Friday, August 29, 2008

Building a Cactus Garden

I bet that most retired teachers get some sort of niggling sensation every August/
September season. They remember all the prep and hype and perhaps anxiety over the return to school. For three years now I have been one of the lucky ones that starts to feel that anxiety coming on, then realizes, hey, not me! I'm retired!
One of the common activities through the ages during those first days of school has been that classic assignment to write an essay on "how I spent my summer vacation". That exactly is what I assigned myself for this blog. Maybe I was wanting to momentarily step back into that teacher mode. Momentarily I said!
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
This summer I built a cactus garden. I did a lot of other fun things, like grow a beautiful vegetable and flower garden, hung out with grandkids for two weeks, had a great trip to Alaska, etc., but my main activity was building a cactus garden. Perhaps I should add that this cactus garden was totally out of fabric. And when I say build, I mean from the ground up, from scratch. I started with my favorite white cotton, a set of dyes, some batting and lots of thread and proceeded to build a cactus garden.

Last winter in Mexico I met a couple from Edmonton who liked my work and they decided to hire me to create a large piece for their home. After much talking, e-mailing, photo transfers, and negotiations, it was decided that I would create a cactus/desert scene in a tryptich form, each of the three panels being 30"x72". Because I needed to fill a large space in my Mazatlan gallery, I decided to also make three for myself, and let them choose which they liked out of the total.
They sent pictures of their living room and a paint swatch of their wall color. The rest was up to me.

First I decided on the color pallete I would use. Then I dyed a large collection of fabric to use for the cactus forms. I loved working with the colors and the textures and trying to get as many different pieces as possible. The background pieces were my next challenge.
I wanted a gradation of color with a sky painted on the top portion to imply the feel of a desert scape. Then I was ready to start putting the shapes and forms on the backgrounds. I had decided to use the barrel, prickly pear, yucca and saguaro shapes. I placed them with raw edge exposed, then stitched them down securely with a zigzag stitch. After the entire scene on all six panels was completed, I sandwiched them with batting and backings and proceeded to free-motion quilt the top with texture, texture and more texture.
When completed, I tossed them in a gentle wash and machine dried them to increase the texture. This week I am putting on bindings and tabs at the top and all other finishing touches.
I have truly enjoyed creating this set of pieces and am so pleased with how they turned out.

Guess what's going to be displayed on my First Friday Web Walk in September?


Who's Suzie?
Suzie is a woman from Bellingham who travels to the waters of Desolation Sound every summer with her husband and friends. Last year she discovered some of my fabric for sale over at the Cortes Craft Shop and she was so excited, she just HAD to find me. She headed to Refuge Cove and asked for me but somehow we never connected. (All that searching made me feel so special!) She ended up with my e-mail and the rest is history!
Suzie is also a calligrapher, a very fine one at that! She does elegant work in a variety of formats. One of her modes is to write on my fabric. She stabilizes it with freezer paper (a friend of mine also recommended contact paper) and chooses her ink color to contrast with the fabric. Her pieces are lovely. This is an example of her work done on commercial fabric. I also love the beadwork at the bottom.
Her e-mail requested some more fabric, so when we drove through B-ham on our way to Mexico, I stopped and made a connection with her. The seeds of friendship were planted and on their way.

So once again, she found herself up my way and we planned for a play day in my studio. She deserted her boat-mates and was delivered to my house by her husband, Chuck, in their little inflatable.
She hadn't done much dyeing so I showed her a few techniques and we both just ended up with lots of experiments and fun! She was leaning towards oranges, and I was in a blue/purple mood. Funny how those color things go! I was a bit disappointed with our results as I could tell that the dyes were old and not up to the best color. But she was HAPPY! One of my favorite pieces of the day was made by making penny sandwiches on the cotton: a penny on each side of the cotton, then secured tightly with a small clamp. They produced a lovely dotted piece.And Suzie found a pine branch, attached it to her piece for dyeing, and yes, the form or impression of the needles could beautifully be seen on the finished piece.
We both had a great time and I can't wait to see what she comes up with. And I can't wait for next year's visit!

Monday, August 25, 2008


Once again I have been captured by the dye/discharge combo process. I know - it's pretty crazy to dye pieces of fabric, just to undye them again. But I am fascinated by the colors left behind after applying a bleach product, and I just can't seem to get enough of it. Plus, I'm scheduled to teach this process within my guild in a few weeks and I'm trying to get a good stack of samples put together. Even though the pressure is on, I'm loving every minute of it!

So my current quest with the dye/discharge combo was to incorporate a free motion quilting technique I refer to as "positive-negative", as freezer paper fills the negative spaces to frame the positive shape for quilting. I love this technique and find it produces a beautiful, clean shape just by staying within the lines. I started with a stack of dyed dark cotton (using a palette of colors that included about 50% black in each formula), plus a few small pieces of brights that I wanted to incorporate as accents. In the end, I hoped to not only learn something new about the process but also to create a tote bag for ME! I had been running around with an old, tattered, 3 times dyed Safeway cloth bag, and decided I needed to have something that better displays my work.
I began by sewing my darks in a log cabin-ish pattern, using a small square of bright for each center. I also made small (1" square) tabs out of the brights to be sewn around the top of the tote for a decorative effect. After I finished the full piece (approximately 24"x36"), I sandwiched it with a backing and batting and began planning for free motion quilting. I had a total of eight log cabin squares (four on each side of the tote) and each small bright square was to be the center of a flower shape that I would quilt to stand out and later discharge with a bleach product.

To help with placement, I cut a piece of freezer paper for each side of the tote. Even though it was whole cloth, I only wanted to work with one side at a time. I placed the freezer paper on my sofa cushion (shiny side down) and put the one side of the tote directly over it. Then I took a pin and poked through each flower center into the paper, so I had the exact location marked on the freezer paper. I then was able to take my compass and draw four circles, keeping in mind balance, space for borders, etc. One by one I cut out each circle with about an inch all around, then cut out the inside of the circle. I was left with a ring that I then ironed to my fabric, creating the circle shape just where I wanted my flower to pop out. To further secure the paper ring, I pinned around it. Now the flower needed a center circle. I used a 1" freezer paper circle for each center that I ironed and pinned over the small bright center square, but for an interesting effect, I offset it a bit (maybe a half inch). Now I started quilting inside, going back and forth between the center and the outside perimeter, creating one petal at a time. At the end, I tied back into my beginning stitches. After stitching the eight flowers, I proceeded with discharging.

My favorite product (so far) is a Clorox bleach pen. I never use the applicator pen it comes in as I find it too globby. I prefer to use a fine metal-tipped applicator bottle that I also use for applying gutta to silk. After I squeeze the bleach product into my applicator bottle, I then carefully "color inside the lines" by squeezing the solution onto my quilted areas. Did I say carefully? I hope so, because a mistake could be project-fatal, but so far I've been happy and successful (without too much worry and stress) by using this applicator.

I should mention about safety and bleach products. Always read labels on the products you buy so you know what you're dealing with. FOR ME, I don't wear gloves, but will always wash my hands if they come in contact with the bleach. I also try to work in well-ventilated areas (outdoors is great), but if not possible, I make a point of only working for short periods at a time. FOR ME, I don't like breathing the chlorine product. I think I only discharged 2 or 3 flowers at a time on this project.

Now I was ready to quilt the rest of the areas surrounding the flowers. I chose to do a simple heart-shaped leaf, moving in and around each flower and also the bright tabs I had placed near the top. I turned out to be a bit more tedious than I expected, and in retrospect I would have chosen something a bit simpler, perhaps even a small stipple as the flowers are what stand out, not the background quilting.

My cloth was ready to make into a bag, but first I had to wash and dry it to get the bleach out. I used my Safeway bag as a pattern for size and handle length as it has proved to be perfect for me. I found a bright parfait for lining and sewed in pockets. To finish, I chose eighteen old buttons to add to the tabs and to the centers of the circles.

I am so happy with the finished product. I love the colors within the flowers and they are set off beautifully with the dark background. I am happy I chose bits of bright fabric for the centers and the tabs. My decision to offset the center of the flower (in relation to the bright square) helped to create another point of interest. If I could change anything, I would create fabric for the whole tote from one color palette- background, brights and lining. This one seemed to work well but I know how beautiful all those compatible colors from one palette look in a finished piece.

Will I throw away my Safeway bag? Not on your life! But this one is already packed with all my daily traveling essentials and has taken its place in the arena of "favorite bag of the moment"!

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Earlier this week, I returned from a near weeklong visit to a place I lived many years ago during the years of first being married (the first time, out of two) and giving birth to my son. The years were 1981-86 and the place was Gustavus, Alaska, then population of 100 in the dead of winter. This past visit was the first time back in 20 years. In 1985 my son, Ben, was born in Gustavus, and he was one of four in that era's "baby group". It was only natural that we four moms established a habit of taking a daily walk with babes in backpacks which included all the sharing that young mothers are known to do. Last Monday, one of those backpack infants (Erin) married Ben's cousin, Travis. By returning to Gustavus, I stepped into a family scene of my past and was warmly welcomed by all. I was also reunited with some great women friends, and was included in the daily dock walk which resembled the walks I previously described, minus the backpacks and babies. Back in my Gustavus days, I worked at the local school as a teacher's aide, and cooked at the local Gustavus Inn during summers. Here's friend and owner JoAnn in her typical welcoming mode.She also has found a voice in her art and I so enjoyed seeing her projects in the fiber and watercolor realms. JoAnn's work is full of color and lightness and whimsy to me.JoAnn was also displaying quilts of another of our backpack kids from days-gone-by, Breena, who now is a recent marine biology graduate AND quilter. This quilt is a bookcase of her favorite childrens' books. It probably should be rotated 90 degrees to the left to look like an actual bookcase with books, but I liked reading the titles; I'll Love You Forever has always been one of my favorites too.Another highlight to the weekend was seeing my former sister-in-law, Donna, who also was starring in the role of "mother of the groom". (She played the part well!) She is the proud mother of 6...her 3 boys (ages 33, 30 and 27) and her 3 girls (ages 4, 5 and 6 or thereabouts). Yes, 4, 5, and's enough to make me exhausted just thinking about it! Her beautiful girls are recent adoptees from China and last Monday they were special little flower girls to precede the bride and groom. Sweet cousin and ringbearer, Jackson, follows along.I enjoyed traveling around town, seeing how things had changed in the past 20 years. Gustavus has acquired many facilities and businesses that make living there (particularly in the winter) much easier and better for one's mental health than back in the old days. A beautiful new library is certainly a welcomed addition. I knew I couldn't miss visiting this place that now displays what I refer to as my "divorce quilt". I had collected squares from other women, all with the theme of Canadian geese, to piece together and construct borders during those weeks prior to leaving my marriage. There are big chunks of my emotions stitched all over that piece.

Also at the library is a history quilt that was headed up by JoAnn. Local history goes back a more than 100 years, and my son's family is a big part of the lore of this small town. I recognized many of the names of the featured families. The black and white photos added a wonderful vintage feel to the quilt.Reconnecting with friends, attending the wedding, seeing my son, re-experiencing the beauty of the Glacier Bay area, and being welcomed by my former husband and his family were certainly affirming for me. Time travel it was, and five days was perfect. I don't think I'll wait 20 years for my next visit.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Ode to Summer Sun

Going going gone...
the horizon line,

day's end,

or seasonal changes.

Life giving

or energy sapping.

Shining with anticipation

or heavy

with unrelenting heat.

The steadfast light of

hide and seek

or shadowplay

reminds me of life's circle.

Silent orb now casting new light

on my break of day.

Happy August and welcome to my First Friday Webwalk...honoring none other than our faithful sun! Here in Desolation Sound, we haven't seen it for a few days (lots of rain!), but today it is peeking out and the forecast is for brilliant skies.

You would think that after so many days, months, and years of saying, "where'd July go?", "where'd 2007 go?", or back in working days, "where'd the weekend go?", that I'd finally figure out the answer to these questions. But I continually verbalize these queries TIME after TIME, perhaps thinking that THE answer will miraculously come to me or to someone else who will share the truth I constantly seek. The simple answer: it's GONE, OVER, DONE! The garden's beauty has peaked. The morning light is later to arrive. The squirrel's are beginning their seasonal pre-gathering chatter. The hummingbirds are disappearing from the perches I have left for them.

As it comes, it goes. Steady and true. Same but different.
A new day. A new opportunity. A new inspiration.