Agitator or HE Washer: What’s Best for Dyeing Fabric


This is the view inside my Whirlpool HE low-water-use top loading washing machine, which I purchased 2 years ago as it seemed like the thoughtful, responsible thing to do, given my overall concern for the environment.

The principle of the machine is to sense the amount of water needed per load of wash and then swish the fabric around, rather than manually select a fixed amount–low, medium or high–and then agitate. Since the machine has a pesky auto-lock feature I’ve never been able to peer inside and actually watch my clothes/fabric wash, another minor problem. Really who wants to wait to the end of wash cycle to get an idea of what the finished fabric might look like?

While I can’t see inside, the manufacturer shows a picture on the inside of the machine which shows what it looks like when clothes are being washed.


For dyeing fabric, this machine is a poor choice. It often won’t sense when a small amount of fabric is inside. When my mom moved to her new home in Patagonia recently, I inherited her washer: an old fashioned top loading agitator. Which looks like this:IMG_0351

Above I’ve got 6 pieces of fabric about 1/3 yard each ready to wash.


And, I can control the amount of water used. Just a low amount in this case. And as most of the dye has already been rinsed off once taken out of the dye-bath, the used water will be channeled to my flowerbed, not the sewer.

This is the current view of my backyard studio a.k.a. patio, where I often dye fabric; the gray-water from the washer only helps plants along, it was 104 degrees yesterday, our first really hot day of the summer.




Moving Fabric

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If I get my appreciation and love of fabric from anyone, it would be my mom. Here is the contents of her sewing studio, and years of collected notions and bolts of fabric, on the back of my friend Bruce’s pick up truck. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a friend with a big truck when it comes time to moving.

I think I mentioned that my mom is moving to Patagonia. Here she is putting the last few things on the truck:

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Once loaded we headed to Patagonia to unload. Her sewing studio in her new home is shaping up:

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I will admit it took me a bit of time to adjust to the idea of my mother living in a manufactured home. Finally a good friend told me to stop using “manufactured” in a way that sounded pejorative. I realized I was possibly guilty of snobbery. Though I think really I was just having an adverse reaction to the wallpaper circa 1978. Not all the fabric fit in the sewing room so some went in the closet with the wallpaper:

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Moving day is tomorrow. I think after that I should be able to get started on a new art project. Finally.

Sabino Canyon Sunset Walk

It’s been unseasonably cool in Tucson this May; 20 degrees cooler during the day than usual. Hiking at Sabino Canyon, one of the best places in Tucson, is lush and cool, believe it or not; there’s water in the creek. Here’s my mom as we stopped to watch the sunset while walking there last night….

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…and here she is hiking out of the canyon…

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It’s been a rough year for her with my dad dying and then her motor vehicle accident in December when she broke her ankle, and needed surgery. She is looking pretty good. She’s sold her recently acquired house in Tucson, which looks like this…

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…to one in Patagonia, a 75 minute drive south-east of Tucson, which looks like this:

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The move will be in just a few weeks.

Studio Update

It’s very sad to be capable of making art quilts and have one’s life reduced to this:

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It’s Kaffe Fasset Fabric, which is very popular among quilters, especially in my local art quilt bee. I don’t see it; but, that doesn’t mean much. He’s very popular and succesful. My bee is making a quilt for Quilt for a Cause. We all are making blocks and this is my contribution.

I’m hoping to finally start on my new project soon and have been getting my sewing space ready. Here it is, still a mess but almost ready:


My new project will not be teapots!

Organ Pipe National Monument Camping Trip

My mom and I drove the 120+ miles west of Tucson recently and camped at Organ Pipe National Monument. This is the view from the main campground, which has a frightening 220 camping spots, some for RVs w/generators, but despite the size it was quiet and peaceful. Here’s the view south to Mexico from our spot on the edge of the campground.  It’s a landscape straight out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.

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Much of the monument was closed to visitors for the past 13 years due to violence related to the drug and human trafficking along the US/Mexico border. Last fall it re-opened. We drove to the very unique Quitobaquito springs, which is truly amazing. It doesn’t look like much, if you’re used to lots of water where you live; here’s my mom at the springs:

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However, you would probably never ever never find it in the middle of the desert, unless you had exact coordinates because everything looks the same out here. In the photo before, the springs are just a few hundred feet ahead, but you could easily walk right by them. There’s a cottonwood you can see that shows where the spring is, but it’s an introduced species, so in the era of the Conquistadors perhaps it was even more hidden.

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There’s something really magical about the desert. It’s quiet in a mysterious way.  The silence was welcome, given the anniversary we were recognizing. We’re already planning our return next spring.

Thomas R. Aylward: A Reflection One Year Later

This Thursday is the first anniversary of my father’s death. He died on March 26, 2015; he had malignant brain cancer.

In the year after his death, doing anything I liked to do–and liked blogging about–seemed like an alien concept or even a luxury; I was busy helping my mother run the family bakery in Sonoita (Monika’s Home Bakery), help her sell her house and sell the bakery, help her move to Tucson and buy a house, and finally, help her through a December 2014 motor vehicle accident in which she broke her ankle and 5 ribs, a tough trauma to overcome at age 73.

My dad had a seizure several months before he died, which is how he was diagnosed. The first MRI was just a dot in his brain; the second, just 4 weeks later, looked like a hazy donut-shaped cloud with fuzzy clusters.  He had surgery and then a day later had a seizure from which he never regained consciousness. My mom and 4 of my 5 siblings were at the hospice the day he died, but my dad managed to slip away in the one rare moment when no one was paying attention, while my brother John had this Joao Gilberto song playing on his laptop. My dad as many of you know loved to play guitar and played a few Bossa Nova tunes.

Here’s a photo of him with me and my mom at the bakery just a few weeks before he died; I think we all look exhausted, which would be accurate:

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When thinking about his symptoms I’m reminded of Rainer Ptacek, my favorite musician in Tucson when I was 17 but musically precocious enough to appreciate his music and old-enough appearing to get into bars; his sound was quite sophisticated and magical sleepy Tucson in the early 80s. He had seizures and brain cancer too, but he was much younger when he died. You can listen here for a sense of his music, an inspiring sound during difficult times. I guess I have a new and unfortunate knowledge of brain cancer now. I have lots of old Rainer flyers for his shows back in the day and I know they could be used to make a really cool art quilt somehow.

My mom and I are headed out to Organ Pipe National Monument to camp out and have some peaceful time in the desert to reflect on the year gone by. My mom can walk again, and drive. It’s been a long year. It’s going to be good to get back into art-making. Photos of our trip to be posted. I look forward to sharing them with you all.

Log Cabin: Complete

It’s been a very long and hot summer here in Tucson. The last 4 weeks have seen me hurrying to finish up a queen-sized  log cabin quilt for my brother’s wedding a week from today in Madison, Wisconsin; and, I’m pleased to report, the goal is now complete!

When I last left off, I had the 48 10 inch blocks sewn together. That task complete, I then had to come up with enough fabric for the border; and it had to be the right fabric. Earlier in the project I dreamed of a pieced border…..but as the deadline approached I quickly put the kibosh on that lofty goal. I settled on a fabric that had circles, like some of fabric in the quilt, and that was turquoise and green (this was my mother’s suggestion). Here’s the pieced top with enough border fabric to make an 86″x76″ top:

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Then I had to come up with an appropriate fabric for the binding. I knew I wanted something pink-ish, not to offend my brother’s masculinity but to tie in the center squares, which are purple/pink dragonflies. And I was thinking of something with circles in it. My friend Phyllis had some very cool black fabric with white circles; and she had more than a yard. For a queen sized quilt you need nearly a yard of fabric for a 1/2″ binding strip.

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So I took her yardage and put most of it in a fuschia dye-bath; then, once dyed, I cut stripes 2 1/2″ wide, sewed them together into a 340″ long strip (a queen quilt is roughly 72″x84″, so that’s a bit more than 300 inches around). And then I pressed that strip in half; above you see all 340″ on a pile as I’m pressing and starching the last bit of strip.

I had no time to machine quilt this piece myself; plus, with lingering shoulder tendinitis, it just wasn’t going to happen even if I had the time. So I paid a local machine quilter to do it; she could get it done in less than 2 weeks, which was important to me to meet my deadline. When I got it back, it had been beautifully quilted. My friends in my art quilt group helped me straighten it up (thanks to Linda and her extra-long granite kitchen counter-top) and helped hold and rotate the quilt as I stitched on all 320+ inches of the binding.

I couldn’t fit the entire quilt onto my design wall, the quilt is too big; but here it is, anyway:

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This is a close-up of some of the feather-quilting on the light fabrics:

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It’s hard to see, but there’s a nice floral medallion motif in the light center of the quilt, and some angular quilting in the dark fabrics:

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The border fabric is quilted with circles; and, here you can see the circle-fabric that is the binding!

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I’m off to Madison, WI tomorrow; I’ll carry the quilt on board the airplane with me: no way am I checking this! It actually rolls up relatively compact. The wedding is a week from today. I’ll post photos shortly after Labor Day, when I get back to Tucson.


Log-Cabin Madness: Gorgeous but Tedious

July was log-cabin madness at my house. It’s been one of the hottest, most unpleasant summers on record here in Tucson. That’s bad enough, but additionally my job has been more difficult and my left shoulder STILL has tendonitis from quilting my ginormous art quilt about the January 8 shooting. Things have not been entirely pleasant in many areas of my non-art life….so for therapy there’s nothing like taking a rotary cutter to hundreds of scraps of fabrics to come up with 1 3/4″ strips for a queen sized log-cabin quilt.

Because of my shoulder injury, my massage table is open in my art room so I can stretch or just crash out in comfy style at a moment’s notice: but when not in a strip-cutting-coma on my massage table, I used the area for flat-space to organize my log-cabin blocks. As any chaotic artist-type knows, flat-space is the most valuable space in any work area….because it’s space to clutter up!

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Early in July, before my trip to D.C., my little blocks were just one layer big; here you see the pink dragonfly centers with 2 strips of light fabric and strips of dark fabric surrounding each pink square:



And after about 3 weeks of sewing, piecing, ironing…..I had 48 10-inch blocks; each block has a pinkish center surrounded by 12 strips of fabric, 6 strips of different light blue/green fabrics and 6 strips of different dark blue/green fabrics; here they are all, arranged on the design wall in my art room. My mom is reading off to the right; she came up from Sonoita for the night, and she helped me start sewing the blocks together.

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It’s really a challenge to keep the blocks organized in their pattern–this is a barn-raising pattern, though log-cabin blocks can be arranged in an infinite variety of patterns to create many different designs, which is why the simple (but tedious) block is popular with artists. I took 2 down off the wall at a time and handed them to my mom, who sewed them together, and then I pressed them and put them back up again and took down the next 2: and even with that system, things got mixed up a few times. It was SO helpful to have my mom at my sewing machine keeping an eye on the design to make sure no blocks got turned about or upside down.

Here’s a closer shot of the design; instead of 48 square blocks I now have 24 rectangular ones, and in another day or two I’ll have all the strips sewn together:

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While I am excited about the way it looks, I’ll admit that traditional quilt-making is definitely not my strong-suit. The final outcome is stunning……but piecing it all is just so much work.

And I’m not done yet!

Sacred Threads Quilt Show, 2013

I just got back from a brief trip to the Washington D.C. area, where I visited with my father’s older sister, my aunt Helen; together we went to see the Sacred Threads quilt show. Sacred Threads is a biennial, juried show featuring quilt artists from North America. The show features art quilts that address issues with spiritual and emotional content.

Here is a shot of me and Helen in front of my piece, Six Windows, about the January 8, 2011 mass shooting in Tucson:

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There were over 200 quilts in the show, and all were amazing; additionally, there was a featured artist:  Dominique Ehrmann. Dominique is an extremely talented and enthusiastic artist from Quebec; her piece was, deservedly, at the center of the show: here we are in front of her stunning 3-D art quilt “Come Follow Me”:

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It’s impossible from this static image to really understand the enchantment of her work. It’s best to think of it as a child’s pop-up book; there are 4 layers of quilting suspended from her custom made frame.Here’s a close-up of the child-shape, and you can get a sense of the depth of the piece if you look up to the left:

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Here’s more detail; it’s just a stunning vision in fabric and thread, so painterly and sculptural at the same time. In fact, she described her work as like sculpture, and I agree. I find that the construction of the art quilt involves a lot of sculptural thinking and technique.

Here’s a close-up of the tree on the left, and a great example of detail…..there’s a mouse down there……

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I stuck my camera inside the center; here you can see the 4 different layers of quilt: for example, you can see that the girl-shape is in a plane in the foreground and that the gate-shape is in a different plane about 3 layers back. Apologies to the artist if I didn’t get this right, but that’s how it appears, or how I remember it:

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There were so many excellent pieces in the show; I photographed a few just to show here, but they are by no means the only excellent works on display.

I liked this very expressive piece called “Hallelujah” by Sandy Curran of Newport News, VA, about recovery from debilitating chronic pain:

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This is a great example of portraiture using fabric and quilting; this is by Cheryl Hurd of Washington, D.C., and is called “Bubba”, one of 2 pieces she had at the show honoring her son who died of cancer:

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This was a very cool quilted interpretation of the Boston Marathon by Rosanne Williamson called “Boston in the Spring”; likely it was finished before the recent bombing attack at the marathon this year, as the artist didn’t mention it. That’s fine with me. That shouldn’t be the first thought that comes to mind with the marathon, anyway. I remember when my dad ran it when I was a kid. It’s a huge human achievement, one that’s been celebrated since ancient times.

“Mourning Doves” is by Betty Busby of Albuquerque, inspired by an exchange student she had in her home from Gaza, and his stories of the effects of war on his family. It’s a superb composition with great color.

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Here’s a close-up:

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Judith Heyward from Hendersonville, NC created this piece, “Hidden Potential”, about the need for women to be pro-active in breast cancer prevention; this was a very technically solid piece:

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I must say, I’m a bit of an introvert, and I had limited time to really view and enjoy the show; I did find myself returning to my piece, only because it looked really good where it was hanging; I’m very thankful to the curator for giving it such a lovely spot with such good lighting!

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I’m very thankful to the Sacred Threads staff, committees, curator, sponsors and all artists who participated; it’s truly a very moving show, and I’m certain those who visit will find it thought provoking and emotionally relevant.