Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wool Applique Chicks with Emerging Personalities

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

When I saw an exhibition of Sue Spargo's embroidered, wool applique quilts at the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum a half a year ago, I was beyond thrilled with her colors, folky designs, and flawless technique. Here are some photos.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks
Imagine my delight when a space became available in Sue's workshop during the La Conner Quilt Festival on Oct. 4th! We would make a sampler using one of three of Sue's motifs: leaves, circles, or chicks. You guessed it... chicks are my thing! To prepare for the class, we were instructed to cut out our chicks (36 of them!) and applique them to the background felted wool using matching wool thread.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

Not having any wool thread, I stitched my little chicks using 60 weight cotton applique thread. It has a bit of a shine, which shows on the wool if you look closely. The wool thread is rather expensive, even if you just buy bobbins, but I'll probably invest in a set of bobbins if I keep doing this type of work.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

I also made another deviation from the instructions, deciding that 16 chicks would be enough to practice the stitches and give me an idea if this is something I enjoy doing. Below is the layout for my sampler, ready for embroidered embellishments during the workshop.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks, layout

Of course we didn't get much done, although Sue was great at getting around to each of us, giving individually tailored instructions. Although I have learned various embroidery stitches in the past, there were quite a few that were new to me, my favorites being: rosette chain stitch, palestrina knot stitch, bullion loops, and buttonhole scallops.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

The other fabulous thing about her class is that she brought LOTS of examples of her work, and allowed us to photograph them, which gave me a library of possibilities for using the different stitches. So far, I haven't needed her examples for inspiration, but I'm sure I'll run out of ideas and be grateful for the photos I took.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process
A little over a month has passed since the class, and I've finished half of my chicks!

It's really fun to see the personality of each chick emerge as the stitches and colors are added. I haven't named them yet, but I do recognize definite character traits in each of them. Most are girl chicks, ranging from shy and introverted types, to flamboyant, to high class. A couple are boys, filled with testosterone, chasing the girls.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chicks

Which two of my first 8 chicks do YOU think are the boys?

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process

In case you're interested in my process... I stitch eyes, beaks, or feet when I'm at a loss about what to do next, giving myself time to get inspired. I don't always finish one chick before moving on to the next. If I'm stuck, I just work on another chick for a while, one that calls to me (usually because of color). The single chicks pictured in this post need a lot more embellishments.

Robin Atkins embroidered, wool applique chick, in process

After I finish the chicks, the next step is deciding how to finish the piece. I'll probably quilt it, making it into a small wall hanging. But I'm not sure if I'll hand or machine quilt. Look for a related post on threads and embellishing materials soon.

Beads? Oh yes, if you click on pictures of the finished chicks they will enlarge to full size, and you'll be able to see the beads as well as the detail of the stitches.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quilt Slueths - Please Help!

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
This double wedding ring quilt passed from my mother to my sister-in-law, Julie, who gave it to me today, as a birthday gift! The trouble is, we don't know much about it. Apparently Mom showed it to Julie about 12 years ago, and told her it was made by Mom's Aunt Dottie. Then some years later, Mom gave it to Julie, claiming again that it was made by her Aunt, who lived in southern California.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
Unfortunately, by that time, Mom was a tad confused, and frequently got her stories mixed up a bit. So we don't trust it as a hard fact, that Dottie made the quilt. I have a vague, possible memory of the quilt being placed on Mom's and Dad's bed in the house we lived in from 1951 through 1958. After that, Mom fancied a store-bought, chenille, bed spread. Maybe, as a tribute to it's hand stitched/quilted beauty, she was saving it for one of us. I don't recall ever hearing Mom talk about it.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
It's a wedding quilt, probably made by somebody as a wedding gift, right? My mom and biological father married in 1939. The fabric appears to me to be from the 30's which would suggest it was probably made then; that maybe what she said about it being made by her aunt is true.

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
But on the back side of the quilt, in two corners (top and bottom), the initials "EC" are stamped with permanent ink. My step-dad's initials are EC. Who would have stamped them on the quilt, and why?

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
My step-dad and Mom married in 1949, two years after my biological father died in an automobile accident. Why would they have used a wedding quilt made for my mom's previous marriage? Why would my step-dad's initials be on it?

Vintage wedding ring quilt, family heirloom of Robin Atkins
If anybody has any ideas about the stamped initials, or thoughts about the age of the quilt, please comment.  Thanks!

9-21-14 Update. There seems to be general agreement that the fabrics used in this quilt are of the 1930s. The general condition of the quilt suggests that it was used (well-used, but also carefully used); and that most likely it was made in the '30s. Still no definitive theory or answer about the initials.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Spy..... A New Quilt!

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front
Six whole days and evenings it took me to make this 50" square quilt... Yikes, I'm soooo slow. My neighbor raised her eyebrows in doubt when I told her how long it took, thinking she probably could have done it in 2 days.

Perfectionism is the square root of the time. Ha! Oh well, at least I'm satisfied with it.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front, center block
The backstory... This quilt, I Spy a Brown Dog, is for my Goddaughter's two children, primarily for her daughter, who is just a year old now, but also for her son, who is about 5, I think. They live in Copenhagen. The above block (photographed before I sewed the left and bottom borders on it), is at the center of the quilt because the whole family loves dogs. Had I been making it for myself (the child within) the center block would have been birds, flowers, kitties, or bunnies... all of which I adored, and all of which found their way into this quilt.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, front detail
In case you don't know, an "I Spy" quilt allows adults to play a game with children, saying things like "I spy an orange elephant." Then the child finds and points to the orange elephant on the quilt. My Goddaughter's family is multilingual, so it can also be used to teach vocabulary in a second or third language to the kids when they are very young, in a fun way.

Besides selecting all the fabrics and fussy-cutting the blocks, the most difficult part was arranging the finished blocks. No matter what I did, the yellows seemed to be bunched up together.  Finally I took a photo of one of the arrangements, changed the mode to black & white, and printed it.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, possible layout showing values in grey scale
This showed me that I had more lights than I thought, and gave me the idea to put the yellow bordered blocks in the corners and in a left to right diagonal. Once I did that, the rest fell easily into place! Here's the photo again, so you can see what I mean...

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, note layout of blocks, particularly yellow

The back also took extra time, because I didn't have any suitable fabric large enough to do the whole back. So, since it had to be pieced anyway, I figured it might as well have another dog block, and a mix of fabrics. Here it is.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, back
I scanned two of the fabric prints to make a dedication label, and printed it on ink-jet-printable fabric. Here it is.

Robin Atkins, I Spy quilt, back, label

The last part was quilting it, something I've got very little experience doing by machine (and way too much experience doing by hand). You can see the quilting pattern, if you click on the picture of the back to enlarge it.

There y'go... kept me out of trouble for 6 whole days! Hope they like it.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Quilting + Beading = Fun!

As a fund-raiser, the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum issued a challenge last year at the Quilt Festival, offering the sale of a little kit containing 2 small pieces of fabric, one a Japanese silk print and the other a dark blue, indigo-dyed solid. I decided to "go for it" and bought a kit, thinking maybe I'd make a small quilt with it. Below are the two fabrics in my "kit," although the colors in this photo are a little "off."

Quilt Museum challenge, 2 fabrics in kit

All of the entered pieces will be displayed this year at the Quilt Festival in October, and the attendees can vote for the one they like best. The 2 pieces winning the most votes will be on display at the museum for 2 months. Each of us can decide if we want to donate the piece or keep it. If donated, the Museum will sell it either in the gift shop or at a fund-raising auction.

My quilting friend, Lunnette, went right to work with her kit, and soon produced a lovely mountain/water/full moon wall quilt, which we delivered to the Museum last week. Me? I couldn't think of a thing to do with my fabrics... blocked completely...

But at the Museum, the curator, when she took Lunnette's quilt, said to me, "You know, it doesn't HAVE to be a quilt... It COULD be beadwork..." And suddenly an idea popped into my mind.

What if I could make quilted fabrics into beads and put them together into a necklace? Ah-ha! Sounds like fun... quilting + beading! So I gave it a try.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, quilted components

First I pieced the fabrics together, adding one of my own Japanese indigo-dyed prints. Then I made little "sandwiches" of pieced fabrics + lightweight batting + backing fabric, and hand-quilted each unit. The picture above shows the flat, quilted units, and one that I've rolled and stitched into a tube. Below are two of the units.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, quilted component

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, quilted component
Here is what the units look like on the back side, after quilting.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, quilted components, back side
Then I started playing around with how to make the pendant and how to form the tubes into beads. Also I had to look, and look, and really LOOK through my stash to find beads that went with the Japanese theme, more-or-less matched the orange-indigo color scheme, AND had holes big enough to accommodate the large, cotton-covered cord I planned to use.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, design process
Above is the "playing around stage." About 20 hours later, below is the finished necklace.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace
And here is a detail.

Robin Atkins bead quilt necklace, detail
The Museum wants a name for each of the pieces, which was tough for me... I finally decided to call it "A Crane in the Window." How do you like it?

If you want to have it and support the Museum,  you could get in touch with them about when and how they plan to sell it (and the other entered pieces).

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Origami - Dahlias and Cardinals!

origame dahlia flower

Our fabulous, island library generously offers free lectures, poetry reads, and introductory classes to anyone interested. Thursday, they invited Sonia Wu, of Sarasota, FL, a friend visiting one of the library staff members to teach origami. About a dozen of us, half kids, half adults, showed up.

During the brief class, Sonia taught a geometric form, a simple penguin, and the "flying bird," a version of the crane. Most of the students departed after that, but there were a few of us craving a greater challenge, who stayed to learn:

origami Ishibashi Ball
Ishibashi Ball, made with 6 pieces of 6" origami paper (video tutorial, here),

origami butterfly for Killian design by Michael LaFosse

and Butterfly for Killian, a design from Michael G. LaFosse's book on origami butterflies.

origami flower brooch pin

All during the workshop, I was admiring an origami flower brooch that Sonia was wearing (above). When I mentioned it to her, she promptly GAVE me her pin, and told me she found the instructions for it on the internet. So I Googled "origami flower brooch", scanning zillions of origami flower images until I finally found it, described as a dahlia, here.

Wow, they are so much fun to make, and so cute! I can use them to decorate cards, as ornaments, even as an element in bead embroidery.  Here are a few of the ones I've made so far.

origami Dahlia flowers made with three different sizes of paper

You can see the first one I made, with a 6" square of origami paper, at the top of this post. The three Dahlias above are made with 3", 4", and 2" squares of origami paper (left to right).

origami flower double dahlia brooch made by Robin Atkins

origami flower double dahlia brooch made by Robin Atkins

Above are the show stoppers... double Dahlias, each made with one 6" and one 4" square of origami paper, nestled together, and held to the pin back with a brad!

Just as I was leaving Sonia's class, she showed me an amazing little origami cardinal. Seeing my pleasure in it, she generously gave it to me, along with a few sheets of double-sided (red/black) origami paper, telling me I could find an on-line tutorial for how to make it. Found it here: origami Cardinal.

I'm here to tell you, this is not beginner folding... and it will take making quite a few of them before I can memorize the sequence of folds. While Sonia's was made with 3 inch paper, resulting in a bird just over 2" long, mine is made with 6" paper, for a bird about 4" long. But isn't it adorable? Think Christmas ornament or decoration! Think just leaving one on a table, counter, or shelf when you're at a restaurant, store, or other public place. How fun would that be?!

I did a little origami when I was bedridden for a year, missing the whole of 4th grade because of a kidney infection. I recall making many Chinese Junks, gluing them onto cardboard, and giving them accordian-folded sails on toothpicks. Just for fun, I Googled and found a tutorial for that too! Here it is, if you'd like to give it a try.

Although I probably won't be giving up beading and quilting to take up origami in a serious way, it is waaaay fun to play around with it a little!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pelican Promise... All's Well!

pelican sculpture in Pelican Rapids Minnesota

Driving from Bismark ND, to Morris, MN for the 50th reunion of my 4-year college class, driving in rain so fierce it feels like I’m in a carwash, only it lasts for 20 minutes at a time, with just the slightest let-up before the next roaring onslaught, rain so thick and dark that I cannot see the sides of the freeway, or the next lane, or the tail lights of the vehicle in front of me until I’m just a couple of car lengths behind, driving in that kind of weather takes so much of my attention that I fail to notice the warning light indicating I am soon to run out of gas, fail to notice until the modern electronic car computer says I only have 21 miles before I am dead in the water (pun intended).

Since I can’t take my eyes off the road to look at a map, and dare not pull to the minimalist shoulder for fear of being side-swiped, I drive past the next exit, where there is no sign at all of conveniences, noting that now I only have 15 miles in the tank, deciding to take the next exit no matter what. I take the “Hwy 108, Pelican Rapids” exit, with enough gas remaining for 6 miles, no service at the exit, and a sign indicating 12 miles to the pelican town. Should I get back on the freeway not knowing what is ahead or take a chance on computer error with a prayer that 12 miles ahead there is a gas station? I decide it’s safer to run out of gas on a minor highway than on the freeway, at least in this situation where there is virtually no shoulder and extremely poor visibility in the pouring rain.

Sure enough, at mile 6 of the 12, the car starts to sputter, losing power. I coast down a gradual slope, luckily finding a reasonably wide place to pull off the road at the bottom. Hmmmm. Now what? “This isn’t serious,” I tell myself. I just need to put on the 4-way flashers, get out the cell phone, find the AAA card, and call for help. As I’m looking for the card, the only other vehicle I’ve seen since leaving the freeway passes me. Instinctively I raise my hand, presumably in an “asking for help” sort of gesture. The car whizzes past without slowing.

Just as I find the card and the cell, I hear a car pulling in behind me. A young woman gets out, comes to the window I’ve just lowered, and asks if I need help. She tells me her husband doesn’t like her to stop to help people when she’s alone. “He always stops to help,” she says, “but most people don’t these days. I saw your hand. I just thought you looked OK, so I turned around and came back to see if you need help.”

I explain I’m out of gas. As she asks where I’m going, and I tell her how I came to be headed toward Pelican Rapids, in the opposite direction of my destination town, I can see she is relaxing and trusting me. She takes me to town, chatting along the way, asking me where I’m from and why I’m in Minnesota, telling me a little about her kids and the birthday party they’ll be going to after we get the gas, explaining that the town is on the Pelican River and yes, there is a falls right in town. She stops at the station, learns their gas can is already being used somewhere else, and finally takes me to her house where she has a 2 gal. container she recently filled for the lawn mower. When I tell her I’ll pay for the gas, she says, “Na, you don’t have to pay.” But I take $10 from my wallet and put it in her cup holder. In hindsight, I wish I’d given her $20. She even pours the gas for me. Thanking her, I give her a hug, because after all this, we’re practically friends.

It’s 3 pm, and suddenly I’m very hungry. So now, with 46 miles worth of gas, I drive into Pelican Rapids, the highway forming the main street of town, the way it does in most small towns in Minnesota. An artful sign reading, The Muddy Moose Bistro, attracts me. On entering, I see and smell at once my instincts are right on target! I order the special, home-made tomato bisque soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, and a decaf Americano. Oh heaven, it is delicious!

The only other customers that late in the afternoon are three bicyclists, who later tell me they still have 40 miles to ride before reaching their campground destination. Like me, they are having a late lunch, sandwiches and beer, while drying a bit from riding in nightmare conditions. One of them notices an old piano against the wall behind where I’m sitting. He asks the waitress if he can play it. I and probably she are wondering if we’ll be hearing “heart and soul” or maybe a little boogie-woogie riff. But no, the young man sits down, and plays such beautiful classical piano music that it brings tears to my eyes. I sip my coffee, my tummy satisfied, my shoulders at last dropping into their normal position, the music soothing nerves frazzled by tense hours driving in extreme rain, my mood shifting from nervous fear to relaxed happiness.

pelican sculpture and falls in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota
Before filling up at the gas station and heading toward Morris again, I ask a passing stranger about the rapids. Learning there is a small water fall right in the middle of town, only 2 blocks away, I walk there to take a look.

rain over the Minnesota farm lands near Pelican Rapids
On the road leaving town, even though heavy, dark clouds are dumping rain again, my mind replaying conversations with the young woman who helped me, the friendly waitress, the piano musician, and the stranger who directed me to the falls, I smile with the knowledge that all is well in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Message to Elders - April BJP

My Bead Journal Project for April concerns a topic not everyone wants to discuss. Please stick with me on this one, and feel free to post your comments, even if you disagree with my thoughts on the subject.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014, detail

If you've been following my BJP pieces this year, you know I've been greatly concerned for the future of the world and the children who are yet to be born. Countdown, a book by Alan Weisman (a well-researched, yet readable, book about the recent history of the growing human population in all areas of the world, and the effects this growth is having on us and on our habitat) greatly influenced my piece for April. Although I began working on it before getting the book, you can see the like-mindedness between my divided piece (in progress) and the art on the cover of the book (which I think is fabulous).

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014, detail
Message to Elders of the World (in progress)
cover art by Sam Chung for Countdown, a book by Alan Weisman
Cover Art by San Chung for the Book, Countdown, by Alan Weisman

Watching environmental documentary films on many topics over the past few years, a foreboding sense of the damage our ever increasing growth and demands place on the earth has brought me to a voluntary, world-wide, one child point of view, as the only thing the citizens of the world can do to save it. I call it 1+1=1, and it is the theme of my BJP pieces this year.

For April's BJP, I direct my hopes toward the elders, the grey and white haired folks, like myself.

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Elders, April 2014
Message to Elders of the World

Above is the finished piece. And here is a poem I wrote while beading on it and the message I hope it conveys to others who are grey now, like me:

I Am Grey Now

I am grey now –
no longer so self-absorbed
as in the greener phase of my life,
looking beyond my pile of beads,
considering the colors of the whole world,
wondering how long before
there are no more red or green apples,
how long before the abundant waters
under the earth's crust are gone,
how long before order turns to chaos,
and most of all wondering what I can do,
in my grey years, to help.

        Robin Atkins

Message to Elders of the World

For the sake of your grandchildren and great grandchildren,
wake up to the possibility of massive hunger and thirst,
the depletion of resources and environmental destruction
caused by the demands of an ever increasing human population.

We, the elders, must help our granddaughters and grandnieces
to understand it is on their shoulders to save the world,
with only one way to do it: world-wide, voluntary, one child.
No government can make this happen. Only they can do it.

        Robin Atkins
If you are like me, worried about the world, concerned for the future of all the babies being born every second, and especially for our own children, it follows that we must take on the responsibility of coaching them in stewardship, which includes green living as well as voluntary one-child. My other three bead embroideries on this theme are:

bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Young Brides, March 2014
Message to Young Brides of the World
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to Women, Feb 2014
Message to Women of the World
bead embroidery by Robin Atkins, Message to All People, Jan 2014
Message to Citizens of the World
My available tools of change are art and words. Thus, I am making these bead embroidery pieces (2.5 x 3.5 inches each), which can be displayed on small easels, and writing poems for whoever will see or read them, in the hopes of helping others to envision and question the future, to ask what they can do for the world.

Thank you for staying with me to the end of this post, and for considering the questions it raises.