Stitchin’ Time at the 2013 GHQG Quilt Show

This bright, geometric design garnered one of the prizes at the GHQG 2013 Quilt Show.

This bright, geometric design garnered one of the prizes at the GHQG 2013 Quilt Show.

In the midst of three-digit heat, I headed out to the Stafford Center in Stafford, Texas to meet my niece to take a gander at the 2013 show of the Greater Houston Quilt Guild.  This year’s theme for the biannual affair was “Gone to Pieces.”

Though I’ve attended the huge Houston International Quilt Festival many times, the guild show was just the ticket to enjoy a couple of hours of looking at members’ exhibits and vendors’ booths filled with fabric, notions, and all other things “quilt”.

While many entries at the “big” Houston quilt show can be out of my league in what I might attempt in quilt making, most of the exhibits at the local guild show serve more as inspiration to get me back into  creating something from all the containers of fabric upstairs.

Here are some of the show entries that caught my eye:

This group quilt was one of my favorites.

This group quilt was one of my favorites.

This close-up shows all the hard work that went into making this group quilt.

This close-up shows all the hard work that went into making this group quilt.

Unique, cupcake quilt, deliciously put together.

Unique, cupcake quilt, deliciously put together.

This close-up reveals some of the intricacies of piecing and stitching.

This close-up reveals some of the intricacies of piecing and stitching.

Colorful and detailed umbrella quilt.

Colorful and detailed umbrella quilt.

Hand-painted blocks represent a garden during each month of the year.

Hand-painted blocks represent a garden during each month of the year.

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Starting Small, But Finding Way Back into Quilting

Several already pieced strips and a lot more blocks wait to be sewn together to make the top for a postage stamp quilt.

Several already pieced strips and a lot more blocks wait to be sewn together to make the top for a postage stamp quilt.

Though the computer-slash-sewing room still is todo un desmadre, after getting one of my machines serviced, I’m back at piecing together a quilt top.  Since I moved to my house, I’ve really only used my sewing machines for a couple of small tasks, even though one of my reasons for buying my house was to have a room that I could set up with tables for my two machines and be able to work on projects comfortably.

The first postage stamp quilt hangs above a stand full of my collected treasures and helps brighten the dining room.

The first postage stamp quilt hangs above a stand full of my collected treasures and helps brighten the dining room.

I decided that to get back into the groove, I’d go back to one of my favorites–a postage stamp quilt.  I made several of these small, wall-hanging quilts a number of years ago when I was making quilts regularly. Then a small puppy came into my life, and three-and-a-half years ago, I moved to my house, and taking care of the inside and outside of my house became became more of my free time focus.

Now I’m fully settled in my house, and most of the rooms in my house organized and decorated pretty much as I want.  Maybe too, there’s only so much TV to be watched while hopping from site to site on the internet.

Therefore, I’m once again getting the feel of manipulating the cutting wheel to make the pieces and coordinating my foot on the pedal and my fingers near the needle to join the small fabric squares.

I once again dug out Color from the Heart by Gai Perry, one of my favorite quilt books.  This book taught me a great deal about various aspects of using color in quilts by making small quilts like the Color from the Heartpostage stamp quilt.  After making one of these small quilts that uses 2-inch blocks following the pattern and instructions from the book, I improvised on the design to make several others, which I gave to some of my friends.  I would never let go of this book, which was published in 1999, but I see that it’s still available online.

There are ideas and techniques that I’ll have to review and maybe relearn, but getting the blocks pieced into strips is already moving along.  Hopefully, it won’t be long until a small quilt top will be complete.  Then I can move on to layering and even doing the actual quilting!

Another "project" quilt made from Gai Perry's book hangs over the bed in the guest room.

Another “project” quilt made from Gai Perry’s book hangs over the bed in the guest room.

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Saturday Morning Bits and Pieces, But the Rain Gauge Is Back in Place (With Even Some Rain in It)

Another magnificent jungle cactus bloom--just the thing to spark up a drab July.

Here we are at the end of July, and this is only my second post of the month.  Blame it on the heat.  (“Don’t blame it on the bossa nova.“)  It’s been that kind of month; one that has seemed to drag on, maybe because it has days in six different weeks.

Our temps here in the Houston area haven’t been so far out of range, like in some places.  However, they have been about 5-6 degrees hotter on most days than the low 90s that we usually have most summer days.  Also, the spring and summer have been very dry this year.  Now, though, the spotty, summertime showers that come in from the gulf seem to have returned.  Here at my house, there has been some sort of shower each of the last four days.  How much Tropical Storm Don has played in this, I don’t know, for, in general, that storm has been pretty much of a bust.

Because of these recent showers, I finally remembered to replace my rain gauge.  The previous one fit into that category:  “they don’t make’m like they used to.”  With the new glass tube in place, I can report that here near Huffmeister and 529, we had .20 of an inch of rain early this morning.

Obviously, the plants respond to the rainwater much better than that out of the hose.  However, I’ve kept the tomato plants alive, and if August doesn’t burn them up, they might produce some fall fruit.  The plants in the flower beds and pots are holding their own for the most part.  The July highlight was the second bloom ever on one of the jungles cactuses (epiphyllum).  This time I saw the bud the evening before.  I looked before I went to bed, but it still had not opened, but there in the morning, when Annie and I went out to the yard just before daybreak, there it was, fully opened.  At that early hour, this bloom was still pristine, unlike the first one in June that was starting to wilt, as it was already becoming light when I discovered it.  It’s such a pity that the life of these beautiful blooms is so fleeting.

With all this heat, stay inside with the A.C. is about all one wants to do.  It’s kind of like what winter forces upon people in some places.  Anyway, it’s gotten me in the mood to start a new quilt, something I haven’t done in a long time.  I’m piecing it by hand.  I’ll do a bit of “show and tell” as it gets a bit further along.

Looking out further afield, I’m happy that the certification of the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been done, pleased that marriage equality has come to New York (now to overturn DOMA), and dismayed that all those people who got elected to congress to help improve the jobs situation are so stubborn (no, “stubborn” is too mild of a word) that they would send the county on its way to ruin, rather than move one inch to compromise.  (They should have a lit M-80 stuck in their pieholes.  No, sorry, wrong hole.)

It’s Saturday morning.  The coffee in the cup is cold now.  Annie is happily chewing on a sparerib bone.  It’s not even nine quite yet.  Still a lot of the day to look forward to (Sometimes only fragments will do.)

A Great Day at the Houston International Quilt Festival

"So Much Thread"--Anything that a quilter needs or is willing to spend some money on can be found at the Houston International Quilt Festival.

This morning’s air was crisp and clean and the outside temperature was 39 degrees when I got up to let Annie out for the first time.  The rest of the day didn’t disappoint with a cool tinge cutting any heat that the sun might try to make.

A close-up of one of my favorites

It was just the kind of day to head back into town to the George R. Brown Convention Center to take in the Houston International Quilt Festival, which every fall brings quilts and quilters from all over the country and parts of the rest of the world into the Bayou City.

Another close-up, another favorite, of course

My machines still sit idle on the tables right behind where I’m sitting now.  It seems like since I moved into my own home, other household tasks or the lawn and garden pull me towards them rather than any fabric project.  However, perhaps all the designs and colors of the quilts I saw today will get me inspired.  This year, more than the last few, more of the quilts seemed to be of the traditional type rather than the “artsy” ones, though there certainly were enough of both to check out before the legs started to get weary and the stomach grumbled for lunch.

Susan Schamber explains about her Best of Show quilt, "Mystique".

By getting there when the doors were just opening, I got to see the Best of Show winner, Sharon Schamber, showing and telling about her amazing quilt.  Then after winding through more rows of quilts, I was lucky enough to stumble up textile and quilt designer, Kaffe Fassett, giving a walk-through discussion of an exhibition of some of his pieces which were on display.

Kaffe Fassett gathers a large group of eager listeners.

It’s overwhelming to try to see all of the multitude of quilts, wall-hangings, and other decorative pieces.  Even though there were many people viewing all the exhibited works, the side of the center with the vendors was even busier; however, my large “stash” of fabrics is a reminder that I don’t need to spend money on more material or gadgets until I make a dent in what I already have.

I did, though, snap a lot of photos, especially of quilts that caught my eye.  Perhaps, they’ll help keep the inspiration bug biting for awhile.

Mother’s Day: Remembering Mom . . . and Dad

This morning was going so well.  Soon after letting Annie out for her morning “go”, I decided to try out the new sprinkler on the thirsty front yard.  The spray and puddles soon attracted a variety of birds and even a squirrel that wanted to play in the rhythmic splashes on the sidewalk.

Then into the garage I went to pull a big bag of potting soil out of the hatchback in order to re-pot a monkey’s paw fern that had crashed onto the patio from its precarious perch from a nail not-so-carefully driven into a pergola post.  But the beans that had been soaking overnight for frijoles a la charra were on my mind, so I headed back inside to get them started cooking.   When I returned to the pots, I happily found that the fern could be separated, and I could share part with a friend.  In the front yard, the water continued soaking the dry ground.

With my hands covered with potting soil, I headed out front to turn off the water, only to find that ants had started another hill in the corner of the side flower bed.  Back to the garage I went for the Sevin.

With the ants taken care of, my puttering continued–filling pots, frying pieces of salted pork for the beans, sweeping the front sidewalk of the remaining puddles and twigs from the oak tree.

Enjoying my puttering on this unusually fresh southeast Texas morning.  Moving back and forth task to task until one and then the other was completed.  Even now as I write, it’s back downstairs to check on the nearly ready beans.

Enjoying my house.

Then one of those moments comes over me.  I know it’s Mother’s Day.  This is the second without Mom.  Last year wasn’t like this.

It’s the house.

Driving back from Kansas, a Christmas ago, less than two months after Mom had passed away, I had Annie in the car with me, and all of a sudden, for no obvious reason, I stopped the car, started to bawl, and said to her,  “I’m going to get us a house.”

————–

My parents spoiled me.  When you’re the last one by a ways, you get spoiled.  I didn’t see it that way so much when it was happening, but they kept it up even after I came back from four years in the military and should have learned to take care of myself.  The house on the farm, and later, the one in town.  Mom. Dad. Home.  Always there for me.   After a weekend or holiday spent with my folks, I almost always cried  after I got into my car and was heading down the road.  (There are some of those N.A.R.T.H.-type psycho-wackos that would say that’s why I’m gay, but if so there’s a helluva lot of spoiled straight people out there too.)

Even after Dad was gone, when I’d spend time with Mom at the house in Abilene, it’d be hard to leave, and later, when she wasn’t able to care for herself, she’d say things to show she still worried and cared about me, like when one of the last times I saw her, she said, “Don’t stop quilting.  You might need that to take care of yourself some day.”  Behind me now set two tables  piled with two sewing machines, fabric, and all  sorts of quilting supplies, not quite ready to start–or finish–a project.  When the things on those tables are organized, most everything in my house will have found its place.

————–

The full realization of why getting this house was so important never really hit me until this morning.

After my mom was gone, I no longer had a home to go back to.  Not that she’d even lived in her own house for the last years of her life.

So many things that I do now remind of my mom and dad.  (I can hardly breathe right now–remembering.)  My dad.  My dad’s blue striped overalls.  When I was a very little kid, I used to hang onto the loop on the side (the one that would hold a hammer) when I went along with him almost every Saturday to the grocery store.  Those beans downstairs.  I learned to cook, and not be afraid to experiment, from watching and helping Mom in the kitchen.  I could still pluck and dress a chicken if I had to.

Not long after I moved in to my house, I “had” to get a wooden bowl for the Christmas nuts, not only the bowl, but add to it the old flat iron that I already had and a hammer to crack the nuts.  A similar set for nut-cracking was what my parents had had for as long as I can remember.  The once kerosene lamp, turned into an electric one by an uncle, which sat forever on the desk in the house on the farm, after being passed around the family for awhile, came to me and now is on my desk in the corner of the living room, not so different from its place back on the farm.

My house has already become more than a nice place to live; because of it, I am able to live in a way that I couldn’t in an apartment.  More than ever, I realize how much of my own self comes from my mom and dad.  Because of them, I pushed myself to buy a house, and I’m sure that they would be happy for me, knowing that I’m “home” again.

(And the beans are done, the cilantro added.  And my first attempt at barbequed ribs on the big-ass grill is happenin’.)

Preview Night at the Houston International Quilt Festival

An exhibit of "tree" quilts from Germany at the Houston International Quilt Festival

An exhibit of "tree" quilts from Germany at the Houston International Quilt Festival

Today was a crazy day, but I had already made plans to go to Preview Night at the Houston International Quilt Festival with my niece, and my sister, who is in town this week especially to attend the event.  I hadn’t been for two years, and it felt like it was time to go again.   I’m hoping to get some new ideas and new inspiration.

A close-up of applique work and quilting on one of my favorites of the show.

A close-up of applique work and quilting on one of my favorites of the show.

The fact is all three of us didn’t have much stamina tonight and about an hour browsing through the main quilt exhibit area and a run through a couple of rows of the merchants’ booths was enough.  All three of us complained that our “dogs were barking” after walking around on the hard floors of the George R. Brown Convention Center.

A quilt from the exhibit from Russia.

A quilt from the exhibit from Russia.

It’s really a great show, especially for first-timers, and there are people who come from everywhere.  There were lots of quilts from Japan and other countries.  This year there was even a special section of quilts from Russia.

Because Preview Night only lasts three hours, when I bought my ticket, I got a free one for another day.  I hope I can go back, but the rest of this week probably will probably prove to be no less hectic than the first three days, so if I have the time, I’ll try to go back.  The show runs through Sunday, October 18th.

Funeral for a Pine

Dead PineI’m not religious and I don’t mind admitting it.  I’ve never had any meaningful conversations with god or felt any kind of emotion enveloping me when I enter any kind of church, temple, or mosque, be they a small roadside chapel or a huge medieval cathedral.

On the other hand, I can feel a spirit in trees.  I can’t say whether it’s anything really spiritual emanating from a tree or just the incredible ornateness that I see in their trunks, limbs, and leaves.  I think I’ve felt a kinship with trees ever since I was a boy climbing up into their boughs or walking among the ones that grew alongside the banks of the Smoky Hill River near our farm.  With my siblings older and basically out of my everyday life, I often played or just spent time watching the quiet world with trees around me, mostly elms and oaks.

There’s a wonderful grove of live oak and other trees in the triangle near the swimming pool, which I always feel a connection with each time Annie and I walk by.  I have the idea of making a quilt that would be a representation of those trees, but how I can transform pieces of fabric into the spirit of these tress just hasn’t come to me yet.

A couple of these trees were damaged last year by Hurricane Ike, and a great many more wered downed by the strong winds of the storm thoughout the park.  People who live near the park have told me of the loud booms that exploded from a number of huge pine trees when their trunks cracked and broke, finally falling onto the ground.

In our small, Camp Logan Park, which is only a short, couple of blocks from Memorial Park, the trees withstood Ike’s torment, but most of them, for a long time, appeared to be in a kind of shock.  Of course, some had lost branches and had their leaves battered, but they seemed to be reviving during last winter.  Then came the long dry spell this spring.  Several months back, it was obvious that a couple of the smaller trees were dead, maples, I think.  But the other trees seemed to have deep roots, and even though, the grass in the park became dry and brittle, the bigger trees appeared to be doing OK.

Dead Pine TrunkThen about a month and a half ago, the biggest and probably oldest tree in the park began showing brown needles on some of its branches, and little by little the entire tree turned brown, still with hundreds of dry cones attached.  I’m not a dendrologist, so I have no idea why this majestic pine tree died, maybe the dry weather, maybe because of the hurricane, or perhaps some kind of disease.

All I know is an orange X recently appeared on its thick truck, a sure sign that the city soon will come to cut it down.  I know too that the living spirit that breathes out of other trees no longer comes from this glorious ghost.

Post Mortem

It was lucky that I took the pictures of the tree when I did; the tree was cut down the next day (yesterday).  I don’t know what happened to the main trunk but a lot of large branches and limbs are still laying in the ditch awaiting pick up.

Today (October 15th), I counted the rings as best I could and aproximated 100; another park-goer said he had counted 95.  That means that this tree was here when the Camp Logan Riots took place and before this was a residential area.

Even though the tree was big, many of the rings were very narrow.  I took my measuring tape and the diameter of the stump is 4 feet 8 inches at the widest point.  Here, two of the neighborhood Westies, Luke and Lexy, are sniffing out the edges of the stump, which obviously had absorbed a lot of varying types of moisture over the years.Luke and Lexy at the stump