Monday, February 20, 2017

Birding Vacation

Two weeks ago, I left cold rainy Ohio for 10 days of (almost) non-stop birding in Central Florida!
I've birded as long as I've sewn -- my parents thought I should know how to sew and I thought I should chase down birds -- happily, I've been able to do both -- one as my vocation and the other as my avocation!
 
Since my studio has slipped into the "too messy" zone, I'm starting my re-entry with some tidying up this week, so today I'll regale you with some of my vacation photos!
 
Once I landed in Orlando and found some lunch, I was in full bird seeking mode!
This pair of Sandhill Cranes were sharing a pasture with a herd of beef cattle as I headed to the east coast.  So close and totally oblivious to me?
The Florida tourism folks cater to birders with The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state.  Their website is very helpful!
  Many of the sites I visited are man-made water treatment wetlands.  The first one I visited is located in Viera and literally throbs with birds. 
 
I was delighted to find this Limpkin with two fledglings trailing behind her hoping that she would share the snail (their favorite food) she was carrying. 
I came across a half dozen species of ducks still wintering around the region.  This Hooded Merganser drake was in full breeding plumage and strutting his stuff for a nearby hen. 
They will be heading north soon!
 Little Blue Herons are half the size of Great Blue Herons and don't migrate as far north as I live so it was a treat to see them everywhere!
These are Gulf Fritillaries (I think) -- a new butterfly for me.  It was delightful to see butterflies nearly everywhere I went -- hard to comprehend that 1000 miles north at home, there are no insects moving around at this time of year. 
One of the most numerous birds I saw were Coot -- this group of them reminded me of the clusters of 13 year old teens I see walking home from school -- prancing around, chattering happily. 
This is from a series of pictures I took for the sake of comparison.  There are four different species -- from left to right, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Rosette Spoonbill, and Snowy Egret.
Just as I started to snap pictures, the Snowy Egret fluffed up all his feathers and started to give chase to the two smaller herons -- it got quite comical! 
That froth of feathers on top of his head is usually plastered down.
As I traveled inland, I visited several wild river areas and this was my favorite.
The Haw Creek Preserve.
I was uncertain as I traveled country roads through cabbage and kale fields that were being harvested.  It seems quite remote, but the 1/2 mile board walk with several decks overlooking the creek was some of the most beautiful scenery I saw and very peaceful.
This has to be what I heard some folks call "old Florida".
The slow moving creek is deep enough for canoes and small motor boats.
The woods are mostly live oak and sweet gum that are covered with Spanish moss, bromeliads and tiny ferns. 
This little squirrel was the only other creature I saw during the hour I spent there. 
I found myself fascinated and frustrated by the palmetto scrub -- the texture of the leaves fascinates me but the size and density of them makes finding small birds very frustrating! 
And look at this wonderful "shadow" -- another "texture" idea?
Early one afternoon, I stumbled upon a large gathering of white birds -- it was almost as though there was a sign somewhere banning any others.  There were Great Egrets, White Ibis, Snowy Egrets, and Wood Storks.  While I was enjoying the sight, a large pink bird stood up in the midst of the crowd -- one Rosette Spoonbill. 
 A rather long, birdless walk through a patch of dry woodland that was being rehabbed was just beginning to make me wish I'd made a different choice of which way to walk when I began to come upon armadillos rooting around in the dry leaves -- they have the cutest ears which are hard to see in this photo.  The left side is his head and the ears look like leaves.  Prior to this, I've only seen dead armadillos beside the roads. 
 Several days later, I walked another dry woods and was amused by the seedlings of the long needle pines -- they look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  This one was only 4 feet tall.
I did one all day guided trip (part of the Birds of A Feather Fest in Palm Coast) to the Sweetwater Wetlands outside of Gainesville, FL -- it's another huge waste water reclamation area.  This is a Sora and usually difficult to see since it feeds on the ground in marshy overgrown wetland edges.  This one wandered out of the grass and into these water plants while we stood overhead on an elevated walkway.  The cameras were whirring as he searched for insects -- one of the best looks I've ever had at this bird. 
 There were plenty of alligators but most of the ones I saw were all enjoying a nap in the sunshine and not at all interested in the humans with binoculars and cameras.
 I didn't spend much time on beaches for a couple reasons -- not a beach girl unless it is covered with birds like this!  Shorebirds!  It's the most difficult group of birds to identify especially since I get  limited exposure to them in Northeast Ohio.  They come through in the early spring and again in the late summer but the numbers aren't as great as at ocean beaches.
Happily this group was all the same -- Long-billed Dowitchers -- because sorting a mixed flock of dumpy brown birds can be daunting.
The most common bird everywhere I went were Yellow-rumped Warblers.  There were hundreds and they were everywhere -- but hard to photograph.  When a species is present is such large numbers, it's tempting to ignore all the small brown birds but it's usually "just another", but checking as many as possible sometimes will turn up one like this -- the Black and White Warbler.
(The person who named this one was pretty clever, huh??) 
 And sharing the tree with the B&W was this Yellow-throated Warbler -- both were only 5 or 6 feet above my head which accounts for the good photos.  The B&W is very familiar to me, but the Yellow-throated is much more uncommon in my experience.
Isn't he beautiful?
 The only disappointment of the trip was that I didn't find the three life birds I was seeking but that didn't take much away from nine days of nothing but watching birds and being outdoors.
One more day of tidying in the studio and it will be ready for me to get back at the projects.
Mary


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Door Banners for Valentines!

The beginning of February means it's time to think about some happy Valentine gifts for my grands!  Since one of them has a nut allergy, candy is "verboten".
I was scrambling for inspiration when I noticed Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts "salmon" block pattern that is part of her Canada 150 Quilt pattern. 
My grandson possesses the raw material to become a fanatical fisherman!!
So I purchased Lorna's pattern HERE and set to work to make him a quilted banner for his bedroom door!  The fabric pull was easy and her clear cutting charts make for quick work.
Now what would my granddaughter love? 
How about an owl -- but not just any owl -- it must be Hedwig, the (snowy) owl of Harry Potter fame.  She has read the entire series twice . . . and seen all the movies!
My thoughts turned quickly to Elizabeth Hartman's Fancy Forest pattern that is already in my collection.  Go HERE for her PDF pattern shop!
I made two modifications to the pattern eliminating the "ear tufts" and rounding the head of the owl just a bit.
When it was time to stitch, I appreciated the clarity of Lorna's graphics -- it's so easy to mimic her illustrations literally as I placed the pieces for each step of the construction.
There was one little setback -- operator error -- picked up the wrong pieces and stitched them and trimmed them and pressed them before discovering -- oops!  Time to de-stitch!
A few deep breaths, a little re-cutting and I was back on track.
The quilting went quickly -- meandering lines with my walking foot to evoke the flow of water.
And here it is, a 8" by 16" banner for his door! 
The owl went together with no de-stitching -- yea!!
Pretty good likeness, wouldn't you say?
There is a PBS Nature episode about Snowy Owls you might enjoy watching if you can track it down on-line or in your library -- it follows a pair of owls through their nesting cycle. 
Owlets are enchanting, if somewhat goofy, creatures!
I've can still recall my first sighting of a Snowy Owl -- winter, 1964 in the median of I-271 just outside Cleveland -- it hunted there for several weeks and we would head south along the freeway for a look, get off at the next exit, go under the freeway, and drive back north for another look! 
Here's the finished panel -- 12" by 18".  
I suspect my SIL won't be eager to mount these on the newish bedroom doors, so I'm going to send along a package of those Command "damage free" hanging strips in the hopes that the kids will be allowed to use the banners as intended.

I also came across a delightful book, Outstanding Owls, a collection of applique designs that I've bookmarked for the future when I have more time -- check it out for yourself HERE.

Happy Valentine's Day!!
Mary



















Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A New EPP Project!!

I have been holding off starting a new hand piecing project for months now!
I was waiting for Marge Sampson-George's Dodecagon pattern/template/EPP papers set to arrive from Australia via a network of cousins traveling back and forth to the USA. 
We finally connected at the end of January!
 I pulled out the designated box of fabric and started to cut in preparation for some EPP while traveling this month.
I began by sorting out the papers into twenty sets so it would be easy to prepare little stitching kits for grab and go work.
I am working with an assortment of mid-19th century reproduction prints so it will be a more subtle fabric palette than most of the Australian versions I've seen on Instagram.  My color palette is based on greens, coral reds, sulpher yellows, and browns.  These are some of the prints I pulled out of my "Civil War" stash to expand my choices.
Here are the first five sets I cut.  You'll notice there is some fussy cutting but not much.  I am taking care how I "position" the templates on the geometric prints and stripes prints so that a design motif that might catch the eye isn't off kilter to the degree that it distracts but I'm trying not to overdo that strategy either.
During the second cutting session, I consulted Instagram looking for photos of this quilt that have been shared by others.  My purpose in doing this was to study the value balance and imbalance of blocks to determine my own preferences for value and color placement as I continued to organize sets of four prints for more blocks.
With ten sets cut, I decided it was time for a stitching run through -- okay, I had seriously itchy fingers -- to see how long one block takes.  I'm pleased with this block and will cut a few more before the traveling begins. 
Once I return to the studio, I'll put this first batch on the design wall and finish cutting the rest of the blocks I need.  This approach gives me an opportunity to adjust the fabric selections as dictated by the outcomes of the first batch.  Will I need more of the reds, less of the yellows, etc.?
If you haven't seen this block, it's easiest to find on Instagram by searching for #dodecagon -- you'll discover some other weird things, too but you'll be inspired by the quilts using this design!

And I made my own Sew Together bag to load up for the trip!  My granddaughter and I found this sweet print on a shopping trip during the Christmas holidays!
One side . . . .
. . . . . . and the other. 
I fussy cut some of it to make extra small pockets on the inside.
This is a photo just before I did the binding and inserted the final zipper.
If you follow me on Instagram (it's @hueymary), you'll see photos of blocks pop up over the next couple weeks as I relax -- stitching, reading and birding in a warmer climate!!

Finally, if you are into hexagon quilts and Wisconsin is convenient -- an exhibit of the Hexagon Quilts in the collection of the Wisconsin Quilt Museum just opened.  It runs through the end of April, 2017 and you can get the details HERE!

Enjoy February whatever the weather!!
Mary












Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Texture Challenge -- Project Quilting Season 8

This week's challenge for Project Quilting is TEXTURE.
In the interest of personal calmness and minimizing stress, I've decided not to participate by making a piece.  It's an interesting challenge but right now I can't devote the time to it that I would like.
That being said, I realized on my walk late yesterday afternoon that I am participating to the extent that I'm observing "texture" and contemplating how I might achieve it in my quilting. 
I'm a nature enthusiast -- I peruse nature through birding and walking and a bit of photography.
So I'm going to share some photos from my "nature" gallery that were taken specifically for inspiration.
This is the bark of our native sycamore tree -- they are common along streams and in wet areas.
It's a stunning tree in the winter as it sheds the outer layers of bark to reveal smooth white to pale green layers of new bark.  Look at all this texture -- just waiting to appliqued!?!
These fan shaped fungi are common in mature woodlots and while the colors are typically subtle, I always think it would be fun to depict them with layered Dresden-plate style fans.  This one was particularly striking with the white outer borders.
The witch hazel shrub by my back porch never fails to enchant me -- it will be blooming soon!  One of it's charms is that it blooms while it's snowing and leafless here.  Ruth McDowell has actually pieced witch hazel  -- you can find pictures of it HERE on her website!  It's stunning!!
This field was filled with the webs of orb web spiders and they glowed in the early morning light because they were covered in dew.  There were literally hundreds of the webs and it was fascinating to see.  I've used the inspiration of these webs for a quilting design several times.
Last spring during a visit to Northwest Ohio, we walked through a marsh with a thriving population of leopard frogs.  These were the common frogs of my childhood but I seldom see them in my part of the state these days.  What I love about this photo is the blades of grass cutting across my view.  What do you think -- piece a frog with an oozing muddy background fabric and then slice it to inserts blades of grass?
Finally, I found this photo I took while camping with my family last August.  It's one of the hackberry butterflies that was hanging out in our campsite.  The shades of gray of the gravel is such a good background for this creature.  Will it inspire a pictorial rendering or perhaps a color scheme?
And then there is this beauty -- I stumbled onto this "still life" last fall while walking in the local park -- it's so lovely.  The colors, the arrangement -- perfect!!  It could have been "staged" by someone but if it was, I'm grateful that they shared their artistry!
I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's experiments with textures when the voting begins on Sunday (2/5) over at Persimon Dreams

Hoping you have a stitchable weekend!!
Mary