From the Vault: This feature was originally published in Quilters Newsletter’s Best Weekend Quilts 2013.
What would my perfect quilting weekend include? Ideally, at least a few of the following:
All the storage in my house is filled with fabric, but that doesn’t prevent me from indulging in my favorite hobby: buying useless knickknacks and trying to find a place for them. So when I buy something new, something else has to go. This puts a brake on my spending, but it doesn’t stop me.
On a perfect quilting weekend, I would start at dawn at the Flea Market in my hometown of Santa Cruz, California. My son sometimes works there as a vendor. He buys the contents of abandoned storage lockers and sells them at the Flea, as it’s called by the regulars. My son says to get there as soon as the Flea opens, with a flashlight if it’s still dark, before the other vendors have bought all the good stuff.
I make a leisurely trip around the market, stopping to look at whatever catches my eye and bargaining if it’s outside my price range. I make sure to visit Annette, the junk jewelry lady; Ed, the Iranian bookseller; and Haji, the Afghani antiquities dealer. I also visit with homesick Mexicans from every state in Mexico, Tibetans who can’t get used to the climate in California, former Chinese dissidents and people who are just trying to make space in their garages. What do I buy? Vintage fabric if I can find it, old postcards, art and children’s books, old toys and gag gifts. When my shopping bag is full or I’ve spent $20 (my limit), I leave.
If it’s raining and I can’t go to the Flea, I stop by the Bargain Barn, a cavernous storage shed where Goodwill sells whatever didn’t sell in its stores. Five dollars buys a grocery bag filled with whatever you can stuff in it. A lot of Flea Market vendors get their merchandise here, so you have to be careful not to pick up anything that someone else has reserved by putting it in a shopping bag, on a blanket in the corner or (my favorite) in a pile in the middle of the aisle. Territory is everything, so I keep my elbows close to my body, my purse firmly under my arm and my mind on my job – finding treasures amid all the junk.
Next, I would settle down in a big chair at home and look over the unusual books and magazines I scored at the Flea and the Bargain Barn. Favorite recent finds includes a feng shui interior decorating book; a how-to book of Mexican home projects, including a neoprene seat cushion with the spirit of the chili pepper on it; and a book on how to communicate with people from other countries (sample quote about Romania: “Ordinary conversation can become quite loud and passionate; this is rarely a sign than an argument is taking place.”). I wish I’d had that book when a fight broke out between a cab driver and an unidentified man at an outdoor market in Dakar, Senegal. They were yelling at each other in the middle of the market, and when the cab driver opened his cab and pulled out a baseball bat, I ran out of the market, vaulted over a low fence and hid behind a neighboring house. When the owner came out, I paid him to drive me back to my hotel through a back alley, so I never found out what happened in the market. The neighbor said things like that happened all the time.
If I got tired of books, I’d turn on my computer. I’d read my favorite quilt blogs, visit the South Bay Area Modern Quilt Guild website, and research quilters or other artists on Google Images.
Taking a class
I took a Confetti Quilt workshop from Stacy Sharman (www.PeppermintPinwheels.com) of Berkeley, California, recently, which was eye-opening and fun. Check out her Improvisational Split Log Cabin the Gee’s Bend Way, which is a class she teaches. Mike McNamara, a friend and my favorite quilt teacher, runs a once-a-month improvisational quilting class at a local quilt store. In the last few months, I made a number of quilts using his techniques, including Spines.
I’ve also discovered online classes. They’re almost as much fun as a live class, and, if you can’t sleep, you can do it in the middle of the night.
Going on an art outing
If I had time, I would visit a local quilt show. I also go to shows at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, local art galleries, and the Santa Cruz Art League, which sponsors a fiber arts show every year. Open Studios, a county-wide event where local artists open their studios to the public and demonstrate their work, is also inspiring. Besides seeing the work of painters, printmakers, weavers, jewelers and quilters, I get to meet the artists.
Going for a walk
Whether it’s a walk in my neighborhood, on the beach or in the redwoods, outdoor exercise invigorates me. While I’m walking, I look at shapes, patterns of light and shadow, and the 4 million different colors that the eye can see. I don’t always find something I can use in a quilt, but I always feel relaxed and ready to work again when I come home.
Making new friends
I belong to two quilt guilds, and on an ideal quilting weekend, I would go to one of the sew days, group trips or quilting retreats they organize. I attended my first quilt retreat this fall. I sewed and yakked, ate as much dessert as I wanted, stayed up late and made friends with guild members I’d only known in passing. I had a wonderful time.
I also made friends at a local fabric store during a shop hop in June. For five straight days, I sat at a table and sewed miles of half-square triangles together to make sashing for my Scrap Patch quilt. I talked to hundreds of quilters who came by, and I learned what people like (bright colors and funky prints) and what they don’t (thousands of little pieces). I heard people’s stories, I made some friends and I look forward to seeing them again next year.
I sew as much as I’m able, usually every day of the week, so I would definitely spend time in my sewing studio (my living room), working on a project, thinking about the next one or just fooling around with fabric, which is how I make my best quilts.
Sometimes my studio time is shared with friends who come over to sew with me. Not long ago I taught one of my friends, a beginning quilter with little experience, how to make my Floating X pattern, included in Quilters Newsletter’s Best Weekend Quilts 2013. Within a few hours she had made enough blocks for her own quilt.
When I have some spare time, I like to travel. My last short trip was to Portland, Oregon, where I spent two days in Powell’s, one of the largest bookstores in the U.S. You think I’d get tired of looking at quilt books, art books and offbeat fiction, but I didn’t.
And if I could extend that weekend into a week or even more, and if it were within budget, I’d visit another country. A few years ago, my husband spent six weeks in Florence, Italy, at a printmaking workshop. I was there for three weeks and found a flea market on the Arno River with used clothes that sold for one euro (US$1.14 at press time) each. I cut up the clothes I bought there and made Giant Green Olive on a Toothpick. It’s actually an abstract composition, but if you look hard, you’ll find the olive. My husband said not to give a concrete name to an abstract design or people will start looking for the martini glass, but so far that hasn’t happened.
And that’s what I’d do during my perfect quilting weekend.
Pam Rocco lives in Santa Cruz, California.