Detail from "Rain Dance," an original quilt by Sherrie Spangler

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Live sand dollars are NOT white!

Today's marine biology lesson is on

When I moved to Gig Harbor and told people about the little bay near my house, some of them said, "Oh, that's known as Sand Dollar Cove. They're all over the beach down there." So down I went, looking for those pretty, smooth white sand dollars that you see in beach town tourist shops. I couldn't find any. That's because LIVE SAND DOLLARS ARE DARK PURPLE AND HAIRY LOOKING, like the one wedged into the sand above. Who knew?

The white ones are actually the exoskeletons -- called "tests" -- of dead dollars. In the photo above, you can see both live and dead sand dollars, or Dendraster excentricus. I took these photos last weekend during low tide at Kopachuck Beach during our Harbor WildWatch volunteer training.

They live in big groups beyond mean low water on top of or just beneath the surface of sandy or muddy areas. The little spines on the underside allow the animal to burrow or slowly creep through the sediment. Fine, hair-like cilia cover the tiny spines. Short spines on top give them the appearance of velvet. Podio that line the food grooves move food to the mouth opening, which is in the center of the star-shaped grooves on the underside of the animal. They eat crustacean larvae, small copepods, diatoms, algae and detritus.

COOL FOOD FACT: Sometimes a sand dollar "chews" its food for 15 minutes before swallowing. It can take two days for the food to digest. (Who researches this stuff?!)

These little animals, which can grow up to five inches in diameter, usually live six to 10 years.

Can you find the live and dead sand dollars in our touch tank above? It also contains oysters, a crab, barnacle-encrusted rocks, an anemone, and part of the egg collar from a moon snail (the gray thing in the center that looks like part of a toilet plunger). That's our setup in the photo below. We go to beaches around Gig Harbor during low tides and set up touch tanks to show the public what lives in our water.

For much better information than I can give in my blog, check out the website at for the great book the group sells, called
"Puget Sound's Wildside: A Natural History
of Puget Sound's Marine Environment."

The website also has our beach schedule, in case you want to come down and visit.

Have a colorful day!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good news from Deep Spaces

"Other Worlds," by Sherrie Spangler. Hand-painted cotton and silk, machine quilted.

I just got word that my quilt "Other Worlds" has been juried into the Deep Spaces travelling exhibit! The exhibit is being put together by Larkin Jean Van Horn, whose work I've admired for many years, so I'm especially honored to be included.

I'm still working on the promised sand dollar blog post, but I just had to write first with this good news.

Detail of "Other Worlds"

Have a colorful day

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sea stars, sea stars everywhere

HUGE ochre sea star at Kopachuck Beach near Gig Harbor, WA
Photo by Sherrie Spangler

Harbor WildWatch had a training session for its volunteers yesterday during low tide at Kopachuck State Park. We were surrounded by sea stars, sand dollars, crabs, sea urchins, barnacles, oysters, mussels, sea gulls, tube worms and kelp, sea lettuce, algae, and on and on. Lots of good stuff, but tonight's post will focus on:


(Sometimes called starfish, but they're not fish)

The big guy above and below is a sunflower star, the largest type of sea star in the world at up to 40 inches diameter. This one has 21 arms, but they can grow more than 24. They feel softer and squishier than some of the other stars, can move 6-12 feet a minute with the tube feet on their undersides, and will eat anything they can. Favorite foods are purple sea urchins, bivalves, sand dollars, sea cucumbers and other sea stars, but luckily ours didn't try to eat the smaller ochre star that shared its pool. Ochres, by the way, aren't always ochre colored. They can be orange, brown or purple.

Below are a few more stars on the beach, where they were left when the tide went out. They can survive hours of exposure to air until the tide comes back in. Often you'll find them clumped together on rocks or pilings at low tide, but at Kopachuck they're scattered around the lower beach close to or in the water.

Above, you can see the underside of a star with seaweed and rocks still clinging to it. The underside is covered with tube feet that help it move and capture food.

COOL FACT: Stars use their tube feet to pry open the shells of bivalves and then squeeze their stomach inside and liquefy the unlucky animal. Then a second internal stomach digests the food. Clams, anyone?

Here's another shot of that fat ochre star next to a smaller relative. The naturalist is pointing to the star pattern formed where the arms meet in the center. Stars can regenerate lost arms.

This one above is a mottled star, which is similar to the ochre except its center disc is proportionately smaller and the arms more slender.

Parting thought: Our naturalists have licenses to collect these critters for the Harbor WildWatch touch tanks, so don't go out and collect them on your own or you may run afoul of the authorities. We're careful to keep them cool, to return them in a few hours to the tidal zone in which they were found, and to only allow visitors to gently touch them with one finger. The reason we put them in touch tanks is to teach beach visitors about the local marine life.

And here is a parting shot of Kopachuck Beach on yesterday's gray Saturday afternoon with Cutts Island in the distance.

Tune in later this week for photos of sand dollars, crabs and who knows what else?

Have a colorful day

Friday, May 20, 2011

Buddha and the Feet

I've been neglecting the blog again, but here's a little something from this week's Feet and Forks outing. We hiked briskly for two hours NON-STOP (except for one photo stop) around town and ended at this sculpture in the Uptown shopping center. Those are happy but tired feet.

You don't want to see the Forks photo. We had spinach salads, which were delicious, but instead of coming with little bits of bacon, we each got a huge chunk of pork belly or some kind of bacony-fatty pork on the side. We speared them on our forks and took a photo, but it's too unappetizing to post. (But it did taste good. The Buddha would not have approved.)

Have a colorful day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sewing shelves revealed for the Nuts

The Twisted Nut Stitchers came to my house today for our monthly sew-eat-talkathon, and I took them up to my sewing room for the big reveal of my new shelves, a year in the making. As you can see, they're excited.

This is Dave assembling the units before putting on the final paint and trim boards. He made twelve separate cabinets that will come apart when we move, but we ended up leaving the top three off because they were just too high for me to use. He made the bottom three deeper and covered them with a ledge, then stacked the rest on top. He's a perfectionist, which is why it took a year. (Well, that and his full-time job and his numerous other hobbies.)

Now my fabric finally has breathing room!

Then it was back downstairs to start stitching. Three of us embroidered:

I'm embroidering around these appliques for a wall hanging.
I'm just realizing as I look at the picture above and below that I must have been subliminally influenced by the pattern on my green and white throw pillow when I drew my applique shapes -- and here I thought the inspiration was from my yoga mat design!

Linda P. embroiders a tea pot on a tea towel.

Carolyn embroiders a pillow she designed for a friend.

The other two Nuts were a whirl of motion at the table:

Nancy quilts a stunning table runner.

Here is part of the table runner.

Linda J. has a thing for cowboys. This is the start of a bag.

It rained all day. This has been a record-setting winter-spring for cold and wet up here, with even the old-timers who are used to rain starting to wonder if it will ever end. But Nancy looked on the bright side as she left, pulling out this cheerful sunflower umbrella.

Have a colorful day!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flowers, friendship and hope

Rosemary's vase with my tulips.
This is a little story about flowers and hope, friendship and love. I recently went through a brief period of emotional turmoil, which I'm getting over now but in the throes of it I felt absolutely awful and hopeless and even lost my appetite and five pounds, which hardly ever happens.

My neighbor Rosemary helped calm me with tea, talk, hugs, and the promise to take me to her favorite nursery and help me pick out flowers for my porch pots and a new cutting garden. (She's a green thumb and I'm not.) I was so grateful that after our second day for tea and talk I brought her some white tulips to symbolize the peace and hope she'd helped me find. That leads to the story about ...

Love and the Green Boot Vase

She put the tulips in the green boot vase shown above and said she bought the vase when she was a teen and gave it to her boyfriend's mother, who later became her mother-in-law. That was about 60 years ago, and now Rosemary's mother-in-law has passed, Rosemary and her high school sweetheart are still in love, and she has the vase again.

More flowers in a pretty pitcher on Rosemary's table.

After the story, we took off for the nursery, where she had the brilliant idea for me to buy two huge reasonably priced hanging baskets and just set them in my front porch pots instead of buying lots of little plants and making all those little holes and waiting for them to fill in.

Hope and flowers

So here I am with the two big pots and a selection of perennials for my cutting garden. ... That's where the hope comes in. Rosemary said that with perennial flowers, the saying is: "First year they sleep, second year they creep, and third year they leap." But, she added hopefully, "I know yours will leap the first year."

Feeling pleased with our purchases and enjoying the gift of a sunny day, we headed across town to one of Rosemary's favorite restaurants, where we were seated near this beautiful stained glass window ... more flowers!

Friendship and serendipity

On our way to the nursery, we missed our turn but serendipitously ended up near Trader Joe's. In we went, and I found this cheerful bunch of sunflowers (I have a sunflower theme going at home) and Rosemary was excited to find the grocery items she wanted. Tomorrow is my turn to host Sew Day with the Twisted Nut Stitchers -- four more fun friends -- and the sunflowers go perfectly with my napkin rings. So the wrong turn was actually a right turn!

 Have a colorful day!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting centered with quilting

Time to focus on quilting again. I started this one last month, hoping to finish it in time for a May 1 deadline. I didn't, but that's OK because now I can take my time and let it evolve.

Here's a full view. It's about 18 by 45 inches. The batting around the edges won't show when it's done, and I'll probably do more quilting to emphasize the spiral movement.

I started by painting a big piece of cotton with Pebeo Setacolor transparent fabric paints, then I cut squares (free hand, not measuring) to use in the design. I wanted the edges to be free, so I only put little bits of fusible webbing in the center of the squares.

Instead of agonizing over how to quilt it, I decided to just go with free-form spirals (no marking) in gold thread. I love spirals.

The two spirals looked a little lost, so I scattered bigger squares around -- the message coming out was that while I want to feel centered, I always feel a little scattered. I tacked the bigger squares down with more gold thread in a little zigzag stitch and left the tails long because I like the way the gold tails reflect light.

Here's the little mess on the floor that I work from, pulling bits of this and that and pinning them on the quilt. I thought I might use a lot of transparent overlays, but ended up just putting one sheer gray circle in the center. ... Cloudy mind that needs centering?

I think I'll go with some meditative beading to emphasize the spirals and center the mind. Comments welcome!

Have a colorful day!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

My beautiful daughter sitting with me for a portrait at the Tacoma Art Museum as part of its Mighty Tacoma project last year.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there. I don't have any Mother's Day quilts to post, but I can show my wonderful daughter and son and the guy who made them possible, as well as my own lovely mother.

My son took me out for breakfast when I visited him last year.

Like father, like son. Keith sports the long hair that Dave used to have when he was young.

My own mom and dad, at Tacoma's Bridge of Glass.

A Mother's Day quote:

"A mother is a person who seeing there are only
four pieces of pie for five people,
promptly announces
she never did care for pie."
-- Tenneva Jordan

I guess this makes me a bad mom. I would say: "Don't touch my piece!" But my loving family understands.
On the other hand, who needs pie when you have this:

Homemade chocolate sauce from Julia.

Have a colorful day!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New quilt

"Other Worlds," by Sherrie Spangler  (18" x 45")

I haven't posted much about my art quilts lately, so here's one I just finished a few weeks ago to enter in a juried contest. Earlier posts showed the freshly painted fabric and some of the machine quilting in progress. (click here) I layered swatches of hand-painted silk organza over the background to create more depth of color and texture.

Have a colorful day!