Monthly Archives: July 2014

Occasional Wednesday Salon

While much social media leaves me scratching my head, I’m a devotee of Pinterest.  It’s introduced me to fabric art I would never have found otherwise.  I discovered Merle Axelrad through this photo of detail from Yuba River 2.

Merle Axelrad 1

She describes her work as fabric collage and says her goal is to capture light and movement. Each piece contains thousands of fabric pieces that depict impressionistic landscapes. They are very place specific. I immediately recalled a trip to California I took over 20 years ago when I saw her Marin Headlands.

Marin Headlands Merle Axelrad

Marin Headlands detailIn the detail photo of Marin Headlands you can see the number of fabrics that go into her work.

You can get a glimpse of how she works in this video about her commissioned piece California Ricelands. This is based on many aerial photos.

California Ricelands Merle Axelrad

Tree 1 Merle AxelradI think I’ve hiked past this tree that’s hanging onto its rocky hillside.

One of Merle’s special talents is the ability to convey flowing water in fabric. Sierra Water shows still water, while in Sierra Stream 3 I can feel that icy water tumbling over the rocks.

Sierra Water Merle Axelrad

Sierra Stream 3 Merle Axelrad



Filed under Art quilts

Nature Versus Nurture

Recently I spoke with a quilter who was agonizing over the spacing of her quilting lines.  She was obsessing (my term)/being meticulous (her term) about whether to rip out already done quilting because she felt the spacing between lines was about an eighth inch off.  I certainly didn’t notice this in her work nor would I have even considered ripping it out if it were my work.

This got me thinking about the old nature versus nurture question because I am inherently a “good enough” person while my brother is a perfectionist.  When I made my clothes in high school and sewed my facings  in wrong side up I just tacked them down as is.  Nobody would see them.  In college I had some hems held up by tape for four years. It worked, right? Those guys were not interested in the quality of my hems.

In contrast, my brother glued hundreds of little pennants to a string for one of his battleship model kits.  If they weren’t straight he redid them. He went on to become a computer programmer.

We grew up with parents who took very different approaches to tasks.  Our father would decide to touch up the window trim and start slapping on paint without bothering to clean the surfaces first. If the dirt got painted on it just added interesting texture.  Our mother would frantically try to swab the surfaces before his brush reached them. She would stay up all night before Easter to get the armhole of my brother’s suit jacket sewn in just right. Yes, she made our spring outfits each year, including my good spring coat.

Here I am about age 14 in that year’s outfit.

Joanna Easter age 14001

I can’t help but believe that the different approaches my brother and I take came coded in our genes. He got our mother’s fair skin and perfectionism; I got our father’s easily tanned skin and his slapdash ways. We witnessed both approaches during our childhoods, so I don’t think nurture had much of a role, despite my mother’s constant admonition that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing right.

What does this have to do with quilting? One conclusion I have come to reluctantly is that sometimes I have to rip stuff out, that care from the beginning will pay off later. I have looked at too many of my finished quilts and regretted not having redone some piecing or quilting.

I have gotten more careful over the years, but it’s because the nag inside my head is scolding me, not because I have an innate desire for perfection. I’m still not ready to rip out a sleeve seven times to get it perfectly smooth.





Filed under Commentary

It Works!

A few posts back I was moaning about my free motion quilting problems and mentioned the special low tension bobbin case I had ordered for my Janome.  I tried it out over the weekend and found that my eyelashing and other tension related issues are gone.

This bobbin case looks just like the regular one, except that the arrow to help you line up the case is blue, not red.

janome-bobbin-holder-for-free-motion-quilting-200445007_1_largeI tried it out on an old UFO left over from a class on circles.  Here’s the back.

free motion quilting back 2And the front.

free motion quilting front 1My tension issues are pretty much gone. Now if only my other free motion deficiencies could be fixed as easily. I think I’ve run out of remedies I can buy.


Filed under Techniques

Ice Capades

Take 22 pounds of ice, lots of plastic containers, a baker’s dozen of dye powders, a large bucket of soda ash solution, and several yards of fabric.  Soak fabric in solution, squeeze, drape artistically over racks in containers, cover with ice, sprinkle on dye, and wait 24 hours. Rinse thoroughly.

rinsing fabric

Results on Kona PFD using sun yellow and boysenberry dyes.

kona ice dyekona ice dye 2

Results on Pimatex PFD with strong red and periwinkle.

pimatex red periwinklepimatex red periwinkle 2

Results with boysenberry and periwinkle on peach colored silk crepe.

peach silk icepeach silk ice 2

Damask tablecloth (next to last one I have from my mother-in-law) in periwinkle with green and ?, and boysenberry and strong red.

tablecloth periwinkletablecloth boysenberry

My friend had lovely results as well. The green pieces were stacked and dyed together, with the lighter one on top. The embroidery must have been done with polyester thread as it didn’t take the dye. But it makes for a more interesting effect.

JC's embroidered ice

Next time we’ll try tray or gradient dyeing. There’s still lots of summer left.



Filed under dyeing, Techniques

Occasional Wednesday Salon

To change it up a bit, I’m featuring an art quilt exhibit called Living Colour! a travelling textile art exhibition from Down Under.  The exhibit contains 32 “vibrant works celebrating life across the spectrum.”

Each work is 100 cm high x 40 cm wide. For those of us who are metrically challenged, that translates to about 40 by 16 inches. Most of the artists are Australian, and their works focus on nature with a heavy emphasis on plants/flowers.  The general style is realistic/impressionistic with a few more abstract pieces.

Here are different artists’ interpretations of that set theme.

6 gouldian finchesSix Gouldian Finches by Linden Lancaster

The abstract background of this piece really appeals to me with its light to dark gradation suggestive of the sky. In contrast, the birds are rendered realistically. I think the artist was successful in melding the two styles.

Buffalo Gourd -BusbyBuffalo Gourd by Betty Busby

A weed from the American southwest is transfigured into elegance. Those aqua-ish touches contrast nicely with the yellowing leaves. And I love the texture of the leaves. Again, I like the background, this one shading from dark to light.

Illuminate -BaconIlluminate by Jenny Bacon

This abstract piece represents fields of canola in bloom. Can’t you just feel that August sun?

Chlorophyll - FirthChlorophyll by Dianne Firth

Now we’re getting meta with a representation of changes in hues  that “reflect the variety of greens found in plant material and the changes that occur to plant tissue as it moves through its life cycle.” I give the artist props for portraying a pigment critical to photosynthesis rather than a plant. Besides, I love color value gradations.

You can look at details from each work on the exhibit’s website and you can see the exhibit in person at the following upcoming shows in the U.S.:


Filed under Art quilts, Quilt Shows

Candy Is Dandy

Since my free motion quilting adventures await the delivery of my new bobbin cases, I began work on my guild  M&M candy challenge quilt guilt free. I didn’t even eat the candy.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m using a pattern (gasp) from the new book A Quilter’s Mixology by Angela Pingel.  It’s called Loosely Curved Wall Hanging. My colors must be only those on a package of peanut M&Ms, and five of them must be used on the quilt front. Here are my choices.

candy challenge piecingKind of like the basic box of crayons, but candy manufacturers don’t go for subtle color combinations. I plan to add brown as the binding color.

Piecing was straightforward, except for the drunkards path blocks. I followed the book’s directions for sewing them and found it worked well.  I had very little block trimming to do.

The book calls for you to crease both the pie and the L pieces in the middle of the curve with your iron, pin just the mid point, put the two pieces together, and start sewing at one edge. When you reach the mid point, you cut thread, turn the block over, and begin sewing from the other edge to the middle. Here’s a link to Angela’s video on her technique.

I sewed slowly and had no pleats or puckers. This would be even easier with a larger block.  Mine finished at 3.5 inches square.

The glitches I found in the book involved a drawing of pressing direction that was the opposite of that suggested in the text, and what seemed to be an omission of a few blocks from the cutting directions. Since I ignore most pressing directions in favor of open seams the first glitch didn’t bother me.

The second one confused me once I put my pieces up on the design wall and found a few holes.  I cut the pieces needed and was thankful I had enough fabric to do so.

candy challenge topAll sewn together and waiting to be quilted.

Now what can I make with the curved leftovers?

curved block leftovers


Filed under In Process

Modern Curves

I was happy to chance upon A Quilter’s Mixology by Angela Pingel at a library visit recently. The title refers to the drunkard’s path block, not specialty drinks like sunbonnet Sue smoothies or log cabin lager.

A quilter's mixology cover

Yes, this is a quilt pattern book (16, to be precise) but it re-imagines what can be done with the block. As the author says, “It becomes a modern and graphic design that reflects the original block, but introduces a new vision for using the shape.”

Pingel has devised a modern drunkard’s path block that has the quarter circle pieces meet at the seam line and has skinny L-shaped pieces. She uses this alone or in combination with the more traditional block.

Her book includes templates for the blocks, though she uses a die-cutting machine as a time saver. Speaking from experience, it can be tricky to cut accurately from thin template plastic shapes as little bits get shaved off when you cut fabric with your rotary cutter or scissors. I trace the shape with a gel roller pen and then cut on the traced lines.

As for sewing the curves of this block – often  a sticking point – Angela shows a method of sewing halfway from one end and then sewing from the other end to the middle.  The illustrations for this aren’t too clear, but I think you need to flip the block over.

Now for my favorites.

A Quilter's Mixology - Paint Drips Quilt beauty shotI love this clever graphic use of the modern block called Paint Drips.

sunrise table runner PingelThe Sunrise table runner is another striking use of the modern block.

nine patch curves PingelNine Patch Curves would satisfy the more traditional quilter’s fabric choices and work well in bold solids.

A Quilter's Mixology - Loosely Curved Wall Hanging beauty shotLoosely Curved is perfect for a guild challenge I have due in the fall.

I think this book will appeal to a wide array of quilters.  When I brought it to the last meeting of my MQG one member whipped out her smart phone and ordered a copy on the spot. You can read more about the above four plus the other twelve quilt patterns on Angela’s blog Cut To Pieces.


Filed under Books, Modern Quilting


I’ve had the most frustrating two days with my Janome 6500, normally a dependable machine.  I’ve been tackling the pile of tops that need free motion quilting and realizing, yet again, that free motion and I rub each other the wrong way.

Now, a dirty little secret of my Janome is that for free motion quilting you must use bobbins made/sold by the manufacturer, not the generic ones sold to fit several brands of machines.  If you don’t, your machine will seize up and leave a thread barf ball on the back after you cut your top loose. This sudden stopping does serious damage to any quilting rhythm you have going.

thread barf ball

So I’m doing my usual improv free motion quilting on a piece I call “Rust Never Sleeps” using my official Janome bobbins, and my machine seizes up four times in half an hour. Somehow the bobbin comes unseated in the bobbin case, though I don’t know if that’s the cause of the jam or the result of the thread getting caught and pulling the bobbin up. As soon as you cut the bobbin thread the bobbin drops back into the case. This doesn’t happen with the feed dogs up.

Between all the seizures I changed my thread and my needle, cleaned out the bobbin case, and changed to another bobbin entirely. Since the problem persisted I decided two possible causes of the fault remain – either my bobbins aren’t winding right or my bobbin case has gone rogue.

I plan to try winding my bobbins on my Elna, which uses the same bobbins as the Janome.  And I found something called a low tension bobbin case for free motion quilting on Amazon.  At $28 it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to the sewing machine store where a look-see would cost at least $100, and no one seems familiar with free motion quilting. Maybe I’ll buy a new regular bobbin case as well.  That would be an additional $30.

If you know of any solutions to my problem please send them along.



Filed under Commentary

Solar Panels

It’s summertime and the garage fabric painting and dyeing studio is now open.  A friend succumbed to a display of Jacquard’s new SolarFast sun printing dye product and I benefited from her purchase.  There’s lots of information about this product on Jacquard’s website and the blog And Then We Set It On Fire, plus videos on YouTube.

Using violet, teal, and scarlet colors and recycled bits of fabric (previous dyeing failures and stained light colored fabric,) we experimented.

SolarFast coasters and washersViolet with drink coasters and washers.

SolarFast cardboard on Moda marblesTeal with shelf liner and packing material on Moda Marbles fabric. Note how the beige in the fabric dulled the teal.

SolarFast crochet on organzaCrocheted antimacassar over violet on silk organza.

SolarFast organza over coastersOrganza laid over drink coasters print.

SolarFast crochet detailCrocheted scarf over scarlet, front side. Below is the reverse side of the same piece.  I have no idea why the pattern came out so much clearer on the reverse.

SolarFast crochet wrong side

SolarFast 2 colors wrong sideSame thing with reverse side of this two color piece using the crocheted scarf.  The packing material looks about the same on both sides.

The keys to success with this product are having everything flat on the fabric (a piece of glass or plexiglass on top is helpful) and removing the resists in the shade. We lost some definition on a few pieces because we were so eager to see the results we removed the materials in the sun. In less than a minute the newly exposed fabric got darker.

My friend got lovely effects with plant material, especially leaves.  Blossoms shriveled too quickly in the hot sun to make a clear pattern.  She also used little bits of stamped metal shapes which left a sharp imprint.

Is this product worth it?  It depends on what’s important to you.

It’s premixed, easy to clean up after, and can be diluted up to 1 to 1 with water. We diluted it with about half part water to one part SolarFast. The resulting colors were pleasant, but not intense.

While the colors can be combined, it’s impossible to see the effect before sun exposure as the product is a murky, chalky color out of the bottle.  Other paints such as Setacolor can be more accurately mixed. The colors don’t blend well on fabric but remain distinct.

It seems designed to work especially well with photo negatives. This is demoed on the above YouTube link. You can get sharper detail than with other sun printing methods. However, Jacquard wants you to use their special transparent sheets for this.

It’s much less messy and works faster than other methods. We exposed our fabric for about an hour due to a doughnut break, but the instructions said the desired effect could print in as little as 15 minutes, varying with color used. Depending on time of year, that could be an advantage. It could also be used by children who are old enough to follow directions. No masks are needed though the product contains ammonia.

It leaves fabric with a soft hand and no stiffness.

It’s expensive compared with other paints that do the same job, and I don’t think it can be used for anything else except sun printing. However, the videos show some great t-shirts made with it, so it may be the best product for sun printing photos.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this product or any sun printing you’ve done. I need to go back to my other paints and try sun printing with them so I can do some comparisons.



Filed under Fabric Printing, Techniques