Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sweet Home Indiana

We just spent a long weekend in Indiana, where my husband grew up, to visit his parents. We have not been able to make it out there for quite some time as the trip requires staying in a hotel and that eats up available funds pretty fast. His dad suffers from Parkinsons and is not doing well, so we made getting out there a priority this summer.

It was the first time I really had a chance to explore outdoors around his parents' home. They live next door to the home that belonged to David's grandparents (and now to his aunt and uncle), and there is a lot of land between and behind the two homes to wander around. David's grandfather had an apple orchard, and though it is untended these days, it still stands, between the house and the endless cornfields on either side.

I'll get back to my smart remarks another time. For now, here are some pictures from a place I had not realized was so beautiful.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Modern Baby Winner

The winner of the Modern Baby book, as chosen by is the third comment that arrived in my inbox: Kimberly Brandon Rolzhausen, who said:

I would totally name my fantasy baby Tsunami Jane, it would be a girl because I would refuse to birth a boy...also my next cat will be named Boo Boo Kitty Fuck and my next dog will be named Diogee (pronouced D-O-G) ha!

Tsunami Jane is freaking awesome.

Kimberly, I'll be sending you an email shortly. Congratulations!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Modern Baby: a book review and a giveaway

My friend (and GenQ overlord) Jake, sent me this book recently because, well, she's in it, plus the publisher sent her a whole bunch. I may have mentioned on Facebook that my dear friend Amy had a baby boy last fall, and since there's a pretty good chance he is the last baby anyone in my tiny little social world will have, I dote on him. In fact, I made him a cover baby:

So, I was very excited to get a copy of this book because I'd love to make him a quilt even though I have completely sworn off making baby quilts. I tried to make his older sister a quilt, but that didn't go very well (franken-stitching was involved, to cover up my mistakes), and it is still folded up and shoved in a closet here somewhere because I am too embarrassed to give it to her. Yes, she's only 5, but I have my pride, dammit.

So, maybe now that my skills have improved somewhat, there's a chance I could try again. I wanted to do something other than the usual pinwheels. Have you noticed that? Every baby quilt pattern on earth involves pinwheels. OR CHEVRONS. I wanted something a little more unusual, but I didn't have any ideas yet until this appeared in my mailbox.

I have to say, at this point in my jaded career, I am very surprised when I genuinely like a quilt book, and one of the main reasons I like this one is for what it doesn't contain: it doesn't have that ridiculous section that "teaches" you how to quilt! Have I mentioned this before? I'm sure I have, because this drives me absolutely up the wall, and I tend to never shut up about that kind of thing. If you want a book that teaches you how to quilt, then buy that book. A book that is supposed to be a collection of patterns should not spend half its pages telling you stuff in an entirely too-brief format for the purpose, stuff that you should really already know if you're going to attempt anything inside that same book. It's filler.

Modern Baby, ($24.99 for print and e-book, $16.99 e-book only) to its credit (or to the credit of the editors at Martingale), doesn't do that. You get a one-page intro and then, boom! Patterns. Fourteen of them to be exact, and none of them are duds. The designers are all people I admire (and, full disclosure, I have met three of them - Carolyn Friedlander, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, and Jake Finch, though only Jake has the power to make my life a living hell if I give her book a bad review. BRING IT ON, FINCH!) and what they have submitted here doesn't disappoint.

Besides her incredibly successful Architextures fabric line, Carolyn Friedlander is getting known for her paper-pieced quilt patterns, and her Tiny Textured Trees pattern here is a great, simple pattern for first-time paper-piecers. In fact, the design is so simple, that it could easily be altered slightly for each tree, to give the design some variety. She chose a very light palette for her quilt, but you can really see it working in all kinds of colors and shades.

Another one that I really like is Floating Pyramid, by Audrie Bidwell. There's nothing about it that screams "baby quilt," but at the same time, you can just see a little shmoopie-poo getting some tummy time on it. 

I also like that there's a great variety of techniques in the book as well. Paper-piecing, 60-degree triangles, applique, and even a little embroidery. There's patterns where you don't need to know anything more complicated than half-square triangles, and some where you'll be doing y-seams (and, most likely, shots of tequila).

I haven't yet made one of these quilts, so I can't be sure the instructions are stellar, but just reading over them, they use clear language (like "right sides together," instead of "RST", which drives me batty. I'll be eighty-eight and still going, "Wait. What is RST again?") and lots of clear diagrams. I like it when diagrams are inserted in the run of the instructions, as they are here, and not lumped together on another page, to be referred to as , "See Diagram A."

It's nice to see the leaps into modern quilting patterns that Martingale is taking, and I definitely recommend this one.

Would you like one? Jake, since she has a small truckload in her garage, has kindly offered to give one to one of my faithful readers. Leave a comment, telling me this: if you had a new baby right now (even if you no longer possess egg-producing ovaries or even the desire to pop out a kid), and could name that baby ANYTHING you wanted, with no repercussions from uptight spouses or judgmental relatives, what would it be? You can steal celebrity names, because if I could, I would totally steal Moxie Crimefighter - the best girl name EVER.

I'm going to leave this open all week to give everyone a chance to see it and enter. Comments will close at midnight EST on Friday, July 19. Be sure to leave a way I can reach you if you are the winner!

PLEASE NOTE: If your comment doesn't appear right away, it's because I moderate all comments and I might be busy with the kids, but it will get approved (eventually)!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Freelancing: a survival guide (of sorts)

I have spent the last 9 years of my life fairly immersed in the world of periodicals and it occurs to me that, as both an editor and a writer in that business, I might have some words of wisdom to impart to others about how one might go about getting published as a freelance writer for quilting magazines and some advice for those newbies whose work is accepted. Or I could be just talking smack, who knows? Point is, that is what I feel like writing about today. Another day, it could have been chicken recipes. It's all a crapshoot with me.

People often wonder how they can "break in" when they've never been published before, and yes, the truth is this can be somewhat difficult. An editor will very often want to see your past work to get an idea of what you can do, but, in my opinion, a good editor will realize that a selection of published pieces—particularly if they are from small, local publications—is not necessarily the best indicator. In local markets, good writers are hard to come by because the pay is shit, and so small publications will sometimes hire bad writers and clean up the shitty writing they turn in. It's like hiring somebody to to the leg work of the interviews and research and then writing a piece based on their "notes." I know this from having re-written a LOT of articles myself, and from seeing writers' portfolios when I was hiring them and then comparing it to the work they eventually turned in.

If I were in a position to hire writers now, I would actually ask to see unpublished work as well as published, and I would put far more weight on the quality of the unpublished work that I knew had not been magically fixed by editor elves. But that's just me. Other editors who have corporate overlords to appease may not be able to make the same kinds of decisions, but I guarantee you there are some editors out there who, if they don't already see it my way, can be persuaded. An editor may be more likely to consider a fully written article that meets their needs from an unpublished author than taking a chance on assigning a piece to an untested writer who may or may not deliver, so keep that in mind.

So my first piece of advice for unpublished freelancers is: Get yourself a writing portfolio, even if all of that writing is unpublished. But there are caveats!

The writing you place in your portfolio should be writing of the type you wish to do for publication. Do not include your blog posts, and for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, do not include poetry. Do not include your kinky alien abduction/vampire/octopus erotica. (Unless you're submitting something to me, then totally include that.) You need to write some articles. Are you hoping to work with a magazine that publishes lots of how-to's? (How To Get Great Summer Legs; Where To Find The Best Babysitter). Then write some. You'll be called on to pitch story ideas eventually, so start working on that now, and get yourself a list of ideas that suit the publications you are interested in and write some of them. If you're lucky, one of them might eventually get published, but even if it doesn't it won't be time wasted. You'll gain experience and have something that is not in free verse or possibly grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

If you want to target a particular publication, read it. Don't just flip through the pages; really read it and read more than one issue. Most publications use AP style or Chicago for certain details, but that isn't your main concern. You want to get a feel for the flavor of the writing they publish. GenQ is laid-back, a little sassy, definitely fun and friendly. Other publications have a more serious tone or maybe something in between. If you submit an article to Generation Q, it probably shouldn't have the same style as one you submit to Butt-Clenched Quilters Monthly.

Same goes for the ideas you pitch or the topics of the articles you submit. Be sure you think the topic is one that the editors at Butt-Clenched Quilters might just leap on (assuming they can unclench long enough to leap). This may seem self-evident, but I have myself pitched ideas about things like skill tutorials only to be told "We don't do how-tos." No discussion. So if you note that a publication ONLY has fabric designer profiles, don't pitch "101 Ways To Make A Quilt That Is Basically A Reproduction of a Traditional Design And Call It Your Own," even if you think they should publish such things. After you are a beloved and trusted member of their freelancing staff, then you can try pitching the crazy stuff and try to convince them why it would work (but realize that that big publications answer to corporate overlords who may not let them stray far from an already established editorial structure).

For most publications, you will be called upon to provide photos for your article if the article necessitates it and most do. Depending on the topic, you may need to take those photographs yourself, so educate yourself as much as humanly possible about photography. If you only have access to your cell phone camera, you're going to have to invest in a better one or borrow one. If you typically use an email client to send photos, be sure you know how to access the full-size file of your digital images, because those are what you need to send. Email programs, and things like iPhoto and Picasa, often have defaults for reducing the file size of a photo to make it easier and faster to email, but those smaller images can't be printed onto paper at the dimensions necessary for magazines. Most of today's digital cameras take pictures that are of a sufficient size for print, as long as you have the camera set to full resolution and you send the full-size, original file. A full-size image should, these days, be well over a megabyte, and more like 5 MB or bigger.

(A word about DPI: most publishers will tell you that an image will need to be "300 dpi" for print, but if you have the means to look at your own photos, they will most likely be 72, which is the typical resolution of a computer screen. Don't panic and don't necessarily try to Photoshop it up to 300. In print, we worry about "effective dpi" more than actual dpi. A digital image that is only 72 dpi but is huge in its dimensions (like 20 inches by 20 inches or more) will have a higher "effective" dpi when it is reduced to the dimensions needed for print. Having said that, however, many editors do not get this and it's impossible to know ahead of time whether they will pass a photo onto the graphics people for approval, or whether they've been trained to say nay to anything with a dpi under 300, no matter how big it actually is. If they are the latter type, be prepared to convert it in Photoshop, but remember to set up the conversion so that the size is proportional to the dpi, so that when you raise the resolution, it reduces the dimensions accordingly.)

If you don't and can't take your own shots (say for an interview conducted over the phone with Quilty McFamouspants, who lives in Borneo with her six cats and a lover named Studly McBeefypants), you will have to arrange for the article subject (or subjects, depending) to provide photos. This can be easy, especially when Ms. McFamouspants has been through this drill before and has plenty ready to go and already knows what's required. Wonky McNewbiepants, however, hasn't been featured or interviewed before, so all that stuff I told you above about the cell phone and the full-size and the dpi and whatnot, you're going to have to communicate to her. It's not always easy, so don't wait until the last minute. Tell her you need them two weeks or more before you actually need them.

Also, when you are interviewing people for articles, neverneverneverneverNEVER promise them when an article will be published. NEVER DO THIS. I don't care if the editor told you that your piece was, her hand to God, definitely and without question, going to be published in the November issue, may lightning strike her own beloved mother dead if it doesn't. I guarantee you it won't make it into the November issue and her sainted mother will be alive and un-zapped. I once had a freelancer who had the balls to call me and chew me out because he promised the restaurant owners he wrote about that their piece would be in the next issue, and it turned out we had to bump it for space. He even had the gall to tell me how this hurt his reputation and demanded I call the restaurant and apologize. I called the restaurant and apologized that the writer was a total dick and then I fired him. There are very good reasons why articles have to be bumped and generally it is not just because the editors are doo-doo heads. Other articles which do have to be in a particular issue because they are seasonal may come in longer than expected or advertising may be sold at the last minute. Space is constantly being massaged in the publication process, and when a piece is bumped it is usually for space reasons and can't be helped. Don't take it personally—the piece will go in eventually (probably). (The other crap thing about this is that you won't get paid until the article is actually published. You'll note that the contract you receive when they hire you says that you will receive payment after publication. More on that later.)

If you are lucky enough to get a pitch or a story accepted, be sure your copy is super clean. Check for typos and errors and then check it again. Editors LOVE writers who can not only construct a good, tight story, but also those who know what the hell a spell-check is for and know how to use it. And if you have a deadline, meet it. Period. Yes, those same editors may play fast and loose with their own deadlines, but you should not. Just consider this a point of pride.

Once the article is out of your hands, it is, truly, out of your hands and, in many ways, it no longer belongs to you. The publication has paid you for it (or they will, eventually. More on that later.), so now it's pretty much theirs to do with as they please. Once they have it, you might discover that a precisely turned phrase, one you labored over for days, one you were sure would, on its own, earn you a Pulitzer, has been changed or even cut. Tough. Them's the breaks. The editors have final say about what goes in a magazine and have the right and responsibility to change things as they see fit. (Jake and Melissa will start howling because I do fight them over things in my humor articles, but that is because those are creative writings and I often phrase things very carefully, sometimes using incorrect grammar or syntax in order to make a point or reveal a character. What they feel is a "correction" might interrupt the flow of a sentence if it is meant to sound a certain way. I generally don't engage in these fights for my regular articles, but if I do, I say I have enough experience as a writer and editor to do so.) It's like having a kid and letting her go on to drop out of college become a stripper at the Boom Boom Room and not interfering because it's her life and if she wants to have dollars stuffed in her thong every night instead of becoming a dental hygienist, then that's just what you have to let her do. Yep. It's just like that.

It can be hard to get paid, so be prepared to ask and ask again where your check is. It's probably best not to depend on the income you get from freelancing for anything vital like insulin or food. I can't speak for ALL publishers, but many take their sweet time about paying. Back at Quilter's Home, I always had to get my editor, Jake, to make calls and send emails for me, and my W-2s were forever being misplaced and my contracts for each article never sent to me. "Well, we can't pay you without a W-2 and a contract!" It can be hard, too, to realize that, not only will you not get paid until after publication, publishers often have a schedule for when they cut checks and it might be several weeks after the actual publication or release date. Seriously, freelancer checks are like happy little surprises in the mail.

And I should not have to say this, but I've seen it often enough that I'm going to: don't copy and paste stuff from the internet and call it your own writing. Don't do it. As an editor, I could tell when a writer had done this and all I had to do was Google the text in question to confirm it. One writer did an entire article this way. I caught it immediately.

Freelancing will probably not make you rich. No, make that definitely. But there's a lot of satisfaction that comes from getting published and seeing your name in print, and a great way to be a part of the quilt world if designing patterns and fabric isn't your thing. It can also be a fun sideline in your off-hours at the Boom Boom Room.

In a future post, I'll talk about article writing itself and give you some tips for how to construct a well-written piece as well as what kinds of add-on information editors like to see. Or it might be pictures of socks. It's all a crapshoot with me.

Monday, July 8, 2013


It's time once again for the calendar you all know and tolerate: The Quilter's Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito Calendar. This will be our third year of chunky goodness—but if and only if enough brave dudes doff their tops and grab a quilt and a burrito while someone digitally immortalizes it and sends me the resulting photo.

Unfamiliar with the QSMASBC? It started out, as nearly everything in my life does, as a joke. On my professional web site,, I said on my bio page that I had been lucky enough to combine two of my great loves—quilting and writing—into one career, but that someday I wanted to gather all of my passions into one publication: Quilter's Shirtless Man and Spicy Burrito Monthly. Being the thrifty humorist that I am, I recycled the joke on the blog, made a pinboard on Pinterest devoted to the concept, and soon readers began suggesting that if I didn't mind potbellies and fur, they'd take a photo of their own personal man-companions bare-chested, be-quilted, and, well, holding a burrito. And I counter-offered: if I get 12 such photos, I'll make us a calendar. I got 14. I made us a calendar.

I decided that I wanted to make this calendar a fund-raiser for my brother's family. My big brother had been fighting brain cancer since January of 2010. I wanted to give him and his family both a little extra money, to help ease some of the burdens this illness has brought them, but also maybe a laugh as well. My brother passed away in January of this year, but I would still like to pass the money on to his family—a little something I can give them in his memory. My brother was one of the funniest people I have ever known and whenever we were together we laughed like lunatics. It seems fitting that I should carry on this project in his honor so he can keep on laughing with me, wherever he is now.


If you would like to submit yourself, your personal man-companion, a beloved relative, or some dude you bring home from the bar one evening, please read the following so that you will know what to do, what not to do, and what you're getting yourself into:

This is a calendar that celebrates ALL our guys, not just the ones that are cut and ripped. If your man-companion is hesitant because he thinks his Buddha-belly isn't welcome, just show him the pictures from the last two editions here and here.

Nudity is not required, but shirtlessness is. HOWEVER—I am more than happy to consider any and all submissions that have naked booty. I will consider them very, very closely, spending long hours determining their artistic value. If you decide to go for full frontal, I'm afraid I'd have to put a modesty quilt patch over your personal burrito, but I think that would be awesome, too, so go for it if you want.

There must be a quilt in the photo. The gentleman can be lying on it, wrapped in it, contemplating it as it hangs on the wall before him, or even making it himself.

The gentleman must be holding a burrito. But please ask him not to begin eating the burrito during your photo shoot. We want to see his lovely face in all it's glory, not with his maw wide open, stuffing in a steak-n-chorizo special.

• I would love to promise that your photo will be in this year's calendar, but I just can't do that. Lots of people who didn't do last year have expressed interest, and I want everybody to have a chance to participate if they want. The first year, I got exactly 14 entries and I made them all fit. If I manage to get significantly more than that this year, I will have to pick the ones I consider to be the best. So, if you were in last year, and want to be in again, just make sure your photo is so epically awesome there's no way I can't not choose it.

If you can take your photo outdoors, please do. Natural light will produce the best photos.

Be sure to take your photo in a horizontal, not vertical, orientation.

Use the highest quality setting on your camera and send in the full-size file. Photo files that have been reduced in size by programs such as Picasa for ease in emailing cannot be used. The file you attach should probably be at least a couple megabytes if not more.

• Email your photos to me at dontdrinkandquilt (at) gmail (dot) com.

• By entering, you acknowledge that the photo you send essentially becomes mine to do with as I damn well please. You can, too, of course. I won't take away any of your rights to eventually use that photo for your own purposes (wooing strangers over Twitter comes to mind), but I will also have the right to put that photo here on the blog, on Facebook, on Pinterest, and any other venue for publicizing the calendar that I find necessary. There is no remuneration for being chosen to be in the calendar, other than the pride that can only come from knowing you are in a calendar that is routinely given away as a gag gift at Christmas.

• I reserve the right to refuse to use any photograph for any reason I see fit. If your picture is not displayed on this blog on the day the calendar is released, I chose not to use it. It might have been an issue of image quality, or it might have been the bizarre socio-political statement you chose to make with your photo for some unknown reason. You may never know for sure.

• The deadline for entries is September 30, 2013.

As I have mentioned, interest in this blog and the calendar diminished significantly during my sojourn as a respectable human being with a semi-real job and the resulting neglect the blog suffered, so in order to get all the men necessary to keep our little tradition going, I need your help. I am hereby officially begging you, my dear readers, to help me get the word out that the QSMASBC is alive and well and searching for beefcake. Please grab the image at the top of this page or the smaller one below and link it to this post. Pin it on Pinterest; post it on Facebook; ANYTHING you can do to let people know about it and link back here will be a significant help. I thank you from the bottom of my twisted little heart and I look forward to seeing you or the male of your choice gracing my inbox with spicy, shirtless, quilty awesomeness.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Anatomy of a (partial) success

I've always been fascinated with Lone Star quilts, and so naturally, that was one of the first things I attempted when I started quilting. Quilting itself, even the easy stuff, seems so daunting when you first start out, that it's hard to judge at first what things are really way beyond your skill level. The first time I attempted to make the pieced diamond block that comprises a Lone Star, this is what I ended up with:

I had not yet learned that bias edges are evil and will conspire to destroy all your hard work unless you treat them like they are radioactive. All that stuff about pressing versus ironing? Made no sense to me at the time. I GET IT NOW.

So, I have no idea what possessed me to try it again now. I don't even remember making the decision to do it. One minute I'm lounging at the pool, wondering how anyone can burn after 5 minutes with 110 SPF sunscreen (answer: when that someone asks a 9-year-old to put it on her back for her), and the next I'm cutting strips from my mom's old Kaffe Fassett stash.

I looked around at a lot of tutorials online, until I had a sense of what to do. The strip-piecing method makes things pretty easy to start, but then you have to sew those strips together. Many of the tutorials out there will tell you that the way to line things up is to make sure you have a 1/4-inch of overlap at each end when you lay your raw edges together.


Unless you manage to cut and sew with the precision of some sort of machine, this will not work. I know because I attempted it eight million times. I tried inventing my own ways of measuring. I tried begging. No. When you try to line them up based upon measuring your ends, you get this:

And this:

I realize that these do not seem THAT far off, but even that much error can cause issues later, and these were the ones that I did not do over. Many others that I did not photograph were far worse, but I left these because I am still essentially a lazy perfectionist.

No, the only way (that I can see) to line up seams on these strips is to stick a pin through the seam 1/4-inch from the edge of one strip and then put that same pin into the seam of the other strip at the same point, and then pin them together. My strips had two seams to join, so it had to be done twice on each strip. (Maybe I'll do a tutorial someday and show you since I'm like all experty now and stuff.) Once I started doing that, ta da!

Mama likey.

Once I got the bastard all put together it was time for the y-seams. And I thought, "Pfffft. I've done y-seams. No big deal." Well, to be perfectly honest, I've done one y-seam. Just one. But it was perfect! So that means I'm all experty and stuff right?

Yeah, no.

Doing a y-seam in a small block where you are just dealing with three small pieces of fabric is a little different that trying to manipulate something larger and pieced. (I believe the combination of so many bias edges gives it some sort of primitive sentience that allows it to sabotage your efforts to keep it in line.) I had to do the first piece over twice, and it was clearly just luck that it was that few because I did the second piece over eleven times. ELEVEN. Frankly, I'm shocked that there was any material left to sew together after ripping it out so may times, and I would have thought that much ripping and sewing would have turned my bias edges feral and I'd be left with a bleeding stump where my hand had been.

I think a lot of my problem was just being able to see where things were under my needle and presser foot. I had to do a lot of guessing for getting my starting at stopping points in the right place, and it took me a while to figure out how to make that guess more accurate. Even so, if you look closely enough, you can still tell that many of them are a bit off:

 Can't see it? Trust me.  But then some were pretty darn good:

All in all, I consider it a success, mainly because I can't stop looking at it. This was one of those grails for me as a quilter and despite its flaws, it makes me feel pretty darn proud of how far I've come in the last 5 years.

Have you made one? Did it bite back? Or did you subdue it with superior skill and a hazmat suit?