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My Once and Future Doll

January 22, 2011

16-inch Waldorf doll

This is Lydia.  Or rather, this WAS Lydia.  She was a 16-inch Waldorf doll that I made back in October, just in time for the Fryeburg Fair.  She was beautiful, but I took her apart.  *sigh*

You see, I’m working on a pattern for a 16-inch Waldorf doll, and it has to be perfect.  Lydia was not perfect.  Beautiful, yes, but not PERFECT.

Ordinarily, my philosophy is that dolls and quilts (like children and marriages) don’t have to be perfect to be successful.  It’s a good philosophy.  I’m sure I’d be a happier person if I learned to apply it more consistently in my life.

On the other hand, when I put a pattern out for sale, that definitely has to be as close to perfection as I can muster.  So I’m agonizing over all sorts of details:

  • EXACTLY how long should the legs be? the arms?
  • should the doll be completely traditional Waldorf, or a bit more modern and shapely?
  • should I use the all-in-one or attached leg style … or include both?
  • should the arms be button-joined or hinge-jointed?
  • will my customers prefer to make these choices, or have me decide for them?  (right now, I’m wishing someone would decide for ME!)

Poor Lydia.  She will probably be reincarnated several times before I’m satisfied.  I should have named her Bridey Murphy.


The Agony and the Ecstasy

September 10, 2010

Fabrics that look fabulous side-by-side on the bolt will not necessarily play nicely together in your quilt. This unfortunate fact probably accounts for 80% of the fabrics in my stash (a not altogether unwelcome side effect).

Such was the case with my current butterfly quilt for Chloe.

The butterflies were easy enough: just sift through my stash to find a dozen wonderful pairings, representing every color in the rainbow. Each block needed to stand on its own, but there was no coordinating to be done among them; variety was the goal.

So I told my niece to choose anything she liked for the sashing and border.

At first I was delighted with the fabrics she sent: an airy calligraphic floral on a pale green background for the sashing, a mod green and blue geometric for the setting squares, and a bright stripe for the border. The stripe picked up the pink, blue and greens from the other two, and added a zip of red. My niece had done a nice job of mixing up the textures and color density. It was going to be a fun quilt.

Or maybe not.

The sashing came together nicely with the blocks.  The quilt was looking good. But oh, that stripe for the border!  Nope, not going to work.  So I was off to the quilt shop.

The first foray yielded a broad stripe in sour apple green and deep burgundy, overlaid with bold  pink and orange flowers. The colors seemed right. The style and mood of the print seemed right. I took advantage of the shop’s classroom to unfold several yards alongside my quilt top. Perfect!

Back at home, it was perfectly awful. What was I thinking? Was there something odd about the light in the shop? Suddenly the apple green looked like baby-poo yellow, and the burgundy looked more like balsamic vinegar than wine.

Once more at the shop, I resigned myself to shopping the full-price bolts, and not just the bargain table. (Sometimes there’s a good reason why those fabrics have been marked down!)

After endless deliberation, I settled on a sweet dragonfly print.  It seemed a little tame, but by that point I was feeling the deadline pressure, so I succumbed to my safer instincts.

At least for the front of the quilt.

I still had in mind that I’d make use of the original stripe for the back.  It was my niece’s choice, after all.  So I got a lime green textural print, planning to combine the two fabrics in a classic strippy for the backing.  The vivid lime held its own with the loud stripe, while the finely textured print balanced the busy-ness of the stripes.

With just a narrow intermediate border of my niece’s stripe between the sashing and the main border, the dragonflies worked nicely.  Not so my brilliantly-conceived strippy backing. Even on the back of the quilt, that clanging stripe shouted down everything else in the quilt.

Back at the shop for round three, I found a sky-blue textural print that could be combined with narrow strips of the blue/green geometric.  It was another safe choice.  On the back of the quilt, it didn’t make me feel quite so timid.

So that was the agony part.  I’m still a little doubtful, waiting for the ecstasy of seeing it come together.  In another two weeks I’ll have all the quilting done (I hope!), and I’ll show you the final result.

Meanwhile, do you have any ideas about what to do with all the leftover fabric?

Everything I Know About Appliqué, I Learned at Summer Camp

July 26, 2010


 Did you go to summer camp as a kid?  I did not, but I’ve more than made up for it as an adult. 

There were the years of summer Boy Scout camp when my two sons were young, and an unforgettable 8 days of women-only canoeing with the Voyageur Outward Bound school

And then there was Quilt Camp.

Perhaps the best Mothers Day gift in the history of the world, my husband sent me and my Mom to Quilting by the Lake in Syracuse, NY.  We took a marvelous class, Wonderful World of Appliqué, with the incomparable Nancy Lee Chong. 

I was a novice quilter at the time, pretty well intimidated by every aspect of quilt making.  Nancy taught a truly “stress-free” approach to hand appliqué,.  I can still hear her saying, “Just breeeeathe…”   I was intantly hooked.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of appliqué.  Over the years I’ve added my own little cheats … er … TRICKS, to Nancy’s method.  Needle-turn hand appliqué is still by far my favorite, but I’ve learned that there’s a place for fusible and machine appliqué as well.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be posting some photo tutorials on various appliqué methods, along with some fun free projects to use for practice.  Check back soon.

Butterfly Races

May 31, 2010

Once in a while, several unrelated needs converge in one perfect solution .  There’s a word for that, I’m sure,  though I can’t come up with it to save my life. 

At this moment, I need 3 things:

a)  a quilt to enter in the Fryeburg Fair this fall;

b)  a quilt for my grand neice’s “grown-up” bed;

c) some pleasant and portable stitching to take on a month-long journey out West (we leave on Wednesday).

The answer:  a butterfly quilt!  Chloe will love it at age 6, but won’t outgrow it by the time she’s 16.  I can work the applique blocks one at a time while traveling, and get it quilted in time for the fair.  Perfect! 

So I’m off to the races with my butterflies.  Will I finish in time for the fair?  Stay tuned …..

The quilt in the photo is a lap quilt I made in 2005 as a wedding gift for my friend and co-worker, Helen.  The pattern is “September Butterfly,” by Lisa Boyer, author of That Dorky Homemade Look and Stash Envy 

The story of this quilt is another example of  convergence, though of a different kind. 

Helen and her fiance made a trip to Hawaii.  Upon her return, she told me about a lovely quilt she saw there, and her disappointment that the quilt was not for sale, only the pattern. 

Hmmm …. I thought, was this a potential wedding gift? 

Checking out Lisa Boyer’s web site, I found the pattern, with this annotation:  “I was just sewing the binding onto this quilt when I happened to turn on the television–on the morning of September 11, 2001. Up until that day, I hadn’t selected a name. I decided to dedicate this quilt to all those souls who were set free that day.”

I knew instantly that this was the quilt I must make for Helen.  You see, on the morning that Lisa was sewing the binding on her quilt, Helen and I escaped together from the 67th floor of 2 World Trade Center (the South Tower).  We’ve been close friends ever since.


Pearls Before Swine

May 22, 2010

My favorite neice has requested a quilt.  This will be her third, and I’m delighted.  Other than my mother (forever my most loyal fan), my neice is the only person who has ever asked me for a quilt.  Can you guess why she’s my favorite?

I don’t often give my quilts as gifts.  I’ve tried to let my kids know (without actually offering) that they are welcome to any quilts they like.  They haven’t asked, and that’s fine by me.  I quite understand that not everyone is as excited about my quilts as I am.  No hard feelings.  But (to put it bluntly) I’m not going to waste a potential heirloom piece on someone who’s just not into it. 

Some years ago, I made a hand-crochet baby set for a friend — sweater, hat, booties, afghan — the works.  It was gorgeous, and my friend was very pleased. 

“You do beautiful work,” she said.  “You’d almost never know it was home-made.”

Oh, dear.  Maybe the Macy’s gift certificate would have been a better choice.

On the other hand, there was the baby set I crocheted for my sister.  When my own son was born a year later, she packed it up and sent it to me with a note:  “I thought you’d love using this as much as I did, but I want it back.”

Yes, my sister also has one of my quilts.  I, in turn, have two treasured embroidered birth samplers she made for my boys.

So, I don’t often share my handmade stuff.  Am I stingy?  Am I a snob?  What do you think?

Civic Pride

May 11, 2010

One of the advantages of living in a small community is that fame comes easily.  (The flip side of that is that notoriety comes even easier. )

I achieved modest local renown when my quilts took top honors at the Fryeburg Fair 2 years in a row.  But that was 2 years ago.  Such fleeting glory.

Last year, I had no quilt at the fair.  I’d spent the winter piecing multiple large quilt tops, but quilted none of them.  My neighbors were shocked and disappointed.  I suppose they were hoping for a longer winning streak for the “home team.”  I’d let them down. 

I resolved to be back in the game in 2010. 

Well, then the new puppy came, wouldn’t sit still on my lap while I quilted …  I started making dolls …

To make a long story short, it is now May; the fair is in October.  I’m a VERY long way from finishing a quilt. 

There’s only one solution:  all cooking and cleaning will be suspended until the quilt is done.

Sometimes you have to be firm about setting priorities.

Until the 12th of Never

April 25, 2010

There are two kinds of people in the world:  those who make quilts, and those who ask, “how long did that take?”

I have a standard answer:  “Oh,” I say,”forever and a day, or maybe a day and a half, if it’s a big one.”  Of couse, I quilt by hand.  Machine quilters do it much faster. 

There are two kinds of quilters in the world:  those who finish a lot of quilts. and those who quilt by hand.

I don’t mind not finishing a lot of quilts.  For me, quilting is much more about the process than the finished product, and I enjoy all parts of the process. 

And there certainly are a lot of parts to the process.  Think about it.  Even before you’ve sewn a stitch, there are all the design elements to decide:  blocks, setting, sashing, borders, etc.  Then there’s choosing the fabrics, which involves shopping, auditioning, more shopping …   

When I started quilting, I took a very linear approach.  Choose just one pattern, purchase fabric for just that one quilt.  Piece it.  Baste it.  Quilt it.  Done.  Next quilt …

As my confidence (and my stash) grew, I started taking the steps out of order.  You know, like buying fabric first, before having any idea of what to do with it.  Or sewing a bunch of random blocks before having any particular quilt in mind. 

Working multiple quilts and taking the steps out of order is a great antidote for impatience.  If I’ve been piecing blocks for days, and start feeling itchy to be quilting, there’s always some other project in the quilting phase that I can turn to.

It’s exactly because quilting takes so much time, that none of the steps can be rushed.  Sometimes I’ll take months just to get all the fabrics exactly right. After all, if I’m going to spend the time to quilt the thing, it had better be gorgeous. 

That’s also why you won’t catch me buying magazine with headlines like, “Make a quilt in a weekend!”  Could a quilt that’s done qo quickly really be worth spending ANY time on?  I’m skeptical.  I’m also sure that many other quilters think I’m completely nuts.

It’s kind of like the old saw, if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.  Well, if you care how long it takes, you don’t have time.