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Let me introduce you . . .
Today’s Slow Stitching guest blogger is quilter, poet, and artist, Beverly Letsche! Bev Letsche lives in the eastern half of South Dakota with her farmer husband, Travis, six cats, two dogs and two donkeys. She can tell you the mileage from her place to several quilt shops. The closest is over thirty miles away. Occasionally she does something to help pay the bills like a little bookkeeping, moving a pick-up to a different field, or running to town for parts. Her real identity is quilter, stash builder, poet/writer, cat furniture, dogs’ doorman, gardener, teapot collector, avid reader and tea devotee.
It all started with an idea to preserve a little spiritual history . . .
A few years ago my childhood church in rural South Dakota closed its doors for the last time. It was decided that the church would be torn down with as much architectural detail saved as possible. I was lucky enough to get a couple of the arched window frames. These windows never held stained glass but I decided one would be the perfect frame for a stained glass quilt. I mulled, drew plans, fretted, pulled fabric from my stash, shopped for fabric, decided the plan was horrible and started all over again. Repeatedly. Finally, in January, Mark Lipinski asked me to discuss my creative plans for 2014 on his live internet radio show, Creative Mojo with Mark Lipinski. It was on the show that some imp prompted me to declare that I would be working on my stained glass quilt. Mark told me he would be checking back on my progress. Blast! That meant I was actually going to have to do more than just think about the process. The thing is, my Mom who went to that church most of her years, is ninety-one. If she was going to see my tribute to the church, I really needed to get moving. After years of procrastination, Mark gave me the needed nudge.
My creative process tends to be the same whether I am writing or quilting: I stew and plan, trying out ideas and redoing them mentally for an extended time until I HAVE to start, then I write or cut fabric. In the case of writing, it may go pretty much as planned unless my cat, Sheba, joins me at the computer. Then what comes out has usually taken a one hundred-eighty degree turn from the original plan. Sheba doesn’t mess with my quilts quite as often, but the quilts still tend to take on a life of their own and make their own decisions about what they want to be. I blame cats Princess Eve and Hammy who sit on the unfinished quilts a lot and encourage the quilts to undermine my authority. That is why I tend to over-pack for retreats and classes, taking along at least double the fabric needed. I hate to limit the quilts’ options. I bet some of you are asking if I use a computer program to design my quilts or at least graph paper and pencil. Umm, no. I usually make a rough sketch with notations of sizes and colors. Chances are the finished quilt will have only a vague resemblance to the sketch. Even if I am working from a kit for a class, I almost always end up changing it somehow to make the quilt my own. I believe I could be termed a spontaneous quilter. About the time I got serious about this quilt, I found an ideal book for my project, something along the lines of Stained Glass Quilt in Three Easy Steps. It claimed to be an easy raw edge appliqué technique. Now obviously I should have known better, but I looked at the directions and it looked doable. I promptly lost the book somewhere in my sewing room. Found it again when the project was about three quarters done. I haven’t had the courage to look and see if I came anywhere close to following directions. I should mention that I am not fond of appliqué. I have done as little appliqué as possible and will avoid projects just because they have appliqué. I really have never liked anything to do with appliqué. This project was going to be a massive amount of appliqué. What was I thinking??? Sans book, I dived in and hoped to not drown. Luckily the dining table is seldom used for actual dining because as quilt design central, it wasn’t available for anything else for months. I started by tracing the window on paper and cutting out the arches, etc. I knew I wanted solid black fabric for the background which would be under the wood portions of the frame and the leading between the colored portions. That was the easy part. Just what those colored portions would be was the question. I adore choosing fabric. Put me in a tolerant quilt shop and I can spend a great deal of time helping other customers pick out their perfect fabrics. This is actually much cheaper for me because it feeds my obsession without my having to buy all the fabric I choose. Taking time while you shop is one of the tenets of The Slow Stitching Movement. I love the colors, the textures, the smell, the inspiration of browsing through a shop and finding an irresistible piece of material. I love shopping on-line, but nothing matches the experience fondling all that fabric in person and supporting local businesses. Not to mention that a good quilt shop is invaluable in so many ways, from helping calculate yardage to knowing which thread will work best for a project. This time I actually headed to my stash to shop which is another recommendation of The Slow Stitching Movement in order to both save money, sanity, and to reduce our waste footprint on the planet when it’s time to move to the big quilt shop in the sky. Seriously. I have enough fabric in my stash to make innumerable quilts. There is no possible scenario in which I will live long enough to use it all. I have vowed more than once to only shop for fabric when I absolutely cannot find the right fabric in my stash. I frequently break that vow, but in this case I actually kept it. (Note big grin on my face. Love the feeling of having pulled everything from the stash. Besides reducing my carbon foot print for the day, out-of-pocket cost is zero. This makes this a FREE quilt! Free is very good as I never make any money off my projects. Try stash shopping. It is a wonderful thing.) So I assembled a large variety of fabrics, mostly deeply saturated batiks, and chose several that seemed most compatible. Next I went to the computer and browsed through innumerable sites discussing Celtic symbols. Then I browsed other sites looking for symbols I hadn’t found on the Celtic sites. I printed out those symbols that spoke to me on a spiritual level. Having a Celtic blood line made this part of the design process very special. I felt that besides honoring the more immediate past inherent in using the church window frame, incorporating Celtic symbols honored my ancient family heritage. Using the paper patterns, I cut out a graduated blue fabric (lighter blue at the top of the window, darker at the bottom). I planned to eventually add my design elements, subtracting blue fabric as I went. Up to this point all was going pretty much according to plan. After this point, not so much. My projects have a tendency to take off and do their own thing without guidance from me. I had planned Celtic triple spirals for the two top arches and roses meandering down the two bottom sections. Since the Celts did not leave much in the way of written records it is difficult to know for sure what the triple spiral meant to them, but it has become known as a symbol of female power especially through transition and growth. The three spirals represent the maiden (innocence), mother (knowledge) and the crone (wisdom). Now I had to choose which shade of yellow to use for the spirals. I spread various yellows across the blue, auditioning, moving, walking away, coming back. After probably a week, I made my choice, I left it on the blue by itself for a couple more days to confirm that this was the one. This process was repeated for the other fabrics as I added them. I put Soft Fuse on the back of the fabric, traced and cut out the two spiral designs. This I found very enjoyable, reminding me of cutting out paper dolls in my childhood. Okay, I may have played with a few paper dolls since my childhood, too. Anyway, I liked the spirals so much that I decided to use both the planned portion and the cut away portion, so had to delete a few of those roses to make way for the spiral in the bottom windows. I enjoyed the paper doll cutting and the Celtic theme so decided to eliminate some more roses and add a claddagh (representing love, friendship and loyalty) and a tree of life that I had found in my browsing. Once I cut out the tree of life, I realized my appliqué skills were not up to that task so substituted in a book (to represent knowledge and the pursuit of learning) and a cross (faith). Then I looked at the rose design and remembered I don’t even like roses so changed them to a fantasy flower. I fused everything down then made up a couple samplers to go practice my machine appliqué. I talked to quilters in a couple of my favorite shops for advice on thread and technique. I went with Superior MonoPoly thread. I was advised to not use the thread holder on the top of the machine but to use a separate holder “so the thread would be more relaxed.” Never having used invisible thread I took that advice. Threading the machine was an exercise in frustration but I got it done. I lowered the tension on the machine and started in. The samplers went well, so I thought I was ready to tackle the actual quilt. Everything went smoothly….for about five minutes. Then the thread broke. And broke again and again. I lowered the tension more. Still broken thread every few minutes.
I went on-line and cried on the collective shoulders of my quilt group.
Luckily, wonderful Valerie Begeman had been to California to a quilt expo and attended a lecture by someone from Superior Threads. She sent me her handouts. I found that the separate holder was a bad idea because then the thread came off the top of the spool. It needs to come off the side of the spool. I put the spool back on the top of the machine, lowered the tension again and all was well.
Here is my finished result!
What did I learn besides how not to use invisible thread?
Raw edge probably isn’t the best method for large projects. There was more fraying than I liked. I had some trouble with the fusible letting go. That probably was the fault of my black fabric, not the fusible as there was no problem with other fabrics. But that is just technical stuff and not the most important lessons. I learned that having quilting friends to give advice and aid is invaluable. Never did the slow stitching advice of “creating a community” hit home more powerfully.
I learned that taking the time to play with the design, to relax and enjoy the process, to allow my creativity and intuition to change the design as I went instead of feeling locked into my original ideas to be much more satisfying than rigidly locking myself into a design. I seldom rush any quilting project unless there is a very good reason. (like…started the project when the nephew was born and I really need to get it done in time for his first child’s birth-yes, it has happened.) There is a reason I identify with the turtle not the rabbit. The Slow Stitching Movement was tailor made for me. Relaxing over the actual construction process makes me much happier (okay, that wine doesn’t hurt the relaxation level).
I learned that making a quilt with this kind of emotional and spiritual meaning stitched into it gives the process a different level of satisfaction than I have ever experienced with any other quilt. It is much closer to the feeling that I get from writing a very personal poem. Once I actually started on the quilt, the ideas to make it even more meaningful flowed.
I learned to be careful showing a quilt like this to my ninety-one year old mother. She wanted me to make a permanent loan of the quilt to the church she and several other members of the church the window came from, now attend. It took some fast talking to convince her to loan it out for only a couple of months. I HOPE to get it back in September.
I learned that appliqué may be more fun than I anticipated.
The Future . . ?
I have signed up for two classes this fall which will teach different appliqué techniques. Who knows, I may fall in love. I still have another window frame which would be ideal for another appliquéd quilt.
What am I thinking????????
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