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.