Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Mesa Verde and Creating Birch Tree Trunks

Mesa Verde
 I shared some of my vacation photos last blog and since they were so well received I thought I'd show you more. All these are from Mesa Verde National Park - it is an extraordinary place known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.

I also thought I'd show you my work  creating some birch tree trunks out of 2 fabrics I have in stock.  I worked with both acrylic paints and markers on these fabrics to get ready for classes I'm teaching next year. We'll be having lots of fun and creating them is pretty easy - seriously!! 

No one knows why the ancient Puebloan people abandoned these dwellings in the early 1300's.  They had lived in the area for a few hundred years, building their dwellings in round holes with wooden roof tops until they built the houses and rooms we see below. (Their earlier dwellings were called pit houses and with the wooden rooftops probably caught fire frequently.) 

Mesa Verde
 It's one of the neatest landscapes I've ever seen.
Towers and Kivas
 Some of the rooms were used for storage, some were living areas and some were community meeting places. Some of their dead were buried in the walls; these places are sacred to native Americans who consider their past and present to be part of the same journey. 
You can see the results of fire on top of the mesa
 If you go back to the first photo I posted, you can see the wash out/river valley going through the canyon. You might think that this off again on again wash out was their source of water - it wasn't! I was surprised to learn that water seeped through the rock and there were springs at the back of these dwellings. These seep springs were their primary water source.
Mesa Verde

 Our big adventure was taking the Balcony House Tour. There were huge crowds in the visitor's center  signing up for tours and though I didn't pay careful attention we heard about this tour and signed up. Then I read about it - 

"The Balcony House tour requires visitors to descend a 100 foot staircase into the canyon; climb a 32 foot ladder; crawl through a 12 foot, 18 inches wide tunnel; and clamber up an additional 60 feet on ladders and stone steps." 

I'm afraid of heights and edges.

The 3 story ladder - my mantra - don't look down, don't look down, don't look down

The infamous ladder from the top  
 I hauled my butt up the thing as fast as I could. At the top  I caught my breath and managed to look around catching some photographs before all those other tourists climbed up. (Tourists... yuck, lol!) 

Balcony House

Balcony House

Kiva at Balcony House
 See the tiny tiny hole in the floor of the kiva? That is called a sipapu, it's an opening which symbolizes the opening in the ceiling of the 3rd world into this one - the 4th world. This is how the ancients believed they arrived here; they were 'born' into this world, though in their understanding their spirits were alive in that 3rd world. (There were hard/evil things happening in that 3rd world so the 'birth' of them into this one is a good good thing. I believe it was a rescue.)

The other thing you might find interesting is the small opening - window like thing - and the low wall built in front of it. The opening is a ventilation shaft. In the winter they'd build a fire in the center of the kiva which was covered with wooden beams accept for a hole in the roof. To keep the smoke from filling the place, that window that you see was a ventilation shaft. Cold air would come down into the kiva and that low wall not only kept it from blowing out their fire but it circulated around inside the kiva keeping the air fresher.
My husband Ted coming though the tunnel

Me - being bad - I shouldn't be touching that wall I suppose.

Inside Balcony House

Mesa Verde - Oak Tree House

Mesa Verde - Square Tower house

Close up of the Square Tower
 And those are the best of the Mesa Verde pictures - I hope you liked the little vacation! 

Let's do a little work creating birch trees or aspen trees. I have a class I'm teaching 4 times next year and the projects require large birch tree trunks. I used to have perfect fabric for these trunks but after a couple of years my stash is used up and of course the fabric manufacturer doesn't make that print anymore. Sigh. 

Necessity is the mother of invention.
(Which I think comes from Plato)

I have 2 fabrics in stock now. The first is from Elizabeth's Studio, and the second is from Northcott Silk. Neither fabric is perfect and both have flaws.
Elizabeth Studios and Northcott Silk's Birch Tree prints
The first problem is uniformity of print, and the second is scale. The Elizabeth Studio print has the same pattern up and down the whole print; same pattern same size. This is fine for smaller tree trunks, but I need a trunk at least 32 inches tall.

The second print from Northcott has the same problem with it's little dashed lines - it's too regular. And of course there is no splotching or black textured markings. 

First step - cutting the tree trunk

1st cut
Using my rotary cutter - and NO RULER, I cut off the straight edge. It's somewhat wavy; just a tiny bit.
2nd and 3rd cut
 My second cut parallels the first cut only gets a tiny bit narrower at the top. The 3rd cut was shaving off a bit where the tree trunk needed to be narrower. This tree trunk is about 3 or so inches wide at the bottom by the way.

My tree trunk in progress
 I decided I'd cut out some of the splotches from the Elizabeth Studio fabric and using a glue stick, glue them to the Northcott print. Not bad... I think it will work.

Shading the tree trunks with a Sharpie Metallic in Silver
 It looks better but I'm still not happy with all those little dashed lines... time to get out some white acrylic paint and a bit of water.

I used that paint and a bit of water and painted over some of those dashed lines - my tree looks much better!
Tree with paint
 Then I started thinking - 'well why not just paint on the Elizabeth Studio fabric?' So I did, only I also added splotches of gray paint and a bit of black.  And then I added some gray and black to the Northcott tree.

Here they are side by side.

Both painted tree trunks
Is there a trunk you like more than the other? I don't think I have a preference. The one of the left is painted Elizabeth Studio fabric, the one on the right is painted and patched over Northcott Silk's. They both were easy to paint and were done in just a few minutes. One thing about painting over a print though, less is better. If you paint too much, you lose too much of the underlying texture. I think I need to lighten up the right side of the Elizabeth tree trunk though.

The birch trees will be a little stiff after the paint has been added, but in the project I'm working on that won't matter because the tree trunks will be stitched down on the sides and not 'quilted'.

Well I'm off to clean up and rearrange my sewing room. My design wall is still filled with that Overhanging Oak Branch pattern for RJR but they ran out of some of the fabrics and have to substitute others. (That was the quilt I was working on my last blog). Sooo, I'm waiting and waiting for those replacement fabrics - don't you hate having to wait or being in between projects?!

In the meantime, my dog is getting lots of walks and I'm playing with new recipes. I made Thai Chicken Tacos last night and loved them. (Lots of work... but so good!)

Comments and questions welcome.


  1. Cathy,
    I'm in awe of how many people were waiting to climb that ladder. I too don't care for heights or close quarters, but sometimes what you get to experience is so worth the few moments of discomfort. For me it was getting to see the Chicago skyline from about a mile up in a glider. Nearly lost my calm when I pulled the lever and that tow plane flew away!
    Your trees, well what can I say? You nailed that one. Both of them are gorgeous. Funny how we know what we want, and you just have to go for it. Use whatever you come up with. If it doesn't work, at least you know to move on to another creative thought for accomplishing your goal. This time you definitely got two methods that worked. Great job.

    1. You're right - it was worth the sweaty palms and elevated heart rate! I couldn't glide over Chicago though, in fact I could barely step out onto that glass balcony at the top of the former Sear's Tower. I had to crawl out on it and they quickly edge back. Just couldn't stand up and enjoy the view, no way.

      Thanks for the compliments on the birch trees! I've been using dye markers for the most part for years now and I've forgotten how easy it is to use paint and a bit a water to thin it. I'm glad you liked my post!

  2. Wow, you braver than I. Lovely work on your birch trees thank you for the tips.

    1. Thanks! Life is an adventure and sometimes you just have to grab them when they come your way. I'm glad you liked the trees, too. :)