Inspired by the National Parks

December 30th, 2016

2016 was a very good year for me, including being published in books and magazines.  It was also a very hectic year and I have neglected my blog and sharing my news, so I’m going to get caught up this week and next, at least on the published works.   One of the delights of the year was FINALLY being able to share a small quilt I made some time ago for an exhibit and book to celebrate the centennial of the founding of the US National Parks, website here.

Snowy Owl by Sarah Ann Smith, ©2015/2016

Part of the exhibit debuted at International Quilt Festival in late 2015, but the book was not released until Spring 2016, so we were asked not to share photos online.   For once, since my contribution was for Acadia National Park, I was not alphabetically challenged (with a name like Sarah Smith, I’m at the end no matter whether lists are done by first or last name).

Inspired by the National Parks, by Donna M. DeSoto. You can visit the exhibit website here and purchase the book here.

There were to be three categories of quilts:  Landscape, Flora and Fauna.  The landscape quilt is a long vertical or horizontal.  The Flora and Fauna quilts are squares.  When displayed together, the three works create a square.  Subject to availability, those participating got to choose which  theme and the subject, as long as someone else hadn’t already chosen.  For example, blueberries are very Maine, but they are also part of the scenery in other northern tier states and were already gone.  To be blunt, this could have been a disaster.  Instead, the work exceeds all expectations and forms the most wonderful whole.  I so wish I could see the entire exhibit **in person.**

In the book, Donna has contributions from one of the US Park Rangers working at each of the national parks, writing about the park, along with tidbits of information about each place.

Inspired by the National Parks, Table of Contents

The next photo shows the opening for Acadia National Park, here in Maine:

Acadia National Park, opening pages with statement from a park ranger and the landscape quilt, by Cyndi Zacheis Souder.

And the flora and fauna quilts for Acadia, including my snowy owl.  They wisely edged the photo with a fine line of black so it wouldn’t “moosh” into the page!

Water Lily by Audrey Wing Lipps and Snowy Owl by me

A couple years ago, there was an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, meaning they migrated a lot further south than usual, and were relatively easy to spot here in Maine.   I added the Snowy Owl to my birder’s “life list” that winter.  I went to Clarry Hill in Union, where two or three owls had been spotted.  I walked along the path through the blueberry barrens on the bare hilltop, but nothing.  As I was about to turn around, I spotted one at a great distance (beyond the no trespassing signs), so I was happy, but no good photos.  Then I returned to the car.  As I approached the car park, I turned and saw an owl in a tree growing next to a stone wall…camera OUT!   Snap! Snap!  Snap!  Thank heavens for auto-focus.

This was about 4 pm, as the sun was beginning to set. There was an owl in the tree on the ridgeline!  The owl had followed me down the path and was checking me out!

The owl few even closer, so I got some better images. I still get goosebumps looking at this photo! To hear the rustle of an owl’s wings and landing….wow!  Hopefully, one of these days Sony will make an even longer focal length zoom for my a6000 mirrorless camera…I am saving already because it WILL be expensive, but worth it!  I am inspired by Jeannie Sumjall Ajero’s nature photos she shares on Facebook.

When it came time to make my quilt, I couldn’t decide which view.  So I messed around in Photoshop, and thought, well why not BOTH?

A composite photo image that was my guideline. I obviously adjusted the branches and the placement of the stone wall/tree in the final work.

The subtle winter palette is challenging in terms of finding fabric, so I dyed some cotton sateen.  Despite being stingy with the dye, my first attempt there was too much color, so I tried again and got just the pale tones I needed.

I created the bird on white cloth, used stabilizer, and did the very heavy stitching on the bird first, then appliquéd her (probably a female because there is a lot of barring, the brown bits) to the smaller close-up image.   I then composed the background quilt and appliqués the smaller one to the larger one.   I’ll enjoy having her fly home eventually.  Until then, if you get a chance to see this exhibit, DO!   And no matter what, the book is a delightful volume.   The **Library of Congress** has included the book in a display this year…how amazingly cool is that?  Kudos to Donna and all the artists.  Exceptionally well done!

You can order the book on Amazon here.  What a great thing to do on a long winter’s day!


Birdie Bernina takes her first drive….

December 28th, 2016

Imagine that…working on a quilt, and not an art quilt! AND it’s a UFO! Here I’m trying out various design options.

We moved to Maine in 2004.   This top pre-dates that move by at least a year–I made it as a local quilt group mystery quilt (design by Debbie Caffrey but don’t remember the name).  I only made four blocks, made it into a small top, and it has sat in a basket mocking me lo these many years.

Fast forward:  I SPLURGED.  I ***seriously*** splurged.  I bought a Bernina Q20 sit down.  Yes, it costs as much as a nice used car.   And Oh. My. Yes. it is worth it…what a DREAM!  I figured you only live once, quilting is my favorite thing, so I’m gonna just go for it.   And yes, I am beyond grateful that I have been able to earn enough by writing, teaching and selling my art quilts to be able to afford this indulgence!  To each and every person who has ever read an article or my book, watched my DVD, or taken a class or bought an artwork, THANK YOU!

But that means  need to learn to use it and not be a tad intimidated.  Light Bulb Moment!!! Take those two UFO mystery quilts (yep, there’s another larger one) and use them to test-drive the new Bernina, named Birdie because of the beautiful bird’s eye maple cabinet (yes, I splurged a little more and upgraded to the cabinet…pics below).  So I got the somewhat soiled, tired, not particularly well pieced tops out, ironed them, and decided to go for it.

You can see some of my quilting design. I planned to do some straight line work with a ruler and ruler foot in the green. I wanted to do more ruler work and curved cross hatching in the white spaces. And since I’m adept at free-motion, some of that using a leaf motif from the navy print in the corners and small squares. I’m not positive yet what I’ll do in the navy floral, but may just use navy and outline the flowers.

Here I’ve completed the straight line work on the green (not perfectly, but not bad for a first attempt as I get used to using the stitch regulator with the rulers. I just LOVE LOVE LOVE curved cross hatching! And then I began on the free-motion for the leaves. I plan to go back in with a lighter weight thread–I’m using 40 wt Superior trilobal poly here–to to a background dense fill around the leaves. There is a half inch outlined space between the leaves and the cross hatching.

I have to say the included-with-the-machine video was great, although I have no clue WHY Bernina doesn’t make it able to play on a DVD player–only a PC or a Mac.  Have they not noticed that computers don’t come with disc drives any more?????  Luckily, separate disc drives are cheap (about $30 or less) and I had planned on buying one for other reasons (moving CD music to the laptop).  But still.   The disc ought to be able to be played on a DVD player!   Anyway, it is well done, as is the manual.

The Q20 comes with a bobbin tension gauge and the manual says (yes, I read manuals! you should, too) you should test every bobbin.   So for now at least, I am.  That helped me get my combination of thread–40 wt. trilobal poly in the needle and 60-wt very fine Bottom Line poly in the bobbin–adjusted with a minimum of fuss.  The stitch balance is simply fan-flipping’-tastic.  I DO match needle and bobbin thread always, though, just in case!

And here’s my beautiful Birdie Bernina on her maiden quilt. Contented SIGH.

I need to thank three people:  Barb Black and Karen Miller are friends who have the Q20 (Barb’s is a sit-down like mine, Karen’s on rails) and Jeanie Cook-Delpit of Bernina for their advice, rave reviews and, from Jeannie, help.  When I saw Barb at Quilt Festival I got a great big laugh out of her when I greeted here with “Thank you for leading me into temptation!”  It’s totally true.  And Jeanie — you helped make this possible.  THANK YOU!  You are the creme de la creme of Bernina Ambassadors.  I’ll post more pics when done.   Let’s hope the power doesn’t go out tomorrow during the incoming storm, which is supposed to be heavy, wet snow.  I wanna quilt!

Christmas Quilts, Christmas Memories

December 27th, 2016

Christmas may be over officially for 2016, but it will come around again.  And now that the recipients (except for Kate C.–don’t read this post Kate!) have received and opened their gifts, I can share.   I’d love for you all to know about Christmas Quilts, Christmas Memories, edited by Karey Patterson Bresenhan and Nancy O’Bryant Puentes, the cousins who were half of the four (along with their mothers) who founded quilter’s Mecca, the International Quilt Festival.   This petite square book (my iPhone 6plus is a tiny bit taller) is a holiday gem of antique quilts and Christmas memories — and to my utter astonishment, including yours truly!

Christmas Quilts, Christmas Memories, Ed. Karey P. Bresenhan and Nancy O’B. Puentes, available from the Texas Quilt Museum

As a contributor, we received a complimentary copy at Quilt Festival this year.  I **devoured** the book on my flight home–literally read it cover to cover between Houston and Boston.  Well known folks from the quilt community and members of Karey and Nancy’s families shared special Christmas Memories with an antique quilt on the left page.   I was astonished that I know of or actually know most of the quilty folks in the book, and I just cherish that they shared their memories.  I knew I would order many copies to give before I got off the flight!  I gave copies to my sons hoping that they will eventually read the book and maybe find traditions they would like to start for their families and lives.

Here’s the start of my memory, about collecting ornaments from around the world, first as gifts for my parents, then as an annual tradition. What’s this year’s ornament going to be?

As I read through the book, I was more and more astounded that I was selected to have my memory included given who else is in the book.   As I read, I felt closer to those I know for their quilt pursuits, loved the glimpse into their every day lives and memories.   Here’s the stories and the contributors:

The Christmas Memories table of contents

and the contributors to the book

This book is small but delightful beyond all proportion to its size.  It is beautifully printed, fits nicely in your hands, and I’m so happy to have it, and still a bit gobsmacked to be in it!  You can order it from the Texas Quilt Museum website, here.

And what was this year’s ornament?  Well, one of the reasons our tree is groaning with stuff is that we added FOUR this year.  In my defense, the two blown glass ones were gifts for the boys to be taken to their own places when they are settled.   I am actually looking forward to sharing the bounty with them and not having quite so much to put on (and take off and put away) each year, but love sharing the story that goes with every ornament on the tree.

After Eli was accepted to F&M, we went on a college visit and took the long way home via Vermont and the requisite trip to Ben & Jerry’s factory (the original one) and tour. Of course I had to add an ornament–I navigate the world by ice cream stores!

To commemorate Eli’s first year in college, a Franklin & Marshall ornament. Thanks to Eli for adding it to the tree.

When Eli and I visited England 2 years ago, we went to St. Tiggywinkle’s hedgehog (and now other wildlife too) rescue, about an hour west of London. This one is for him.

When we lived on San Juan Island when the boys were little, a great horned owl would perch in the fir tree beside our driveway, silhouetted against the night sky. Joshua remembers the owl and we were talking about it not long ago, so this one is for him.

And here’s the groaning tree….honestly, I just LOVE IT!   And this year was beyond delightful because all three of the kids, Joshua & Ashley and Eli, helped trim the tree!

The tree on Christmas Eve after Santa arrived.  It was a particularly bountiful year!



20 pounds down, Armour thyroid, normalcy and Thank You’s

December 19th, 2016

First things first:  I need to thank Judy Coates Perez and Jenny K. Lyon for sharing with me their luck with Armour thyroid.  For years I have not felt well or normal, always tired, despite having “good” levels on my thyroid checks while taking Synthroid and Lyothironine (T3 and T4) to deal with my thyroid disease.   My endocrinologist REFUSED to prescribe Armour, however, because it is derived from pigs (whom I bless for sharing their thyroid) and not as precisely quantifiable as the synthetic thyroid replacement drugs.   Finally after 2 1/2 years trying the endocrinologists way, I got fed up and looked for another doctor.   I kept asking my GP, and it took two years to find an in-network (Blue Cross Anthem) doctor in Maine that would prescribe Armour.  It is a 4+ hour drive round trip.  And worth every minute!

In March, in preparation for my soonest-available-appointment in May, I started a diet, using the phone app (free, easy to use, and really has helped) to track my calories and weight.   Despite eating about 1400 calories a day plus walking regularly when I could (I could either exercise or work, but not both as I was sleeping 11+ hours a day), I didn’t lose an ounce for 6 weeks.   Then, astonishingly, a slow weight loss began even on synthroid.

On Monday, May 9th, (and I didn’t have to look that up–it is ingrained in memory) I visited the new doctor.  She said she’d let me try Armour, but said some people saw no difference, and that it wouldn’t help the being tired as my levels were just right (so I should investigate whatever else might be making me so tired).  Hah!   By Saturday I was feeling SO MUCH BETTER I went to ask the pharmacist (LOVE the two at Hannaford in Camden) to find out how long it would take for the synthroid etc to work out of my system.  Six weeks.  By that point I felt better than before, but not as good as when I started.   Turns out I needed a tiny bit more RX.

Since July, I have felt NORMAL for the first time in YEARS!   I can sleep 8-9 hours and FUNCTION like a normal human being!  I can go for a 30-40 minutes walk and not feel obliterated!   I totally get that Armour doesn’t work this well for a lot of people.  But for those of us for whom it does work, it is quite literally LIFE-CHANGING.  And yes, I am *shouting* because this is so flipping amazing.  I was delighted in my follow-up appointment to tell the new doctor I was happy to say she was wrong about the tired thing, that it too was so much better!

Do I feel like I did when I was 35 or 40?  No.   I feel my 59 years (my knees and feet and hands think 79), but I am functional again!   And (DRUM ROLL) as of this morning, I have lost TWENTY POUNDS and 11.5 percent of my body weight!     I am within 2 1/2 pounds of my original goal (which I never thought I could reach) and maybe 7-8 pounds of my revised goal (since I think I can actually do that).  I am very careful, most days eat around 1400 calories with occasional hot fudge sundae splurges, and it is Very Slow Going.  It has taken nine *months* to lose 20 pounds, but I’ve done it.  But the weight is GOING!

So I just wanted to share my delight.  I am, most importantly, feeling NORMAL for the first time in years.  I can get stuff done.   Usually when I have returned from teaching in Houston I am obliterated for at least a week, maybe two.  This time, one day, then I bounced back and started getting stuff done again.   LIFE CHANGING!

So thank you to Judy and Jenny.  HUGE Thank you to the pigs whose thyroid hormones make me feel normal (I hope the thyroid can be extracted somehow without them giving their lives, but since they are bacon anyway, I can live with this).   And thank heavens for the new doc who was willing to let me try!

She makes clothes, too!

December 10th, 2016

It has been a while, but I have gotten back to making clothes over the past year or two.   I began life as a garment sewer, but abandoned that when I discovered quilting.  Now that I am getting older, I find that I don’t always like the generic stuff available and have begun sewing clothing again.  Sometimes, I find the PERFECT top though, and can’t find it again.  That leads to making your own patterns.

Success! I actually made a KNIT garment. The original shirt (purchased) is on the left. After making the pattern from that shirt, I made the plum one on the right. I'll do a separate blogpost later this week with more info on how I did it and which stitches used.

Success! I actually made a KNIT garment. The original shirt (purchased) is on the left. After making the pattern from that shirt, I made the plum one on the right.

The aqua shirt on the left, from Habitat, is a favorite.  It is also getting old and tatty.  I found the plum knit (Anna Maria Horner) at Alewives Fabrics a couple years ago made up in a dress.  They had 1/2 yard more than needed for the dress, so I bought all of it.  But I decided rather than make a summer dress, I would make a top and leggings or two tops out of it, since it seemed more autumn-y to me.  The fabric is long since sold out, but Alewives has a great selection and does mail orders!

I took some cheap paper (a roll of medical exam table paper bought from my doctor about six years ago and the roll is still not near done) to make tracings of the original shirt pieces (which involves some creative pulling and pinning to get things like the sleeves outlined) to make a pattern.  I smoothed out the lines, lengthened the sleeves from 3/4 to full length for winter, and cut out my fabrics.  For my shirt, I used a lightweight fusible interfacing for the neckline, but mine turned out a bit stiffer, so maybe next time I’ll try a LOT of starch and no interfacing.

When sewing knits, you want to use a stitch that has some stretch in it and a BALLPOINT or Jersey needle–this keeps it from cutting holes in the knit fabric.  You can use a straight stretch stitch that is standard on even the most basic machines…it looks like three vertical lines next to each other, stitch 5 in the photo below.

Utility stitches on the Janome 9400. These stitches are available on even the most basic machines.

Utility stitches on the Janome 9400. Most of these stitches are available on even the most basic machines–the only ones you might not find are 6, 7, 12 (reverse), and 18.

A few thousand years ago, I took some sewing on polar fleece classes, and in those learned to use a zigzag for stretchy side seams on garments, so that is what I used for this top.


This photo shows that I used stitch 6, which I think of as a lightning zigzag, for the seam, and  Stitch 18 for an “overcast” stitch before trimming away the excess on the edges.  I like a nicely finished garment!   One could also use stitches 10 or any in the 13-23 range for an overcast if you don’t have something like 18 on your machine.

To hem my top, I used a Ballpoint Twin needle (i think mine is a wider separation between the needles, nearly 1/4″).  When sewing on knits, always use a ballpoint so the tip doesn’t cut the threads in the knit fabric.  I wound some thread onto an extra bobbin and placed it on the second spindle.  Then you thread the machine holding both threads as if they were one.  After passing through the last thread guide (photo below), hand thread (don’t use the automatic needle threader as it won’t go to the correct spots) the needles.

Twin needles

Twin needles make a lovely stitch.  The bobbin thread forms a zigzag, which makes the seam stretchy (which means the stitches won’t pop and break when you stretch the hem).

Sewing the hem. I am using a line on the throat place as a guide to create a gem that is about an inch deep.

Sewing the hem. I am using a line on the throat place as a guide to create a hem that is about an inch deep. After stitching, trim away excess fabric above the stitching.

I’m fairly pleased with my top.  I’d do the interfacing slightly differently next time (and yes, there will be a next time–the neckline on this top is flattering on me and comfortable), but the Janome 9400 performed flawlessly.  WOOT!