Friday, April 3, 2015

Signs of Spring

In our family springtime means spring break, and for me nothing says spring break more than a road trip. This year we visited the western Arizona desert and the Grand Canyon.

I was last in western Arizona over 30 years ago, visiting Steve in the Granite Wash Mountains where he was doing field work for his dissertation. During the summer temperatures frequently soar well over the century mark. But in the spring, with lower temperatures and cactus and wildflowers in bloom, it is a lovely place to hike.


The mountains are dotted with remains of old mines and mining encampments, testaments to past hard-scrabble lives. Today a few claim stakes mark hope for further finds, but networks of tracks from all terrain vehicles show the other role these mountains play in today's world: playground for retirees who winter in Arizona. 

Desert pavement and tracks in the Granite Wash Mountains

They are also home to wildlife such as this desert tortoise.


According to NASA these mountains contain the largest population of cacti in the United States. I don't  know how they know that, but it seems plausible.

View of the Harquahala Mountains

We stayed at the funky Westward Motel, a block off the highway in Salome. It has clean rooms, comfortable beds, and a proprietor with an excellent eye and seemingly endless energy for turning other people's castoffs into useful and interesting items.

The Westward Motel



Next stop was the Grand Canyon where we spent our first morning visiting the geology museum (of course) and following the outdoor timeline that illustrates the canyon's history. In the afternoon we hiked west along the rim from one scenic viewpoint to another.


The best part of our trip was hiking down the Bright Angel Trail, across the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch, then back across the river and up the South Kaibab Trail. The route covered over 15 miles of trail with 5000 feet of elevation loss and gain. Signs along the way caution against doing this in one day. We did it anyway,


starting well before dawn to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures, and took plenty of water.

Early start down the Bright Angel Trail

Other advantages of our early start was a quiet trail,


and sunrise views  of the canyon.




The early start also gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views and examine the geology along the way.





Bright Angel Suspension Bridge

We even stopped in the mess hall at Phantom Ranch for a cup of coffee and to write and mail a couple of post cards.


Both suspension bridges across the Colorado River are fun to cross.

South Kaibab Suspension Bridge

The South Kaibab Bridge has the added interest of being accessed on the south side through a small, dark tunnel.

South Kaibab Suspension Bridge south entrance


The South Kaibab Trail is more open than the Bright Angel, and affords stunning panoramic views of the canyon.


We were lucky to get some afternoon clouds to add even more interest.



The final stretch towards the top includes an impressive bit of trail building. Viewed straight on it looks rather scary.


Once on that section you realize the trail is plenty wide and gentle for comfort.


We were back at the rim by mid-afternoon, in time for showers and a glass of wine before sunset.


Another sign of spring is outdoor entertainment. A dear friend invited us to dinner at her home so that we could all first enjoy champagne and hors d'oeuvres in her lovely garden, fragrant with Texas Mountain Laurels, aglow with white wisteria. As a hostess gift I knit up some wash cloths, with free patterns from KnitPicks, to pair with a nice bar of soap. I used organic cotton yarn that I found in my stash, but any kind of cotton will work just fine. Happy spring!



Thursday, March 26, 2015

The DAR Museum in Washington, D.C.

How is it that I lived in Washington, DC, for a couple of years yet never found my way to the DAR Museum? The Daughters of the American Revolution is, according to their web site, a "service organization dedicated to promoting patriotism, preserving American history, and securing America's future through better education for children." Membership is limited to women who can demonstrate lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution.

As part of their mission to preserve American history, the DAR has amassed a large collection of early American decorative arts, now displayed in the the beaux arts building which first served as their headquarters. Adjacent to to the ellipse and the Old Executive Office Building, it is close to the mall and the museums of the Smithsonian. Rooms originally used as offices have been turned into period rooms, each demonstrating what a specific room might have looked like in a given state at a given time. For example, the Texas Room is furnished as a bedroom from a house in Alleyton, Texas, as it might have looked in the latter part of the 19th century.

The Texas Room

In addition to the period rooms, a dedicated gallery contains pieces in more conventional displays along with special exhibits. I was lucky to catch the "Eye on Elegance" exhibit which features early quilts from Maryland and Virginia. The DAR's own exceptional collection is enhanced with several pieces on loan from other institutions. It is an excellent exhibit of truly beautiful and superbly executed quilts. Each quilt is accompanied by information about the maker or makers, design influences, and techniques used, as well as explanations of overall styles and how they evolved over time and place.  Given the current popularity of quilting, I was astonished to find myself the sole visitor. I had the gallery to myself for a full hour! Entry is free and the exhibit runs through September 5th, 2015.

I purchased the exhibition catalogue and though am disappointed that some of the photographs are not sharp enough to show much detail, the accompanying history of these quilts makes it worthy of a place on my shelf. Fortunately, I was able to take my own photographs and they do show details quite well. You can click on each photo to see a higher resolution version and if you'd like to see more than the ones shown here, take a look at my Flickr page.

I find the early chintz appliqué quilts especially appealing for their subtle colors and overall elegant designs.

Floral applique quilt, Rebecca Sands Gladstone, about 1840-41

Framed medallion quilt, Amelia Heiskell Lauck, 1823

The quilts in this exhibit demonstrate extraordinary levels of technical skill. The lovely flower, fruit and feather designs on this framed medallion piece really stand out due to fine quilting.

Detail framed medallion quilt

Baltimore album quilt, Ruth Pettit Penn, about 1850

Detail of Baltimore album quilt, about 1848 

Reverse applique eagle quilt, 1830s

Detail of pheasant and plum tree quilt, Arianna Sollers Bouldin, about 1815-1825

Detail of sunburst quilt, 1830s

Mathematical star quilt, 1830s

Pieced star quilt, Mary Maccubbin Waters Waters, 1853

This pieced star quilt has some of the finest stitching (15-17 stitches per inch, according to the label) I have ever seen. Each background section is different, with birds, fish, flowers, and other designs, all beautifully drawn.

Detail of pieced star quilt

Detail of pieced star quilt

I am still marveling at how precisely these quilts were pieced. Note the straightness of the edges, the sharpness of all the points, and the exacting fussy cut prints of the inner corner stars.

Pieced and stuffed medallion quilt, Ludwell Harrison Goosley and daughters,  about 1810 and 1820s

Detail of pieced and stuffed medallion quilt

Tree of life and grapevine quilt, 1810s

These old quilts almost make me want to turn my back on the "modern" quilt movement and go back a couple of hundred years. Fortunately, modern tools allow me to be so productive that I can make "modern" quilts, old-style quilts, and everything in between. For near instant gratification I can make quilts using rotary cutters, sewing machines, and now a longarm machine for quilting. A few weeks ago, using the computer assisted option my longarm machine, I quilted this piece in well under two hours.



Thanks to Susan and Chris of Over the Top Quilting Studio for their help in getting me up and running with an APQS longarm and to Angela Hugli Clark of Thread Waggle Quilting for teaching me the ins and outs of designing and stitching with QuiltPath, the software that drives APQS machines.

Since the piecing is busy, the quilting isn't highly visible and so there was no point in using a complicated quilt design. I think the curves of the simple wave pattern I chose are just enough to offset the linearity of the piecing.

"Chinese Coins," inspired by a 1930s quilt of the same name in Roberta Horton's book "Scrap Quilts"

Now that I can quilt tops so quickly on my longarm machine, I have more time to do the hand piecing and hand quilting that I so enjoy. Much as I like finishing tops in a couple of hours on a machine, I think the look of hand quilting, which uses a single thread, cannot be matched by a machine, which uses two threads. Here is my current handwork project. I am just about ready to attach the final two sections of the outer border. Next time I think I will do the piecing by machine and save my hand sewing time for quilting.




Friday, March 20, 2015

QuiltCon 2015!

QuiltCon was in Austin again this year, bigger and better than in 2013.  There were more quilts, more classes, more vendors. It was particularly exciting to see the dramatic improvements in quilt design and workmanship compared to 2013.

I was fortunate to take several workshops, including ones on color theory by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr. Weeks and Bill, two of the earliest "modern" quilters, are adept at working with the entire color spectrum. I will confess that the heavy use of aqua and orange in quilts shown at QuitCon is one of my pet peeves, as though using these two hues is a requirement if you want your quilt to be considered "modern." Anyway, if you have a chance to spend time with either Weeks or Bill, I highly encourage you to do so. They are energetic, cheerful, open-minded and graciously share their wisdom and insights.  Here are a few of my "take-aways."

Improvisational quilting doesn't mean thoughtless design or sloppy workmanship.  It may mean relaxing some "rules," or cutting and sewing without first having worked out every shape and every fabric. But it still requires that you work with intention and an idea of what you are trying to achieve if you want a dynamic and pleasing composition.

Practice some restraint in use of color. Limit use of color along one or more dimensions -- hue, saturation, or value -- to make your quilt visually stronger. As in photography, the story is often stronger and the message clearer if you put less in the frame.

If using a photo for inspiration, there is no need to replicate the photo.  You already have the photo. If the colors appeal to you, figure out why and use that to choose fabrics. I have been pondering my photos of dinghies from a trip to Massachusetts in 2013, wanting to somehow interpret them as quilts. I got myself stuck on the idea of a literal translation. Thanks to Bill for making me realize that I won't improve on the photo with that approach. Now I will simply use the photos to guide my color choices.

Photo as color inspiration


Too literal a translation is not effective here

Another take-away from their workshops was a more robust vocabulary with which to articulate the details that define a quilt. That has helped me to identify what I find appealing in a given quilt and will thus help me refine my own designs. With that knowledge, I think I am better able to communicate what it was about each of these quilts from the show that made me pause to give it greater consideration.

For example, I found this one interesting because even though it reads as green, there are actually many other hues in it: yellow, blue, orange, grey, and brown. I also like the little pops of floral fabrics that the maker sprinkled around.

"Fuzhou Fujian" by Patricia Lutteral

On this flower-themed piece I like the brave use of a very mod bright pink and blue floral, along with the curving lines. Gently curved lines of hand quilting, similar in scale and shape to the piecing, yet not simply an echo, add to the movement.

"Score for Bias Strip Petals: Daisy" by Sherri Lynn Wood

I enjoy the sheer exuberance of this piece, though on further reflection wonder if there isn't just a tad too much of the saturated pink in the border.

"Sunset Waves" by Laura Hartrich

"Quilt for our Bed" unquestionably has a clear message, though not just because it is literally spelled out. There is a restfulness in the muted colors appropriate for a quilt meant to be slept under and a gentle and comforting expression of love that would seem conducive to sweet dreams.

"Quilt for our Bed" by Laura Hartrich

"Rainbow Magic" is pure fun. I like the free use of various sizes of rectangles, rather than squares, and the unusual collection of fabric styles, all pulled together with a heavy dose of red and orange.

"Rainbow Magic" by Mollie McMahon (age 7)

"Las Ventanas" is fun because of its free-form piecing and vibrant due to its saturated colors, including the eye-popping slightly greenish yellow background.

"Las Ventanas" by Kristin Shields

"Refresh" is interesting because it combines traditional techniques, such as paper piecing, with a modern design elements, such as a large but incomplete star.

"Refresh" by Anna Beonish

Sadly for me, QuiltCon is moving to Pasadena, California, in 2016 and to Savannah, Georgia, in 2017.  By way of farewell to Austin, here is an evening photo looking north along Congress Avenue towards the Texas Capitol.

Good evening, Austin