Compost Compostion

Quilt at Fair

They spelled my name wrong but I still got 2nd place!


Although blogging hasn’t been happening lately, I am nonetheless very busy in life and in my creative pursuits.  Above is the first quilt I have entered in a quilt show and I won 2nd place!  The quilt is all hand-dyed using compost ingredients — thus the name, Compost Composition — and hand-quilted. (I had to.  It was the right method of finishing.)  The idea for the quilt came from a lesson in my art quilting group on ice dyeing.  The results were exceptional but the process involved a lot of extra materials, protective gear and waste disposal issues.  Although stunning, I knew that I could never work this way so I started to look into alternatives.

Most everyone in the fabric world has heard of tea dyeing as it is an incredibly easy and useful method for an antiqued fabric look.  I started to research natural dyeing both at the library and online and was pleasantly surprised by all of the resources available.  I decided to start experimenting.  My first attempts were with onion skins, avocado pits (seriously!) and turmeric powder.  I did all of my first dyeing projects inside by boiling and soaking the dye materials and the fabrics.  I used cheap muslin (lesson for my future self – muslin fabric is great for experimenting but it never irons out) and soaked my non-toxic dyes overnight.  I was happy with the results so I decided that I should branch out.  When my same quilt group decided we should flood the county fair with art quilts, I knew that I should really try something out there and dye my whole quilt using items typically thrown out (or in our case, composted or used for chicken food).

During my pursuit of natural dyeing I found that in order to document all of my trials, I should keep a fabric journal.  This journal has proved invaluable.  I take a scrap from each piece of fabric and I detail all of my recipes to achieve the color.  It is all an experiment and there is a lot of chemistry that can go in to natural dyeing.  I started off just dyeing the fabrics to see what colors I could get.  I didn’t worry about mordanting and all of the chemistry — I just went for it.  Since I was mostly using small scraps of muslin, this was not a wasteful way to go about learning.  However, there were some fabrics that because they were not done properly, did fade very quickly.


Our summer house

Since I’ve been spending as much of my weekends in the above tent backpacking, I needed to find a method of dyeing that was less time consuming.  Voila solar dyeing!  Solar dyeing is exactly what it sounds like, putting your fabric and dye in the sun and letting nature take its course.  For a couple of weeks, I stuffed fabric and dyes into mason jars and left them out to sit.  It is basically the same process as making sun tea.  Into the jars went red onion skins, tea baga, spent coffee grounds, red chile powder, nettles, dried black beans and more turmeric.  Thanks to our 8,100 feet of altitude, these dyes cooked up nicely within a week.  Sure some of the smells were a bit fermented and funky but the fabrics once rinsed were clean and odorless.  This method allowed for me to spend a great deal of time outdoors while still working on my quilt.


Gees Bend inspired quilt

Since all of my fabrics were very organic and natural, I wanted the same in my quilt design.  Above is one of the quilts I made during a class with my heroes from Gees Bend.  All of the lines are cut by hand and arranged intuitively.  I love this method of design because it can never again be replicated.  This has been my new love in quilting – creating my own designs from my heart.  While working on Compost Composition, I laid my fabrics out and started to cut and piece in ways that felt right.  Once all six blocks were complete, I arranged them as I pleased without concern about congruity.  It is really nice to work on something without worrying about nesting seams and perfect corners. (Although I still do on other projects I work on.)

The colors in this quilt are derived from:

  • Pink:  avocado pits and peels boiled and steeped for 60 hours
  • Blue:  dried black beans soaked for 1 week and solar dyed
  • Yellow:  turmeric solar dyed for 1 week
  • Light tan:  spent coffee grounds solar dyed for 1 week
  • Tan:  tea solar dyed for 1 week
  • Green:  carrot tops boiled and steeped for 60 hours
  • Purple:  purple cabbage boiled and steeped for 60 hours
  • Light pink:  red onion skins solar dyed for 1 week
  • Orange:  yellow onion skins boiled and steeped for 60 hours

I will not share my recipes here, not because they are some great secret, but because there is no one true recipe that will work for everyone.  There is a lot of chemistry involved with the pH of your own water and the material and also there are tons of resources available online and in books.  The main idea is just to start experimenting and doing it.  The results can be fun and sometimes they come out spectacular and fade away like a great mandala (I’m talking about you chile powder) and other times they turn out exactly as you hoped.  Natural dyeing is how everything used to get dyed and although you are not going to get super bright, deep colors as with commercial dyed fabric, you are going to get something that is 100% your own creation.

Also, a quick note about entering your quilt in a fair or a show:  just do it too!  The judging can be intense and particular and no, my above quilt is not going to measure up under the magnifying glass.  Nonetheless, I still got 2nd place in my category and it got my work out into the world.  It is great to see the diversity of creativity at shows and it is important to promote all forms of quilts.

2017 Resolution Review


Taken January 2, 2017

In January of 2017, I committed to the intention of using what I have.  Almost 2 months in, here is what I’ve accomplished so far with my commitment.

I resolved to use more of the food that I have before I go and procure more.  This has been relatively easy because I have a lot of good ingredients at my disposal in both my freezer and my pantry.  I think the stand out freezer concoction thus far was a wild turkey posole.  (Posole is a southwestern stew with hominy.) We had some leftover frozen turkey from Thanksgiving, a batch of hominy left over from previous soups and some frozen red chile paste.  I added some fresh onion and spices and let this simmer in the crock pot for a few hours.  It was a great meal and came entirely out of my freezer.  We strive to never waste food so my resolution hasn’t been too revolutionary, but it is a great way to challenge yourself.  We call these meals “Iron Chef”  challenges because you take the random ingredients you’ve got and you can come up with some pretty awesome things — often a one-time meal that can never again be replicated.

As much as I love and patronize my local library, I have really enjoyed grabbing books off of my shelves that I’ve collected over time.  The majority of the books are ones that I have picked up at the thrift store for less than a dollar and they have provided me with hours of enjoyment.  I now have these books in a read stack that I am either going to donate back or pass along to friends for reading.  It has been great, especially during this winter, to be able to peruse my own library, grab a book in my PJs and cuddle up on the couch under a quilt.  I used to keep all of my books carting all of them around proudly for years, but now I am happy to let many of them move on to another house and be used instead of just stagnant on an overcrowded shelf.  A couple of years back, I started a book journal where I write down every book I read.  I do some commentary, or I jot down poignant passages, but this journal has in a sense been able to replace my big stack of books.   I’ve also opened up my cd binder and pulled out some real gems to listen to instead of just defaulting to online radio.  It’s amazing how music can make one so nostalgic and also how it can create a certain mood.  I’ve been experimenting with quilting to different music to see if it impacts the way in which I quilt.  So far I do not have any definitive proof that music effects my stitching, but this has been a less than rigorous examination of this correlation.



A back-up baby blanket

I have been very diligent with the use of materials I already have.  I found 4 skeins of yarn that were given to me as a gift that I am making into a very simple blocked baby blanket.  I made so many baby blankets last year that it seems pragmatic to have an extra one lying around for a future gift.  This hasn’t challenged my knitting skill set in the least, but it is a project that uses materials I already own.


Free motion on ikat

I have been more successful with trying new skills and using up materials in my quilting.  Part of this education has been through my monthly art quilting group.  This group challenges me to think outside of the traditional and to try all sorts of new techniques.  (All of the skills I’m learning is an entirely different blog post/posts.)  One project I made is a baby quilt for my cousin out of ikat fabric in my stash wherein I quilted two identical yards together without any piecing or blocks.  This is the same idea as the quilt in a day, but this time, I free motioned around the ikat pattern in the blanket and it took me more than a day.  Because this fabric was so dynamic, it is hard to tell the level of detail that was involved from afar but it was a great practice project for me to get more comfortable with free motion quilting.  I have also made 2 very different log cabins out of scraps.  The smaller of the two is made entirely out of scraps that I had lying around and did not cut — I simply laid them out and let the design be very organic.  This quilt got sent to a friend living in the Baltics who longs to build her own tiny log cabin out of reclaimed materials when she gets back to the States.  Her dream was my inspiration for the quilt.  My second log cabin is very measured and based off of a pattern that uses 1-inch scrap pieces.  I’ve made several of these and always enjoy how the randomness of scraps creates an entirely different quilt each time.  This quilt will be heading north to Alaska where a couple of dear friends are moving for work (and adventure!).  I could easily make dozens more of these projects and still have remaining scraps of fabric.  Also, because of the size of these quilts, I’ve been able to use leftover batting scraps stitched together.  All three of these projects were made without spending any money.

We have been ever grateful for all of the time we are able to spend enjoying our nearby public lands.  Lately it has been mostly nordic skiing, but we have also enjoyed some crisp late winter hikes as well.  We are both stewards of our public lands and hope that the access to these precious resources never changes.  However, in this uncertain time, we have realized just how important and necessary this land is to us and we are taking full advantage of it while land still remains public.

So far, this intention/resolution/commitment has been a good challenge and a relatively easy mindset for me to adopt.  I am still buying fresh groceries, and I still spend money at the local quilt shop and thrift store, but it is very comforting to know that everything I need, I already have.  I do not feel limited by my intention in any way and the more I practice this habit, the more I have ingrained this practice into my everyday mindset.

The $1.25 Quilt Top


Yes, a $1.25!

I happen to work across the street from a very good thrift store.  Since I am a local government employee on a fixed income, and one who is also granted two 15-minute breaks a day, I  visit this thrift store often.  Although it can be very tempting to escape with deals every day, I do try to keep my purchasing to a minimum.  However, there are some deals that are just too priceless to ignore.


25 squares for 25 cents

Since I frequent this store so often, I have found that I often peruse it in a certain order.  One of my first stops is always the craft/fabric section.  There is always fabric and some remnant yarn.  One (very!) lucky day I found a plastic baggy for 25 cents that contained 25 nine patch quilt blocks.  Since 25 cents gets one next to nothing these days, let alone 25 perfect quilt blocks, I could not believe my luck.  I purchased my score and stashed it for some future undetermined project; I simply could not pass up the opportunity to have 25 perfect nine patches for the cost of less than an apple.  Some time later I was again wiling away my government granted break in the fabric section and I came across a yard of fabric printed with old fashioned postage/passport stamps in French.  I knew this would be perfect for my Francophile sister whom desperately deserved a homemade quilt.  Once home in my quilt room, I pulled out the 25 pack and wondered, would it be possible to make a usable quilt top for $1.25?  The answer to this question became my new mission.


Add another $1

I searched through some of my quilting books for a pattern but after finding nothing exciting, I decided to create something of my own.  I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind scrappy quilt using only what I had available in my stash.  I started the blocks by bulking up the size of the nine patches adding on strips to all four sides.  These strips were all free to me as I am a former member of a strip club, and as a new member I received delinquent members monthly allotments.  After my first meeting, I walked out of the shop with 3 grocery bags full of quilt strips that all these years later I am still whittling away.  Once I bulked up the blocks with a completely random selection of strips, I then made use of the vintage stamp fabric to make up the rest of the quilt.  Good job, me!  I made a quilt top for a $1.25 and it turned out pretty cute.


Add another $2

In keeping with the frugal quilt challenge, I was able to get a couple of yards of fabric for $2 to complete the backing.  The most expensive part of the quilt was the batting which I paid full price for at my local quilt shop. (I love this shop so I have no qualms about making full priced purchases here.)  I did all of the quilting myself on the mighty Bernina.  I quilted a sort of hourglass shape over all of the nine patches and then followed it up with a lot of free form swirls around the remainder of the quilt.  I loved the challenges of this project:  creating a pattern, using what was available and quilting it by myself.  It was a big surprise for my sister on her birthday and I know that it will get a lot of love and use.


Now that it is definitively fall here in Colorado (we had snow last night at our house), this blanket is in a good home.  Right at this moment, I imagine it is being draped over resting legs, with my dog nephew lounging nearby and a movie on the TV.  All I ever want for my gifts is for them to get good use and make another being warm and cozy.  And the person who originally made all of those perfect nine patches wanted the same; I happened to be the person to put their work to a good use.  So thank you random thrift shop donor for the perfect blocks that will now keep another Colorado being warm and cozy.

Same Quilt, Different Fabrics



Sometimes a fabric just speaks to you, other times a pattern does.  For this quilt, let’s call it Portland Baby Quilt (PBQ) because the ladies from Gee’s Bend say that every quilt must be named, the fabric called out to me.  Once I saw the Victorian outlined buildings, the rain drops and the black kitty on a red bike I knew the perfect person for the fabrics.  A very dear friend of mine from the old Portland days and her husband just welcomed their first baby boy. All of the fabrics were absolutely shouting out their names but what pattern could I use to highlight the fabrics and not the pattern.  Aha!  I could use the pattern for my very first quilt, the pea quilt, because the center blocks are huge by many quilt pattern standards at 8″.  This pattern allowed me to focus on the fabrics and see how different two quilts can be using different fabrics.


My favorite of the three

The first fabric that really grabbed my heart has  red vintage bikes, a black kitty and tulips.  This trifecta reminds me of my dear friend:  she used to own a cute burgundy vintage bike, owns a sweet black cat and loves flowers.  The second fabric has raindrops and nothing says living in the Northwest like some raindrops, for despite what some people say it does rain a whole heck of a lot up there.  The third fabric has vintage Victorian style buildings, which is where I first met this dear friend, me as her apartment manager and she as tenant.  We used to have dinner parties in our tiny studios and eat on the floor in our slippers.   This was a simpler time in our lives and one filled with very good memories.


The apartment building during a rare snowstorm

This simpler pattern allowed me to highlight the fabrics while still working on the ever present and technical star points.  I chose colors that appeared in the two multi-colored fabric for my star points – red and navy.  I then chose a gray background.  I went a little outside of the palette when I chose the light yellow for the interior but I really wanted to lighten up the quilt and not have it be so gray; the sun does shine in Portland!  I like the splashes of red because the quilt still has that bright kid quality to it.  It is traditional with the primary colors but modern thanks to the fun fabrics. I  used a totally different fabric for the backing of this quilt: a bright red squiggly owl print.  It has a similar color palate as the front but is definitely kid friendly.  To finish it up, I had the quilt long-armed by a talented local quilter with stippling in a variegated gray thread.


Cute swirly owls

I really love how this quilt turned out and know that it will provide many good snuggle and fort building sessions.  It was really fun to take a familiar pattern and play with it and see it become something completely different.  This is the joy of quilting, there are always surprises to be had.


The original pea quilt

The Simple Joy of Binding


I know that this may sound strange to some of the quilters out there, but I find great joy in  binding my quilts.  After all of the (countless) hours of cutting and sewing and quilting are complete, finishing the binding of a quilt by hand allows the quilter the opportunity to test the quilt out (if working on your lap) and to savor the accomplishment of a another big project well done.

There are so many modern techniques that we employ today:  machine piecing, fancy rulers, long arm quilting, that binding by hand seems to be one of the few traditional techniques.  And yet this is the one time where we really get to sit with our completed piece and be with it before it goes to a new home.  Binding is like the grande finale when you get to see all of your effort come together into something really unique and special.

Despite the fact that I nick my thumb constantly and must steer clear of citrus for days after hand binding, I relish the time to just be with the quilt.

When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out

Planning it out

Planning it out

I recently embarked on my most challenging quilt yet, a quilt that once the pattern was opened and digested, completely overwhelmed and perplexed me.  If I would have had access to these instructions, I would never have purchased — and (spoiler alert) succeeded — in making the aforementioned quilt.  Once I opened the pattern and recognized the sheer scale of the effort ahead me, I knew that I had to be proactive with my planning in order to avoid utter chaos.

Color pencils are good stuff!

Color pencils are good stuff!

Organization began immediately.  After copious hours of cutting 1-inch pieces into even smaller 1-inch pieces, I used envelopes from our recycling to stash each pile of strips.  Because so many pieces were so similar in size, it was important that I label each so as to avoid confusion when putting the strips together.  Another tool that I utilized throughout the whole process was my larger cutting mat. Instead of moving it aside after cutting, I left it on the table, a seemingly simple strategy that made a big difference in ensuring that all of my pieces were exactly the size I needed.  Also, this quilt required a great deal of space for something comprised entirely out of 1-ince pieces that will become a wall hanging.  Part of my organizational strategy was to utilize a space that didn’t feel cramped.  Our kitchen table has been a work station since the last major national 3-day holiday weekend with envelopes, pattern pieces and strips taking up nearly every last spot.

After all of the cutting, came the organization of the pattern.  Looking at it, I knew that colored pencils would be my best friend is deciphering the pattern.  Like the pieces that make up this quilt, the pattern was tiny. Even with all of my color coded instructions, mistakes were still made as I it was difficult to determine what on the pattern (which was coded in different patterns for different colors) was what.

Keeping the strips straight

Keeping the strips straight

Once the pieces were assembled into pairs of strips, I simply labeled them with masking tape to keep track of each.  My masking tape trick was great as I could see the pattern unfold in front of me.  I could also see many of my piecing mistakes and fix them prior to sewing the top together.

The reason this post is titled “When the Plan Doesn’t Pan Out” is because despite all of the aforementioned planning, I still spent an inordinate amount of time ripping out and fixing erroneous fabric pieces.  Some days it felt like I was doing more correcting of mistakes than actual sewing.  There were still challenges despite having been so proactive.  And that’s okay.  This whole quilt was a bundle of many lessons, both in quilting and in life.  No matter how organized you are, crap still happens.  The most simple things around the house (think chalk, rubber bands and tape) can be extremely helpful tools.  Perseverance is key to getting things done even when you feel overwhelmed.

The quilt top is done and I will begin the next process of hand quilting.  I’m sure that even then, I will face a few more bumps on the road to completion.  What I continue to learn through quilting, which resonates in life too, is that things always happen no matter how much you prepare otherwise and rarely are we unable to correct our mistakes.

The I Quilted This Myself Quilt

Done and ready for snuggling.

Done and ready for snuggling.

My new quilt makes the best couch fort ever!  I know this because after a dreadful Monday at the paycheck producing place, I returned home sodden and mud covered and ready to hide from the world for a little while when I took refuge from the previous 9 hours under the quilt on the couch.  It was more like a tent and it was the best medicine I could have asked for at the time.

But I digress.  This post is not about the healing power of a good blanket and the ability to just shut down.  I love blankets and like Linus, I embrace the comfort of a good wrap.  This missive is about how I, a very amateur quilter accomplished quilting a large (read twin size bed) quilt on my very own, in my small apartment with an heirloom sewing machine.

This quilt kit was a gift from my original quilting teacher and friend which now serves as a wonderful memory of the community that taught me to quilt. Due to the size of the project, I laid out all of the pieces while house sitting last summer and made up the top over time this winter.  I knew that doing the actual quilting would be a challenge given my space and time constraints.  When I found out that I was going to have the house to myself for a whole weekend, I knew that would be the optimal time to just get the project done.

Swirls up close

Swirls up close

I prepped for the big quilting weekend by stocking up on snack foods and fittingly, a bottle of bubbly.  I was so organized for the big quilt binge that I even prepped a bunch of sushi that I could snack on for breaks throughout the weekend.  Oh yeah, I was ready.  When I got home that Friday night and locked the door behind myself, I was eager to put the week behind me and just get the quilting started.  The worst part about the whole project was the preparation.  Due to space constraints at home, I had to move a bunch of furniture in order to spread the fabric out and make a quilt sandwich.  I was pinning the thing for hours on my hands and knees before I could even get ready to quilt.  It is important to get the fabric and batting taut for a smooth quilt.  Well, thank god I’m not a perfectionist because getting everything exact was not an option.  Once I accepted this reality, I could happily begin plotting the actual quilting.

What our apartment lacks in size, it more than makes up for in abundant natural light, which is awesome to work by.   Moving the kitchen table out a few feet into the middle of the space, I had the perfect sun strewn workstation.  Come Saturday morning after a breakfast fit for a day of outdoor exertion, I was ready to begin the actual quilting.  The sheer size of the blanket was intimidating as I tried to maneuver it into the regular sized machine, but I knew that over-analyzing the situation was just a glorified form of procrastination; I had to go for it and find my rhythm.  Because the quilt is free-motion, I let the music I was listening to (a mix comprised of: 90% jazz, 5% Bjork and 5% Cajun) guide me.  Once I got into it, the hours flew by punctuated only by snack and bathroom breaks.   I was in the quilting zone.

The back of the quilt.

The back of the quilt.

I found that due to the size of the quilt, my method with the swirl pattern was the best option.  And, as the quilt is very geometric, the pattern gives it a bit of softness and playfulness. I finished the quilt on Sunday around 3 and then because I still had some momentum, I was able to get the binding made and sewed on.  By the time my companion arrived back home three days after he left, I had a new blanket almost (hand stitching aside) done.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Almost covering our full-sized bed.

Finishing this quilt all by myself makes me happy.  It makes me confident in my ability to take on large projects despite the challenges (time, space, experience).  This quilt is a bit lumpy and I really don’t care.  When I need it, whether for warmth or because I just need a good hiding spot, I will not notice the small things that are not perfect.  Instead, what I see are all of the stitches and I know that I made each and every one of them.