Archive for the ‘Out of the Box’ Category

In Memory of Margaret

On Sunday, I received news that a dear friend had passed away. She had been fighting an illness, but it was still a surprise to hear. Since then, I’ve been thinking of her often, sifting through my memories and trying to understand. I’d like to honor her here, as she was such an enormous influence on my creative path, in addition to being a true friend.


Self Portrait, Quilt by Margaret Phelps

Margaret was one of the first people I met when I moved to the Eastern Sierra in 2008. I recall very vividly the first time I met her. I started volunteering with an outdoor education program, and my first day was helping with a second grade field trip in Fish Slough. Margaret was leading the talk on petroglyphs and archaeology. She had a confident way with the kids, alternately inspiring them and keeping them in line. She had boundless energy, leading group after group through her talk. During a break, we discovered we both liked to quilt, and Margaret invited me to join the local quilt guild. I think some part of me knew, in that moment, we were going to be friends.


My Mountains, Quilt by Margaret Phelps

Margaret had an unending curiosity and boundless enthusiasm. She had more energy than ten people combined, and used every minute of every day to make things happen. She was a Master Gardener, instrumental in starting a community garden, and worked with a local nonprofit to grow vegetables for a local soup kitchen. Margaret and a friend started a Children’s Day of the Arts event, and continued hosting it for many years, exposing youth to fun and crafty projects. She walked every day, rescued and loved countless dogs, cats, horses, and mules. Margaret was a volunteer steward of petroglyphs, where she would hike and observe a set site of petroglyphs, and report on any illegal activity observed. Those are just the pieces I can think of right now, I’m sure there were countless more!


And then there was Margaret’s crafty side, which is where we had so much fun together. Margaret wanted to try everything. She was curious, adventuresome, and brave. If she saw a technique in a magazine, she’d try it out. If she saw a class that looked interesting, she would go. And she would often bring back those skills, and share them with us. Which in a way is what started our Out of the Box group. In 2010, a small group of us interested in art quilting started to meet regularly, to share techniques and encourage each other. Over time, we started to host challenges and work on group quilts together. Each person brings so much to our small group, and Margaret contributed her love of learning and enthusiasm.

PicMonkey Collage

For example, after she attended a shibori dyeing class, Margaret shared what she learned at one of our Out of the Box meetings, and we all spent the day learning and making our own fabrics. Margaret gave. Margaret gave of herself, every day, in every way she knew how.


Margaret loved all animals. Here, her panel in our Mountain Quilt, she added two mules. When we lived in Bishop, my husband would walk our dog each morning before work. His route would pass by the community garden, where he would often see Margaret working in her plot. She loved our dog, and he loved her. She could scratch his ears in such a way that had him melting. Each time he would see her he would run over to say hello. She had this affect on all animals.


And Margaret and I had our own adventures together too. We attended Road to California together twice, taking a long two day workshop, the first time to learn to paint on fabric, and the second on color landscapes. Sometimes we would meet up to try out a new technique we saw in a magazine, like this time with dyeing fabric using silk ties. And we would also teach workshops together, like this time sharing with our guild on how to ice dye.


While much of the time quilting is spent at home alone, Margaret was a part of creating a community of women working together and encouraging each other’s passions. Margaret pushed us out of the box to try new things. She did it with energy. She did it with heart.


Margaret you will be truly missed.


I hope you always have lots of fabric piled around you to make stunning quilts with.

Good bye friend.

All quilts in this post by Margaret Phelps.

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Fiery Sunsets

We are in the middle of a very stormy January. The atmospheric river has been bringing lots of snow to our valley floor. We ski when it’s not snowing and cozy up inside when it’s snow raining. This has given me lots of time to sew! I’ve started a baby quilt, a shawl, and a small art piece of a lighthouse. Meanwhile, I can share with you my last finished piece, Fiery Sunset, which is currently for sale at our Mammoth Lakes Library show which is open until February 10.

img_2036As the last quilt in my series of colorscapes, this was my favorite for color and quilting. The quilting lines have such texture and movement. They were a joy to stitch.

img_2037The pattern looked cool on the back of the quilt too.

img_2040In December, we had a reception for our show. It was also a very snowy and cold night. Despite the very icy roads, most of our quilting group made it to Mammoth for the reception.

img_2053Here’s a quick peak at some of the other quilts in the show. I didn’t manage to take many pictures as I kept getting distracted, but it gives you a taste of the beautiful and colorful quilts in the show!


Spring in the Sierras by Laura Diko. I really like Laura’s choice of fabrics, and how she used them to make the landscape. And I like her quilting on the flowers!


Eucalyptus by Catherine Cannon. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be this one by Cathy. I love the movement Cathy created in the quilt, with the shapes and colors and quilting. Stunning.


Large Swirl by Margaret Phelps. More fantastic use of color and shapes and quilting.


Serengeti Sunset by Penny Kehus. Closing on another sunset. I like the black silhouette of the animals on the bright colored fabric. The show is open for a couple more weeks if you’d like to see the quilts in person, and all sales support the library!

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My designs for my puzzle pieces began as sketches as part of an online quilting class I took called Inspired to Design with Elizabeth Barton. One of the main lessons I learned in the class is to make your pattern sketches without judgement, and make a lot of them! In various exercises, Elizabeth would encourage us to draw at least a dozen, if not more, sketches that we would then choose from a final design.


On the left, you can see a black and white print out of one of my designs from the class. That particular lesson was playing with positive and negative space, cutting out shapes from paper and re-arranging them to make patterns. I liked the pattern I made but felt it needed a bit more transforming to be a part of this group quilt. So taking Elizabeth’s technique to heart, I drew MANY more sketches from the original inspiration. In this process of making many sketches I started to be drawn to squiggly lines and floating circles.


Putting my block together, I started with the floating circles. One of the fabrics we had in our fabric pull to use for our puzzle pieces was this fantastic green and blue circle design! I cut out individual circles and arranged them in a random cascading pattern.


Next were my squiggly lines. I chose two of the bright blue fabrics in our fabric set, and randomly cut wavy squiggly curvy lines. Between each set of stacked circles I layered around two to three squiggly lines.


The design was quite lovely at this point, but I hadn’t yet used any of our maroon or red fabrics in the design. I thought a little bit of a color pop would be important to tie the block in with the other blocks, so I cut a few circles out of the bright fabric and layered them behind the cascading circles.


For my second color piece, I deviated wildly from my original paper cut-out sketch (seen far left). I think this is a great example of how continually making sketch after sketch without judgement lets you discover new ideas you didn’t realize you had. As I sketched, I was drawn to the idea of interlocking circles that create depth and motion.


This block was a bit more difficult to pull off. Well, I made it easy one way because I was free-hand cutting the circles, and didn’t mind a bit of wonkiness. Rather, the difficulty was because I ran out of fusible webbing, and it being a Sunday I had no quilt shop open to purchase more. This was my day to complete it though, so I forged ahead, knowing I could glue down the design instead of fuse. However, this made all the pieces very loose and wobbly as I tried to place them, and made it take twice as long to glue each little piece!


It had been ages since I free-motion quilted, and I felt a bit rusty at first to start. However, those pesky deadlines were looming again, so I forged ahead to complete it. The stitching and design isn’t as fine or detailed as I imagined in my head, but I got it done. We have a saying at work right now, “do and be done.” I have been swamped with projects and deadlines, and often times find myself only able to complete something as well as I can in that moment, instead of having the time to finesse, re-do and make perfect. I think it is good to have time to make something as good as you can, but I think it can also be good to complete something in the time you have available and move on, for it is better to be completed than not done at all. So in that spirit, I completed my puzzle pieces, and they are good enough, and will join our Puzzlement quilt for everyone to enjoy.


Click here to see my post on our group process of making Puzzlement and you can see the quilt in person at our bi-annual guild show, May 28-29 at the Methodist Church in Bishop from 10am – 5pm on Saturday and 10am – 4pm on Sunday.

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At this year’s Road to California quilt show, Margaret and I saw a quilt that perked our interest, and we brought back inspiration to our Out of the Box quilt group. The loose idea was making a quilt with independent blocks that would be connected in a temporary way, so the blocks could move, shift, and rotate direction and location.


We had our first meet-up to discuss the project and how it might come together. We made a few decisions like: we would all make two blocks, they would all be mostly abstract with circles and rectangles, and that we would all be restricted to using the same fabrics. We all brought various fabrics that we could contribute to the project, and we spent the hour pairing and selecting and coming up with a color scheme.


At our second meeting, we brought sketches, patterns, and some roughly assembled blocks, to discuss the direction designs were going and to get inspiration from each other. There was such a range of patterns! The creativity in the room was contagious. A couple additional decisions that emerged were incorporating triangles (in addition to circles and rectangles) and having multiple layers making the designs more interesting and complex.


At our third meeting, we brought our full size blocks together to share and compare. At this point, each of us had only pinned, fused or glued, with the thought that if something needed changing it could … But it didn’t! All the blocks looked absolutely vibrant together. Each was unique, but all worked together as a whole. We all went home to quilt and bind our blocks to finish them up.


At our fourth meeting, we came together with our finished blocks, and finalized how they were going to be hung and tested how they moved and worked together on the finished quilt. We had smiles on our faces and there was lots of joy in the room as we rearranged and hung blocks. After each adjustment, we stood back to admire the design. The quilt really worked! I’ll share more about the blocks I made, and how we secured the blocks together and how they move. Our quilt, “Puzzlement,” will be shown at our guild show this coming Memorial Day weekend! You can catch the show at the Methodist Church in Bishop on Fowler Street on Saturday May 28 – Sunday May 29.

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Last Sunday our Out of the Box group gathered again to play with fabric. This time Margaret was showing us how to use soy wax to make batik patterns. She brought a pot full of hot soy wax and we played!


We tried using different found objects like lids and cookie cutters as stamps. We tried painting with paint brushes to make our own designs. I brought some previously ice dyed fabric to paint. We all had a hand at seeing how the wax felt and worked.


When I got home, I bleached my two pieces of fabric to lighten the background color. Then I ice dyed the fabric again to give a little more color. Kind of seems redundant now that I type it! My thought was to give the background a different color than what it had before.


One benefit of using soy wax is that it is easy to rinse out. Instead of the endless boiling required when using beeswax for batik, soy wax can just be rinsed in the sink! After rinsing and drying and ironing, I compared how the fabrics looked to when we started.

PicMonkey Collage2

They are definitely lighter than the original, with the batik patterns standing out! But I don’t think my second ice dye really gave much added color. I still like how they turned out!


I have two new fun fabrics to add to my stash, and a great new technique to add to my skill set. I look forward to experimenting with it more and collecting items to stamp with! How do you like to make patterns with soy wax?


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As I start to feel the year coming to a close, I realize I had two big projects I have not yet documented the finish of on my blog! Somehow, their binding was sewn and the quilts were given, but the posts didn’t get written. That is okay though, because I took pictures and can share them now.

This habit of taking pictures was instilled in me early by my mom. Pretty much everything I’ve made has been given as a gift, and she would always waylay me long enough to snap a picture of the item before it left the house. This has left me with a photo history of all the things I have sewn to look back on.

This quilt was made by our Out of the Box group. I wrote a post on my block of the school house back in January.
We each chose an image of the Mono Basin that was special or had significance. The blocks were sewn in a stain glass style, and assembled into a quilt, each block framed by black. The quilt was donated to the Mono Basin Historical Society for their annual fundraiser last August.
We heard the raffle was a great success, raising the historical society almost $900 in funds! It was also wonderful to hear the woman who won the quilt is a scientist studying pika in the Sierra Nevada mountains. How cool is that?!
Then, we found out the historical society turned the quilt into a coloring book for kids! Each quilted block is a page of the book to color. You can pick one up at the museum for $5. How cool is that??!!
Our Out of the Box has now done two fundraising efforts for local organizations, and I have to say both have been positive experiences. It is such a meaningful feeling to donate time and energy to my community, and to feel the love and appreciation for our efforts.
And while the projects have been intrinsically philanthropic, I believe I have received more out of the process then I’ve given. Both this Mono Basin project and the library sale have prompted creative ventures that I would have otherwise not undertaken. Both in my individual craft work and our skill as a group of artists supporting each other grew through these projects. Supporting each other with encouragement and critique, pushing each other to go further and farther than our skills normally take us. I am grateful for these experiences, the quilts I have sewn, and the women I get to sew with. What projects will our Out of the Box group undertake in 2016? It will be interesting to see!

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Sunday our Out of the Box quilt group gathered for a fun and creative workshop! A new member to our group, Pamela, is very talented and artistic. At a previous meeting she had shared with us about a new stencil technique with dye paints, and we enthusiastically asked if she would share with us.

Nela and Jan graciously hosted us in their sunlight filled patio. Pamela was an excellent teacher, slowly directing us through each step and sharing her love of the technique and creativity with us. I feel so inspired now, I can’t wait to apply what I learned to a new project.

To make the stencil, you first start with two pieces of fusible webbing. Draw your design you want to stencil, and cut it out with an exacto knife.

Then cut a piece of netting to go between the two layers. Fuse the sandwich together! I sketched a few leaves for my stencil.

Once fused, the stencil will be pretty stiff, but to make it even stiffer, paint both sides with regular indoor house paint. Let that dry and iron again to set! We then each had an excellent stencil that will be able to be reused many times.

Pamela provided us each with a board to work on. It was an inch think styrofoam, covered with fabric. After soaking cotton or silk in soda ash/citric acid respectively and letting it dry, we pinned the fabric to the foam board. Since we are painting with dye instead of soaking, the fabric should be all the way dry before using so the paint doesn’t run.
Pamela had prepared sodium alignate, which is a thickener for the fabric dye, so that it becomes a thick paint. We mixed just a tiny about of dye with a little bit of sodium alginate, and painted the stencil. The technique really isn’t painting, so that the design doesn’t smear and stays true to the stencil, you want to pounce the brush. Dab it instead of painting in strokes. It is hard to remember, so we kept shouting to each other, don’t forget to pounce!

I had brought a piece of cotton I had already dyed green, and chose to continue to use my stencil moving it around the piece of fabric. You could rinse between uses, but I chose to be okay with the happy accidents of color sharing between switches in color.
I think we were all subtly inspired by the beautiful fall colors in our valley right now, because we all tended towards using yellows, oranges and greens.

The afternoon flew by, and I loved the enjoyment from being creative with a group of friends. Pleasant conversation, sun streaming in through the window, playing with color … It was a wonderful afternoon!

What I am most excited about is the application this new technique has for me with my lupine series. My mind is humming with possibilities, and I can’t wait to try to make some of them a reality. I have been wanting to capture the effect of a field of lupines, but had been unsure of how I would do that with just fabric. Using paints though, I could capture the depth of field and density of flowers. I could play around with value, having lighter and darker lupines, play around with depth having some lupines blurrier than others, could paint many layers to make a dense patch… I can’t wait to explore. What would you use this technique on?

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