Monthly Archives: August 2013

50 Minus 42 Shades of Gray (and Yellow)

Thanks to Patty the quilt lady I’ve gotten in some fabric dyeing recently. Patty invited several folks over to her house for a dyeing session.  She had everything set to go, and even made each of us a spiral bound dyeing book complete with fabric samples!

yellow_gradientWith Patty’s help I dyed an eight step gradient of Procion golden yellow.  She had cleverly cut off the tops of gallon milk jugs and numbered them from 1 to 8.  This really helped keep track of the steps of the gradient as I increased the amount of dye in each jug.  And the handles are handy (groan) for carrying the jugs to the sink.

Here’s some lace of unknown fiber content that was dyed in the same milk jugs.

lace_gradientInspired by this session, two friends and I took on more dyeing by ourselves.  My friends worked on making an 8 step gray gradient while I tried fabric layering techniques from Gloria Loughman.  Apparently making gray is hard, and converting from metric measurements is even harder.  Thank goodness for Google.

gray_gradientThe gray looked kind of purplish in the buckets, except for the bucket sun yellow was added to (the fabric on the far right.)  The dots are woven into the fabric and create an intriguing effect.

Here are my results from two and three color dyeing with leaf green, turquoise, and sun yellow. First I gathered some fabric in a plastic trash can lid and squeezed dye from squirt bottles onto the fabric. Then I put some fabric in a hospital pan, added some green dye, layered more fabric on top, added turquoise, and finished with yellow.

3_color_dyemuslin1All but one of my fabrics were pre-soaked in a soda ash and salt solution.  And yes, the colors are much more intense on the soda ash soaked fabrics, even after allowing for differences in fabric.

with-without_soda_ash I used old damask tablecloth strips, high quality white muslin, low quality natural muslin (the kind with cotton boll flecks still in it,) and peach colored silk crepe.damask_detailsilk_crepeThe silk was bought by my seamstress grandmother who used it to make ladies’ delicates, so I figure it must be at least 55 years old. I tried to rip it by hand but it still seems strong.  It turns out I should have used a different type of dye as silk is a protein based fabric. My Procion dyes are designed for plant based fabrics (cotton, rayon, etc.)

Now all I have to do is figure out how to use all this fabric.

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This Morning’s To Do List

One of my quirks is that I like to document my achievements.  Ergo, this blog.  But I also love to develop lists and then check off items as I get them done.  For example, this morning’s was:  walk a mile (done by 9 a.m.,), vacuum the stairs (my house has two sets that are carpeted, and both have landings,) and paper piece a lighthouse.

lighthouseI’ve been working on a Carol Doak paper piecing pattern that was left over from a guild sale.  No one wanted it; not even when the price was $0.  So, what is this pattern we couldn’t even give away?  It’s a coastal scene with a mariner’s compass sun, four ships, lots of grasses, and a lighthouse.  While the fabrics shown on the package are dated, I think what really put off folks was the tiny size of some of the pieces. On the other hand, the scene has large blocks of fabric with no piecing.

patternAnd I’ve found a way to cheat by using striped fabric instead of piecing stripes that finish at 1/8 inch. There’s just so much fiddly sewing I can take.

Have I used my seam ripper? Absolutely, especially for angled pieces that I think will cover but don’t.  If you’ve ever paper pieced, you know what I’m talking about.

This isn’t a pattern to take on if you like to see results fast.  I guess the lighthouse took me about fifteen minutes as I used striped fabric, but the ships take a lot longer with up to twenty pieces. Nothing like spending a hour on something that finishes up at 3 by 4 inches. Now that the lighthouse is done I only have to do one more boat and then all the grasses.

small-boatsmall_boat_backI hope to finish it for my guild’s small quilts silent auction in early October.

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“Eye of the Needle” Exhibit

While quilters can display their work at quilt shows, fiber artists don’t have such go-to exhibition spots.  Luckily St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Akron, Ohio, has an art gallery that often displays work by local art quilters and fiber artists.

The current show features three artists, two of whom could be called fiber artists.  One also works in fiberglass screening, with other elements attached. The screening imparts a moire effect that changes as you look at the pieces from different angles.

My Asian Sun by Ted Maringer

My Asian Sun by Ted Maringer

Detail of My Asian Sun

Detail of My Asian Sun

I’m going to focus on the work of Carole Pollard, who is an art quilter in my book. Apparently she plunged into art quilting upon retirement and has had local and regional exhibits of her work.


Awakening features paper piecing and some gauzy loose pieces towards the bottom.  It stuck me as a combination of a butterfly and a bird.Carole_Pollard_The_CrucibleThe Crucible is the second of what appears to be a trilogy.  The show had almost no annotation about the artists’ intentions.  Again, Pollard used paper piecing and what looks to me like a piecing/applique technique similar to that used by Vicki Pignatelli.  I have no idea how she mounts the tops of these pieces – hooks? wires?  I didn’t think the church staff would take kindly to my standing on a chair to investigate.

Carole_Pollard_TriumphTriumph is the least rectangular of Pollard’s pieces, and many of the “feathers” are attached only at one end.  I think it’s the third of the trilogy.

Carole_Pollard_Starkly_OddStarkly Odd shows a different aspect of Pollard’s work.  The bottom right block is cut out between the inner circle and the surrounding square.

Carole_Pollard_TalismanTalisman also has three dimensional effects.  I like the squiggly pieced curves that radiate from the central motif.

Talisman_detail1Talisman detail.

As always, I’m fascinated to see how others interpret their visions in fabric.  The cut outs in Pollard’s “square” pieces have been added to my accumulations of ideas for a hole-y quilt.  I don’t think I’d ever construct a gauntlet from silver lame, but it broadens my realm of possibilities to see it realized.

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Filed under Art quilts, Quilt Shows

Just Peachy

A recent trip to a local orchard yielded a peck of peaches.  Yes, peaches do grow in Ohio.  My husband and I spread them out on our dining room table to finish ripening.  Funny how little that table is used for eating.  Instead I fold laundry and baste quilts on it.  I do make table runners for it because the poplar wood is such a pretty color. And they’re easy to whisk off when the table is actually needed.

But, back to those peaches – both of us arranged them on the table, placing them at opposite ends.

peaches_scientificpeaches_artisticGuess who did what arrangement. Hint: my husband is trained as a scientist; I’m not.

And this post does relate to fabric.  The tablecloth underneath the peaches is a hand-me-down that I plan to dye.  I hope the striped damask pattern will show up better then.


Filed under Commentary

Linear Thinking

I realize that zentangles are old news, creatively speaking, but Ohio isn’t at the head of the line for new ideas.  A member of a cloth artist group I belong to showed me the basics. She used the technique to draw an intriguing self portrait on fabric. I experimented with squares of fabric ironed to freezer paper for stability.

zentangle2After I finished four pieces I decided to sew them together with some black and white fabric scraps I had and bits of strips from an old project.  Moral – you really will find a use for those leftovers someday.

zentangle_detail1This patch is the most baroque of the ones I drew.  I wouldn’t use red fabric again as it’s just too dark.

zentangle_detail3I think this is the first one I drew.  It’s simpler and more linear.

zentangle_detail4The next one involved more circles and shading.

zentangle_detail2In this last one, done at different times, I tried out different patterns.

If you decide to try this I recommend you use a pen designed for archival use.  I used a Micron .5 pen and a roller gel fabric pen.  Avoid Sharpie markers as I’m told the ink will eat through fabric eventually.

I can recommend this technique as an excuse for doodling and as a fun way to pass time while on the phone and in waiting rooms.


Filed under Project Ideas, Techniques

Quilters Really Are A Community

Recently some bad things happened to my quilt guild.  One good result was that I got to see how well my guild’s members reacted to the situation and came up with ways to continue the guild’s mission of education and fellowship.  In fact, the members seem inspired to return to the guild’s roots of teaching each other.  They certainly weren’t going to give up on the guild.

Thanks, ladies. When the going got tough, you got going.


Filed under Commentary

It Came From the Back of the Closet

When I was in college (many decades ago) I bought a jug of apple cider from a roadside stand, drank some of it, stowed the jug under my bed and promptly forgot about it.  Months later I found it, opened it cautiously, and decided to taste it.  It had turned into a lovely beverage with some kick.  Of course, it could just as easily have turned to vinegar.

I was in a similar situation last week when I found some forgotten abandoned projects tucked away in my fabric closet.  One, a heart done using the storm at sea pattern, was left unfinished because I couldn’t figure out how to finish it.  The other, an improv piece, was one I had planned to do up using stupendous stitching techniques.  I had even backed it with fusible fleece and fused some organza to it.  But there it sat in a recycled plastic container for a year and a half.

In the time since I abandoned these two I’ve learned different techniques and ways to look at my work.  So, inspiration struck and I finished them.  Hopefully the results aren’t vinegar. Once I added the photos to this post I was amused to realize the two pieces have remarkably similar color schemes.

making_tracks2Making Tracks benefited tremendously from Jean Wells’ books, especially ways to insert curved pieces and mount little quilted pieces. I used a hand dyed gradient done by Vicki Welsh for the framing piece.

heart_in_goldHeart in Gold reflects my awareness that sometimes a work can get too fussed at.  Originally I planned to do a checkerboard border, but I came to see that would take away from the main focus – the heart.  I think the muted gold border helps tone it down while the white dots give it some frivolity.  And Gwen Marston’s advocacy of different sizes and colors of border strips helped, too.

My question to you is, what’s in your closet?


Filed under Completed Projects

Artful Threads

I’m not a big fan of embroidery.  I find it too fussy and show-offy, too much in love with technique.  And don’t get me started on machine embroidery. However, occasionally I come across some art that just happens to use embroidery as the medium.

Recently, thanks to the guy who cuts my husband’s hair, I became aware of two artists/craftspeople who use hand embroidery to create landscapes – Martha Fieber and Natalia Margulis.  Sidenote: David Norton, my husband’s barber, is a talented creator of landscapes in fused glass who exhibits his work at national craft expositions. Since he knows I’m interested in fiber art, he mentioned these two ladies to my husband to pass on to me.

CloudBank-724x323Cloudbank by Martha Fieber reminds me of the tallgrass prairie in Kansas.

BlueMountainLake-800x320I’d love to use Blue Mountain Lake (Martha Fieber) as a meditation tool. Although Fieber’s website doesn’t give the dimensions of this piece, my guess is it’s 5 inches high and 14 inches long, based on dimensions given for similar work.

Snow_Track_Natalia_MargulisSnow Track by Natalia Margulis shows a somewhat different technique, but again the embroidery is used in service to the image.

home1a_Fine IceFine Ice by Natalia Margulis shows the textures she puts in her work.

All three artists will be at the American Craft Exposition August 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois.

Here’s a piece by David Norton, in case fused glass is your thing.



Filed under Inspiration

Lessons From the Past

I’ve been taking Weeks Ringle’s Craftsy class on designing modern quilts that talks a lot about color in both solid and print fabrics.  Weeks had us make fabric palettes (25 3 inch squares) of our favorite and least favorite colors.  Then we put no more than 25% of our favorite colors (about 5 squares) into our least favorite palette.  I found this created some intriguing juxtapositions I never would have tried on my own.

Serendipitously, I’ve been reading an old (1989) book called “Quilts from two Valleys” by Phyllis Pellman Good.  It features quilts made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Amish in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania’s Big Valley; and  Mennonites in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  The color juxtapositions are startlingly modern; the designs are mostly combinations of 4 patch and 9 patch.

One Patch Cross Grid, circa 1925-30.  Made in Big Valley, PA by "White Toppers" group

One Patch Cross Grid, circa 1925-30. Made in Big Valley, PA by “White Toppers” group.

This quilt wows me with its diagonal white crosses and brown inner border. Brown would never have occurred to me for these blue and red purple colors.  And the anonymous maker snuck in four spice colored patches that link beautifully to that brown border.  When I found this picture of a Purple Grenadier finch on Pinterest I thought it was more serendipity or a color scheme that’s really trying to get my attention.

Purple grenadier finch

Four-patch Variation made in Big Valley< PA, circa 1935-40.Four-patch Variation made in Big Valley, PA, circa 1935-40.

This quilt is essentially nine large blocks joined with red sashing and four yellow cornerstones.  And those cornerstones absolutely make the design, giving your eye a nudge along those strong yellow diagonals.  Then, while the reds seem quite similar in intensity, the blues used in the background rectangles vary considerably from muted blue-grays to the much more vivid blues used in the middle top and bottom block corners.  The joined four patch blocks within the larger blocks seem to float above all that red and blue.

Nine-patch in Blockwork, circa 1925-30, made by "Yellow Topper" in Big Valley, PA

Nine-patch in Blockwork, circa 1925-30, made by “Yellow Toppers” in Big Valley, PA

Unlike the other quilts this one uses color asymmetrically.  The on point blocks are united by those little pink corner squares that form chains across the quilt.  And check out the pinks, turquoises and purples.  You can see that setting blocks on navy is at least as effective as using black.

Detail of Ocean Waves, circa 1885, Shenandoah Valley, VA

Detail of Ocean Waves, circa 1885, Shenandoah Valley, VA

Ocean Waves, an earlier quilt made in a Mennonite community, uses many, many different printed fabrics. Yet the overall effect is almost neutral. The pinwheels formed where the blocks meet help focus your eye.  The whites add sparkle and the reds are evenly distributed. It’s a great study of period prints, stripes and checks.

I photographed the quilts from the book, so the colors don’t come across as vivid as they are in the book. I haven’t found any website that features this group of quilts, though exhibitions have featured other quilts from Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. Most were in private collections when the book was written, some still owned by descendents of their makers.

There’s no way to know what was in the minds of the quilt makers, though since the colors seem at odds with the Amish way of life perhaps the quilts were a respite from drabness.  I was tickled with the two sided quilts shown in the book that could be reversed to the somber side if company might be censorious of too much color.


Filed under Commentary, Inspiration

The Challenge of A Challenge

I’ve been working on a 12 inch square piece for my traditional guild’s paint chip challenge. We’re to pick 2 colors whose names begin with our initials. So, if Martha Washington were to participate, she might choose Moonlight Silver and Wasabi Green. If you’ve ever shopped for paint you know that names given to the colors tend to be fanciful.

My chosen colors were Mulberry and June Day.

mulberryJune Day

Since we could only use the two colors (and tints, shades, values of them) plus white and black, many of my stash fabrics were out of the running. Luckily, I had won a group of purple batiks as a door prize, so I combined them with my hand dyed mulberry fabric.

My first attempt yielded this. The fabric at the center really does match the mulberry swatch, but my camera doesn’t think so.


I free motion quilted it, and added iridescent purple paint to make the outer purple areas more uniform. Then, I used Frieda Anderson’s fused binding technique to finish the edges. I named it Kapow! Readers of comic books will understand this allusion. To enlighten you youngsters, comic books are now called graphic novels.

Kapow!Then, since I had so much fabric already pulled out I decided to make a second square. This time I used the slivers technique and made various yellows the background of rows of slivers. After I got all the rows sewn together I decided to add silk yarn and decorative stitching. When that didn’t seem enough, I pulled out my gold paintstik.

Well, I still didn’t like it. The individual rows looked great as a border around my first effort but didn’t work when sewn together. I disliked it so much I seem to have deleted the photo I took of it. I should have realized that if the “bones” aren’t right no amount of cover up will improve a design.

So, I sliced that square up, made some quilted fabric to insert between the slices, and sewed them all together. About this point my sewing machine gave up the ghost (see my post about getting it fixed) and I finished the zigzagging on my old Elna.

Slice-slashI had already bound the original version, so I zigzagged the edges of my inserts and left jagged edges. I’m not going to call Berry Pie a success, but it’s better than it was. Of course, with all that slicing and slashing it now measures 11 by 14 inches, so I can’t enter it in my guild’s challenge.

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Filed under Completed Projects