Saturday, December 24, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Full House

I love it when my kids have their friends over. The bustle and joking are contagious, and young people have an appealing energy. Last night my son Alex (in the white t-shirt) had his bandmates and another friend over. They played music in the garage, ate an enormous amount of food, then went to hang out at another friend's for awhile. When they came back, they were hungry AGAIN.

This is my daughter Allie and her new boyfriend Roger. Aren't they cute? She had just gotten out of the shower, so she thinks she looks terrible in this photo. I think they're both adorable. Later in the evening two of Allie's girlfriends came over and spent the night and Roger went home.


I had seven teenagers here overnight. The boys slept in the garage, which they thought was a big adventure. When they wake up they're going to want to eat again.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Freaking Cold



We're heading toward the Dead of Winter here, which means that it's pitch dark when I get up in the morning, and this last week it was also foggy and freezing. I actually heard a new term on the radio weather forecast: freezing fog. Lord, I live in a climate with Freezing Fog! What next? Today it resumed the normal Raining All the Time mode, so it shouldn't be so cold. I'm so looking forward to the kids being on school vacation this week, it just seems cruel to get them up in the cold dark mornings.

I'm trying to wrap up the semester's work, so far unsuccessfully. I have to turn in grades by midnight on Tuesday, which means that I'll have 4 whole days to get ready for Christmas. It wasn't always so inhumane. At one time we turned in Fall grades after New Years, but somehow, in spite of the fact that everything is done on the computer, the deadlines have been moved up. This means that I still have no Christmas tree, but I hope to get one tomorrow.

I've also celebrated my birthday since my last post. My kids paid for me to get a second piercing in each earlobe, so now I can wear two pairs of earrings at the same time. I must've been one of the last women in California with only one hole in each ear, but now I'm one of the crowd. And Michael surprised me with an unexpected gift: a scanner. Can you believe it? I never would've thought to even ask for one, and now my brain is spinning with the possible projects. What a guy!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

(More) Recycled Work

Allison (sorry I couldn't get the link to work, but there's a link in the index to the right) posted about finding a 19th century unfinished crazy quilt that she wants to use as a foundation for her own work. I replied about a similar project of my own, a set of Dresden Plates that I washed, mended and appliqued down onto blocks, which I then made into a quilt. Here are some photos of the finished quilt.

This is a shot of the whole quilt. I've had it hanging in my bedroom for a couple of months. I've got to take it down soon, as I've noticed that it's started to get wavy. I didn't use the sleeve, which would probably be a better choice.

My theory about this quilt is that the blocks were made by two quilters. This first photo shows an example of the blocks which were made by the more proficient quilter. The stitches were incredibly regular, the fabric looks like 30s feedsack, and the blocks are uniform in their construction.

The other blocks have looser, less regular stitching. The Plates have random numbers of sections, so the sizes are different than the other blocks. These blocks also have repeated fabrics, (which the others don't) and some of the fabrics are of looser weave. I think perhaps these were cut from clothing, or were made from clothing fabrics. These blocks may have been made later than the first, since they don't adhere strictly to a 30's feedsack palette.

The story I tell myself about these blocks is that the less proficient quilter was the daughter or other relative of the expert quilter, and that she wanted, for sentimental reasons, to finish the unfinished project of the expert quilter. I tell myself that she chose the poorer quality fabrics perhaps not only because she was inexperienced, but also because these fabrics were sentimental--perhaps they were from the clothing of the other woman.

I was so moved by the story I "read" in these blocks that I wanted to put them together. I decided to hand quilt this quilt since the blocks were constructed by hand. Since I was going to hand quilt, I wanted my work to show, so I used embroidery floss in those 30's colors. This was my artistic contribution to this collaboration.


I have an strong attraction to these kinds of projects. I'll post soon about the 1930s quilt kit with one block made that I've got stashed away. Maybe I like the idea that all those UFOs are not destined to some eternal limbo. Someone will come along who understands the investment of love and time that is in these works. These projects speak to those of us who start them, but they can also be understood by others who also appreciate their allure. That's my theory anyway.

Oh, and here's my new haircut. Gosh, but this is a great angle for a photo--absolutely no neck sag or jowls in the picture.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Rag Bag Christmas Quilt


I'm learning a lot about my process through writing this blog. One thing that I'm more conscious of now is that I really seek the serendipitous in my work. My best kind of inspiration is running across something accidentally, especially "found" fabric. I found the fabric for this quilt in the Christmas section of the thrift store. Now I never would go out and buy Christmas fabric deliberately to make a Christmas quilt--for some reason, that doesn't appeal to me at all. But finding scraps of Christmas fabric in the thrift store is like a challenge to me. So I made this little quilt, and on my new machine the whole process was such a joy. The whole experience made me happy as a clam, and I got a quilt for my kitchen table in the bargain.

Here's last year's Christmas quilt, which I made the same way. Hmm...I guess I'm seeing a pattern here...or maybe, it's a style (?)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

A couple of weeks ago Debra posted in her blog about how she's inherited a kitchen full of things that she didn't especially care for, but that she couldn't get rid of. I offered her a challenge: that if she would replace a few of her kitchen things with items she liked, I would replace my twenty-year old collection of mismatched flatware with the "good" flatware I've got put away. Well, Debra, good sport that she is, rose to the challenge and bought a nice selection of new dishes. On Thanksgiving, I upheld my part of the bargain.

Here's a shot of my "before" flatware drawer. I started with a nice set of stainless that I picked out in the mid-80s, but that is now seriously missing forks. I also filled in over the years with some cheap plastic-handled pieces that are very flimsy.



And here's my "after" drawer. I don't know why I've "saved" these for special occasions. They are beautiful and heavy. I love the bamboo-shaped handles, but I bought them at Montgomery Ward on clearance! Sheesh, it's not like they were expensive. I remember when I went to pay, the cashier said, "we had that HERE?"



This picture looks pink because I was wearing a pink sweater when I took the photo. I originally kept all the knives and the dinner forks from the old set, but on second thought, I just kept the steak knives and the remaining dinner forks. Michael took the rest to the homeless shelter for me.

How nice to enjoy the things I have, and how foolish to save nice things only for rare special occasions. Everyday is special now in my kitchen. Next, I'm going to clean out my serving utensils...

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Morning Meditations


Here's a photo of Michael doing his morning meditation on my back porch. My cat Cleo, aka "Fatty" is doing her's too.

I've also been tagged by Allison, so here's my meme:

1.Three screen names that you've had:
I usually use some variation of my first name and last name initials: barbarac, or barbarabc. When I set up this blog, I chose xicanartista, which is a condensed version of “Chicana artista”—in Spanish the X and the Ch are sometimes interchangeable.
2. Three things you like about yourself:
I work hard, I have nice hands, I have style.
3.Three things you don't like about yourself:
I like to be the boss, I’m stubborn, I can never remember people’s names.
4.Three parts of your heritage:
Mexican on my mom’s side, Mexican and Anglo on my dad’s side. I come from a tradition of working women.
5. Three things that scare you:
cruelty, intolerance, natural disasters.
6. Three of your everyday essentials:
Soy milk lattes that I make myself, even a half hour of creative time, down time.
7. Three things you are wearing right now:
fleece lined clog slippers, Victoria’s Secret spring green thermal p.j.’s (a gift from my friend Bernadette—I guess they make “sensible” things too), my son’s fleece robe.
8. Three of your favorite songs:
Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology);” Carlos Santana’s “Black Magic Woman;” Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me,” with the great lyrics:” She’s got everything she needs,/ She’s an artist, she don’t look back./ She can take the dark out of the nighttime/ And paint the daytime black.”
9. Three things you want in a relationship:
growth, joy, good conversation.
10. Two truths and a lie:
I’m a vegetarian, I juggle, I love to walk.
11. Three things you can't live without:
My family, acceptance of the way things are, creativity.
12. Three places you want to go on vacation:
Puerto Vallarta (again), Hawaii, Timbuktu.
13. Three things you just can't do:
smoke, be disloyal, pay full price.
14. Three kids' names:
My daughter’s name is Maria Allegra, the Maria part is for my mom and grandmother, though she goes by Allie. Another name I considered for her is Miranda. My son is Alejandro Julian, and although he is Alex to us, he does introduce himself to people as Alejandro. We almost took him home from the hospital unnamed we were in such a quandary over his name.
15. Three things you want to do before you die:
Have mature relationships with my kids, marry Michael my honey, live in an eco-friendly house on a small farm.
16. Three celeb crushes:
Al Pacino in The Godfather, Chow Yun-Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Benjamin Bratt in anything.
17. Three of your favorite musicians:
Gillian Welch, I have a weakness for bluegrass and folk music; Chavela Vargas, the classic Mexican ranchera singer, Ruben Blades, the salsa composer and singer.
18. Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeal to you:
a direct gaze, a nice smile, a sense of humor.
19. Three of your favorite hobbies:
making art, knitting, finding new and creative uses for old stuff.
20. Three things you really want to do badly right now:
I’ll agree with Allison on the hot tub, I wish I had one too, though I could go to the gym for a soak. I’d like some toasted French bread with butter. A nice walk in the fog would be good too.
21. Three careers you're considering/you've considered:
I’ve worked since I was 14, so for me a new career would be retirement, so I think about that regularly. Fantasy careers include: professional chef, and textile designer.
22. Three ways that you are stereotypically a boy:
It’s hard to think of a “male” quality that isn’t also a “female” quality, but I can take charge, lift heavy items, and take the initiative.
23. Three ways that you are stereotypically a girl:
I cook, I like a clean house, I’m nurturing.
24. Three people that I would like to see post this meme:
I’m not sure who hasn’t been tagged yet. I’d say if this looks fun to you, dive in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Office Space




I have a very nice office for a public employee. I work in a vintage building that was constructed in 1916 or so as a regional teacher's college. The best part is the lovely view of the courtyard. In the spring there are flowering lilacs outside the window, and I can always see some redwood trees in the distance. I usually don't spend much time gazing out the window, however. Usually I'm fighting with my obsolete Mac, or talking to students, or madly trying to get ready for a class. But good vistas are a blessing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005



When Debra recently posted about her new sewing machine it coincided with my own thoughts about taking the leap into the 21st century with my equipment. For ten years I’ve been sewing on my trusty 1970s Viking, which I bought used, and which has served me well ever since. The only other machines I’ve added to my collection since I became a quilter is my Featherweight and my Singer 301, both wonderful machines, but which don’t have any modern features. My Viking recently stopped zig-zagging, and the needle down function has been unreliable for some time. I sew almost every day, so I began to think very seriously about a new machine, and when I took the old Viking to be serviced, and when I added up the repair costs, I decided to take the leap and buy a Janome 6500.

Now, the new machine and I are in our honeymoon phase. I’m learning to thread it and wind the bobbin, and I’m making a sampler with all of the wonderful embroidery stitches. This machine has and automatic needle threader—how did I every live without this? And I’ll tell you that the hands-down best feature so far is the thread cutter—you push a button, and it cuts the thread the perfect length, no more cutting too short and having to re-thread the needle.

I feel like buying this machine is both a great luxury and one step in taking my artwork seriously. I brought my Viking home—the shop wouldn’t take it in trade. We spent many many hours together on this creative journey, and it has earned its retirement.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


I've long been interested in the idea of using home dec fabric for quilting. There are a range of fabrics available that can coordinate with one's decor, and the choices are different than what one can find in quilting fabric lines. Many home dec fabrics are 100% cotton, though of course there are blends and wonderful natural fabrics.

Because I am cheap, the discontinued sample books of home dec fabrics have attracted my attention. You get a big variety of coordinated fabrics, and I keep running across them in thrift stores. I've found collections by well-known designers with just enough of a fabric sample to do something quilty.




The quilt I'm showing you was made with a couple of sample books and with conventional cotton fabric. When I got the sample books I pried them apart with a flat screwdriver. They are held together with heavy duty staples, but they come apart fairly easily. Each sample has a glued-on label. Some of these peel off easily and some don't. I get off as much paper as I can, and I trim off any parts of the fabric where the paper remains. I sort the fabric by fiber content, and then by color, and I machine wash and dry everything. It comes out very wrinkled, but it also gets pre-shrunk. All this fabric is labeled "dry clean only," but it's cotton, which we know can be washed. Washing likely compromises the scotchguard, but since you're not upholstering anything, it doesn't matter. Once it's all clean and ironed, I cut it into the desired quilt pieces.

For this quilt I selected a bunch of blues and put them together for a scrappy quilt. I chose a border that had an upholstery look to it, though it is conventional quilt fabric.

One thing that really interested me in using sample books was a Kaffe Fassett pattern for a hatbox quilt, which he made in upholstery fabrics. I've made blocks for this quilt as well, but I haven't assembled them yet. Next time I take the camera into the sewing room, I'll snap some photos of the finished blocks.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Here are two recent quilts I made to donate to charity. The strippy has as a focus fabric a beautiful toile that I had cut for another project, but then didn't use. I was glad to find a new home for these strips. I also used a large piece of vintage faux Pennsylvania Dutch fabric from the 60s on the back.



The pastel quilt is made from a commercial pattern called "Five and Dime" which makes up very quickly and is fun to use with novelty fabrics in the long center strips. It's amazing how fast this charity quilt endeavor has given new purpose to old fabrics in my stash. I still have some large pieces that I would like to find a use for, but now I can think up quilts that are not for people I know personally, but for someone out in the world who would be happy to get a homemade quilt.

The Days of the Dead are also upon us. The Mexican Day of the Dead (November 2) is a celebration that fuses the Catholic feast of All Souls with indigenous celebrations in which the spirits of the dead return to their family members to receive offerings of food and drink, sights, smells, and sounds, and to see that they are remembered. In both traditions, the living and the dead are in contact with each other because life and death are not separate planes, but a continuum of connected experience. The dead are always with us, and we are with them.

Here's a couple of pictures of the Day of the Dead quilt I made last year with some of the great fabrics in the Alexander Henry line.


I had long wanted to make a pineapple quilt, but four blocks proved to be quite enough for now, thank you. Luckily, they were the right size to make up the center for this quilt.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


If someone was pale or tired looking, my mother used to say they looked like "the last rose of summer." Well, these robust beauties are the next-to-the-last, if not the last tomatoes from my garden this summer. I put one cherry tomato plant in what was apparently the perfect place in my yard: up against the house, facing south. I live in a coastal climate, so growing tomatoes is no easy feat, but this perfect plant in the perfect spot rewarded me by turning into a tomato octopus. It took over that part of the yard, draping itself over the rose bushes, and producing bowls and bowls of wonderful tomatoes. The plant is turning brown and wilting now, but there are still some not-quite-ripe tomatoes, and even a few flowers, on the vine. If the weather stays mild, I may have a few tomatoes into November.

And since we've got a red thing going here, I've posted my directions for making this recycled sweater in my photo album under "Recycled Red Sweater." Use the link on the right.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I am an avid recycler. Nothing makes me happier than making do, and finding new life for old things. A couple of years ago I found what must've been a 10 pound bag of scraps in a thrift store, most cut into approximately 3" squares. There were fabrics in there going back to the 60s, and I have had the best time trimming and sorting them into piles, and remembering the times when certain prints and colors were in style. I've used these fabrics in several quilts and I think they really add a distinctive feel to my work.

Some of these scraps ended up in a quilt I called "Town Square," which was a wedding gift to friends who really loved it.


There was a lot of blue in the mix, and I also made this still-unquilted wallhanging, "Aquarium." It was fun to play with the values.

I still have a significant stash of squares in a brown, orange and pink range, and I'm looking forward to playing with those soon. All the reds ended up in a particularly scrappy quilt I made for myself.

I just had it quilted--it's the first quilt I've had professionally quilted, but given it's size (about 100x110) I just couldn't muster the enthusiasm to do it myself. I love the look of this quilt. As soon as I bind it, it's going on my bed. Of course, I may have to redecorate around it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I was out of town when we got rain a couple of weeks ago, but now I'm here at home for the second rain of the season. I live on the far north coast of California, in the redwood forest, in the lungs of the world, so we get a lot of rain, usually from Halloween through March or April. The first year I lived here, I swear it rained non-stop through the month of February. Now that it's rainy and windy, I thought I'd take out some summery photos of this year's farmer's market.

There's something cheerful about sunflowers. They are so hardy and robust. And here's my Michael smelling the thyme.

I love this display of cherry tomatoes. They are indeed like paintboxes, a feast for the eyes, but they also taste as good as they look.

It's rainy and dark, but we did have a lovely summer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Here's a quilt top I just took down form my design wall. It's for my 15 year old son Alex. When he was younger I made him a jar quilt, which he used for awhile, and then he "graduated" to putting it on his bed with the backing side up. Okay, I can take a hint. He's now a too cool and sophisticated for a jar quilt, so when I saw this black and white Alexander Henry fabric called "Adventures of Nina" (I think) it looked cool enough to me. In the detailed photo you can see some fun cityscape fabric that is part of a Spiderman collection. (I think I'll keep that information to myself.)

So I made this quilt loosely inspired by a commercial pattern. I called Alex into the room to look at the finished top and I think I got a shrug of approval, but I'm not sure.

Welcome to my blog! This is my space to discuss works in progress, and to share my experiences as an artist and writer in the world. I'm starting with a recent favorite photo of Violet, my honey Michael's kitten. She and Fat Bob, a littermate, joined his household this summer. Violet is a brave and aggressive little kitty. If I hadn't seen her do this deer kissing thing in person, I never would've believed that this photo was real. But I've seen her go up to deer, sneaking up to them like a tiger until they sniff each other suspiciously. If the deer get uncomfortable, they stamp their feet, just to remind her that even though she's related to big cat species, they indeed are much bigger than she is. Luckily, these deer are pretty used to human traffic, so a little cat is merely a curiosity to them. I love Violet's fearlessness. She's no shrinking Violet.