Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cabin Fever Quilt Guild, Fairbanks, Alaska

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Pam Sprout and her husband, Tim are my hosts while in Fairbanks.  They live in a lovely log cabin in the hills outside of Fairbanks.  The first thing I noticed was the silence - it is unbelievably quiet here.  The second thing I noticed was the weather - it is quite a bit colder here with temperatures between zero and the low teens.  Yesterday afternoon in Anchorage, the thermometer hit 37 degrees, so it's definitely colder here.  It's also a drier climate.  Even though there's snow here, it's measured in inches whereas in Anchorage there was 2 to 3 feet of snow everywhere and drifts that were 6 to 8 feet tall.

Thursday afternoon, another guild member, Ellen, joins Pam and I as we drive to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, about an hour north of Fairbanks.  The drive is scenic and quite enjoyable.  There are a lot of Japanese tourists at the hot springs because they believe a child conceived on an evening when the Northern Lights are visible will be lucky.  Unfortunately, we don't see any Northern Lights, but the hot springs are wonderful and very relaxing. 
The Birch Forest on the way to Chena Hot Springs

After soaking for a while, we had dinner at the restaurant and had a great meal.  The resort uses the natural hot springs to heat greenhouses on the property, so fresh vegetables are abundant and excellent.  On the way back to the room I noticed It was the first time since being in Alaska that my nose was sticking together with every breath...the temperature was 10 degrees below zero.

Friday, February 24, 2012
After a shorter soak in the morning, we headed back to Fairbanks.  In the afternoon, Betsy Underwood, the Cabin Fever Quilt Guild Program Chair, picked me up and took me sightseeing.  We visited the Alaskan Pipeline at a location where it was above ground.  We also stopped at Creamers Field, an 1,800 acre waterfowl sanctuary just north of downtown  Fairbanks.  There was a Visitor's Center and I was able to take close up pictures of several bird species common to this area.

We also visited Alaska Raw Fur Company, a fur and fabric shop.  You could buy any kind of animal hide you could imagine there - from chinchilla to beaver, wolf, silver fox, muskrat, seal, and dozens of others.  If you sew, you buy a pelt of your choice and make gloves, hat, or even a coat.  Most of these animal skins keep a person much warmer than anything man made.  I'm such a student of nature and the natural world that it was tough to see so many pelts of animals that I've never seen in the wild, but I do understand that it's a different environment up here.  I did purchase a type of knife called an ulu, which is a short curved blade with a piece of wood on top where you hold it.  The native women use this type of knife to scale, fillet and clean fish.  You cut using a rocking motion and the gals in the quilt guild tell me it's the best pizza cutter ever made.

In the evening, I had the opportunity to talk to about 40 guild members about my quilting journey.  They are a very fun, hearty group of women who asked lots of questions and seemed to enjoy my lecture.

Saturday, February 25, 2012
I always start my Thread Painting classes with a discussion of thread types, sewing machine needles, and how I approach the quilting on my fiber art pieces.  Students then spent the rest of the day working on their own Great Blue Herons.  Because the heron doesn't fly this far north, I helped several gals change their herons to Whooping Cranes.  The whooping cranes migrate here in May and spend the summer in this area before flying south in September and they are a beautiful, striking bird.

Our class is being held in a vacant storefront right next to a great quilt shop called Northern Threads.  This store has a large selection of Alaskan fabrics and patterns, batiks, threads, as well as lot of yarns and other supplies for knitting.  And as of today, they are now carrying my patterns! 

Marie, owner of Northern Threads, has a wonderful dog that accompanies her in the store.  In fact, as Marie walks around the store with customers, the dog will pick up his bed, drag it after Marie, and flop into it every time Marie stops walking - hysterically funny to see and well worth a visit just to see the show! 

Sunday, February 26, 2012
Today, I'm teaching a Currents class for the guild in the same place we were at yesterday. It's always great teaching close to a quilt shop because students have the opportunity to go shopping if they're stuck and can't seem to find just the right fabric from their stash.  Currents is my first pattern and one that I've made many times.  Ive also taught this class many times as well, but its always so interesting to see all the different variations of Currents started in class - several gals used the colors of the Northern Lights, another made hers entirely out of corals, there was another that was all violets, and another gal had reduced the patterns by 50 percent and used all white and off white fabrics.  She's planning to add a raven to the quilt as well - awesome!  For dinner, Pam and I had pizza and salad at Betsy and her husband, Terry's lovely home overlooking Fairbanks.

Monday, February 27, 2012
With classes and lectures now over, I'm officially on vacation for the next two days.  So, I slept in this morning!  In the afternoon, Pam drove me to the University of Alaska Museum of the North.  This museum is on the beautiful grounds of the UA - Fairbanks campus and has an extensive exhibit of Alaskan cultures, wildlife, and history.  It's also the home of Blue Babe, the world's only Ice Age bison mummy.  There is also a video about the scientific explanation of the aurora, an interesting display of contemporary art on the second floor, and Alaska's largest public display of gold.  They have a very nice museum store, where I added yet another book about Alaska to my growing collection.

On our way back to Pam's home, I spotted something I've been wanting to see since my arrival in Alaska - moose!  There were two moose sitting down in a stand of birch trees not far from Pam's home.  I didn't get a very good picture of them, but was still thrilled to see them!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Today is the start of Ice Alaska.  Started in 1988 and entirely volunteer driven, there are 70 teams from around the globe competing.  It is one of the largest ice carving competitions in the world, second only to Harbin, China.  Today is the start of the single block competition where both amateur and professional teams of two carvers work until Thursday evening to construct their masterpieces.  They are given an ice block measuring 5' x 8' x 3'.  The multi-block competition starts at 9 a.m. Sunday morning and ends at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 9.  The teams of four sculptors are given 10 blocks of ice, each measuring 4' x 6' x 3'.  After the competition is judged, all the sculptures are lit with colored lights.  The event averages 45,000 visitors through the end of March, and if the carvings are anything like last year's, it's easy to see why!

Pam and I had fun talking to a number of the sculptors today.  With temperatures hovering around zero, it makes me shiver just seeing these men and women covered with ice shavings!  As we were returning to Pam's home, we saw another sundog around the setting sun.  A sundog (scientific name parhelion) is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates a bright spot of light in the sky close to the setting sun.  It most often occurs during very cold weather. With this one, however, we saw the complete circle around the sun - very cool!
Pam and her lovable cat, Kitty-Man

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
On Wednesday morning, Tim dropped me off at the airport for my three flights back to Portland.  A huge THANK YOU to Pam and Tim Sprout for so graciously opening up their home to me - I really appreciate your hospitality!

P.S:  I've just received an email from Patrice Meffley, one of the Fairbanks Thread Painting class attendees.  She sent a picture of her finished heron and I thought everyone should see it...well done, Patrice!!!!

Kozy Kusko Quilt Guild, Bethel, Alaska

Friday, February 17, 2012
It took all day and three different flights to reach Bethel, Alaska from Portland, Oregon.  I was pleasantly surprised when I got off the plane that it was as warm as it was.  At -1 degrees, it was 35 to 45 degrees warmer than it was just a few weeks ago (it's a good thing I've got my thermals on!).  Patty Burley, who is the Kozy Kusko Quilt Guild Program Chair and the person most responsible for getting me to Alaska, met me at the airport.  She and her husband, Mike, are my hosts for the next several days. 

Bethel, population about 6,500, is located 340 miles west of Anchorage and sits at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River and the Bearing Sea.  Bethel is situated on top of permafrost, which is permanently frozen ground.  The first thing you notice is the lack of any large trees - or much of any other shrubs or bushes for that matter.  Because the permafrost is constantly moving and shifting, plants can't establish a secure root system.  And the trees that you do see can be hundreds of years old.  Although the region is flat and almost treeless, Bethel lies inside the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, second largest in the U.S. 

The second thing I noticed is that all building structures are on stilts above ground level.  This is done to prevent the permafrost from thawing due to a dryer, furnace, or other hot spot in the house.  If the permafrost were to thaw, the house would sink.  As it is, most homes have cracks in their ceilings and walls because the permafrost beneath the homes is constantly shifting.

The third thing I noticed upon arrival was all the taxis. Bethel supports a surprisingly large number of taxicabs. In fact, the city has more cab drivers per capita than any other city in the country, making it the unlikely taxicab capital of the U.S.  It's not so hard to understand, though, because residents pay a lot of money to have a vehicle barged in during the summertime, or a huge sum to have a vehicle flown in during the winter. As a result, there's not a lot of cars, but lots of cabs!

It's a very expensive place to live because you can't drive to Bethel - everything has to be flown in during the winter, or put on a boat and shipped in during the summer.  Gas is $6.13 per gallon, and a gallon of milk costs between $8 and $10....ouch!  Bethel is the hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The local native people are called Yup'ik (pronounced u-pick).  Because of the high expense of everything, Yup'iks rely on subsistence fishing, hunting, and gathering for food and the Kuskokwim River is their lifeline.  It provides fish year round, as well as a means of transportation.  In the summer, locals travel the river by boat, and in the winter when the river is frozen solid, they drive their trucks, snowmobiles, or dogsleds on it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012
The Kozy Kusko Quilt Guild is a very socially active group of people and currently has about 40 hearty members.  The University of Alaska, Kuskokwim Campus is the site of our two-day Thread Painting class.  There are 15 gals in class and because Patty forewarned me that thread and other quilting supplies are not available in Bethel, I filled one of my suitcases with as much thread, hoops, and sewing machine needles as I could.  It was a good thing, too.  I left town a few days later with only a handful of threads and needles left.

Sunday, February 19, 2012
Everyone in class was very productive and got a lot done on their herons.  In fact, most gals stayed and worked on their pieces long after Patty and I left last night.  While driving home from class on Sunday afternoon, we saw a Sundog (scientific name parhelion), which is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates a bright spot of light in the sky close to the setting sun.  It most often occurs during very cold weather.  I didn't get a very good picture of it, but it was very cool to see.

Monday, February 20, 2012
On Monday morning, Mike and Patty took me over to Bll Eisenbart's home, and I met my first dog musher extraordinaire .  Bill is quite well known in this area for his dogs and mushing skills and has competed in and won numerous races, in particular the Kuskokwim 300 Dogsled Race which is run every January.

He currently has 19 dogs that he is working with who live in his back yard.  These dogs aren't the Siberian husky or other long-haired breed so commonly portrayed in the movies, but rather small, wiry dogs with a strong will and hearts of gold. After hooking up eight dogs to the sled, we were off.  It's surprising how fast we were going.  Bill trains the dogs to run at 10-11 miles an hour whether they're going uphill,downhill or on flat terrain.   And when you're sitting just a few inches off the ground, everything is just whipping by.  We mushed for two hours on the tundra and frozen waterways, and Bill even let me drive for a short while - it was an experience I will never forget!

Captain Jack

Dogsledding on the Tundra - amazing!

After our return, Bill needed to check his fish net on the river and asked if I'd like to go with him and his friend, Don.  We drove onto the Kuskokwim River and checked the net that Don and Bill put out last fall when the river first froze.  They had seven whitefish, a local highly-prized fish, in the net, so fresh fish for Don and Bill's dinner!   I, on the other hand, headed to Tom and Andy's home for an amazing close encounter of the feathered kind.

Whitefish - a local delicacy

Tom is an ornithologist, or bird scientist and has two birds that he keeps at his home - a gyrfalcon and a goshawk.   The gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcon species with adult wingspans reaching from 43 - 64" and weight from 1.8 to 4.6 pounds.  Tom's gyrfalcon is not yet fully grown, so it's still on the smaller side.  The Northern Goshawk is a medium-large bird of prey with short, broad wings and a long tail, which makes it ideal for maneuvering through trees in the forest. We drove to the tundra and Tom flew the goshawk several times.  Both birds are just magnificent and it was incredible to see them up close - I even got to feed the gyrfalcon.  Afterwards, we had a classic, local dinner of moose burgers at Tom and Andy's home.
Northern Goshawk


 Tuesday, February 21, 2012
One of the advantages of living in Bethel is taking flights in and out.  Patty and I arrived at the airport 20 minutes before the plane left, walked up to the counter and checked our bags, went through security screening, and still waited 10 minutes before boarding the plane...what a nice change!  We arrived in a foggy, snowy Anchorage an hour later.  Patty had a few appointments, so I spent the afternoon visiting the Anchorage Museum - a must-see if you're ever in town.  We also visited the Quilted Raven, a great quilt shop in the heart of Anchorage.  They specialize in Alaskan patterns and fabric.  I found it easy to contribute to the local economy...just hoping to find some space in my suitcase!

Patty at a Children's Ice Sculpture Park in Anchorage

Wednesday, February 22, 2012
This morning we ate at a local institution - Gwennies - well known for their reindeer sausage and huge portion sizes.  We drove the scenic Glenn Highway to Wasilla and visited Sylvia's Quilt Depot....another time I felt it necessary to contribute to the local community (the saying, "will work for fabric" applies here!). We also visited a bookstore in the afternoon where I picked up a few books on Alaska and Alaskan art.  At the airport, I said a sad farewell to Patty and checked in for the flight to Fairbanks.  The Alaska Airlines Rep wanted to take a picture of the scale with my bags on it - one weighed 49.5 lbs and the other weighed exactly 50.0 lbs!  Pam Sprout and Betsy Underwood met me at the Fairbanks Airport as I begin another adventure!

Clark County Quilters Thread Painting Class

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Every year in February, interested Clark County Quilters members volunteer to teach a class on a technique or new method they've discovered to other CCQ members.  These Saturday Workshops are a benefit of CCQ membership, and are only available to CCQ members.

 This year, there are 17 classes offered for all levels and interests.  Classes include making corded vessels, how to inset circles, foundation piecing basics, creating totes, folded log cabin blocks, quilted postcards, different applique techniques, table runners, trapunto greeting cards and snap happy bags.  I've volunteered to teach a Thread Painting class for the membership.

The classes are being held at Felida Baptist Church in Vancouver, and five local quilt shops provided 25% discounts on class supplies - just one more reason to go shopping!

I was particularly gratified to have three attendees bring their finished Great Blue Herons to the CCQ meeting in March - they look terrific!

So, if you live in Southwest Washington or Northwest Oregon, consider joining Clark County Quilters.  With a membership of about 540 members, they are a group of active, socially engaged men and women using their love of quilting to grow creatively and improve the lives of others in the community.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mystery Class at Cannon Beach, Oregon

February 4-5, 2012
The first weekend in February always finds me in Cannon Beach, Oregon for my annual Mystery Class, sponsored by the awesome Center Diamond quilt shop.  This is the class where students have no idea what they're going to make - just suggested fabric for things like water or trees.  Last year I suggested fabric for "your favorite heavenly body", meaning the sun or moon, but later on in class one gal said, "I thought you meant me....30 pounds lighter!". Needless to say, it's always fun to see how my suggestions get interpreted. 

In addition to seeing a number of returning students, there were several folks new to my Mystery Class, which is always such a treat.  Another special treat this year was the spectacular weather - it was calm and 63 degrees on Saturday and almost as warm on Sunday!  Some of the old-timers reminisced about the year of the wind storm that knocked out power to Cannon Beach until 2 pm on Saturday....that made for an interesting class!  But no such drama this year - just perfect beachcombing weather when students wanted to take a break from quilting.

This year I told students to bring water fabric, some green fabric, and their favorite flower color.  The water lily is a quilt I've wanted to make for quite a while.  This flower is often seen as a flower of enlightenment, inner peace, and strength because it usually grows in a difficult environment.  I also just happen to think it's a beautiful flower!  I also wanted to incorporate machine quilting into the overall design, so the flower reflection is done entirely with quilting.

As is typical, half the fun for me is seeing what folks in class will come up with. Most gals used a variety of fabrics to create their lily, which looked just gorgeous.  A few gals lowered the flower and added a moon.  One gal used silk fabric for the entire piece.  Another gal changed the overall dimensions to match her Waterdance (last year's Mystery quilt) and she plans to hang the two pieces side-by-side when completed....awesome!

So, if you're interested in going to a class with only a scant idea of what you'll be making, consider joining us next year.  The class will be held on February 2 and 3, 2013. Contact Center Diamond about signing up....but don't wait too long.  The class usually fills six months in advance.  And since I already know what next year's quilt will be - here's a hint....you often see these while standing on Cannon Beach (HA....how's that for vague!?!).

Center Diamond Contact Information:
  503 436-0833
  1065 South Hemlock
  Cannon Beach, Oregon   97110