Friday, November 30, 2012

It Takes a Village II, and Other Africa-Inspired Quilts

I think this might be the last of my African huts quilts for awhile, but I don't promise, and I'm calling it It Takes a Village II, because I can't think of a better name for it. But it shouldn't be confused with my pattern by the same name. The blocks on the inside are pieced from 5" squares, with 2 1/2" red corners on two of the corners. Instructions for this are in the book Nickel Quilts. And then I've added indigo borders on each of the sides, and African huts set against indigo on the top and bottom borders. A great use of scraps, and at 60" X 80", it will make a great lap quilt for someone.
What I'm really excited about, though, is the African improvisational pieces I'm working on. Each piece measures 7" X 14", and each is inspired by a different traditional African textile. This first is inspired by a barkcloth bag I bought in Kampala, and the second is inspired by a piece of Kuba cloth from the Congo. Ghanaian black fabric printed with gold and a similar North American print, form the borders.
I'm not sure yet how many pieces will make up the whole of this "African Sampler", but what I do know is that it's going to hang all together eventually. But before I join it together, I am handing it over to my friend Joan Darling, who doesn't believe anything is finished until it's beaded. I have given her free rein to bead as she wishes. This, however, is proving harder than I imagined! I think it would be fair to say that I'm someone who likes to stay in control, and I'm having to loosen up quite a bit. Which is a good thing, but not necessarily easy.
This last little piece is called Birds of Rubingo, and was made up as a kit for Quilt Canada in Halifax. The birds are all different and were embroidered by two Ugandan women who are not part of the Bitengye Designers, but wanted to find a way to earn some income for themselves. The striped border and Shweshwe borders (South African indigo fabric) frame the birds perfectly. I am offering this kit, which measures 14" X 44", for $19.95 - 20% off the full price of $25. There are only 6 remaining, so the first 6 people to get in touch with me will receive all the fabrics and instructions to make the top for this charming wallhanging. Please order it from - my shopping website. Check back on Monday, when I will offer two more kits at sale prices. Until then, happy quilting!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Little of This and a Little of That

Aren't these scarves beautiful? They are from Guatemala, and were being sold at the VIDEA Fair Trade Sale in Victoria on Saturday. It was the only photo I managed to take before my battery died (groan, groan), but I can tell you that the fair was a lot of fun. Items made by the Bitengye Designers went home with all sorts of people, and the income for the women back in Uganda has made them very happy.
I arrived back home in Comox just before my sister arrived, and we have been spending the last few days talking creativity together. She is a rug hooker, and the last two photos are of two of her creations. But the treasure she brought me was this antique quilt made from old ties. She had been at an estate sale somewhere in Washington, and when this came up she bid on it for me, and I couldn't be more delighted. It cost her the grand sum of $6! Those black centres are velvet, and the backing is a shawl that the woman who made it used to wear all the time. We know this from the note her daughter had pinned to the back of the quilt.
 I love Sara's use of colour in this improvisational rug-hooking, and how one design informs the next. Something very appealing about those irregular edges too. And the more realistic framed piece picturing a park in her home town of Nelson, is just beautiful. I shared with her what I was working on too, and her feedback was most helpful (although she dared to suggest that I have one too many projects going on at the same time - I can't imagine why!!!). She leaves today, so after a little tidying up, I'll be getting back on track with my own work - finishing up the third improvisational tree, and finishing up another almost completed African quilt, and then on to the design I planned in my Ruth McDowell class at Asilomar last year. I've put that away for long enough, and now it's time to get it out and give it my best effort.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Improvisational Piecing - Trees

Improvisational piecing - making it up as I go along - is something I keep coming back to over and over again. The recent books published by Jean Wells, Rayna Gilman and Gwen Marston have reminded me of this. I realize that many of the quilts I have made using this approach, have been the ones that resonate most deeply in me. So this fall I spent sometime working on several small pieces and working improvisationally. I used a print fabric with images of trees on it as my inspiration, and grey fabrics as the perfect counterfoil for brights, and these are two of the pieces I have finished. I used Jean Wells method of facing the quilts, doing it in two parts - first the inner image, and then the second "quilt", which serves as a frame for the first.
In this close-up, you can also see that I'm choosing to add hand-stitching to these new pieces. I have always loved hand-stitching, and have noticed how I am drawn to pieces which use it for emphasis, line and added texture.
This second piece uses the same tree fabric, different colour choices, and different piecing methods, but is still made improvisationally.
Only the trees are hand-quilted in this, at least at this point. I think I might add a few lines of more visible stitching along those curves in the middle and the bright green curve at the top. The third of the three small quilts is still being hand-stitched. The finishing definitely takes longer doing it this way, but I am so pleased with the results that I think I'll be using this a lot in newer work. And there's something about working while holding your own piece in your hands, a meditative quality that goes into the making of it, that greatly appeals to me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Quilter's Connection - Check out the Cover!

An Australian Village Gathering
Quilter's Connection is the only quilt journal published in Canada (apart from the Canadian Quilters Newsletter - published by our national quilt association), and I'm very pleased to have been involved with it since the very first issue. I am especially proud to tell you that the Winter issue will feature both the Bitengye Designers - the Ugandan women I have been working with for the last five years - and a new quilt design. Not only that, the African version of the quilt is featured on the front cover, made and beaded by Joan Darling. Joan doesn't believe a quilt is finished until it's beaded, and has proved what a winning combination beading and quilting are in her sample. The second quilt is made from Australian fabrics, with placement of the the rows being just a little different. I hope you like both of them, and that you'll pick up an issue of the magazine just as soon as it's available on the news-stand.
An African Village Gathering

Detail of African Village Gathering

And this last shot is of Rosie, Mistress of the Quilting Studio, who has chosen to grace not one quilt, but two with her presence. I am learning to cover quilts on the work tables with towels, as she is prone to come in from outside, leap up on the table, and head for the cream or solid colours, whereupon she plunks herself down and purrs contentedly, having left little paw prints wherever she's been. Charming.

Monday, November 19, 2012

East African Batiks

This batik came from Tanzania, home of the Masaai people. A friend brought it back with her after touring through that part of East Africa.  Pictured is a group of these nomadic people - mostly women and children - moving to a new location, one imagines, with their precious cattle. My friend, Joan Darling, then quilted and beaded the batik, and if you look closely at the detail shots, you will see just how spectacular her work is. This wall-hanging really didn't need any borders, as the zig-zag was part of the original design. It measures about 54" X 36".

This smaller batik was also beaded by Joan, and I'm delighted to tell you that it's one of the treasures hanging on my own studio wall. I like to hang art work made by other women on my walls, and will show you more of what surrounds me another time. I find it inspiring to be surrounded by the creativity of others while I work - their energy and successes are always an encouragement to me.
If you are looking for a batik of your own to quilt and bead, I have a selection of batiks from Uganda available on the Kitambaa website - They are printed on cotton, and usually still smell fairly strongly of wax. They aren't machine washable though. If you decide to purchase one for yourselv, shipping will be free from now until Christmas. I hope you'll stop by and see if there's one that speaks to you.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Bitengye Designs - Hand-crafted Items from Women in Uganda

Gift Bags - $10

Cushion Covers - $15

Placemats - A Set of Four - $20

Tree of Life Tablecloth - $40

What-Not Bags - $12

Jewellery Bags - $8

Batik Wall-hangings - $25

African Lightening Quilt - $95
This time of year is our principal opportunity to sell the work of the Bitengye Designers - the women we work with in Uganda. This coming weekend - November 17th and 18th, is FIESTA in the Comox Valley. If you visit the Africa Community Technical Service (ACTS) table, you will find the Bitengye Designs there. Or if you're going to be in Victoria, I will have a table just for Bitengye, at the VIDEA Fair Trade Sale. Both of these are terrific places to shop for beautiful Christmas gifts that have the added attraction of giving directly to others from around the world. These photos show you a few of the items you will find for sale. And for those of you further afield, I will take orders by email (, with free shipping for all orders over $25 from now until Christmas. And remember, 100% of the profit goes to the women who have made these "fashions", so you will be benefitting them directly, when you buy their products.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

WIP Wednesday - Who'd a Thought It

 I have just learned that there are quilters from all over North America, who have chosen Wednesday to share their WIP's - their "Works in Progress". I think this is very brave. After all, it means revealing yourself, telling others where you are and what you're doing. But I suppose that's what a blog is all about. So before I "go public" and join one of these groups, I thought I'd give it a try, and show you what I'm working on right now.
You will recognize these blocks as being part of a quilt I've named "Who's a Thought It", in recognition of the African-American quilters who inspired it. I didn't know how big it was going to be, but it's turned out to be a wall-hanging. After I determined the overall shape, I had to choose a background for the irregular outer lines. All along I'd been thinking about using black, but when I put it up on my design wall to try it out, I didn't like it. It seemed to suck the strength right out of the quilt. Next I tried a taupe print fabric, thinking that it's irregular squares would fit right in, but that
 looked pasty to me. Next to be auditioned was a cream coloured print with black script all over it. Better, but I still wasn't entirely happy. Then, remembering a log cabin quilt I'd made with African fabrics and using a variety of honey-coloured prints as the neutral, I started piecing together scraps of warm sand and honey-coloured prints. One of these was an historic piece - one of the first five fat quarters I ever purchased, in making my first block and project - a tote bag. It felt great to be using it again more than thirty years later! There was little rhyme or reason to the piecing of the background. I just added whatever I thought might look good, varying the widths of the strips and the order in which they were added. I was very happy making this background, and was pleased with the way it looked with the African fabric blocks. You'll see on the final photo that I've added an extra border on the top and the bottom, and will do the same on each of the two sides. That way it floats on the background. Then it remains for
 me to quilt it and bind it. So that's it for me for this WIP Wednesday. Now I think I'll go and take a peek at those who have been brave enough to join the blog (first I need to find it again), and see what everyone else has been up to.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrating African Grandmothers, Heroes of the Continent

For some years, I have thought of African grandmothers as the unsung heroes of Africa. Ever since the HIV/AIDS pandemic arrived in African countries, this (mostly) heterosexual disease has stolen away the young adults of those nations. While education and social change have helped somewhat, it has been the grandmothers and widows who have carryied the burden of caring for the young children who have been orphaned. My work with these women in Southern Africa opened my eyes to this, but it took the articulate and compassionate voice of Stephen Lewis, among others, to give voice to this reality here at home. Now there are "Grannies'  
Groups" all over the country, raising funds for projects that help these women. I applaud all of you, all of us, doing our tiny bit to help our sisters across the ocean. It may not seem like much to you, but taken altogether, these efforts have succeeded beyond anyone's imaginings. Enough pontificating. What I really want to tell you about, is a new endeavour by a group of Grannies from the Lower Mainland. They are mounting an art show called "Celebrating Grandmothers, Heroes of the Continent", which will travel across Western Canada. The link to this group is If you are an artist in any 
medium, and would like to have your work considered for this juried show, I would encourage you to check out the website. I think it will be a spectacular show, and if it's anything like the two previous shows organized by the North Island Quilters for Community Awareness and local Grannies Groups, it will go a long way in raising more funds for this most worthy cause. The Bitengye Designers I work with in Uganda are another effort in this work, and as many of you already know, their lives have improved dramatically since they learned to sew and began providing for themselves and their families through their sewing. "We left our troubles behind when we learned how to sew," Anna told us. Just give an African woman a chance to find a way to provide for her family, and she will run with it, "try her very best, by all means", and she will succeed. The work of the Stephen Lewis Foundation looks for ways to give more opportunities to more women, so that they too can "leave their troubles behind".

The photos I've included here are of some of the grandmothers I've met in Uganda over the last few years. Such dignity. Such ability to celebrate in the day - staggering and humbling in light of the challenges they face each and every day. I encourage as many of you as can, to be part of this art show. And if you're not an artist, perhaps you'd like to bid on one of these pieces for yourself, when that time comes. I'll be sure to let you know about show dates and auction dates once these become known. We CAN make a difference!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Who'd A Thought It - Further Explorations with Half-Square Triangles

So I still had some more half-square triangles left over after the last Africa-inspired quilt I made - the beginnings for at least one more quilt, and probably more. I began by sewing them together in 4-patch or nine-patch arrangements. And yes, I can see that the triangles in one of the 9-patches are going in a different direction. That is intentional, and inspired by a photo of an African-American quilt I saw this summer. The idea the quiltmaker had, was to improvise, to make small changes to make the
design her own, whether by mistake or on purpose. I liked that. Next I bordered the two different-sized blocks with a variety of black and white prints, I find that black and white act as a neutral, and a unifying element in the whole quilt. Then came coloured borders, from leftover strips of a multitude of African fabrics. The width of these strips all varied somewhat, but the end result in all cases was a block that measured either 7 1/2" square or 11 1/2" 
square. It seems I am only comfortable with a certain amount of improvisation, and then of course, there is the problem of how to fit the blocks together, and keeping them a uniform size seemed as though it would simplify things. The last photo shows you how far I've got in the process of piecing the quilt top together. I'm not sure what size it will end up being, or exactly how I will deal with the uneven edges, but I'm having a lot of fun in the process. Making up the rules as I go seems to suit me (can you tell that I'm a rebel at heart?), and far more
interesting to work on than something which is predetermined from the very beginning. I think I need to be mindful of balancing the colours in the next blocks I add, and perhaps have more blocks without "mistakes" in them, but I like the way it's going. I'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Moodling Time - Tofino

Looking out at the Pacific Ocean, from Middle Beach Lodge
Wildness and Wonderfulness

I have come to the "west coast" of Vancouver Island for a few days, to visit one of my daughters, but also to soak up the smell of the air and the sound of the surf and the view of the trees in this magical place. It is a great place to "moodle" - a word coined by Barbara Ueland, who gave voice to the need in all artists to spend time just "be-ing". I'm moodling here. No agenda. No schedule. No "to-do" list. I try to come here at least once a year, and preferably more often. Something about he surf, the pounding of it on the rocky headland beneath where I'm sitting. Something about the tides, the coming in and the going out, allows me to live in "just now" - "today". It feeds something un-name-able in my being, something hungry and thirsty that shrivels up if it is ignored. I will sleep with my windows open and walk along the shore whether it rains or shines. I will just be here. Hallelujah!