Wednesday, March 22, 2017

BERNINA Girl

That I needed a new sewing machine was clear. Instead of bringing me joy, I fought with and cried over that stupid Kenmore, the one that I'd paid good money for (more than $200 in 1990, a lot for the time) and expected so much from. Sewing was my haven from the insanity of raising four hyper boys, my quilts were the only thing I did that stayed done.
I asked around and everyone said I should get a Bernina. I didn't have a clue and about fainted when I saw the price tags for the first time. We were a single income family back then, more than a thousand dollars for a sewing machine was just unrealistic. But, I'm stubborn (actually, I prefer tenacious) and I had a very supportive spouse, so I started a little business of stenciling and faux painting, something very much of the times. After overhearing a quote of five hundred dollars, plus fabric (!), to make very simple valences, I hiked up my big girl pants and offered to do them for half that. Done and dusted!
My first Bernina was a used 1530, purchased in March of 1994. I was so thrilled with the precision that I took my first piecing project back to the store to show off what that magic machine let me do. They offered me a job! I credit that machine with giving me the right tool to get my career in quilting off to a great start. That machine would do anything I asked of it, leaving me free to explore new techniques and even create some of my own.
I have been trying to think of how many different Berninas I've had over the years and it made my head hurt. I've been blessed to be included, from time to time, in the loaner program, which has given me the opportunity to exploit the features of the newest machines. 
I've been a part of the Ambassador program since almost the beginning. It's a cool gig. We don't work for Bernina, but we do get perks, like loaner machines. But what I like most about being an Ambassador is having direct input on the development of new machines, their features and feet. (There are a couple of feet out there that I've had a hand in creating, cool beans, eh?) They really do listen to us (and you) as they work towards bringing new products to the market.
The old 1530 that launched my career, now more than twenty years old, is still chugging away, being loved my one of my sisters. Another sister sews on a 930 that I took in trade for teaching at a friend's shop (I really got the best end of that deal!) I helped one more of my sisters buy a Bernina of her own. (The other two sisters still have no interest in sewing, but hope springs eternal.) My two daughters-in-law, and my mom, sew on 707s that I found on ebay. (That's Amanda putting in a zipper like a pro.) Boy, those machines are little sweeties and they've been warned that I get first dibs if they ever decide to get rid of them.
If anyone had told me, back then, on the day I bought that machine, that I'd have an international career as a quilt teacher, that I'd publish several books, that I'd be on a national television show (more than once!), I would have laughed and laughed. I was just a mom who liked to make quilts, a little bit of a perfectionist (okay a lot, but I'm better now), pathologically curious, short on time but willing to find ways to make the most of those minutes. It all began with having the right tool for the job. Thanks, Bernina!
It's been an honor to be included in this blog hop. Be sure to check out the other BERNINA Ambassadors taking part. They are a stunningly talented group of crafters. (Don't quite know how I got in, but I'm going to enjoy it while I can!)
Monday March 20
Lynn Carson Harris harrislc@gmail.com
Kelly Ashton kelly@kellyquilter.com
Diane Doran info@dianedoran.com
Melody Crust melody@melodycrust.com
Tuesday March 21
Kathy Delaney kathy@kathydelaney.com
Christa Watson christa@christaquilts.com
Mandy Leins mandalei@gmail.com
Wednesday March 22
Sandy Fitzpatrick hissyfitz@earthlink.net
Beth Ferrier beth@applewd.com
Cheryl Sleboda cherylsleboda@gmail.com
Thursday March 23
Annie Smith annie@anniesmith.net
Lori Kennedy lckennedy@hotmail.com
Kari Carr kari@newleafstitches.com
Catherine Redford catherine@catherineredford.com

Friday March 24
Joanne Sharpe jzsharpe@yahoo.com
Cherry Guidry cherry@cherryblossomsquilting.com
Jenelle Montilone jenelle@trashn2tees.com

Monday, March 6, 2017

Blissfully off-task

It is a true blessing to be able to say that I have very few regrets in my life. Not going to France with French club my senior year in high school is one of them. But not taking art classes in high school, college and beyond has to top the list.
I've always been creative, yes, but I've never felt like an artist. It was decided for me, early on, that my talent was being smart, so I was funneled into math and science classes, with very little consideration given to what I wanted. Shoot, I was just a kid, what did I know? I was good at math and science, who doesn't like being good at something?
There's always been a yearning, though, to be able to translate what I see onto paper with pencil and paint. But like so many, I just want to be good at it now and I'm very frustrated that I'm not. This is where I get to repeat to myself one of the mottoes I fling at my students: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly for as long as it takes. Ouch. No one likes to be quoted back!
I signed up for a terrific class by my buddy Joanne Sharpe. I've been playing along with her on her "Artfully Inspired Life 2017" workshop. It's been tons of fun, and slightly terrifying! We're making a mixed media (yikes) art journal (shiver), using tools and techniques that are solidly outside of my wheelhouse. Just to double down on the challenge, I also signed up for Joanne's Fountain Pen Follies mini workshop. I can highly recommend them!
Joanne's (rightfully so) requested that we not post pictures of the actual lessons, so what I've shown here are my version of the exercises, and proof that I am inherently incapable of actually following instructions, no matter how good my intentions.

In addition to the on line workshops, the Fiber Artisan group I've joined here in Green Bay (lovely folks, second Tuesday of the month at 10 am), is working on playing with paints and other embellishments on fabric.

Since everything I do seems to relate back to applique in some way, my project from last month is a painted background. When I can decide what color the table cloth should be I'll get the rest of it done. Blue seems to have usurped red as my favorite neutral, but I'm pushing back a little on my desire to make everything blue. I'm open to suggestions!

It's taken me quite a while to get used to freedom from deadlines, and the expectations of being a responsible adult and business owner. The time to make mistakes is a glorious luxury that I can finally appreciate. Suddenly I'm doing things badly and having the time of my life!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Busy girl

I don't know whether I feel like a new woman, or my good old self, or if it's just the sun coming back after the darkness of winter, but either way, life is good. After a couple more doctor visits in January my heart has been declared healthy, the new arteries are fully compensating for the one that was lost. The irregular heart beat was found to be benign, and has been decreasing in frequency. Best of all, I'm off the strongest of the medications. I feel like the fog has lifted.

Even though I've been ignoring the blog, I've been a busy girl. I knit a bunch of stuff, fingerless mitts and socks, for my kidlets, which went off to their new owners without photographic documentation. I've been embroidering like a mad woman, and I'm taking a couple of online classes about art journaling. I've even been doing a little bit of applique, which I'll show you soon.

It's been a lot of fun to be "off task" for a while. I've had time to reacquaint myself with hand embroidery. The local embroidery guild has made a crazy quilt to raffle as a fund raiser. It was such a joy to work on that I almost went into mourning when I finished my block and had to turn it in.

We were each given a base block, already pieced, to embellish. Since this is way outside my normal comfort zone it was both scary and exciting to make the decisions for each space. I've been pouring over books on crazy quilting for ideas.

The hardest part for me was knowing when I had done enough. I think my normal style is a little spare. I like space. But spare is not commonly associated with crazy. Overall, I am rather pleased with the outcome. The block holds its own with the rest of the blocks. I'll be sure to post a picture of the full quilt when I get one. It's stunning.

I had originally planned to do a long post with little bits of everything I've been up to, but I've reconsidered. It's time to jump start the blog, get back into the swing of things. I've even started booking workshops again! Just wait until you see all of the neat stuff I have to show you!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My new normal

Where do I start? That's always the problem, isn't it? If I knew where to begin I'd have begun long ago. It's true of so many of the things we want to do. Big deals rarely have obvious starting points. Sometimes there are so many "but firsts" to get in line before actually beginning that finding the beginning is almost impossible.

On the day in early December that I had planned to be attending the annual Bernina Ambassador Reunion I instead found myself being admitted to the hospital. The Reunion is seriously fun. It's two days of learning all sorts of new techniques and features of the newest Bernina sewing machines. It's also two days of networking with other professionals in the quilting industry. It's hard to measure which aspect is more pleasing.

I had been working like a fiend to finish the quilting on Christmas Yet to Come for the Reunion's show and tell. If you don't mind my saying so, it's a spectacular quilt and who doesn't love drawing gasps of delight from an audience? And this audience contains some of the brightest stars of the industry (how I got in I'll never know, but I'm forever grateful for it), we all want to show ourselves at our best.

Meanwhile I've had this thing going on in my chest. You may remember that I had a heart attack last March, the 7th to be exact. (The symptoms started right after the final episode of Downton Abbey aired, feel free to draw your own conclusions.) They put in a stent to open a blocked artery, congratulated me on getting to the hospital so early that no damage was done to the heart muscle and sent me off to have a nice life. Which I happily did, until September.

It started with an occasional, weird thumping heart beat, something I've never experienced before. Nothing dramatic, really, just a "hmm, that's different" sort of thing. With a shrug of my shoulders I remembered that I had a regular check up with the cardiologist coming in a few weeks and it's probably nothing anyway.
The thumping continued, becoming more frequent, and soon came to include some mild versions of the symptoms I felt at the time of the heart attack. So, onto the treadmill for a stress test. Yeah, there's something wrong, but nothing remarkable. New meds. Reaction to new meds. Other new meds.

The morning of the Reunion I awoke with jaw pain. I as I lay in bed I came to terms with missing the Reunion, the two hundred dollar non-refundable hotel room, had a small pity party complete with ugly crying, and then called the cardiologist. By the end of the day I was in the hospital and scheduled for another catheterization. A blood test showed that I wasn't actually having another heart attack, but the cath was the next right step to figure out what was going on with me. The head cardiac care nurse came in to explain the procedure and, in a very round about way, that my tests didn't show any serious problems and this was all probably in my head. I told her I've been in my head and it's not there. I've done anxiety, and this isn't it.

This is what's called burying the lead. I've finally, all these paragraphs later come to the point of the story. There was something wrong with my heart, something very wrong indeed. The stent had closed with scar tissue. I once again had a complete blockage of my right coronary artery, exactly what lead to the heart attack in March.

If you'll forgive my language, this was a serious WTF moment for the doc. My own cardiologist wasn't available to do the cath, so one of his partners did it. They were so surprised by the finding that they called my doc to the operating room, saying that he had to see this!

By all rights, I should have had another heart attack, but it seems that during all those weeks of weird thumping and all, my heart had been busy creating its very own bypass system, growing tiny new arteries in place to compensate for the big one closing. I am absurdly proud of my creative, industrious little heart.

I must give props to my doc, and also to the head cardiac nurse. My own doc took my discomfort very seriously and scheduled the tests. The nurse came in the following day and congratulated me on knowing my own body, acting as my own advocate and insisting on care. I guess this is a pretty rare situation, so, once again I get to serve as a warning to others.

So, to my new normal. I've been adjusting to even more new meds, these are targeted to help the new arteries finish their growth and completely replace the artery lost to the blockage. I'm still living with the thumping, and side symptoms, and while they've only abated a little, they're not so scary. The worst had happened, the artery is closed, and I lived anyway. I have to decide if I can live with this as my new normal or face other, more specialized procedures, possibly, ultimately, bypass surgery. It's been a lot to process. Adapting to new medications is always a challenge for me. A part of my brain seems to be focused on those new arteries, encouraging them in their work, leaving me distracted and turned inwards.

For all of its challenges, 2016 will go down as the year I lived anyway, twice. It seems clear to me that there is something yet that I'm meant to do, and I'm hoping and praying that I don't figure it out anytime soon. For the past couple of years life has been something that's happened to me, I've been pretty content with rolling with the punches and waiting to see how it all works out. Lately, though, I've been thinking it might be time to pick a direction and get going. I mean, seriously, if you don't know where you're going, how can you tell if you're making good time?



Friday, November 18, 2016

A Craftsy Challenge


Who doesn't like a challenge from time to time? A few weeks ago, Craftsy (my favorite place to find online classes on all things crafty) sent out a challenge. They had a handful of these t-shirts in size ginormous left over from an event. What to do with them? They challenged us, a group of Craftsy teachers to find a creative use for them. They sent me two, but I greedily set one aside for a sleep shirt, and set out to turn the other into something interesting.

I spent a long time thinking about how to use the fabric, but what I kept coming back to was how stretchy it was. I also wondered how creative it would be to use fabric as fabric, not so impressive, eh? The more I looked at it the more it looked like yarn to me.

So I cut it into noodles. Oodles of noodles. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) I let that stew for a while. (See what I did there?) I was extra careful to cut the fabric in a spiral so I'd end up with one long strand.
Then I stretched the strand into worms. In the process all of the seams let loose. So much for one long strand! What surprised me was how stretchy the worms remained. I had thought that the worms would become stable lengths, but no, they still stretched like crazy.
My first thought was to knit them. I cut the strands as narrow as I dared thinking I might turn them into fingerless mitts. It quickly became clear that I wouldn't have enough to knit up much, especially while hanging on to the second shirt. (If I had come up with an idea that was super cool and needed the other shirt, you bet I would have cut it up.) The strands were also knitting up very densely and still super stretchy. Hmm.
Perhaps I could weave the strands. This was interesting too, but also very stretchy. I kept thinking that it would be silly to make something that didn't take advantage of the stretch. And then I remembered that I know how to crochet.
It's a market bag! The strands had to be knotted together so I decided all the ends would be a design element. I used the collar for the strap. It doesn't look like much lying there.
But does it ever expand! This is a fraction of what it will hold. Honestly, I don't think I have the strength to carry it filled. I like how it sort of cradles the contents which will make it easier to manage bulky items. I think it will be terrific when farmers' markets come back around. It will hold produce nicely, and it's machine washable! So, tell me, what would you do with t-shirt?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

First Love

One of my earliest memories is learning to embroider. That little hoop immediately felt at home in my hand. French knots, stem stitch and lazy daisies seemed like little acts of magic. I might have been the only kindergartner with a thread stash. (That's my name tag for the embroidery guild above.)

Since then I've spent a life time exploring other fiber techniques, anything involving a needle and thread. But embroidery has always called to me.
It's been rather a joy to have time to revisit my first love. Designing and stitching this little pillow had me giggling for days. (Easily amused, but then never lacking for entertainment.) For so many years I've been all about machine work (not that there's anything wrong with that!) Hand embroidery seem like a distraction.

The local embroidery guild has been a wonderful discovery. We're working on a crazy quilt as our fundraiser for next year.

My style tends to be more clean, less fussy than the exuberant excess of traditional crazy quilt design, so it's been a challenge for me to up my game. This block is my first, made as part of a workshop for the quilt guild back in March. I can see now, looking at it here, that it's not quite as done as I thought. That "B" looks awfully lonely over there, perhaps I could add some beads in the background.





This is my block for the embroidery guild raffle quilt. I'm just getting started, but loving the process. I do love swirly, curly things. There will be a button bouquet in the center. I like the green rick rack, but the black embroidery has to go, not enough contrast with the busy fabric in the lower right corner.

Turns out embroidery is playing a role in the new applique book I'm considering. The Wash Away Applique sheets threw open the doors to all sorts of easy, elegant, effusive embellishment. (How's that for a book subtitle?) But there are decisions to be made before I can really go forward. More on that in the next post. Meanwhile, I'm off to stitch with the crazy quilters.




Saturday, October 29, 2016

Going up?

One of the crazy things about our backyard is there is no easy way to get to the top. It's a fairly steep hill, with a four foot high retaining wall. It's wonderfully private. There's a nice flat spot near the top that will make a lovely spot for reading or coffee, but only if you have billy goat in your ancestry.

Last summer we still owned the house in Saginaw, so our budget for improvements was pretty limited. This summer we had a little more to play with, so the first thing we did was cut a staircase into the wall. Of course, I'm using the royal "we" here. I think up these crazy things and Kent is a willing participant.
Aren't they wonderful? It was decided that the new railroad ties needed to be stained to match the existing ones and Kent set out to accomplish that one morning while I was out. He said he knew pretty much at the first brush that the color was wrong. But the color had looked right in the store, so maybe he needed to do more just to be sure. After a while, even though he was convinced that the color was wrong, he had already done so much that he decided he might as well finish. Luckily he ran out of stain.

I had to laugh. We've all done it, haven't we? We push on, even though our gut is telling us we're on the wrong path. The rationale can be so silly: we bought a whole gallon of the paint, the store for replacement is closed, it will quilt out. Pretty soon we're so far in that going back seems impossible. So instead of trusting ourselves enough to quit at a false start, we plow on until there's no way to redeem the project. Not only is the project spoiled, but we had a miserable time doing it!

We don't know what to do next, it's a good quality stain, even sand blasting hardly made a dent. I'm hoping that a little weathering will do the trick. Because I'm an incorrigible optimist I'm hoping that an answer will present itself next spring when the snow thaws. Keen eyes will notice the stone stairs going in at the top of the hill. There are a few more steps to go, but by next summer we'll be able to easily get around in this crazy, vertical garden.