Oct 30, 2016

Nancy Crow workshop - an honest review

Nancy Crow teaches art.

Her medium is textiles and quilting, but she's not teaching 'quilting' per se. And this is the real difference in what she's doing, versus most other instructors out there in the quilt universe.

What I mean by teaching art is that Nancy is trying to open her students' eyes to art world training and getting makers to think about color, value, line, proportion, etc. 

She is the antithesis of a quilt teacher who is trying to perfect your skills in applique for example, or any other single technique class. Taking her class means you are in for a week of hard work.
My work-space and my work-in-progress at the 'Crow Barn' in Ohio.
I spent one week in her class - at the 'Crow Barn' in rural Ohio. My class was called "Strip Piecing and Restructuring" and its the second in a series of classes that continue up through the master level. I skipped the first class (it was offered, but I was not able to attend due to a schedule conflict). I thought I was experienced enough to miss this and jump right in, but in hindsight I would have been better off to start at the beginning.

Before I signed up for the class, I did quite a bit of research and talked to one person who has studied with Nancy for years. I had heard all the bad stuff, that there was a lot of crying for instance, and I also heard good stuff and saw the interesting work coming out of her classes.

Nancy is a strict instructor. She does not walk around smiling and when she stops to talk with you, she does not mince words. She speaks forthright, and for some that is very hard to hear. At various points during the week, I got some high praise and some very frank critique telling me what I was doing was pretty awful. 

At one point, early in the class, I heard from across the room.... "Teresa! I don't know what you are doing over there... but it is not right." This really made me kinda laugh inside... because frankly, I didn't know what I was doing either and it clearly showed. I wanted to shout back "honey, if you don't know what I'm doing, then that makes two of us." But I held my tongue. I walked around the room and did some thinking and finally the instructions for the exercise started to sink in. Then I wiped the design wall clean and went back to work. The result got me the high praise that my structures were well proportioned with line and shape.

A series of lines, shapes and new fabric combinations I created during the week.
For this workshop, the Barn was open from 7 am to 9 pm. I pretty much worked all of those hours everyday, as did most every other person attending. I stayed at a hotel about 20 minutes away and I drove there in the dark and drove back to the hotel in the dark (way past my normal bedtime, I might add).
We were at work long before sun up and left long after sunset.
There is a lovely woman who is the chef for the week and her meals were incredible, so it was awesome not to have to worry about where to eat.
I sewed all week on this "antique" Bernina.
(Its not really an antique of course, but it felt that way to me compared to my amazing
Bernina 820 machine at home).
 This little machine was durable and easy to operate, just a bit slow.
Nancy gives a series of exercises with tight deadlines. These exercises are delivered in a combination of lecture and notes. Some of the lectures are short, some are longer. There is no time to waste. Everything is run like a tight ship. 

I've always been one to stay on track and not miss deadlines, but doing so took a ton of work and was truly hard. Making students do these exercises in such a short time frame is intentional - she is trying to get students to not overthink. Just do it. Trust your intuitive feeling. For me, I felt that things like choosing colors and how to use them is something I can do quickly, but then you have to sew these things... and I did feel rushed for the most part. But when I compare this to other classes, when don't we feel rushed? Most every class is supposed to be a jumping off point, not a place to create your masterpiece.

During the class, we were asked to make dozens of new fabric combinations. There were many combinations I made by following her directions that I doubt I will ever use, mostly because of color choices that are not really my style... but that was part of the exercise - stretching your vision - try new colors - see what happens when you put one color next to another, and then take those two colors and add black, or add white, or add a neutral - and so on.

On one of the nice weather days, I took a short break to walk around and get some fresh air. The area around the Barn is quite peaceful.

The last day and a half of the class were the biggest struggle for me. I think I understood the directions, I just couldn't get there. After thinking about it overnight, I think I realized that what I was being asked to do was not something that I would enjoy doing. 

So I decided to take what I'd learned about repetition and symmetry, and line and balance, and take the fabric combinations I had created in the exercise and do my own thing. The quilt top in the first photo above behind the picture of me is the result - but it's not finished yet. This quilt below is the quilt top from the first day. This was a quilt in a day challenge for sure! And I think it works well... and was fun to make.

In my opinion, this workshop and the way it is taught, is equivalent to art instruction at the graduate level... and I truly appreciate that. For me, it would have been better to start with the first class because I needed that first part of the education - rather than jumping to the second one. 

All that said though, I learned a great deal and I am glad I attended. I left feeling exhausted and energized at the same time.

I created two new pieces of art that I love. And most importantly, I truly feel more informed as an artist who makes quilts!

Oct 24, 2016

Nancy Crow workshop - day one

Today was a great first day of Nancy Crow's "piecing & resturcuturing" workshop.

I'm at the 'Crow Barn' - out in rural Ohio, near Baltimore. Its a lovely setting.

As for the workshop.... today felt a bit like I was a contestant on 'Project Runway' ... (in a good way!)  We were given "one day" for the "challenge" and a budget of 12 "fabrics" (aka knows as finished improv pieced blocks) that we created!

I started with this....

Then made 12 sets of new fabrics....

Then... I sewed like a crazy woman and turned those strips into this...

A few small things to fix on this tomorrow morning. Not bad for "quilt in a day" challenge!

Sunday we also visted the Dairy Barn Arts Center - in Athens, Ohio. There is a fabulous exhibit on view of master quilts curated by Nancy. Unfortunately, no pics allowed. But the barn is a very cool space ---- this is the same venue that hosts/exhibits Quilt National.

Stay tuned. More to come. 

Oct 22, 2016

heading to Nancy Crow workshop today

Heading to a week-long art quilt workshop with Nancy Crow today.

I'm looking forward to the critique on my recent improv.... and the inspiration to do more.

More to come throught the week!

Sep 23, 2016

Blogger's Quilt Fest - Hand Quilted category

Its fall and that means its time for the Blogger's Quilt Festival. 

I've entered this online festival for the past several years and its always fun to be a part of it, and to see all the great quilts that people make and blog about.

I am entering the HAND QUILTED CATEGORY.

Take time to visit and vote for your favorites.

This quilt was created from antique Japanese cotton. Some of these pieces are a century old, some older, some newer.

I stitched these pieces in layers with white cotton sashiko thread. Here is my original post about making this quilt.

Sep 19, 2016

this is what obsession looks like

This is what obsession looks like.

A dozen + handbags!!! I've done nothing but design and construct purses. And along the way I have neglected my blog! :(

Its all been purses and more purses... for weeks! I've built them, and then redesigned them and rebuilt them... so its hard to actually count them. On some designes, I built them and then took them apart and started over and built them again, till they're perfect. 

This is obsession for sure! I've been obsessed before... over quilts... or work... or kids... or whatever. But I don't think I've spent this much time with such a single focus, ever! I have truly lived like a hermit... or maybe just an artist obsessing over the work.

Its all been so interesting because working with leather is so different and its been good for my mind to have a totally new challenge. 

In addition to the mental challenge. leather is also very physical... there are hole punches, screwdrivers, mini drills... hammers and knives ... and strong-arming leather into forms and shapes that work. 

Leather is unforgiving! Mess up and you gotta start over.

Why the obsession? Well, I'm starting a new business making and selling leather and cotton handbags --- something I've wanted to do for quite some time!

Back in 1969, my dad started a business making wooden purses and I used to help out working in his shop after school and on weekends. Back in those days, child labor was not looked down upon! haha. Everyone was expected to work and help out, so we did. To honor those early days, I've named my new company mariejay- a combination of mine and my dad's middle names.

I plan to focus mostly on leather handbags, lined with beautiful quilting cottons.  

Each one is unique and I start each project with an open mind and let the leather and fabric speak to me.

But I also plan to use unusual materials such as canvas, vintage feed sacks or upcycled coffee bean sacks (we don't say "used" anymore... haha). The feed sacks and coffee bean sack bags have leather interiors!

I plan to sell online for now. I'm in the process of building a new e-commerce site. And I've opened a new Etsy store for my new brand (mariejayshop.etsy.com

Setting up websites, taking professional photos, keeping up with social media stuff... all takes time and patience. But at this point, I think it is a better option for me than selling through retail boutiques. Although, later down the road that may change. 

Of course I will keep quilting! I love quilting and will always be a quilter. In fact, its the very skills I've learned with 20 years of quiltmaking that are helping me in my new business. And hopefully, I will turn this new passion into a real day job... and keep quilting for fun.

Thanks for reading... and for coming back to my blog after the summer absence.

Aug 7, 2016

leather and quilting and Japanese fabric and 5 purses later!

Lately, the stars have aligned.

I've combined all my loves: quilting, sewing, cool purses and tote bags, Japanese cotton, vintage materials, and now leather.

This combo is so cool that I've made 5 purses using some of each. I just listed them on Etsy

Loving my new leather sewing machine! These red and black purses turned out great. Perfect shoulder bags. Both are fully lined and include a thin piping along the top edge. The interior fabric on the black bag is a Yoko Saito cotton - made in Japan.

Cotton and Steel vintage ladies on the pocket!

More Japanese fabrics here! These funky flowers were designed by Keiko Goke - and printed in Japan. The inside fabric is hers as well. Its quilted.

I've spent weeks toiling over these bags. Making every little detail as best I can. Stirring my creativity and stretching my technical skills.

Then we (the Husband and I) spent hours on the photo shoot today for Etsy. Luckily the Husband is a pro - and lets me use all his photo gear and lights! You know what else is lucky? The Bernina sits on an electronic lift table and it lowers to become, well, a photo studio on top!

Love this vintage telephone cotton canvas from Cotton and Steel. I cut out one telephone and quilted it and it hangs outside the bag. The straps and top binding are a dyed leather.

And this one below is made with an American vintage feed/grain sack and leather inside! The vintage typewriter (also Cotton and Steel fabric) is appliqued on the outside and hand embroidered. The typewriter is also featured on the inside pocket. Once upon a time, this cotton fabric was used to haul grain or feed (don't worry, its been washed). Its very soft. And to make it extra special, I lined the inside with leather. Clever, huh?

All of these bags are now listed on my Etsy site.

I dusted off the mothballs of my Etsy site and I've decided to give Etsy another go. I opened an Etsy shop in 2013. Originally I listed art quilts and baby quilts. I have sold a total of 2 items. I shuttered the site for quite a while... but now I am back in business.

If you happen to be in Kerrville, Texas, or near there, I am speaking at the Hill Country Quilt Guild on August 15. I'll be bringing these handbags there in person to show off and maybe even sell! I also be bringing lots of new deliveries of vintage Japanese cotton yukata.

I would LOVE your comments, feedback, questions or whatever. Let me know what you think.

Here the whole url for my Etsy shop: thirdfloorquiltsshop.etsy.com

Jul 31, 2016

move over Kate Spade... I'm sewing with leather

Turns out, dreams really can come true!

I made my 1st leather tote bag!

I've been dreaming of getting a second sewing machine specifically for leather for a couple of years. I plan to make purses, bags and other stuff. I see myself as the next Kate Spade! ... (Actually, I don't even know much about her... and I don't think she even owns the company anymore...) I picture Kate Spade as this eternally young woman, happily designing cute colorful purses, making stuff women want to buy. Then I insert myself into that picture! Haha. Hey, don't laugh.

After two years of making and selling tote bags (think Vera Bradley, only way cooler), I finally reached a point where I could justify the cost of a new machine and make the room - both in my studio and in my schedule.

My second machine is a serious, industrial workhorse... like a Mac Truck.

My first machine is a sewing computer. 

...a delicate dandelion ready to break apart with the wind.

My second machine is like JJ Watt (think Terminator, only real) - ready to roll over anything that stands in its way. This one - you turn it on - and it just sews! Forward and backward.

I bought my first machine about 4 years ago. Bernina --- the 820 Quilters Edition. It was International Quilt Festival time and my BFF and I had margaritas and Mexican food before 'Preview Night' of the show. Still happy from our happy hour(s), I found myself in the Bernina booth talking to this very nice lady who showed me this magical machine and its stitch regulator for free motion quilting. 

For 15 years, I hand quilted but always wanted to learn to do more. So the features of the 820 looked very appealing. I signed up! Called my BFF ... "Come to aisle 1600. I just bought a Bernina."

This time around, I did a LOT more research! Here's my first little leather coin purse.

In spite of my margarita-happy purchase, I do not regret my Bernina decision at all. Quite the contrary - I love the machine. The learning curve was very high though. I have to say it took me almost a year to figure out the machine --- and that's with attending all the classes my Bernina dealer offered.

My fancy dandelion sewing computer is awesome if you abide by my 2 rules. Number one, don't use the BSR (otherwise known as the Bernina Stitch Regulator). Yes, the gadget that was the most attractive to me at first turns out to be the least useful. 

Number two, oil the machine every hour or so. Yes! Every hour! Trust me. This solves all evils.

With these two rules, I rule my Bernina and I love it.

But with a second chance, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting.
What would Kate Spade do? I assume she would start with You Tube, I mean really. Who needs a staff or professional counsel when you can learn just about anything on You Tube? haha...

Seriously, there are tons of great videos on how to choose a leather sewing machine... how to thread it... how to sew with it... on and on. Its all right there if you invest the time to watch and learn. This time, I also talked to lots of people. I read blogs, studied the work of small leather studios, went to an industrial sewing shop, and I talked to many dealers on the phone.

I plan to make leather purses, tote bags and other small items. So I decided that I needed a machine with a cylinder arm. That raised the price quite a bit over the flat bed machines, but I knew it was a critical feature for rounded corners and other tight spaces in sewing bags. I also knew I needed the lock stitch, compound feed mechanism, and I wanted a stitch length of 6 mm. I would have loved to have the option for an even longer stitch length, but it turns out this is one of those dividing lines and the machines that do longer stitches are a lot more expensive. So 6 mm is good for me.

Next decision was the price and the brand. I started out preferring the Pfaff based on advice and reviews. But I learned from talking to experts that most of these industrial machines are pretty much made by the same manufacturers and they just stick different labels on the outside. I don't mean to discredit Pfaff or any other brand by saying that, I know there are quality differences.

Anyway, I was ready to accept an off-brand alternative. I found machines that mimic the features of the name brand machines, but for several thousand dollars less!
I finally decided to purchase a Typical GC 2603 from a dealer in Dallas, Texas - Sunny Sewing Machine. Their customer service has been incredible! I was nervous to purchase a machine over the phone that I had not sewn with... but they assured me I would be satisfied and they spent a lot of time talking to me about the features and what I needed to sew purses, bags, etc.

The price tag was $1,350 --- within my budget. Shipping was $165 (Dallas is only 4 hour drive from Houston). And I needed a couple extra gadgets added, which Sunny Sewing machine included AT NO EXTRA CHARGE!

And get this - I got the machine 2 days later! AND it came to me fully assembled and ready to sew. With industrial machines like this, there is a motor, belts and other stuff and the machine has to be firmly attached to the table. Sunny Sewing Machines did all this up front. Bolted the thing to a pallet and shipped it to me ready to go. All the other dealers sent the machines in parts and you have to install the motor, etc. Having it ready to go was very attractive!

Luckily "third floor quilts" has an elevator! And A Husband available to help!

Bernina's customer service was a completely different experience. I'm not saying it was bad - just different. First, it took 6 weeks to get my Bernina delivered. At the time - and even now - that seems crazy to me. Second, the machine did come with one set of needles, oil, small tools, and several feet amd a few other things. But it did not come with a 1/4 inch foot. I had to buy that foot extra. It wasn't that expensive, but it seems that a $6,000 machine desinged especially as a quilter's edition ought to come with a 1/4 inch foot. Small thing, I know. But it has stuck with me all these years. Bernina did fund about 6 full and half-day classes, which I took full advantage of. These were very helpful.

With my new leather machine, Sunny Sewing added an edge guide (which was not standard to this model) and 2 zipper feet attachments for free! They also sent needles and other goodies.

I'm so happy with my new Mac Truck... my new JJ Watt power!

Stay tuned Kate Spade. I'm on my way.

Jul 18, 2016

tote bags ... some recent finishes

Some recent finishes of my custom quilted tote bags for the needlepoint industry. I sell these types of bags through Chandail Needlework.

Jul 14, 2016

any quilters in Mauritius?

The Internet is a weird thing.

Every now and then, I check the 'stats' on my blog to see what's up. There's a ton of information there and its interesting to see how many people visit and what part of the world they're from. Usually, its pretty routine. But this week, I have more visitors from Mauritius than I do from the United States. Mauritius, seriously?

Wonder how many quilters are out there in Mauritius... in the middle of the Indian Ocean, next to well, nothing. Look it up... its a tiny speck of a place. Beautiful, but tiny.

What do they want with me and my little blog? Maybe there's a cruise ship near by and on it are a bunch of quilters, and all at once, the quilters and all their friends visited my blog? Hmmmm....

Or maybe I'll get one of those letters from Africa... only, this one will say...

"The Honorable Princess from Mauritius has been studying your blog. She is very impressed and she went to your site many times. Now, just for you, she has a special investment opportunity. No money is requried... just send fabric...The Honorable Princess wants to learn to sew!" Fun, huh?

That would be a great story, wouldn't it? A more likely story is trolls. But, given that the "page views" are coming from such a weird place, I can't help but picture trolls like these guys.

I am sure I had several of these same trolls in the '60s.

Well, Internet, after Mauritius is done with me, what's next?

Jul 4, 2016

new quilted purse with fabric from Japan

Just finished this cute little purse! Its about 8 inches high, 10 inches wide. Made from Yoko Saito fabric printed in Japan.

I made one lined pocket for the inside and also added a clip to hold keys. The yellow zipper matches this beautiful interior fabric, and it also adds an unexpected pop to the taupe colors on the outside top. The zipper pull is a button.
The handles are wood. I added the little hanging bird for just a touch of something special.

The size is perfect I think. Small enough to be modern, and big enough to hold my stuff!

I'm thinking of making more purses similar to this one and re-opening my Etsy shop (which I shuttered a while back.). I would love to know your thoughts on whether you think this would sell... and any other suggestions or comments about this purse.