Pittsburgh Quilt Show Report!

When I first heard that the 2009 Spring Quilt Show was going to be held in Pittsburgh, PA, I wasn't sure what to expect. Denyse and I decided right away that we had always wanted to road trip through Pennsylvania Dutch Country so we made the decision to drive there without so much as looking at a map. Heres the thing about Pennsylvania: its enormous. It is also, unfortunately for those of us who prefer to eat our way across a state, effectively closed for business on Sundays. Other than that? Its fabulous and wholly road trip worthy. Its back road route options are endless, its country-sides are filled with perfect farms small and large, and its cities seem to be remarkably preserved. And like so much of the Northeast, it is so rich with living history that it makes you want to read everything you were supposed to have read in college US History classes front to back. What really blew us away was how beautiful the convention center in Pittsburgh was, designed to stretch out over one of the cities two rivers with views of its many bridges and beautiful buildings. The whole show was filled with natural light instead of the expected flourescents (that alter color dramatically and make everyone look and feel tired by noon), which is every fabric designers dream. 

We arrived on Friday morning after spending the night on the road. A lack of planning (we have both been so solidly busy) resulted in our sleeping in what is perhaps Pennsylvania's only ugly small city and eating Skittles for dinner. The upside was that our only option was eating Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, without being forced to acknowledge the actual caloric content of every thing on the menu, which is the curse of every New Yorker since Mayor Bloomberg instituted strict disclosure rules on New York City restaurants. That Bloomberg. He is like that strict father of your best junior high school friend, the one who won't let you do ANYTHING fun. Still, I love him. Without him, I would not know that a Low Calorie Blueberry Muffin has 410 calories while an Old Fashioned has only 180. I KNOW.

Any-hoo, First stop was Kokka / Seven Islands, my new home in the world of fabric design and one of the prettiest booths at market. They had a gorgeous little booth-ette set up for me with sweet little clothing samples made up in my Far far Away line everywhere and a great Weekend Sewing display. I was on the schedule for three signings, all of which were so much fun. In betweens I dashed over to say hi to Jeffrey at Westminster and Amy Butler, who always has big news. She was showing her very cool new line of bags, designed for crafty girls and full of great details. Her new catalog included lots of news: a bedding line launching with Welspun, some really great rugs, and much much more. Anna Maria was missed, her booth is always full of good ideas and comfy chairs and that adorable doting husband of hers. Checking her blog daily for baby news....

One new and very exciting development was a Liberty of London booth! This cult status favorite has a new US distributor and BIG news: they are launching a lower priced cotton sheeting for the quilting market! I have had no qualms spending $40 +/- per wide yard season after season on their gorgeous printed "Tana" lawns, but am equally excited to see this stuff. I gushed to them about my wedding, which was a parade of Liberty right down to the ties that the guys wore, and was even wearing a Liberty of London shirt. It was very cool to see them there, and to know that more and more US stores will be able to carry their lines now.

Despite a minor setback (accidentally drinking decaf) we made it the show by the crack of eleven. We were just in time for my second book signing and to meet some online (TC calls them imaginary) bloggy friends in person, which is always lovely, and to sign a few more copies of Weekend Sewing. I also found myself explaining the theories and uses of Double Gauze, the fabric that Far Far Away is printed on. I love this stuff. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have made and worn a blouse or dress made from the stuff, I promise you will be a convert. In fact, the dress I am wearing on Martha tomorrow is made from the same weight that Far Far Away is printed on. Its the Mendocino Sundress, still available as a free download on this blog. I live in this dress, I even wore it as a skirt at the show on Friday even though I had taken a four hour nap on the sofa the day before  in it and hadn't had time to wash it. Its really great stuff.


I spent the afternoon over at Oliver + S, now a neighbor of the famed and gorgeous Kokka booth, where Liesl and Todd were showing their extremely popular pattern lines and showing samples made up in the Far Far Away prints. I ate most of their jelly beans. Thanks guys. We all went for dinner at the odd but fascinating Church Brew Works brewery, which is housed in an old church, and drank beers and talked about how much we missed Brooke, who is usually at the show, and the ever changing retail landscape in this age of internet commerce. I love being around with Liesl and Todd, and look forward to watching their business grow. Oliver + S is still quite new but already setting a new standard for sewing patterns. I would like to be the first to go on the record by saying that their vision will shape this market dramatically and they are the ones to watch in the coming seasons.

Sunday was a long drive back to the city with much giggling and junk food. We managed to score some bonnets at a gas station to remember the countryside by, and wore them while driving through the Holland Tunnel. We took them off before emerging in Tribeca, where we knew they would be underappreciated. There is always that moment when a road trip ends. Its before you get home, I think. Its when you turn onto a street that is within your daily or weekly radius, at that specific intersection where crazy hats and junk food suddenly seem less appropriate. 




From the streets of Ecuador to a guest spot on Martha. We did not see this one coming.

lobo and benito, asleep on the sofaA new management company has been hired to oversee operations in our building. We love our doormen and everyone who works here and would hate to see any of them replaced, but there is a tiny part of me that would really like to live in a building where nobody remembers our first fifteen minutes as tenants when our 23 pound  "cat" unburdened himself onto the lobbys shiny marble floor as we introduced ourselves to the staff. It wasn't at all his fault. We were way past the time of day (pre-siesta, post claw sharpening) that he usually disappeared into his litter box. Benito had instead spent the entire day locked in our bathroom while a burly troupe of movers packed up our old place and then twenty anxious minutes in the cab as we sped downtown, during which he stared out the window like a golden retriever while the actual dog lay on the floor with his eyes closed trying not to throw up. He was really wanting out of my arms by the time we arrived, and the introductions were really dragging on with him digging into my shoulder. I thought we were home free when suddenly, he relaxed his grip.  And then our new doorman was pointing at the floor around my feet and yelling "look what is happening!" The rest is an ugly blur. An entire roll of paper towels, a half gallon of disenfectant, and four months later and I can still barely hold my head up when I walk through the lobby six times a day.

When TC and I had to present letters to the condo board in our building in order to be considered as tenants (don't even get me started on what is considered normal in this city) I hadn't even mentioned the cat.  I was asked to also send in photos of both of us, our pets, and descriptions of our lifestyles, achievements, and goals. Rather than focus on TC and I (apart from the obligatory assurance that at least one of us has a real job), I wrote this. We were approved. I really did not think it necessary to mention our cat or his enviable regularity. And just for the record, the little bad-weather booties that I bought for Lobo in an effort to keep my floors clean lasted about two days. I don't want to know what happened to them, My best guess is bad enough.

While I am exceedingly proud of how far our little family has come in terms of language barriers, socialization and being almost completely housebroken, I know that the majority of us Ross / Flemings will likely always be at least partly feral. Its more of a compromise for TC than it is for me. I have certainly never been accused of being overly polished. In fact, a college boyfriend used to hum the theme song from "Born Free" whenever he watched me eat. But even TC had resigned himself happily to living in "an endless episode of Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom". So, you can imagine our surprise when, along with Valentino and his diamond-clad pug and Frederick Fekkai and his darling spotty little spaniel, Lobo and I appeared on the "Guest Stars and Their Pets" section of Martha Stewarts website today. Of course, had we known what the photo was for we might not have submitted this particular shot, which is of the post-nap self portrait type, but we'll take it.

If his old friends in Quito could see him now. Hanging out with Martha and napping with cats. And yes, I will be a guest on the Martha Stewart Show (without Lobo, sadly) on May 19th!


The Ice Cream Man

New York winters are just long enough to allow you to forget everything you've learned about New York summers. As soon as the first cafe chairs are hauled out of the basements and onto the sidewalks, the official sign of the end of winter, I huck myself into spring with a reckless, sunscreen-free abandon, forgetting that my pale shoulders have not seen the sun for months and that a Super Sundae Cone has 410 calories. I run straight for the first sidewalk ice cream vendor that I see. And even though I know full well that, at least for the first few weeks, the fruitsicles and ice cream sandwiches that they are selling have been in a deep, deep freeze since they were packed up last november, I cannot be stopped.

Which is why, exactly two years ago today at the southeast corner entrance of Central Park, TC had to carefully and patiently lick me free from the strawberry Froz-Fruit that had welded itself to the underside of both my upper and lower lip.To say that we drew a small crowd would be an understatement. When my tears had dried (mostly shed for the embarassment of having my picture taken at close range by a non-english speaking bystander during the frantic extraction) and the bleeding had stopped, TC demanded to know why I had not at the very least allowed it to melt a little before trying to eat it. "Couldn't you see the mist coming off it? It looked like a freaking fog machine!". I tried to explain. "I just couldn't wait." 

Ice cream trucks just bring something out in me, they have since the first time I saw one from across a crowded parking lot. I was a buxom (chubby) blonde of 19 and visiting friends over the summer in a sticky suburb of Boston. It was a simple truck, nothing fancy, with a small window and a big cardboard cut-out of a Klondike Bar mounted on its roof. I sprinted through the crowd towards it, mouth gaping open and eyes wide and crazed, like a pre-menstrual Ellie Clampett sans crude rope belt. Maybe not my proudest moment. As much as my friends teased me for being the only full grown woman running after the ice cream truck ( "It wasn't even moving", added my friend Angela), I still haven't figured out a way to control myself in like situations.

My sister has lived in a dreamy suburban permanently-summer California town for so many years now that she has forgotten the depravity of our childhood, and when the ice cream man drives through her neighborhood (TWICE a day sometimes!) she reaches for her purse calmly, as though there is no reason to hurry. Only her youngest and I are running for and then flailing against the screen door like crazed moths as soon as we hear The Music. Her older girls have never known a world without a truck that pulls up in front of your house and gives you perfectly cold treats, they know that if they don't feel like getting up or off the trampoline that they will have another chance later.  I find their apathy difficult to understand. "Your mother and I used to ride our bikes five miles down a mountain on dirt roads with bare feet for icky popsicles when WE were your age." I explain to blank stares. "Why?" was my niece Quinns response. The youngest is pretty cool about it too, actually. I think he's just afraid that if I get there first there won't be anything left. Once, with all of us in her minivan, my sister caught the eye of the driver of the car behind her and gave a wave into the rear view mirror. I turned to see who it was and was shocked to see an ice cream truck right behind us. The driver, who is actually a woman, exchanged smiles and waves with the kids. I was beside myself. Then, and I swear this is true, she actually mouthed my nieces name. I looked at Mattie and said, with my outside voice, "SHE KNOWS YOUR NAME????" Mattie, who has been rolling her eyes at me since she was about ten minutes old, looked at me with a level of sympathy that you would not expect from a tween. "You're sort of like Nell sometimes" said my sister absently, almost as though she wasn't aware that she was saying it out loud. This sort of thing happens to me all the time in suburbia, exposing myself for the rube that I am and always will be. Oddly enough, it happens less in the city. 


Melanie, my editor and dear friend, has in my opinion the best of both worlds. She lives in lovely Beacon NY, just within commuting distance of the city but in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, and squarely on the route of an ice cream man. Her house, which was where a lot of the photos for Weekend Sewing was shot, is a solid and gorgeous old thing that has that amazing quality of light that you only find in homes that were both built before the advent of electric lighting and for a socio-economic class that could afford to heat rooms with high ceilings. This is always the sort of old house that I develop serious and potentially marriage threatening crushes on. TC and I visited her last weekend and I was secretly hoping the whole time that the Ice Cream Man would cruise by while we happened to be on the front porch. Instead, on our way out of town, Melanie took us to a small and perfect and perhaps semi-permanent ice cream shop on Beacons Main Street called Zora Dora. Zora Doras owner, Steve, is to ice Cream what Alice Waters was to lettuce. If arugula seemed like an odd thing to put in your salad twenty years ago, then imagine ordering a popsicle made with cinnamon, rice, cream, and currants. TC's had mint and basil in it, which was delicious. The only odd combo was Chris's selection, which to be perfectly honest tasted a lot like what I imagine eating a frozen curry dish without first thawing or heating it. Still, we were hugely impressed. One of my favorite things about the shop is the windows, decorated with dozens of Popsicle portraits by one of Beacons artists, Erica Hauser, who also  hand-painted the lettering on some of the walls in Melanies house, including the Babe Ruth quote "Never let the fear of striking out get in your way" that appears above her sons bed in the Pajamas for Everyone photo on page 79 in Weekend Sewing.

I fell in love with the painting (at top) that hangs in side Zora Dora of a grown man holding a Popsicle. Steve told me that he bought it on Ebay. It made me think of Mexico, where I lived for a little while after college and where ice cream vendors are very, very common. As I stared at it when I was in Zora Dora, I realized something. I almost never saw children buying ice cream from street vendors in Mexico, at least in the town where I lived. Children there didn't often walk around with money in their pockets. Vendors set up their carts in bus stations in the afternoons, or near busy building sights, where they could intercept their customers on their long mid day breaks. Their patrons were almost always grown men, hardworking and with cash in the pockets of their worn work jeans, many of them older than anyone I have ever seen chase down an ice cream truck in suburban america. Not counting me. It never occurred to me then, when I would walk by them and think them to be very sweet with their grown-up bodies and their shirts off and stuffed into the backs of their trousers, proudly holding melting Popsicles with rough hands in the late afternoon sun, how lucky they were that The Ice Cream Man still came to find them.

More Ice Cream Inspiration here.






Photo Styling and Bitey Little Horses.

One of the photo shoots for Weekend Sewing was at a place called Warrups Farm in Redding, Connecticut. As I walked around the grounds during my pre-shoot scouting visit, I was  introduced to Abby, a spotty little miniature horse whose reputation preceded her in the form of a handwritten sign stapled to her fence. "PLEASE STAY BACK" it warned, "FEMALE HORSE MAY BITE". The crooked lettering seemed to send a foreboding message of its own, as though its author had just lost a few fingers and was frantically trying to warn others by penning the sign with his teeth or toes before losing consciousness.

Not believing for an instant that Abby meant any harm at all, I made this sketch. It shows the shot that I hoped to get for the Town Bag project, and implied that the best of purses could double as a feed bag on a weekend.

When the day of the shoot arrived, this was one of the shots I really looked forward to getting. Sadly, like many many seemingly solid ideas for photo shoots, it did not work. Abby, apparently, prefers leather goods to fingers.  My first mistake was putting actual grain in the bag, which as any good photo stylist will tell you, was not at all necessary. I think that Abbys sign should be re-thought, perhaps to read something like "IF GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY, THIS HORSE WILL EAT ANYTHING THAT SHE CAN PULL THROUGH THE CHICKEN WIRE THAT WE HAVE FRANTICALLY TACKED UP OVER HER FENCE, WHICH IS A LOT MORE THAN YOU MIGHT THINK POSSIBLE." Or something like that.

It became clear to us that we needed to rethink this shot. We broke for lunch and I sketched this (below), thinking that we could get a nice shot of the scrawly sign and Abby's maniacal little gaze through the fencing. What I had not anticipated was Abby's level of commitment. I would hang the bag and take two steps back, she would make a dash for it and I would have to wrestle it from her little bared buck teeth. I gave up after two or three tries.

I imagined having to explain the situation to Melanie the following week when she got the pictures from this shoot. "Where are the Town Bag shots?" she would ask. "The Town Bag has been eaten by an adorable but alarmingly ferocious miniature horse." I would say. And the long silence that followed would be the sound of my photo styling career ending.

Which is how we ended up with this:

Tomatoes rarely bite, and are always ready subjects.

Here are a few more sketches from our shoot at Warrups Farm and the shots they led to:

To see more images from Weekend Sewing, visit the gallery here. To see a picture of Abby and her barnyard friends, go here.





A very Cool Give-Away...

If you haven't already heard, there is a very cool give-away going on over at the STC Craft / Melanie Falick Books blog, where my editor extraordinaire has arranged for one of Natalie Chanins uber cool special edition tee shirts for HBO ( do you have a copy ofAlabama Stitch Book? You should. Her handmade skirts and tops sell for thousands of dollars at Barneys... or you can make them yourself out of  old tee shirts from the patterns in this book!) AND an STC Craft book of your choice! Funny, TC was just teasing me about the fact that I have been trying to make everything I need lately, but I won't give up HBO.  Its about quality, really. And Big Love. Learn more about Natalie Chanin and her amazing work here.