Kodiak Bears!

I’ve just returned from a teaching trip to Alaska and had the good fortune to spend time on Kodiak Island with the Kodiak Bear Paw Quilters. We had three days of workshops and then I stayed an additional three days to explore the area. I went on a trip of a life time, bear watching. We flew in a float plane for an hour to a remote area on the Fraser River near a fish ladder where we could observe Kodiak bears fishing for salmon. We saw five bears. The 900 lb mama with two second summer cubs were the most photogenic. This was an incredible experience! Despite the mist and rain, we had excellent views. The bears crossed the river and came up on the trail very close to us. Our pilot was not concerned and reassured us that these bears are well fed on salmon and salmon berries and were not interested in us!

The following day, I had dinner at the Old River Inn and spied this bear quilt on the wall. There was no label on the back and the restaurant staff did not know the maker of the quilt. It’s a pretty good representation, even down to the massive claws!

Biltmore, Asheville, NC

In early June, I was a member of the faculty at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium hosted by the Asheville Quilters’ Guild. During the Symposium, several of us went on a tour of Chihuly Nights at Biltmore, the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens and the first garden exhibition of Chihuly’s works in North Carolina. The Biltmore House and gardens is a spectacular estate officially opened by George Vanderbilt on Christmas Eve, 1985.

We arrived in time to see the house and gardens with Chuhuly’s colorful organic glass creations in daylight and were then treated to a gorgeous sunset.

As darkness fell, the glass sculptures were illuminated and took on a a new dimension and vibrancy. Here’s a daylight and night time shot of the same installation.

The next two use the existing stone wall and statues and the exterior of the house as backdrops to display these amazing pieces. Then follows the Electric Yellow and Deep Coral Tower and the Alabaster and Amber Spire Towers.

As quilters, we don’t always know what exactly inspires us in our work. In addition be being enjoyable, taking the opportunity to look at other art forms is always beneficial and adds to our store of experiences from which to draw our ideas.

 

 

Quilt Garden, Asheville Arboretum, NC

I was recently teaching at the North Carolina Quilting Symposium in Asheville. My quilting host took me to the Arboretum where there is this wonderful quilt garden. The blocks contain a variety of plants of different colors to display the patterns and the concrete sashing helps to accentuate the overall design.

The Arboretum’s Quilt Garden represents traditional quilt block patterns common to the Southern Appalachian region, in this case the maple leaf. The carpet plantings in masses of harmonious or contrasting colored foliage and flowers last for one season. The garden is replanted each season with a block pattern that changes every two years. Plants appropriate to the growing season are selected and grown for spring, summer and fall. In winter, the quilt garden may be filled with hardy plants or covered in contrasting colored mulch or stone. The garden is best viewed from an elevated spot as in the photo above. Here are two more pictures taken from the ground level. On the left you can see the viewing area with fence at the back. This is a great place to visit if you are in the area.

Pendleton Woolen Mill, OR

In May, when I took a road trip to Northeastern Oregon, I went on a tour of the Pendleton Woolen Mill. I’ve always admired the Pendleton products and was interested to go there to see how it’s all done. Check out this video to see the process.

The mill was founded in 1863, over 150 years ago. I was impressed by the scale and the rate of production from what is now a highly mechanized mill. The woolen fleeces are dyed, carded, roved, spun and wound onto bobbins. White yarn is also dyed into over 500 different colors. All of this takes place, before you even get into the weaving of the blankets in beautiful intricate patterns, many of which are inspired by Navajo and other Native American patterns. These designs really appeal to quilters like me and are inspriing!

The machines are huge, make a lot of noise and are incredibly fast.4.25 million pounds of raw wool is processed every year. The looms are computer programmed and automated to make these complex designs, but set up requires skilled labor and all the blankets and rugs are manually checked for flaws.

After touring the mill, I perused the “seconds” room where wonderful bargains may be found. I succumbed and bought a beautiful blue blanket which was half-price, like the ones in the stack in the photo. The only thing wrong with it was that it was made 4″ too short.

 

 

Lyndon B. Johnson Quilt

During my teaching trip to Texas last month, one of my kind hosts took me to LBJ’s Ranch also known as the Texas White House. We enjoyed a walk in the grounds and a tour of the house. This quilt was hanging in one of the education rooms.

It looks a little tired and dated, but is of interest because the blocks reflect important events at the time that it was made. For “Operation Stitch Quilt Project” as it was called, the blocks were made and donated by staff and volunteers associated with the Lyndon B. Johnson State and National Parks, and the Southwest Parks and Monuments Association. Each donor was asked to produce a block that depicts something of importance to them regarding the Texas Hill Country and/or the President who made this park a reality, the former President Lyndon B. Johnson. The quilt display at the park was presented for public viewing in March 1994. Here are some detailed shots of the blocks.

There was a book accompanying the quilt, naming all the makers of the blocks and the hand quilters. I recognized some of the fabrics as old friends from my early days of quilting.

 

 

Patterns in Architecture, Durham Cathedral, UK

I am always awed by a visit to Durham Cathedral which is a World Heritage Site and is filled with majesty and beauty. I was there last month when I stayed in Durham for three days.

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Check out the scale and proportions of the building; the height, length, the size of the arches, the way the circular inlay on the floor mimics the large circular stained glass windows above the altar. This is brilliance in design and we should pay attention. Scale and proportions are both so important in designing quilts and adding borders.The mosaic tile floors and ornamentation around the pulpit of geometric shapes includes our beloved Flying Geese, stars, diamonds and more.

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Repeated elements, e.g. triangles, made in a variety of sizes will make your quilt much more interesting than simply using triangles that are all the same size. Adding appropriately sized borders will greatly enhance your quilt top. I recommend auditioning different widths, (as well as a variety of fabric options and considering pieced borders), to help you in the decision making process.

Rock patterns, Isle of Staffa, Scotland

In August, I spent two weeks in the UK visiting family and friends and some amazing places. My sister took me on holiday to Scotland and we went to the magical sacred island of Iona on the west coast of the highlands. While we were there, we took a boat trip to the Isle of Staffa, an uninhabited hunk of rock which is the Scottish end of the Irish Giant’s Causeway.

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The pictures shows the spectacular basalt columns and down below is Fingal’s Cave, the very same that inspired Mendelssohn when he wrote his Hebrides Overture in 1830. The photo below is taken inside Fingal’s Cave and there is a detailed shot of the rocks, showing a cross-section of the basalt columns.

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60 million years ago, Scotland and North America were torn apart by continental drift of the tectonic plates. Molten lava erupted through the cracks and cooled to form the basalt columns. As it hardened, it shrank and fractured into regular columns. The rate of cooling varied, so some of the columns are perfect hexagons, but most are hexagons with irregular sides and some are pentagons. I’m telling you all of this, because as a quilter (and a fan of geomorphology), I am fascinated by how all the pieces fit together and am inspired by these patterns presented to us in nature. I usually can’t pinpoint exactly the source of my quilting inspiration, but know that experiencing amazing places like this makes a significant contribution.

Quilt Barn Art

In May, I spent a day exploring Shipshewana in the heart of Amish country in Indiana. See previous blogs for Lolly’s Fabric Store and Little Helpers Quilt Shop. The Amish are quilting masters and an expansion of this craft is to paint quilt blocks on large wooden panels which are displayed on the outsides of buildings. They are beautiful. Some are quite large and colorful such as these on the outside of the building that houses the Yoder Department Store and other shops. Usually the patterns painted are those of traditional pieced quilt blocks.

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You can purchase these Barn Quilts, as they are called, at the Little Helpers Quilt Shop, 1,030N 1,000W, on the outskirts of Shipshewana. The ones shown above are about two feet square and there is a nice assortment of patterns available. The pictures below are of the outside of the Little Helpers Quilt Shop. It was rather a grey day, but these barn quilts still look very attractive and add color to the outside of the building. Several other states boast barn quilts. Perhaps there are some near you?

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Chicago Botanical Gardens

In May, I visited IL and taught at the Village Quilters Guild in Lake Bluff/Lake Forest. After my workshop, one of my students took me to the Chicago Botanical Gardens. What a fabulous place on a par with other world class gardens I have visited, such as Kew in London and Kirstenbosch in Cape Town. I never quite know where my inspiration comes from for quilting, but I love flowers and it seems that in gardens and nature, the colors never clash. I think that my observations of many color combinations in these places has made me more adventurous in my choice of fabrics. It’s not only the colors, there are so many differing textures and shapes. Look at these magnificent jewel towers.

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As you can see, it was a beautiful clear sunny day. The late afternoon light made the colors brilliant as well creating gorgeous shadows. Look at all the shades of green from the fresh chartreuse of the leaves on the tree, to the darker evergreen and the dusty green of jewel tower leaves. The brick wall provides a nice backdrop.

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The formal Japanese gardens were immaculately manicured and the trees and shrubs were scaled to ideal proportions so that all the components fit together in perfect harmony. Then there was this lovely meadow of red and yellow poppies and all shades in between with a few white ones thrown in too. If you are in Chicago and have time to venture north a little way, I can highly recommend these gardens. We only saw about half of them in an hour and a half. You could easily spend all day there.

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Colorful Rugs in Oaxaca

Continuing the theme of vibrant colors in Mexico, here are some examples of the many beautiful woven rugs. The colors are often rich and heavily saturated. The Zapotec people use natural dyes including plants, minerals and insects. Inspiration comes from their colorful surroundings of lush vegetation, exotic flowering plants, birds, majestic mountains and local folk-law. Like pieced quilts, geometric shapes are repeated to produce wonderful patterns. The scenes with popular themes such as the tree of life filled with birds remind me of applique. In all forms of art, the color wheel works!

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