It looks like August was a light reading month for me. That's partly because we were on vacation for 2 weeks of the month and partly because some of the books are very long.
My two "serious" books, The Admirals and Witness, will not appeal to many but I enjoyed both of them and am very happy that I read Witness.
I liked all of the non-fiction books except Luck and Judgement.
What have you read this month that you loved?
by Walter Borneman, Narrated by Brian Troxell
Well I kicked off the month with a long and serious one. I'll just start off by saying that biographies aren't for everyone. I like them because I retain history lessons better when told through the individuals that were key to the event. I'm horrid with chronological dates.
I don't even know why I picked up this particular book. Although Chris was in the Navy and his Dad was on the USS Luce when it was sunk by a Japanese Kamakaze pilot (he survived) I've never been interested in US Naval history. This one appealed to me because of the uniqueness of these 4 particular men. They are the only Admirals in US Naval history to have been awarded 5 stars. The books was also an Audible Deal of the Day and it had great reviews.
Surprisingly, even to me, I loved it. Yes, it's about the events of the war but it's mostly about these 4 men, their lives, their roles in the war and their distinct personalities. If you are into this kind of book I thin you will really enjoy this one.
The Time it Never Rained
by Elmer Kelton, Narrated by George Guidall
This book was initially published in 1973 but it's still a great story over 4 decades later. It centers around Charlie Flagg, a cattle and sheep rancher in West Texas. He has always struggled but has kept his ranch going decade after decade. When an extended drought settles in he holds out against government programs meant to help and tries to hold his ranch, life and freedom together until the rains come again.
As you are listening to this you feel the slow pace of ranch life and although it's a slow tale you slow down to pace with it instead of getting frustrated. The book really draws you in to live with and to see life from the various perspective of each character. While it's a "old" story, much of what's dealt with parallels things we read about in current events. I really enjoyed this listen.
by Ann Cleeves, Narrated by Gordon Griffin
This is the third book in the Shetland Island series. I admit that I sometimes have trouble following some of the names but I like Inspector Jimmy Perez and some of the quirky characters that live on these remote islands.
It all starts with a young archaeologist finding some ancient bones. Soon the elderly woman who owns the property is killed. What looks like an accidental shooting turns into something else when the archaeologist commits suicide.
It was a great vacation read while I was stitching a lot of shibori while enjoying the beautiful August weather in Maine.
The Burning Room
By Michael Connelly
Although I have this linked to the Audible book I actually read this one in paper. It was one of the books I read while were were on vacation.
This is #19 in the Harry Bosch series. Harry is working cold cases and is teamed up with a new detective, Lucy Soto. They start on one cold case but end up working 3.
There's not much to say about liking or not liking this book because I love all of the Bosch novels. I read Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Kyle Mills and Anne Perry when I want a no-risk great read. Even though I read the paper version I notice that Titus Welliver is now narrating the Bosch books. That seems like a good idea since he is playing Bosch in the TV series.
by Anne Perry
This is #13 in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. It's not available in audio so I took my vacation trip as an opportunity to read the paperback. In this one Thomas and Charlotte are investigating the murder of a judge who is connected to another case that's 5 years old.
I continue to enjoy this series. Anne Perry is an excellent writer and makes you feel that she bringing you right into Victorian England.
Luck and Judgement
by Peter Grainger, Narrated by Gildart Jackson
This is the 3rd book in the DC Smith detective series. I have not read the first 2 books so this must have been an Audible Deal of the Day and, honestly, I didn't care for it.
The story opens with the report of a worker missing from a North Sea oil rig. It seems to be a simple case of accidental death but DC Smith isn't so sure and continues the investigation back onshore.
The plot line is actually really interesting but the characters came off kind of flat to me and there's an annoying amount of sarcasm in EVERY conversation. The dialogue is 10x too clever and it ultimately turned me off. I listened to this on vacation and found myself falling asleep when I was listening to it.
I will say that the Audible review for this book are outstanding so you might want to try the first one in the series to see if you like it.
by Whittaker Chambers, Narrated by John MacDonald
Witness was first published in 1952 and is the true story of Whittaker Chambers' work as a member of the Communist Party spying for the Soviet Union. It is also the story of how Chambers exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy.
Chris and I had about 35 hours of driving for our vacation trip and chose this book (at 30 hours) to listen to during our drive time.
We are both shocked that this book wasn't part of our history study in school. It is a profound book about a critical point in US history. It's also a human nature story because Chambers shares a lot of information to explain how and why this American chose to join the Communist Party, what being a party member requires and what brought him to leave the party and ultimately expose other party members.
I believe this book is as relevant today as it was in 1952 and we are both glad that we read it. Reading it is an undertaking. The detail is, at times, excruciating, but you realize that it is all really necessary and worthwhile.
We arrived home Sunday from 2 glorious weeks in Maine. We spent one week on Sebec Lake near Dover-Foxcroft and one week at Acadia. The weather in Maine in August is a perfect break from the heat and humidity of Virginia. It gave my asthma a much-needed break. But I can't leave home without some projects. One of the projects that I took was sun printing supplies.
I wasn't sure I'd have a good place or good weather to do sun printing but I was prepared with everything I needed just in case and I was not disappointed! The camp on Sebec Lake was in a wooded area but also has a large cleared yard. I had plenty of sun and lots of plant material.
My first concern was to make sure that I didn't leave any evidence behind. I set up a plastic tablecloth for my work surface so that I didn't get one drop of paint on the ground.
I started by mixing some paints to try to make a palette. that didn't last very long because I ran out of these colors but wanted to keep printing. In the end I just mixed colors until I got tired of printing. I think I have about 2 ounces of paint left from about 12!
The fabric pieces are about 20" square because that's the size that worked for my print board. I only took one board so I set up my lawn chair nearby and I'd read a chapter or 2 of a Harry Bosch novel between each print session. It was a beautiful and relaxing day.
Ferns are some of the most fun things to print. The images are always really crisp.
Here are 15 of the 19 or 20 fabrics that I printed. I did a little of everything: leaves, ferns, pines boughs, grasses and acorns. It's a good mix of sharp and faded images. I'm going to use these to make a Maine quilt for us. It may just simple 8 or 10-inch squares or some variation of The Gift Quilt Pattern.
Now I have another UFO!
The fabric of the week this week is the Wild Black Cherry Shades Pack and it's
on sale 20% off through Thursday! Shades Packs are dyed when ordered so there's no limit to what you can buy. If you order multiple quantities it comes as one cut. For example, order 2 quantities for 1/2 yard cuts. Orders received by Wednesday morning (EST) will be shipped September 5. Ordered placed after Wednesday morning will be shipped September 11.
Three new gradients!
There are 3 new gradients this week too.
A couple of years ago I had another shibori book that I used to make a lot of samples of shibori fabric. You can see them all in my shibori gallery. It was a very good exercise and I've never pressured myself to do anything with those pieces. It was all about the learning.
Earlier this year this book came out. I believe that most books that are published in the craft arena are pretty much crap but this one is outstanding. So I'm going to start a new personal sibori series and this one will focus on all stitched motifs. I think I'll take a chapter a month and do as many pieces as I can. You are welcome to stitch and dye along with me. If you think you want to do this but don't want to dye them contact me and we can work out something where I can dye your pieces for you.
Let me give you a peek into the book so you can see if you want to buy it to work through it yourself.
There's single layer stitching.
Machine stitched resists and tons more.
In the book that I used before the designs were mostly historical and traditional designs and most were out of my skill set. This book is different. Jane Callender gives very detailed instructions and I've already learned some great techniques that I didn't grasp before.
I took the book and some fabrics on vacation the past 2 weeks and got started on some stitching. It was great work for the 14 hour card drive in each direction. Now I have to figure out if I want to dye them traditional blue (like the last set I made) or go in a different direction. Meanwhile I'll keep stitching and will try to show progress at least once a month.
I'm going to finish up this series talking about the ultimate blankets: charity quilts. When I bought my first longarm it arrived the week before Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Alabama. You may remember that there was a huge quilt drive for Katrina quilts. I think that actually got really out of hand but I saw a great opportunity to practice on my new longarm and jumped right in. I bought a couple of quilt tops off eBay and got a few from my guild members.
I'm happy to tell you that I don't have any photos of those quilts. The quilting was pretty awful but they got done and I got practice!
New longarm owners often seek out charity quilts for practice and that's a great thing but you have to be careful that your charity quilting doesn't start to overwhelm you.
Set some rules around your charity quilting.
I quilt a lot of charity quilts for my quilt club. We donate lap size quilts to the local VA hospital. We've been doing it for several years and finish about 60 quilts each year. I decided that quilting them would be my contribution to charity quilting in addition to making 2 QOV quilts each year. I quilt up to 40 of the veterans quilts each year and I'm able to do that because I set some rules. Before you accept your first charity quilt you need to set some rules too or else you will be set up for burn out.
Here are my rules for the quilters:
Here are my rules for myself:
I don't have any problems with people trying to guilt me into quilting. Several of our members make quilts for other organizations. I don't quilt those quilts. Occasionally we make a large raffle quilt and I don't quilt those either. I've set the veterans quilts as my contribution.
You cannot do everything. Maybe your contribution will be baby quilts for the local hospital or the one raffle quilt that your guild makes every year or pet pads for the local shelter. Find the cause that is meaningful for you and doable with your schedule and focus on that. Here's what you say to everyone else:
"I'm sorry, I have quilts to fill my charity quota for the year. Do you want me to put you on the list for next year? I can call you when I'm ready to take another if you still have it them."
"I'm sorry, I can't commit to that deadline. I do charity quilts when I have time between my customer/personal quilts. It could be as long as 6 months before I can get to it."
"No, I'm sorry, I don't custom quilt charity quilts. I select the design and thread. If you need a specific design you will likely have to pay someone to quilt it for you."
It's also perfectly OK for you to decline to do any charity quilting. Do not let anyone guilt you into doing any quilt that you don't want to do.
Be firm about your rules to maintain your sanity. Remember that you are doing someone a favor. No one has any right to use your time for free without your full willingness.
I hope you've enjoyed the series this week. As I said Monday, this is a series that I've been wanting to writes for a long time. It's all the information that I wish someone has told me when I bought my first longarm in 2005.
In a couple of weeks I'll move all of these posts over to the tutorial section of the web so that they will be easier to find. On Monday we will be back to regular programming!
One of the cool things about getting into longarm quilting is that you are open to a whole new world of classes and tools to buy. I've been to Machine Quilter's Expo, Machine Quilter's Showcase (now defunct) and Birds of a Feather. I've bought dozens of quilting DVD's and watched hours of YouTube videos. I love the shows because there are so many classes to take in one weekend and so many kindred spirits to meet. But if you sign up for 3 full days of classes you can get very overwhelmed.
Be wary when you hear "this is the ONLY way to do this".
Listen to what the teachers have to say but remember that what they are teaching is what they figured out worked for them. That might or might not work for you but you have just learned another option to try.
Pick one thing from each class you take to practice.
Classes are only good if you practice what you learn. To get the most out of classes pick one thing from each class that you want to practice. WRITE IT DOWN at the class on a "NEXT PRACTICE" list. Then go home and load up some blankets and try them out.
I can't tell you how many classes I've taken that I never practiced. That's nothing but wasted money. Now I often prefer to buy one video, watch it a couple of times and then practice right away. I still go to shows because I love to network with other longarm quilters and I do take a few classes to learn specific things. I have even taken classes specifically to get the opportunity to try different brands of quilt machines. When you go to shows and classes set some goals for yourself ahead of time so you pick smart classes and set aside some practice time right after the show.
Find your own groove. You can't be great at everything.
As you go to quilt shows and study quilts online start paying attention to collections of quilts by different quilters. This is a photo of a quilt by Margaret Soloman Gunn that I took at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Show in 2016. Margaret has a very distinctive style. Bethanne Nemesch has a very distinctive style. So does Marilyn Badger, Jamie Wallen and Judi Madsen. They all have individual and identifiable styles.
The problem is that we take classes from all of them and then expect that we should be able to quilt like all of them. That's impossible!
This came to a head for me over leaves. Jamie Wallen's leaves to be specific. I love Jamie. He's a great teacher and I have several of his DVD's. He appropriately calls his style of quilting "mystical" and that perfectly describes it. I have tried over and over and over to quilt his leaves and his style of quilting.
I can't do it. It's just now how I think. I'm a better quilter because of what I've learned from him but you can't really see his influence in my quilting. That's OK.
I can't do Jamie's leaf but I can do MY leaf. This is my leaf. All of my leaves look like this.
While I love the fantastical quilting of Jamie and Bethanne and the formal feathers of Margaret, my true love is ruler work and fills. That's the kind of quilting that is joyful for me so that's pretty much all I do on my "quilts". I still experiment on blankets and I'll occasionally add some feathers but I stay pretty well set in my groove.
Take classes from teachers with all kinds of expertise. You will pick up nuggets of helpful information from all of them. But if what they are doing seems torturous for you then that's not for you and you just learned something!.
It's also OK if your groove is wavy lines. You can quilt every quilt forever with wavy lines. I know a quilter who basically does that. Her quilts are about the color, value and pattern of her quilts. The quilting is utilitarian. She still has a longarm and it does for her exactly what she wants it to. Don't pressure yourself. It's a tool and you need to make it work for you.
So, you've been practicing your quilting and are getting more comfortable with your machine and starting to really like what you are quilting.
Then you go to a quilt show and see this.
These are photos of quilts that I took at the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in 2016. I like to collect photos of details instead of whole quilts to store up quilting motif ideas. But the risk of doing this is that you start comparing your quilting to these and think you will never be this good.
Don't compare your quilting to others. Only compare your next quilt to the last one.
Back to the car analogy, NASCAR drivers didn't become NASCAR drivers in high school. The spend hours and hours working to build their racing skills. The same applies to the award-winning quilters. We tend to forget that they have hundreds of quilts under their belts that they had to quilt to be able to do the one that won Best of Show. That quilt that you are looking at didn't just take the hours they spent on it. It also took the two hundred quilts that came before it to be able to do it and a few of those were probably simple stippled quilts.
I have a quilt planned that I want to do some complex Spirograph motifs on. The thought of jumping in on that quilt overwhelmed me.
I decided to start easy with this Quilt of Valor. (I practice a lot on charity quilts.)
I started with some very simple motifs to get some experience with different ruler sizes and controlling my movement of the ruler.
Next I did this little quilt that has a little more complex motifs. Then I'm going to do a larger mandala and THEN I'll be ready for the "real" quilt.
If you are contemplating a quilt that you are procrastinating on that means that you aren't quite ready to do it. Write down the elements that you want to put in the quilt and identify the ones you aren't yet comfortable with and then pull out some of those blankets (or charity quilts) and start building the skills.
When you are at shows take all the photos you want for ideas but don't ever compare your work to theirs until you are at a point of preparing to enter shows yourself.
Hopefully after yesterday's post you have accepted that it's OK to practice on some of your real quilts. Today we are going to talk about some tips to make practicing as stress-free as possible and we are going to start with my personal quilting motto.
Crappy quilting, done consistently, looks great!
I know that sounds funny, but it's true.
Let's say that you are practicing spirals but your spirals are more square than round. No worries. If you will follow these simple tips for your practice pieces your quilt recipients will never know that you were learning on their blanket.
Pick a thread that blends and start with "easy" threads
When you are first starting out and practicing on your blankets, don't make the thread a feature of the quilt. Select a thread color that blends so that when the quilt is washed you will just see texture. Also don't get carried away trying a lot of different kinds of threads. Remember, your focus is on learning the machine and building brain and muscle memory. Don't add any other unnecessary complications like finicky threads. Great threads to start with include:
Polyester threads don't break as frequently as cotton threads and a thinner thread will not be as visible.
Don't rip out mistakes, no one else will notice them.
Unless you can see the mistake from 5 feet away no one else will notice it.
For the first 5 years of my quilting I ripped out every tiny bobble. You can imagine how long it took me to quilt a quilt! After giving away a few quilt blankets and hearing what people said about them I realized that no one looked at my quilting. They cared about the color and snuggle-ability and that's it.
You already know how to rip out stitches so unless the tension is way off or the mistake is an accidental 10" line across the quilt, leave it and continue working on what you wanted to learn.
Add a skill with each quilt.
Don't try to learn 15 new things with every quilt. Add one new skill with each quilt so you can focus on that particular skill.
Let's say that your first quilt was straight lines and now you want to start moving the machine diagonally.
Then for your next quilt you can add some diagonal lines to the straight line. This pattern is really simple and is a great one to practice diagonal movement, getting sharp corners and meeting lines at a point.
Think about the "real" quilt that you want to do first, identify all of the skills you will need to quilt it the way you want and then plan enough blankets to build the skills to quilt that quilt. Once you and your longarm have become one with each other you might want to do a quilt with stitch in the ditch and feathers. I'd apprach that by loading one quilt that square and SID the whole thing. The load another quilt and feather it to death. In both cases pick threads that will blend and don't sweat the mistakes.
DO NOT POINT OUT YOUR MISTAKES!
Yes, that's in all caps and I'm yelling it. Do not ever give a quilt to someone and start pointing out all of the things that are wrong with it.
Mom and I made this quilt for a wedding gift for my nephew and his new wife. When I quilted it I did a poor job of basting and wound up with 2 big pleats in the back. I did not rip out the stitching. I hand stitched down the pleats and gave the quilt to the young couple. They loved it. Maybe they will someday find the pleat, maybe not. It doesn't matter. By then they will have turned it into a blanket and it will be like my blanket that I shared Monday. They will love it flaws and all.
Don't point out your mistakes at guild Show-And-Tell either. Tell people why you quilted it and what you learned and be proud of a finish.
Before I talk about my second nugget of advice we first have to talk about blankets and quilts.
I have heard many quilters get incensed when someone calls a gifted quilt a "blanket". I remember reading a blog post from a quilter who declared that she would never give a family member another quilt simply because the recipient referred to it as a blanket. Memes with the similar sentiments pop up on Facebook from time to time.
This is the quilt that my Great-Grandmother made for me when I was very young. She made quilts for all of her Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren.
This quilt was on my bed every day from the time I received it (in the early 1960's) until I went to college. It was my blanket. It is the reason that I remember my Great-Grandmother as a quilter. Even worn and tattered I can't get rid of it. I think of her every time I see it. It's not a masterpiece but it's more special to me than any piece of art I own. I will, someday, think of some way to cut it up and make something from the remaining good parts. My brother continued to use his until it completely wore out. I had to put a new binding on it around 1999 and he finally had to give up on it about 5 years ago and start using a new quilt that Mom made for him.
To me quilts are precious but blankets are love. When I give quilts to people I tell them that my wish is that they use the quilt to death. I want them to need the blanket when they are sick, to nap on it with their pets and kids and I want the kids to drag their blankets around everywhere until their parents are sick of seeing it.
The cool thing about making blankets is that we also don't have to be precious about how we quilt them. Of course they need to be well constructed but they don't need quilt show quality quilting.
Practice on blankets, not practice fabric.
As quilters we are often afraid that we will "ruin" a quilt with our not-so-stellar quilting. Well, I have yet to meet a quilter that didn't have a stack of quilts meant to be gifts. Wouldn't it be better to quilt these and gift them so that some of them might eventually become blankets? It's a lot more fun to quilt a quilt than to practice over and over with muslin. No one is in a hurry to get to the machine to quilt a piece of muslin.
Several years ago I was finally ready to start learning to quilt feathers. A piece of muslin wasn't going to be enough. I needed a LOT of practice and a whole quilt was the best way. I found this one in my stash of tops, picked a blending thread and quilted feathers over the whole surface. The feathers were garbage at the beginning but by the end they looked much better. I didn't need a class, I needed practice.
This quilt is now owned by my youngest brother and it's his sofa blanket. He curls up with it to watch TV and nap in the winter. If you called him today he could not tell you how this quilt was quilted He likes it because of the colors and because it's soft and warm. Get the color right and make it soft and no one will even notice how you quilted it.
Practicing on quilts has 3 big benefits:
This week I'm hijacking my own blog with a series of posts that I've been wanting to do for a long time.
When I bought my first longarm in 2005 it was shipped to the end of my 600' driveway. I had to drive down in the pickup truck, load everything off the delivery truck and onto my truck. Chris and I then hauled all of the parts to the basement and I spent the next 2 days putting it together. At the end of that process I was suddenly a longarm quilter. I had no classes and no dealer to call for help. I did have the web and that was very helpful but for the rest I just winged it.
Before the longarm I had owned the earliest version of the HandiQuilter frame and I had my Juki TL-98E on it with a whopping 9" of throat space. Because of that I knew some basics but there were a lot of things I learned the hard way.
By October 8, 2014 when my beloved FloMo arrived I was a pretty seasoned quilter and I almost didn't take the free new owners class that Virginia Longarm offers. But I felt that, at a minimum, it would give me a chance to get to know my dealer better. Of course the class was a lot more than that. I became much more comfortable with the machine and how it operates. I learned the benefits of basting my quilts instead of doing a full floats and I learned a LOT about managing tension.
I fell so in love with the machine that I was constantly emailing Val photos of my beautiful, perfect stitches. Through building the relationship with Val and Michele at Virginia Longarm/The Longarm Network, it eventually came to pass that I started teaching a day of the new-owner training. They had decided to add a day that focused on using the machine free motion and I was, and am, excited to be able to teach it.
But that one day class is not just about free-motion quilting motifs. It's also about removing fear so that the quilter can get to quilting. I designed the class to be the class that I had needed when I started quilting.
The first part of the class covers my advice nuggets for new longarmers and I'm going to spend this week discussing those nuggets int he hope that it might help other new owners out there.
Nugget 1 - Take time to get yourself and your body comfortable with the machine
When I first learned to drive my Dad insisted that I learn on a stick shift Jeep that looked a lot like this one. That car was hard to drive for a seasoned driver but he told me that if I could drive it then I would be able to drive anything. He was also a wise teacher. He took me to a farm where the only thing I could hit was a cow and they were smart enough to stay away. For hours I drove back and forth learning how to change gears, how to turn around and how to drive in reverse. My left leg was sore from working the clutch the first time. Dad did not expect me to drive on a highway, on a windy road or at night. He made sure that I started by simply becoming comfortable with the car and training my body to coordinate the movements I needed for driving.
That's exactly how we need to approach quilting on a new longarm. As new drivers we did not expect to enter a NASCAR race the week after we got our license. So why do we expect to quilt perfect quilts right away? Maybe it's because we are already seasoned quilters and maybe even great free-motion quilters on our domestic machines. But the longarm is completely different. It's like going from a bicycle to a car. It's a totally new things and you have to honor the learning curve.
When you get your new machine you need to first learn the machine and start building some muscle memory. You have to get comfortable threading it, setting and maintaining good tension, winding bobbins properly and learning to quilt and walk at the same time.
You also have to learn some ergonomics. When I started learning to drive I kept a death grip on the steering wheel because I didn't want the car to get away from me. As a result I built up a lot of tension in my body in those early sessions. But as I got more comfortable with my driving ability I was able to relax a bit behind the wheel.
The same applies to the longarm. New owners tend to hold on way too tight so they build up a lot of tension in their shoulders, arms and backs and their quilting lines are not smooth. As with driving, it simply takes practice for you and your longarm to become one together.
So what's a good way to learn your new machine?
Start with lines
Quilt your first quilt (or quilts) with lines. Straight lines or wavy lines, whatever makes you happy. Ergonomically you will be forced to relax. You cannot quilt good straight or soft wavy lines if you are tense.
Quilting is a balance between the brain setting up the pattern and the arm following it. New quilters are often out of sync between brain and arm and it's usually the brain that's following behind the arm and that always leads to quilting we don't like. We have drawn lines all of our lives so this give the brain a chance to get to know what the arm is doing and to build that communication path. It also give you time to get to know the machine. Ripping out one line of stitching because of bad tension is easy compared to ripping out a row of swirls. Quilting a whole quilt walking back and forth quilting lines will help you get to know each other and start bonding.
You will get used to the sounds of the machine, your posture, the connection between you and the machine and start to get comfortable managing threads and tension.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.