Jan 24, 2014

thoughts from Tokyo and the very Great International Quilt Festival

And the winner is....

The quilt pictured above is the Grand Prix winner for the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival for 2014. The winners were announced at the opening ceremony for the show. Thousands of quilters waited patiently during the hour-long ceremony to hear the results. (I might add that for those of us who are language challenged and alone in this great city, this is a very long hour!)

This show - which is fondly called the Tokyo Dome show - is housed in the baseball stadium and all of us were sitting near third base to hear the ceremony... at least I think that's right. My mind kept imagineing the stadium filled with cheering baseball fans.

Seems appropriate to share a venue with baseball since both baseball and quilting are American imports to Japan.

After the speeches and ribbon cutting... the gates were opened!

The quilt below is the second place winner and it is called "Mysterious Letters." The colors on this one are wonderful! The base is earth tone with red, white and black accents. The design is bold and modern and it has a lot of movement and energy. As with the Grand Prix, the quilting of course, is amazing.

Here's a detail... you can see the tightly quilted lines. Also, the "letters" that the quilt references are very subtly shown with Japanese characters in gold thread... and there are several of these letters written on the quilt.

Back to the Grand Prix... below is a close up photo. It's really hard to convey the tiny, meticulous details of these quilts in photos on the web. This one is all hand quilted... and it is quite large... so the amount of time, talent and effort is extraordinary! The quilting lines are close, close, close and just incredible. Also, the embroidery, applique, are all excellent.

But, it is not the most original entry here at the Tokyo Dome show. Anyone who knows and studies the international quilt world will recognize this quilt as one that is made in the style of the amazing and talented Yoko Saito. I am proud to show one of my own quilts (also shown on my quilt gallery page), in the picture below, that is adapted from a pattern by Yoko Saito. I finished this quilt about two years ago.  You'll recognize the border on mine is similar to the winning Tokyo Dome quilt. Mine is also all hand applique and hand quilted... and has hand embroidery.

So, one can aspire to someday have the technical mastery to quilt like this Grand Prix winner has done! Mine is hanging on a wall in my house. I've attached it to a canvas to hang... maybe I should take it down and add more lines of quilting! Or maybe I'll just leave it and move on.

The exhibition of quilts here is huge. There are about a dozen categories of competition... including a section of junior quilts created by young kids, some are team efforts with a whole classroom. These are really cute and so cool to see this encouragement. There is another category featuring the work of 60 master quilt teachers... and also a category for original design quilts. Both the teacher quilts and the original design quilts are the most interesting parts of the whole show!

And then there is shopping, of course! Several hundred vendors are set up all around the outskirts of the exhibit selling mostly fabric, but also notions, machines and everything quilt related. Quilted bags and purse patterns are very big here.

Among the fabric offerings, there are several vendors selling indigos, also vintage kimonos and other traditional fabrics. There's also lots of modern Japanese fabrics. Quilt Party - Yoko Saito's store - is hugely popular, as is Quilt Wonderland, Keiko Goke's store. Keiko's fabrics are bright, funky and modern, but with a Japanese vibe.

The other big attraction here is American quilt fabrics and especially, vintage cottons, lace and antique quilts. There are several booths selling whole antique quilts and also baskets filled with scraps and remnants... and these are very popular among the Japanese quilters.

I don't normally show photos of me on my blog posts, but I thought this selfie was too unusual not to share.  Can you spot me?  There are soooo many people here... and the isles are soooo narrow... it is literally a sea of humanity with no room to spare. Patience is required to make it down one of these isles. So I snapped this quick selfie to try to show the crowds and how one lady from Texas kinda stands out. 

These are the thoughts so far from Tokyo. Funny... one of the things that concerned me in coming here was the cold. But while the weather here has been quite manageable, we're having an ice storm in Houston of all places! Crazy world.

Jan 22, 2014

Tokyo's textile district... open and bustling

Score! Made it to Nippori Textile Town... aka fabric town. And it was open and hopping!

The area is actually Nippori Sen-I Gai, which translates as textile town or fabric street.  There's been lots written about this area. Here is a link to one of the sites I found most useful:

It has a map of the streets with the stores listed in English and also photos to help with directions for the short walk from Nippori Station.

Note to self though: while the map has the stores listed in English, most of the stores do not have signs in English. So if you are wanting a specific store, you should have two maps to find the name in Japanese.  The police station right outside Nippori Station also has maps of the street that they willingly share if you just stop and ask.

Tomato is one of the bigger shops here and it is easy to spot. But there are 3 or 4 Tomato locations/stores on the street, and only one has a lot of quilt fabric. Once you get inside, the signs are all Japanese - and this store is large, 4 or 5 stories. The staff are very helpful though, but bring your Google translator app on your smart phone to help you translate. There are lots of other options in the other smaller stores for quilters and anyone who loves fabric --- everything from fashion to home decorating.

For some reason, there's even this guy...  he's sitting out in front of one of the stores. To take your shopping to infinity and beyond... I guess!

Anyway, some of these stores cater to quilters and you'll find thousands of small pieces of material (not fat quarters, but similar in size) --- all affordable. There are so many choices it can be overwhelming. The stores have beautiful reproduction kimono fabric, stunning indigos and tons of cotton, lace, notions, etc. Even leather. And there are some stores with vintage kimonos. But the majority of these stores only sell one meter cuts, so its better to keep searching those stores that have smaller cuts so you can go home with more variety.

Here's one Tokyo travel story that may interest only me.

Even the most careful planning can be lost in translation! I've been reading about the struggle in the Nippori area to preserve the very last unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji from Tokyo.

Today, I rushed to this ordinary street - Fujimizaka - just before sunset to get in position to capture the perfect photos... but alas, I'm about one year too late! At least I think that's what the nice people that helped me said. Their sad faces were enough to confirm - they did not need a translation to know what I was searching for. In the end, the residents lost, real estate developers won. No more views of Mt. Fuji from inside the city. At least not from Nippori. There might still be others that I am not aware of, if you know of one, please send me a comment!

Tokyo Great International Quilt Festival starts today. I am off to the mega Tokyo Dome complex - this is the domed stadium where they play baseball. Somehow appropriate they share this facility, since baseball and quilting are both American imports!

More to come from quilt fest later.

Jan 19, 2014

Tokyo textile town... not the best day to visit

Arrived in Japan a few days ago and all is well so far. My plan for the day was to stroll through the famous Nippori Textile Town. Why? To buy fabric of course.

But it's Sunday and the shops were closed... not to mention it is cold, cold cold and windy today. So not the fun filled fabric shopping trip I was hoping for. But the good news is... now I know how to get there, and I have time to go back.

Here' Five Tokyo Travel Stories that may interest only me.
1. The Japanese actually form nice, well organized lines to get on the subway or trains! So polite. Can you imagine telling a bunch of New Yorkers to stand in a neatly formed line to enter the subway.
2. Note to self: there are no paper towels or hand dryers is the women's restrooms. Women here carry their own little towels around in their purse. Kinda odd. Need to get one of those!
3. The Otemachi stop on the Tozai subway line is essentially the same stop as the Tokyo station... so the 90 minutes I spent yesterday morning connecting through 3 subways stations and one train platform was pretty ridiculous when all I had to do was go 2 more stops and walk 5 minutes. Hmmm....
4. The taxi doors open and close by themselves. So cool. Pretty much the same for most doors here.
5. I was given a very special fortune yesterday (in English!).
It says: LAWSUITS: you will win. (do they know about us Americans?)
THE PERSON YOU AWAIT: He will come. (Not sure if this means the person I aspire to be, or if I'm waiting on someone!)
TRAVEL:  Favorable.  That's my favorite part... partly because it sounds like a weather forecast... and partly because I hope it stays true.

I'll be heading back to Nippori Textile Town soon, hopefully it will be alive with activity and not so cold! I'll also be attending the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival 2014 which starts this week. Everyone here just calls it the Tokyo Dome Show. So, me and 300,000 other quilters are all awaiting the Tokyo Dome Show! Should be fun.

Stay tuned.

Jan 12, 2014

...and I'm off to Japan

Airline tickets? Check
Japan Rail Pass? Check.
Dollars converted to Yen? Check.
Passport? Check
Handmade quilted passport clutch? Check!

I made this functional little quilted clutch to hold my passport from a pattern offered on Bernina's We All Sew blog.

I rarely make purses or such, but occasionally I do venture out and make a few non art quilt things every now and then for fun. When I do, I use Soft and Stable batting from By Annie.

That stuff is amazing and gives items like this clutch a nice shape that holds.  Works really well on bags and placemats. I bought a large supply at the Houston International Quilt Festival because you never know when you'll need to whip up something unusual like the perfect padding for your passport.

Soft and Stable is easy to quilt through... so long as you don't mind a little popping sound from the needle. Just be sure to toss that needle when you're done.

So, my passport is ready to dump into my bag and off I go. Ready for the long flight and several weeks stay in Japan.  With this little jewel, I figure I can keep my passport with me at all times and not have to worry about locating it in my giant bag.

Priceless, really!

Jan 10, 2014

are you still working on that dog quilt...?

I know what you're thinking. Is she ever going to finish that thing? Well yes, eventually. But I did finish quilting the whole dog applique part! Its done. All free motion quilting. No markings or patterns. I even started on the background... then my machine started acting up. Tried everything and eventually had to part with it for its annual check up.
The quilting on the applique part is finished!

And this is the back of the quilt.
This is my favorite section  because it showcases
all my stitching and I hardly screwed it up at all.

If you're keeping track - this is dog quilt post part five! I am still enjoying working on this and I'm really thrilled with the ways it is looking so far. I have learned a lot making this, especially about using applique to render something this large.

I am linking up this post with Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays. Link below. I love her site because a lot of cool work is linked up here... so inspirational to check on all the blogs and see other work. Check it out!

After this week, I'll be traveling for several weeks in Japan, so I will not be finishing this puppy anytime soon. Maybe March or April? We'll see.


This is the ear and a small part of the background,
which I started quilting before my machine stopped working properly. Hard to see the thread on this lime green... 

Jan 7, 2014

book review: two books on machine quilting

There's an old saying among musicians and performers that goes like this: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The answer: 10,000 hours of practice."  While most of us will never get to 10,000 of quilting, we still need to practice, practice, practice... and sew every chance we get.  So if you're like me, you may need a little jolt to help you get inspired... something to give you a plan of what to do next... well then, help is on the way.

I'll offer my two cents on two different machine quilting books that I found useful. Both focus on free motion quilting.

365 Free Motion Quilting Designs

Title: 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs
Author: Leah Day
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Edition: 2012 paperback edition supported by online instructions 

Modern Quilting Designs: 90+ Free-Motion Inspirations- Add Texture & Style to Your Next Quilt

Title: Modern Quilting Designs
Author: Bethany Nicole Pease
Publisher: C&T Publishing
Edition: 2012 paperback

First, I'll start with Leah Day. If you want tips and ways to improve your quilting and have not been to Leah's website, you must go there now!   http://www.leahday.com/

Leah has built a business from the ground up by offering tons of advice and tips online for free. She has daily lessons, follow along projects, and numerous videos and pictures to help you learn. Her free motion quilting tips are geared for beginners all the way up to all levels.  A couple years ago, she decided to challenge herself to see if she could offer a project per day everyday for a year. Her lessons suggest you make a small square block and then follow along by quilting her design, one per day.  Just like learning any new skill, these lessons increase in difficulty as you go.

The key to Leah's free motion is her method of free motion where you don't have to lift the needle and cut the thread. Her designs are continuous, but the trick is learning to travel back over some of the lines you've already quilted.  Once you get the hang of this you'll love it because it keeps things moving and allows you to quilt very unique designs, almost thread painting effect. In addition, the 'traveling back' over some lines creates really interesting quilting overall.

This book has pictures of finished quilted squares from every lesson. These pictures are also available on her website for free. The nice thing about the book though, is you can pick it up... hold it in your hand... and flip through it for inspiration. I know this is old school! But in my view, worth the investment to be able to hold the book and see all the options in front of you. The link above goes to the paperback version on Amazon. There is also an eBook available on Leah's website that is less expensive.

Also, if you don't want to purchase either, everything is there for you for free on her website, including instructions (most have videos) for each lesson.  This book and Leah's website are a wealth of information and are really, really useful whether you're a master quilter and looking for easy ways to keep your skills up everyday ... or just beginning.

The second book, "Modern Quilting Designs" by Bethany Nicole Pease is a relatively short book (compared to the 365 designs book), but it's filled with lots of ideas for modern free motion designs. There are illustrations for individual stitches and ways to mix and match stitches for the whole look. Most of these designs are continuous motion, allowing you to start at one end and keep going.  What I found most useful in this book was the large illustrations and the way they are drawn... everything is fairly loose, super creative and modern.

The format allows you to flip through it easily, so you can look at a design, internalize it and then think, oh yeah, I like that and I can use it here... or I can modify it slightly and it will fit here.  These illustrations are not really meant to be copied over to your quilt, although I guess you could do that too.

I've only been machine quilting for a little over one year. So as a new machine quilter, I looked a lot of 'how-to' books and websites on machine quilting. In fact, I found so many choices that the options were a bit overwhelming.

These are two books/websites that I have personally used over and over and have found them both to be really useful.

That's my two cents.

What are your favorite machine quilting books? I'd love to hear your comments.

NOTE: Just for the record, I offer these reviews freely. I was not paid or asked to give reviews and I was not given any free books or products in exchange for this review.

Jan 5, 2014

book review: Keiko Goke's lastest book is a must read

All My Thanks and Love to Quilts

Title: All My Thanks and Love to Quilts
Author: Keiko Goke
Publisher: Design Originals
Edition: English, paperback, 2012

The world of Keiko Goke is a world filled with bright colors and bold designs that are sometimes just a little bit of off-kilter enough to make them also quite funky. Keiko Goke's career as an artist and quilter spans 40 years and in her latest book, she shares a bit of that story with readers. Keiko lives in Japan and she is recognized for her work internationally.

If you are looking for something fresh to inspire you, this book is a must read. There are dozens of her quilts featured and the photography of each quilt is just stunning. These are not the same old quilt photos. Rather, these close-up images make you feel like you can reach out touch the fabric... and there is so much detail you can really see every beautiful stitch. The photography alone is enough to inspire you, but there is much more in this book.

There are instructions to make 7 quilts at the back of the book. Personally, I don't make very many patterns anymore, but that's just me. If you look at some of her quilts, you can't help but want to create them yourself, either in whole or in part. There are also tips on embroidery, bleaching fabric, and even quilted balloonsm and piecing.

Even though the author is too humble to point this out, many of the quilts featured in this book have been award winners at international competitions and have been shown in important museum exhibitions in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.

This book is a book to be treasured, both for the inspiration you'll absorb from her extraordinary use of color, and for the chance to flip through a life, and a 40-year professional, career, dedicated to quilting.

a sewing room minus the sewing machine

There's a big hole in my sewing room today. My trusty Bernina needed its annual check up. You know, time to get the oil changed, engine tuned up and tires rotated... the usual stuff. Just like my car.

I just hate to be without it... and my tiny sewing studio looks so sad without its Bernina. To be honest, it looks bigger - but that's a different story. Of course, I'm right in the middle of a big project (still quilting my dog quilt).  But hopefully my machine will come back soon and be as good as new!

In the meantime, this gives me time to focus on my next major project, and that is my trip to Japan and my book! I'm leaving for Japan soon and will be gone for several weeks. Assuming my technology works and my energy holds out given my busy schedule and the time change... I hope I can stay awake some nights to update my blog from time to time with all my Japanese quilt and fabric experiences... not to mention subway and train navigation stories... and surely there will be quite a few eating adventures (hopefully not misadventures).

One highlight for sure: I'll be attending the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival (aka the Tokyo Dome show)... and I'll also be doing field work and research for the book.

As I shared in my post at the end of last year, 2014 is going to be a great year.  I simply can't think of a better way to direct my time and energy than towards writing this book. I'm so excited by the potential and I can't wait to see it all done and share details about the content.

Nothing better than being a quilter!

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