Saturday, October 18, 2014

Figged out!

Our summer plum harvest was small this year, but this fall, our brown turkey fig tree has been out of control!  DH and I have hardly eaten any fresh fruit other than figs since early September, and at the peak a little more than a week ago, we were picking a couple of dozen figs a day:

Fortunately, our neighbors like figs, but even so, we still had quite a surplus!  In desperation, I started exploring fig recipes: chicken with a fig balsamic sauce, fig ice cream, fig almond cake...

Everything was tasty, especially the fig ice cream.  I'm still perfecting the recipe, but the following, adapted from David Lebovitz, The Perfect Scoop, is worth a try:

2 lbs. figs (brown turkey figs, mission figs, or other varieties)
1 lemon
1/4 c. water
3/4 c. sugar
1 c. heavy cream
chopped candied ginger, about 1/4 to 1/2 c. (optional)

Cut off the stems from the figs, chop them into eighths, and put them in a pot with the water.  Zest the lemon peel directly into the pot, bring it to a boil, and simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the figs are soft.  Add the sugar, and boil down until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency.  Brown turkey figs have a lot of water in them, so you can boil quite vigorously until the mixture thickens and then simmer it more gently, with frequent stirring so that it doesn't stick and burn.  When the fig mixture is ready, turn off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

When cool, stick in a blender with the cream and blend until smooth.  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste (I used about 1-2 Tbs.).  Chill thoroughly, and then churn in your ice cream maker according to your machine's instructions.  As your ice cream churns, add the chopped candied ginger as a mix-in if you like.

I found this ice cream on the sweet side, and almost more of a sorbet than an ice cream, although with a very rich fig flavor.  I tried again with 1-1/2 pounds of figs, half a cup of sugar, and 1-1/2 cups of cream, but that batch of ice cream came out on the grainy side.  When I see my parents in a couple of weeks, I will try again with the smaller amount of figs and sugar (already cooked and in the freezer!), but just a cup of cream, and report back.

Cheers, and happy eating!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop!

Pedal Sew Lightly invited me to participate in today's Around the World Blog Hop, and I'm delighted to join in on the fun!  A couple of weeks back, Gayle's newly-acquired sewing studio caught my eye (I love seeing quilters' work spaces!), and I've also enjoyed admiring her quilts, with their bright colors and strong geometries, all very much in modern quilt mode.

The blog hop provides a glimpse into quilters' creative lives by seeking answers to four questions.  Here goes:

1. What quilting/sewing thing am I working on?

I spent much of the summer exploring shibori indigo dyeing, and now I'm starting to sew with my fabrics!  I've been making gradual progress on the quilt pictured above over the past several weeks.  Work is proceeding slowly, but I'm now starting to see some structure developing in the center and am considering my next steps.

I also recently took a shibori indigo dyeing workshop with Jane Callender, a dyer from England well known for the precision and visual impact of her stitched shibori pieces.  For a glimpse of some of Calli's work, see her website, callishibori.  The workshop concentrated on producing fabrics with underdyeing and overdyeing on cottons and silks, with the goal of ultimately using layering and cutwork effects to explore texture and dimensionality in bag-making and other objects.  Calli also helped us to refine our nui shibori techniques, and I learned some nifty tricks for avoiding those dyed stitch marks at the beginning of my rows of stitching.

Calli asked us not to take photos during the workshop, because she's writing a book on the bag-making techniques, so I'll just share a few highlights from my final results:

Stitched shibori dyed dark indigo, with some touches of color from Procion dyes
Nui (stitched) shibori; base in yellow and green Procion dyes before overdyeing with indigo
Nui shibori: close-up
Itajime on habotai silk: Indigo overdyed with pomegranate
I love how the nui shibori pieces came out.  They are testimony to the power of improved stitching techniques, the right kind of thread (a very strong bonded nylon), and an extra strength dye vat made up with synthetic indigo, which got to a very dark blue-black after just four dips.

Finally, waiting in the wings, my stash contains a wonderful selection of Kaffe Fassett shot cottons, along with newly purchased Oakshott shot cottons.  I haven't quite decided where I'll be going after the indigo quilt, but these are the fabrics begging the loudest for attention:

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not sure that I have a real signature style--it's not as if I'm a van Gogh or Picasso.  I do work in at least a couple of distinct ways, however.  One is an improvisational, collage-like mode, as in the current indigo quilt project, in which I take a few basic design elements and then start filling in.  For example, "Mood Indigo" (2012), with its carp fabrics and strips of flying geese, was also made in this way:

"Mood Indigo" (2012)
With these quilts, I usually try to balance a feeling of motion and energy with a sense of structure: the quilt should keep the eye moving, but without being chaotic.

"Brushstrokes" (2011)
"Serenity" (2010)
I also enjoy working with repeated blocks, some of my own design, in which the individual blocks interact to create additional layers of pattern and visual interest, sometimes with a planned layout, and sometimes with a high degree of improvisation.  These quilts can be as simple as a repeated rectangle or square (as in "Shibori Study #1 (2014)), or more complex, as in "Starry Night Jazz" (1994) or "Antique" (2004).

"Shibori Study #1" (2014)
"Starry Night Jazz" (1994)
Close-up: the single, asymmetrical block that I designed for "Starry Night Jazz"
"Antique" (2004): Made with a traditional Churn Dash block and a variant with a large center
I really must take proper photos of some of my older quilts one of these days!

As you can see from the above, I have a weakness for blue fabrics, Japanese textiles, and hand-dyed fabrics.  Although I have plenty of commercially printed cottons in my collection and enjoy working with them, I do love rare fabrics that are either made in small batches or are truly one-of-a-kind.  My stash includes antique Japanese cottons and silks, African fabrics, hand-dyed cottons, and various other unusual finds, plus the indigo fabrics that I've started dyeing myself.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

My fondest childhood memories revolve around art and crafts, and I've always loved the time spent alone in a room creating.  I truly cannot be happy if I go too long without creative activity and working with my hands.  As a child, I sewed, played with paints, did a lot of origami, tried paper-cutting, and even experimented with a little patchwork in my early teens.  I am terrible at drawing and representational art, but good with straight lines, color, and pattern, which makes pieced quilts the perfect medium for me.  

4. How does my writing/creating process work?

It sounds banal, but I guess I start with an idea, usually based either on a particular block that I want to work with, or on a few choice fabrics and a rough sense of placement, or both, and I strive for an end result that has visual strength and that appeals to my aesthetic instincts.  For example, with "Dragonfly Blues" (1997), I knew I wanted to combine squares of the dragonfly fabrics with a range of half square triangles in order to produce an asymmetrical design with a forceful sense of line and movement:

"Dragonfly Blues" (1997)
Occasionally, I'll make a preliminary sketch, but usually I just start cutting fabric.  A lot of my quilts require sewing up a bunch of blocks, and then playing with them until I like the arrangement.  For example, when I made "Drama Adorno" (2013), I originally imagined placing the blocks very differently, but I had a much stronger visual effect with the end result:

"Drama Adorno" (2013)
Other ideas require careful planning from the start.  The layout of "Antique," for example, may look somewhat random, but it was actually meticulously planned, and if you stared at it long enough, you might see the patterns beneath patterns that I had in mind.  Or back in 1994, when I got the idea of using a traditional cross block to form the illusion of an interlaced lattice, I pieced the background and lattice strips according to a precise layout determined in advance:

"Autumn Lattice" (1994)
Although it took me many years to return to this design, I'm fascinated by the lattice effect.  I've made a couple of quilts with the same block since, and I will continue the series of lattice quilts in the future.

I could go on and on, but this post is already pretty long, and I need to finish it before Monday is truly over.  If you made it this far, thanks for your attention!

For the blog hop, I had planned on inviting some VMQG members to share their work, but a couple of the people I had planned on asking just got tagged last week!  Instead, I'll just direct you to three choice blogs that showcase talent from our guild: What Comes Next?, where you'll find examples of Janet's absolutely exquisite FMQ, which adorns her already gorgeous quilt designs; Stacey in Stitches, which will give you a sense of Stacey's rich color sense and her precise and stunningly elaborate piecing; and Terry Aske Art Quilts, where Terry showcases her wonderful pictorial quilts and other adventures in fiber art.  I particularly admire Terry's architectural quilts, as well as the series of pieced trees that she's worked on over the years.

Cheers, and happy sewing!

10/7: Linking up to WIP Wednesday on Freshly Pieced and The Needle and Thread Network.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Indigo quilt: One step at a time

There hasn't been much time for sewing lately, but I'm slowly filling in the blanks on the indigo quilt:

Linking up to WIP Wednesday on Freshly Pieced and The Needle and Thread Network.  Happy quilting!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

On the design wall: Indigo quilt

It truly feels as if summer is over, and I couldn't resist the call of my shibori indigo fabrics, so I started a quilt with them:

Apologies for the poor lighting in the photo: we've had a spate of dark, gloomy days lately.  For this quilt, I'm working in an improvisational, collage-like mode that I enjoy.  I started with rough placement of a few main design elements (the leaf fabrics), added in the kumo and stitched circle pieces, and then started filling in the blank spaces.  In doing so, I began to see and build more structure into the quilt, such as the horizontal row of fabrics at the lower right, and a vertical row that's developing towards the left.  I love how this quilt is shaping up--I keep going downstairs to just sit and stare at it.

I also prepped a lot of fabrics before I was forced to abandon the idea of another vat this past weekend:

In addition to this bucket o' shibori, I have a couple of arashi pieces on larger poles ready for the dye bath.  As I mentioned on Monday, it will be a while before I get to these, but I'm plotting to try and set up a vat indoors with an open window and plenty of fans on Thanksgiving weekend.  I also worked on another small project, but it's related to a planned gift for a friend, so no photos for the time being.

Linking up to WIP Wednesday on Freshly Pieced and The Needle and Thread Network.  Happy quilting!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kumo shibori (III): Leaves

My favorite indigo-dyed fabrics this summer include two pieces in which I combined different techniques to produce leaf designs:

I didn't take photos along the way, so I hope you can visualize the method (the final photo below might help).  The stems are created through ori nui: I folded along the stem line, stitched a running stitch in parallel close to the fold line, and then gathered and knotted.  For the leaves, I outlined the leaf with a running stitch, pulled and knotted, and then tied a kumo knot to get the texture inside the outlined leaf.  Basically, the technique is the same as for the stitched circles that I described a few weeks ago, but with a leaf shape instead.

I didn't take into account how the finished design would go a little bit beyond the leaf outline after dyeing, so the clusters are a bit closer together than I'd like for quilting, even in the second piece, in which I tried to make more space.  The seam allowances mean that I will lose part of the design on some of the leafy branches when I cut them apart as small blocks or panels.  With that in mind, I recently prepped this piece, with generous margins around the leaf clusters:

close-up: cluster of seven leaves in the foreground
Unfortunately, I didn't have time for my intended final vat this summer.  I had hoped to be dyeing this past weekend, but I'm behind on prep work.  In addition, we just had guests, plus another guest this coming weekend, and I just couldn't face setting up the dyeing equipment (part of which goes in our guest suite), and then cleaning it all up again in short order.  Instead, I'm scheming to set up an indoor indigo vat on Thanksgiving weekend in October--probably not the best idea, but anything to dye this fabric before summer 2015!

In the meantime, I couldn't resist the call of quilting with my indigo dyed fabrics, so I've already started assembling a top.  I'll show the progress on this week's WIP Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Spreading the Gospel of Indigo

VMQG hosted this year's Pacific Northwest Modern Quilt Guild meet-up, and we had a fun-filled weekend of fabric, food, and general quilting camaraderie.  As part of the festivities, I offered two "quick dip" mini-workshops that gave people an opportunity to try a specific shibori technique and go a couple of rounds in the indigo vat.

In addition to VMQG members, quilters from Seattle, Portland, and Victoria came to my backyard dyeing sessions.  In the morning, participants had a choice of either pole-wrapping or tesuji, while the afternoon was devoted to stiched shibori.  I was too busy teaching and took no photos, but fortunately, I have some from the workshop participants:

prep work (photo by Terry)

The first dip!  (photo by Karen)
Varying degrees of oxidation (photo by Terry)

A successful morning! (photo by Terry)
I loved seeing everyone's excitement and wonder at watching the dipped fabrics turn from green to blue, and their delight at first viewing their final results.  Karen captured the latter moment particularly well in her photos:

Holly is so excited to see how her bomaki turned out!
Terry happily unwraps her arashi sample
Janet shows off her tesuji willow variant
I don't have photos from the late afternoon nui shibori workshop.  Everyone was pretty beat by then, after all of the day's fun and jaunting about Vancouver!  We also ran out of time, so people took their pieces away before undoing the stitches and will share photos later on.  (Note to self: in the future, don't expect to do a nui shibori workshop in 90 minutes.)  Karen attended both workshop sessions and kindly sent a photo of her two pieces drying at the end of the day:

Other meet-up activities included a Friday evening picnic and optional craft apron swap, a visit to the Common Threads Indigo Quilts at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, a Saturday night Lebanese feast at Nuba, and a Sunday of good eating and shopping.  I didn't do everything, because running the indigo workshops left me feeling completely wiped out.  I did go to the Friday night picnic and the Common Threads exhibit, plus a little bit of fabric shopping on Sunday.

I managed to participate in the random apron swap, and the wonderful apron I received, made by the fabulous D. from Seattle,  couldn't have been better if she had designed it specifically for me:

My happy apron, but not my photo: I found it posted online.
I am extremely partial to the Etsuko Furuya Echino prints, as well as the combination of green, blue, and purple.  The apron has loads of compartments, including slanted pockets designed specifically for a rotary cutter and scissors, and it came loaded with a generous selection of fabric (what could be better for a quilter?) and a big spool of Mettler thread.  Friday happened to be my birthday, so I felt extra happy about the unintended birthday present.  I have already used the apron: I'm stitching up nui shibori fabric for dyeing, and I'm trying to break myself of the bad habit of sticking needles in the comforter on the bed, so that purple pin cushion attached to the apron is just what I need.

The Common Threads Indigo Quilts are the truly fabulous and gorgeous result of a communal project and a must-see for anyone quilter who visits Vancouver.  Definitely recommended!  The Sunday shopping included Fabrics, Etc., a new place that just opened a little more than a week ago and that carries all sorts of tempting quilting cottons, textiles for garments, and home decorating fabrics in a roomy, warehouse-style space.  The person who manages the store (I don't know how to spell his name, but it sounds like "Tian" (rhymes with "Ian")) is extremely nice, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.  He arranged a brief Sunday afternoon opening just for the meet-up and provided a warm welcome to the group.  I hardly needed more fabric, but of course I couldn't resist.  I also found nice, sharp John James needles, and they are already helping with the nui shibori.

Next year's meet-up will be in Seattle, and I hope to be there!

Linking up to WIP Wednesday on Freshly Pieced and on The Needle and Thread Network.  Cheers!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Studio Makeover, Part V: The Final Tour

I've been following the Sew Canadian series of studio tours on Mad About Patchwork and decided finally to finish (more or less) last August's studio makeover.  To recap, my studio is in a first floor room that's meant as part of a rental suite in our house.   It's about 10' x 11', with south-facing windows and two doors, since the room provides passage between the front entryway and the back of the house.  It's small, but based on the Sew Canadian tour, it seems generously sized compared to what many Canadian quilters have, even among those with dedicated sewing space.  Erica at Happy Fabric, for example, sews in a tiny 6'x9' room without any windows, while Krista at Poppyprint has an 8'x9' sewing room, all of which makes it a little hard to keeping calling my studio cramped.  On the other hand, I once read a blog in which someone complained about the limits of her lavish, 400-square-foot sewing palace, and I've seen the occasional quilt studio online that's almost as large as our whole house.  At any rate, I'm lucky to have my modest but comfortable fabric empire, and in my renovation, I've tried to take advantage of every bit of cubic footage. 

As you might recall, a year ago I installed a lot of new cabinetry, and I left off while waiting for the final set of shelves to arrive.  I put the shelves in last fall, and more recently, I spent the past few weeks cleaning up a lot of mess and putting in a few final touches.

Here's what you see from the entryway, with about two-thirds of the room visible in the photo:

The windows are on the right, and as you enter the room, there's floor-to-ceiling storage on the west wall off to the left:

Almost all of the furnishing is from Ikea: the Billy bookcase and wall cabinet, the wire mesh drawers, and the red cardboard storage boxes.  As I mentioned last week, I used washi paper (from Paper-Ya on Granville Island) and cardboard to make inserts and cover the glass doors.  For the shelf above the wall cabinet, I splurged and ordered shelving from Pottery Barn.  It took forever to arrive, but when it finally came, it fit in perfectly with the rest of the room.

On the righthand side of the above photo, you can see the doorway leading to the back of the house.  The open door hides a multitude of sins:

As I said before, my studio makeover prioritized storage maximization.  In addition to hiding some cardboard and other items on the floor, the door itself also holds a storage sling made from an old sheet that I use for extra cutting mats and cardboard boxes. 

The studio doesn't have a lot of space for a design wall, so I installed one with three panels, two of which hang from a folding closet door and can be removed easily when I need to get at the fabric inside:

No wasted space here--I even cut around the doorknob so that I could use the closet door for the design wall!

On the east wall, I installed more Pottery Barn shelving below the Ikea kitchen cabinets that I put in last August.  The cutting table, which is the perfect height for me, is also kitchen storage from Ikea.  The placement jutting out from the wall, rather than up against it, is important to me, since I like to be able to work from all three sides.  As you can see, I still have some detritus hiding on the floor.  I'm too embarrassed to show what's inside any of the storage, but I will confess that it's all pretty much full, mainly of fabric.  

My sewing machine tables also stand along the east wall, straight ahead as you enter the room:

I mainly use a Juki TL-2010Q, which I bought about a year-and-a-half ago and just love.  When I need a freearm, I haul out my old Janome MC5000, which also still holds my affections.  When not in use, the Janome sits on the windowsill under its cover.

In theory, I can remove the back table and put it away in our storage room when I don't have anything large to quilt.  In practice, I've had the two-table set-up in place for about two years now.

To the left of the sewing machine tables, there's plenty of room for storing notions and other supplies:

Yet again, the bookshelf is from Ikea, as is the red drawer unit, along with the sewing machine tables (but not the metal adjustable legs, which I purchased separately).  The various shoeboxes are decidedly not from Ikea, but they are great for organizing supplies.  I suppose they would look really nice if I covered them with washi or fabric, but functionality is good enough for me!  The drawer unit has wheels, so I can pull it out easily if I need to.  The pegboard, which was a scrap that just happened to fit the bookshelf perfectly, represents another example of storage maximization:

Small touches here and there brighten the room, such as my green pencil box from Room in Order:

The silver grey plastic trash bin, as well as the stylish set of black metal bookends on top of the Billy bookcase, are also from the same place, which is a wonderful Vancouver store that I learned about from the studio tour at Terry Aske Art Quilt Studio.  Terry is a fellow member of VMQG and a supremely talented quilter and artist.

I removed the ironing board in order to take photographs, but here it is, back in its rightful place by the window:

My decor is on the spartan side, in part because I've commandeered almost all of the wall space for working or storage purposes.  Even the wall behind my sewing table gets used at times for photographing items for my Etsy shop.  I also like the minimalist, functionalist approach, which keeps my focus on whatever I'm creating at the moment.  But I have a couple of happy little items hanging here and there to keep the room from being sterile:

And that, as they say, is that!  Except that it's not--I still need to construct a new foam insulation extension table to fit the Juki (for an example, see here), find that stupid misplaced tool that will allow me to raise the adjustable legs on the front sewing table up by a notch, and make a dust cover for my wire mesh drawer unit.  I also need to do some major destashing, in the hopes of storing away that extra stuff that's currently on the floor behind the cutting table.  But my studio is functional, clean, and basically ready for a new round of creative activity this fall.

Linking up to WIP Wednesday on Freshly Pieced and The Needle and Thread Network.  I'm also posting a few photos on the Sew Canadian Flickr group.  Happy quilting, everyone!