were younger, I would pick up and box all the things to donated.  Then I would tape the boxes shut for about six weeks.  If anyone in the house could tell me something that was in the box that they are sure they couldn't live without, I would retrieve it and they could keep it forever.  Years of doing this and no one knew what was in those boxes.  I sorted through all the kids' toys and books when Katrina hit New Orleans, taping up six boxes of treasure and setting them in the family room through the holidays.  The kids relinquished quickly after making sure I'd saved favorite books, Legos and precious toys and the secured boxes happily went to an elementary school that lost everything in the hurricane.

Our daughters pitched in and helped me with generous abandon.  They've helped me before and quickly realized that taking Mom's stuff home to add to their own stacks is fraught with disaster as they have enough sewing stuff as well to manage.  Consequently, they are eager and able recruits for such a journey.  They managed to help me vision the rest of the studio, setting up the last of the shelves and sorting through mounds of inspiration. 
 Secret so important....

Then there comes that moment in time when you just have to pick up the last of the stuff and stuff it away for later decision making.  It seems this is the "stuff" that defies definition or structure.   At this point, you realize, you are looking at hours of painful decisions...  "Why did I keep this?"  "What do I do with it now?"  "Oh, I SHOULD start this again..."  If you let it, this could be paralyzing and exhausting.  So, I suggest you look for the nearest closet or deserted room.  Grab laundry baskets or boxes and use your grocery packing skills to put sturdy stuff in the bottom and fragile stuff in the top and stash and stow away all of it.  Like a good stew, these things need some simmering time.

When I go to "rescue" these orphans later, I will plan to do it one box at a time.  Each time I go into my studio, I will pull one out.  If I still feel anxious when I look at it, I will shove it back in the storage for a while.  If I have an idea of what to do with it, I will sort it and find it easier to deal with than the panic of "I have no idea." 

Perhaps the best part of setting things aside for "decisions later" is that giving yourself some time affords good perspective.  You realize that you may never macrame again in your lifetime and readily give those supplies to a school art program.  Or you realize that you can re-purpose that macrame cord for use with a double piping foot and make a rug out of it.

I recently found a massive chenille throw that I was going to make and had about 40 rows sewn.  I grew tired of it and it travelled from box to box.  Recently a new technique piqued my interest and I have figured out a fabulous use for it to sit atop a great throw or a child's garments.....All the Best to You....jill

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Should Be Enough!

For those of you who have been asking me about the progress of my studio, I have exciting news.  I think I finally picked up TOO MANY shelves.  In my hunt high and low for enough shelves with the right configuration, I decided on a unit with cubbies rather than wide shelves.  I am today sorting through the books putting them in some general search-able order.  I would never alphabetize them as I would never look for them that way.  The older I get I am quite content to be able to remember my own name, I'd hate to think I need to remember book titles besides don't most of us remember them by "the one with the purple cover and the handbag over in the corner"?

My favorite publishers are getting their own spaces.  The oldies....classics get their own cubbies.  My knitting books get their own space.  The magazines I save are finally coming out of their holders and will get their own space.  I don't save all magazines but tend to roll back through ones like Cloth, Paper, Scissors and Quilts and More and Quilt Sampler. 

Another feature I added was deep drawers on the bottoms of my shelves that I have a place for patterns.  Again, those are sorted out by types of patterns.....I have a pretty big miscellaneous stack.  That will always be a fun one to dig through.  

I selected white shelving as a nice contrast against my wood laminate flooring and my cherry Koala Studios.  I am loving this room more and more.

Today I am home with no voice (or rather what I have is an ugly sound)....nasty cold has me drinking tea with lemon and lots of water.  Too much talking with my d. friends over the weekend....what a fun party that was (thanks, Les!)  My d. friends don't sew.  I was quite surprised to hear that a few of you read my blog.  The offer still stands, girlfriends, I WILL teach you.  My sewing friends are quite happy and this is a great hobby as many of you are enjoying new grandbabies.    All the best to you, jill

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shaping of a Studio

My photographs of my studio-in-process need no explanation, no apology.  I have always been an artist and while I have structure, I am also a very patient person and rarely much in a hurry to adopt all structure.  I would rather sit with a mess while I sort it out in my head and dream on it than rush the process.  I post these pictures because I want YOU to feel better about being a person of process.  Once we arrive at the product, we often find it not nearly as enchanting as the process of creating.

Having studied every publication I could find of studios, I am further in how to tackle my own studio. As I looked at pictures, I gauged how important it was to me to have this element or that.  The most key features to me are light, aesthetic beauty, organization and the ability to share my space with others.

I can only control my penchant for ample light just so much with having two windows and French doors and that wall being the smallest wall space in the room.  I put my cutting station in front of one window with the ironing board nearby.  The other window is the location for my main sewing machine.  I angled that Koala Studio so that I could advantage both the window and the French doors.  I am going to put a desk in the corner behind my main sewing area.  Unlike when I started sewing many years ago, a computer nearby is crucial to my sewing experience.  Using my computer for research, machine embroidery and communicating to others is all part of my sewing and creating experience.   I need a window nearby as I need variety when I am working on my computer (laptops have changed the world for me).

Beauty of my room is important to me.  Feeling a calm in my room brings out the best in me.   I don't need Better Homes & Gardens beauty.  I need a room to feel happy and peaceful and inspiring.  I am not big into painting and usually accept the wall coloring as it is and texture a room with layout and wall art.   Currently my sewing room has walls that are working as storage units...easier to store the pictures, clocks, etc on the wall lest they be broken sitting on the floor.  This will take time as I see where I am sitting in the room.

I think I am wired with an organizing gene.   I suspect we all are a little better functioning when we have some structure around us.  Raising five kids didn't make me more organized, it made me prioritize that which was important to them and to good functioning of our family in our daily tasks.  Shoes went in the closet not because it was neater but rather because it was easier to remember where shoes were as the bus was sitting outside waiting if they were in the closet rather than kicked off next to the sofa.  I am definitely a peace-seeking unit, always have been.  I am not so prone to complain as I am like to embrace change.  I need to be able to find my many tools and books and fabrics, easily.  The Koala studios have ample drawers for my tools.  Now, I need to take the time to sort them out as to how I will use them.  I start that by just getting working on things a bit at a time.  If I don't like where the presser feet are, I can change it as I go along.  I cannot wait until I have everything put away until I sew.  I need to keep sewing to feel the room and decide if that is actually WHERE I want  those tools.

It was working in the room that has made me move the furniture around many times.  Every piece of furniture in my room has enjoyed a view of the room from every corner and space of the room.  It has taken me weeks to get that feeling.

Realizing that I don't have storage space that will work for my fabrics and books, I will begin putting together shelves in the next few weeks.  As I have all this wonderful wood grain in the room, I am adding white shelves to the room for variety.  Along with sewing, I am a drawer, colored pencil junkie, decoupage groupie, knitter and computer graphic fan (and I am sorta an author).  I have never had room for all of my "other toys" in my studio.  I am adding a desk and ample storage for all of my stuff to be in ways that I can see most of it.  If I can't see it or easily access it, I won't use it. 

Will everything be out?  Doubt it.  I have no shame to say I am a fabric lover.  I buy fabric because I love the texture and vision what it might be later on.  I have t-shirt knits from the pajamas I made when my kids were little.  I can't get rid of it because every time I see it, I still remember how much joy I had making their favorite jammies for them and how much I enjoyed watching them grow out of the jammies and pass them on to the younger siblings and then on to their cousins.

As our children have grown and moved the fabric into a closet in one of their vacated bedrooms, I still love to go into that room and touch the things that my son left in "his room", open the closet and love the fabric all over again.

If my room were just my own, I might have had this finished much sooner.   With each step, I have been careful to respect my husband's pool table.  He loves to spend time with the kids playing pool.  I have worked hard to keep a cozy sitting place for Henry to sit and enjoy a book or his favorite movie while I am working in my sewing room.  I have room in my sewing room for at least five people to sew.  I want to make sure there is ample room for when our kids come home to feel welcome to sew with me or feel they can come and just escape the hub-bub of a house full of many people (at holidays).  

You still can't really walk around my sewing room but it is getting happier each day I live in it a little more.

The best part is I actually got to sew today...making my next installment in the Party With Patrick...applique project.   I am presenting this topic at our next VIP coming up.  This is unbelieveable.  I am presenting something in six days and have the project done and the slides for my presentation ready to go.  While this looks like a simple thing to do, I am going to show you how you can make this in less than two hours.  I used satin stitch applique for the shamrocks and did a fun embellished binding on mine.  I love this new fabric from Benartex.  It is subtle coloring and has one of my favorite pieces in it....paisley.

The brain cells are rockin' and rollin' now!
all the best to you, jill

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Feel of a Room

I have always had issues with the "feel" of a room. My precious husband has accused me of finding great sport in moving furniture around on a whim. There is no whim to it....I believe it is a science. I lay in bed and vision floor layouts. Then I move the furniture around and walk out of the room and walk back in (several times), testing my theory. Tilt the chair this way and that, move a piece of furniture out.
     When our daughter Johanna was four, we were moving furniture out of the living room where she was watching Sesame Street. Henry and I had had a heated discussion that had to keep going through the furniture move. Our "discussion" wasn't about moving furniture but something more personal. We are moving the sofa "discussing". It isn't anything I am proud of but we had to move that furniture right then because the carpet cleaning people were coming any minute. As we moved furniture out, the "discussion" ensued. Two days later when we went to move the furniture back in the room (we were calmer), Johanna wailed, "NO...NO....DON'T MOVE THE FURNITURE.
     Now I move most of the furniture without help (if I can) and then call on various family members to help me move the impossible pieces. I have become a master at putting my back against furniture and prying it into place using my feet to propel the unwielding pieces. Also, have my own toolbox of moving casters that are sure handy. Before they came out, I often made my own casters of recycled plastic tubs & lids. I don't ask for help not because no one is willing to help. It is more I don't really want much input. Few people understand that a room must feel the right way. The configuration must be happy aesthetically and functionally. If it were up to my husband, every room would have an oversized recliner and a table nearby big enough for snacks, the remote and magazines and newspapers. Each to his/her own domain dreams.
     In re-arranging my sewing room (aka: studio), I have put the furniture in nearly every configuration I can imagine. My main goal is to have a workable area for myself, combining an area for my computer to visit and for my lifelong passion of drawing, doodling and messy types of crafts....paint, decoupage and the like. I am almost there but have realized that my storage concepts are really lacking aesthetically. I have solicited the help of Studio magazines which has been a huge inspiration as well as the advice of friends. Some friends tell me they have taken over their grown children's bedroom closets, bought every tote system on the planet to forfeiting excess only to find themselves with need for tons of storage for other tools and fabric and more.
     Having a plethora of books and patterns, I know I need more shelves. Having more than my share of started projects (I don't call them UFOs because the term "un-finished" is a bit defeating), I need to employ the use of baskets and am working that through. I have always loved the open wire baskets that glide on runners.
     When I was recently in Denver at Lynda and Nancy's studio, they use the wire basket system to an art form with baskets ready for all their forms of machine applique. It was SOOO inspiring. I also have a lot of thread. I am thinking of systems that I have seen and am most inspired by Libby Lehman's collection and storage that I'd seen in Quilter's Home and more recently on The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims. Nancy Halvorson has sent me photographs of her custom-built system for notions and threads that is stunning and so incredibly functional.
     So, I am still taking the shared genius of these and other helpful friends to my sewing room. The stack of magazines and books next to my bed has made my puppy have to move her bed a little further away lest the stack would threaten to attack her in the night.
     Do you have things you love about your sewing space? Do you have areas of concern that you wish could be improved upon?
     all the best to you....jill

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Day at LaVeta

If you were to close your eyes and vision a location in your mind where time stood still and you soaked up all the beauty of the land around you….where would it be?  Perhaps it is the morning sun coming up on the beach in North Carolina, sounding the alarm to all the night creatures on the beach to retreat.  The sun warming the sand and casting shadows on the ridges made by the tide.  Perhaps it is the stretch of the prairie across along a roadway that yawns into the distance.  While some think there is more beauty elsewhere, there can be a timeless feeling of floating along on the roadway, eyes scanning the horizon for silhouettes of animals and houses as the grasses and grains dance in the sunshine.  And time stood still when you watched snowflakes dance in the mountain air.  You look up and see the mountains disappear as the dance of slow-floating flakes gathers into a cacophony of snow and mist that shrouds the horizon and majesty of mountains.
Have you never had hours slow down to a timelessness?  It might be time to give your mind a chance to dream.  Ironically, as children most of us can remember a time when we lay on the lawn and stared at the clouds for even a little bit of time.  As we mature, we are chided to be practical, to be systematic, to have good reason for our actions.  The child in school who stares off into space is reprimanded.  The message is loud and clear that to be mature one must be practical and take sensible measures of discipline to quiet the child within us.  We often lose touch with this skill of visioning and yet few of us would be the intelligent beings we are had we not made good use of dreaming and pondering, embracing the timeless.
Of late, our son Teddy has been wrangling through a knee injury.  I’ve had the privilege to spend a good amount of time in 2010 in Colorado Springs with Teddy as he prepared for and had surgery.  Teddy is a student at the Air Force Academy.  His life is one of structure and systems, protocols and strict disciplines.  However, as we as a family have come to know and become endeared to the family of instructors, cadets, officers and practices of USAFA, we have watched as disciplines are leveraged on the cadets and yet there is always freedoms that they enjoy.  Hiking in the mountains, skiing now and again, the adrenaline of competitiveness in sports and even the pranks of young over-absorbed cadets are all expressions of creative release for these officers-in-training.  The practice of stepping back is an integral part of their lives. 
Connecting with being a visionary is not just for poets and artists.  All of us need times of wakeful rest, dreaming with your eyes open.  It is in these moments of timeless wonder that we find new concepts, new routes and a fresh appreciation for all that is parallel and all that is contrasting. 
While in Colorado, Teddy and I accepted an invitation from our friends Ricky and Justin to visit them in their hometown of LaVeta, Colorado.   Ricky Tims is a quilt artist, musician and a true visionary in so many ways that combine nature and art.   
We were graced with Ricky as our guest at our store in the Spring of 2009.   An accomplished composer and musician, Ricky Tims honored us with a concert and walk through his journey as a quilter and artist.   We also had the chance to soak up valuable information that brought quilting to a new level in Cedar Rapids.  Ricky has the gift of taking simple and intricate techniques and make them achievable to the point that even a novice can celebrate being a quilt artist.
Checking the map, we discovered we would trek a journey that take us through desert and mountains.  It was in every way a trip of wonderment and beauty.  Seeing the land stretch out and ranches surrounded by dots of grasses and grains slowed down our world.  Teddy and I watched in amazement as the interstate until the roads split off into narrow roadways in the desert landscape.   I could have run the video camera the whole trip.
At first I’d thought there were hills in the distance.  Then we watched a stretch of the Rockies rise as giants from the earth slowly as we neared them.  The stretch of desert, wide gaping prairies and mountains spoke to me of that which I have heard Ricky and Justin tell of their beloved view of Colorado.  The drive neared a sacred journey as we began to feel time stand still before us.  Brushes of snow and red earth painted color and inspiration all about us.
The closer we came to LaVeta, the more wildlife we saw with rabbits skittering through the grasses and deer wandering.  I also reminded myself that there are probably snakes out there too.  Hmm…better to enjoy this from the road.
When we pulled into the small town of LaVeta, the charm of the town unfolded before us.  Driving at a leisurely pace, we enjoyed the town as if it was a delicious buffet of variety and charm.   We slowed down with great reverence trying to soak up every inch of this town that looks as if it sprouted up out of the desert.  Truly, seeing Ricky on the steps of the studio was a chance for me to really see him more at home than I’d ever seen him.  His warm "howdy" smile was so fitting for pulling up on LaVeta.
I so admire Ricky Tims' work for his creative expression.   Being invited to his studio to spend a day with Ricky and Justin was such a treat and a great day trip.   Having had the privilege of hosting Ricky as a guest in Cedar Rapids was transfixing as we watched the magic of his music and the artistry of his sewing unfold in front of all of us. 
Visiting the town of LaVeta was a chance to see the heart of his inspiration.  Having heard his presentation, one becomes very aware that his passion for people.  Although, you don’t have to see his presentation to know he is a passionate and creative being.  Just his easy smile, the embrace of his music and his outreach with his publications and audio and video work.  Seeing their view of LaVeta and the landscape of mountains and desert, I could absolutely see why Ricky and Justin so love their LaVeta.   Being a midwest girl, I am always stunned by the mountain vistas and the stark contrast of the desert landscape.
Then there was the charm of LaVeta as a small town.  We ate lunch at the local dinner.  Patty melts, french fries a special steak salad for Ricky and banter with the locals was a fabulous reminder at how much the ordinary is a special gift that Ricky and Justin share with their LaVeta.  A village unfettered by covenants that restrict the color of your house (we saw several in lovely shades of fluorescent purple and orange) or restrict the local wildlife from making a lunch of the few plants on your lawn, LaVeta looks to be home for some who have been there for generations and for many others looking to escape the urban sprawl.  It was very clear that the “small town” of LaVeta attracted artists and visionaries.  Each home and yard seemed to be voice for the character of the dwellers as the homes were embellished with art of all natures and the yards as well were unique expressions.  Then there were homes that looked as if they might have come right from any of our neighborhoods in all manners of grooming. 
We got a chance to chat about what happens in LaVeta when visitors come for The Quilt Show or retreats.  The town's population must be doubled for those days as visitors and screening crew comes in for the visits of your favorite quilters and Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson.  The LaVeta Inn must be a hoppin' as it is next door to the Studio.  I recall a designer once questioning why she would go to LaVeta.  Being so far from airports and city living, it surely could be a long journey to find LaVeta.  I would have to say if I heard that again from anyone, I would debate the topic.  I would visit LaVeta just to thumb my nose at city lights.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being in the city as well; but often small towns are shamed by their lack of offerings.  If one doesn’t find a cappuccino in LaVeta, you probably didn’t need it anyway. 
When I had the quilt shop in Cresco, Iowa, I once recall a visiting teacher telling other national teachers that she was appalled that the salad bar had cottage cheese and chocolate pudding…after where were the bean sprouts.  As farm community, the locals might well have questioned why one would eat the sprouts that yield better in their fields than atop their cottage cheese.
And so it was with lunch in LaVeta.   We complimented the cook as we leaned into the kitchen as we left.
In the Studio, we got a chance to enjoy the fabric dying rooms.  The room is designed with two dying stations with facing sinks.   Talk about being in the candy room.  How yummy it was to see those fabulous cuts stacked up.  The line of fabric dyes and finished product was so inspiring, I wanted to just start cutting and sewing.  It was like being in front of a new box of colored pencils, I just wanted to play with the colors.  On the wall was a new fabric dye artist’s recent masterpiece.  While I am sure it was just a toss together, it reminded me again of how the desert and mountains and snow were a toss together of artistry. 
I was taking pictures of the most ordinary things.  Ready to be scolded by Teddy, I apologized for being camera happy.  Ricky smiled and assured me he does the same thing all the time. 
One of my favorite pieces in the studio was a simple Convergence Quilt done with the hand-dyed fabrics.  Sitting as sentinel at the door, it is a greeting and a reminder of Ricky’s journey.   I love that Ricky has done Convergence Quilts in so many different manners that he often doesn't understand peoples' continued fascination with convergence.  I think that speaks to the artistry of Ricky Tims' work and how generous he is with sharing his talent and his teaching.  Convergence quilting has brought so many people to their first touch with art quilting.  I know for all of us at the store, the unfolding of Convergence was one of the most fulfilling quilting experiences we have had. 
I started this post with a challenge to dream.  I also started with visions of what your dreams might look like.  My dreams have always been in color and texture.  When I saw Ricky's simple Convergence piece, I was struck with the simplicity and complexity of it.  While I was reminded that many of my customers would (if this were their own piece) look at it and say, "I need to get it quilted."  Need is for food and water.  This Convergence had a need to be inspiring and thus it is framed and it is doing its job....inspiring.  I am also reminded of a comment I gathered from Judy Martin nearly 20 years ago in a class I took with her.   Judy was telling of her quilts and the color choices and using scraps.  Someone asked how she quilts her quilts.  She looked puzzled and simply said, "When they are pieced.  I am done."  I loved how matter-of-fact she was about it.  The expression was her piecing (if you've seen Judy's quilts you know the art of her work). 
Paintings on the wall of one of the offices, looked incredibly familiar.  Like seeing an old friend, I was drawn to the native-like painting.  Sure enough....the wall painting was part of the cover of the audio CD, Sacred Age.  Even the walls are art.  The ordinary of his home and office blooms into his music.  Now as I listen to Sacred Age, I can close my eyes and see the mountains around LaVeta and can feel the brush of the texture of the images of a time long gone. 
We got to take a road trip “up the mountain”.  LaVeta is nestled between the Rockies and a smaller mountain range, the Spanish Peaks.  Having Ricky as a tour guide, we enjoyed the telling of the formation of the mountain range and his pointing out geographic highlights.  Winding the steep turns up what would likely be considered a small mountain, we perused the closed ski resort.  Ricky and Justin shared the stories of how there is hope that the resort will once again be opened, bringing tourists to the area.  While not like the busy resorts of the Rockies, it is surely a respectable local site.  A small collection of businesses nearby seems to challenge the area to live up to its beautiful and tour-worthy stature.  In fact, as we wound up the road, we enjoyed the hearing Ricky and Justin describe not only unfamiliar parts of the landscape but also describing what it looks like in summer and spring and fall.
After a full day of fun touring and seeing, we said our good-byes to the girls (Ricky and Justin have adopted four beautiful ladies…who are ever so happy with rollicking around their LaVeta homestead).  It was sure hard to leave, and Teddy and I did one more drive around the town before we made our way back to the main roads.  As we drove off and saw the Spanish Peaks disappear in our rear view mirror, we could feel the tug of LaVeta. 
Ricky and Justin have invited us to bring guests for a taping of The Quilt Show.  Who wants to go?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Possibilites...An Amazing Experience

Having been a sewer for as long as I can imagine (I swear I came out of the womb with thread in my grasp), I have had the privilege of being a sewing gadget and publication junkie.  And, while I was a garment sewer for a long time and quilting grew on me when my kids were toddlers, my first publications were very few but I have noticed that I have nearly every publication from Nancy Smith and Lynda Milligan of Possibilites and The Great American Quilt Factory.  I have made their teddy bears, dolls (yes, dolls) and early quilt patterns (paper dolls).  Of all the things I have kept, every one of theirs have remainded part of my collection.  I guess I was a "groupie" long before I even knew who Nancy and Lynda were. 

In the last few years, I have had the honor and privilege to get to know them and Ashley Smith (daughter of Nancy) better.  Knowing them in this business has even more enamored me to their work, their passion and their spirit. 

While travelling with my son Teddy, I was able to carve out some time to trek to Denver to visit their store and to spend time with them.  I am even more amazed at their energy and their creativity and their store.  Along with getting to see their staff helping out on a very busy day, we made time for some lunch and fun conversation.  It was a great time and gave me a fabulous perspective.  As business owners, many believe we control our schedules and can come and go as we please.  Not so.  Taking time off in a busy day often means we will be taking lots of work home.  Yet, they took the time to spend away from the store a bit to enjoy lunch and for a chance to share with me a very fabulous view of Denver that I never would have seen had it not been for Ashley's adventuresome spirit and our willingness to try something different! 

When we made our way back to the store, I was busy chatting and getting ready to take some pictures of their amazing, amazing store before I left.  When I looked around and didn't find Nancy and Lynda, I was a bit embarassed that I had likely taken them from their office duties.  It was so refreshing to see them moving into action FAST.  Like myself, they enjoy getting out and being with customers and sharing their love first hand.  So, I snapped pictures of them cutting fabric for customers.  This is humbling and rewarding when one considers how incredibly talented these women are and how far their reach has been in our industry.  Yet, they reach into what got them into the business in the first place....just like so many of us....a passion to share with others their love for creating and sharing. 

I had hoped for pictures with them before I left but am carrying long with me the memory of their cheerful service and their genuine (and warm) welcome to me as I interrupted their day.   I will never forget their generous service and welcome to their customers and to me as a visitor.  Not only is their work inspiring, but THEY are personally and professionally inspiring!

They remain some of my favorite designers and people I respect. 

One other touching thing I found in their store were the quilts of other designers in their offices.  When asked about the quilts, there was such reverence for the designers in their voices of their willingness to share with them.  Perhaps my favorite was from one of my all time favorite designers and people, Libby Lehman.  An early rendition of her ribbon work but done in applique. 

Amazing people.....all of them.  I am truly blessed to enjoy their company.  Such an inspiring day!

All the Best to You, jill

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Holidays Behind Us and Balance Ahead

Our daughter Monica was given a new puppy for Christmas...when lively, little Layla was out of control in the sewing room, we tried to corral her in my Bernina suitcase.  While she was cute, she didn't stay there long.  I think my daughter was hoping the case would be a good puppy tote to go home...but since it is my favorite and Layla didn't find it a good home, it is still mine. 

It was a wild time at our house with a new puppy and two grown Schnauzers (mine and Therese's).  Olive, Macy and Layla got along just fine.  The sewing room was their favorite haunt since there are so many tables to chase each other around or maybe it is just the good company and good karma of the room!

Two of our daughters got Aurifil thread cases full of a huge array of 40-weight threads.  Monica exclaimed, "How will I use all this thread?"  She must not have been thinking!  We amended her thinking in moments, deciding she might need a visit to the sewing room to get her sewing heart jump started and get some sense back into her.

It is always humorous to see what brings delight in the givers and the receivers of gifts.  Often the oddest things will bring such attention.  Teddy was given a package of pickle band-aids.  Yes, shaped like pickles and colored like them too.  You would have thought he got a new car.  He promptly pulled up his pant leg and planted a band-aid on his recently injured knee.  When I was taking him back to school, he commented twice on how much he likes those pickle band-aids.  Who would have thought?

And then there are those gifts that fit the non-sewers in our lives just about as well as a sewing machine and more fabric.  Our son-in-love, Joel, loves to hunt and Monica is making sure that he is plenty warm.  I am not sure Therese is so wild about Joel's new warm-wear.  I will get a kick out of the day he wears it to work.  Monica's boyfriend Carel was given a Sawz-All.  Well, his expression says it all.  I believe he just got the sewing machine of his choice.  Being a new home owner, he already has plans for his remodeling projects. 

At any rate, whatever one got for Christmas, I am hoping that everyone found some time for some balance...some rest, some laughter, some sharing, some quiet time.  I really do think it is a good lesson for us to take into 2010.  For me, a good amount of time spending with the family and relaxing was the perfect lesson for the start of my new year.  While I can't always control how much my obligations press upon me or the level of stress that surrounds me, I know that  I can control the amount of time and attention I afford those things with the good things of family, of friends, of quiet and of rest. 

Recently Jim West asked his Facebook friends to describe the New Year in one word.  Mine is BALANCE.  It is very clear to me every day that I can't be everything to everyone.  Since Happiness is a Choice, I need to be very careful to create my own definitions for what happiness will be for me lest someone else would try to decide it for me.

More time to sew, to write, to enjoy my family and friends, to look after the most simple of solutions and always....always seek balance. 

I clearly remember the day I mastered bike riding.  Being the oldest of three children close in age, I was very frustrated that mastering the bicycle didn't come as easy to me as my siblings.  Yet, I clearly remember being told that you shouldn't think about falling down.  Staying up on a bike means you need to think about riding a bike rather than not.  I actually quit working at it and will never forget the morning I woke very early so as to meet up with (and show) my dad before he left for his day painting houses.  What a thrill it was for me to glide BALANCED down the street, ease around and scoop back to see his smile for me.   That is my hope for 2010...  All the Best to You, jill