Monthly Archives: November 2013

Solving Issues while Quilting in Cuenca, Ecuador

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There are some challenges that arise from quilting in a different country, along with many joys.  Ecuador is a country where very little is known of quilting.  It is not part of the culture here, even among those in the high Andes.  For one reason, wool from alpacas, llamas and sheep is plentiful and cheap so warm blankets are made from those natural fibers.  Polyester fleece type fabric is manufactured in Ecuador so that also provides an easy, inexpensive way make warm blankets.

I will briefly describe some of the issues I’ve bumped up against – what I see as challenges with some solutions I’ve tried.  Of course, there are many ways to solve any issue.  Please share some of your best solutions in the comment section. We learn from each other!

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OK, where do I store my fabric “stash” and my quilt kits?  I have the luxury of having a lovely sewing studio with great light.  It also has large built in closets.  Here are a couple of shots of ways I have found to organize fabric, battings, etc. for ease of use.

Always there is the “cat” factor.  I must find  ways to share my space with 2 “indoor only” young cats who feel most comfortable in the sewing room. It is where I feed them, it is where they sleep – its their home too. Keeping things clean and hair-free from my nosey, loving rescue kitties who are both about 1 year old now is impossible but I keep trying.

First issue, there is no 100% cotton in fabric shops in Cuenca, not what we in the US, Europe and Australia are used to.  Ecuador makes a lot of beautiful fabric but it seems, from my informal searches, that nearly all has some amount of polyester in it. Importing already expensive 100% cotton fabrics makes prices prohibitive to the populations here. Also, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, encourages Ecuadorians to use what is made in Ecuador as much as possible. I do this with most other areas of my life but fabric is my creativity, my art, my hold-out!

the balcony off the sewing room

the balcony off the sewing room

I was able to bring a few boxes of fabric, renting space on another couple’s container, so I arrived with 7 large boxes of all cotton fabric, threads I like, although there are many types of thread here, often made in Brazil. My favorite remains Aurofil. No slubs and rare breaks.

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The boxes I brought contained a variety of battings.  Again I prefer all cotton or a blend.  One can buy 100% polyester batting here by the meter.  I have it in mind to to try on a small project and also to try using plain fleece that is so popular here to see how it performs in a wall hanging.  More on that later
Whenever I visit grandchildren, kids, friends, extended family in the US, I bring back to Ecuador a couple of quilt “kits” I’ve put together with a pattern, batting, backing.  I have enough self-designed quilt “kits” here to make about 20 quilts of varying sizes… so there is no lack of projects stacked up one behind another, waiting their turn to become a quilt.  Once I start a new project, I often adapt the pattern, change this or that element and find I need additional fabric – that’s the creative process, right?  Do my ideas morph and change as I go along?  Sure.   One challenge is using what I have – as much as possible – or getting the fabric here from the US that is needed to make the next step in a quilt.

These are problems I solve as I’m working on an individual project.  For instance, I decided I wanted flannel for the backing on my daughter’s purple lap quilt.   Her children are young and will love sitting on her lap with the flannel cuddled around them through the winter.  So I found some darling flannel for the backing and asked a friend Lenny and I made from Lenny’s IPad User’s Group if he might have room to bring a small package back from his October visit to the US.  We got to know him better because he had room to bring back this small package from the US. A huge favor I really appreciated. And someone we will do a similar favor for in the future.

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This is the fun flannel backing for my daughter’s lap quit which will be rather formal and elegant on the front… but fun and playful, as well as snuggly, on the back.

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I know there is 100% cotton grown in Peru.  I do not know why it is not imported but it must be lack of demand of Ecuadorians for it.  Someday, perhaps I will fly to Lima and look at their fabric stores, among other things there.  They grow cotton but that does not mean they design cotton fabrics ideal for quilting. It is an unknown.  One thing I have learned in 2.5 years living in Ecuador is that there is a huge pride of nationality and cultural differences exist between each country in South America.  Peru is very different from Ecuador, DUH!  But the potatoes they grow are different.  The foods they often eat are different. There is tremendous pride in one’s own country so do not assume that the country you visit will be like any other country in South America.  Sure, there are some similarities but many and large differences too.

Here is the general stash of fabric. I used sweater hangers and shoe organizers to hold fabric – found here at Kywi, Pyca and other mercados.   If I”m sewing, things get all askew as I race around searching for the best color for binding or whatever the current search is about.  One thing about being here where there are not luscious fabric stores we are used to in the US, is that I must “make do” with what I have much of the time.

Here is how I’ve organized batting, out of the way yet easy to grab. The climate here is cool – think of the nicest moderate spring day as the warmest it gets.  But think of the chilly fall evenings in the US upper regions where you definitely need something warm but not tons of blankets.  I am allergic to wool so I make quilts all of cotton, easy for me to use without itching.  I’ve been told that 100% polyester makes a bed quilt too warm for many in Cuenca.  It is easy to pile more blankets on a bed but hard to use a quilt that is just too warm for the climate in which it’s use is intended.

Here is a partial solution to thread storage.  Last year, I was given a beautiful collection of fancy threads of which I’ve barely scratched the surface.

I have a deep drawer full of “on sale” fabrics in 3-10 yard sizes to use as backing.  I also have some muslin for wall hanging backs.

Quilting Alone In Cuenca, Ecuador

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Quilting for me is a solitary sport.  It can be a team sport often, in many locations around the world. But quilting is an  uncommon activity in Cuenca.  Although a number of ex-pats and the rare Cuencana say they quilt, I have not met many who are actively quilting.   This is just a fact.  I am very happy to have time, space and fabric to work on numerous quilts so I don’t mind this solitary sport.  In fact I LOVE being able to set my own hours and pace for quilting.

For several weeks, my main focus I has been a “purple and blues” quilt, above, laid over my king quilt so ignore the tulips and orange peeking through.  The quilt top is done and it is gorgeous.  I’m very proud of it.  My daughter, Tenley, will be 35 in March so I want to have a lap quilt for her in purple and blues, her favorite colors.  However, as I design a quilt, it sometimes grows as I mess around with color combinations and find some I cannot leave out.  So I am plan to make a second quilt for my daughter who wants a  lap quilt. The current  quilt top grew to be 98 ” by 74″ – almost queen size.

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Oops!  But, really, this “mistake” is fine with a great outcome because I became very attached to this quilt as it is evolving. I  will hang it at the top of my stairs or behind the living room sofa – wherever it seems to look best once it is completed.  I hope to have the quilt hung by Christmas. It is typical of any quilt I design that I end up with a larger project than first planned.  I need to learn to downsize!  Because the bigger they are, as all of you know, the harder they are to actually quilt on the machine. But I am determined to get this one up on the wall to enjoy.

There is the added bonus that when we have guests, I could pull the quilt off the wall, wash it and put it on the guest bed.  It’s all winners here.

There are no long arm quilters with a machine in Cuenca.  Note to interested parties: you would have some business, doing quilts for the people in the ex-pat community and no competition. The downside is that you would need to charge less than in the US, most likely, as this locale as a retiree economy cannot sustain current US pricing.  Just my thoughts.  But an argument could be made either way.

For my daughter’s lap size quilt, I have plenty of the same materials so it will be equally gorgeous but the size she wanted.  I have ample time to make her quilt after the new year – I will deliver Tenley’s quilt when we visit the US in June, 2014 so it is all good.

Back to the team versus individual sport of quilting. I am on record here saying I MISS my old familiar quilt store and my favorite quilt teacher, Victoria, very much.  The old store is gone now, a newer smaller one replaced it with much less to offer.  The old store had plenty of relatively clean floor space where one could lay out a quilt.  There were huge tables where one could layer a quilt.  And there were always kind, generous people who would put their own projects aside to help a person smooth out the layers of “the sandwich” of backing, batting and quilt top.

That is right where I am now in the process.  I have a great cutting table ( 72″ long x 45″ deep) where I am layering the quilt but I really miss having extra hands to make this sandwich thing come out right, without wrinkles.  That is my focus tomorrow.  I am layering a small section at a time on the cutting table.  I can hand baste about 3 feet of length at a time so that 95″ length will take me a bit.

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One challenge is that the young cats who live here, Butch and Curry, love to play wild games all over the house at a drop of the hat.  Last night, when I was away for a little bit, they had a wild wrestle on the loose parts of the quilt sandwich that are hanging down and gently folded onto the floor. Any thing that looks different gets a cat’s curiosity juiced up so…I came home from dinner and found a bit of chaos on the landing where the cutting table lives.  But it was all repairable and I”m retired so…there is time to do all things that hold my interest.

Kale crop continues into 6th month

Kale crop continues into 6th month

When I am not quilting or doing things away from mi casa, I garden, cook gluten free meals and hang out with my precious loving husband.

Spinach Frittata

Spinach Frittata

My friends think up lots of interesting things for us to do around Cuenca.  Here is Taylor by the only phone booth I’ve noticed in Cuenca.

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