Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sewing Through the Dog Days of Summer

It doesn't happen often, but it's happening now. I really feel like sewing. So that's what I've been doing. Being newly retired, there's finally time. It all began with a new sewing machine (our old machine died). And then I dug out the rotary cutter, mat and ruler I bought ages ago but never really got around to using. The rotary cutter cuts like a dream. The last time I fooled with quilting, most folks were still using scissors. I started cutting up fabric into little squares, It didn't even matter that I had no idea what I might make with all the squares, I just wanted to keep cutting. That led to an inventory of fabric stashed here and there around the house, and a massive reorganization of all supplies related to sewing. Productive fun!

At this stage of things, I'm flipping through a lot of books about quilting, both borrowing from the library and buying as needed. No matter what new crafty obsession I get interested in, I seem to learn best by seeking out a variety of sources for beginners. What I don't pick up from one book I may better understand in another, especially when the illustrations are good. I tend to go overboard collecting ideas. And then eventually I improvise on my own. I have a hard time following any one set of directions exactly.

This all reminds me of my spring fever over gardening which I wrote about in an earlier post. In any case, it always feels good to fall into a new obsession. I've got quite a learning curve ahead of me. It was satisfying to sew some of the squares into blocks, but when I finally got around to actually doing the hand quilting on top, I could see my skills need sharpening. Yet I love the handwork stage of quilting because the work is so portable. Small projects are all I want to undertake right now. I used to crochet like crazy when I lived up north, and that was certainly a portable hobby. In the past few decades, I completed three large quilting projects but they always took forever since I had a full time job. Now I feel more relaxed and should be able to enjoy the whole process a lot more.

I turned to the NoveList Plus database available through Harris County Public Library to refresh my memory of good novels with themes or plots related to quilting. Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas, the Elm Creek Quilts series by Jennifer Chiaverini, Stand the Storm by Breena Clarke are books I've read and enjoyed. I also came across a nonfiction title that sounds promising, about how quilting helped an art historian overcame her case of writer's block: Quilting Lessons: Notes from the Scrap Bag of a Writer and Quilter, by Janet Berlo.

During these dog days of summer on the Gulf coast, sewing is a good diversion. In some ways, quilting has always seemed a little crazy to me, in that quilters cut up cloth into little pieces and then sew them back together. In centuries past, quilting was more of a necessity or survival skill. Scraps of cloth were precious and recycling them into quilts made good sense. Now we pursue it more for the love of color, craft and design. But the satisfaction is surely much the same, and at times I've felt a sense of timeless connection to all those long ago quilters. I look forward to the fall, not just because the weather will change but because Houston always holds the International Quilt Festival. This year it runs October 15 - 18.

Quilt Exhibit Alert: "Hearts, Hands & Heritage: The Patchwork Soul of Houston" @ Rice Media Center Visual and Dramatic Arts Gallery, October 8 - November 6, 2009. This ties in with the Quilt Festival and sounds quite interesting, aspiring to illuminate the inportance of quilting on many levels, including the spiritual. See www.arts.rice.edu for more info.

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