Sunday, August 26, 2018

On Painting a Piano (based on my quilt!)

This summer has been a bit of a whirlwind for me. All in all, I didn't actually do much quilting past the middle of June. But I did have the artist opportunity of a lifetime.

Sometimes I apply for art opportunities and exhibits, and I happened to see one that was somewhat close to my area. The South Orange (NJ) Performing Arts Center, or SOPAC, was hosting their 6th annual piano project and asking for artist applications. After chosen artists paint pianos, they are set out for the public to play for several weeks and then auctioned off to benefit SOPAC's educational efforts.

I thought, why not? I love murals. I've never painted one (and this is obviously very different from painting a wall, which I'd still love to do one of these days) but it was worth a submission. Never did I think I'd have the chance to paint a piano. I have fun memories of playing pianos with my sister in Atlanta, and I taught myself how to play a bit when I was a kid. So the project was even more meaningful.

Design sketch

Instead of creating something totally new, I decided to based the design off of my quilt, Soar. This quilt has a special place in my heart because it was built on my apartment floor (before I had a design wall! Those were the days!), contains orange peels/petals (one of my favorite things!), and signaled a lot of growth in my sewing. Everyone loves rainbow, too, right? I know if I walked by a rainbow piano, I wouldn't be able to resist playing it!

Side-by-side comparison: original quilt made in 2015 and piano painted in 2018.

After waiting a couple weeks, I was contacted as one of the selected artists. The turnaround was REALLY fast (about 2.5 weeks), which magically worked out for me. A last project for the end of summer.

First, I had to get totally out of my comfort zone, go to Home Depot, and shop for painting supplies. Send me to a quilt shop with a beginner quilter and I could help you out, no problem. Painting, though? Sure, I've painted some interior walls with my mom and some canvases, but nothing like this. The staff at Home Depot of Phillipsburg were extremely friendly and helped me at every turn. They were also encouraging/excited about the prospect of a painted wooden piano!

After visiting the piano and getting a tour, it took me four days of 6-7 hour days to paint it by myself - about 25 hours total. I reached out to people to ask for help, but everyone seems to be working (understandably) or on vacation mid-August. With no one else there to give direction to, though, it ended up being a really contemplative time for me. I got completely lost in working on this, so much so that I barely took breaks (and I'm a big break believer!). I left every day feeling a bit out of my element (where's the sewing machine, anyway?) but also quite useful for putting in a hard day's work.

I listened to more than half of my epic 11 hour Broadway playlist one day, which was absolutely amazing. Since I was covered head to toe in paint (I mean this literally), I couldn't switch songs on my phone, so I really got to enjoy every song. No more skipping the 13 minute Phantom of the Opera finale.

On the last day, I finished up the piano with a little time to spare, and even got to (carefully) play for a minute (sealant was drying)!

4 things I learned about painting a wooden piano:
1. Get more paint than you think you'll need, if you can swing it. I ended up needing a coat of white primer and then AT LEAST 2 coats of every color. This little baby grand was quite large, too.

2. Make a plan and stick with it. This piano presented two areas that needed to dry fully before attempting other painting: the cover that folds over the keys and the very top, which folds over to play. Since I had limited time to work on this project, I had to be really intentional and calculating about when I was going to paint certain parts (with at least three coats for each section, organization was key). It worked out - before you open the piano, it invites you to "play something" and then, while it's open, you can "create something!"

3. Painter's tape, paper towels, and gloves are your friends. Much like a seam ripper and thread scissors, I made sure these were with me at every turn.

4. Details are important, but they can also wait until the very end. I didn't know what to do about the space above the keys; it bothered me for days. And then it hit me - sponge painting in all the colors! Then, I added that below the orange peels/petals all around the piano, too. It took nearly no time at all and was exactly the right whimsical finishing touch. Finally, I had to touch up white between the keys, too - THAT took a very small brush and lots of attention!

A week and a half later on Saturday, Aug. 25, SOPAC held a grand revealof all the pianos. I got so excited when we walked out from the parking lot and could see the piano from several blocks away! It looked exactly how I hoped it would in the natural light. 

There she is!

The #orangepeelpiano is out on the main road through the middle of downtown South Orange (South Orange Avenue) near the Village Service Center until mid-October. Hear a beautiful performance by @theo.music_ and @elora_nicole by clicking here, and you can hear me playing some piano here. :) So many people walked by and smiled, kids were dancing, and cars were slowing down to listen and look! It was a beautiful, music-filled morning. I only wish I lived in town so I could walk by/play every day.

Thanks to Carol E., one of my quilt guild friends, and Home Depot for their generous monetary donations to this project! Thanks to friends who openly gave advice about painting (especially Ruth and Teddi). And thank you to SOPAC for hosting this event and for all of your help and encouragement. See the above picture/sign for information on bidding. And check out the hashtag #sopianos2018 to see all five painted pianos from this year (location map right here)!

Well, there's a check off the crafty bucket list. Not sure if I'll ever have that opportunity again, so it was totally worth it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pier #1: A Finished Quilt

I made three especially meaningful quilts this summer. Since they were meant for certain people and purposes, I could only reveal small bits and pieces of the actual process - or else the surprise would be ruined. So, just for the record, they did not just get finished super quickly! They were done in small spurts of time over a period of weeks or months. I'm really passionate about sharing about the process, but for these, I just couldn't reveal much. Fortunately, the payoff of surprise was worth it. :)

The first of three quilts that I got to gift was in planning mode since January. As I've mentioned before, my parents recently moved from our home state of NJ to South Carolina and bought a brand new house down there. I was fortunate to be able to visit them for a week at the end of June, right after school let out. It was the perfect time to get this quilt finished and gift it to them - a long, summery, beachy wall-hanging meant for their new living room.

My mom is a big fan of handmade and owns many of my pillows and quilts (remember this quilt story from November?). I mean, who better to give quilts to than your mom, right? She also LOVES taking pictures of the SC scenery. In their first months, Mom sent me many (many) pictures of this beautiful pier on Pawleys Island.

I was immediately inspired by the way the wood intersects and changes (perfect for some slice-and-insert, no?) - and couldn't wait to take more pictures of my own from a variety of angles. Pawleys Island, which is just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy Myrtle Beach area, truly feels like the end of the world. I could have stayed there all day (though, that wind was something).

Peekaboo. It was very windy. I accidentally got this video of my mom, and I kind of love it.

I set out to capture the particular way the pier, from this angle, progresses from just a few intersecting beams to many. This quilt is Pier #1 because I hope to make a few more inspired by the pier. I took a LOT of pictures, which would mean an even longer blog post, so for now, I'm going to save them for the next quilt!

Mom wanted blues and purples for her living room, so I used several shades of ColorWorks Premium Solids (plus white and gray neutrals). Northcott Fabrics had just sent me a variety solids to play with, and I had just enough (and the right colors somehow!) to create a long wall-hanging; it seemed meant to be. I always love the bold colors and silky feel Northcott offers. Thank you, Northcott!

The piecing required lots of slicing and piecing of neutrals, and I tried not to be too exact about it - more fun that way. :) The background is made up of lots of colors to mirror an ever-changing sky and ocean.

I quilted with a variety of techniques using both Aurifil on my machine and perle cotton by hand. In order to enhance the design of the quilt, I quilted long, extending lines alongside and in between the diagonal wood, all the way into the "sky" and "ocean " (the latter was pieced with improvised curves). Then, just because I love hand quilting now, too, I added in several lines. This detail really made the quilt for me, and it was a perfect, portable project to finish up as I traveled from NJ to Myrtle Beach. Yay, texture.

 I realized after quilting that I had basted the back upside down - whoops. That's okay, though. I used an extra block from the front (it was going to be way too big) and pieced large scraps around it. Then, I sewed on the label and hanging sleeve. Mom promises she's going to hang it up soon, and I'll certainly share a picture on Instagram when she does. 

A happy mom. So I'm happy, too. I hope to keep on making meaningful quilts for a long time.

Full disclosure: Northcott Fabrics sent me ColorWorks Premium Solids to sew with, which are used on the front of this project. All opinions are honest and my own.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

On Sewing Anxiety (and a New Ironing Board Cover)

This weekend, I experienced an epiphany. I love those. I still remember sitting in my AP U.S. History high school class 12(?) years ago, learning all these things about history that had so far been unconnected in my mind, and how they relate to today. Unbelievable (and one reason I became an educator myself).

This was a sewing epiphany, though - one that affected me so much that I had to immediately write about it (hence this post). In the sewing world, we talk a lot about finished projects and fabric piles and color theory and taking classes. All those things are great. Can we talk some more about growing our skills and being confident to try something new?

I tend to be a worrier (and sometimes I bottle it up - only those closest to me really know what I'm thinking, sometimes more than I do). I've improved over time, though. People say that "things have a way of working out" and it's one of my pet peeves, but it's true. Plus, one thing that sewing has done for me over 8 years has made me less anxious. Yes, it's a time and monetary investment (fabric and tools, especially the good stuff you want to use to make things last, can cost major $$). But I think it's also an investment in yourself.

When you learn how to sew and keep at it even just here and there, you are giving yourself an outlet for creativity. You teach yourself problem-solving skills. You learn to be resourceful (for example, for this project, I didn't want to hunt down/have to go buy more elastic, so I just reused the band from my last project - yay for recycling!). You learn how to trust yourself with dangerous (yes, dangerous!) tools (did I think I would be using a rotary cutter so fearlessly 8 years ago? Heck no). You learn patience (remember those time[s] you had to rip out 20 minutes of small stitches under a deadline? That was me this weekend!). But most of all, over time, you learn to be confident.

This confidence builds up in small ways. First, you learn how to operate a sewing machine and thread it so fast and well that you hardly have to pay attention. It's like the joy of finishing a 500 piece puzzle. Every time I notice this, I totally cheer in my head. I still remember taking 10/15 minutes just to thread my first machine! Then, you learn how to care for and solve machine problems. Did your thread just break? Yep, let's adjust that tension. Is it right yet? Nope, let's change the bobbin. And on and on. And then you develop a system.

I'm a very confident quiltmaker at this point, but with most other projects (like my recent pouches, for example - and ESPECIALLY garments), I need a bit of hand-holding.  And that's okay! I'm not a master seamstress by any means and don't pretend to be.

My ironing board cover was looking quite a bit worse for wear lately; the last time I had changed it was 3 summers ago. Water stains, burns, the whole deal. Maybe it was time to change it... but I have hazy memories of long seams, fumbling with elastic, etc. Ugh.

BUT, then I remembered. I've done this before. I certainly can do it again, and probably faster, too. It turned out that just by examining my old cover, I was able to figure out how to make the new one. This was an awesome feeling.

I laid my new fabric out and traced the old cover on top with a washable fabric pen, then cut it out and sewed on some unused binding as bias tape (I save my binding scraps). After safety-pin-squeezing my recycled elastic through, I tested the cover's size on my board, and sewed the last couple of seams. I also cut out two layers of cotton batting to sit beneath the cover. Here's a good example of what I did.

Once I started the process, I had lost my anxiety/apathy completely. In fact, I registered vaguely that I felt quite at peace. After all, I love the fabric (sunflower canvas from the new Front Yard fabric collection by Sarah Watts for Cotton+Steel) - but it's just fabric. And I've built my skills enough to know that all will be well. And now I have a pretty new cover that only took a couple hours to make!

Have you had a sewing epiphany lately, or a moment when you've appreciated how far you've come? Do tell!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

An Adventure in Pouches + Giveaway

I'm primarily a quilter, but here and there, I like to switch things up with a quick, small, handmade project. This really keeps the creative juices flowing (especially when I'm stuck on a quilt or need inspiration or what have you). One of my favorite go-to projects has become pouches - most specifically, the Open Wide Zippered Pouch by Anna Graham of Noodlehead. The free tutorial is very thorough and creates a really professional finish.

I've tried the pouch a few times in the past, but for whatever reason could not get the zipper right. This time, though, I did! For the record, zippers really aren't hard to install (REALLY, I PROMISE), and you don't need a special sewing machine foot to do it, either. This zipper is unique because of the way the pouch is supposed to open (check out the tutorial for a good picture). I gave myself a pat on the back (in my mind) when they all came out nearly perfect.

If I'm going to make one pouch, I need to make a whole batch! Chain sewing is the best. At the beginning of the summer, there were several occasions that required small gifts. At this point, if I have a couple of hours to make something, I've pretty much given up shopping around blindly for a gift that the person might not even use (I have lots of thoughts about this crazy culture of buying gifts, but that's a post for another day). Plus, going through all the motions several times also improves my sewing. And I get pouches out of it. Win-win.


Check out the typewriters (from the Letterhead fabric line by Deborah Edwards)! Aren't they so cool? All the fabrics below were part of a fabric pack that Northcott Fabrics sent to me to play with, and they fit the bill perfectly. I love how customizable pouches are; I usually inscribe each one with initials or the recipient's name. They were a big hit!

My friend Julie, for example, is a writer, so I had to use the typewriters and letters for her. Inside, I included her first sashiko stitching panel and all the necessary supplies, since she's already a fab cross-stitcher and wants to try more needlework. The other two flowery pouches, made for two friends, purposefully match. I like the summery vibes - this is the Chloe fabric line.

Pouches are a great gift, and I'm sure it won't be long before I make another batch! I try to keep zippers on hand for that exact reason (lately, I've been collecting lace zippers for this purpose - have you seen those?).

Full disclosure: Northcott Fabrics sent me fabrics to make with and give away. All opinions are honest and my own.


Today, I'm giving away a half yard bundle of 3 Bohemian Vibe fabrics by Northcott Studio! Thank you to Northcott for offering up some fabrics for my readers to play with. This giveaway is open to anyone worldwide.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway details: Runs from August 8 until August 15 at 12 am EST. Use the Rafflecopter above to enter  - this helps me when tallying votes. Once you comment on the blog, please be advised that it will not appear right away (I have to approve comments due to insane amounts of spam). If you have ANY trouble, please email me and I will post the comment for you! Blogger has been really difficult lately. 

You can still comment and not be entered in the giveaway if you so desire (just don't click anything in the Rafflecopter). I will not be responding directly to all blog comments at this time due to volume and issues with Blogger (unfortunately). Good luck!


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