Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Winners in My Category

NQA is a member-driven organization that relies heavily on volunteers. Each year it holds an annual show and accepts up to 400 quilts for display and judging. Ribbons are awarded, but there are no cash prizes. It's fairly prestigious to win a ribbon there, although there are shows like AQS and Quilts, Inc. that are probably more prestigious. Anyhow, at NQA a quilt is entered into one of 16 categories. Within each category three ribbons are awarded (first place, second, etc.) and, at the judges' discretion, one or more "honorable mention" ribbons are awarded.

So, my quilt was in the pieced wall hanging category. There were 27 quilts entered. Four received honorable mention ribbons, thus a total of 7 ribbons were given out. Truly, there were some pretty awesome quilts in my category. Let's look at them, shall we?

First, I have photos of 3 of the 4 Honorable Mention winners:

This is smaller than the others. Those little squares are 3/4". This is accurately pieced and hangs so nice and straight. Pretty, too.

You really need to click on this picture and look at the quilting around the center medallion. It's gold thread on dark blue fabric. Incredible detail and probably requires more concentration than I am capable of. It was hanging next to mine and as soon as I saw it I knew there was no contest. Most deserving.

This quilt is based on an astronomical system that classifies stars by temperature and brightness. It's a very interesting interpretation of a scientific concept and quite different from most of the other entries.

I LOVE this quilt. Love, love, love it. Look close. This is a "simple" grid of same-sized blocks. It's all about the use of color. This is one of those quilts that's even more effective the further away you stand, because the colors blur together in your mind. It is titled "Homage to Herbert" and it's an abstract interpretation of an aerial view of Herbert Glacier in Alaska. I got to see some glaciers in Alberta, Canada once, and I can totally see what the quiltmaker is doing here. So pretty and meticulously pieced. It won 3rd place.

This second place quilt was inspired by the Art Deco movement. I love the use of color here. No doubt in my mind that it was complicated to construct, and indeed, it won a special additional award for "Exemplary Piecing."

And this is the first place winner. Excellent design and this had to be difficult to construct. It deserved to win.

Well done, judges! A complete list of winners can be found here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Anatomy of a quilt show entry

In the 25 years I've been quilting I've displayed a handful of quilts in shows sponsored by the guilds I belong to. Only three times, though, have I entered a quilt into a competition--that is a show that has judging and awards ribbons (and sometimes cash prizes). One of those 3 quilts was one my sister & I made together, and for the purposes of this blog entry, I'm going to leave aside for now. The first quilt was a 36" x 36" wall hanging made entirely by hand and I entered it in the state fair--about 20 years ago. It did not win a ribbon. The second was the quilt below that you've seen here a few times recently. That would be 20 years between competitions. Why did I wait so long between entries? Well, I did go through some major life changes that sent my quilting goals in other directions for awhile. But mostly, I was waiting to complete something that I felt had a reasonable chance of showing well against competition. Not necessarily to guarantee a win, but would serve as evidence of my growth as a quilter.

So. How did I do? I entered this in the NQA show held last weekend in Columbus.

Several of you regulars here have left me some lovely comments about this quilt. Indeed, I like it too, and I think it represents a huge leap for me as a quilter, both in my use of color, and in the design of my quilting stitches across the surface. I've made a lot of "nice" quilts over the years, but this is the first one to turn out well enough that I thought it was competition-worthy. Here's a close-up of the quilting:

Let's get the bad news out of the way, first. No, I did not win a ribbon. "Horrors!" you say (you're such nice friends). Please believe that I say with all honesty--I am not upset or angry with the judging. Truly, the winning entries were more deserving than mine. But the good news is, I think I'm getting close. And I intend to keep trying.

The most instructive part of the entire exercise is to read the judges' comments when the quilt is returned. NQA Certified Judges use a specific list of criteria against which quilts are evaluated. The criteria look at both workmanship and the quilt's appearance and design. Here's what was said about my quilt and my reaction to those comments:

Radiating quilting lines in star blocks lead the eye into the center. I am not totally sure of the purpose behind this statement. I assume it's complimentary. Is the eye supposed to lead to the center? That's not stated in the criteria, and indeed, with any surface design and media that is not necessarily the goal.
More care needed in piecing. Ouch. Yes, this is probably true. Some of my star points are chopped off. This is why I'm doing that block of the month--so I can practice more precision piecing.
Quilting designs fill the space well. Thank you judges, I thought so too. It paid to give careful consideration to how I would quilt each individual space in the quilt.
Repetition of fabrics from central design to border unify the work. Here I must give credit to the pattern designer, Rachel Wells (no link available).
Machine quilting generally well done; minor tension problems noted. This is continually my downfall. Sometimes I'm just too impatient to spend the time I need to fine tune my machine's tension. My sister will kill me when she reads this. Fortunately, she lives 400 miles away. But see, she wrote a book about machine quilting. I am so dead.
Outer edge should be straight. OK, this feels a little picky to me. I admit it.
Binding is securely attached; attaching thread color should be less obvious. Well good on the first part. The attaching thread is on the BACK where I whip stitched the binding in place. On the BACK where no one can see it. Feeling picked on again....
Corners should be square. Yep. Absolutely. Look at the upper left corner of the inner borders. Wonky. I probably stretched something when I attached them. Easy to do when working with strips and why you should PIN THE HECK OUT OF EVERYTHING.

Sometime in the next 24-36 hours I'll post the pictures of the winners in my category. Wait until you see them. A few are just incredible. And then I'll post a few other pictures from the show. And then we'll get back to books because it'll be July and time for a list of phaves.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Simple Jess / Pamela Morsi. 1996

One of my May phaves was Pamela Morsi's Wild Oats, the first book of hers that I'd read. Wendy first reviewed Wild Oats and a commenter mentioned Simple Jess as another Morsi classic worth reading, so when I saw a used copy available on Amazon, I ordered it. This is such an unconventional romance that I felt positively compelled to talk about it.

In a nutshell, SJ is a story set in the small, isolated mountain community of Marrying Stone (in the Ozarks?) in 1906. Largely untouched by the outside world, the community governs itself, even to the extent of intruding upon the individual, personal decisions of its members. When the town decides that a young widow, Althea, must remarry, she is given 3 weeks to decide who she will pick to marry. Althea owns a farm in a favorable location and she is trying to preserve it for her young son. She is highly resistant to the idea of remarriage because she fears her son would be shunted aside by his new step-father. It turns out Althea herself had suffered something similar when her father remarried after her mother's death and largely abandoned Althea in favor of his new family.

As part of her attempt to handle her farm on her own, Althea hires Jesse (Simple Jess) Best to do various heavy chores around the farm. She will give him her late husband's hunting dogs in exchange for him helping her to get ready for the winter. In 21st century terms, we would say that Jess is developmentally disabled. We learn that he was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, so he was oxygen-deprived for a short while during his birth. People of 1906 didn't understand that--they assumed he had "bad blood." And while Jesse is slow to reason things out and needs help remembering some things, he is handsome, strong, and capable. He has always admired Althea and is happy to have a chance to help her while he earns the prized hunting dogs.

As Jesse works around the farm, both Althea and her son Baby-Paisley grow attached to Jesse and are able to appreciate that even if he is slow mentally, he is perfectly normal when it comes to other important character traits. Jesse patiently teaches things to Baby Paisley the same repetitious way they were taught to him. Jesse is honest and kind and Althea responds to this. It confuses her at first, because it seems wrong to have feelings for someone you've always considered a child trapped in a man's body. Eventually, of course, Althea sees that Jesse is a whole man and perhaps not so "simple" after all.

This book is really more than a romance. It's a slice-of-life look at a different time and place that few of us could ever relate to. There are several secondary characters that we get to know quite well, so the focus of the book is not exclusively on Jesse and Althea. Most striking is the notion that the community of Marrying Stone can force Althea to remarry against her wishes. Our 21st century sensibilities rebel at the thought that individual choices and desires must be suppressed at the whim of the community. But in an era when people succumbed so easily to disease, no doubt the local economy counted on Althea maintaining her farm and keeping her son safe and well so he could survive childhood. This would not be something Althea could do on her own. Remarriage is a natural conclusion and while Althea sets conditions on her remarriage, she does not try to find a way out of the town's decree.

I found this to be a fascinating read as I considered the ideas of individuality versus community. My notion of a "hero" was turned on its head by the concept of Jesse who was strong in all the ways that mattered. There's a point near the end when Jesse and Althea become intimate and Althea realizes that she'll have to take the lead. Althea is the "alpha heroine" in this book and I really appreciate that juxtaposition against the way we normally think of heroines.

This is a finely crafted book that's quite outside the ordinary. My thanks to my blogging friends who recommended this to me. And here is my copy of the book:

Would you like to have it? I'm over-run with books and I'd like to pass this on and share the love. Leave a comment and I'll randomly choose a winner on Saturday. I'll ship world-wide.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TBR Day. Entwined / Emma Jensen. 1997

First, my apologies for neglecting my blog lately. Lots of other stuff seems to be keeping me busy these days...

So, when I started reading romance again, about 7-8 years ago, I joined the Regency readers Yahoo group where I gathered up a ton of reading recommendations. One particular trilogy that people would refer to time and again was a series by Emma Jensen (I couldn't find a website for her) consisting of the books Entwined, Fallen, and Moonlit. I managed to find used copies of all three and then they proceeded to sit unread in my TBR pile. Entwined is the first book in the series and the one I read for this month's challenge. I think I'll save the other two for July and August. I definitely enjoyed this one and I'll be looking forward to the next two.

Entwined is the story of Nathan Oriel, a wounded war veteran, and Isobel MacLeod, the daughter of Nathan's steward. Nathan is mostly blind--he can only see large shapes and colors. He manages to fool most people into thinking he can see, but Isobel figures out his secret. When Isobel's father is caught stealing some money from Nathan, Nathan decides to coerce Isobel into marriage to save Isobel's father and the rest of her family from ruin.

Meanwhile, Nathan has some unfinished business he needs to take care of for the government. Nathan had been a part of a group of 10 men who were spies during the war. Someone is killing "The Ten" one by one and Nathan needs to figure out who and take care of them before he, or Isobel, are harmed. The mystery does not overwhelm the rest of the story. Isobel and Nathan spend a lot of time together and Jensen does an excellent job of letting us see their relationship grow and develop. I liked the emotional impact of the book and I could see why this is a favorite among long-time Regency readers. Nathan and Isobel are interesting characters with a lot of inner strength. They complement one another.

This really isn't much of a review. Just a few comments to say how much I liked this one. It's late and I'm falling asleep over my keyboard. And I need my sleep!!! NQA show starts tomorrow and I am all over that!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Some updates

Yes, I did a lot of reading in May, but I also got quite a bit of sewing in. And in between, I kept an eye on the action over at the auction. So, if you didn't see, my quilt sold for $176! A very respectable price and the auction itself raised over $285,000. That just amazes me...

Meanwhile, I actually finished the May block of the month in May. This one was a little easier than the first one, although one of the edges didn't come out quite as straight. Nonetheless, the corners came together right and it squared up nicely to the required 12.5 inches.

Here's a look at my blooming 9-patch. The quilting is almost done. As you might be able to tell, I appropriated the kitchen table which is nice and big. When it's done, I'll get some close-ups of the quilting.

Finally, I am basting into a quilt sandwich the last top my mother-in-law completed before her death in 2006. It's stretched out on a frame in our living room, which has almost no furniture in it. Every now and then I walk by and put a few pins into it. This top is called "Moss Garden" and was made from a kit to go with a pattern book called Inspirations from Japan by Maria Tamaoka. The fabrics are a combination of Japanese wovens and American commercial cottons. I think it's a very attractive quilt.

As you might be able to tell, there are quite a few puckers in the top, which means that it wasn't pieced as carefully as it could have been. I thought about trying to take it apart, but it's the last thing she finished and I'd like to leave it as she finished it. Instead, I'm going to pin down some of the puckers and then I'm going to quilt it as densely as possible. It'll take a long time to finish, but if I do it right and block it when I'm done, it may lay relatively flat. That's what I'm hoping for.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Phyl's 5 Phaves for May

May was filled with lots of good reading. I had a couple of books that came close to being a 5 Phave: A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh and SEALed with a Ring by Mary Margret Daughtridge. The former got a tad too sappy toward the end and the latter I really liked, but historicals usually rank higher for me than contemporaries. In the end I could only pick 5 (because Phyl's 7 Phaves is not alliterative), so here they are:

5. Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn. I love the way JQ writes. She has a light-hearted, humorous style that almost always works for me. And she can do it while writing about people with real problems or burdens. Sebastian is a writer of gothic romance. Absolutely no one besides his publisher knows the truth about Sebastian. When JQ wrote about him doing writerly things, I wondered if she was describing herself. And Annabel is the oldest of 8 siblings from an impoverished family. Her wealthy grandfather still harbors a grudge toward Annabel's parents for their marriage and agrees to sponsor her come-out on the condition she marry a wealthy man of his choosing who will also assume responsibility for the rest of Annabel's family. His choice turns out to be Sebastian's nasty uncle, Lord Newbury. Lord Newbury hates Sebastian (for reasons that just don't seem all that clear--a minor weakness in the book) and he's a nasty person in general. Annabel does not want to marry him, but doesn't know how else to save her family. The story involves Annabel & Sebastian falling for one another and figuring out how to save her from the uncle. This is a quick and entertaining read that I really enjoyed. It's hard to believe, Richie.

4. Wild Oats by Pamela Morsi. Wendy reviewed this book in February for the 2010 TBR Challenge and I was intrigued enough to see if I could find a copy of this 1993 book. Sure enough, my awesome public library had a copy for me to read. While the plot is totally different, this book is like Laura Lee Guhrke's Breathless in that it deals with a divorced heroine in a small American town in the early 1900s. Just like the heroine in Breathless, Cora is pretty much ostracized by the people in her town who think they know more about the circumstances of Cora's marriage than they really do. Cora eeks out a living and lives in her own little bubble until the town mortician comes to call, hoping to start a discreet affair. Soon they both get more than they bargained for. Not only did I enjoy Cora and Jedwin (a "beta" hero with a core of steel), but I thought the secondary characters were interesting as well. None of the characters are one-dimensional, and I appreciated that about the story. I hope to find more of Morsi's books to read soon.

3. Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts. This is another one of those old NR books I picked up in large print from my library. It was originally published back in 1988. While I have not come close (yet) to reading the entire NR canon, I've now read a fair smattering of it. This particular book was rather different from other NR books I've been reading. And I should say right off the bat that I loved it (or maybe that's obvious since it's a "phave"). One thing that sets this book apart is that the first third of the book is a significant backstory that is engrossing in its own right and does a great job of setting up the final two thirds of the book. Philip is a former jewel thief now working for Interpol. Adrianne is a wealthy, jet-setting princess. The backstory is actually about Adrianne's mother Phoebe and the ways Phoebe is abused by her husband who is the king of a small, oil-rich Arab country. Because of the way her father destroyed her mother, Adrianne leads a double-life as a jewel thief. Her goal is to eventually steal something significant from her father. That's the revenge alluded to in the title. Philip comes between Adrianne and her goal and he has to decide what is most important to him. There are several great secondary characters in this book, too. I noticed that this book was re-published last year and is probably still readily available.

It's a tie. I honestly cannot decide.

1. Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly. Technically this book releases today, but as a Harlequin it has been available on their web site since the 1st of May where I bought it as an ebook. This is a wonderful conclusion to Kelly's trilogy involving 3 illegitimate half-sisters who each marry men who are deeply involved in the war against Napoleon. This last book involves youngest sister Polly, who at 19 is befriended by Hugh, age 37, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines. They meet aboard ship when both are traveling to Portugal. Polly is on her way to see her sister & Hugh has an assignment there. Hugh is deeply aware of the age difference and it plays a significant part in the story. Eventually, the two are thrown together again when they are captured by the French and forced to travel through Spain by their captors. Their road journey brings out their feelings for one another as well as hidden depths to their characters. It is a fascinating story, albeit not for the squeamish. It is a vast understatement to say that war is never pleasant and Kelly brings that fact home to her readers most effectively. As usual, Kelly's grasp of military matters, her choice of unusual settings, and her emotional style of writing come together to create a real winner.

1. His at Night by Sherry Thomas. Thomas' latest release is garnering lots of well-deserved praise. I started reading it almost as soon as I got my hands on it and I couldn't put it down. I loved this story of two people who have learned to hide their true selves from others. Vere so that he can insinuate himself into situations on behalf of the Crown and Elissande so she can simply survive. When Elissande traps Vere into marriage in order to escape her cruelly abusive uncle, they each begin to suspect the truth about one another. Vere, however has to get over his anger at being trapped. Theirs is an emotional and compelling story, especially when Elissande's uncle does not give her up willingly. Elissande finds herself willing and able to trust Vere and Vere finds himself wanting to help Elissande even though by all rights he should be able to forget about her. Just a wonderful book.