Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Doing (County) Fairly Well

I'm not even sure we had county fairs when I was a kid, probably because the Montana State Fair was held in the city in which I grew up (Great Falls). I remember going to the state fair every year, riding the rides, seeing the animals, playing some games, but I don't recall that either we kids or our parents ever entered anything in the various competitions. Several years ago, I entered a quilted jacket in the Quilted Clothing category at the Albemarle County Fair and won a blue ribbon. It was the only item entered in the Quilted Clothing category, but since the fair rules state that "Classes with only one exhibit will be awarded ribbons at the judges' discretion" I know that I didn't get the blue ribbon by default.

This year being an outstanding one for photography, both sons and I entered various of the Photography categories. Younger son entered 13 photographs; elder son entered seven; and I entered four. We each won about one ribbon for each four photographs entered. Younger son won three red or white ribbons in the Floral-Color, Floral-B&W, and Animals-B&W categories. Elder son won red or white ribbons in the Animals-Color and Human Interest-B&W categories. I only one won ribbon, but it was a blue one, for the photograph below, in the Humor category. I took the photo at Madurodam in the Netherlands, described here for readers who might have missed it on the blog of our Grand Adventure. This photo did not happen accidentally; I suggested that an interesting photo might result if we all shot photos of the reflection at the same time. Success! One interesting and, now, award-winning photograph.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Creative Process, VI

Okay, so I didn't make it back to working on this on the "tomorrow" mentioned in my last quilt post. What can I say? An assortment of things came up between then and today. While the bread (shredded wheat bread, a new find in The Secrets if Jesuit Breadmaking) was rising, I went back to work on the mountain cabin. I thought it only appropriate to use Kurt Nilsen's Rise to the Occasion as the soundtrack since I first heard this artist, specifically, his "Lost Highway," a duet with Willie Nelson, while at the mountain cabin.

The first step was to add grass, trees, and sky to the left side of the cabin as I left it last time. The trick would be to match the two seams, that of the grass-trees and the trees-sky, with those on the cabin piece. The first one was easy because I can just trim the bottom to fit. The second one, though, would take some eyeballing. The photo shows the pieces of fabric laid together as I approximated where the seam should be sewn. As it turned out, I came close enough the first time. The next step was to put some borders on. The aim was to give the resulting, bordered piece dimensions that were evenly divisible by the integer of my choice in terms of making squares to surround the cabin block. You may find it surprising that even with my training in psychology and statistics, I'm not big on measuring. I measured. I even measured twice. I cut the side borders, sewed them on, and nailed the final length figure I was shooting for, the magic 36 inches (actually 36.5 inches, but the 0.5 will disappear into the seam). Thirty-six is a nice number, because it divides evenly into squares of 3, 4, 6, 9, or 12 inches or even some combinations of those squares. I was shooting for 27 inches for the height, figuring that I could then put 4.5 inch squares on the top and bottom, resulting in a 36-inch square panel to work out from. The top and bottom borders would be a bit narrower than the side ones, but I figured what the heck. I calculated how wide they should be, cut them, sewed them on, and, what was it they used in the transcripts of the Nixon tapes? "Expletive deleted"? The finished measurement wasn't what I had calculated it would be. I decided that I would just go ahead and make the borders the same width all around and even up the dimension with the first set of surrounding squares. Time for frog-sewing or, as the politically incorrect might say, French-sewing. That little implement in the photo is a seam ripper, as in "Rip it; rip it; rip it." Two seams unsewn, two new strips cut, two more seams sewn, and voila, a finished cabin panel. I debated for a while as to what color or colors to use for the borders here. It may not show up well in the photo, but the borders are grey. I decided on that as being somewhat neutral in terms of either dark or light fabrics working on the outside edges.

Next step is to make some liberated squares for the top and bottom, with the resulting rows of squares getting the height to the desired 36 inches. Yes, I know this will mean more measuring, but I intent to make the squares in such a liberated way that, if necessary, I can simply take a bit off the top or bottom to make it all fit. Then I will need to decide where I go from there. Should the cabin be in the center of a large square? In a corner? At the bottom of a rectangle taller than it is wide? Somewhere on the longer dimension of a rectangle, so you could see it if you had the quilt covering your lap as you sat on a couch? Should the final size fit on a bed or in a lap? The quilt has already told me that it will be too big for a wall hanging, and I honestly wouldn't want it to be that. I want this to be a quilt to be used, to be snuggled under or even sat upon. Does it sound as if I'm making it up as I go along? I am, because the quilts I make with a firm and fixed plan of action are never as delightfully fun as the ones that sort of make themselves as I go along.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

One Down and Three To Go

Back around Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, I put forth some summer goals. There were only four, some of which were more measurable than others. (I used to work in university planning, and we were very big on measurable goals.) The most measurable of this year's goals was to earn my yellow belt in Myo Sim karate. That's about as measurable as you can get; either I would earn it or I wouldn't. Well, I did.

One starts Myo Sim karate as a white belt. After that come yellow, green, two levels of blue, three levels of brown, and then black, of which there are varying degrees. There are defined requirements for each level. For yellow belt, I had to know four kata or basic forms, one tae ryun (a form done with a partner), five self defenses (responses to various grabs), three one steps (responses to a punch), six kicks (three different styles of kick done with either the front or the back leg), three punching combinations, and two partner exercises (putting together punches and kicks against an opponent). Getting a yellow belt means remembering the moves in each part or technique, doing them in the proper stances, and doing them safely. This last part is really important because not doing something safely can mean that you or the person you're working with gets very hurt very fast.

I have tested for two different belts in kendo, but this was my first rank exam in karate. One thing that is different is that the karate exams are judged by every black belt in attendance, and that the judging involves written comments on all the things demonstrated. While this contributes to your nervousness during the test, it's helpful to go over the comments in detail and learn from them. And comments are as apt to be positive as negative. Although many of the comments I got related to things I can and will change, I also got several comments that my kicking has much improved over the last few weeks. I put in a lot of extra time working on my kicking in between the time I was invited to test and the test itself; it was nice to know that the extra time paid off.

Next up is green belt. This one will be harder. There's not necessarily more material to learn, but the bar gets raised a bit. It will no longer be enough to remember and demonstrate the moves and to do them safely. Besides that, I will need to "make the punches look like punches, and the kicks look like kicks." In other words, my technique has to reach a certain level of quality. I won't make green this summer; it might be a stretch to try to make it in the fall. I will get it at some point; it's just hard to say when that might be. In the meantime, I have three other summer goals to work on during the time I'm not working on karate (or kendo), not to mention job, family, and a few other life priorities.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Creative Process, V

I was supposed to be sailing on the Chesapeake Bay this afternoon, but the trip fell through at the last minute leading me to believe I was destined to quilt. In the spirit of the 4th of July and its associated picnicking, I asked Mr. Mac to play me some Laura Nyro to set the appropriate mellow mood.

When last we met here, I had various pieces laid out that I thought might complete my mountain cabin scene. I won't make you go back to find it. Here's what I had laid out. Looking at it this afternoon with fresh eyes, I decided that the porch needed to be made longer, and that the grass should start closer to the bottom of the cabin rather than up along the sides. Maybe something like this. Of course, it would be simpler to just have the grass start at the very bottom of the cabin, so that's what I decided to do.

The first step was to make a new porch. The short porch I had been using was a piece left over from when I made the big part of the cabin. I had to make a new piece to start from, so I cut 10 strips, sewed them together, rotated the resulting rectangle, and cut out a piece with the slats going in the appropriate direction. I also had to cut a larger piece of black and make a longer white strip, but here's what I ended up with. Here's what it looked like after I sewed the red and black pieces together and was deciding on the angle the white would take. At this point, I realized that it was quite possible that I would get the side unit pieced only to figure out that I should have added the grass and sky to the center, cabin unit first. That's how things happen when there's no real method to one's madness. Here's the grass going on, and now the sky is on as well. Now to finish the side unit. First, the grass under the porch. This was the easy part, because as long as I made the grass piece below that porch long enough, it will work. In putting on all the other pieces, I would need to worry about matching the seams between the side piece and the center one.

Before I worried about matching those seams, however, I needed to get that diagonal white piece sewed onto the background in the right place. Sewing it onto the porch unit was easy; any angle would work. Now, though, I would need to get the top angle done so as to keep the side straight. First, play around a bit...
and then start to figure out the angle. Here it is done,
and if you think I hit it right on the first time, well, I you'd be wrong. That's what the baste setting is for on a sewing machine.

The next step was the white edges to the roof. They were diagonal on the original photo of the cabin, but I was going to make them straight here. Of course, that either meant setting them in on three sides or sewing them on the top of the pine tree fabric, which is what I decided to do.

Once the white was in, then I had to put the sky on, matching the seam in the process.
I actually got that done fairly easily, but then you know what? Yeah, I didn't like the way the white stood out; I didn't like it at all. What to do? Time for frog-sewing, so called because of its "rip it, rip it" nature. How was I doing? Not too badly given that I wasn't aiming for total accuracy. I must admit that at this point I considered quitting for the day, but I decided I should go ahead and do the other, simpler side. It ended up looking pretty good, if I do say so myself. As I was taking this photograph, I was thinking that I should probably add some more grass, pine trees, and sky to the left, porch side so that the cabin is more centered. At the same time, older son looked down from upstairs to where I had the piece set out on the hardwood floor and said he thought it would look better if the blue sky fabric went down a bit into the tree fabric and didn't line up precisely with the top of the roof. He may be right; it might look better that way. Does that mean I'm going to do more frog-sewing and change it? Probably not, because I don't think it looks bad this way. I'll look at it again next time (tomorrow?), but I'm pretty sure I won't change the sky but will add a bit more to the left to center the cabin. And at that point, some borders will finish the cabin unit, the soundtrack will get livelier, and I'll put the pedal to the metal doing some liberated blocks to go around the outside. I do love it when things start to come together!