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Solving Issues while Quilting in Cuenca, Ecuador


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


Thoughts about a new country and quilting in a foreign land


Happy September!

Image About 30 months ago, my husband and I set out on an incredible journey – to move from the US to live in Ecuador.  We wanted an adventure in our retirement.  We wanted to live in a new culture: to learn Spanish from native speakers; to explore bits of geography of South America; to be “the minority” after living with the golden advantages of being among “the majority” for 60 years; to delve into the incredible story of human lives over centuries in the magical Andes Mountains.

We knew we would be foreigners, strangers to many people here who had not been around many folks from North America.  We worried about the unknown, we expected big bumps in our new journey.  And we thirsted for new experiences.

Overlooking Solano Ave from Turi in Cueca, EC

Overlooking Solano Ave from Turi in Cueca, EC

So here we are, almost 2.5 years into our adventure. I can say that it has turned out far better than we had hoped.  People in Cuenca are hard-working, loyal, family loving and kind.  They are quick to be helpful, curious about those extrajaneros (foreigners) who move here, eager to ask questions about our experiences in life and content to listen to the occasional story about a grandchildren and haunts we left behind.  Unexpectedly, I was asked to sell every quilt I had completed.  More about that later.

In this blog, of course, I speak specifically about my experience.  Yours may be very different. Moving to a new culture where you do not know the language or common practices is not for everyone.  I recommend only moving here if you have a thirst to be “the stranger” in a new land.  If you have longed to see what it is like to live where YOU are the one struggling to understand rather than expecting a different country to accommodate your every wish.

Believe it or not, some people come here expecting everyone to wait on them, with no plan to learn the culture or speak the native language or practice social customs.  What a sad waste of a beautiful opportunity!  But enough of that for now.

I marvel frequently at the life my esposo and I have built in a short time.  Lenny, my husband of 20 years, has found new activities and made friends everywhere he goes.  He helps people with IPad issues, plays bridge after a 35 year lapse, walks 3+ miles every day, and speaks to everyone he encounters – a great way to practice Spanish.

I enjoy every day of retirement.  I have lovely long hours to quilt and a great studio to help that hobby. I have time to play with the two young cats we rescued, and time to study Spanish if I can make myself work on my own.  I have tried having an instructor come to the house.  This worked well for awhile but the instructor got to know me and began to talk more about her family and less about teaching Spanish.  Next, I tried a conversational class at a local school but the level of class was more advanced than my skills.  I have two programs on the computer which are helpful but I have to MAKE myself open the program and study- duh!   And so…next week, I go back to basics with a beginning class in El Centro to begin anew.

I have noticed some things about myself: although I was once a great student who worked hard to be near the top of every class, I now have less motivation for that and want to enjoy life each day.  Spanish classes need to be my first priority to get those brain cells firing so that new words stick in my 64 year old brain.  Studying is still important but I learn most from practice speaking with other Spanish-speakers.

The ex-pat community is made up of all sorts of people but most are retired and therefore also eager to find ways to recreate in common.  There is a fly fishing group, there is a raw food group, weaving classes, activities where one can sew with others or visit villages to shop or see the countryside…all without ever speaking a word of Spanish.  So one has to push to practice that new Spanish with each other but also with Ecuadorians, Colombians and Cubans – any Spanish speakers in this rich culture.

I have had the pleasure of meeting another quilter here who is a Cuencana.  Quilting is not common here like it is in the US.  However, there are many ex-pats who know how to quilt.  Some have chosen not to quilt at this time in their lives.  Some quilt quietly and do not want to commune with other quilters.  However, I am hearing from larger numbers of quilters moving here that they would like a guild or some sort of regular contact.  This is something to pursue further in the next months, so that perhaps by January, 2014 a quilt guild could emerge.

When I first moved here, I met a couple of women who were very interested in buying my quilts.  I had been quilting 3 years at the time.  In the US, I am a moderately talented quilter.  Here, in Cuenca, I seem to be the quilting queen! So I made and sold 7 quilts.  This was thrilling – a rush and an ego boost to have other people show tremendous interest in my creations.

However, then I realized I have lived in our home a year and only have one of my quilts on the wall.  I want the beautiful walls to be covered with my quilts.  I have many quilt kits planned on my “queue” to make.  So I am now busy completing several projects to decorate different spots in our home.

I have such fond memories of running around the last months I lived in the US, buying just the right fabrics for various quilt projects.  My dear friend, Cindy, was my guide and support as I put together those kits. I now keep them in storage here in my lovely sewing studio, ready to be made when the time is right.  Currently, I have the joy of unboxing one at a time to be made and hung in just the right spot.  My current projects are:

A) to complete layering and quilt/bind the Crazy Cats quilt to hang on a yellow wall by my sewing machine;

B) to make the 27 block queen size caramel-cream-burgundy “flower baskets” quilt to hang in the lovely stairwell – it is just begging for this quilt to be warming the walls there.  I have 9 blocks finished so  there are still plenty more to piece together in this traditional quilt. See photo of the first blocks at the top of this page.

I know that I am a fairly slow, deliberate quilter but I am in a life stage where rushing is not necessary.  I know that I am generally good with color and contrast but I always learn more from each new project.  I LOVE learning in its many forms – it keeps life interesting and one’s brain stimulated.

The BRIGHT king size quilt is cheerful any time of day

The BRIGHT king size quilt is cheerful any time of day

People ask:  do you buy your fabric in Ecuador.  My personal answer is no, not in general.  There is no 100% pure cotton fabric here and I prefer working with cotton.  So every trip back to the US to see family includes fully loaded bags on the return to Ecuador carrying all the cotton fabric I can squeeze in within the weight limits.  Crazy?  Maybe…but it has become a challenge of its own – to find ways to bring in the fabric I long for.  More about that another time.

So in 2 years and 4 months, I can say that I have adjusted to life here quite well.  I love practicing my basic spanish on the people I encounter in taxis, shops, at restaurants.  I spend a lot of time with new friends, most of whom are ex-pats with some common interests – this is both wonderful, to have attentive new friends,  – and difficult because it makes speaking only English all too easy.  One goal I have for this next year is to speak Spanish in social times with my US and Canadian friends. First I need more confidence, a lot more verbs and nouns plus some courage to achieve this.  I’ll let you know how this goal progresses.

Children in Cuenca

Another post will talk about gardening which I had given up in the US due to fibromyalgia pain being too much to garden.  The great difference for me in living at this high altitude (8,300 feet!) and having time to exercise is that I can garden again with a few limitations.  Yahoo!!!  That will be a different post with photos to show my succulent collection.

How do you prioritize your life?  Do you have hobbies you’d love to have time for that are waiting for retirement?  My suggestion would be to develop your hobbies so you can pursue them with gusto once you are retired. Try some new things. Give it time. Having a happy retirement hinges on having some things you want to pursue and interests you love.  The responsibility for finding this list is yours.  Take a risk and try something new this week.  Stretch your mind to think outside the box – you may find something wonderful and challenging to love.

Have a terrific week in this new month of September, 2013!

Thank you for reading my blog!

Catching up – hummingbird and gluten free crackers!


In my last post, there was a paragraph or two about a hummingbird I call Wings. But somehow it disappeared.  So Wings appears to be a Sparkling Violetear varaiety (or Orejivioleta Ventriazul in Espanol) – Colibri coruscans. He is longer and slimmer than the rufous-sided hummers we had in Portland.  He has a lovely deep violet strip down his chest, like a man’s tie.  In the sun, he is very luminescent but in the shade he looks rather plain.

“Wings” patrols my little garden which is about 30 x 18 and walled.  He thinks it is his space alone.  He goes after the finch couple who are nesting in the ivy.  He goes after a large bird that sounds like a robin.  When people come to our gate and we go to let them in, he scolds us.  Today, a man is painting a 3 story building across the street.  “Wings” scolds him when he moves on the scaffolding.  You know, the usual hummer behaviors.  But “Wings” does not have a girlfriend at this time.  It is the time of year when it seems to me he should be hooking up to warrant this bossy protective behavior.  A Cuencana friend told me this type of hummingbird is endangered because another type is taking over territory.

Why do I call him “Wings” you are asking.  Well, his wings appear to move much more rapidly than any other bird visiting the hummer feeder.  He also tucks his little feet completely into his belly feathers so they can barely be seen when he is flying. Other hummers of the same variety bob their tail as they feed and hang their feet down a bit.

My balcony off my sewing room has a large window overlooking the garden.  It is like a big tv screen to watch the wildlife, including the hummingbird wars that are going on about territory.  Also, downstairs in the living room, my favorite chair faces the window right by the feeder so I have a front row seat.

Below is a photo of “Wings”.

But first, Len and I went to a party yesterday put on by a couple who moved here from the west coast.  We saw lots of other people who moved here from the US and Canada.  I made some gluten free crackers from a recipe by Carole Fenster (1000 Gluten Free Recipes).  They were delicious but al ittle dry unless tucked into some dip, which was readily available.

I took the hostess an unfinished quilt block small wall hanging.  It is the blue and orange star in the photo below.  She really liked the colors.  I have to complete it and a couple of other gifts so…better get back to work.

Blue and Orange star

Blue and Orange star


Have a fantastic day on this beautiful planet.  Sharon



I wanted to note that the CuencaGlutenFree User’s Group is holding their November 14 meeting at the San Sebas Cafe where several gluten free choices are offered.  Noon to 2 pm.

This is a great development for those in Cuenca who do not eat wheat/barley or rye, whether for dietary needs or simply as a choice for health.  There are vegetarian choices as well.  The menu for Nov 14, lunch meeting is as below.  Please email   if you plan to attend – indicate your dining selection for the convenience of the restaurant.

Please turn out to support San Sebas’s Lindsay Barlow’s effort to meet the dining needs of Cuenca Gluten Free!



Soup of the day Cup 2.00 Bowl 3.50

Burgers Without Buns

1/2 pound   Special ground patty, served with fries, gluten free corn bread and house Salad

$ 4.75  Sebas Burger with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and basil mayo

$5.50  Burger with avocado, chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onions and jalapenos

$5.50  BBQ Burger with smoked cheddar, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and BBQ Sauce

$5.50 Mushroom Herb Burger with sautéed mushrooms, herbed cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato



$4.50 Blue Cheese Salad with red onion, tomato, cucumber, and crispy bacon

Add chicken for 1.50

$4.50 Greek Salad with red onion, kalamata olives, cucumber, tomato and feta cheese

Add chicken for 1.50

$4.50 Chipotle Salad with avocado, corn, black beans, grilled peppers, queso fresco and cilantro îime vinaigrette.

Add chicken for 1.50

Past Weekly Specials

$4.75  VEGETARIAN BIM-IM-BOP: Brown rice bowl with sautéed carrots,
mushrooms, zucchini and beam sprouts. Topped off with a. fried egg and sauce

gluten free cornbread croutons topped with jalapeno and cilantro ranch dressing.

$4.75  MEXICAN QUÍNOA BOWL  Quinoa., black beams, queso fresco, tomato,
corn, avocado and creamy chipotle sauce

$5.50  LUAU SALAD  Lettuce, grilled chicken, bell peppers, green beans,
cucumber, red onion, mango, Carrots and macadamia nuts with sesame
balsamic vinaigrette gf dressing

Cuenca Gluten Free Group to meet at restaurant

Happy Quilting in Cuenca


Life in Cuenca, Ecuador continues to be great. I have lived in Ecuador nearly 18 mos now and feel more settled all the time.

About 6 wks ago, I was put on medical “house arrest” for a few weeks to address a torn meniscus. Medical tests showed that I also have arthritis in both knees and a couple of other knee issues. It is kind of trying, discouraging…  Oh, age issues… but not the end of the world, certainly.  So for about 6 weeks, my days revolved around heat, ice and the usual array of interventions to improve the outlook for my knees. I have had the best physical therapy in my life here.  Medical care was available the same day I requested an appointment and I was able to get a second opinion on the same day.  The costs of an x-ray and other tests were reasonable – total for two appointments with  doctors, several tests – all came to $145!  So, I worked hard and have some hard work ahead to keep things moving well but no surgery at this time.

Probably the biggest adjustment is having only one trip per day up/down the stairs from the sleeping/office area to the main part of the living space. This is challenging because my sewing studio is on the second floor and a typical day used to include about 10 trips up and down the stairs for various reasons.  But cutting that to one trip per day has reduced pain dramatically so it got my attention.

A zoo quilt for grandson Logan, due to be born on US presidential election day.

I plan my day carefully… and my husband is nominated for saint award because he has done a lot of “fetching” this or that, shops for groceries,cooks dinner and washes the dishes and is doing a great job of all the above.  Gee, my knee may hurt for a long time.  Lenny is a true gem.

So what does one do on “semi-house arrest”?  I have recently completed some quilts.  I usually work for a few hours in the morning on the current quilt project, then come downstairs to check the garden, answer email and do a few other things.  Today I was watering when a large insect staggered across the small patch of grass.  His wings were wet so I had a chance to get a fairly good look at him.  His features were amazing to behold.  He was about 3.5 inches long with a shape similar to a grass-hopper but much more delicate and elegant.  His legs, body and head were brilliant deep blue, an unreal glistening color.  His wings were a deep rust yet were transparent when they opened.  His eyes were very obvious on his huge head and he WATCHED me as I tried to position myself ever closer to him to take a photo.   He would turn his head to track me and then turn his body toward me – I am not sure if he was menacing me or bluffing but it was a little spooky. I kept telling him I did not want to harm him – I just wanted a good photo of such a handsome specimen.  But I did not say it in Espanol so he remained concerned by my interest.

Unfortunately I could not find a camera that would take great shots of the insect so I only have a couple of shots on my phone – its not a smart phone, either.  I later said that is it also not “smart” to have several cameras in the house but none of them work for one reason or another.  Soon, the large insect visitor dried off enough to fan his wings for a bit and took off like a helicopter, disappearing over the garden wall toward traffic on Avenida de las Americas.  I believe his type may be a rare visitor here.  With our alpine nights, we get very few bugs. Anyway, it was a treat for me to see such an exotic, colorful, HUGE flying insect. I wonder if he lives in the jungle?

Here are more photos of quilts:

This quilt is for a toddler girl.  It is the first quilt I have sold.  I have since been commissioned to make two more quilts for grandchildren. Quilts are not commonly found in Cuenca, EC so I feel like the quilting queen!


I a giving this quilt to my 4 yr old grandson, Blake.  It has dinosauers on both sides!

Skateboarding dinos.  You have to love it!

I will see the grandchildren soon.  Going to Oregon for the birth of my daughter’s second child. I will see the 2 grandchildren who live in San Diego because my son’s family is going to Oregon for Thanksgiving week – a grand reunion for all of us.

And this brings me to gluten free Key Lime pie:

Key Lime Pie was a hit at a recent dinner

The Cuenca Gluten Free User’s Group meets monthly, with the next meeting this week, on Wed, October 17, from 10 am until 12 noon.  Meeting is held at my home, Los Alamos 3-66 y tres de noviembre, about 3 blocks away from Super Maxi on Av. de los Americas. The guest speaker this month is from San Sebas Cafe.  Increasingly local restaurants want to serve the needs of those who do not eat wheat.

Cost is $5 which includes coffee or tea and a safe gluten-free snack.

All for tonight.


A short post today



A marvelous spirited cat, Feisty shared her life with us for exactly 17 years. I will miss her companionship terribly.

A short post to thank everyone who has been rooting for Feisty the cat to regain her health.  Unfortunately, it turned out she had too much kidney damage to recover.  She died peacefully this morning after a night of cuddling against me, as she loved to do.  I will miss her terribly. She faced life with a whole-hearted, mischievous, curious personality.  She had an ability to be entertaining, spirited and sweet all in the same day.  She was a marvelous companion for 17 years, meeting every challenge thrown her way.  She was a huge comfort to me when we first launched our adventure in Ecuador – she was the stable, loving cat she had always been. She had a good life and shared it with her family unselfishly.

Thank you for your kind thoughts and words,