Thursday, August 31, 2017

The 49th State

For the past couple of weeks I’ve either been traveling to, from, or within Alaska, the 49th state added to the United States in 1959.

I arrived in Alaska physically tired and a bit out of sorts from the long trip through four time zones. It was raining in Anchorage as I found my way to a couple of quilt shops and enjoyed a delicious dinner in downtown Anchorage before I checked into my hotel for the night.

Next day, I transitioned to Palmer, Alaska, only a little bit north and east of Anchorage.

I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had landed in an episode of the tv show ‘Northern Exposure.’ Palmer just has that small town Alaska ‘jive.’

Along the way, a short detour to Sylvia’s Quilt Depot in Wasilla, and The Quilt Cache in Eagle River. I lost count of how many quilt shops I visited during the trip - Several.

Time for some sewing with the Valley Quilters Guild.

Our first project was Stained Glass from ScrapTherapy, Scraps Plus One! . . .

Our second workshop is from ScrapTherapy, The Versatile Nine Patch, Elsa’s Prayer Quilt. Lots of twists, turns, and interesting techniques in both these projects. These lovely ladies seemed to have a great day creating.

Following the workshops and a lovely dinner with the group. I walked back to my hotel. While in Palmer, I learned that this part of the state is well-known for farming - who knew? (I didn’t) And they are especially known for producing some pretty impressively sized cabbages! Near the town hall, there is a vegetable and flower garden. Any one can wander in, but the produce is preserved for the local senior center. Some red cabbages coming along . . .

The pincushion flower goes nicely with a sewing theme. And such pretty color!

With a day or two before transitioning back to Anchorage, I asked the quilters in Palmer for some sight-seeing recommendations. Their response: Talkeetna, about an hour drive north of Palmer, where you can take a short sight-seeing flight around Denali.

Okay. Off I go. Another ‘Northern Exposure’ throw-back town.

Ooh, there’s a quilt shop here, too!

I tried very hard to ignore the fact that it was raining fairly steadily. Good soup weather. No surprise that I had a lot of seafood while I was in Alaska, and it was all delicious. This seafood chowder was at the Wildflower Cafe in Talkeetna.

Denali. Formerly known as Mount McKinley is an impressive 20,000 feet. People come to Alaska from all over the world to climb it. It takes three weeks to complete the climb. The flight around the mountain that was recommended seemed like a wonderful substitute for a flat-lander like me.

However, the weather was not in my favor.

No flight for me, but no worries. I was told the view of Denali from the back deck of the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is amazing. So, I found the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and the back deck. And the legend that shows exactly where to look to see the great mountain.

Um. Yeah. It’s there, but it’s behind the rain clouds.

Back to Anchorage, and of course the sun is shining by the end of the next day.

The Anchorage Log Cabin Quilters enjoyed a trunk show (I hope!), and their workshop was the Mix N Match Mug Mats from ScrapTherapy, The Versatile Nine Patch. Fun!

A couple future quilt advisors - two shih tsu puppies, brother and sister - joined the workshop. 

Moving again. This time to the Kenai (pronounced KEE-nye - I was only corrected once!) Peninsula. Had to stop along the Seward Highway to take a panoramic photo. Yes, more rain, but, even so the view was spectacular! The pictures just don’t do it justice.

Ultimately, I was headed to Soldotna, but took a detour to Seward on the coast. My goal: to see puffins. It was recommended at a quick stop at the Seward Chamber of Commerce to take a 6-hour cruise-tour through Resurrection Bay to some of the out-lying islands.

I wish I had a better camera for this cruise! I only had my cell phone, which takes good pictures but many of the critters were too far away to get a good image. And I was very nervous about dropping my phone overboard! (If there is something to worry about, I’ll worry about it!) I did have my binoculars, though! And my face was glued to them! On the cruise, I saw: sea otters (absolutely adorable!), sea lions, kittiwakes, a peregrine falcon, a couple humpback whales, harbor seals, and yes, I saw lots and lots of puffins! Goal achieved!

The tour boat also approached Aialik Glacier. We idled there, very close to the glacier for about 30 minutes or so, and listened while the glacier calved a few times. The whole experience really adds perspective and makes you feel so insignificant in this vast world! To provide an idea of scale. the boat I was on held a few hundred passengers. Not small. A similar-sized boat stayed at the glacier as we were leaving. This picture is from the back of the boat I was on. The little tiny red circle is around that other boat.

This is a huge mural on the side of the hotel from which the tour boat launched. The two puffins (a tufted puffin and a horned puffin) give you an idea of those we saw on the water. They sorta look like a cross between penguins and ducks. They are also known as sea parrots, perhaps because of their brightly colored beaks. I can finally mark them off my life list!

As the boat was coming back into the dock. This male bald eagle (identified to be male with 50% accuracy) seemed to welcome us back to dry land.

Thankfully, for most of the time I was on the boat, the rains held off, although it was cloudy. I made my way on to Soldotna where I would spend the next few days. With one more day off and a mind to find some souvenir sweatshirts for Dave and me, I headed south to Homer.

After yet another halibut lunch (I was in Homer, after all) I asked my waitress if she had any suggestions where I might find a sweatshirt. Without hesitation she recommended the Salty Dawg Saloon on the spit (a 4-mile long narrow stretch of gravely land that stretches into Kachemak Bay)

A peek inside and you are overwhelmed by thousands of dollar bills tacked to nearly every inch of wall and ceiling space. The tale is that some time ago a man came into the bar, ordered himself a drink and told the bartender that his friend would be by later. He tacked a dollar to the wall so the friend could buy a drink with the tacked dollar, from then on tacking a dollar bill on the interior of the saloon became a ‘thing.’ Could this concept be transferred to quilt shops?

In Alaska, there are yellow moose-crossing warning signs everywhere you drive. They look just like the deer crossing signs I’m used to, but they have a moose instead of a deer. I’d done a fair amount of traveling to this point, and didn’t see a single moose. . . until the drive back to Soldotna from Homer (in the rain of course!) There she was on the side of the road. I pulled over to watch her cross. A few minutes later her calf crossed the road as well. . . .

Further along that same stretch of road, I saw a second momma moose and two calves. They really do catch your breath with their size!

That evening I arrived back in Soldotna for another two workshops and a trunk show at the Kenai Pennisula Quilters Guild. Our workshop projects were Elsa's Prayer Quilt (below) and the Sneaky Peek Project Pouch, both from ScrapTherapy, The Versatile Nine Patch.

Everyone I met at the guilds in Alaska were such fun to be with. (Dani (in the middle) grinned like that pretty much all the time!) I truly feel that I have gained many more long-distance friends!

This short photo-journal of my travels does not even come close to portraying the vast beauty of this amazing state. I was a solo traveler for the duration of the trip, and as the driver and photographer, I was unable to capture many of the most beautiful vistas of the journey. Even if I had taken more pictures of the scenery, I’m not sure you can really adequately capture the feeling you get from the huge mountains, the quaint towns, the deep-down feeling of awe you experience when you see a humpback whale feeding, the adorable cuteness of a sea otter, or a ‘circus’ of puffins bobbing in the water. You have to experience these things for yourself.

A few years ago, my first encounter with Alaska was via a cruise to the inner passage—Juneau and Skagway, specifically. At that time, I heard several people say that the best way to see Alaska was from the ocean. And at the time, that made sense.

However, now that I’ve spent time traveling and visiting only a small portion of this huge but lovely state, I truly feel that the best way to experience Alaska is to get out and walk around in it, talk to its people, and experience its treasures.

Back to more stitchy subject matter text time. In the meantime. . .

Happy Stitching!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Folk Art Fun!

This past weekend Dave and I headed back into the Adirondacks for a Syracuse University Alumni event. We go every year during the first weekend in August. Usually our speaker for the weekend is someone from campus who talks about their education programs or topics of central New York interest. Sports marketing, Civil Engineering, the Erie Canal, Healthcare, for example.

This year, our speaker was Warren Kimble, graduate of the class of ’57 and former member of the football cheerleading squad! His tagline from his website is “America’s Best Known Living Folk Artist.”

Warren shared his experiences creating and licensing his artwork. this is one of the pieces typical of his work that we got to see up close and in person.

Warren always include three clouds in each of his painting. It’s a trademark. And his paintings of animals notably have human-like eyes.

Here’s Warren. For 82 years young, Warren is quite the achiever. His start on the cheerleading squad seems to have left a mark on his life. Warren is a huge community advocate for his hometown of Brandon, Vermont.

“Widows of War” is a study of the Iraq war and its toll on those left behind when soldiers leave home to fight. This is one of the paintings in that recent series of artworks.

A close up of this canvas on canvas painting. It's really pretty amazing! See the torn and raveled edges of the canvas pieces?

Next came the fun part. As a hands-on option, we each had the opportunity to create our own piece of folk art with Warren’s guidance. Our mission: painting leaf transfers onto wooden boxes. We cheated a bit, with concerns over a potential time-crunch, Warren painted each box with a black gesso base coat.

I added a layer of splashy blue with ordinary Saran wrap, crinkled up and dipped in paint, then applied onto the box.

Since the forecast for the weekend included quite a bit of rain, Warren collected bunches and bunches of leaves for us. Then things got a little messy (and very fun), painting, the leaves, then transferring the leaf shape to the wooden box.

TaDa! I used leaves and sticks for my painted shapes. Then I added bright reds and yellows to loosely interpret wild columbine flowers. Dave said I missed the mark on the columbines, but he opted out of the project, so he doesn't get an opinion. I like it!

Everyone (who participated - ahem!) had a great time creating! Look at all these painted boxes and baskets!

I think I’ll use mine to store embroidery threads, or maybe all that sock yarn that I’m collecting for a rainy day!

Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The List

For the past several years, my friend, Gail invites me to her camp in the woods just steps away from Panther Lake.

The location is pretty remote. Since I’ve been going there for a friends weekend of sewing, Gail has added a little improvement here and here. This year a new refrigerator and new kitchen flooring. Nice!

Out in the yard, the Indian Pipes (also known as Ghost Flowers) were in bloom. Pretty!

Sometimes Peaches gets to come along, too. She likes to supervise the sewing activity from her perch overlook.

As for that project list I was packing last week, time for an accounting. A  few things actually did get wrapped up before I left, specifically, my Splendid Sampler quilt. I’ve had a couple of questions about how I quilted it. I’ll tell you a little more about that in a future article. For now, I’m pleased that it’s done, quilted bound and labeled. I used one of the bonus blocks to decorate my label.

These small projects make from leftover class samples were the first items to get buttoned up during the mini retreat.

Next I pulled out those really fun brightly colored fabrics with the cool zipper. And got busy making colorful half-square triangles with my 2-1/2” Blocloc trimming tool. I made a bunch of 2” half-square triangles then . . .

. . . kept on going until I had a little bag that will be a special gift for a certain little niece. Sorry, there isn’t a pattern for this one. I just winged it with the fabrics and tools I brought with me.

I like it when I can take a project from start-to-finish on these sewing holidays. 1) it gets it off my unfinished project shelf and then 2) it goes right into service doing what it was made to do, and 3) I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I can actually see, touch, hold a finished project, and 4) that’s a really good feeling!

I jump around from project to project when I have to, but a sewing retreat is ‘my’ sewing time, and I’m so much happier when I can stay focused.

Next up was this little gadget bag from a pattern by By Annies. This was a last-minute impulse throw-in during my final packing push. The pattern came in a kit with everything except the fabric to make the bag. That whale fabric seems a perfect fit for this little project and a really nice use for fabric I purchased on the Alaska cruise I did a couple years ago. I have to say, the pattern threw me for a loop in a couple spots, but overall, it’s a really cute bag and I can’t wait to fill it with threads and scissors for my next cross-stitch project.

I didn’t mention this project either last week when I was making my packing plans. But I always like to have that ‘other’ project to work on while I’m piecing the main project. I started these blocks when I finished the Splendid Sampler quilt top. I had a lot of long, skinny leftover fabric strips. The Creative Grids Mini Pineapple tool made it into my sewing room at about the same time, and it was a great way to use up those skinny scraps! This weekend, I was determined to finish up the 35 blocks I had planned. Mission accomplished!

Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to sash and set the blocks.

For a good portion of the last two days I worked on these Nearly Insane blocks and got a start on my Christmas ornaments (not sharing pictures of those as some of you might be on my family/holiday mailing list!) The nearly insane blocks are all 6” finished size, and the book that inspires them has no actual instructions for the blocks. The block illustrations were drafted from an antique quilt. With a lot of measuring, cutting, trimming, and tool-using, I’m going to take my time working on these blocks whenever I’m in the mood or on a sewing holiday. Doncha love the combination of Liberty fabric and other solid colored scraps?

Camp Clammie got its nickname because we get a bag or two of littleneck clams to enjoy during our dinner breaks. So yummy!! And tradition is tradition!

And Gail makes up a bunch of fresh salads. These veggies are ready to grill. Once grilled she chopped them up into a salad with some balsamic dressing. Also yummy!

There’s Gail during one of our evening sewing sessions. The machines are set up in the garage. When the garage door is up, and the screen is in place to keep the bugs and other critters out, it almost feels like we’re sewing right in the yard!

Gail also kept pace by completing several quilt tops. Including this beauty on the design wall.

The weekend wrapped up with a little hand sewing. This is one of two Baltimore album-style quilt projects in my in-progress project stack. I keep reminding myself. . .One stitch at a time . . .

If you are paying close attention, you may have noticed that a couple of projects that I said I was going to take along didn’t quite make this report card. That includes the paper-piecing project and the cage cover. They came with me, but they didn’t get any further than that. C’est la vie!

I guess that just means I’ll have to go on another retreat. Speaking of that, are you coming to the retreat with me in Vermont at the Strong House Inn? Once summer is wrapped up, I’m going to be on a serious tear to finalize all the prep-work for that amazing (and very mysterious) project. I do hope you’ll join me.

In the meantime, let's enjoy summer!

Happy Stitching!

Joan Ford