Friday, November 10, 2006

Neurographical Applique

OK, this may be the most esoteric museum concept ever. Anyone who thinks it's hilarious that there's a whole subculture out there for something as specific as quilting will find this instructive.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The New Face of Machine Quilting

I've been quilting like a madman for the last few weeks. For the first time this fall, I've really got into the rhythm of it, when you get to work with the machine and it's all you want to do for the next couple of hours. Very soothing.

Since I've been getting pretty confident about my new machine quilting skillz -- hubris? -- the project that has been getting the most attention has been this thing called "Batik Boxes" that I planned out on Thanksgiving 2004 and have been kicking around very slowly ever since. It was pretty obvious from the outset that it wasn't going to be an especially interesting piece, so it has stayed at the bottom of the project pile.

Since it is kinda ugly, though, it is a good candidate to be the first full-size piece for me to machine quilt. So, I devoted 3/4 of my quilting time to it over the last week, and voila, here is the completed face:

Now I have to decide exactly what the quilting pattern will be. As I get more comfortable and confident, I think I'm going to really like this part of the process -- it's a whole 'nuther level of decision making going into the piece.

For now, though, it's kind of nerve wracking. Even though it's kind of an ugly quilt face to start with, even though I'm trying to give myself lots of space to make mistakes and be a beginner at this, I also definitely want to do a good job with it. Ideally, to have people say things like "wow, I can't believe he's just a beginner." Yes, I admit it: my name is Michael and I'm a praise junky.

Anyway, I know a couple things for sure. I will quilt "in the ditch" -- along the seam between pieces of fabric in the quilt face -- around the outline of each block, and then around the three concentric squares within each block. After that, I want to do dense stippling, the kind of stuff I've been practicing for the past several weeks, on one color or the other. That should create an overall texture. If I was to densely quilt the blue fabric, say, the blue squares would lie flat and the orange ones would puff up a little bit. It be a cool effect, or at least that's the plan.

Now, Plan A was to stipple down the blue fabric. Warm colors tend to rise into the foreground, whereas cool colors visually recede, so it seemed like having the orange puff out a little bit would complement that. To test this, I made two extra blocks, quilting down the blue on one and the orange on the other. And, lo and behold, the one with the orange quilted down looks better.

But wait, we're not through. We still have to talk about thread color. (Hey! I don't roll my eyes about your hobby!!)

If you look at the test patch with quilting in the orange, the part that really stands out is done in light grey thread on the right side of this image. And I'm all right with that, because I was doing pretty well and the pattern looks cool. But the problem is, I think the quilt as a whole will look better if the quilting is more subtle. In fact, I'm leaning towards using an orange thread that is more subtle -- so subtle, in fact, that it's almost invisible in this image (it's along the top of the larger orange square).

Usually, you wouldn't call orange thread "more subtle" than grey. The deal is that in this case it would blend with the orange fabric, of course.

Anyway, it will take me a couple of weeks to do all of the ditch quilting, which has to be done before I can start the quilting, so if any of y'all want to weigh in on the gray vs. orange question, knock yourself out.

Oh yeah, a fresh anecdote. I was pinning this one out (pinning the back, batting, and face together, to get it ready for quilting) and ran out of safety pins. Because it's close, and I'm all, like, neighborhood-minded, I decided to try again with the local shop where they mistook me for a plumber last year. And, damn it, I got the same suspicious, what-are-you-doing-in-here vibe this time. "You just had to have a pack of safety pins at 10:15 on a Saturday morning?" I got asked, which struck me as both unnecessarily sarcastic and an odd question for someone to ask who was selling safety pins at 10:15 on a Saturday morning. I want to like my local shop, but I'm just not getting a good vibe in there.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Masculine Machine Messing-About

My Machine Quilting teacher told us we should keep an eye open for potential quilting patterns in the stuff we see in everyday life. So, when I saw the linguistic symbols on the cover of this book, I decided to give it a try.

What I did was photocopy the cover of the book, enlarging the pattern a little bit. Then, I pinned the piece of paper on top of the practice quilt top. You can just sew right through the paper, so after you follow the outline of the pattern, you end up with a quilt that has a piece of paper sewn to it. The paper tears off pretty easily, since it's been perforated by the needle, but it is kinda boring and time-consuming to get rid of it all. On this little practice piece, I spent as much time getting rid of paper as I did in the actual quilting. Looks kinda cool, though. I think I'm getting better.

I want to throw something in here that is not explicitly quilt-related, but maybe it's tangentially relevant to this blog. You be the judge. It is a quote from Nick Hornsby's excellent book Fever Pitch, a memoir of his obsession with soccer and, in particular, the Arsenal club. Highbury, I should mention, is the stadium in London where Arsenal play.

Masculinity has somehow acquired a more specific, less abstract meaning than femininity. Many people seem to regard femininity as a quality; but according to a large number of both men and women, masculinity is a shared set of assumptions and values that men can either accept or reject. You like football? Then you also like soul music, beer, thumping people, grab¬bing ladies' breasts, and money. You don't fit into either camp? Macho, nein danke? In which case it must follow that you're a pacifist vegetarian, studiously oblivious to the charms of Michelle Pfeiffer, who thinks that only leering wideboys listen to Luther Vandross.

It's easy to forget that we can pick and choose. Theoretically it is possible to like football, soul music and beer, for example, but to abhor breast-grabbing and bottom-pinching (or, one has to concede, vice versa); one can admire Muriel Spark and Bryan Robson. Interestingly it is men who seem to be more aware than women of the opportunities for mix 'n' match: a femist colleague of mine literally refused to believe that I watched Arsenal, a disbelief that apparently had its roots in the fact that we had once had a conversation about a feminist novel. How could I possibly have read the book and have been to Highbury? Tell a thinking woman that you like football and you're in for a pretty sobering glimpse of the female conception of the male.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Adventures in Machine Quilting

As it turned out, there's only so much flack I could have been given about my wussy pink & mint green test quilt for the machine quilting class. That's because there was only one student in the class besides me. So, the drive out to Damascus every Tuesday for three weeks didn't turn out to be a real community-builder, but what the hell. I certainly learned a lot about machine quilting, and probably more importantly was forced to practice.

Here's what that quilt top looked like after the dust settled:

Yeah, I know it's not particularly attractive. But it's the techniques that matter, and I'm kind of excited about those. Some, like the rose in the center and the ferny thing in the upper left, use tracing paper; the pattern in the border and the leaf on the upper right corner both use freezer paper. The really precise grid is made using blue painters' tape, of all things, which I quickly bought in every available width from the neighborhood painting supply store. I like precise grids. Controlling personality.

Now that football season is in full swing and Sue and I have finished up a guest room remodeling project that sucked all energy out of every other endeavor -- even, gentle reader, this blog -- for weeks, I've had two Saturday afternoons straight to work on quilt things. I've done a lot of assembly piecing on the Labyrinth, but I also spent some time assembling "sandwitches" out of old, crappy fabric -- including the sheets I bought for my first apartment in Kansas! -- and small pieces of scrap batting that I've been saving like an octogenarian recluse for the last decade. (It is a little troubling that this hoarding behavior was ultimately justified and rewarded).

The point of the sandwitches is just to have them on hand so you can regularly practice machine quilting technique. In theory, it will eventually start to feel natural -- and that's actually happening, a little bit. On Wednesday, I even had a glimmer of an idea that I could eventually get pretty good at it. In the meantime, I plug away at creating lovely masterworks like the following.....

Sue describes the flower as "hippilicious," which will have to do for a beginner.

That's all for now! Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tell me how masculine this one is, Mom!

I've spent the morning getting a test piece ready for my machine quilting class, which starts tomorrow night. It was the first September in a long time when I got to say, "Dude, classes haven't even started yet and I already have homework. Lame!"

Because it's just a test piece to practice with, I mostly just wanted to use fabric that wouldn't otherwise be useful. Plus, I thought it would be good to use really light colors, so I will be able to see my stitching more easily. Using a basic pattern dictated by the class packet, here's what I came up with:

Sue's comment: "You're pretty brave, going in there with all that pink."

When I went out to the shop to buy the class supplies (most esoteric item: "Golden Threads Quilting Paper") the woman behind the counter said "hey, don't you have a mother who lives down in Bandon?"

"Yeah, great memory," I said -- I hadn't been out to this shop, Pioneer Quilts in Damascus, for two years.

"Well, you stand out," she said.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What I Didn't Like In Seattle

OK! It is now but six (6) days until the Ducks host Stanford University for their home game opener, so we stand trembling on the very cusp of the 2006-2007 quilting season! Yes, it's a powerful moment for me as well. I'll pause a moment, to let you regain your composure.

... ...

Now, as it happens I will be in Section 36, Row 87, Seat 33 of Autzen Stadium next Saturday, so I will not be able to, uh, "kick off" the quilt season at the same time as the game itself. But, I will definitely make a point of doing a little token quilting before I leave, or after I get home, just to get some momentum going.

I'll need momentum. It's going to be an even more challenging quilting year than I had expected. But more on that, gentle reader, at the end of this post.

Pacific Northwest Quiltfest

First, I want to tell you about my trip to the Pacific Northwest Quiltfest, a show held in Seattle every two years. It is probably the highest-level show held in our region -- the "Pacific Northwest," whatever that means. It attracts the highest level of work, which is juried by a professional team of quilt mucky-mucks.

Frequently Asked Question: "Did you have a piece in the show?"

Answer: No, of course not. Nothing I have ever made could survive a professional jurying. I am still at least two or three years from even thinking of submitting something to a show of this caliber. A good goal might be to sneak something into the PNWQF in 2010.

So, the show was basically a very large room full of extremely well-made quilts. Extremely well-made quilts, and lots and lots of people who get excited by extremely well-made quilts. The joint was packed. And yet, it could be a lonely place -- if, for instance, you were being confronted once again with the fact that you share your hobby overwhelmingly with people of the opposite sex who are at least 20 years older than you.

[The gender aspect of this situation, by the way, was made quite graphically clear by the restroom situation in the exhibition hall. I provide these two photos as documentary evidence, as one or two or you will accuse me of exagerating, otherwise. You will probably need to see the full size images (click on 'em to bring 'em up to full size) to read the signs.]

But mostly, I was in a big room with lots of really, really amazing quilts, which was great. For quite a while, I replicated my experiment from the Sisters Quilt show earlier this summer, and did a little study of my own aesthetic preferences. That was still an interesting process, since with the much greater range of quilts at this kind of high-level show, there was also a greater range of Stuff I Liked. It was a good way to gather lots of ideas for future projects. More ideas for future quilt projects than I'll ever possibly be able to use, in fact, but that's cool. Better to have too many ideas than not enough, right?

After a few hours of photographing my favorites, I went back and photographed a selection of my least favorites. I didn't do this for myself, mind you -- I actually have a pretty solid understanding of what I don't like. No, gentle reader, I did this for you -- so you can see some of the kinds of quilts that I'm never going to tell you about otherwise, and so as a reader of this blog you can have a stronger sense of the context in which my quilts are made.

You're welcome.

Quilts That Just Aren't My Thing

But first, it's really important to me to make really, really clear that these are all, by any reasonable standard, very excellent, rocking quilts. The craftsmanship ranges from awesome to otherworldly, and the design, fabric choices, and quilting patterns on each are all impeccible. If you really like these quilts, or God forbid if you made one of these quilts, my hat is totally off to you. I just don't share your taste.

In fact, I'm not even going to try to be entertainingly bitchy.

I furthermore encourage anyone reading this to use my own work as examples of crap quilts in their own blogs, or better yet to write scathing comments in this blog explaining why my stuff sucks, particularly in comparison to the pieces shown here.

Having said that, let's proceed to the first group. The problem here, I guess, could be summarized as too grandmotherly. Not that I have anything against grandmothers, but usually we don't decorate the same way. I am not sure that I need to elaborate on this, but in general anything that pours on the flowers, hearts, or domestic scenes, or uses the palettes of the first half of the 20th Century, has an uphill battle to win my affections. The one on the upper left is traditional and, within that tradition, exquisite (the palette is also pretty bright, which helps). I could look at it for a long time, admiring it as a quilter, before noticing that it doesn't do much for me as, well, a person. If you follow me. With the other two, the lack of gut appreciation jumps out a little faster, but even here... damn, look at the quilting on the one on the right! Man! I would give my left, um, let's say pinkie, to be able to quilt like that.

It's a little harder to put a finger on what I fail to respond to in this second set, especially since I promised not to be entertainingly bitchy. They fall into a genre that some women would call "funky," having never listened to or even heard of Rick James. Know what I'm sayin'? There's an exhuberance there that doesn't quite do it for me. The one on the left further has words on it, which for me almost always reduces a quilt's impact. Couldn't tell you why. The one on the right -- which was a very difficult piece to make, incidently, and one where the artist did amazing work and suceeded impeccably in bringing her vision to reality -- is also figural, which brings us to the next set.

This one is easy -- I don't like figural quilts. Which is to say, I don't like the literal representation of humans or animals in fabric. Now, if you're thinking "what about the cow quilt?" -- well, that's different. It uses pieces of fabric on which figures are represented, which doesn't bug me. It's using the fabrics to create figures that I don't like. It requires a lot of skill, and it's very popular -- figural pieces often win "viewer's choice" awards at quilt shows -- but it just ain't for me.

My loss.

I guess this fourth set is also figural. There's also an added element here of sentimentality. They are twee -- not like, say, Tullycraft is twee, but like an after-school special is twee, like a cross-stitch of good advice in a perky rhyming couplet is twee. Which is fine! Really! I'm just saying, it's not my deal.

Why This Quilt Year is Going to be Even More Busy Than I Expected

So, at this juncture, I am going to shut up before I alienate more people that I already have. But first, I need to tell you why this quilt year is going to be even more busy than I expected.

When I was in Seattle, I ran into the new president of my guild, who told me that the featured artist for next year's guild show is going to be, instead of an accomplished master quilter, a group of quilters: "the men of the guild." Gulp. The men of the guild total about 5, out of 300+ members, and one is 11 years old. There's Tony, who does amazing work, and two others who I don't believe are particularly active, and then there's, well, me. So, it is a hugely unexpected and intimidating opportunity to have some of my stuff shown very prominently! I'll need to work my tail off this fall.

In the meantime, let's all enjoy the last week of the summer quilting hiatis. Thanks for reading.

p.s. The best thing about Seattle was actually that I got to pay visits to Shanthala, Jenn, and Jim. Hi guys!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Coming Soon...

Part of taking quilting more seriously is jumping through the necessary hoops to get my work shown publicly. Having quilts in shows will, I figure, get me out there meeting people and ogling other people's work, which is a good thing in itself. It will also pressure me to do good work, and to produce enough work so that I'll have pieces that are worth putting in shows. And, with any luck it will get me some of those kudos I so need. (Really, I'm a craven praise junky. Flattery is always welcome.)

This fall, I'll have four pieces in shows:

Log Cabin, as I've already mentioned at least six times to everyone who knows me, will be at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, Colorado from August 15 to October 21.

Marsha and Charlie's Wedding Quilt will be at the Columbia River Gorge Quilt Show in Stevenson, Washington from Sept. 14 to Sept. 16.

Partway Around the World II will be in the Sea of Quilts 12 in Coos Bay, Oregon on the weekend of Sept. 16 - 17.

And if I can work out the logistics, Winter Quilt will be in Quilts by the Sea during the Bandon, Oregon Cranberry Festival, Sept. 8-10.

(Hmm, these four quilts make an interesting illustration of my last post. But I won't belabor the obvious.)

So, with all of this happening, and with the start of the new quilting season right around the corner, I've been thinking of goals for the coming year. Here goes:

Goal One: Have two strong pieces ready to enter in the Guild Show in April. Probably those will be Labyrinth and Batik Stained Glass Window. BSGW is in good shape, with the piecing finished, but I want to take my machine quilting up several notches, so it will take a lot of time to get over the finish line. Labyrinth, on the other hand, is only partially pieced, and isn't even entirely laid out, and is in any event on such a massive scale that it will be a real challenge to finish.

Goal Two: Really improve my machine quilting a lot. I've already enrolled in one class for September, and might take a second as well.

Goal Three: Apply those machine quilting skills. I would like to go back and totally requilt or overquilt some of my older stuff, particularly Two Complex Shapes (shown), which I think could be showable if it was well-quilted.

Goal Four: Work on the Restoration Quilt I talked about a few weeks ago.

Goal Five: Make a few baby blankets as needed. This will of course depend on who gets pregnant, and how well they time the blessed event around my schedule.

Goal Six: At least one charity quilt. Got to start small -- some people do dozens of charity quilts in a year. I'll explain more about that when the time comes.

Goal Seven: Finish The Four Seasons. A minor project I started in 2001. Enough already.

Well, there. Now I've done it. I'd be happy to entertain friendly wagers ($20 maximum) as to how many of these goals, if any, I am able to complete. Happy August.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Quantifying Aesthetics

First of all, some elaboration on the last post. As the letter says, the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, in Golden, Colorado, has accepted Log Cabin, which is the one I had in the guild show a few months ago, for an exhibit. It will be shown from August 15 to October 21. This is a coup, probably more of a coup than the quilt really deserves, but I am completely stoked about it nonetheless.

I hadn't really expected it to be accepted. The RMQM has a show of quilts by men every two years, and that was my real target. I thought that if I submitted a piece now, they would know my name when the men's show came around. As it is, I wonder if the esoteric category of the show I was accepted for -- quilts using the color orange -- might have made it a "soft" field of entries.

So, I stuck Log Cabin in a box and mailed it to Colorado on Thursday. Even now, I'm afraid they'll say "sorry, dude, it looked better in the photo than in real life, we're not going to show it." But I hope not. My in-laws live in Colorado, and being shown in an honest-to-God museum has won major points with them, or at least helped to legitimize the whole boy-quilter thing.

Anyway, its good that Log Cabin is doing well, because it turns out that it is the perfect embodyment of the Michael Handley aesthetic. And I can prove it.

A couple weekends ago, I drove down to Sisters, Oregon, for their annual outdoor quilt show. The largest outdoor quilt show in the world, we're told, and it's not hard to believe -- pretty much every exterior surface of that oh-so-faux little village gets covered with quilts for one hopefully dry day every year, and the town turns into a packed madhouse of, well, the kinds of people who get excited about quilts. Such as myself.

There is no particular organizing principle to the layout of the quilts that I could detect, and with 1500 or so quilts to see and no one to talk about them with, I was initially a little puzzled on how to proceed. After fifteen minutes or so of checking out the scene, though, it occured to me that I had the opportunity to conduct an unusual experiment on myself. I could use the show to explore my own tastes, and find out if there are any specific kinds of quilts that I particularly respond to.

I used a highly sophisticated methodology for this experiment: I took pictures of quilts I liked. Which is to say, I walked around the town, taking a brief glance at nearly all of the pieces on display, and without further thinking took pictures of the ones I was immediately attracted to. I tried to surpress any thinking about craftsmanship, tradition, innovation, symbolism, or anything else beyond an immediate gut reaction. I didn't note who the quiltmaker was, and I didn't make any attempt to get a good picture -- just a quick snapshot of every quilt that jumped out at me.

I ended up taking 75 pictures, meaning -- if we stipulate that the Sisters show represented a reasonable cross section of quilting as a whole -- that about 5% of quilts jump out at me. Through the miracle of modern uploading, I have placed the entire collection online at, where you are welcome to take a look if you so desire.

So, is there some kind of pattern to the quilts I like? Oh mai oui. Embarassingly so, as it turns out.

Of the 75 quilts I liked, it turns out that 68 of them are geometric -- i.e. composed of rectangles, triangles, circles, diamonds, and occasionally hexagons or octogons. (19 of them, in fact, are composed only of squares and rectangles).

Now, this is interesting to me, because most of my own pieces are also geometric. I have always had the nagging fear that I worked in geometries because it is easier than the piecing or applique techniques involved in working with non-geometric shapes (although that isn't necessarily true), or because I am too lazy to learn new techniques. But, having done this experiment, I'm thinking I might stick with geometries for the more defensible reason that those the kinds of quilts I like. It doesn't seem like it should be a startling revelation, but it kind of is.

A whopping 62 of the 75 are not only geometric, but also symetrical, laterally or vertically, or both. (I designated five more are "semi-symetrical," whatever that means.) I guess I like orderliness in my geometrical patterns.

How about color? Well, it would seem I like vivid, saturated colors -- 43 of the quilts I liked use brilliant "jewel tones" in their coposition. And another 43 -- quite a bit of overlap here, obviously -- used patterns based primarily on contrasting color values. Here, again, what I like seems awfully similar to what I do. More than half of my quilts are patterned on value contrasts, and yeah, I'm a notorious jewel-tone junky.

Log Cabin is made exclusively of rectangles -- 768 of 'em -- so it's nothing if not geometrical. It's laid out in a tightly symetrical pattern. In earlier posts, we've talked about it's refusal to involve a value contrast, but it certainly cranks up the brilliant saturated colors. According to my experiment, it is exactly the kind of quilt I like. So, it seems appropriate that it is my flagship piece for the moment.

It's nice to know what I like. Now I can go make more.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My Favorite Letter Ever

....well, one of my favorites anyway.

If it's too small to read, you can click on it, or any other image, to show them full-size.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Multigenerational Madness

Alright, this here is the first State of the Craft entry for the 2006-2007 Quiltin' year, and the the first entry on our new host, Blogger. Thank you, gentle reader, for seeking out the new site. Please note that, on Blogger, anyone can comment. Click on "comment" at the bottom of a post, pick "other" where it says "choose your identity," and you'll be good to go.

But, before we begin, a brief commercial message. No, really! I am happy and very proud to announce (or, for many of you, re- or re-re-announce) that my mother's first book, Fabric Sihouettes: Quilted Treasures from the Family Album, is now available for pre-order on Amazon (HERE is a link).

I'll have more to say about this book in future entries, but for now I'll just encourage everyone to order, at a minimum, copies for themselves and for everyone in their address book.

Frequently Asked Question: "Is that you on the bike?"

A: Yes, it is. I am also, for my sins, the one on the stickhorse in "My Little Cowboys," the quilt on the lower left of the cover. Lamentably, the book includes the humiliating original photograph from which that silouette was taken. The deep psychological scarring associated with having this and other "treasures from the family album" made public will no doubt be a recurring theme in future entries to this blog.



Although quilting has gained some recognition as a contemporary art form in the last 15 years or so, it still has very strong down-home, ol'-fashioned associations in the minds of most. And this makes sense -- modern quilting, for all of its rapidly expanding notions of what is possible in the medium, is still deeply rooted in the quilting traditions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, there are still active quilters (my Mom, for instance) who learned quilting at the end of that earlier tradition; many (but not Mom, to my knowledge) quilted continuously, even through the 1950s and 1960s, the decades when traditional quilting was essentially dead and the modern revival had not yet started.

Of course, other art forms -- painting or sculpture or photography, say -- are deeply rooted in their histories, but don't seem like old-fashioned things to do. This might have to do with the practical roots of quilting. Making one's own blanket, like churning one's own butter or thatching one's own roof, is definitely something that is not necessarily a part of modern life. And, as a medium of expression, a blanket has an aura of outrageous wholesomeness that the canvas, clay, and photographic plate really can't compete with.

That wholesomeness is old-fashioned goes, I trust, without saying.

There is a whole branch of quilters who are only really interested in "vintage" or "period" quilts. Indeed, most serious quilt collectors are only interested in 19th and early 20th century pieces. Some quilt shows have a category for reconstructed quilts -- vintage quilts in which a quilter has repaired damage, or an incomplete vintage piece that a modern quilter has finished. While I've never been especially interested in vintage quilts, myself, I've always thought the reconstructed quilt concept was cool in that it brings traditional and modern quilting together quite literally in a given piece.

I never expected to get involved in quilt reconstruction. But....

In the early 1930s, Mary Sampson, the grandmother of my grandmother's cousin, had such severe arthritis that she could no longer comfortably hold the weight of a full quilt top. An lifelong quilter, now in her late 80s, she continued to make individual blocks. Lots of individual blocks. Made of one-inch squares, following a kind of "Around the World" pattern, and sewn by hand with needle and thread with tremendous craftsmanship, these little quilts are works of art in themselves (we have some mounted behind glass hanging in our living room). They are also testament to the time on one woman's arthritic hands -- by the time of her death in 1934, there were hundreds upon hundreds of these blocks. All of a pattern, and unified by the black and white fabric of their outer rings, they appear to have been intended for a single project. Sampson, however, had made three or four times as many blocks as would have been needed for even the largest imaginable quilt.

Following Sampson's death, the blocks were placed in shoeboxes and shuffled from family member to family member over the following decades until they ended up in my grandmother's hands. Grandma, more a knitter than a quilter, gave them to my mom, who felt guilty about them for several years before giving them back to Grandma -- Mom isn't even related to Mary Sampson, except through my Dad. After Grandma died in the late 1980s, however, the blocks ended up decisively back in Mom's lap.

Mom set out concientiously to deal with this combination treasure trove/guilt trip. Over the coming years, she would make two quilts from the blocks, as well as a third from other pieces left by Sampson. She gave sets to each of my sisters, who have worked with them over the years. This still left one final set of 32 blocks. She put this last set on backing material in 1994, but got no further with it.

Now, even before she decided to write a book, Mom was plenty busy. Moreover, she hand-quilts everything she makes, which means that her projects take months and months to finish. As a result, she has literally dozens of projects in the pipeline at any given time. And lately, she's been thinking a lot of how to lighten some of that load.

Last week, she got one long-stalled project off of her plate by presenting me with the final set of 32 Mary Sampson blocks. Well, maybe "presenting" is a little too grand -- she actually dropped them in my lap, quite literally, and informed me I would be responsible for them henceforth.

I'm more than happy to do it, though. I don't know much about this kinda-sorta ancestor of mine, but even so, working with these blocks has already (I immediately started experimenting with design, with the pattern shown here being a lead contender so far) made me feel connected to the history and tradition of the craft. Plus, I know Mom wouldn't be setting me loose with these blocks if she didn't feel I was at least marginally competant, and that's huge -- I've arrived! I've arrived!

Now, hopefully I won't screw up. I'll let you know how it goes.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Turn, Turn, Turn

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

--------Turn, turn, turn.DATE: 05/31/2006 11:08:20 PM-----

Helloooooo, Quilt Fans!

Thought I'd pitched it in, didn't you? Thought this was just one more 3-month flash-in-the-pan blog, glorious in its brief prime but doomed to inevitable burnout and failure?

No way. Not "State of the Craft."

But to everything, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, etc., and for many of us quilting is pretty seasonal as well. Other things get pretty distracting in spring and summer, like travel, hiking, outdoor activities, and, unless you are Charlie or Eric, the garden. Also, not everyone wants to have five pounds of thick, insulating blanket on their lap during high summer. So the quilting slows down, and naturally the quilt blogging slows down as well.

For me, the quilting year generally begins at the kickoff of the first Oregon Ducks football game, which this year will be Saturday, September 2 (at home vs. Stanford -- a cakewalk). Then, or maybe a little before, the quiltin' will commence in great earnest. Until then, though, progress will be piecemeal at best.

One small thing I do want to do over the summer is find a new host for this blog. Two reasons. One is that the noise-making ads that Friendster has been using lately make me, and everyone else I know, want to put fist through screen. Secondly, only my registered Friendsters can make comments (and even they often have trouble with it). Not that you aren't special, Friendsters. You are. You TOTALLY are. But comments are half the fun with a blog, and the rest of the (suprisingly robust) readership needs in too.

I'll let you know.

Anyway, there are two things worth mentioning from the last month and a half. In quilting, that is. In life in general, there was a fabulous road trip, documented at

The first thing was the Guild Show. Several of y'all came to it, which was TOTALLY GREAT and YOU ROCK. I was very happy with the whole thing. Both of my entries -- the Oregon Map and the Log Cabin, shown in earlier entries -- were hung very nicely, with neighbors that complemented them well. Response from viewers and other members of the guild was very nice. Rather than feeling like I was "OK but way behind the pack," this time I felt like I was "definitely in the pack." It was good.

I volunteered a half day at the show, and when I arrived was given an identifying pink ribbon to wear. "Hostess," it read. The volunteer coordinator seemed surprised by my hesitation to wear this ribbon, but offered no objections as I cut the "ess" off with my jackknife.

The second thing was completeing the wedding present that I obliquely referred to three posts ago. It is one of two mirror-image pieces that are, in terms of design, fragments of a traditional style called "Around the World" that I will talk about in a future post. (This is called "leaving them wanting more.") One of the two goes to our friends Helen and Keir in the UK, who were married last August -- please note that I met the one-year wedding present deadline. The other goes to Sue and I, as a much later wedding present and wall-hanging for our room.

Because of their pattern and because they will be widely-separated twins, I named them "Partway Around the World #1 and #2." I told Helen and Keir that they could decide whether they wanted theirs to be #1 or #2, but I haven't heard back yet.

Well, that's all for now. But we'll talk soon. In September, if not before.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Invisible Man

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

--------The Invisible Man DATE: 04/19/2006 10:51:16 AM-----

I went in to Montavilla Sewing yesterday to pick up my machine; I had had to take it in last week after it started having trouble with erratic tension and skipped stitches. As usual in any sewing or quilting establishment where they don't know me, I had to wait five or six minutes before anyone acknowledged my presence -- it takes them that long to realize that I'm not just a husband in tow. Finally, a perky counterperson asked if I needed help

"I'm here to pick up my machine," I said.

"Oh! Well, can you give me your phone number?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, and gave her the number of my work phone, a number that has about 120 extensions.

She tapped on the computer, looked up at me, and brightly said


Well, no.


All right, I'm going to apologize right up front for cribbing my title from Ralph Ellison. Certainly I don't feel discriminated against in any meaningful sense as a man trying to make his lonely way in a woman's world. By and large, I've felt very welcomed to the craft. But still, I am obviously and conspicuously off-demographic, and people's reactions can get kind of comical sometimes.
A few months ago, I went to a new quilt shop near my neighborhood. The woman minding the store gave me a big, friendly welcome when I came in, and then said "You must be here about the leak!"

I wasn't there about the leak, so I said "nope!" I suppose could have been more helpful by saying something like "No, I'm actually a quilter, here to purchase some quilt-related merchandise!" but for whatever reason I hate spelling that out. So, I just said, "nope."
Clearly suspicious, the woman gave me a much less friendly "can I help you with something, then?" Having already spotted what I was looking for, I said, "no, I'm just looking for some chalk."

At this point, she actually moved as if to block me from going any further, and said -- in a disgusted tone, as if I'd said I was looking for some Night Train -- "Chalk?!? This is a quilting store!"

"Yes," I acknowledged. "And you sell quilter's chalk." I helpfully held up a bottle of the stuff (which is used to make non-permanent guide lines when quilting) to show her.

At this point, she made a dizzying 180 from hostile to fawning. For some reason, that bugged me more than the hostility. The hostility had been a fairly understandable reaction to an unexpected presence in her store. The fawning was just annoying, and has so far kept me from going back.

If I go in any new shop with Sue, she will always have to redirect the storekeeper's attention to me. Absolutely always. She's good at it, though.

I've noticed at guild that people are quick to ask me to show them whatever I'm working on, and that some are quick to tell me what I'm doing wrong -- or at least, what they would do differently. But maybe that happens to all new or young members.

It's a fairly common thing that quilters, on meeting me, rush to reassure me that "oh, I know a lot of men who quilt." I've learned not to probe on this point. If I do, they will then tell me about the one man they know who quilts, then look pained.

When I show up at a quilt show, I'm often told that there are "several quilts in this show by men." Well, if that's true, there must be a bunch of male quilters out there named "Sonya," "Margaret," and "Julie."

What they are really trying to do, I suspect, is reassure themselves that I, the person in front of them, is not a freak. My mom, similarly, used to always talk about how "masculine" my quilts were, until I started teasing her about it. "My son's not a freak!! My son's NOT a freak!!" Although I'm not a big fan of embroidered flowers, chintz prints, and ruffles, I have a hard time seeing anything distinctively testosterone-driven in my work, either.

The most odious indignity that a quiltin' man must suffer, though, is exposure to books and articles about Quilts for the Men in Your Life. These are invariably ghastly. Quilts for Men are always thematic, and the themes are as follows: Cars. Sports. Huntin'. Fishin'. Golf. Ties. Yes, friends, that's the sum total of what men are about. Now, in theory, it would be possible to create a golf-themed quilt that was attractive, interesting, or in excellent taste. But I ain't seen it yet.

Sorry this entry doesn't have pictures.


COMMENT:AUTHOR: Charlie DATE: 05/14/2006 06:28:10 PM
Michael man, I hear you. You would not believe the looks I get at my pole dancing classes at Bally's.-----

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Challenge Quilt. About Time.

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

The Challenge Quilt. About Time.
DATE: 04/11/2006 10:49:01 PM
All right. At long last, I can show you the challenge quilt. Here it is:
And here's the "artist's statement":
Each square of the Quilt Map of Oregon represents an area of 12 miles by 12 miles. The colors are meant to generally represent types of vegetation, and for their exact distribution I drew heavily on land use maps in the Atlas of Oregon . Quilting represents county boundaries. Most major cities, mountains, and lakes are shown, and are accurately placed within a few miles. Those familiar with the state should be able to pick out the Ochoco, Strawberry, Blue, and Wallowa Mountains, as well as familiar features like the Willamette Valley, Mt. Hood, Crater Lake (and Wizard Island!), and the lower Columbia River.

So, there you have it. The reason it took so long is that I had to find a piece of fabric for each of the 600 squares that represented the terrain, and possibly the cities or mountains, in that section of the state. I actually laid the whole thing out on a poster-sized map of the state -- if you know what to look for, you can see that in the very first picture in this blog.

Last night was the big meeting where the guild voted for the best 8 challenge quilts that will be representin' PDX at the national competition in Nashville. It turned out there were about 20 entries. Mine was probably 19th best, which means I achieved both my goals: I wasn't (too) embarassed to have my piece hanging, and I didn't come in last. After the 8 winners were picked, the rest of us were called up to stand by our pieces, and everybody got a polite round of applause. That was nice. The only moment that could have been a drag was when someone who didn't know I was in the competition pointed mine out to me as one of the ones that "doesn't work." But it didn't bug me. I know it doesn't work.

There are two design problems with Quilt Map. One comes from the dark value of the ocean. I was forced to do a dark ocean by the dark blue of the challenge fabric, but that makes the left edge of the piece much more aggressive than the mild greys that represent Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Cali. I could have countered this if I'd gone with my initial impulse, and shown the other states in saturated colors like purple, rust, etc. But then, there wouldn't have been enough contrast around the state borders, and it would have been hard to recognize the whole as a map of Oregon. That would have been bad, for a map of Oregon.

The other problem is with the quilting. In the quilt world, dense quilting is valued. And for good reason -- it makes a piece look crisp and gives it texture. Sometimes, the texture of dense quilting is enough, even on an otherwise blank piece of white fabric, to make a stunning quilt in and of itself. Loosely quilted pieces, by contrast, look kind of dull and flabby, and tend to sag.

In Quilt Map, I used quilting to show county lines. That's cool cartographically, but on the west side of the state results in a pretty thin quilting pattern. On the east side of the state, it's a disaster. Malheur County is a big sucker, leaving a gap of five or six inches between quilting lines. Not cool. I entertained the idea of also quilting in rivers and highways, maybe in different colors of thread, but the same problem would come up in the eastern half of the state, where rivers and roads are fairly infrequent. Plus, it would have raised all sorts of tricky decisions about WHICH rivers and roads to include. And I was getting exhausted.

So, it ain't going to Nashville, but it will be at the Quilt show on April 28, 29, 30. (see the post titled "Log Cabin," below). See ya there.
DATE: 04/13/2006 10:35:08 AM
I think it's a really great quilt to be honest with you. Aren't you awarded extra points just for the concept?

AUTHOR: Michael
DATE: 04/13/2006 06:24:08 PM
To be fair to myself, the judging was done without people seeing the artist's statement. So, they wouldn't have necessarily had a sense right away of how accurate it is, or why it was so thinly quilted. But on the other hand, the eight pieces that are going to the national show were all really spectacular. The people in the guild are wicked good.
AUTHOR: Charlie
DATE: 04/15/2006 04:47:37 PM
I agree with Eric that you are being too hard on yourself. I think it's really cool. But I did find it interesting that you felt yours to be the 19th best. Was there one that you knew no matter what everyone's was better than, or was it a modest mathematical way of expressing it's not in the top 8 but was not the worst?
AUTHOR: Michael
DATE: 04/17/2006 03:54:42 PM
Let's make an analogy recording music. We'll stipulate that a few of my songs are really good, as songs -- good lyrics matched to a good melody, harmony, beat, and arrangement. Would you expect to ever hear them on the radio? Of course not. The reason is, I am shaky on the basic skills (singin', playin' guitar) and also on the more subtle skills (miking instruments, equalizing sound, mixing, and all of the stuff I don't even know about that makes a recording sound radio-ready). Other songs, perhaps even a few that arguably aren't as good in their ideal form (if I may get Platonic on your ass (so to speak)) are going to get airplay. Mine aren't.

Thus it is also with quilting, my friends. The overall idea may be good, arguably more interesting than what some of the others came up with, but the details of the execution mean something too. In fact, they mean a lot. I am not embarassing myself by putting quilts like this in the show, but you could make a reasonable case that I'm really a year or two away from "show-ready."

Yes, there was a clear loser, although it was a perfectly respectable entry. (There were also a few that were eliminated for not meeting size requirements, so I guess I "beat" them too). I felt like I was a pretty clear runner-up loser, but a generous observer could have put me in a lower tier with 3 or 4 others.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wedding Presents

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

Wedding Presents
DATE: 03/26/2006 11:37:56 PM

I'm sure, gentle reader, that you have been breathlessly anticipating an update on the challenge quilt. Well, I finished it on the Sunday the 12th. On Monday the 13th, I handed it over to a woman from the guild. It was very strange to work on something so intensively for so long, and then to immediately give it to a stranger. But, I guess if I want people to see what I make, I'm going to have to get used to handing pieces over and trusting that they'll come back eventually.

I still can't show you a picture of the challenge quilt, unfortunately. That will have to wait another two weeks, until the Guild meeting on April 10.

With that big project off my plate, I spent a few days going nuts on about four different projects, making bits of incremental progress on all of them instead of focussing on any one piece. It felt good to work on some less fussy quilts, where I could get into a groove and make some fast progress without sweating over every individual stitch.

But eventually, it was time to get serious again. In particular, I've been thinking I really should get started on a wedding present for a good friend who got married, uh, last August. I am a firm believer in the one-year rule, but even at that I've only got four months left on the meter. So, that's what I'm working on now.

Now the problem with this as a blog subject is that once again I'm working on a project that I can't show you a picture of -- since my friends who got married last August might be among you. And I know you, gentle reader. For all of your sophistication and book larnin', you mostly want purty pictures from your quilt blog. It's OK, you can admit it. It's perfectly normal and healthy to want to see pictures of attractive quilts.

So, what I'm going to do is show you some pictures of wedding quilts past. First, though, a note to my friends who were married last August, if you happen to be reading this: what I'm working on for you is not quite to the scale of the pieces I'm describing here. It will be a smaller thing, but hopefully special in a different way. All will become clear.

OK, where were we? Oh, right, wedding quilts. The first one I made was for Mark and Lisa, back in 2000. I don't have a good picture of it, but this one will give you the idea. I designed it with the help of a seventh-grade lad named Ethan (this was back when I was a student teacher) and consequently the wedding symbolism is not as subtle as it might be. But perhaps that is part of the charm. It was my first foray into jewel tones, and with only four fabrics (green, red, blue, black) it is unusual for me -- most of my quilts use at least 10 fabrics, and many use hundreds.

Alas, I did not finish it in time. I flew it out to Huntsville, Alabama for the ceremony, showed it to 'em (see figure B), brought it home, finished it, and shipped it back out to 'Bama, where it has since remained as far as I know. Mark and Lisa seem to like it. I hope so.

Two years later, it was Mary Beth and Kim's turn. I brought them in on the design process, asked them about colors, showed them sample quilts and asked for their opinions on them, and asked them to describe what the perfect wedding quilt for them would look like. After this exhaustive market research, I sat down and came up with a kinda clumsy design in which the wedding symbolism, at least, is a little more subtle. I borrowed it back today so I could get a good photo of it, and I have to say, it's much better than I remembered it. Which is good. A wedding quilt is not where you want to do your crap work.

I don't know if other quilters feel this way, but a wedding gift is kind of a special thing to work on. For one thing, it involves you in actively celebrating your friend's marriage for several months in advance, which is a pretty powerful and joyful experience (note: I have been strongly in favor of the four marriages mentioned here. Making a quilt for a wedding you had big reservations about might suck.) And then, to be completely honest, there is the gloating certainty that your gift is going to make a big splash. Let's face it, a handmade quilt is the atomic bomb of wedding gifts. You know that you are going to wipe the gift-giving floor with those crass bastards who paid thirty bucks for something off the registry at Target.

Or so I had always supposed. Then came 2004, and Marsha and Charlie's wedding. I made an all-flannel piece, my only one to date. It uses only three winter-color fabrics in a simple (although hard to piece) pattern. Wedding symbolism is present but subtle. Not terribly showy, it is nevertheless among my favorites of everything I've made.

Nice quilt, right? I must have rocked the gift-opening, right? No. I had not accounted for Charlie's mom, the quilter. Nor for Charlie's grandma, the quilter. And you know, it's hard to compete with mom and grandma. Poor Marsha and Charlie -- I'm afraid they have a few more carefully handcrafted blankets than they really know what to do with.

Well, that's all I have to say about that for now. A procedural note -- I've changed the subtitle for this blog, which was originally going to be about my adventures in both quilting and home music recording. Turns out I like writing about the one, but not the other. So, we're talking quilts here. Nothing but quilts. Peace.


Thursday, March 09, 2006


From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

DATE: 03/09/2006 10:07:39 PM

So, I've been tracking down Portland quilters under 45 on Friendster and trying to start conversations about, well, being a quilter under 45. Kind of fun. There's even a male or two out there.

One of the people I've met is Cynthia, a designer who has a web page showing some of her quilts. They are great -- very fresh and spontaneous, and miles away from the block patterns that are at the core of the American quilting tradition. Quilts like this are called "art quilts." I'm not always crazy about them. They usually veer toward the frou-frou or cutesy, and are often embellished with embroidery, buttons, beads, and other bric-a-brac. Not my thing. Cynthia's, though, are very excellent. What I love about them is that she has combined the spontineity and painterly possibilities of the art quilt with the discipline and dignity of the traditional quilt. Really. Check it out!

Now, when she looked at my quilts, Cynthia initially characterized them as "traditional," which I have to admit came as a bit of a shock. I've always thought of myself as the edgy young guy pushing the envelope. Examining this idea now for the first time, I have to admit that it is basically a crock. But, before I lay down the pretext altogether, I want to lay a case out here that I am at least not a completely hidebound, musty, cobwebbed traditionalist. Ready? Here goes:

Exhibit A: Two Complex Shapes, a quilt I made at the very end of the 90s. This is probably the most original thing I've ever made; I've literally never seen anything else like it. I was dating a painter at the time, and tried to incorporate some of her ideas about composition in my own medium, on a free-form quilt. I made the basic sketch while one of my students gave an oral presentation, and when sketch and presentation were both finished, I realized I hadn't heard a word he said. I gave him a "C," figuring that a good presentation would have held my attention.

Complex Shapes, like most of my quilts until recently, is very weakly quilted. Because of that, and because it hung for years in my old apartment, it sags and doesn't have the visual impact it might. Sometime later this year, I want to requilt it. It can't hurt it, and it might turn it into a real showpiece.

Exhibit B: Sue's Quilt, a quilt I made for Sue, duh. This one came out of the collision of two kind of wacky ideas I had in 2002. On one hand, I was knocking around with some image software, trying to see how big a non-replicating pattern I could make using squares of 1x1, 2x2, 3x3, and 4x4 units. (Yes, I know that's a little strange). On the other hand, I randomly decided to buy a box of scraps on Ebay from some dude in San Fransisco who makes doll clothing, with the purpose of challenging myself to make a quilt out of whatever happened to be in the box when it arrived.

I ended up using the pattern of squares with the scrap fabrics, and this was the result. It was a real challenge of composition and construction, but I'm happy with the way it turned out. Sue seemed pleased, too -- "continually pleased," she says, popping into the room. This ended up being the first piece I displayed outside of a small town, at the 2005 Northwest Quilters show. It was hardly a showstopper, but it is another one that is essentially unique -- I don't think anyone else has made a quilt quite like it.

Exhibit C: Japanese Garden, one of three "slash quilts" I made in the late 1990s. This one belongs to my dear friend Mary Beth. Breaking a background fabrics with "slashes" of inset strips is not a unique idea with me, but I think I applied it pretty well. I was into Kandinsky at the time, and I think I was trying to cop some of his big compositional lines. I ought to mess with that technique again sometime.

Let me finish by saying two more things about tradition. First, I like to work with geometries of rectangles and triangles, as have many quilters before me. Because of this, I'm forever coming up with an original design (only once have I ever made a quilt from someone else's pattern, and that was for a class, so it doesn't count) only to learn that I've replicated something that people were making back in the 1870s.

Take this one -- I came up with that pattern myself, on graph paper, after Thanksgiving dinner in 2004. I've got witnesses! But somehow, I wasn't the first in the hundreds of years of the quilting tradition to think of it, and I've since seen several quilts with the exact same pattern in books and magazines. But none with such fabulous colors.

Which brings me to my final point. Even within the most cliched and common of the traditional patterns, there is a lot of room for innovation, discovery, and artistry. The Log Cabin from the last post is an example of this; where most quilts in this very traditional pattern take their effect from fabric groups of contrasting value, I juxtiposed fabric groups of almost exactly equal value, but from opposite ends of the color wheel. The quilt works, in my humble opinion, because it has both a traditional structural vocabulary and a warm glow all of its own that comes from its color contrast. "Around the World" is about as traditional a pattern as there is, but all four of my AtW quilts have messed with the conventions somehow, either unraveling the structure or using unorthodox fabric sets -- but that's a post in its own right.

Anyway, time to wrap this up with a spectacular display of banality: Tradition is good! Innovation is good! Growing from the roots of your Tradition toward the flowering of your Innovation is good! And, in a sense, inevitable.

Thank you for your kind attention, gentle reader! You rock!


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Log Cabin

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.
Log Cabin
DATE: 03/02/2006 09:35:22 PM

We took new pictures tonight of the Log Cabin quilt -- the one I talked about way back in the first post. I needed a new picture to use with the entry form for the Northwest Quilters annual show. It's not a juried show, so it will definitely hang. So, y'all can come out and see it... amid a zillion other fabulous quilts, most far superior!

The Northwest Quilters 32nd Annual Quilt Show will be April 28, 29, and 30 at University Place, 310 SW Lincoln, in Portland. You should check it out. Really!

Photo by Sue. By the way, you can click on any of the photos in this blog for a larger version....


Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Quilt for Baby Ira

A Quilt for Baby Ira
DATE: 02/25/2006 09:11:54 PM

From the original "Friendster" version of SOTC.

Three cheers, and all that: our friends James and Mia have a new baby boy, Ira Anton Bak Hazuka, born on Monday the 13th!

I've been thinking about them a lot, and on Monday the 20th, while I was playing hooky from work to take my niece Cady to the zoo, I decided I wanted to make Baby Ira a crib quilt. But, since Cady was in town and because I am still working on the challenge quilt, it couldn't be a big, time-consuming project. I decided I would use a super-simple pattern (a "one-patch," for those of y'all in the know) and minimal quilting, which is best for a baby blanket anyway -- tight quilting makes a blanket stiffer, less snuggly, and less warm. Moreover, I decided to make it a challenge to myself: to see if I could make the whole thing in a single evening!

Answer: I couldn't. Now, if I had just stuck with the original pattern, I think I could have. But when I finished it, it wanted a border, so I added that, and then the border wanted something interesting in the corners (I decided on simple "nine-patches"). So, by the time the face was finished, it was bedtime. So, in the end, it took me an evening to piece it, and another evening to quilt it. Oh, and a few extra hours to bind it. But who's counting?

I think it looks pretty good. If nothing else, it's nice and soft, so hopefully it will be a good night-night for the boy. It felt great to make it. Obviously, it was great fun in a Celebrate-the-Joy sort of way. But, it also felt really good as an exercise in the craft. After all of the slow, tedious detail work I've been doing on the challenge quilt, it felt great to pound out something good, quickly. Making decisions (about the border, backing, and binding) on the fly, I felt confident and competent at every stage of the process. I even felt competent with the machine quilting, which is a big first for me.

A little detail I'm proud of is that I quilted Ira's name and birthday into the border. It's the first time I've used a technique called free-motion quilting. I took a class in it a few years ago, but there was a problem with my machine and until I got it repaired in October (thank you, Montavilla Sewing!) it couldn't handle free-motion. I think it came out pretty well, for a first-time effort.

I should include a quick shout-out to Cady for keeping me company during the quilting and for telling me, correctly, to get rid of the pink square! At ten, she has already made two quilts herself (with grandma's help), so maybe she'll be the next generation.

Anyway, I had a great time making Ira's baby quilt, and I hope he finds it cozy, warm, and comfortable. Many well-wishes and much love to Mia, James, and their new baby boy!

AUTHOR: larissa
DATE: 02/26/2006 05:09:14 PM
michael! you are so talented. congrats to your friends and new life!
DATE: 02/26/2006 06:18:52 PM
michael, i was boasting about your quilt to everyone i know. thanks. you are the great uncle to Ira. can't wait to see Ira talking and have a decent conversation with you. you are the best.

Monday, February 20, 2006


DATE: 02/20/2006 08:19:26 PM

From the original "Friendster" version of State of the Craft.

So, it was mid-day Saturday, and I was plugging away at my big project, like I'd plugged away at it all Friday night -- sew sew sew sew sew -- and Sue walked by my sewing room in the hallway. And a thought comes into my head: what does this look like to her? I imagine observing my behavior from outside -- hour after hour after hour of cutting up these scraps of cloth that I've spent so much money on, and sewing them back together. This led to the next thought: What the hell am I doing?

"What the hell am I doing?!" I asked Sue. "This is crazy! I've spent two months of my leisure time, not to mention eighty or ninety dollars, on this damn thing. Any why? What for? Can you give me a single good reason I should be doing this? It's absolutely nuts!!"

She laughed at me, and said something witty about the nature of hobbies, something about how if you are going to have a hobby, you shouldn't ask that kind of question.

I went back to happily sewing little pieces of fabric together.

DATE: 02/25/2006 08:26:40 AM
What a good wife. She's right. You just keep sewing.
AUTHOR: Charlie
DATE: 02/26/2006 06:23:52 PM
Oh come one Michael. We all the know the real reason. So you can kick those ladies' asses at the competition.
AUTHOR: Michael
DATE: 03/02/2006 10:20:52 PM
Charlie: Indeed.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Whole Quilting/Mental Health Thing, Vol. II

The Whole Quilting/Mental Health Thing, Vol. II
DATE: 01/30/2006 10:25:09 PM

From the original "Friendster" version of State of the Craft.

So. When we left off, it was 1994, I was recovering from a nervous breakdown in sunny Bandon-by-the-Sea, Oregon, I had become fascinated with my mom's quilting, and I had made my little placemat-sized first quilt.

What I haven't really articulated, neither here nor to myself, is WHY I became fascinated and then started into quilting. I've always loved color and pattern, which I supposed goes a long way towards explaining it. Never especially good with paint or pencil, I found fabric a very forgiving and manageable medium. Too, quilting is well suited for abstract patterns, so one doesn't have to fret over subject matter -- and when it comes to subject matter, I've always had a pretty wooden imagination.

Anyway, let's get this narrative show back on the road. I finished that little placemat, and Mom left town for a short trip, naturally assuming that I had made my one quilt, that it was kind of cool but not something likely to be repeated.

By the time she got back, after a long weekend, I was well into putting together my second quilt.

Now, "Number Two," as I think we can fairly call it, is a piece that makes a strong case that a beginning designer needs the guiding hand of a mentor. It is telling that, to put a picture of it here, I had to find it and photograph it tonight -- until now, it had gone 12 years without anyone ever thinking to take a picture of it. It is not handsome. It is not interesting. It is not at all clear what I was thinking.

In its defense, it did look slightly better before the black fabrics faded unevenly, as black fabrics tend to do. The craftsmanship is not terrible for an unsupervised second effort, and if I hadn't used the reds.... but then, I did use the reds.

Before I left Bandon, under my own power, I was to make two more quilts, including the Cow Quilt. The Cow Quilt is always the one people like best, which can be a bit of a drag -- I made it 40 quilts and 12 years ago, damn it! One likes to think one is making progress! Doesn't one? Not always trying to catch up with the third piece he ever made?

Well, hell, it's nice to have made something people like. It has hung in a quilt show in Bandon, in the Bandon Public Library, and in the "Foyer Gallery" at IRCO, which is all very flattering. It currently lives in the guest room.

So. It's one of those unanswerable questions, the extent to which taking on quilting helped me recover from my first big mental health crisis, or if it was just something that incidentally happened while I happened to be recovering. My therapist says that creative processing, and even the arm motions characteristic of, say, working on a quilt (or playing a musical instrument) makes your brain fire off good chemicals. And it's definitely true, I've learned over and over, that working on something that absorbs you can keep your mind from gnawing on itself, at least on a good day.

I took a class several years ago, although it seems strange to say so now, in which the final project was to do a self-revalatory performance art piece. No, really, I did. And I told the story about how I learned to quilt, exploiting the metaphoric possibilities to the hilt. I even used the phrase "stitching the pieces of my life back together." And there have been times when I actually believed it -- really believed that quilting saved my life, by giving me a focus, or a competance, or a meditation, or something that I could just immerse myself in until the world around me righted itself again.

Other times, it just seems like a hobby.

PROGRESS REPORT: The challenge quilt is coming along beautifully. The face is pretty much completely laid out, and I have been pouring my weekends into the details of the piecing. I think I will make the deadline. I can not wait to show it to you, Gentle Reader. Even more, I can not wait to work on something else, or even clean the house for crying out loud. Alternating between work and this project (and, it must be admitted, "Civ IV") begins to feel like life without weekends. And that's no good.

P.S. If you are wondering about the performance art piece, it was a hit. Predictably, I wowed 'em when I unfurled my quilts. What really floored them, though, was when I threaded the sewing machine. You could have heard a pin drop. I guess people aren't used to seeing guys do that.

DATE: 02/01/2006 08:12:39 PM
whatever makes you happy and sane, you are blessed to have at lease one thing that people say wow at. many people don't have the skills to show off like you do with your quilts. i truly admire your passion, talents, and patience for one thing. can't wait to see your finished project.....

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Whole Quilting/Mental Health Thing, Vol. I

The Whole Quilting/Mental Health Thing, Vol. I
DATE: 01/24/2006 09:41:46 PM

From the original "Friendster" version of State of the Craft.

Alright, it's time to talk about the quilting/mental health connection, so listen up. Or, if you're uncomfortable with this kind of thing, skip the entry. No worries.

OK, still with me? Alright, if you are reading this, you probably already know that I have encounters with Clinical Depression every few years. Well, that's how I came to quilt.

My first definite episode of Depression began in the summer of 1994. I was stuck in Kansas, had no schedule to keep me focused, and didn't have a clue what was happening, and things quickly spriraled out of control. Within less than two months, I developed symptoms of anorexia (losing 35 pounds off of what was already, at the time, a fairly slim frame) and a full-blown case of agoraphobia that was to stick with me for the next five years. At that point, as a happier alternative to offing myself, I flew back to Oregon to, basically, put myself back in the care of my parents for a while.

To make a long story short, it all worked out. I started eating again, we got my meds sorted out, and if I still had trouble going more than 25 miles or so, at least I was OK leaving the house. In the meantime, I was spending a lot of time around my parents, helping Dad with yardwork and whatnot and -- here's the tie-in -- watching my Mom work on a quilt. The yardwork was nice, but I found the quilting completely fascinating.

The quilt Mom was working on was like the ones I talked about last week in the sense that it was a single image composed of hundreds of small "two-inch squares." A two-inch square is, duh, a little piece of fabric that is two inches by two inches. This can get confusing, though, because a quarter inch on each side of the piece disappears when it gets sewn to its neighboring pieces. That quarter inch is called the "seam allowance," and because of the seam allowance, a two-inch square only measures 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches in the actual quilt.

Like Robert Silvers (or better, David Hockney) creating a photomosaic... Like Seurat painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte (well, kinda).... Mom would place these little squares together so that they were each interesting in their own right, blended with their immediate neighbors in interesting ways, and added up to an overall composite image. I probably wouldn't have chosen a big heart as the overall image, but then I wasn't doing the work. The completed quilt is pretty stunning even if you aren't much into big hearts, and it won several judges' and audience choice awards in local shows.

But I digress. The point is, Mom had hundreds of these two-inch squares sorted in little stacks, like -- pick your metaphor -- paint on a palette, or like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. And it was just really, really interesting to watch her -- stick with your chosen metaphor, please -- use them to paint the image on the felt canvas she was using to lay out the quilt, or try to assemble the puzzle with jigsaw pieces that hadn't been made to go together. Like any jerk watching a solitare game, I began to make "helpful suggestions." Most were not helpful, of course, but it was always interesting to hear back why they weren't. The number of variables that determined whether a given square belonged where it did was pretty amazing.

In a thinly-veiled attempt to get me out of her face, Mom cut me a piece of felt, gave me a stack of reject squares, and suggested that I try a little layout. Who could resist? ...well, I suppose lots of people could resist, but I was hooked, and had nothing but time on my hands, and nothing to lose. So, I made this little placemat-sized design, with greens, blues, and purples arranged in a checkerboard pattern of color value. When I announced that I wanted to put it together, Mom looked pained -- later, I realized that she expected that she would have to put it together for me. But no: I wanted to learn the whole process.

For the life of me, I can't remember WHY I wanted to learn the whole process. It may be that, having recently spent two years completing a master's thesis, I was desparate to create something of actual value. Or, if that's too cynical, maybe I wanted to see something good (or, at least, purty) come out of what was otherwise turning out to be a real washout of a summer. Whatever. I learned the basics of running a sewing machine, and pieced that puppy together. I learned how to "tie" -- a cruder, faster method than actual quilting of putting the three layers of your piece together. And voila! I had made a quilt!

to be continued

Friday, January 06, 2006

How I Spent the Martin Luther King Holiday

How I Spent the Martin Luther King Holiday
DATE: 01/16/2006 10:57:08 PM

From the original "Friendster" version of State of the Craft.

Fabric Depot, a grim Portland big-box superstore devoted strictly to fabric -- well, fabric and "notions" -- was advertising a "Martin Luther King Day 30% Off Sale" for today. Who would have thought, 40 years ago, that Dr. King's legacy would include discount fabric for Portland hobbyists? I can't decide whether it represents societal progress, or decline, or what.

This three-day weekend, in any event, has been one of my biggest quilting binges ever. The weather has been absolutely perfect for quilting, and I haven't done much else. Having been out of commission for most of the last month and a half, I have a lot of lost time to make up if I'm going to finish my challenge piece by the late-March deadline. My goal for this weekend was to lay out a "rough draft" of the piece, and happily I completed that last night and got in another seven or eight hours of revision and even a little sewing today.

Now, as I said before, I'm not supposed to reveal what I'm working on for the challenge. Let's just say it is neither a block quilt, where the face is composed of a grid of blocks which can initially be worked on individually, nor a symetrical pattern where bits can be worked on without reference to the whole. Instead, it's an assymetrical pattern in which each single piece -- there are more than 600 -- needs to be individually planned and placed before any sewing can happen.

So, when I say I was "laying out" the quilt, I was literally arranging the pieces on a table cleared for the occasion in my "studio," here. Now that they are laid out, but very little is sewn together, the whole project is extremely vulnerable. Since there's no door on the room, I'm keeping a piece of plywood over the opening at all times, as a cat leaping up onto the table could immediately undo ten hours of work. That would be bad. It's worrying enough that I was trying to think yesterday if there was any way to protect the layout against the possibility of earthquake. But I suppose if the earthquake hits I'll have other things to worry about anyway.

I mentioned in the first entry that this is a "guild challenge." Here's how it works: the American Quilter's Society picked the fabric. Guilds across the U.S. each select a theme; my guild, Northwest Quilters, picked "Show Off Oregon" (which must be a little annoying to members from the 'Couv, but that's not my problem). Individual guild members prepare a quilt on that theme, and submit them by the end of March. At the April meeting, the guild will vote to select the eight best pieces. (The whole thing with the secrecy is to keep the vote honest, rather than having it turn into a popularity contest). Then, at the national convention, the competition is guild vs. guild.

Returning readers will remember that I am a bit insecure about my standing in the quilting world. Now, it so happens that this challenge has been an opportunity for me to try out an idea I've had knocking around for more than ten years. But at the same time, it's also another opportunity to try to establish some cred within the guild. I'm not really expecting my entry will be in the top eight that go to the national conference, but if I can submit an ambitious, original, well-made, and (most importantly) finished piece that gives the winners a run for their money, I'll be happy. It's definitely original and ambitious -- you will have to take my word on that, for now -- but I will have to put in a lot of hours to get it finished, let alone well-made. I might take a extra few days off to work on it.

This challenge project reminds me a little bit of my largest-scale project, one that I've been working on for two years already and estimate I'll finish in 2009. It's called "Labyrinth." It is, well, a labyrinth. It's a big one, executed in 1 1/2 " squares. The photo shows a completed corner of it, about 200 individual squares. The completed quilt will consist of more than 3000 individual squares. Like the challenge quilt, this is another piece that requires laying out, but there are no tables in the house anywhere close to large enough. When I work on layout for this sucker, I take apart our futon and use the entire floor area of our bedroom, and we sleep in the guestroom for a few nights. I think that it will ultimately be a pretty cool thing and prove well worth the years of work and hassle. But, I'll feel stupid if it's a bomb.