"Sunday Morning Quilts"

The Quilt Show, Improvisational Piecing, and I

The Quilt Show Cheryl Arkison

Back in August I had the pleasure of a trip to Denver (with my favourite Evil Genius as assistant) to film an episode of The Quilt Show. Alex Anderson, Ricky Tims, and all of their staff were amazing! The behind the scenes action and prep work were so well organized and it was a fantastic experience. And now the show is live!

If you are a member of The Quilt Show you may have already seen the episode (number 1911). If not, The Quilt Show has generously opened up viewing for my special readers for one week only. Free viewing lasts only until December 4.

UPDATE: Link now works. Apologies if you tried an earlier version.

The Quilt Show Slabs Big Quilt Bee

On the show I demo making Slabs and a brief overview of Improv Curves. It's a totally free class! And that's on top of an interview/mini trunk show.  More of me than you might want! Or, because I have limited ability to travel, a snippet of me in your home.

It was a total thrill to bring my Evil Genius with me. A truly special experience for us both. And The Quilt Show treated her like a star! She stepped up and went to work on set while I was filming, helping set up and processing sales in the shop. A huge thank you to the show for welcoming her as well. Here she is with me backstage for cuddles and a bonus interview.

I've been a quilter for over 18 years now. Ricky Tims' book, Convergence Quilts, was one of the first ones I ever bought. And Alex Anderson is a super star quilter, with a career to envy. I never could have imagined that I would end up a guest on their show! What a strange journey life can be. Now that I've had another onscreen experience I can honestly say I need to make this a more regular part of my life. I even told Alex that when she wants to retire, that she can feel free to consider me for her replacement. Just sayin'.

The Power of a Quilt - Why Do You Quilt?

Reasons To Quilt 1

Originally sent to newsletter subscribers, but I've decided to share this here as well.

This is the story of a quilt. It is a quilt that is showing it's age - the binding is coming undone, there a few marks from who knows what, and the label can hardly be read anymore for the fading on the back. Sometimes it smells a little because it got damp, I didn't notice, and then it sat in the car for a few days before I washed it. 

I started the quilt about a decade ago. The top was assembled in my first ever attended mini retreat. My memory is a bit off on this, but I think there were 6 of us gathering at my quilt mentor's house. I was the youngest by at least 20 years. But gather we did and in one afternoon we assembled a quilt top. Then we had a little raffle and I won the top! It took me a few years, but I added to it - one of the few quilts I've ever made with borders. And because it was one of the largest quilts I'd ever made at about 90'' square I sent it to a long armer, the mother of a girl I worked with. I remember obsessing about which panto to use, then learning that on a busy quilt it really doesn't matter. Then I likely obsessed about the right binding fabric. I was still a relative beginner and every decision seemed so big.

In the past few years that quilt became our picnic quilt. We take it for after school relaxing while the kids run around. It comes to the beach as a respite from the sand. Basically, if the opportunity arises where we have to sit on the ground, this quilt comes.

Reasons to Quilt 3

So, of course I had it one day in the mountains last week. We were meeting up with friends who'd spent the week camping. The quilt laid by the shore of a pond while the big kids ran around exploring. One adorable 18 month old kept trying to pick the candies on it, mistaking polka dots for M&Ms. After our picnic it went back in the car. Adventures by the river, rock balancing, a potluck dinner all came next. The kids explored the woods and staked claim over secret hideouts. A fire was lit, marshmallows emerged. A tree was climbed.

Then someone fell. She fell from the tree and the collective gasp of eight adults and twenty kids sucked all the breath from the forest for a minute or an hour. We parents jumped into gear, a flight attendant calling on her training, Dads calling on their instincts, Moms keeping the calm, kids trying not to freak out. At one point I recall someone asking for a blanket for the girl, or maybe I just thought she needed one because the sun was setting and she must be cold. I ran for my quilt, my old and stained picnic quilt. I covered her legs, one broken badly from the fall. With assessments done and a fear that the ambulance may never come despite one Dad racing down the road until he could get a cell signal, the call was made to move her, to take her to the ambulance. This girl was so strong, so brave in those moments.

So we made a bed in her family truck, a king cab. The tent and pillows of one family, packed up for a departure before the rain, extended the comfort of the seat. Someone, maybe me? Placed the quilt over the seat. One small gesture of comfort for what was likely to be a harrowing ride. We moved her, calmed her and her parents, and they sped away. The rest of us reeling and picking up the pieces of the nearly shattered, remaining children. There were tears and confusion and fear. All I wanted to do was wrap them all up in a giant quilt and giggle and feel safe. That was to come, but not just yet.

Only broken bones. Only. We cannot What If? for the days and days to come, even though it feels nearly impossible not to do so. Two days after the fall I got a text from the girl's Dad. He was almost apologetic for the battle scars the quilt now bore. There was blood. Just blood? Only evidence of a life lived, for the quilt, and a reminder of survival. The quilt helped move the girl from the truck to the ambulance, like they use sheets in the hospital. Then it helped keep her warm in a drafty hospital room. But the quilt's job was over now. Later that day I delivered a different quilt, one whose only purpose to that point was as part of my act telling stories in a trunk show. It deserves a better life, a life of true comfort.

This, this is a story of why I quilt.

Reasons To Quilt 2

Orange is for Nerds


84'' BY 84''

As my son's 4th birthday approached in March I frantically tried to get his special orange quilt done in time to celebrate. For one, he'd been asking for it and was being remarkably patient for a maniac his age. Two, I really wanted to surprise him with this gift, especially because I hadn't made him his own quilt yet. Finally, a quilt is a not a toy to add to the clutter in the house.

Unfortunately, I never got it finished in time for his birthday. However, by not trying to keep it a secret I could pull it out when he was awake and actually get it done. Bonus, he helped me attach the binding to the quilt. Memories built right in.

The quilt started as samples for a Scrapper's Delight class. That is a pattern from Sunday Morning Quilts and was written by Amanda Jean. The same fabric then became a variety of log cabins and was used for more samples for my Improv Log Cabin class. I still have all the other samples, but stuck with the quarter log cabins in this quilt. 

To make this many blocks I cut up a whole bunch of strips in oranges, greens, yellows, and low volume prints with those colours plus blue and black. It was a bit of a hot mess on the days I sewed, with strips and trimmings flying everywhere. I would chain piece, often 7 blocks at a time. It took me 3-4 hours to get all seven blocks done - there is a lot of piecing in there. Each block was squared up at 12.5'' by 12.5''. There are 49 of them in the quilt. If there was a bit at least 1'' wide after squaring up I used those as a strip in another block. It provides great dimension and movement in an already busy quilt.

It's a bit large for my boy's double bed, but that just means there is plenty of overhang and snuggling room. And something tells me that there will come a time in his life where this quilt seems small.

I waited until Carkai from Carolyn Friedlander was released because I wanted the Bones print in this blue for the backing. Nothing else would do. The whole thing is simply quilted with an improvised grid (meaning: I didn't mark) in Aurifil 2235 - pretty much an impossibly perfect orange. The grid was easy with my walking foot. With such a scrappy design there was no point in doing detailed quilting that would only get lost in the fabrics. 

Orange is my son's favourite colour. We think we know why too. My husband has a great orange jacket (so does my daughter, actually). The first couple of times the kids commented on his jacket he always responded with, "Orange is for nerds!". Now it is a family joke. This all started as my boy was learning to speak so he got in on it from the get go. So now it is his favourite colour and the quilt has its name.

Not sure how often he'll be pulling his quilt off the bed for slides at the park, but it sure was fun to do this with a friend for a photo! As soon as we came home he had me spread it out on his bed, ready for nap time.

How Sunday Morning Quilts Changed My Life

My life changed in a lame but spectacular ski accident. I went tumbling after my ski likely hit a rock hidden in fresh powder. Initially, I heard the injuries more than felt them. Although I managed to get up and put my skis back on, one push off and I was back on the ground again. Then down the hill, full of shame and frustration, in the ski patrol sled. The romantic weekend my husband and I planned lost in hospital visits, wheelchairs, and pain medication. The year we thought we would have lost in reduced mobility and independence, physical therapy, and a change in the parenting dynamic.

I wouldn't change a thing about it.

That time sitting around, facing my frustrations about so many things, brought me here. It was during that time that I first spoke to Amanda Jean, that I contemplated a career change seriously. It was during that time that I decided to pursue a long held dream to write a book.

You see, I was a kid who loved to write stories. With my own kids now I think that is an instinct that disappears over time (with criticism and other outside influences). I, however, never wanted to stop. I went to journalism school, but transferred out. I wrote when I could but never with focus or intention. In the few years before my fall I'd been annoyed at work, missing something more meaningful in my professional life. I fought it because I was doing what should have been a dream job for my education. Plus, it felt like I'd only just paid off my student loans from grad school. I thought I owed it to myself to make something of it. But I had started writing on the side again - here on the blog and with a fledgling freelance career - and I wanted to do more. 

Those first conversations with Amanda Jean - over email and then on the phone like teenage girls - were the start of something amazing. Not only can I still call her a wonderful, dear friend, they started me on a professional path I never imagined and do not want to get off of.

Image from Sunday Morning Quilts by C&T Publishing.

Image from Sunday Morning Quilts by C&T Publishing.

I wrote the book in bed or in a tiny desk stuffed in a closet or at IKEA while taking advantage of the playroom. I learned to work to the soundtrack of PBS Kids. I did indeed take over the dining room table as I made all my quilts in the book. It was messy, chaotic, stressful, and awesome.

The day I truly started working on the book was also the day I started as a stay at home mom, having quit my policy job because our family could no longer survive with both of us working full-time. It also coincided with my husband leaving for more or less 3 months. While writing the book I had two miscarriages as well. I remember sitting in the hospital, binding one of the book quilts while waiting for a D&C.  Let's just say it was a stressful, rocky time for everyone. 

At the same time my Dad was dying. We had tears over the phone, stressful trips to see him and help, then there was me trying to meet my deadline as he was moved to Palliative Care. I still remember the day we met the final deadline and he seeing him look proud of me. He wasn't one for sharing love, but I could feel some that day.  

The book was finished and there was nothing to do but wait for it to come out. Our family life started to smooth out a little. And I even started working on the next book. I got pregnant and this time it stuck. 

Four years ago this month and a little over two years after that fall on the slopes Sunday Morning Quilts was published. Four years ago my son was born. If you are a long time reader here you might remember that we even had a little bet going on which would come first - the baby or the book? For the record, the book arrived at people's doorsteps and shops about a week or so before my little guy did.

As a mother my world blew up with his entrance to the world and our family. He's a delightful, (mostly) boy with more energy than a nuclear bomb. We worried about the age gap between he and the girls (6 and 4 years) but he's shown us that it doesn't matter one lick as he throws himself, full speed ahead into everything. I love him even when his pouting infuriates me or his tantrums last all day. I do wish he would stop talking sometimes, but he is his mother's child...

As a quilter, my world is totally different since Sunday Morning Quilts dropped. I wrote the book for two main reasons. One, I wanted to write a book and both Amanda Jean and I felt we had something to contribute to the market. And two, I wanted to teach and expected the book to be a good springboard to that. I never, ever could have anticipated what my life looks like now. 

Recently, I wrote a list of all the places I've travelled to teach or speak about quilting. Outside of local gigs, I've been to nearly twenty communities. In one year I hit all three oceans that Canada touches. In rooms of ten or over 100 I get to talk about my quilts, my approach to making. I've filmed five online classes too. This blows my mind. And I could totally do more, I want to do more.

Have you seen my other two books? A Month of Sundays came to be because the quilt, Sunday Morning, proved so popular and inspiring. You Inspire Me To Quilt is my most recent, less than a year old, and all about the design process and making quilts for loved ones. These books wouldn't exist without Sunday Morning Quilts because I never would called myself a writer and actually sat down to pitch, write, and develop my voice in quilt books.

Then there is the unexpected benefit of writing books and designing patterns - people make quilts! I say unexpected because it isn't what I went into this for, to have people be inspired enough to make. But wow, that is the best part! To know that your work, whether words or technique or designs, get people sewing is fantastic and now the part that feeds me. It's one thing to buy a book because it is pretty or because you like the looks of a project or two, it is another to be so inspired that you actually get your butt in the seat and sew. That my little books can do that for people rocks my world.

In all honesty, it is that last part that keeps me going. I'm not going to lie, I have rough days. Those days are filled with doubt and I question whether I should be doing this - for my sake, for my family's sake, and whether anyone would notice if I stopped. Then someone sends me an email or I get tagged in a photo of a quilt they made inspired by my work. That old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery isn't quite true in this case because I am putting the designs out there for you to make, but it still counts in my book. Kind words and flattery will get you everywhere with me! 

So I keep writing, playing with genres. I keep designing, publishing in books and magazines. I definitely keep teaching, always striving to inspire. I certainly wouldn't still be doing it without the support of everyone out there, all you quilters making quilts. I wouldn't be doing any of it without that fateful day on the slopes. 

And now, I have a fancy carbon fibre brace for my knee and I'm back on the slopes with the family, all five of us.