Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Love Books

I've been reading. I've been sewing and quilting and gardening, too, but mostly I have been reading.

 I just finished The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. It took me weeks and weeks to get through it. Not because it wasn't well written, although the style was at times a bit confusing. Not because it wasn't compelling; the desire to know how it all ends is certainly so. It took me weeks to get through because at times I just couldn't read anymore and had to put it down for awhile and return to my comfortable middle-class American reality. Sure, times are not the best in my neck of the woods. Too many folks are unemployed or still struggling to keep up on their house payments. Food prices have steadily risen and the drought here in California is a constant concern. But my Honey and I are not obsessing over the decline in the value of our home. Our 4 children all seem to be surviving the recession and are not dependent on aid from our government to eat or find shelter. My family and loved ones have so far not been affected by random mass shootings or the assaults of Mother Nature in the form of fire, flood or outbreaks of disease. Compared to the characters in Johnson's tale of life in North Korea, my life is Utopian Paradise.

Maybe that was the point. I'm not really sure what the author wanted me to take away from this story. He admits in interviews that most of what he portrays is speculation. What he chose to fabricate was truly horrific. Life for the narrator, Jun Do (John Doe, Mr. Everyman, get it?) is gruesome to the point of incredulity. Every other page is filled with torture, pain and paranoia. We Americans are told from childhood that life under communism is brutal and bleak. Life is North Korea is not communism. It may have started that way but it quickly became a something else, a system of complete control by a despot and his small group of supporters, not unlike a religious cult or a bunch of wealthy businessmen. They keep control by making all the rules and brutally punishing or silencing anyone who questions their motives.

I had hoped to learn more about a culture and country that is veiled in secrecy. What I got instead was a dose of anti-communist/pro capitalist propaganda filled with all the typical boogymen of torture, forced labor, scarcity and fear that some are sure will result if our government doesn't shrink to fit into Grover Norquist's bathtub.

Don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that life in North Korea is not a bed of roses. I am pretty sure that an elite group of those in power control most aspects of life from the flow of gasoline to the availability of electricity. Those folks don't have the choice to leave if they don't like it there. My life in comparison is Utopia, I have no doubt. My country is run by a tiny group of elite as well but I am assured by the Constitution that I can protest if I don't like what my government does. I may get maced ( as in Davis, Ca.) or arrested( as in N. Carolina) or sprayed with fire hoses and possibly shot like the students at Kent State, but I won't just disappear like we are told happens in North Korea.

So what I took away from this story was that we in democracies choose to ignore our own failings because we can always paint something else as worse.  Even if the wild guesses we make about what citizens have to endure in places like Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Guatemala, Somalia, or North Korea, we can't judge them on pure speculation. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves how others see us. What image are we sending to the world when well dressed & well fed citizens shout obscenities at children fleeing poverty & violence at our border?  What does it say about us when our presidential candidates propose letting our elderly and disabled go hungry? How can we claim to be a shining beacon to the world when an education is only available to the wealthy?

North Korea as portrayed in this work of fiction is a hell. Waging war will never convince the citizens of another country that our system is better. We have to show them by our example. With the attitude of a vocal faction of people in our country (I'm looking at you Sarah Palin)  that believe America is a repressive nation, led by a dictator, I wonder if that is even possible anymore.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A New Year, A Fresh Start

Nothing momentous happened to me during the last year. Other than qualifying for medicare (a milestone I didn't celebrate in any significant way) it was a rather boring year. Oh, I did get several projects around the house done and we had a nice family vacation with all the kids & grandkids in June. But there wasn't any real standout event during the year. Sometime around May, I lost my interest in quilting. I don't really know why except that I wasn't finding a lot of inspiration. Many of my favorite bloggers were not posting much & when they did, it was mostly about vacations, family pets, or moving to a new house. I enjoy reading about those things but what I wasn't finding was inspiration to keep making quilts. So I took a break.

I have been sewing but mostly clothes. Teeny, tiny clothes for my youngest grandkids and their dolls.

It's a new year and I'm feeling inspired to get back to quilting. Our oldest grandson, Bryan, and his lovely lady Lexie will present us with our first great-grandchild in April. Maybe that's what has me interested in making quilts again. Using the blocks from an exchange last year organized by Nancy I have the top all ready done.

The quilt that inspired mine, along with directions to create the little people, can be found here. I only used half of my exchange blocks so I can make a second one when another great grandchild shows up!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just Messing Around

I lost my momentum when the weather turned nasty. I was in the mood to get a couple more large quilt tops basted. But then it snowed. Spring is fickle around here. One day it's sunny and the birds are chirping and the buds are bursting and then the next day it's freezing and everything is covered in snow. Since I do my basting on the homemade ping pong table out on the deck, the layer of snow (as well as the freezing temperature) put the kibosh on my enthusiasm. So I went to plan B.

Plan B for me is always the same. Start a new project. Awhile ago I discovered the free scrap blocks that Lisa (of Primitive Gatherings) posts on her blog occasionally. They are 6" blocks with lots of teeny, tiny pieces. She has posted 12 so far. I have made 2 but intended to try them all. This week, while the weather kept me inside, I made all 12.

A couple are really challenging. I already knew that from making the one with the 4 little stars. The stars finish at only 2".

I had trouble with this one. See how those brown corners are cut off? Square-in-a-square blocks never turn out well for me.

I really like this one.

I used up a lot of little scraps making these.

I saw a really neat idea at Country Loft when I was there in February. They used a box frame to display  a small block similar to these. It was just stapled over batting. I'm going to display these blocks using that technique. I just need to get hubby to make 12 little frames for me.

The weather looks promising this morning. There are daffodils blooming. Time to get some tomatoes
 planted and some quilts basted.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Solving the Puzzle~A Star Crossed Tutorial

I needed to let my sore shoulders rest after my marathon of machine quilting 4 large quilts. So I pulled out a long neglected UFO I started a few years back. It is a new version of the quilt in my header and is one of my favorites. It was the first large quilt I ever made. It spent years hanging on a wall so it is very faded. It was used on a bed and on a sofa and has been washed too many times to count. It doesn't have a lot of years left and it's survival is iffy. I want to make a new one before it disintigrates completely.

Because I didn't label it, I have no idea when it was made. (Note to self: always label your quilts. You will be glad you did someday.) My fuzzy recollection is that I took a class at the local quilt shop. It must have been in the mid-eighties. I vaguely remember it was called Coat of Many Colors or something like that. I've named it Star Crossed. Although I have saved lots of stuff from my early years learning to make quilts, there is nothing in my files about this quilt, no notes, no pattern, nothing. I measured the pieces & figured out that there are four basic parts. The easy one is a plain 4"(finished) square. The other parts are:

                                                       2X4 (finished) Flying Goose

                                                     4X4 (finished) Square in a Square

                                                     6X6 Whatever the heck this block is. I have no clue.

Once I figured that out, I just dove into my scraps & started making blocks. Then somewhere along the line, I packed the parts away & forgot about them. Yesterday, I dug out the bin of parts & put them up on my design wall to assess what I needed to complete the top. Here is the chaos that met me.

Lots of parts still missing. And how do I assemble all those parts without going crazy? I remember that when I made the original I laid all the parts out on the living room floor and stayed up all night and all the next day sewing them together. My family thought I had gone off the deep end. Surely there has to be a simpler way to assemble this top.

As I stared at all those parts trying to count how many more I needed to make, I felt like I was in the middle of a Bonnie Hunter mystery where you make a gazillion flying geese and then a bazillion square in a squares and then cut several thousand squares with no idea how all those parts will ever fit together. Then it suddenly dawned on me that there is really only 2 basic blocks in this quilt.

                                                                         Block A (finished 10")

                                                                          Block B (finished 10")

Just alternate the blocks ABAB etc.  Row one starts with Block A and row two with Block B. Repeat. Easy peasy.

Once I had solved that puzzle, it was easy to count how many more parts I needed.  All the square in a square & flying geese blocks are sewn together the same way like this:

There are 2 of these units in each 10" block. Just pay close attention to the different placement in Block A & Block B. The square in a square blocks have always given me fits. They generally turn out a skosh too small. I found a chart here  that solves the problem. There is a lot of trimming involved but the results are a vast improvement. Thanks, Bonnie. I can always count on you when I'm searching for anything quilt related.

The original quilt is square and I want to make the new one bigger so I'm adding another full row and a partial block row on one side so it will be rectangular. Then I'll add a border so it will fit my bed. Using the 2 basic 10" blocks and partials, this quilt can be made almost any size you want.

When I posted about this top back in 2010, I received a few emails asking for instructions. One non blogger gal even sent me her mailing address. I promptly lost both the email and her snail mail address. I have been riddled with guilt ever since. I hope she finds this post and forgives me for never sending her the instructions.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

It Never Fails

I told my daughter that I wanted to make a wall hanging for her. I asked what her preferences are. She said NOT traditional. She sent me lots of color swatches in a long email message. Hot colors, lots of reds and blacks and dark saturated colors. I have agonized for months about what I could make for her that she would like. So this is what I came up with.

It's definitely not traditional. I've never worked with batiks before. I actually don't have more than 2 or 3 in my stash. I always thought they were so stiff and would be hard to get a needle through. Wanda was kind enough to send me some samples to try. I used them in this quilt. I have a quilting friend Joan who has a huge stash of every type of fabric. She gave me a stack of scraps from her batiks. I even went out & bought a kaleidoscope ruler so I could more easily cut the little triangles for these 4" blocks.

I left it on my design wall for a couple of days to decide about a border and how I would eventually quilt it. This morning, sipping my coffee I spotted a boo boo. It never fails to happen. Do you see it?

Now normally, I would just say the heck with it and leave it as is but.......since this is a small quilt the mistake can't hide as easily as it would in a large quilt. I did a little frogging and fixed it.

                                                                  Ahhh, that's better.

Now I still have to decide on a border. Or maybe I should make the black framing strip wider. I'm not sure. Any suggestions?

My leader ender project this week was 2 little pink doll quilts for 2 little girls who need new blankets for their dollies.

I am a complete failure at doing leader/enders. The always turn into primary projects. I've picked a new one.......multi-colored 3" 9 patches. I need about 500 or so for the quilt I'm planning.