Thursday, May 26, 2011

Telluride and testicles

Last night, David and I left the girls with some close friends, got ourselves moderately gussied up, and headed out for an evening of hedonistic debauchery. Which for us means dinner and a concert. We went to Joss Cafe in downtown Annapolis, which is both our favorite restaurant and the place where we had our first date. We've probably celebrated every major event in our life together there and a lot of minor ones as well, but since we moved away from the downtown area, we haven't been able to go as often. Its a tiny place and they've crammed as many tables as possible into the space they have, and so you are usually seated right all up in someone's face, though everyone makes a heroic effort to pretend that they don't have a stranger's elbow in their miso soup. Our waiter was a guy who bussed tables when we started going there, and he remembered us, as did another waitress who had also been there that long. We even sat at the same table where we had on our first date, so the rest of the evening just descended into  pure self-indulgent nostalgia.

We were, however, saddened to see that the resident tanuki statue had been turned away from the delicate eyes of the clientele. For those who do not know, tanuki statues are found in a lot of Japanese restaurants and they are representative of a creature that is said to be a kind of shape-shifter, and is a good luck deity for restaurants. It usually has a straw hat, a bottle of sake, and GINORMOUS TESTICLES:

I do not know why it has freakishly huge balls and I'm not sure I want to know, but clearly somebody got all huffy with the management and made then turn the one in Joss so only the sushi chefs can see it now. My feeling is, if you can't take the tanuki testicles, get out of the sushi bar.

Naturally, we said to hell with our diets and stuffed ourselves silly:

And that was after a bunch of tempura and soup. David even ordered some sort of jellied bean paste thing for dessert, and then had another dessert at the show. When we go off a diet we REALLY go off a diet.

The concert was Sarah Jarosz, who is doing her current tour with a fiddle player named Alex Hargreaves and a cellist named Nathaniel Smith, and my god are they amazing. And young! I kept wanting to ask them if they wanted some juice or needed a nap.

But other than the show itself, the highlight of the evening was the couple we sat with. At this venue, Rams Head Tavern, you are seated at tables and unless you buy all the seats at your table you share with someone else, and it is always such a treat to find out what kind of wingnut you're going to be sharing your evening with. I love going to Rams Head because it's small, and even if you get a bad seat you still have a fairly good view of the stage, and you can eat and drink during the performance. You just have to be prepared to have your tablemates tell you about every single time they have seen the featured artist perform and how they have a shrine in their backyard shed and how they are going to find a way to have sex with and/or marry the aforementioned artist if they have to kill every person in the room to do it. It's even better if they are the sort who like to get up and shake their moneymaker during the peppy numbers.

Usually, though, no matter how crazy our forced partners in musical crime are, they are too much in awe of the performer to be so rude as to talk loudly during the show. And they even have a helpful announcement just before the kick-off: PLEASE DO NOT TALK DURING THE PERFORMANCE. Maybe it's just me, and my lack of imagination, but I tend to take that to mean we shouldn't talk during the performance. Since it's a small space, talking could easily disturb both the performer and the patrons, so it would make sense to just shut your yap and enjoy the show, right? No, it turns out there's an exception: Telluride.

Our new friends, Bill and I can't remember her name but she looked like that chick from Dynasty who was hooked up with Yanni, could not wait to tell us that they had seen Sarah Jarosz play at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Which, you know, yay for you, bet that was quite a show, small talk small talk small talk please let me drink my wine now. But then, once the show started, every time they began a new song, one of them would lean over to the other and say something about fucking Telluride. Then they would begin a competition to see how many times they could say "Telluride" in the course of each song. So throughout the performance, one I had been breathlessly anticipating for months, I would hear: "mumblemumblemumbleTELLURIDEmumblemumblemumbleTELLURIDE." This is what I imagined they were saying:

"She didn't play this one at TELLURIDE. But we were there. At TELLURIDE."

"You are correct about TELLURIDE. And also TELLURIDE. But let me ask you this. Were we such flaming assholes when we were at TELLURIDE?"

"At TELLURIDE? Yes, I think we managed to stun all of TELLURIDE with our magnificent assholery."

And so on.

Despite the flaming assholery, we had a great time. We ate like pigs, reminisced about our life together, listened to great music, and came home to a quiet house and two sleeping children. Our friends suggested that we make a night out a regular thing: we'll each take care of the others' kids once a month so we can go out and hobnob with the hoi polloi some more. Which I think is an excellent idea. Perhaps next time, we'll go to a movie, though my record for sitting next to horrible people at movie theaters is legendary. Stinky. Loud. Making out and feeling each other up (and down). Consumptive. I get 'em all. I can't remember the last time I went to a movie and didn't want to smack someone silly. But I'll risk it anyway if it means a few hours of having David all to myself. He's still my favorite person ever. Even if he hasn't been to TELLURIDE. And has normal-sized testicles.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pieces of paper

This weekend I dug out an old folder where I had stashed some writing that I attempted about ten or 12 years ago. We had a computer then, and a printer, but I still tended to write longhand, and the folder is mostly stuffed with pages ripped out of spiral notebooks, but there are a few printed pieces as well.

It is always a strage experience to go back and read those pieces, because I had not yet committed to the notion (though it was always there, lurking) that what I really wanted to write was humor. It kept sneaking in here and there, but I still tried to write very earnest stories, that now seem weak and immature, but which, at the time, seemed to take a gargantuan effort of sweat and mental energy.

But then there was this one piece, a letter from a man in jail to his lawyer. I had a notion that I was going to write a comic novel, entirely in the form of letters, about a small southern town. Naturally, I was heavily influenced by Garrison Keillor as well as the novelist T.R. Pearson, and one letter that never quite got finished is pretty much a sad copy of something I read in Keillor's We Are Still Married. But I did manage to come up with a character named Willard Eckert, a guy who drinks and acts up and causes trouble all over town, but who has a remarkable capacity for blaming everyone else for his indiscretions. He only got one letter, plus a small part of another, but the one that I finished is still one of my favorite things that I've ever written. When I look at that, from over ten years ago, when I was just dabbling in my free time after work, it makes me realize that I am doing exactly what I always wanted and I am grateful to see my work published six times a year. Because I truly love doing it.

I put that piece up on Drollery, which is the blog I have started for my non-quilt-related humor writing.

IN OTHER NEWS: I am a paper-piecing, badass bitch:

I have to admit that one of the most delightful things about paper piecing is that my dad simply cannot wrap his head around it. "You sew on the back? But the stitches don't show on the front? How is that possible?" This is a man who paints, builds scale models (not from kits, mind you) binds books and does pretty much anything you can think of and lots of stuff you can't. And something I can do confounds him? That's like having Einstein go, "You know I'm pretty good at this physics stuff, but your theory of infinitely diminishing fabric is just Way. Over. My. Head."

I did not quilt this at all, but only used fusible fleece to hold it together. It was just too pretty to fuck up with my spastic quilting. Even if my quilting didn't look like feral goats had done it, I'm not sure that it would have added much to it. I worked on the binding outside anytime I needed to sit out and make sure the kids didn't get run over. We live on a cul de sac and don't have much traffic, but what little traffic there is is mostly teenagers and people without kids who clearly think it is a violation of their civil rights to have to drive anything close to the speed limit in their own neighborhood. You can see their faces get red as a mom tries to coax her toddler-on-a-scooter over to the side of the road and they are forced to pause for a full five seconds before tearing into their driveway.

So, whenever my four-year-old wants to go out and ride her scooter or her Big Wheel (which she insists should be called a Small Wheel) I park a chair on the sidewalk so I can see her and any oncoming death missiles. Often, I try to read, but I don't think I have ever gotten past one page. Someone always has a question. This is the Age of Inquiry. "Mom? Can I ride my scooter? Mom? Can I put my left foot on it? Mom? Are there any cookies? Mom? What is the nature of suffering? Mom? What does it mean when you make that motion like you are wrapping something around your neck and then you yank on it and drop your head to the side with your tongue sticking out? Mom? Do spiders poop?"

I am going to hang it up somewhere in my sewing room, and then try to find another wall-hanging-type project. My sewing room walls are woefully bare, except for stuff my kids print out on the computer and tape on the walls at hip level.

Oh! And. I have decided that this will not be called Boobs and Vampires 2: Electric Boogaloo, but will instead be known as Alexander, Jr. Because it is as though this:

and this:

made sweet, sweet love and had a baby. Yes, anytime I make something I find particularly comely I will imagine that my fabric had sex with an absurdly attractive man. And then I will imagine that Einstein himself could not conceive of how I created it. And then I'll go back to imagining the sex. And then I'll..."Mom? Why does that man have his shirt off? Mom? Why do you have that funny look on your face? Mom? Do squids have ears?"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Not that hasty!

Wow. I got a lot more interest in a retreat than I was expecting, and it looks like Nashville is the big winner, followed by Maryland. Now, let me repeat what I said in the original post: this was all just speculative and I am not laying down a deposit anywhere yet. Honestly, I don't even know if I can manage to arrange it this year. I was thinking of shooting for 2012 because that would give everyone, including me, time to save up money and block off calendar time, but then again, waiting so long leaves open the very real possibility that within a year you all will have no desire to do ANYTHING that I am involved in.

As far as Nashville goes, I had discovered (and someone mentioned) a retreat place in Franklin called the Butterfly Meadows Inn that caters to quilters. I wonder if someplace like this would be better than just a hotel, since it is already set up for quilting and because we could cook our own food in the kitchen (to keep things cheaper for all of us). At the same time, having perused the website and from the knowledge gained from my research on retreats for a QH article last year, I'm wondering if the people who run the Butterfly Inn would be the sort who would ban us from ever coming back if we brought lots of alcoholic beverages, swore like sailors, and admitted out loud that some of us occasionally have sex for reasons other than procreation. How do you even approach that when calling or emailing for a quote? "Hi, I'm interested in booking a three-day retreat and, by the way, are you offended by EVERYTHING?" One assumes the nice people at the Holiday Inn Express wouldn't care, but then there could be things going on there that would offend ME. Like teenagers. I have a bad record of staying in hotels where a bunch of teenagers have decided to book a couple rooms and spend the entire night slamming the doors and running up and down the halls. And yes, I actually find that behavior more offensive than whatever they are surely doing inside the rooms. "You know what?  Get shitfaced and hump each other all you want, kids, but SLAM THAT DOOR ONE MORE TIME..."

So, I have some things to consider, and I may need to ask the advice of some seasoned retreat organizers (Marge?), and then work on transforming myself into someone who is organized and pro-active. That could be a while.

In the meantime, I have been paper piecing. Successfully. I KNOW. My sister has done the certification workshops with Judy Niemeyer and has shown me what's involved and how easy it actually is, but seeing your quilt whiz sister do it and actually putting needle to paper without someone on hand to spot you are two different things. I had found a block pattern in the new issue of Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks, but it turned out that the pattern itself, printed on one of those big fold-out sheets with all the other patterns and templates from that issue, was too big to fit on my scanner for copying. MAJOR FAIL, QUILTMAKER. If I can't make the copies at home, I'm not going to do it. I would rather stab myself in the eye than go to Kinko's or Office Depot to use one of the copy machines there. I hate having to use an unfamiliar piece of machinery in public. I'll take on anything in the privacy of my own home: Ikea furniture, computer accessories, a do-it-yourself android love slave kit. I can figure out any kind of program or software or anything else you throw at me - as long as there are not other people around. Stand me in front of a simple copy machine in the middle of a big box store sales floor, and I suddenly lose my ability to reason. I'll end up with 800 messed up copies that I can't use before I finally give up and slink out, defeated and pattern-less.

So, I looked around online and finally found the Etsy shop Piece By Number, where you can get individual patterns as PDF downloads. I got this and this. Here is what I made from the first pattern:

I'm planning to make a third block with a dark blue background and lighter blues and purples for the star, and then make a wall hanging from them. I'm going to call it Boobs and Vampires 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Design high

A few weeks ago, I was having an email chat with Jake and Melissa, the editors of Quilter's Home. In the course of this conversation, one of them - one whom I assumed at the time was high - said that they had been noticing my sewing projects and that I should consider submitting one of my "original designs" to the magazine for publication. Then the other one chimed in and said, "Hey, I was just thinking that same thing!" Maybe they were both high. Whatever the reason behind this entirely insane suggestion, it took me several minutes to stop laughing and then several more to compose a response that wasn't as harsh as, "Are you both fucking high?"

I have never designed anything that involved fabric in my life. The only reason anything of mine looks good is because photographs hide all the mistakes. Sure, I want to eventually design a quilt, but that's like the guy who plays Man On Toilet in some cheap b-movie saying, "Eventually, I want to direct." Oh, he might direct something someday, but he'll use his cousin's old VHS camcorder to film it and it will be about boobs and vampires. If I were to attempt an original quilt design, odds are it would be the fiber version of boobs and vampires.

Then this weekend, I got a package from Jake. First, there was this utterly appropriate Mother's Day card:

and then this lovely quilt-themed bracelet:

and this mini-pack of charm squares:

There was a card with the charm squares that said "just because I like to see what you do with this stuff!" So that, combined with that weird email suggestion, made me think that I had better come up with something "original" for the charm squares. 

After trolling the internet, searching for inspiration, I decided that the best way to make use of 24 different squares of fabric was to applique some shit on them. Not that I've done much applique beyond circles. I can applique the living hell out of a circle. Watch: gimme a circle. BAM! Appliqued that fucker. I have not gotten much farther in the bird applique project I showed you a few weeks ago, mainly because it is so boring to starch and fold over all those edges, I tend to nod off while I'm doing it and I'm risking a big Clover mini-iron-shaped scar on my face. 

I know that folded-edge applique is not the only method and since I decided that for this project I wanted to applique letters, it was time to dig out the Heat-n-Bond and do some fusible...applique. I need another word for applique. Since this is my first "original" project and I have decided to call it "Boobs and Vampires," I shall now henceforth use the word "boobs" as a synonym for applique and the word "vampires" as a synonym for free motion quilting. 

I was not content to just fuse the letters onto the fabric and be done with it. No, I felt the letters needed some definition and I didn't want the edges to start peeling and fraying, so I did a satin stitch around the edge. I did this even though I had no idea what the hell I was doing and had to stop every few stitches to renew my will to live:

You can see there are places where I didn't completely cover the edge of the fabric, and I still can't figure out how to do those sharp inside points, but from several feet away its not bad and I definitely improved over the course of all seven letters. The same cannot be said for my quilting, however.

I also had the brilliant idea to try a different vampire design around each letter. Naturally, I went over to Leah Day's site, The Vampire Project, and looked up all the beginner designs that I thought I could handle and that would work around a bunch of letter boobs. However, I didn't want the vampires to show, because it would compete with the boobs, so I used an ecru thread. It turns out that if you cannot see the vampires, you cannot really do the vampires. At least not well.

This was supposed to be stippling:

Wandering Clover:

Echo quilting:


I don't know what this is. Some sort of vine?

This was gonna be like flames or something. I dunno. Some of them look a bit like penises, though:

And this was supposed to be Sharp Stippling:

Despite how awful the vampires are, I'm kind of proud of the boobs and of the whole project in general. Here is the entire thing, on my front door where it will live for a while:

So, there you have it. My first truly original design, which I am calling - say it with me - Boobs and Vampires. Thanks to Jake, for the fabric, and to Jake and Melissa for their unflagging belief that I am not a total screw-up. Now on to my next project, which I plan to call Cocks and Cthulhu.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A hasty retreat

Two days ago, a couple people who were participating in the latest Facebook folderol brought up the idea of a retreat. I have often fantasized about having some sort of regular, organized retreat for those of us who, you know, like to sew and drink and laugh and hurl scatological epithets at our machines when we accidentally sew over our own elbows.

Now, keep in mind that I'm not saying that I will immediately start booking rooms in a Best Western somewhere, but I would like to just feel you all out and see how much interest there might be in a Bitchy Stitcher quilting retreat. I live in Maryland, but could conceivably drive to Pennsylvania or a number of other states. Nashville could be interesting, since I could pressure my sister into participating and she would cancel out my incompetence with her awesomeness. Plus, we might be able to organize a class at the shop where she works.

As I say, this is all just speculative, but I would like to get a sense of whether it is just those two who would be interested, or if maybe there is a simmering desire among the readership to travel an absurd distance to sew with complete strangers while calling each other ho-bags and playing Pin The Penis On the Ironing Board Cover.

You can weigh in here or on FB, but be honest. Don't be all, "I would cut of my left arm to come on a retreat with you" if you know deep in your heart you wouldn't really. Personally, I'm so anti-social that probably the only way I ever would go on a retreat is if I organized the damn thing myself and had at least a marginal acquaintance with most of the people there. So clearly you all are my only hope. No pressure, though.