Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ann's Holiday Traditions and Tips

I'm not really a xmas person. Over the years I've simplified my holiday traditions. As a society, our traditions have totally gotten out of hand. In years past, I've baked lots of cookies and spent days decorating the house. As my children got older, they really weren't interested in all the Christmas trappings, so in a way they gave me permission to simplify my life.

We arrange the family gifts under my huge 35 year old Christmas Cactus and we open gifts on xmas morning.

In the 1970's my parents purchased a Christmas carousel made in East Germany. It has 4 levels, with traditional carved wooden figures on it. There are paddles on the top, which spin when candles are lit underneath. I love when it is dark outside, the candles are lit and it slowly begins to turn. It is really delightful to watch. For me this is Christmas. It makes me feel a little like a child again and lifts my spirits.

For my 20 neighbors, I write a newsletter. I find out what each family has done over the past year, add a couple of pictures, and I have 4-6 pages of neighborhood news. Some people look forward to it all year. One neighbor that moved away, wants me to send them a copy so they can keep up with the old neighborhood. It's really an enjoyable project. It is my gift to my neighbors. To me, it is incomprehensible for people to live next to each other for years and never reallly get to know each other. So I do this to make my world a better place for all of us. We do need to look after each other, for safety and friendship.

So here I am, writing this on Christmas eve, in my Santa Claus socks. I wear them every xmas.

Oh yes, I have a holiday tip for all you quilters out there. I'm sure you are familiar with the narrow plastic strip that is wrapped inside Wonder-Under on the bolt. If you have pieces that are 1 or 2 yards long, you can make them into great big bows. Tie them around a railing, on your sewing chair, your tree, lamps or any place that is appropriate. They are quite festive. At last there is a use for this stuff.

Have a wonderful holiday however you like to celebrate it.

Ann Fahl

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friends and Fabrics

In my last post about the binding on my orange quilt I received a comment from shout4joy who said, "I don't know how many times I have to "throw out" the inpiration fabric for a quilt, *sigh* I'm so glad to hear it isn't just me."

How many times has a fabric caught your eye, or you've purchased lots of a fabric because you think it will be a major part of your next quilt?

I only buy fabrics that inspire me, or that speak to me in some way. Then when it comes time to fabricate my quilt, (that's my term for designing, fusing and arranging the quilt) sometimes I find that special fabric no longer works as the quilt progresses. This is a tough thing to accept. You've dreamed or visualized the quilt, and how that fabric is going to look, and now you realize it has to go. It throws me for a loop! Actually the fabric has already done its job! It got you started on the journey toward a new quilt, it helped make all the fabric and color decisions. Now it's time to say good bye!

Go ahead and complete your quilt. The good thing is, you still have that fabric to use another time. Fold it up and put it in your stash. Who knows when it will find a spot in one of your future quilts. It may still inspire you, or it may become one of your old stand bys. Like the bright striped binding for my orange quilt, it created one of the richest and warmest quilts I've ever made. It still is important, it just isn't sewn onto that particular quilt. Without that binding fabric, the quilt would never have been made.

Fabrics are like friends. If you are fortunate, you have friends that you do special things with. I have coffee daily with one friend; another is my lunch friend, another is my best friend; one shares her love of books with me, another shares professional teaching concerns; and the list goes on and on. It's the same with fabrics: some are inspirational, some are work horses, some are bright, some are dark, some are light, and some are just background. Some of these get sewn in and some don't. Then one day your book friend calls and wants to have lunch with you. You can adjust to that can't you?  Maybe you'll go to a different restaurant and talk about different things. It'll be a little different, but you can still enjoy the experience.

Sometimes it is difficult to be flexible in making our quilts. We get an idea and we have to change the original concept and try something else. Sometimes it is a struggle to let an idea evolve, and sometimes it is easy. There is nothing wrong with removing a fabric or color. Let the situation rest overnight, and look at it again in the morning when you are fresh.  You'll know what the correct answer will be. These little "tests" make the job of creating a quilt more challenging, but you'll be so proud of the finished product when it's done.

Here is an image of a quilt called Under the Giant Coneflowers. The colors are the same as my Wow quilt, but this one has the wonderful striped binding that gave me so much trouble.

You can read the story behind this quilt at
Ann Fahl

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Story of the Color Orange

Snow has been falling for over 24 hours now. I’ve chosen to wear wool socks today with green and blue dots. On a day like this, warmth is more important than the color! If my feet are freezing, I’m not comfortable when I’m designing or sewing—and that’s what I will be doing today.

The color orange is my current favorite for my quilts. On cold winter days, orange adds a little warmth to my house. So I thought I’d tell you an orange story. A few years back I made a wonderful orange quilt, its title is Wow! That’s Orange. You can read more about it on my website in the garden gallery.  Ann's web site I found a wonderful little striped fabric with lots of bright colors in it. You probably have seen it somewhere, or might even have some in your stash.

I decided to make the background of the quilt, the color orange. Then I chose the colors for the oversized coneflowers from the colors found in the little binding stripe. From the very beginning of this project, I knew that this fabric would be the binding.  I love stripes and plaids for binding. That extra diagonal touch on the edge just does something special. And…. binding cut on the bias lays flatter, and the corners turn better. My bindings are always cut on the bias. See my Creating Beautiful Bias Binding booklet.

The quilt was finished, and I was ecstatic about the results. Everything worked together, the orange; the bright flowers, the glowing centers, the quilting, the double inner border, and the binding. It was accepted at AQS Paducah. I packed it up, and sent it to KY, and waited for the results.  It got a ribbon, not as good as I had hoped, but it won something.  When my quilt arrived home I unpacked it, admired the ribbon, and looked for the judges comment sheet. When I read these comments it is always a moment of truth.  Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are right on, sometimes they are negative, and sometimes they’ve missed the point of the quilt. I never know what I will find.

My eyes scanned down the small sheet. The judges liked the quilt, they gave it a prize, but they didn’t like my choice of fabric for the binding!  How could this be?  The quilt was designed to have the stripe as the binding from the very birth of the idea? What do they mean? I was absolutely stunned. Here is a close-up of the stripe laying on the quilt.

I hung my quilt on my design wall, and there is was in all its colorful splendor. I loved it, everything was right. Or was it? I looked at it through my binoculars backwards, and backed as far away from the quilt as possible. The striped binding appeared muddy. How could I have been so wrong? I loved the stripes. Again, I’m stunned stupid.

I had been loving the colors and the stripes on that brilliant orange background, and I was too close. Kind of --I can't see the forest for the trees thing. Maybe I didn’t pin it up on the edge of the quilt, and view everything through the backwards binoculars. Usually I audition a number of bias possibilities before I choose one, but in this case, I already knew what it would be.

That evening, I took the quilt to my Racine Art Quilter’s group. I explained the situation; asked them to be honest with me; and vote. Should I replace the binding or leave it on? We studied it carefully, discussed the matter, and it was unanimous, they recommended I replace the binding. Their reasoning was, it looked muddy, not clear and colorful like the rest of the quilt. I had to agree with them.

The next day, I carefully removed the binding, what a job. It was so sad to remove that beautiful stuff. This time, I carefully laid out an assortment of oranges around the edges of the quilt. I pieced them together, and made a bias binding of 4 different fabrics. It looked good, and provided only a soft contrast to the edge. This time it wasn’t blatently obvious like the last. Everything was good.

Later that year, the quilt went to Houston. When it came home, I checked the judges comment sheet. They made special mention of the binding. They loved my concept of using different values of orange around the edges!  So it was worth all the effort.

I guess the moral of this story, is to always check every addition to your work, no matter how sure you are of your original choice. Look at it close-up, and from a distance. My favorite method is to use the binoculars backwards. Using a digital camera works too; and then look at it on your computer monitor too. Look at your piece in several types of lighting ; it impacts and changes all the colors and shadows.

You can be too close to your work and make some inappropriate choices. I did.

Anyone want 25 feet of striped binding?  I’d love to use it, but now this stripe scares me!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Uncreative Time

Today is the coldest so far this fall. The temp never rose above 25 degrees! At least the sun was shining today. Today I chose to put on heather gray socks with red dots on them, to coordinate with my denim jacket with dots.

No matter how you live your life and schedule your sewing times,  there are periods when you are not creative. You've heard of writer's block; well I have quilter's block. This doesn't worry me anymore. I have worked hard; and criss-crossed the country for teaching; and produced lots of quilts in the last 3 or 4 years. It is inevitable that your mind will say, "Stop, I need a rest!"

When the manuscript for my new book went to C and T at the end of February 09, I spiraled into a quilt funk. There were no ideas for new quilts in my head. Because in the past this has happened several times;  I know this means that I should do something else. So what did I do? I wrote two more books. The first is a 28 page booklet on bias binding, which will be a perfect companion to my upcoming "Dancing with Thread" book about machine quilting. 

The second book, I'm still working on, my family genealogy,  6 generations of my family, biographies and photographs. This has been lots of fun. I have talked to people in my family that I haven't talked to in ages. I'm getting pictures of people I've never seen before. I'll be printing up only 30-40 copies to distribute to only to familly members. This is something I wanted to do for my children. It is good to know about your ancestors.

In the last few weeks, ideas for new quilts have been coming to me. So as the holidays approach, maybe I can get a start on one or two of them. And then again, maybe not. I always keep of list of hot quilt ideas, so I don't forget my little inspirational moments! You will just have to wait and see what develops.

Someday, if you find yourself in a quilting funk, it means that it is time for you to devote your time to other things.  Maybe your family or home requires your attention. I find I like to paint a room or two when these periods hit. Maybe you like to clean, then clean with a vengeance. Go downtown where you haven't been shopping in years; visit a museum; call a friend and go on a field trip; dig in your garden. You get the idea, throw yourself into something else. Your brain needs a rest, and would like to ponder other tasks and problems.You'll know when it is time to start a new quilt.

There are other times when I have the time to quilt but no ideas. This is simple to solve. Simply make some placemats, or cut a bunch of squares and start a nine patch quilt. In the past, I've found that if I am working at my machine, or just cutting fabric, my mind eventually will click back into gear, and ideas begin to flow again.  So just the act of sewing, will jog your system back into creative mode again. Sitting around just waiting for a good idea, will never work. Keep busy, the ideas will come.  

Oh, hey, I got an idea!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My First Time

For years I've been delaying the process of starting a blog. After having lunch today with Diane G. I realized that it wouldn't be as difficult as I thought. So here we go..........

I love color, it is important to my everyday life. Red makes me think of my grandmother, who painted all the outdoor furniture red at the cottage. Orange is a warm color that lifts my spirits. Blue was my first favorite that makes me think of water. My bedroom has just been painted green, the color of grass, leaves and my garden. It's the color of summer. Black eyed susans are yellow or gold. The BES in my garden were transplanted from the cottage at Winona Lake, IN. Purple goes wonderfully with green.

Color governs my fabric choices for a quilt and choosing the thread to embroider and quilt it. It's why a pick a kleenex box over another on the shelf at the store. I love bright colored socks. Every morning when I get dressed, I choose the appropriate color socks for the day. The really colorful ones are for rainy days. Today I'm wearing purple, and it's sunny outside today.

Surround yourself with colors you love. You will feel better and it will enhance your creative spirit. If you don't nurture your own creativity, no one else will. Make a commitment to try and live a life that will inspire that creative light inside of you. You will live happier.