Ulam Quilt (or, the nerdiest baby quilt ever)

ulam quilt_large_wm I recently completed this baby quilt for my newest nephew, Connor. His mom, Lisa, is a high school math teacher, and the whole family is pretty nerdtastic, so I indulged in a bit of math geekery in the piecing design and quilting. I wanted to do something with prime numbers, and the Ulam Spiral lends itself naturally to a quilt. Briefly, the Ulam (or Prime) Spiral is a diagram of the prime numbers when drawn in a grid, starting with 1 in the center and spiraling outwards counterclockwise. The neat bit is that if the spiral is big enough, diagonal lines (primes aligning) begin to appear. Check out this site for a great description and illustrations of the Ulam Spiral. Fittingly for me, Stanislaw Ulam is said to have discovered the spiral’s pattern while he was doodling during a boring meeting.

ulam quilt_detail_wm

I used Malka Dubrawsky’s A Stitch in Color line, as well as American Brand and Kona Solids.

Starting in the middle of the quilt is 1 (despite being divisible only by 1 and itself, 1 is not a prime, I learned), and moving counter-clockwise, each print fabric represents a prime number, and the solids represent non-primes. To the casual observer (including myself, before I started this project), it probably looks arbitrary, especially with the mix of solid colors used for the non-primes (had they been all one color, the prime number prints would be much more obvious). I offered a hint by quilting the classic Ulam Spiral on top of the quilt: at each prime (and 1, to provide a starting point) I free motion quilted a squiggly dot before continuing the quilting around the spiral, repeating the squiggly dot at the each successive prime number. As a finishing touch – and as a last-second decision – I ended the quilting with the infinity symbol. The back features a novelty print with math equations and chemistry and physics diagrams. ulam quilt_label_wm I usually don’t require anything more than a page or two of scratch paper to design a quilt. This time though, since maths were involved, I started off using InDesign to figure out the quilt pattern, but in an ultimate nod to geekery in quilting, I ultimately used colored cells in Excel to more accurately count the number of prints and solids I needed to cut. Print

Do you see the spiral? Here’s a diagram to get you started… ulam diagram


First Wrangell Bear

I heard shots coming from next door.   BANG!fsss   BANG!fssss

Given the date, I assumed they were early fireworks (a tradition I happen to loathe, by the way. I’m not even particularly fond of fireworks confined to July 4th). I rolled my eyes and walked over to the windows facing the water, and to my surprise, there was this guy, galloping down the beach, right in front of the house I’m staying in. A young brown bear, for anyone wanting specs.

bear on the beach_sm_wm


I really need to learn to keep my camera at the ready. But it was a bit of a thrill to actually attract the bear’s attention when I slid the glass door open to step out onto the deck and get this shot.


Vieques Quilt

I recently finished what is to date, my favorite quilt. I really, really like it, and I really like the recipients, my childhood friend, Karen, and her husband, Mike.

Their wedding took place on the island of Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, in December 2011. I’ve been making quilts as wedding gifts for years, so I took mental notes on the scenery and photos of the inspiring quilt-like iron work we saw all over the island, to influence my design of their wedding quilt. I knew it would be an art quilt, to be hung on a wall. Naturally, I was inspired by the ocean, and also the sea glass we saw here and there on the beaches. I still have a collection of ocean and sea glass themed quilts saved on Pinterest, and I toyed, unsuccessfully, I felt, with the collection of aqua-blue fabrics I’d collected. But I ended up going in a different direction.

I’ve long admired improv and landscape-inspired quilter Jean Wells, and last October I took a workshop with her in La Connor, Washington called “Simply the Land”. Nearly the first thing out of her mouth at the workshop was to encourage us to think of improv landscape quilting as “response, not representation”.

I loved this, and it changed how I thought about Karen and Mike’s wedding quilt.

I started with colors to represent the Caribbean Sea, the island and the vegetation of Puerto Rico. Mostly solids, but a few prints, batiks and hand-dyed fabrics.



I’d wanted to try a quilt triptych for a long time, and the two outer panels came together pretty quickly, once I got the hang of where I wanted to go.



When I first started quilting, I read that the log cabin block traditionally had a red center square, to represent the hearth at the center of the home. I always thought this was an appropriate start for a wedding quilt — the beginning of a home — so I have worked the log cabin motif into nearly all of the wedding quilts I’ve made, including this one….



I loved working on the quilting itself — keeping the lines organic but also contemporary and even some representational detail of leaves and waves.



And I just love the final piece. I really couldn’t be happier with it, which made it extra hard to send away, though I think Karen and Mike will like it, too.



A million dollar view from a ten cent town

Wrangell, Alaska: first impressions

Population: 2,400 people, more or less; and seemingy just as many boats

Number of stop lights: 0

Number of openly-carried firearms I’ve seen in a month: 2

Number of fabric purveyors: 1 (by appointment only)

background: Wrangell Island, middleground: Waronofski Island, foreground: Zarembo Island

Looking towards the mainland and Wrangell Island from near Zarembo Island

Greatest sticker shock at the grocery store: cheese

Number of radio stations: 1 (public radio, thank goodness)

Number of times I’ve been greeted outside of work with something like “oh, you’re the new Forest Service girl…I heard you were coming”: 4

I was careful to keep my expectations mild, and I struggled to be as prepared as possible, but also with not being naïve about what small Alaska town living would be like. To that end, I did my best to find out everything I could about Wrangell before I got here, as anyone does, through the internet. If you’ve googled Wrangell, you’ve probably found that aside from some sites on tourism, a real estate office and the obligatory wikipedia entry, Wrangell doesn’t have much of an online presence. I managed to glean from here and there that the grocery stores (two) keep basic business hours (8a-6p) and are closed on Sundays. Most of the businesses are open Monday through Friday, but several are closed for lunch. The museum/conference center screens one movie title each month. Based on photos of the main street, the only business name I’d ever heard before was Wells Fargo (it still is, excepting the IGA grocery store that everyone calls “Bob’s” and the TrueValue franchise that is locally called “Ottesen’s”). Home mail delivery is not an option, and following the 2012 presidential election, the town comes in at about a 60/40 red/blue split.

And I knew that I’d come to know people by face, if not by name, very quickly. Already I find myself running into people I know everywhere and with regularity. I knew I’d have no anonymity, especially given my new job, which will ultimately have an element of public interaction (helloooo, Forest Service uniform). But what I didn’t anticipate was the flip side of this non-anonymous citizenship, wherein I perceive myself as “stalkerish”. This feeling comes on when I encounter someone, say, an apartment neighbor, at the grocery store. I feel like it must have at least occurred to them that I’m stalking them and have just now followed them to the grocery store. I expressed this concern to a colleague who has lived in Wrangell for 25 years, and she cocked her head and said “I don’t think I can even comprehend what you mean”. I hope that means I’ll get over it…eventually.

Alaska is big. Very big.

Just to orient themselves, several folks have asked me where Wrangell is in relation to Anchorage, and the answer is about 700 miles to the southeast, as the crow flies. The vast majority of that distance is over the Gulf of Alaska, and there are no direct flights from Wrangell to Anchorage. Theoretically*, if I were to fly to Anchorage tomorrow, I’d take a jet plane (as opposed to a propeller plane – an important distinction around here) from Wrangell 150 miles north to Juneau. That would probably include a stopover in Petersburg, which is “the next town over” from Wrangell, on Mitkoff Island, and there’s a good chance that half of the plane’s cabin would be packed with cargo and mail. From Juneau, I would fly 575 miles northwest to Anchorage. For comparison, that’s about the same distance, leg for leg, as flying from Seattle to Portland, and then Portland to San Jose. If I were to take water/ground routes to get to Anchorage, I’d put my car on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Wrangell, sail 275 miles over 18 hours to Haines, which is just about as far north as one can get on this part of the ferry system. Then I’d drive from Haines back into Canada and join up with the famous Alaska “ALCAN” Highway, heading northwest first through the northern tip of British Columbia and then Yukon. Crossing back into the US, I’d wind through south central Alaska, first skirting the northern side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, then southwest towards Anchorage. This route weighs in at 1,031 miles and an estimated 35 hours of sailing and driving. Again, for reference, that’d be like driving from Seattle, WA to Laramie, WY, or from San Jose, CA to Albuquerque, NM.

And the thing is, from where I sit in Wrangell, most of Alaska lies beyond Anchorage.

* In actuality, tomorrow’s flight to Anchorage come with a layover in….Seattle.

Northward migration: British Columbia

Just a few photos and highlights of my journey to Wrangell.

Dad and I left Ferndale on Thursday morning, ultimately headed north on the Trans-Canada highway. We got out of the lush greenness of western BC and found ourselves in a landscape that more closely resembles the eastern Sierra Nevadas. There were old abandoned barns, tiny churches and lots of transmission lines.

Not what I was expecting from British Columbia, but I like it all the same.

Not what I was expecting from British Columbia, but I like it all the same.

We stayed the night in Prince George, and headed west towards Prince Rupert on Friday. The second leg of the drive followed the Skeena River for the home stretch — a very beautiful drive indeed. We even saw (my first) grizzly bear! He was just hanging out on the side of the road, chomping on some vegetation.

The Skeena River and the Yellowhead Highway.

The Skeena River and the Yellowhead Highway.


Dad and I, en route to Prince Rupert and points beyond.

Dad and I, en route to Prince Rupert and points beyond.


Hey, bear.

Hey, bear.


the first day of the rest of my life

Saturday May 3, 2014, afternoon; en route to Wrangell, aboard the AMHS MV Taku

In a few hours, I’ll be arriving in Wrangell, sight unseen, where I am to begin a new career in the public sector. I have wanted and worked towards a position like this for several years, so it feels like a dream come true, but it’s also very intimidating. I hope to love it—the job, the town—but I’m apprehensive that  I’ll be crushingly disappointed, so I have tried to temper my expectations, though I probably won’t know for some time how well (or how poorly) I’ve succeeded.

This is an extraordinary feeling—equally exhilarating and terrifying—to be on my way to my new hometown, arriving with a car packed only with what I assume/hope will be what I need to get by for two weeks (clothes, a few dishes and utensils, some bedding and linens, some basic office supplies and a couple of books), my beloved sewing machine and the nearly as important coffeemaker, plus the super random stuff that surfaces during a house move (a travel mug I haven’t used in years, a box of handmade ornaments that I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle, and a stack of family pictures.

Before we left Bellingham, my dad helped me select a fishing rod and reel for salmon fishing (he’ll break it in for me while I’m at work this week). The rod is the same goldenrod yellow as the standard Alaska state license plate—how fitting.

Also, a roll of toilet paper. I don’t know much about where I’m headed, but at least I’m prepared.