The Summer Indigo “Blues”

By Sandra Bruce

Hey, everyone, hope your summer is going well. Aside from really high temps that have me indoors more than I’d like, I’m still managing to play Pickleball, do a bit of gardening, and grilling on the deck. Pickleball, by the way, if you’ve never tried it, is totally addicting and great exercise. I needed something to counteract the hours I’ve been sitting lately, hand-sewing binding on some quilts 🙂

I did finish Maury and Maxine, as part of my bird series. The binding on it was some of the most complicated I’ve done, due to the color changes. This way of making matching binding is one of the techniques I’ll be teaching my students at Zephyr in September. I also have a mini-tutorial on CourseCraft on how to do it. (You can find it at https://coursecraft.net/c/matchedbinding). There are some interesting photos coming to my Zephyr workshop that my students have chosen to make their quilts from…..they have selected lots of animals! I do have a space left, (and I could stretch it to 2) if anyone out there wants to join us.

Here’s how it turned out, along with a closeup, and the back. It’s 24″ by 44″. The eyes are painted. Maury is the jokester!

Maury and Maxine

I never tire of making wonky blocks, and finally finished a batik wonky log-cabin quilt I started a while ago. I’m happy with how it turned out. It’s been fun taking a little break from Matrix to make some different and sometimes traditional-ish quilts. Here’s a closeup of it, showing the quilting. This has been my favorite quilting pattern of late. Smoky swirls!

I belong to a few groups, and the one that has been the longest running is “Friends to Dye For”. We have been meeting for over 23 years, less often now than in the first 15 years or so, but we still do get together when we can for fun days of different projects. In the past we have done every craft and sewing project you can imagine! Altered books, mosaics, polymer clay, prayer flags, paper collage, goofy hats, bedroom slippers…the list goes on and on. We decided recently to repeat an idea we did years ago that was very successful. Each month one of us (there’s 5) gets a turn, where we pick a quilt pattern and everyone shows up at your house to sew for you to get a whole top done in a day. I went first, and we had a blast sewing (inside where the AC was on, of course!). That was a 100 degree day, I recall, or close to it. I planned 2 quilts, as they were super simple and I hoped we’d have the time to at least start the 2nd top. The first, a pattern by Villa Rosa, “Beads”. In all black and white with chartreuse “beads”.

It went together super fast and we had the top together by lunchtime.

In the afternoon we worked on 144 of these little black and white squares (below)…the squares were made by the end of the day and I pieced them all together later. This also is a Villa Rosa pattern, called “Split Charms”. I ended up putting a mixed partial border on it, I’ll post it when it’s done 😉 The photo below shows the blocks loose on my design wall. Lively! I think scrap quilts are my favorite.

A few weeks later it was Michelle’s turn. She wanted squares made from dyed indigo to make a quilt with. We first spent time at Michelle’s kitchen table, with a box of assorted items such as wine corks, rubber bands, string, thread, twine, clamps and other trinkets. We used these things to tie up the stack of white cotton squares before us, in differing configurations, before throwing them in the dye bath, outside.

After coming out of the dye bath, the pieces needed a bit of sunlight. Interesting blue blobs.

Then we sat and untied/cut the rubber bands and such from the squares, to reveal the patterns we created.

Oh my, did they come out beautiful, or what?!

The clothesline filled up as the day wore on, it was such a delight to watch them appear.

Here’s a couple of my favorites…

I have to say, typically this blue is not one of my favorite colors, but I have to admit I love these and can easily imagine making something using this technique. Michelle will put this quilt together, and I will quilt it for her. Can’t wait to see what she puts together!

Coming up, I have a rather complicated Matrix quilt idea in the works, it’s still in my head but I want to start it before summer’s over. Looking forward to making a summer garment first. Then I will have Artistic Alchemy prep to take care of, as the retreat is around the corner! Happy sewing, and stay cool and safe.

Whatsup?

by Sandra Bruce

I hear that word a lot from my son….. “whatsup”?

Well, summer is here (sort of…we’re having a rare chilly spell) and as we roll into the summer season we here at Artistic Alchemy are turning our thoughts and efforts to the retreat this Fall. I want to let everyone in our reading audience know, we traditionally have the deadline for signing up for Zephyr to be the beginning of July, but with this being our last year together teaching (after the year that we’ve all had!) we’ve decided to extend the deadline for those who might have been on the fence about coming. If this is you, please contact one of us for more information, or go ahead and send in your registration form. Having said this, we do have workshop size limitations, and the lake front rooms go first, so don’t hesitate to contact us for further info ASAP. At this moment I have a couple of spaces left in my Matrix workshop…hope you’ll join us! Over the last 8 years it’s been a privilege to work alongside Christine Barnes, Mary Boalt, and of course, Heidi Emmett and Jane Haworth. This fall’s workshop will be special, without a doubt.

I am a Juried Artist Member of SAQA, and am making an effort to be more involved with the local chapter and keeping up with some of the challenges and exhibitions they do, of which there are many. Twice a year a request goes out to make a 12″ by 12″ piece as a donation for an auction. I took an image that I had made before, you may recall seeing it, where I pieced blue squares together and painted an image of 2 pelicans onto it. I realized then that I like to paint on fabric, but it is piecing that I want to focus on. A bit of paint is OK especially to define something that is too tiny or difficult to piece, like eyes. Anyway, I took a portion of that image and reproduced it in Matrix for the auction. It was interesting to me to make a repeat image in a different method. Here’s what I did. Working small is a challenge to me for sure.

Recently, with life returning somewhat back to normal, I got together with my Friends to Dye For, for an outside dyeing day. We began this group about 23 years ago and we still get together, but just not as regularly as we used to. It was so fun to be with these ladies again! I found a stack of white fabric I was saving for a dyeing day, including a piece of velvet. I haven’t been sewing clothes much in the last few months, but now I have a stack to do some clothes sewing with. I came home with my pieces in buckets and pots. Yummy colors!

The velvet came out to be the best surprise, it’s a greenish gold that is one of my most favorite colors.

When I last wrote a post I was working on the big “scrap Vortex” piece that took up most of the length of my longarm, at 130 inches. It was a blast to put together, and no, I didn’t put much of a dent in my scrap bins. I counted the other day, I have 30 Sterilite 16-quart bins full of pieces that are fat quarters on down, in size. I think I could easily make a few more of these.

It made sense to quilt in as many different quilt patterns as I could think of…good for showing customers. I put in lots of words too.

Here is the finished piece on my studio wall. I matched the binding, natch. I have a short video on both IG (sbruce1955) and FaceBook (https://www.facebook.com/Sandra-Bruce-Creative-230949376954447) if you want to take a peek. People who have never seen a longarm doing its thing have been especially interested.

Back to my Matrix bird series….I’m working on a piece of 2 macaws. The photo, which I found on royalty-free Pixabay, made me laugh out loud. In progress:

I have 2 rows of 3 done (not sewn together), I can see I’m going to have to add a bit of paint to help distinguish some areas in the beaks. They don’t have eyes yet…they’ll be painted as well. I lightly drew them in for placement. Stay tuned!

That’s it for now…off to finish this top (hopefully) this weekend, in between my latest passion for Pickleball. Stay safe and happy weekend to you.

Launching into Spring

This is Jane

Spring is here and I just got back from a short Spring break excursion on the Mendocino Coast. During Covid times options to get away have been limited but we have managed a few camping trips and this time we were not disappointed.

Russian Gulch State Park

Booking tent camping at this time of year can be like Russian roulette but we were lucky to go during a warm and (more importantly) a dry spell. It was cold in the evenings and during the night but by taking along our new Solo Stove for our campfire, it was super efficient and really kept us warm in the evenings. During the day we got the opportunity to explore the coastline between Fort Bragg and Mendocino. We loved the rugged beauty, especially as it had been 20 years since our last visit.

We stayed near Caspar at Jug Handle Creek Farm and I booked our camping through the Hipcamp website. It was a great experience and location. We could walk to Jug Handle Beach and to the Ecological Staircase hike. This hike took us through various terrains including redwood forests up to the Pygmy forest, which was a total surprise.

Hiking on the Mendocino Headlands in our masks.
http://www.foothillquilters.org/2021quiltshow.html

My local quilt guild, Foothill Quilters Guild, just opened their virtual quilt show. It is online for the whole of April. As we cancelled the show last year and it was not going to happen this year we decided to hold it online. Check it out at the link above. It’s easy to navigate with quilts to look at in various categories. Don’t forget to vote for your favorites! Also support the Vendors that have special events, discount codes and links to their websites. If you click on Artistic Alchemy here or on the vendor page you can see our new Promo video. Heidi, Sandra and I had a lot of fun, and laughs, chatting about the upcoming retreat.

Heidi, Sandra and myself at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe

We are all getting excited about the retreat this September. Enrollment continues to grow for Sandra’s matrix class, my mark-making and collage workshop and especially for Open Studio that Heidi is going to lead. We are also excited to introduce evening breakout sessions for small groups and small projects. You’ll be able to sign up for those at check-in. Also remember if you are thinking of joining us we do assign lake-view rooms on a first-come, first serve basis.

Beautiful Lake Tahoe

Coming this Spring I am launching some NEW online workshops. If you wish to take the Red-eyed Tree Frog workshop that will be on May 23rd, as part of the Road@Home May event. The Big-eyed Chameleon and my popular Sunflower workshop will be part of the Mancuso’s CREATE event held in early June. Registration has just opened for both of these online events so check them out.

I continue to keep busy with memory quilts that I custom make but when I get the chance I am trying to carve out time for “my work”. This small piece was an experiment using Lesley Riley TAP paper for the nest, a handprinted bird, free-motion stitching and some hand stitching.

‘Spring’ my SAQA Spotlight Auction donation

If you are thinking about joining me for my workshop at our retreat this year my plan is to have a full day playing with paints, inks, printing and generally making our own fabrics. Then we will get into the collage technique. Either using a photo or one of my patterns. I will guide you through the process from creating an enlarged pattern, making the collage to stitching and finishing the piece.

Choice of two sunflower patterns for Fabric Collage

I do have a couple of spots in a small group, online workshop I am hosting on April 21st 1-4pm PST. It is using my Sunflower Fabric Collage patterns. If you are interested contact me and I will give you more details.

Last summer I put together my Love of Pets Workshop as an on-demand, online class on Coursecraft and it has been very successful. I have a few more classes in the works including this baby giraffe collage pattern. I like to support the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and donated half the proceeds when I sold ‘Melman, the Vulnerable Giraffe’ quilt to support this cause. I plan on doing something similar with this pattern. Stay tuned for sneak peeks of the other workshops!

So after my short break I am slowly getting back into the swing of my work and sewing. I have my 1st vaccine on Sunday and pretty soon I will be back in-person talking and teaching to guilds which is exciting. So until next time, remember to check out our new Promo Video on the home page, ‘Stay Creative’ and Happy Easter.

Rainy/Snowy Days

by Sandra Bruce

As I sit at my computer writing this post I can hear the rain outside which is a happy sound, for sure. This is the time of year for us to get the bulk of our precipitation. Since my last post we have had a couple of snowfalls and some much needed rain as well. We need more, but whatever we get is appreciated.

My Matrix online course continues to be popular. I’m getting photos now of the finished course project from students, and even photos of Matrix quilts that have been made as further work. Here’s one that came my way, by Judy B, of poppies….good job, Judy! (she OK’d my sharing)

Anyone who missed my post about my online course in Matrix and is interested, you can view it here:

https://coursecraft.net/courses/z93eK

So far this year I have made 3 Matrix quilts, with a 4th in the works. I’ve been making smaller pieces which, obviously, go faster than the bigger ones…which I’ve been wanting to do. First I made a “commemorative” quilt for a friend who lost her dog Hoochie last year. I didn’t want her to know I was making it so I had to work with a photo of Hoochie that I took a couple of years ago. I would have chosen a different image had I been able to, but I made the one I had work with my process. I mailed it to her in Colorado and she is so happy to have it.

Hoochie had very soulful eyes, that I knew I couldn’t get just right by piecing, so I used ProFab paint to make the eyes just right. Sweet Hoochie!

As I mentioned in my last post, I am teaching at Empty Spools in March 2022, and I had to quickly produce a class project. I started out with a wonderful image of a pelican, only to come to the conclusion about 2 days work into it, that it was a bit too challenging for that purpose. So I put it aside and turned my attention to another image, of a seagull. I named him “Seamus”, and here is the finished piece. I think it will work nicely for Empty Spools. I love his feet 😉

In executing the eye area, I could not resist using a piece of fabric that had the word “bird” on it. After finishing I realized it was too prominent and took away from his eye….so I got out my Profab and painted a fairly transparent layer of white over it, just enough to kick it back a little bit. It’s fun to use fabrics that contain words. The eye is painted over the fabric in yellow with black definition around it. The painting was done after piecing but before quilting.

Here’s the back:

After finishing Seamus I brought the pelican back out to finish. I named him “Petey”. The image is all pieced, with the exception of his eye, the purple in his upper beak, and a bit of yellow in his wing. I used to think painting on my quilts was “cheating”, but it really allows me to create a bit of detail that otherwise would be too difficult to do by piecing. Believe me, I piece every possible place I can, so I have convinced myself that it’s OK to use a speck or two of paint. My work continues to evolve and this is just part of that process. Here is Petey:

And the back:

After doing 2 bird quilts and enjoying it so much I decided to continue and do a few more “smallish” quilts of other birds. Now I’m doing a pair of budgies, such little cuties they are! Here’s the photo I’m using:

I remember seeing a photo of my dad right after I was born, with me in his lap and a budgie sitting on the frame of his glasses. He would like this quilt.

Other birds waiting in the wings on my desktop are: macaws, puffins, toucans, and cockatoos. Oh, and I’m hoping for a good photo of flamingoes, one of the most interesting birds there are. I’ve got my eye out. I’ve had great luck with Pixabay, a site where you can find royalty-free images to use. Jane turned me on to that great site! I want a mama and baby flamingo.

That’s all for now….I’ll sign off here and wish everyone a productive and safe end of Winter. After having both my vaccine shots I’m breathing sighs of relief, as I know many are. I’m keeping positive that by September we will all be vaccinated and life will be truly be getting back to normal. Gathering at Zephyr with other sewing-sisters will be so gratifying! Check out our page on “Workshops” if you’re thinking of joining us, we’d love to have you. As of this writing I have 4 spaces left in my workshop.

Bye for now!

Making an Online Course

by Sandra Bruce

Oh, my! WordPress has a whole new layout….can I do this? On top of learning CourseCraft?

Since my last post (and even before) I’ve been working on an online course on how to do Material Matrix. It will not, of course, be quite the same as teaching in person, but it’s definitely the next best thing. I don’t feel like I can teach on Zoom, but doing it this way I can really control what people see and do it with the detail I want to show. CourseCraft is the platform I chose to use….Jane used it for her online class and I liked how it looked. It’s pretty easy to use and the templates are simple.

I made a very specific “outline” of what I wanted in the videos, of which I knew there would be plenty…with thumbnails to show Gary (my trusty camera person) where the camera would need to be.

As it turned out my iPhone took good video and we decided to use it instead of a camera. In hindsight….there were limitations. The iPhone did get hot and had to be stopped after a long bit of filming. And since the mic connection was coming out of it instead of the charger it did run out of juice. Oh….and we had to put it so high up in order to see everything it needed o see that Gary couldn’t see what was being filmed. So we set up a TV to use as a monitor to view what was being filmed. That worked well. We had to configure a strange looking setup in my studio. Ironing board to the rescue!

Nice lighting was a must.

I can’t believe I did it but I had to make another sample of my “Wake Up Cup” piece, as that is the project I chose to demo in the course. I have made so many, and taught it so many times, which turned out to be a good thing, in terms of getting my cookies in a row to prep for filming.

The picture below is a lousy one but you can see what a problem it was trying to put my self-portrait behind me for the video…2 big eyes staring around my head! We switched to my Color Dance quilt, just for the opening sequence. Most of the video is shot from overhead so it worked out.

I wondered how to handle the script. I didn’t want to sound like I was reading it, but needed to to keep on track and not forget anything. In the picture below I tried draping the paper script in front of me….didn’t work. My son informed me that there are apps that turn written word into a teleprompter on an iPad…..voila! It worked like a charm. I went off script plenty of times but I had it when I needed it. This is one of the million pictures we took to find the right background and right thing for me to wear.

There was a lot of list making to keep everything straight. I made 10 “chapters” plus a “bonus”, and 9 of them contain video.

When it came time for “Show and Tell” we had to schlep everything downstairs to the living room to have the space to spread out the quilts on a rack with good light. Gary had to climb onto our roof to cover skylights with blankets to control the light sources.

We uploaded videos daily to my computer and reviewed them for boo-boos.

Editing in iMovie is not too difficult, and you can add captions and all kinds of fun tricks to make a video look professional. We did add a few captions, and used the fade feature.

I made a fun logo since there is a space on CourseCraft for it.

At this point we are uploading the videos and will be done soon! When it’s time I will be announcing on social media that it is ready to go. The way it will work is a url will get you to CourseCraft where you can purchase the course and have it to view whenever you are ready! In the course I cover a lot, including (but not limited to): how to do my technique, how to grid your own photo, what makes a good photo to use in this technique, Show and Tell of my quilts and shots of quilts made by my students for your enjoyment. There’s also a bonus feature on how to make a matching binding. Over 2 hours of video in all. If you are interested in a heads-up on the availability of the course, I have started a list (over 100 already on it!) of email addresses of people who are interested in knowing…..send me an email if you want to be on the list. My email is: sandrabruce@pacbell.net. My past students (guilds and retreats) will get a discount on the course if they would like to have it to finish their project that didn’t quite get done, or they wan to go on and make another one using their own photo.

I am motivated to be done so I can start another Matrix quilt, so stay tuned, it won’t be long!

Life’s not All about Sewing!

This is Jane. My post this week will not only be a catch-up of what I have been up to these last few months but I will talk about some of the books I have read this year. Normally I read about 6-8 books a year but looking back at my Kindle I was surprised to see I have already read 14 books.

I have been trying to get out and walk most mornings but with the California wildfires leaving us with unhealthy air and smoky skies it has been hard to do! This morning the sun looked like a red halo behind the smoke.

Smoky Skies in Christian Valley, Auburn, ,CA

Another nice thing about walking and exploring my neighborhood streets is that I get to visit with the local animals. A shortcut from my house takes me down a quiet irrigation canal, the NID and I get to visit with these goats and alpaca. They make me laugh.

Look at this guy, I think he is going to have to be in a quilt!

2020 has left me at home working on custom quilt orders, and lecturing to quilt guilds online and also teaching classes via Zoom. I really don’t have much free time to finish off my own work or even start new projects. This leaves me little time to spend on chores around the house 🙂 or reorganize and tidy, as I have a desire to do! My plan is to take December off from sewing which is something I haven’t done in years!

It seems like other people have the time to sort and gather old shirts ready for a quilt. I am getting plenty of people contacting me wanting to get these projects started. I enjoy making these quilts as they are all unique and its quite a challenge to unify this items into a lovable heirloom. I just don’t want to be kept so busy that I can’t work on my own quilts too!

This quilt was an interesting one. It combines a lot of items from the career of a Minnesota Vikings cheerleader. She sent me a knit hat, jean jacket, socks, fake leather booties and some small and shiny athletic clothing as well as a couple of T-shirts! It turned out great, totally unique and I got a nice thank-you note from the recipient.

Another challenge I have been enjoying is taking silk neckties, deconstructing them, then using a string piecing method to construct blocks. My daughter Lucy, who is not working right now, has been coming home to help me out. We spend a lot of time trying to make all these random colors and patterns blend together to make the perfect quilt!

Amazing sunsets happen when you get smoke filled skies!

Now I’ll get to share a few of the books I have been enjoying this year. I like to read but the only time I get to is before I fall asleep at night and then if I wake during the night. I think in my menopausal state I have trouble sleeping and rather than lie awake stressing about not sleeping I just fire up the Kindle and read. I love it for that reason!

Have you heard of Bookbub? Every Friday I receive a weekly email from Bookbub with ebook offers that show selected books that are on sale for that week. Either from Amazon or wherever you download your ebooks. Many of these I purchased, at the time, for $1.99 instead of $12-14. You just sign up and check all the genres that you like to read and wait to see what’s on offer.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. This story is set in England on the south coast of Dorset and follows the early life of Mary Annings. Growing up in England I was intrigued by her life as she discovered many of the early famous fossils in her home town of Lyme Regis.

Ruthless River by Holly Fitzgerald was real page turner. A true adventure of a newly wed couple who end up on a raft in the middle of the Amazon trying to survive.

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd. Having recently got into playing with Indigo and dyeing my own fabrics I was intrigued to read about an early history of this plant. The story of Eliza Lucas as she steers her way to running one of her fathers plantations in South Carolina in the early 18th century and her desire to make this crop successful is powerful.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi The story of two half sisters born in Ghana in the 18th Century, one will marry an Englishman and the other sold into slavery. They are not aware of one another but over the generations their lives twist and turn in different ways.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. I loved this book. A story about family, love, tradition, tea farming and the bond between mothers and daughters.

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. When I read this I hadn’t realized it was by the same author as the above and maybe that’s why I loved it so much. When we aren’t able to travel reading about places I’ve never seen makes me an armchair traveller. This one I highly recommend although I remember a very disturbing scene.

Last one. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. This book, released this summer was on various recommended reading lists and book club choices. Another book of parallel lives. It took a little to get into the characters but once I did it was hard to put down, even at 4 in the morning!

I added the links to Amazon to make it easier, although I am not affiliated with Amazon in any way.

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about these books and I do like receiving good book recommendations. Maybe in another post I will tell you about my all time favorite books. All of which I still own and don’t want to throw away.

My Coursecraft workshop

Just a short plug for the online workshop that I put together back in June, (seems so long ago now!). Love of Pets is available for purchase and you will have access to it 24/7 for as long as you wish and you get to work at your own pace. Through photos, videos and step by step instructions I guide you from the photo to collage to finishing your quilt. I know Sandra Bruce has been spending a lot of time working on her Material Matrix course, Heidi has started on hers and I know Christine Barnes is working on an online color course too.

Check out my website for any upcoming events I am teaching for online or look in my shop for kits and patterns that I sell. Although we can’t meet on person it is so good for Artistic Alchemy to still be able to share our creativity during Covid times.

Diversionary Tactics

by Sandra Bruce

Hello, readers…I’ve been working on an online class in how to do Material Matrix!

Therefore….I  don’t have much to show in the way of what I’ve been up to…it’s been lots of writing, re-writing, experiments with lights, and just plain figuring it all out before we start taping hopefully next week. As you can see below, necessity is the mother of invention, right?

Many people have asked me over the last few years about teaching online…. Zoom isn’t the right platform for me. People need to see up close what I’m doing when I demonstrate, clearly and with precise instruction. That’s why I decided to go the route of CourseCraft. It will be the type of class that can be saved and viewed whenever convenient. I’m putting in a LOT of instruction, tips, and visuals with what I think will be 1-1/2 hours of video. So…stay tuned for the announcement that it is done and ready to purchase, if you are interested or know someone who might be. I will offer a discount for any past students who want a “refresher”, either from Zephyr attendees or people who have taken my workshop with their guild. Zephyr students in 2021 will benefit from this too…they’ll have a leg up come next Fall.

MEANWHILE…….

I haven’t allowed myself any sewing while I’m working on my CourseCraft offering. Delaying gratification! But sometimes I do go off on a tangent and find myself in a rabbit hole. I came across a photo I took in Italy years ago, from a slide, and couldn’t remember the exact location. It was bugging me. Next thing I knew, I had dragged out boxes and boxes of slides from Italy trips I’ve taken, literally hundreds, (slides, not trips!) and was busily scanning my favorites into my computer. My scanner will take slides, but only one at a time. I started sharing them on Instagram and FaceBook, which was fun for me (further diversion) and I made some new friends along the way, while reliving some of the wonderful trips I have had in Italy. Since that is what I’ve been doing, I will share a few here, and hopefully provide you with a bit of diversion too. Keep in mind they were taken with a real camera, and mostly in the late 80’s and 90’s, so the quality isn’t what you get with today’s cameras. Those of you who follow me and have seen those I’ve posted, there are a few new ones here. Here they are, in no particular order:

This has been the most popular of my photos that I posted on IG and FB, and is of a street artist reproducing the painting by Caravaggio (one of my favorite painters), “Judith Beheading Holofernes”, the original of which hangs in Rome. I have no idea how long it takes to reproduce such a detailed painting in chalk, on knees, like this…and the sadness that must come when it rains! He’s done a fantastic job.

Sometimes a photo will really take you back to the time it was taken, as the photo above does for me. Here is my traveling companion, and our friend who lives in Villach, Austria, which is very close to the Italian border. We were walking through this very lush and prolific field of lupine, and being grateful for this beautiful place of nature.

Also from that day…we 4 went to a bistro for snacks of cheese, cold-cuts and local beer. As we were leaving the village Dieter pulled off the side of the road, took lawn chairs out of his trunk, and full of our afternoon snacking we lazily sunned ourselves on this hillside, looking over the valley with Yugoslavia just on the other side of that mountain range.

Back to Italy….and one of my most memorable meals, ever! I have been fortunate to be a guest of this family in Fabriano, the Sorcis, who own a restaurant and hotel. Here is Sunday dinner, polenta being slathered onto a big wooden board that was part of this family’s weekly tradition. On top of this polenta came sautéed young asparagus, which had been picked that morning, and was heavenly. Each of the 6 or so of us gathered around this board was given a fork and napkin, and dinner commenced. Have any of you readers experienced such a tradition?

Fabriano’s claim to fame is its paper making. If you go to any art supply store you will see handmade paper from there. There are paper stores everywhere in Fabriano, and a nice exhibit, as you see here, showing how paper is made. I brought home some wonderful samples and a paper purse.

The Collegiate Church, in the Tuscany hill town of San Gimignano, is one of those churches that looks quite ordinary on the outside, but the view takes your breath away when you step inside. It is filled with frescoes and paintings. I was amused by these gentlemen, sitting outside the church on a Sunday afternoon, smoking cigars, watching passersby, and chatting in the local dialect. A slice of life.

In the “old days” before iPhones and selfies, and when traveling alone, if you wanted your picture taken you had to ask a stranger to please take your picture. I have many of these…here in the Roman Forum I am drawing in my sketchbook.

Although….you could set up your camera and do a timed exposure…which I did here. I spent a week in Sardinia painting and sightseeing. I was there in May and had most of the hotels and beaches practically to myself. I had just taken an Italian language course and got plenty of practice here, as English is not as prevalent in Sardinia.

This very charming statue, “Il Pescatore” (“The Fisher Boy”) by Vincenzo Gemito, resides in The Bargello, one of Florence’s many museums. The Uffizi gets most of the limelight, but I think The Bargello is a gem and sometimes overlooked. Donatello’s “David” is here too. This fisher boy captured my heart and is so sweet. You can really see the fish squirming in his hands as he struggles to hang on to it. 

Another shot from Florence. A “Bar”….I wish we had such places to stop in the morning for a quick espresso, or a mid-day Negroni, perhaps?

Italians are good designers. Here, a sign for a glove shop. I love those colors together.

On this trip, with a friend, I spent most of my time taking shots of our feet and the beautiful mosaic floors that are everywhere.  Romulus and Remus are depicted here.

A closeup of some beautiful stonework.

I’ll bet there are millions of shots like this one, of Vernazza, my favorite town of the Cinque Terre. The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 villages, connected on the ocean by a footpath, or “passeggiata”, that is about 7 miles long. I walked 3 of the 5, and visited the others by train. Truly breathtaking scenery! A friend was telling me she was there hiking, and passed French women on the path wearing heels and smoking cigarettes….I cannot imagine!

I’ll make this the last one…a happy face, obviously in Venice, riding in a gondola at sunset. Our gondoleer’s name was Sandro. I hope you have been able to be diverted for a few minutes from our crazy world right now, and that you are inspired in some small way!

Stay tuned for news about my online course, follow me on Instagram at sbruce1955, and on FaceBook at Sandra Bruce Creative, if you aren’t already a follower. Ciao!

Reflections on the Artistic Alchemy Retreat

by Jane Haworth

Lake view from Zephyr Point

We have reached the end of August and during normal times we would all, students and teachers, be prepping for the Zephyr retreat but these aren’t normal times. Sadly Labor Day weekend will come and go without the excitement of driving to Tahoe, unpacking, settling in and meeting all the students. Alas we will have to wait until September 2021 for this. My post this time will be reflections about the retreat and I am happy to share I have some guest writers to help with me this.

Fallen Leaf Conference Room

If you have never joined us for a retreat Artistic Alchemy is a group of of three but previously four teachers that host a selection of workshops from quilting, collage, upcycling, designing and making wearables and surface design. This would have been the 7th year for Sandra Bruce, Heidi Emmett and I to organize and host this retreat for about 40-50 students.

Early morning solace at the lake

One of my favorite things to do while staying at the Zephyr Point Conference Center is to take an early morning walk around the property, then sit on the dock and look out at Lake Tahoe. 7am is a quiet time and this particular morning unfortunately a smoke haze could be seen in the distance. 2020 I was going to do an organized early morning walk with those who felt the urge or needed the exercise!

Postcard circa 2018

I was lucky enough to join Artistic Alchemy in 2018 after Christine Barnes stepped down. I knew Christine, Sandra and Heidi from the local teaching circuit and the day we took this photo was the day I met Mary. I was honored to join these wonderful ladies and be able to add another creative thread to the retreat.

Guest post from Christine Barnes

“There’s something magical about Artistic Alchemy at Zephyr Point. I think it’s a combination of the higher-altitude air, the amazing “water colors,” and a simplicity like no other place on Tahoe. When you add in the energy of committed sewists and quilters, all happy to be a part of the collective creativity, the result is a very special experience. In each of the four years I taught color workshops, I came home tired but on a high, thrilled to be a part of AA and excited to go after new ideas that came from watching my students work with color. (Getting somewhere with color takes practice, but gosh, the result is worth the effort!) I confess to feeling a bit down the year after I retired, but the memories and the insights I gained stay with me. I hope it’s been the same for my students—you can’t see me, but when I look at my pictures, I’m smiling at what you did and who you are.” Christine

Our design wall was color on display!
A whole of of auditioning went on at the wall. Here is one of my students from the Dakotas working on her Spumoni blocks. I think this is Gail, or Laurie—sorry I can’t quite recall.:-)

Guest post from Mary Boalt

“I want to thank Jane for asking me to reminisce for a moment or two. About now it’s good to spend a few minutes thinking about some happier times. I have fond memories of our retreats at Zephyr. The camaraderie among the women was amazing. Whether a quilter, art quilter, or wearable artist, the relationships built during that week were undeniable. We all shared a love of creating. What could be more fun? To spend four days immersed in learning a new technique and adding it to your repertoire of skills feels like pure joy and indulgence! I think the most exciting year was the five year anniversary of Artistic Alchemy. What a testament to the vision that Heidi, Christine and Sandra had to create a retreat for like minded women and have them “play” together for a week! Additionally, that first week in September has the best weather ever to be enjoyed along with the best view ever! I hope by this time next year you will be able to have this pleasure again. In the meantime, be careful, be safe and carry on creatively.” Fondly Mary Boalt.

Gail showing off her vest
Mary and some wonderful painted canvases

Guest post from Heidi Emmett

“I will TOTALLY miss the camaraderie that is developed during this time with each of my students and how we become a cohesive group with ideas bouncing off the walls for something that’s upcycled or a new technique to try. Everyone is enthusiastic in their own way and it is so fun to be a part of. I will miss the “ahha” moments when it is discovered that they CAN make and ENJOY a garment that they sewed themselves using my Art to Wear patterns. AND that it IS O.K. to break some sewing garment rules. They finally feel free to get some creativity going and it feels mighty fine!” Heidi. 

Sunset over Lake Tahoe. This happened during our nightly program

Sharing the lake with others is what Lake Tahoe is all about.

Guest post from Sandra Bruce

“One of my favorite parts of being at Zephyr with Artistic Alchemy is the shot we get of everyone at the end, on the last day. We don’t always get every single person, some ladies have to scoot early to catch planes, for instance, but it is so fun to gather as a group one last time for this picture. Friendships have been made, stories told and shared, and the week has been diffused with lots of creativity, learning, and laughs! Here’s the collection…2015 is missing from my photo library, but the rest are here.” Sandra

Group Phot0 2014
Group Photo 2016
Group Photo 2017
Group Photo 2018
Group Photo 2019

What a great look back over the years! Unfortunately Sandra couldn’t find the group photo for 2015. It is nice to see so many friendly, familiar faces and returning students too. Has anyone been to every retreat!

I remember in maybe 2015 looking at the Artistic Alchemy website and contemplating signing up for Open Studio. I joined the group in 2018 and it was my first retreat, first time at Zephyr Point and first time in this group. For the Artistic Alchemy 5th anniversary I contacted various quilt companies and individuals to see if they would donate some free swag for giveaways and I was totally surprised how generous people were. Thank you sponsors. It was so fun each night at the program/show and tell to be able to share all this swag!

Everyone looks happy with their free swag!!

I was looking forward to my workshop this year it was called Mark-making and Collage and would have included a day of playing and printing with fabric paints. I started to put together a fabric journal with some of my samples but I suppose now I have another year to work on this.

Working to combine the pages of this fabric Journal

Best wishes to you all for following along with our journey and although we won’t be at the Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center this year we can all dream about it. We are planing to return next year September 6-10th 2021. Keep safe, keep well and keep creating.

Jane, Sandra, Mary and Heidi Sept 2019

The (not so) Lazy Days of Summer

by Sandra Bruce

As I write this it is National Lefty Day (Thursday the 13th) so I wish all you lefties out there a happy year ahead. I imagine many of you are, since creative types tend to be lefties. It is also the day before my son Matteo’s birthday, and I always think back to this day that should have been his birthday, but he was hesitant to come into the world and worked me for 22 hours, so it ended up being the 14th instead. Having kids sure does make you mark time, in so many ways!

In this post I’m going to show you 2 Matrix pieces I’ve completed since my last post. The first, a SAQA challenge, was to create a 12″ by 12″ piece that deals with what you are doing in your studio during the time of Covid. I have never attempted a Matrix piece that small, but decided to do it. I took a selfie that was in color and turned it into black and white.
I painted the circles on the mask with ProFab pant, the mask I was wearing did have those circles and this was an easy way to portray them. Everything else is pieced. There’s to be a show at the Blue Line Gallery in Roseville in November, hopefully, that will have 40 of these pieces. I haven’t named it yet….

Speaking of selfies, my son Matteo took one that I have been really taken with. I made a Matrix quilt of him when he was a little boy, another when he was a teenager, and I thought it was time to make one of him as an adult. He grew a wonderful mustache that would be fun to do. The photo is intense and moody, just like we have all been feeling since Covid came into our lives.

I love all the value changes and cool colors. I knew after doing my RBG quilt that the transitions from light to dark would be tricky.

I blew up the gridded photo (2-8-1/2″ pieces taped together) and attached it to a piece of foam core.

I like all the dark sky-looking blues. Started here…

I started out going vertically instead of horizontally, to complete all the blue on the right hand side.  I stayed with all solid black in the darkest parts, which I don’t usually do….and ended up changing a lot of the squares later to textured blacks. What was I thinking?

You all know how I love doing eyes, this one proved to be fairly simple and straight-forward. It was the other eye, the one you hardly see, that was tricky.

In progress…

See all the pins, below, in the bottom 1/3rd. I usually sew together blocks of 16 but I was so undecided about the neck area, that I put all all the 2-inch squares in place there before sewing anything together. I reworked it a couple of times, and just was not happy but couldn’t figure out why. The purple is pushed to an extreme from the photo. I then decided the problem was there was too much neck showing. It was too much purple and too distracting, and just…unnecessary, so I took off the bottom 3 rows. Voila! That solved it. (hold your hand over the bottom 3 rows and you’ll see what I mean).

Once the top was together it went downtown to be quilted. The first thread I pulled out to use was my favorite Omni thread, “Tapestry Taupe”. This is a wonderful color that I use all the time and it looks good on almost everything (in the foreground near the bottom of the photo).
I matched the binding like I usually do. It is 39″ by 47″Here’s the finish, and a couple of closeups:

I named it, “Matteo in the Time of Covid”, since the photo was taken and the quilt made during this time. Not to mention, Matteo had Covid and was pretty sick for 2 weeks. I’m so thankful he was able to overcome it as he did, being strong and young. His test was negative but we are sure he had it from all his symptoms. He’s fine now! 

Matteo looks so much like my dad, especially now that he is grown. My handsome dad….. here he is at Matteo’s age. I see my dad, who is gone, when I look at Matteo.

That’s it for now…I hope you all are well, and stay well. We are nearing the time that our Artists Alchemy Retreat would have been happening, in normal times we would be gathering supplies and goodies for our Zephyr retreat. Next year will be twice as good for all our waiting! Take care, everyone, and I hope you are happily sewing.

Lazy Days of Summer (especially now)

by Sandra Bruce

Summer is definitely here, wouldn’t you say? Yesterday my thermostat read 100 degrees at about 2:30 in the afternoon. I’m going to hold this image in my mind as long as I can, our last good rain on May 17th.I’ve been playing nurse to 2 sick boys for the last few weeks (trips to Rite-Aid, driving food and smoothies across town, etc etc.) , so I don’t have a lot of images collected to show you today. Both are getting better so that’s the good news.


What I love about summer is the bounty of fruit and veggies that we get here in California. I have realized in the past traveling to other places how lucky we are to have such plentiful fresh food. Beets are my favorite vegetable. At the bottom of this post I will give you my favorite summer beet recipe. It’s beautiful as well as delicious.

While on the subject of food, we have become popsicle addicts here at my house. I have made special trips to the store for popsicles when needed. When it’s hot there’s nothing better. Life’s little pleasures!

I feel very fortunate during this time of Covid that I am able to work on my longarm machine quilting for customers, especially with all my teaching gigs cancelled for the upcoming future. I have had an issue with my longarm which is not solved yet, but it will be soon. It will require a 3rd trip up by the tech from Meissner’s. It has made me find out the hard way that I can continue to longarm without my up/down switch working. I’ve been using the hand-wheel manually which takes a lot of physical prowess. Any of you longarmers out there know what I mean.  I recently did a custom quilt that had to be done and took quite a while to do and involved a lot of hand-wheel turning….but I did it!

When I do a customer’s quilt that is so beautifully sewn/appliquéd and is totally square it is almost not work.

When I scroll through my photos I realize how changed life has become. Social distancing, in all its forms, is our new norm.

I’ve learned that games often played with friends can be played alone.

I got this very sweet text from my son.

Speaking of him, I am doing my 3rd Matrix quilt of him, I thought doing one of him as a child, one as a teenager, and one as an adult was a fitting thing to do. Matteo took a selfie that I really liked and I knew it would make a super fun and challenging  quilt to do. I will do a post later on it when it’s done, but here’s a couple of shots in the meantime. First the photo:

I love how it’s dark and moody. All those value changes, and all the color changes in the skin…it’s a perfect image. It’s going well so far. I’m having to fudge a bit in the shadows. An artist’s prerogative.More on this later, as I said. It will be done soon at the rate I’m going….working on it is keeping me sane.

So if you made it this far, here is my beet recipe.

SUMMERTIME BEETS ON YOGURT

Ahead of time, roast in the oven 2+ pounds of beets. Mixing yellow and red is pretty. Set aside to cool, and slip off the skins under cool water. Also ahead of time, at least a few hours if possible (but not mandatory), chop very finely several cloves of garlic, I usually do 4-5 depending on size. Stir the garlic well into a large tub of plain yogurt and put back in the frig. (the greek whole milk style yogurt is heavenly).

When the beets are cooked and skinned and the yogurt has had time to absorb the garlic and you’re close to time to eat, you are ready to assemble the dish.

In a wide, flat-ish bowl, spread the yogurt over the bottom. Slice the beets into slices. Arrange the beet slices over the yogurt in a nice arrangement. Mix, in a small bowl, approx. 2 T. of lemon juice and 3-4 T. olive oil. Emulsify with a whisk and pour it over the beets and yogurt, drizzling it all over. Give it all a good couple grinds of pepper and sprinkle on some coarse salt. On top, sprinkle a small handful of fresh mint, chopped roughly. The mint really makes it, don’t skimp. The colors of the beets swirl into the yogurt and is gorgeous. Enjoy.

Till next time, stay safe, wear your mask, and happy sewing. 🙂