Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Garden Stroll

A few weeks ago I toured a local “grand house” with my brother, who was visiting from out of town. Since the house is situated on seventy acres there’s lots of scope for gardening, and the groundskeepers take full advantage. Here’s some inspiration we photographed.

Aerophyte Stan HywetCactus Stan HywetStem Stan Hywetsucculent Stan HywetDotted leaves Stan HywetSwirly leaf Stan Hywet


Filed under Inspiration

Lessons Learned From Improv Work

I am often tempted to play with improv rather than discipline myself with a planned out project. However, if I’m feeling blue a few hours flinging fabric onto the design wall will cheer me up. It’s way cheaper than antidepressants.

I’ll begin my pearls of wisdom on improv quilting with the well known “yes and” approach used in improvisational theater, which I interpret as – be open to any and all possibilities. If you have a crazy notion, try it out. It’s just fabric and thread.

Many original quilt designs gestate on paper and maquettes before any fabric is cut for the finished piece. Improv is more slash and burn.

I work directly on a design wall with my fabric bins close to hand. Now, my bins contain fabric strips up to 2.5 inches wide, little bits of fabric I can’t bear to toss, larger pieces of fabric that are smaller than a fat quarter, and fabrics I’ve printed, painted, stamped, embroidered, or already sewn together. I tend to work small for improv pieces, so scraps free me from my inability to cut into virgin yardage.


With that inhibition out of the way, I sift through my scraps in search of inspiration. Shapes that work together, certain colors or textures, or a marquee scrap can give me a theme.


After I make a pile of fabric possibilities (no curating for me) I start sticking up bits on my design wall, working by instinct. After a few rearrangements, I decide what to delete or add. Sometimes I go back to the scrap bins.

The next step after “yes, and” is to leave it alone for a while. Once I reach an initial composition that momentarily satisfies me I walk away.

Only at this point do I analyze my draft. I take photos with my digital camera to help me step back from the wall. Sometimes I feel only a little tweaking is needed. More often, I feel a lot of work is in order.

I realize that my process may work for me but not for you. However, here’s my advice that I think applies to any improv created quilt.

Don’t stop with the first solution that satisfies you. I suggest you study your photos. Print them out and cut them up to see if you like another arrangement. Turn the piece upside down and sideways. Another orientation may work better or inspire the next addition.

Sometimes another possibility will occur to you while you’re working. Feel free to start it.  It can be more fun to work on two at once. You already have your scraps at hand.

After studying your draft for a while, feel free to cut up your piece to change its shape. Put any leftover bits into a bin for another piece.

Once you’re satisfied with your piece, let it sit on your desk/design wall for a while. Look at it in different lights, see if you’re still happy with it. If it’s a go, sew your pieces together.

Then you’ll be ready to quilt it if you think your piece is a keeper. You may find some ideas have popped into your head during the piecing phase. If not, a small improv piece is great for trying out new types of quilting. Performance anxiety should be low, and goofs can become design elements.

Here’s the first improv piece I ever made, called “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” At the time I was reading Jean Wells’ Intuitive Color and Design, which inspired the curves and the mounting. I sewed together scraps left from trimming a paper pieced top. I have yet to finish the paper pieced top.

Nothing Gold Can StayIf you do improv I’d love to hear about your process, and any tips you have.




Filed under In Process, Inspiration, Techniques

Occasional Wednesday Salon

Thanks to the Art Threads blog I recently discovered the unique hand stitching work of Hillary Fayle. Lots of hand stitching creations are unique; not that many are beautiful. Fayle’s are.

Hillary FayleHillary Fayle websiteHillary Fayle This Is Colossal leaf-4Hillary Fayle french knots websiteHillary Fayle seed pods

Her artistic statement:

“I use found botanical material such as leaves, seedpods, and branches to explore human connection to the physical world. By combining these organic objects with the rich traditions of needlecraft, I bind nature and the human touch. Both tender and ruthless, this intricate stitch work communicates the idea that our relationship with the natural world is both tenuously fragile and infinitely complex.”

Tender and ruthless – wow.

The Bored Panda blog says she “starts by coating each leaf in a non-toxic preservative that stiffens them up and protects them. Then, she cuts them into various forms and embroiders them or simply embroiders onto their uncut surfaces.” She occasionally posts her work on her blog, though I can find no description of her cutting and stitching processes. Some of her work features just cutting.

Hillary Fayle Nevermore

On her blog Fayle says, “I began stitching on unconventional materials when I was studying embroidery at the Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England.” According to the blog This Is Colossal, in 2014 Fayle was working on a MFA in Craft/Material studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Yet another website reports she studied and as of 2013 lived in New York state.


Filed under Commentary, Inspiration

“The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters”

I’ve been vacillating about reviewing this book by Sherri Lynn Wood as I admired parts, and became extremely impatient with other aspects. Other quilters have responded much more positively to this book (see Fresh Lemons Quilts for an example) so be aware that responses vary wildly.

Wood improv handbook cover

It’s another modern quilt focused book about freeing your work through improvisational quilting. Lucie Summers (“Quilt Improv”) and Alexandra Ledgerwood (“Improvising Tradition”) have written recent books on the topic.

Wood’s take on improv is to divide different types of improv into scores (as in musical) that correspond loosely to squares, string piecing, flying geese, curved piecing, etc. She devotes a chapter to each, showing how she made a quilt for each score. I like that she includes quilts made by other quilters to interpret the scores. You can see many of them on Wood’s website. She also gives a lot of guidance for techniques to deal with the fallout of ruler free improv work; the pleats, the lumps, the gaps, the overlaps, etc.

You read that right – ruler free. Wood’s approach derives from Nancy Crow and the Gee’s Bend quilters. Crow doesn’t permit her students to use rulers but trains them how to cut by eye. The Gees Bend quilters lopped off and added fabric to make pieces fit and didn’t worry about squared off edges.

Anyone trained in classical quilt making with precision points and lots of ruler use will shudder while reading this book. Wood celebrates all the by the seat of the pants make-dos that are drummed out of new quilters. That may not be a bad thing. Too often quilters get so focused on the technical aspects of their work and following the pattern they forget about the fun of just in time decisions and building a quilt to suit themselves.

However, these improv techniques can be dangerous (joke!) in the hands of quilters inexperienced with making independent design decisions. Wood studied with Nancy Crow and has made quilts for many years, so she has developed a sense of design and color.

The improv round robin quilts featured in one chapter were clunky and awkward to my eye.  I know that’s judgmental, but I don’t believe every improv quilt is great or even OK. It takes far more effort than is apparent to make a good looking improv quilt, and I think that half of the improv quilts I’ve made don’t hit the mark.

I mention this only because quilters new to improv shouldn’t get discouraged at their initial results. It’s always fun to cut up a “failure” and reuse it.

Wood gives helpful advice on beginning improv work, though I winced at some of her word choices. Here’s her synopsis for the strings score: “curate your fabrics, set limits for three distinct string sheets, define your patchwork procedure, create a composition with the string sheets.”  (Sorry, I have a knee jerk negative reaction to curating anything. Can’t I just pick my fabrics?) Actually, this is similar to The Parts Department used in “Freddy and Gwen Collaborate Again,” which was published in 2009. This review by Dining Room Empire captures the flavor of Gwen Marston’s and Freddy Moran’s approach.

Lovers of fine quilt construction will gasp in horror when they read the techniques section of this book. Wood shows how to take a dart in a quilt top to remove a bump. Personally I thought I would do that in some circumstances. Same with darting across curves. I know, I know. If you constructed your top correctly you wouldn’t have to resort to such methods. Wood is definitely not a strict constructionist. One of her quilting references is “Accidentally On Purpose: The Aesthetic Management of Irregularities in African-American Quilts” by Eli Leon.

Wood’s method of wedge strip piecing on a curve is about the only technique I’m inclined to try, mostly because I’ve already done a lot of her other techniques by accident or design. I have issues with the finishing methods given here for binding. I just hate overlapped binding ends because of the lump created.

My larger issue with Wood is her application of new-agey concepts to quilting. I’m to nurture an improvisational mind, journal, center myself before I start working, be present, and cut from my core. Not only are my knees jerking, but my eyes are rolling. Personally, I find such stuff pretentious, but I understand these terms may appeal to many. Quilting is a big tent with many roads to it.

Since pictures speak louder than words, here are quilts created by other quilters for this book that appealed to me. From the top they are “Burning Love” by Mina Kennison, “Indigo Bloom” by Latifah Saafir, and “Letting Go” by Drew Steinbrecher.  Each shows a well developed design and color sense.

Score for Modern Block Improv Mina Kennison Score for Bias Strip Petals Latifah Saafir Score for Get Your Curve On Drew Steinbrecher



Filed under Books, Modern Quilting

How Did I Get Here?

“It’s the journey, not the destination” should be the caption for what I’ve been making over the past few months. I mentioned that I did some big stitch embroidery on fabric squares and was trying to unify them in one piece. Here’s the beginning.

Arches beginningAbout the only coherent aspect of this is a color scheme.

After some attempts at refining this I realized I needed to make two pieces from the fabric bits I had selected.

Arches beginning stitching Grasses draftI added a bit of embroidery to the narrow piece, couched down the cording, and set it aside. Then I went to work on the other piece.

Arcs original Arcs cutI did more embroidery to extend the existing lines, couched on yarns and perle cotton, and applied my Inktense pencils before I quilted it. I found out the perle cotton was not colorfast. Not to worry, it became a design element. I stared at the piece for a few days trying to figure out what was bothering me. I decided the shapes on the right hand side were too large, and whacked off about 4 inches. You can see where I sliced above.

Arcs edges finishedI zigzagged around the edges a few times to secure any dangling threads created by my surgery and then attached gold cord as a finish to Arcs.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Techniques

It Only Took Two Years

I’m a poster child for the slow quilting movement when it comes to my Moonrise quilt.

Moonrise 2It began with dyed scraps Vicki Welsh gave me. I purchased a black gradient from her, as well as a fat quarter pack of grays and put together the top rather quickly.

I made the moons with a drunkards path template I bought years ago. They’re appliqued on and lined with batting to prevent the seams from showing through.

circle_formmaking_circlesThen the top languished in a closet as I tried to figure out how to quilt it. After I realized I would have to free motion quilt it for the look I wanted, I procrastinated further with a lengthy thread selection process.

I forced myself to sit down and do it, and spent some time ripping stitches out. My biggest hurdle was the metallic and holographic thread I wanted to use for the moons. Even though I used every trick I ever heard of for this type of thread, it still kept breaking and having tension problems.

Moonrise detail 3I think I used about 8 different threads to try to capture the different grays of night clouds.

Moonrise detail 1

I deliberately chose a backing fabric that wouldn’t show my quilting errors.

moon rise backAfter I finished the quilting I hung the piece over a railing and tried to figure out how to finish the edges.  I considered fancy edge treatments that involved silver cording and ribbon, but I ended up going simple with a narrow binding of Grunge fabric.  I couldn’t find a silvery gray cord that didn’t look like it was meant for holiday gift wrapping.

Let me know if you need any silver ribbon. I may have just the thing as I bought several possibilities at Joann Fabric.



Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects

The Possibilities of Purple

I’ve bought and been given bits of purple fabric that I think would make a fabulous small quilt when combined with sequined fabric left over from a theater costume.

What to use for inspiration? I’ve been looking at photos of fractals.  Probably the best known are Mandelbrot Sets.  According to Wolfram MathWorld:

“A fractal is an object or quantity that displays self-similarity, in a somewhat technical sense, on all scales. The object need not exhibit exactly the same structure at all scales, but the same “type” of structures must appear on all scales.”

MetalBig algorithm generated

image_fractalsI thought I could use the paisley sequin shapes as a repeating pattern along a curve. That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I envision a lot of curved piecing or applique.

If you’ve never explored fractal images, check out the fractal of the day at Sprott’s Fractal Gallery. You can also find enhanced fractal images for computer screen wallpaper through a search engine.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Inspiration

End Of An Era?

I was shocked but not surprised to get an e-mail from my quilt guild’s president about the dissolution of the National Quilting Association. NQA has shaped the way quilt shows are judged and been a national outlet for quilt guilds. While I was a member for just a few years, I was always aware of the organization due to its annual show in Columbus, Ohio. I often joined a busload of enthusiastic gawkers to travel to the show.

From NQA’s announcement, I gather lack of funds and dwindling membership led to this step. As I understand it, NQA was run by volunteers and was very quilt guild oriented. I observed in an earlier post that members of many traditional guilds are getting too old (or too burned out) to remain active in running quilting organizations, and there haven’t been enough new, younger members to take up the slack.

Here I speak from the experience of my traditional guild. Actually, we have attracted new, younger members. They are happy to attend meetings and workshops, but have voiced little interest in some past guild activities such as charity quilts, challenges, and fund raising. I think it’s partly because many work yet also because much of our guild structure has been swept away – no historian, no sunshine committee, no quilt show. I won’t go into why this happened. Suffice it to say the reasons were beyond the guild’s control.

That brings me back to NQA. The organization’s board took many steps to remain financially viable. There were fewer issues of the magazine, dues were raised, they changed the annual show’s location. I gather nothing worked. I think it’s hard to run an all volunteer organization, especially at the national level. Work gets done when members have the time to do it. There’s always a learning curve as new volunteers take over activities. And, again, some members simply can’t be as active as they once were. Another factor may be the proliferation of national quilt shows.

The saddest part of all this to me is that, aside from the official announcement by the NQA board, I didn’t find any mention of this step when I searched Google yesterday. Do quilters simply not care or not find NQA relevant? If so, that may sum up the problems of the NQA. Or is it that those who care aren’t part of the online quilting community, but are talking about it with other quilters?

I’d like to hear your thoughts and opinions on this.


Filed under Commentary

Random Stuff From My Inbox

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m aware that there’s more to life than quilting. Since summer is winding down I thought I’d feature some non quilting posts that I found amusing, awe inspiring, or informative.

I made derogatory remarks about selfies earlier this summer. As with any popular trend, it has become fertile ground for riffs. Francois Dourlen has developed humor from them. One of my favorites is below.

Marge-Simpson-as-British-GuardMy summer road trip has made me susceptible to travel nostalgia, so I frittered away some time looking at postcards and photos from places along the fabled Route 66. Us geezers know it’s where to go to get your kicks.

Wigwam MotelCheck out the car at the Wigwam Motel.

El Trovatore 2 ArizonaIn Kingman, Arizona, you could unwind at the El Trovatore’s cocktail lounge. I suspect that tall neon sign could be seen for miles.

If you haven’t yet discovered her work, let me suggest you look at some examples by Linda Kemshall. She and her daughter Laura wrote The Painted Quilt, an inspiring lesson in other ways to make quilts. Anyway, here’s Linda’s studio, which has become my touchstone for dream studios.

Linda Kemshall studioA few months ago I showed you art made from books. Now let me introduce you to Peter Gentenaar, a paper sculptor.

Peter Abu Dhabi

peter4He does work for public spaces as well as some fashion shows. I was introduced to him by the Pink Pagoda Studio.

I know I mentioned a quilter, but I didn’t show her quilts. So this still qualifies as a non quilting post.


Filed under Commentary, Everything Else

Details Day

Much as I wish I spent every sewing studio moment in a froth of creativity, sometimes you have to clean up the details.

I sewed a hanging sleeve on a small quilt for an auction,

Hanging sleeveMaking Trackssewed down most of the applique on a group quilt block,

friendship quilt flowerfigured out what to use for a mug rug swap,

mug rug bitsand completed the quilting on Bumblebee.

Bumblebee quiltedMy reward is to draw a line through those items on my list. Tangible progress.


Filed under Commentary, In Process