Monthly Archives: August 2012

To Dye For

Thanks to Jane Dunnewold’s Craftsy class, I’m getting ready to plunge into hand dyeing so I’ve been paying particular attention to artists who work in that area.  My supplies are gathered, I’ve bought PVC pipe for wrapping fabric around (the kind man at Lowe’s sawed it into short lengths for me) and prepped my fabrics (old tablecloths with indelible stains.) As soon as I actually produce dyed cloth I’ll show my efforts, but for now I’m window shopping online to be inspired by the work of experts.

Shibori artist Helen Bolland does amazing things with pleated silk.  Carol Grotrian is another artist who works in shibori.

Here’s “Wave Study” by Carol Anne Grotrian.  The fabric is shibori dyed, then raw edged fused and hand quilted.

Nobody Home Quilt

Helen Bolland seems to produce scarves rather than quilts, but talk about gossamer.  And all those pleats with different colors on each side.  She calls these Dragon’s Tail.

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What’s In Your Sketchbook?

The day I bought a sketchbook for my quilting ideas marked my transformation from dilettante to determined quilter.  Before then I guess I hadn’t felt I deserved an actual, special purpose place to record my ideas and trial color schemes and layouts.  Yes, I covered the backs of envelopes and scratch paper with stuff, but it was all very off the cuff.

While I don’t use my sketchbook as much as I should, I like looking through it to see the transmutation of ideas and the clippings of pictures, ads, and even fabric swatches I’ve collected.  I have quite a collection of ripped out ads that have caught my eye, plus glossy photos from old calendars.

And I do like using colored pencils.  Which reminds me I really should buy some Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils.  I might as well enjoy coloring fabric too.

On reflection, I think I should call it my idea book because sketchbook is too narrow a term.

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Walt Had Good Taste

I don’t know how I came across her work, but a while back I did an image search on Mary Blair, an illustrator associated with Walt Disney and Little Golden Books back in the day.  And I sat there thrilled at the quilt possibilities.

A sample of her work is shown in the Mary Blair Gallery, and Cartoon Modern also features her work.   Disney liked her work so much he had her design a multi-story tile art piece for the lobby of Contemporary Resort in the original Disney World. Her work for Disney is charming – she is responsible for the art of the It’s a Small World ride – but she had a long career as a free lance graphic artist, doing books, ads, and apparently even handkerchiefs.

Below is a mural study Blair did for Contemporary Resort. Can’t you just see it made up as a contemporary quilt with lots of improv piecing ?

Then there’s this landscape that practically has the quilting done for you.

And here’s a handkerchief Blair designed that has a ready made border.  I don’t quite understand the clown motif, but it’s pretty abstract.

And here’s an illustration from “Alice in Wonderland.”  Just look at the wonderful color, texture, and curves.

Mary Blair Alice in Wonderland

I have concerns about copyright infringement, especially dealing with Disney, so I won’t be using any of these images until I research that issue.  However, I can be inspired by Blair’s palette and intriguing perspectives.  That landscape with the river really speaks to me.

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Thread Bared

In my decades long infatuation with fabric I seem to have overlooked something even more basic to quilting – the thread that holds everything together. For years I’ve bought a few neutrals to piece with and 40 weight black, white and cream thread to quilt.  Yet thread is beginning to insinuate itself into my quilting life.  Thick thread, variegated thread, metallic thread, holographic thread, thread that snarls up my sewing machine, thread I apply by hand.

And with the discovery of thread comes a new passion on which to lavish money.  How can I resist the Kinetic Kelly or Molten Mocha holographic thread offered on one website?  The website claims this thread is “Perfect for cross stitch, needlepoint, crochet, knitting, bead knitting, bead crochet, fly fishing, crafting, embroidery, quilting, crazy quilting, and any creative technique.”  Fly fishing?

Like many quilters I’ve taken it as an article of faith that the only kind of thread to use is cotton; maybe silk for fancy handwork.  Yet longarm quilters have adopted polyester thread with enthusiasm, and other pros in the quilting world are also espousing polyester thread.  I gather it has to do with lint creation (or the lack of lint) when sewing at high speeds for long periods of time.  Poly advocates says it’s also thinner and stronger.  Here’s a video from Superior Threads about the differences between cotton and polyester thread.  According to the video, poly thread is NOT stronger than cotton thread, and will NOT cause a quilt to shred.  So, what’s a quilter to do?

I guess it’s time for some thread myth busting.  (Say that 3 times, fast.)  And time to learn new terminology like high tenacity trilobal and textured polyester.  Here’s an explanation of how thread tension works from Superior Thread’s website. Its solutions are pretty basic, but it does offer some tips.  Now I know to use a poly bobbin thread when I have metallic thread on top.  I have tried Bottom Line, a 60 weight polyester thread, in my bobbin to fit more thread on the bobbin.  Next, I’ll try cotton bobbin thread with polyester on top.  Supposedly it “grips” the poly thread better.

From now on I’ll need to pay more attention to my tension settings as I try different threads.  While I knew to loosen the tension with metallic and holographic threads, I should also be loosening it with a bunch of other threads according to this table from Superior Threads.

The only downside to thread love is that all these tempting varieties are simply not very available where I live.  The local JoAnn’s carries Guterman (which feels like rope after sewing with Aurifil), Sulky rayon and some other decorative thread, and Coats and Clarks.  A local sewing machine center sells a few lines of Superior Thread but really focuses on machine embroiderers’ needs.  The internet is great for thread shopping, but you can’t pool some thread on your fabric to see how it’s going to look.  It looks like I’ll just have to attend more national quilt shows to shop for thread in person.  What a sacrifice that will be.

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More Art Quilts

Eleanor McCain’s work caught my eye when I visited Quilt National at the Dairy Barn in 2011. Then, I found an article about her work in Art Quilting Studio (Winter 2012.)  Finally, I went to her website, and settled down for a long browse through her quilt series.

Yellow 1 by Eleanor McCain

This one, called Yellow 1, has a good time playing with permutations of yellow.  Then the artist slips in that little horizontal band of green/dark brown stripe.  Wow.

And 9 Patch Color Study 6 plays with elemental quilt blocks in more subtle colors, with a little black for some zingers.

The above are part of Eleanor’s Thirteens series.  The top is Red with Brown Green; the bottom is Red with Brown Green 2.  Same structure and palette with changes in proportion of colors.

In her article in Art Quilting Studio Eleanor says, “Color relationships are intriguing and an area of constant entertainment for me.  I love to induce a color change by the placement of that color against others, and to examine the effects of color values in relationships.” (p. 40, Winter 2012 issue)  I just love the idea of getting a kick out of color relationships.  Now I don’t feel so weird.

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The Project From Hades

You wouldn’t think that quilting a lot of straight lines on a quilt would be difficult.  Well, I sure didn’t, but have found out differently.  Let me back up a bit.  I sewed a top pretty much copied from the Trajectory Quilt designed by Megan who blogs at Monkey Beans.  At the time I just had a picture to go by, so I guessed how to put it together.  Since then, Megan has developed a tutorial so it should be easier for you to make.

Constructing the top wasn’t hard even though I did it quite differently than Megan, and I had fun combining fabric for the backing.  The problem began when I pin basted the whole thing together with batting.  The problem is the batting, I think.  (Of course, operator error is always a possibility.)  I’m using a poly batting called Soft and Bright.  It’s a bit heavier than the cotton batting I usually use, but this is a 60 inch square lap quilt so extra warmth is good.

I’m used to the batting kind of sticking to the top and backing, or at least being chummy with them.  This poly batting seems to repel the top, similar to magnets when you put the like poles opposite each other.  As a result the top is acting like “do I know you?” with the batting, despite the pins.  I’ve been re-pinning the top after every few inches of quilting to deal with the creep, and who knows where it will end.  And the batting is stiff, heavy, and difficult to manipulate.

Now, I’ve quilted a few tops in my time, so I’m not a beginner. This “simple” project is taking me down a peg or two.  And I’ve quilted only a fifth of it so far.  Excuse me while I go repin this monster again.

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Failure Is An Option

One of my gifts to myself this year is permission to fail.  Sometimes, even with a second chance, a quilting project just doesn’t work and I can’t make it work.  So, the freedom to fail gives me the chance to accept that the piece didn’t work without feeling I’ve failed as a quilter.  Then, once I’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, I can figure out what went wrong and think about what I’d do differently if I could start over.

Sometimes my project doesn’t work because its proportions are wrong.  Sometimes the problem is poor color/value choices, lack of coherency (the vision thing), or even bad/inept technique.  And then sometimes I don’t think much of the finished product, but others say they really like it.  And I don’t think they have ulterior motives.

Here’s a quilt that started as a different shape.  After it was bound I decided I just couldn’t live with its proportions. It was too wide.  So I ripped out part of the binding, cut off part, requilted, and rebound it.  It’s still off, but not as much off as it was.  Now, that was a huge leap somewhere for me, since I’ll do almost anything to avoid “unsewing.”

Usually color doesn’t give me problems, but occasionally value trips me up.  I’ve gotten better over the years at putting in some bashful colors that don’t scream look at me, but enhance the bold colors. I really, really love color.  Right now I’m working on a quilt where I made a real effort to use subtle colors.  I even used bone and taupe, gasp.

Then there’s the coherency thing.  Sometimes, especially when I’m making up an original quilt, what I’m trying to convey gets muddled.  I get over exuberant and cram in too much.  Unfortunately, there’s no fix for this problem except to re-purpose the top as a backing or cut it up/unsew it to use in another project.  More than I’d like, what looks so wonderful on my design wall at 9 p.m. that I sew it together isn’t so great in the cold light of day.  I need to remember the rule about accessorizing – after you think you’re finished, remove one item.  The lesson here for me is: sleep on it.

Finally, technique.  There’s a reason experts recommend you practice a new technique on a sample before you use it on your “good” project.  Unfortunately, what works on a small piece can go awry on a larger one.  I still shudder at the mess I made of satin stitching around 2 inch circles.  And I even used stabilizer. No one is going to give me prizes for my technical sewing skills, but I don’t like my quilts to evoke made by loving hands at home.

What’s the good of failures?  They’re great for practicing free motion quilting because I don’t worry about ruining them.  They keep me humble.  They make me think about whether the quilt has a point/mood, other than to sew a bunch of colored fabrics together. They make me analyze how I can achieve what I want.  And they give me a nice supply of quilt backs.

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Second Chances

Sometimes I get discouraged or baffled about a piece and fold it away in a large plastic tub.  And then I forget about it.  Last week I emptied the contents of that tub to try to find some fabric I swear was in there.  I never did find that fabric, but I became reacquainted with four incomplete projects.  I finished one, “In the Summertime,” shown below.  Another, “Lost Heart,” I think I found a way to make better.  And the other two I returned to the tub to await inspiration.

Quilters often talk about their UFOs, projects that stalled for one reason or another.  I thought I’d call mine IPs for in process.  Since I don’t usually follow a pattern, it’s my call for when a quilt is done.  “In the Summertime” was created in an online class on circles and was “done” insofar as quilting and edges, but it just looked puny.  So I mounted it on a quilted rectangle and added beads.  If I had pulled it out of the bin a month ago I might have finished it differently.

My point here is that there is often no one “right” way to realize a quilt unless you’re obsessed with intent on following a pattern exactly.  Try setting aside your IPs and revisiting them after at least six months have passed.  You may find a way to give them a second chance, even if you cut them up and use the pieces in another project.

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First Stop on the Art Quilt Tour

A friend pointed me to a website that sells materials/yarns/embellishments, etc. for art quilting.  Of course I had to click the link, and found oodles of fabrics, hand dyes, etc., to tempt me. The site also has a blog, with links to other blogs.  And that’s where I went down the internet rabbit hole.

Here are some details of quilts by Judy Coates Perez from her website.

This one, “The Three of Swords,” does the combination of machine and hand stitching I’ve been experimenting with.  And look at the opening in the heart that’s filled with circles.  And the variegated thread in the blue area.  Sigh!

And here’s her “Moon Garden,” with a paper silhouette feel.  I think the most beautiful part of this one is the back.

I’ll write about more wonderful quilts online in the future.  I’m in awe of the creativity and skills out there.

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At The Edge

Often when I get to the final step of creating a quilt, finishing the edges, I tend to slap on the usual double fold binding and leave it at that.  However, there are alternative edge finishes, and I’m on a mission to try them out.

Most recently I attached funky yarn to the edge of an experimental quilt using a method Wendy Butler Berns describes on page 32 in the Projects 2006 issue of American Quilter. The yarn came from a scarf knitted for my son by a former girlfriend.  With his OK, I unraveled it and now have lots of eyelash type yarn to play with.  SQ is also cheap frugal .

There are several variations on this method – using rattail cord, perle cotton, etc., but essentially the edges are finished with a zigzag or decorative stitch and the yarn/cord is snugged up next to the edge and zigzagged on. LuAnn Kessi uses a decorative stitch around her edges. (I just love the name of her blog – May Your Bobbin Always Be Full.  Maybe someone can compose a Quilter’s Blessing – May your points always be sharp, May your seams always meet, and May your bobbin always be full.)  I gather the corners can be tricky but here’s a method that Terry Grant uses to tame them.

Of course, you can just satin stitch around the edges.  Here’s how Gerrie Congdon does this.  I notice she sews opposite sides rather than stitching continuously around the edges.

For small contemporary or art quilts, a facing sewn to the back can give a sleek, modern finish.  There are lots of variants on how to make such a facing, but the most common advice is to keep fabric from bulking up at the corners.  I used this method on the assemblage below, which I hand stitched before I machine quilted it.  Nuance alert – if you hand stitch through the top layer only your stitches will sit on top of the fabric; if you stitch through top, batting, and backing they will sink into the fabric.  Yes, I’m a slow learner.

One extension of the facing method is to make another, slightly larger whole cloth quilt and sew the smaller quilt to it.  Jean Wells calls this a portrait finish.  I hope the picture below will give you a better idea of this arrangement.

Yet another way to finish a small quilt is to glue or sew it onto a blank artist’s canvas after finishing the edges by one of the methods described above or binding them. You paint the side edges of the canvas with acrylic paint so you don’t have blinding white edges. This technique can give presence to a very small piece that might otherwise seem like a fancy pot holder.

Which method to use?  That depends on how your quilt will be used.  For daily use the tried and true double fold binding is probably best.  For a wall or table quilt one of the alternative finishes might add that extra touch.

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