a little brag

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Just popping back in for the tiniest of brags.

You guys!

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This picture doesn’t nearly do this quilt top justice. (I have a feeling I’ll struggle with finished-quilt photos this time.) I wrestled my Penny Sampler blocks into a top, and boy howdy! What a thing of gorgeousness.

This almost languished forever in a WIP pile, btw. Rachel’s deadline for our class is 12/15. (Of course, she is really kindly making the pattern available for those who are behind to purchase, but I really wanted this to be done-zo.) I got stuck on the paper-piecing.

Really, truly, I hate paper-piecing. I just don’t do it. I don’t get in that good “we’re working, we’re working” zone that you get into when you’re sewing and really getting things done. There’s so much start-stop, so much frustration, so much agony. The cuteness of the finished block *almost* makes up for these moments, but for me, never quite. I’m a piecer, friends. I’d do a million Ribbon Stars and be in my element. I really respect those of you who do such beautiful paper-piecing, because I know what a struggle I find it to be!

It goes *almost* without saying, but I’m going to handquilt this. I’ve tried to think of a way around the slowness of handquilting (can I straight-line quilt it? Mark Baptist fans on it? do different FMQ designs?) but a quilt like this just really needs to be handquilted.

It’s Christmas time so I’ve only disappeared because I’ve caught my annual birthday crud (this year, in the form of a nasty cold that Lucy had for a day and I had for a week, and am still working to shake off). I’ll be back this week with some Elf-ing I’m doing, and some enlightenment about Christmas gifting I’d like to share. I can’t wait to visit my blog feed and see what you’ve all been up to!

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p/lucky bees and rainbows (two finished knits)

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I’m not sure where I read this: Ravelry? The Plucky board?

But I quoted it to my husband last week: “It is high holy knitting season.”

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When I am not buying yarn (mostly I am not buying yarn I promise), I am drooling and dreaming and scheming about how I can get SQ’s (“sweater quantities,” to you fabric people). When I wake up, I knit a few rows with my coffee, to help my feet find the ground more steadily.

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I started this shawl, from the Bees to Honey pattern by Amy Miller, a few weeks ago, but it’s been in the works for much longer. Back in September, I treated myself to a single skein of Plucky Bello Fingering–a fingering weight yarn that is 55% merino, and a whopping 45% cashmere. I chose my old standby favorite, gray.

A few weeks later, offhandedly, I mentioned on the Plucky Ravelry board that I had the Gris but really what I wanted was Miss Manners, the super-duper bright pink. A women who I don’t even know private-messaged me that very night, offering to sell me her skein of the bright pink. She said it was too bright for her! Nothing ever is too bright for me, so I eagerly sent her some Paypal funds.

And then! Another woman on the Plucky board who I don’t know offered her “extra” copies of the Bees to Honey pattern (she had purchased several kits) as gifts on the destash board. She gifted me the pattern. Without any planning, I had bumbled into the materials I needed for this shawl. (Materials that are actually very difficult to bumble into, seeing as how the last time Bello Fingering was offered for sale, it sold out in about 30 seconds.)

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My luck held as I knit the pattern–many folks found they were running out of the main color of yarn before they finished the body of the shawl. I had a nub left over–enough for several more rows.

I’ll skip the part where I ripped out the lace portion TWICE because I kept fudging it up, and refer you to the first photo in this post–that is swoon-worthy lace, dearies. (And you can’t feel it because it’s a photo, but: 45% cashmere.)

I’m wearing the shawl right now and I can already tell it’s going to be one of my favorite knits of all time.

Less favorite: Lucy’s rainbow hat. Oy. It has turned cold in earnest this week, and in addition to refusing a hat, Lucy is now refusing to wear her winter coat. She’s 2.5, so I kind of feel like…she just needs to do it. At any rate, I did the good-mom thing and knitted the rainbow hat, as requested:

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I used Jane Richmond’s Renfrew hat pattern, and Tosh Feather, a light fingering-weight single-ply merino-alpaca blend yarn, held double. I also used a size 5 needle to make the hat Lucy-head-sized. With all the fudgery, I’m surprised it came out–but it did!

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There is a cute little faux-cable pattern on the right side of Lucy’s head–the variegated yarn hides the pattern here–it looks tricky. Oh, it is so not. I knit this hat in two days flat and I wasn’t even really working on it. Renfrew is a fun pattern I’ll definitely use again!

So, how are you dealing with the wintery weather? Are you dreaming of cashmere-y knits, shawls, and cabled hats? Or stitching up a few extra quilts (maybe minky-backed)?

Happy Thanksgiving to you all! I hope there is some sewing-machine time in it for you all.

finished: phoenix twin quilts i and ii

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I looked back at this post and realized I’ve been working on these quilts since August.

Really, I had lost track of time.

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These quilts pushed me as a quilter. I started with a tiny idea, for some paper-pieced improv chevron blocks. I pulled some fabric; my friends and I changed our minds; I puttered and thought and hemmed and hawed. I don’t usually make quilts without patterns, you see, and starting these was a creative free-fall.

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What if I ran out of fabric? Chicopee is still fairly easy to find but…what if it stopped being easy to find, right at the wrong moment? What if the block design was splitty and unstable? What if it all just looked like crap? What if I couldn’t finish them on time? What if I didn’t make them big enough? (I’m still a little nervous on that count. These suckers shrank big-time when I washed them, so they’re cutting it close width-wise.)

And then the even more insidious worries, like, what if I think I’m being creative and original and really I just saw something like this on the internet, forgot, and then regurgitated it. What if my friends say they like them and really, they don’t.

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So, to me, these quilts have ended up being about me as a creator. About pushing aside those evil voices that nag at you when you’re working–voices that sometimes make you put down your work in discouragement.

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I’ll be pleased to make a couple of quilts from patterns as my “next things,” but these have taught me that I can make something wild and beautiful that comes out of my own head. I can trust myself to do the quilt math, and make all the blocks, and do 20 hours of straight-line quilting, and produce quilted work that I’m very proud of.

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I’ll be mailing my big babies off on Monday, to make my friends’ home a little warmer for Thanksgiving guests. I couldn’t be gladder that I took on this challenge–and I couldn’t be prouder of the results.

for love

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Like a swimmer poking her head above the surface just for a moment, to gulp the air

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here I am.

The Phoenix Twin quilts will be done tonight. I have to get them done by tomorrow so I can photograph them with Nate’s help (we’re a little stumped about how to photograph two huge quilts together) and get them mailed to Phoenix on Monday or Tuesday.

The straight-line quilting is quite time-consuming, and possibly the most boring sewing ever. It had to be done this way, though. I can’t imagine these quilts without this added level of rich, quilted texture. And, as it turns out, I really love the friends who will receive these quilts.

As fulfilling as I’ve found this project, I am ready to have it it out of my hair.

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Funny, “Outta My Hair” is the colorway name of the yarn I’m using to (slowly) knit my husband’s requested socks. I’m using the free-on-Ravelry pattern Porthos. The yarn is Plucky Feet in the club colorway Outta My Hair (which I have had to beg for THREE TIMES on Ravelry, a fact I don’t think my husband truly appreciates). (Does he think the yarn just SHOWS UP in the mailbox, eh?)

I told him that only someone who really loves him would knit socks this huge, and turn a heel TWICE for him.

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I’m finding that my knitting energy keeps getting redirected though; yesterday, I took Lucy to the park and she flatly refused to put her fleece North Face hat on. It was 40 degrees, and I told her she had to a) wear her hat, b) wear her hood, or c) get back in the green car and go home. She chose her choice: go home. Rather than wear the hat. That’s my stubborn kid.

On the way home I asked her, “why wouldn’t you wear the hat? It’s a NICE HAT.” Quietly, stubbornly, she said, “No it’s not.” What kind of hat will she wear? “A rainbow hat.” I’m making some mods to Jane Richmond’s Renfrew pattern, and holding double some rainbow-y Tosh Feather, and hope to have a hat to keep away the ear infections by tomorrow.

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By far, though, the project that took the most love to get through was this little home-dec project I did for a friend. She bought two chairs off Craigslist and the chairs came with black pleather cushions. She didn’t like the black, so she did a Sherry-and-Jon-Petersik and spray-painted them red. But the paint ruined the texture and made the cushions smell. She would never have asked me outright to make the cushion covers, but I offered, because I knew she’d pay through the nose for custom covers on this easy little job.

She chose a poly jacquard home dec fabric from fabric.com, 3 yards. I used this tutorial on Sew Mama Sew by creative little daisy and made these two piped cushions. By far, the worst part was working with the fabric. The day after I started the project Lucy pulled a clump of greenish poly fuzz from her mouth, clearly aftermath from the cushions, and I almost barfed. But I stuck it out, and finished them. They’re not perfect, but they’re full of love.

I’ll be back VERY SOON with beauty photos of these two big quilts. Believe me–you want to see them. 🙂

bloggers’ quilt festival II: ocean waves quilt

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The irony of entering a quilt into the Quilt Photographers category of the Blogger’s Quilt Festival does not at all escape me.DSC07868

When I switch my camera to Manual, I don’t get pictures. The end. Just this summer I started taking photos using Aperture Priority mode (and these past two weeks something is going wrong and I don’t know how to fix it aaaaack)

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But this year I’ve made real progress in photographing my finished quilts. I’m getting better at staging them (these photos were taken at Crane Beach in Ipswich MA; *sniff sniff* our “local” beach) (please don’t hate me)DSC07881

and I’m just getting better at them in general. I’m now consistently able to take photographs of a finished quilt that I can be proud of.DSC07883

I’ve also learned the valuable lesson that a quilt isn’t finished until you’ve photographed it. The dryer moment is nice, sure. But what’s nicer? The first kind person who “favorites” your photo on Flickr. Quilting is, in the end, about sharing. If you quilt and don’t photograph your work to share on the internet (Flickr, Instagram, a blog)DSC07887

PLEASE reconsider. I promise your quilts are beautiful, and you should be sharing them with all of us, so that we can tell you how gorgeous they are.

This Ocean Waves quilt was made using the pattern from Denyse Schmidt’s book Modern Quilts Traditional Inspiration but with modifications to block size and number of blocks. I used leftover HSTs from my X-plus quilt to make the blocks, orange scraps from my stash to make the back, scraps from my first Washi Dress to make the binding, and even batting scraps for the batting. A 100% satisfying 100% scrap quilt.

Head over to the Quilt Photographers category and check out the other great quilts (and great quilt photos)!

bloggers’ quilt festival: roy g. zig quilt

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SONY DSCWhen I read on Facebook that Peg at Sew Fresh Fabrics is sponsoring the prize for the Favorite ROYGBIV Quilt category of Blogger’s Quilt Festival at Amy’s Creative Side, I knew it was time to submit my very first entry.

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I made this quilt using Rachel at Stitched in Color’s Ziggy Strings tutorial, which she wrote for this past spring’s Scrap Attack Festival of Strings event. I sorted my mountain of string scraps into color order and sketched this quilt out.

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Most of you already know this quilt won the big prize at the Festival of Strings: a roll of Warm and Natural batting. (Quilts for a year, ya’ll.)

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But what I don’t talk about so much is that I started this quilt the morning after the Boston Marathon bombing in April.

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Lost for a way to react to the scary things going on in my city, I turned to quilting.

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and making something beautiful did make me feel a whole lot better. The rainbow is appropriate for Boston, too; Massachusetts was the first state to allow any of its residents to marry, regardless of sexual orientation, and I *did* finish the quilt during Pride Week. (Also a little-known fact: my husband and I chose to be legally married at Boston City Hall before our TN wedding so that we could have an MA marriage certificate.)

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This quilt is my proudest and my best quilt of 2013 (heh so far!) and I’m so glad for the Blogger’s Quilt Festival and the chance it provides for us to look back over our year of work and think about which are our “best” quilts. Hop on over to the ROYGBIV category and check out all the fabulous quilts shown there!

november grace circle block: stitching and bacon’s stars align

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November is my first month as Quilter in the Grace circle of do.Good stitches!

I joined the Grace circle at the end of July. I did July’s blocks a bit late, but have been on track and sewing with the group since August. I’m thrilled and honored to be sewing with the Grace ladies. They do some seriously amazing work.

I’ve got some high standards to live up to, so I’m turning to an expert: the smart and talented Sarah of Stitching and Bacon. Sarah is a dear blog friend and I pretty much love every quilt she makes, in a “you’d better lock your doors because I WILL steal that” kind of way.

I felt very much like I wanted to steal her Stars Align quilt this past winter. I can’t get her quilt out of my head! I love the limited color palette she used, and all of the secondary between-block designs created by the skinny-skinny sashing used within the block.

So, Grace girls, we’ll be using Sarah’s Stars Align tutorial to make our November blocks.

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Inspired by Sarah’s quilt, I’ve chosen a limited palette for our blocks. Think winter, think frost, think ice. (I’ll be assembling this quilt in late December or January; definitely an icy time of year in Massachusetts!)

For the “background” of the blocks, please use a black, blue, or aqua-on-white, “low-volume” print (stack left, in the photo above) (A white solid is also ok if that’s what you’ve got in your stash.)

For colors A and B of the blocks, please use medium grey and mid-true blue and aqua to light blue and aqua.

For the lattice lines of the blocks (where Sarah has used white), please use dark charcoal to black fabrics (I think dark navy would also work).

I’m a prints girl, so I cut all prints. I know we have some solids folks in our circle, so feel free to use solids for 1 or 2 areas of each block, but I’d rather not have all-solids blocks for this one.

Here’s my pile of cut fabrics for each block. One tip as you’re cutting: go ahead and cut two 1.5” x WOF strips for the lattice lines. Just do it. You need 60” of that sashing, and you’ll get grouchy if you re-file your fabrics and then have to dig them back out (ask me how I know. I am officially a math genius for figuring that 28” + 14” + 15” somehow = 40”). (No I know now that I’m wrong.)

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And my two finished blocks, which I whipped up in an afternoon. The blocks finish at 13.5” square, and we’ll have a 4 x 5 layout for a 52”x65” quilt. Not bad at all!

photo-3Let me know if you have questions. Can’t wait to see these start popping up in our Flickr group!

improv chevron blocks

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Here, as promised, is your non-tutorial on how I did the center blocks in my Phoenix Twin quilt (there is a photo at the end of this post).

I’m fairly sure I’ve seen these blocks around the internet so I don’t think I’m doing anything particularly original here. But I don’t know exactly where to send you to show you how to do them, so find out here!

(Sidenote: RESPECT to you guys who write tutorials all the time. Just the photos and then the subsequent light photo editing about did me in.)

OK. Here’s the block you’re aiming at:

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Take a minute and look. It’s got a little “center” bit on the right hand side; then there are wonky chevrons growing up, and then just wonky strips at the top. You can do this!

Step 1: cut your paper to size. I made my blocks 8.5” x 13.5” unfinished (they finish to 8” x 13”) so I trimmed down legal size paper (8.5” x 14”). You can make these blocks whatever size you want! I’ve made these three blocks the same way, and they are all different sizes. Just remember to add .5” to your desired finished block size, and trim away. (A note: I happen to think these are cooler as elongated rectangles. But they’re also pretty cool as squares.)

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(I used a dull rotary cutter blade to cut off my .5” strip! Awesome!)

Step 2: Draw chevrons. With a ruler and a pencil, draw chevrons rising from one corner of your paper. Remember that your “corner” is going to end up on the opposite side of your drawing; so, if you’re drawing a corner on the right-hand side of your paper, the corner will be in the left-hand side of your block. Because you piece on the other side of the paper.

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Steps 3 and 4: Extend the “top” horizontal-ish lines on the left to touch the vertical lines (see photo below). Number your pieces for paper-piecing. After you do one of these blocks you won’t need to number anymore. I remind myself that short goes first. (So that you can extend the seam line when you sew on the left, long piece and anchor the top of your short piece to the paper.)

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Step 5: Cut your fabric. Remember to oversize the fabric you think you need by at least .75” – 1”. I drew my chevron strips to be about 1.5”-2.75” wide. So I cut strips of fabric that were 2.5”-3.5” wide. (Most, I found, I cut 2.75” wide.) For this block don’t bother trying to cut length. Just cut a strip from your FQ or half-yard or whatever. You can trim off the excess strip length after you’ve pieced on your strip and then use it to piece the second half of the chevron.

I found that my little “center” bits often needed to be 3.5” wide. The little centers are also great for using up little scrap ends!

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Step 6: Paper-piece. Go! I’m no paper-piecing expert. My tips begin and end at: use a tiny dab of glue stick to hold down your #1 piece aaaand that’s pretty much it. If you don’t “do” paper-piecing yet, check out Faith at Fresh Lemons’s post about the method (this is the post I learned from, ya’ll). Recently, Michelle wrote up a great handful of tips about the things she’s learned while paper-piecing, and it’s worth a look as well!

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For this particular block, the trick is to make sure that the top of the fabric you’re sewing on extends above the point of the chevron segment by at least 1/4”. See above? My Duet Dot strip is lined up so that it will flip over to cover the top point of the #2 segment by about 1/4”.

(The beauty of the improv method is that if you screw this up and your fabric is short in any way, look what you can do:

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you can redraw your paper-piecing lines to fit your fabric. Yay for less seam-ripping.)

Step 7: Trim. Flip your paper back from your seam and trim off excess fabric (use your ruler to create a 1/4” seam allowance), then press the new seam with a dry iron and use the paper as a guide to trim off the excess fabric outside the rectangle.

Step 8: Repeat as needed until your chevrons are all pieced.

and voila

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block.

Basically, if you’ve paper-pieced before, all you need to know is that you can draw the lines with a ruler and a pencil. (I have to thank Charlotte at Displacement Activity for showing us all we can do this; I have probably also seen other people mark paper-pieced patterns with pencil.) With really careful color planning, you can do really fabulous things with layout.

Let me know if you try it! And let me know if I can help or clarify anything.

what’s happening

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Oh, hello, two weeks that went by without a blog post. I’ve been ever so busy, in the best possible way!

I realized Christmas is coming. And so soon! So I went bats for hats.

I knit two gorgeous hats:

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These are the Lowbrow Hat pattern. The lace pattern might look special, but is ever-so-easy to knit. I felt like a genius when I quickly memorized the lace pattern and didn’t mess it up at all. The blue hat is Plucky Primo Aran in Outta My Hair; the green is Tosh Chunky in Thoreau. (I think this is the IDEAL pattern for a lonely skein of Tosh Chunky, if one happens to have one languishing.)

I also knit a hat dud.

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Purl Soho’s Chunky Cabled Hat, knit up in some heathen stash acrylic yarn. This might have turned out better had I ponied up the bucks for the gorgeous-looking Super Soft Merino, which undoubtedly has better drape. As it is I looked like Marge Simpson. I’m considering: trying to shrink the hat in the washing machine, adding a pompom (go bit or go home amirite), or giving it to one of my more-stylish younger sisters who seem to wear everything fabulously. I will not be frogging back or futzing with it in any way that requires real effort.

I made a Super Tote, too! I don’t have much to say about this pattern that others haven’t already said; that Noodlehead knows how to write a pattern. I will say that if you choose Essex Linen for your exterior gusset, DO choose to interface it. I did not, and the gusset is a little floppy for my taste.

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I went to a Victoria Findlay Wolfe lecture hosted by my guild last Friday. (I wrote a little writeup of the lecture over at my guild’s blog.) You guys? I think Victoria Findlay Wolfe is a genius. Her lecture was luminous and inspiring; her quilts even more so. I’m still working out what to think about what she had to say (there’s always more fabric! cut it up and use it; never make the same quilt twice, try something new every time; make the quilt you said you would never make; if it’s not working cut it up; challenge yourself by using the fabric you think you hate) but I know that 100% of what she said is true.

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I also worked hard at soaking up every last bit of fall sunshine before we fall into the cycle of 6 hours of grey daylight every day all five months of winter.

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Oh, and I finished a little quilt top. No big deal.

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Yes, this is the first of the two twin quilts I’m making for my friends living in Phoenix (so I’m calling them the Phoenix Twins). I started the second one today and I can tell it’s going to go very quickly. I’ve worked all the drama out of my system on the first one. I’m quite pleased with how this top turned out.

I’ve had a couple of questions about how I made the center blocks for this quilt. I took a few process photos today and will post a little behind-the-scenes tomorrow. You don’t need a tutorial, for goodness’ sake. They are just improv-pieced on a paper foundation (and I owe a lot to Rachel’s Ziggy Strings tutorial for helping me get here). Check back to see how it’s done!

insta-Sunday

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(You guys are all the best. Thank you to everyone who commented and emailed with encouraging words after my last post. I am looking forward to thanking each of you individually over the next day or so!)

This post is supposed to be wordless, but this English major just can’t shut up. Beth’s Quilt Photography Workshop for the month of October asks us to communicate carefully using photographs instead of words. I’ve dragged my heels (“this is so much thinking” “this is so haaaaaaard” “I have to really WORK on this”) and gotten out my camera several times to take some really unsatisfying flops of photos (geez maybe somebody ought to comb my kid’s hair once in awhile), only to realize that

EVERY TIME we take a cell phone snap or Instagram something, we’re doing exactly what Beth is asking us to do. We’re using a photo to speak better than words could. So now I’ll shut up and share some of my most favorite iPhone/Instagram photos that I think work to SAY something about my sewing or my life.

20131006-144012.jpgFrustration!

20131006-144027.jpgRelaxing

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20131006-144255.jpgFavorites (yes, Plucky) (“sorry for the chat”)

20131006-144317.jpgInspiration

20131006-144454.jpgMy Sewing Process

20131006-144510.jpgFuture and/or Goals

20131006-144415.jpgA Typical Day

20131006-144112.jpgThings That Make Me Smile

If this is cheating please feel free to throw rotten fruit boo hiss etc. But I really just have to point out that even if you think you’re not speaking with your photographs, probably you are, every day (or at least every time you Instagram). I encourage you to flip through your cell phone/Instagram takes and think about what you’re trying to say with each photo! Many of us are photographers many times a day; while I agree that we should strive towards increased DSLR use, sometimes…we gotta work with what we got.

Linking up, of course, with The Plum and June Quilt Photography Workshop