25 January 2015

Circlets Of 2015 : January

One blog that I enjoy visiting is Woman With Wings. Her interests seem to align well with mine and I find a lot of inspriation from her thougts. One of the things that she did last year was to create a series of "Moondalas". These embroidered circles intrigued me. I have always been a fan of circles and they seem to have always been a metaphor for my life. I begin a circle/cyle, then seemingly leave it, only to find that the wheel of fortune has once more turned, and I am back where I began many years later - albeit with a different reference point. 

I used to think that this was a bad thing - that one should break away from the circles in one's life. Now, however, I look upon it as a good thing, and an opportunity to revisit things with a (hopefully) more mature, or at least different, mindset. It's like granting myself new eyes. 

I wanted to make my own circles, but where to begin? I loved the concept of honoring the moon, but Woman With Wings had done that already and I did not want to encroach or purloin her concept. The other problem was embroidery. I have done very little of it in my life. Never one to shy away from experimentation, however, I decided to make like Nike and "just do it".

I am using 4.25" squares of wool felt with a 2" diameter circle (also wool) along with a lot of size 8 perle cotton. This thread is larger than I usually like to work with (12wt thread being my favorite), but since it fits the cloth well in this case, I will learn to use it along with thicker and thinner as the mood strikes. This is my opportunity to learn about embroidery and these circles will serve as my own "self-taught" embroidery class.

My intention is to make one circlet for each month (to honor the way I feel about that month). These will be a meditative tool and I will teach myself stitches as I go with no plan in mind as I stitch.

The other day I was watching the news on television. The scene was outdoors and, for some moments, I thought that the image was being transmitted in black and white. It showed grey, gray and more grey. Then I noticed the news person's scarf and realized with a start that it was a live feed in color - it was the world that had gone grey! No wonder I feel the need for vibrance and warmth!

This then, is my January Circlet.  January and February are always my lowest months and I find myself yearning for bright colors and vibrating saturations.  

Do you find yourself at a low ebb at a certain times of the year? When?

How to do you like to learn something new? do you :
   Watch podcasts? 
   Books (that's me)?

Have you ever done a project once every month? What was it and how did it turn out?

some of the books that I am using to learn embrodery are:

"Modern Hand Stitching" by Ruth Chandler
"Creative Stitching" by Sue Spargo

if you want to suggest other books please do!

19 January 2015

Sewing Machines: Which One For You?

Janome MC8900

I have sewed since I was about 8 years old. Back then my sewing was done on my Mother's Singer machine and, at the time, I suppose, the machine was a "top-of-the-line" model. Truth be told, I am not quite sure that the machine wasn't purchased with me in mind since my Mother did not sew that I remember.

Over the years, I have sewn on  lot of machines. There was the Sear's Kenmore machine that I had way back when I first began making quilts (1976). It was a well-built workhorse that did its job. It taught me many things. Next there was another Sears machine that I borrowed when I was moving around a lot during my "climb the ladder" career phase. 

The first sewing machine that I chose for myself was a Pfaff 7570. It was a great machine; a quiet, well-made and a workhorse. It was one that perhaps I should not have let go of. Sadly, a friend who purchased a newer model Pfaff within the past couple of years, said that the quality seemed to no longer be what it once was.

Next up were Berninas. Those purchasing decisions were nudged along by a couple of the teachers that I fancied learning from at that time. I have a Bernina 180 that was touted for it's smooth, easy-to-use, knobs (as opposed to buttons) for stitch length and width. I also have a Bernina 153QE which I will most likely always keep because it is orange (remember that brief period of time when Bernina 'got it's color on' ?!). The Berninas are great machines all in all, but the sound of the two models that I have never pleased me. I know that considering the sound that a machine makes sounds frivolous, but it is an important consideration for me. Some machines purr, others click and some kind of clunk along. I much prefer a purr to clunk or a click. I considered upgrading to another model, but my personal exchequer could not bear the cost.

All of these machines did their jobs and did them well. One of the many lessons that all of these sewing machine taught me was about what things are important to me. I think that buying the perfect sewing machine is a personal decision and it is also a matter of knowing what things are most important to you.  The best machine for me may well not be the dream machine for you. Finding your personal "sweet-spot" when you buy a sewing machine is important, which is why I highly suggest that a person goes into a shop and tries out the machines before deciding on what to buy.

My "love affair" with Janome began quite a few years ago when I was in Houston for the show. I fell in love with the Janome line after I tried out a few models on the floor. Again, money was a factor and I just had to wait. Flash forward to years later. To mark my retirement, I decided that I would gift myself with a new sewing machine. At the time, my friend (and Janome artist program participant), Sarah was using the Janome MC8900. It sounded like the perfect machine for me and so, when the time came I looked for  'good deal' on a machine.  In all honesty, the machine was just a bit out of my comfort level price wise, but it sounded so perfect! Although I like to keep my money in-state if I can, I found a slightly used 8900 at a price that I could not pass up from Amy Smith at Brubaker's Sewing in Pennsylvania. I sure did take a leap of faith! Brubaker's offers the most awesome customer service ever!

This sewing machine is everything that I could hope for in a machine. Using this machine has made me WANT to get up and sew, just for the pleasure of using the machine. After all of these years of sewing, I have finally found the perfect machine for me. 

These are the things that I wanted in a sewing machine:
  1. Dependability. Servicing is not an easy-to-to thing from where I live.
  2. Sturdy construction
  3. Wide throat
  4. Stitches that matter (I don't do embroidery, but I do use many utility stitches and a modicum of the "fancy" ones.
  5. QUIET!  
Finding a machine that calls to you and that meets your needs is a process. I think that you have to spend some time considering what really matters the most to you and then you should go and actually sew on a variety of machines, find the one the one that suits you best and then negotiate (or search) for a price that you can work with. Quilt shows and Sew Expos are great places to go to try out machines. All in one place! 

I am SO grateful that I was actually able to get the machine I wanted. Had it not been for a slightly used model (only 3 months old!), I don't know if I would have been able to get my dream machine. It takes some time to find the "perfect one", but when you do it is the beginning of an enchanting relationship!

I would love to hear your thoughts:
  • What are the things that you most value and look for in a sewing machine?
  • Have you found your own "perfect one"? 
  • What Brand and why is it perfect?
  • How do you feel about the cost of sewing machines these days?
  • Are you able to afford the one you really want?

10 January 2015

Fiber Arts For A Cause: Leaf Tales One

Leaf Tales One
9" X 12"
leaf prints (wisteria and dove-foot geranium), printed and woven cottons, raw silk, beads

Virginia Spiegel has been ne of my heroes for quite a few years. Not only do I like her art I admire her fund-raising efforts on behalf of cancer research. To date, she has raised a whopping $240,000. for cancer research through the efforts of her group "Fiber Arts For A Cause" (FFAC). 

This year - and Virginia swears that it may be her last year - she will be raising $10,000 in ONE day. For all of the details on she plans to accomplish this amazing feat and for a list of the amazing artists who are involved have a look at "the 100" FFAC page HERE.

When I was asked to participate I have to admit that every one of my insecurities surfaced. As I looked at the list of well know textile artists names my mind became blank. For just awhile, I came close to withdrawing! Foolish I guess, but insecurity is well-honed in my psyche.

Ultimately, I looked towards some of my favorite leaf prints from this past summer as my initial inspirations. The leaves are "printed" (steamed) onto raw silk. My aim was to show that something as ephemeral as a leaf can be a long lasting reminder of the strength of nature. This piece is 9" X 12" and is mounted to an art board.

I hope that some of you will consider participating in this event. I can't think of any families that I know of who have not, in some way, been touched by the pain of the dreadful scourge of cancer. We all really can make a difference- each in their own way.

sectional close-up

28 December 2014

Which Word Is "The Word"?

"Lakedale Swans 2014"

As 2014 draws to a close I have been reading about the yearly rituals of choosing "a word" for 2015. The concept has always intrigued me, but which word is "the word"? The one word that will cast it's spell over the year to come?

I tend to be a realist as well as a bit of  skeptic, and I have never considered choosing a word or words that, almost by definition, would open me up to failure. Something like "lose weight", "be more focused", "creative", "energetic", "productive", "joy-full"? Of course I would like to accomplish all of these laudable things, but I truly dislike diets, find focus where and when I can, creativity is something that, most often, finds me rather than the other way around (ditto for productivity) and being "joy-full" is something that I aspire to every day anyway. For me, 'joy' is my "raison d'etre".

I used to wish for more time, but now that I have it, I fritter more of it away than I probably should, but I have always been prone to daydreaming. I think a bit of judicious daydreaming can cure whatever ails a person. I always wish for more energy, but that too ebbs and flows according to the vagaries of niggling maladies and various age and weather related aches and pains. No control there either.

What I can control though is my level of 'appreciation'. 

I truly do believe, and have experienced, that the memories that I cherish the most are not, ncessarily, of those 'larger than life' moments (first real job, marriage, divorce, first 'big' quilt hanging etc etc) but are bonded to the smaller, more quiet, everyday, small things. My moments are sometimes seasonal; in the Winter, I like to stop  to watch the newly returned swans gliding on the lake. I listen for the songs of returning red-tailed hawks and the strident shrieks of foraging bald eagles. I look forward to the return of the hummingbirds in March, the first daffodils of Spring and the sound of a friend's voice on the phone, or better yet seeing them once a week "at quilting". I try to remember that the ebb and flow of daily activities, no matter how boring they may sometimes seem, are the stuff that memories are made of.

During my regular work years, I had little enough time to appreciate or cherish the moments. Time did, and continues to, fly by me at a breakneck speed that is, at times, enough to cause whiplash. How is that I can so clearly recall a time in my life when I had time enough for all of life?  I had time to work, time to create, time to cook and clean, to visit and play, and all without feeling as though each moment was sliding all too quickly through my fingers. Life changes, we change, moments slide by. Time hurries on.

Last year, my friend, Janet, gave me  life changing book by Christian McEwen called "World Enough and Time". The book gave me 'permission' to appreciate the gift of having the time to daydream, to sit, to watch, to listen, to appreciate and to take in the small moments of my everyday life that all add up to the memories that I will always cherish.

There are so many things that I cannot control. Life is comprised of good and bad, happy and sad, sunshine and shadow. Not all days are productive, happy, fulfilling or positive. I cannot wave a magic wand and become thinner, younger, more creative, wealthier, happier or more productive.

What I can do is cultivate appreciation. I may not like feeling low at times, but I can appreciate that I will feel better. I cannot stop the inexorable flow of time through my fingers. What I can do is take the time to appreciate, and be glad for, the fact that I am around and relative healthy enough to have the gift of time.

I think, through the writing of this, I have found my word for the New Year. 

It is "Appreciate".

What will you appreciate in your New Year? Do yu choose a word or words? DO you make a resolution? Do you keep it? What are your personal New Year's traditions? I'd love to hear!

21 December 2014

Light A Candle Against The Dark

by Selena Fox
Make Peace on Earth, Make Peace Within
At the Suns Rebirth & 'Round the Wheel Again.

This evening I will light a candle against the dark and I will consider the blessings of the light that will soon follow.
Perhaps as a bit of an antidote to the rampant commercialism that has become our holiday season, I spent a bit of time this morning reading about the history of Winter Solstice celebrations. This year "holiday" television commercials began with Halloween. Perhaps, before long, advertising will begin on the 4th Of July! As the "season" for gift-giving becomes longer and longer I seem to become less and less excited. Is that reverse psychology at work or is just age? 
I have long considered that exchanging gifts at New Years (as they did in centuries past) might be a small way to protest against what I personally feel has become a travesty of the significance of this season of the spirit. Thus far, however, I seem to bend to our modern tradition, although I am usually such a slug about getting holiday gifts sent in a timely manner (even if they are right in front of me) that perhaps I have already edged towards that goal in a small way! 
I found this excellent article on the International Business Times website (of all places!). It is one of the best synopsis' of Winter Solstice lore and traditions that I found. The link will take you to the full article along with links (if they don't all work from here).
"......The winter solstice is the longest night and shortest day of the year. The Earth’s axis tilts the furthest away from the sun at 23-and-a-half degrees, giving all locations north of the equator less than 12 hours of daylight. This moment has been marked by mankind for centuries. 
In ancient Rome, the weeklong feast of Saturnalia honored the sun god Saturn. Celts believed the sunstood still for 12 days, making it necessary to light a log fire to conquer the darkness. During the Iron Age, the Celts and other ancient Europeans welcomed the winter solstice by feasting, merrymaking and sacrificing animals. Today modern pagans celebrate the holiday by lighting candles, throwing bonfires, hosting feasts and decorating their homes.
Early Celebrations
Celebrating the rebirth of the sun can be seen in other cultures throughout history. While these typically took place during the coldest, darkest days of the year, winter solstice traditions were celebrations that gave people hope sunny days lay ahead.
Egyptians celebrated the return of Ra, god of the sun, on a daily basis. Ancient Greeks held a similar festival called Lenaea. The Roman Empire held Saturnalia celebrations. Scandinavia's Norsemen called the holiday “Yule.”  Families would light Yule logs where they would eat until the log burned out – which could take up to 12 days. Each spark was believed to represent a new pig or calf that would be born in the new year.
Germanic peoples would celebrate the winter festival by honoring the pagan god Odin. Many believed he would fly through the night sky (on a magical flying horse) and determine who would be blessed or cursed in the coming year. Many decided to stay indoors, fearing Odin’s wrath.
Relation to Christmas
Originally the Christian calendar focused on Easter. It was only in the fourth century that the church decided Jesus Christ’s birthday should be celebrated. Since the Bible did not point to an exact date when Christ was born, Pope Julius I chose Dec. 25. It’s commonly believed that the church chose the date in an effort to replace the Roman Saturnalia with the Christian holiday.
"As the Christmas celebration moved west," Harry Yeide, a professor of religion at George Washington University told National Geographic. "The date that had traditionally been used to celebrate the winter solstice became sort of available for conversion to the observance of Christmas. In the Western church, the December date became the date for Christmas."
Besides the date, Christian leaders found ways to relate the pagan holiday to the Christian one.
"This gave rise to an interesting play on words," Yeide said. "In several languages, not just in English, people have traditionally compared the rebirth of the sun with the birth of the son of God."
Christmas traditions including dinner feasts, gift-giving, and decorative wreaths can be traced back to winter solstice rituals. For instance, for the Celtic druids, mistletoe was a sacred plant  called “All Heal.” Priests would cut the plant from the tree, hold a feast and sacrifice animals underneath it. Mistletoe was believed to cure illnesses, serve as an anecdote for poisons, ensure fertility and protect against witchcraft. Some people would hang it from their doorways or rooms to offer goodwill to visitors.
Ancient Romans would decorate their homes with holly during winter solstice. Holly wreaths were given as gifts and used as decoration in public areas and in homes to honor the sun god Saturn. Ancient Celts would have similar traditions. Many would plant holly in their homes as a form of protection since the plants was believed to hold magical powers for its ability to survive the winter months.
Modern Festivities
For Wiccans and Druids, Yule is one of the eight solar holidays celebrated each year. Wiccans see Yule as a time to spend with friends and family, exchange gifts and honor the sun. Homes are decorated with red, green and white decorations – colors that hark back to Druidic traditions.
Some Wiccans welcome the new solar year with light. Rituals can include meditating in darkness with lit candles, singing pagan carols and lighting Yule logs (either in indoor fireplaces or outdoor bonfires)....."