Category Archives: Books

Bewitched But Bewildered

I’ve read a lot of quilting books over the decades. I’ve looked at books on patterns, techniques, and design; plus picture books of quilt collections. I’m not a novice at extracting sense from such books.

However, my attempts to understand Wen Redmond‘s “Digital Fiber Art” have foundered. It’s as if I signed up for intermediate Spanish, thinking the six words I already knew would be adequate preparation. Instead, I’m catching the sense of about one sentence out of seven.

Redmond’s forte is printing digital imagery on fabric, paper, and other more unconventional surfaces. She assumes, rightly so, that her readers will know their way around Photoshop or other photo editing software. After all, the book’s title includes the word digital. I’m a novice there, though I have grand plans to take a course.

Where she loses me is there’s no overall step by step instructions or any supply list. I desperately need an introductory chapter that says here’s what I’ll cover, here’s what you need to get started, and here’s some fancy stuff to try. I now know something about the importance of pre-coats and post-coats but I have a hard time putting that information into context. I haven’t a clue about what kinds of fabric work best with this approach – she mentions organza, canvas, duck, cotton, but says nothing about the pros and cons of each. I’d also like to know how basic I can go with the raw materials and still have the potential for a decent outcome.

Even if I understood all aspects of the process, I gather printing my own digital fabrics would be costly. Redmond herself uses an Epson Stylus Photo printer. That will set you back at least $300. The various pre-coats and other supplies run $25 per bottle, if you want to prep your own fabric.  Cotton pre-treated fabric starts at about $83 for a 17 by 35 inch piece. Then there’s the pigment ink, which costs about $20-25 per cartridge. You can see how the costs could mount up. Mind you, Redmond isn’t shopping at Joann’s or Michael’s, but is buying professional grade materials.

There are copious examples of her work and some of the steps that went into each piece. They are great illustrations of the fertility of her imagination but I got confused. I never figured out if some of the interesting base effects shown are meant to be photographed and digitally manipulated, or be a substrate to be printed on.

Redmond is obviously expert at these techniques and produces some amazing art. However, for me her book is like watching a slide show at warp speed with no context. I keep wanting to say, back up a minute. Until I get more digital editing expertise under my belt and am willing to invest $1000 or so, this book will be borrowed from a library and not purchased. I need to start at digital fiber art for dummies.

However, I do recommend this book if you just want to take in some lovely eye candy. I think you could dumb down some of the ideas for printing on a humble inkjet printer, but just don’t expect the results to look like Redmond’s.

Trees Singing – Wen Redmond

Amazements of Tender Reflections – Wen Redmond



Filed under Books, Commentary

Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life

From time to time I enjoy browsing books on graphic design as I’m always on the lookout for ways to simplify but capture the essence of a design. Charley Harper, who died in 2007, had a long career in graphic design, and is best known for his wildlife illustrations, especially posters. I bought some prints of his posters for the national parks from the government sometime back in the 1970s, and still have some in the original mailing tube. (Let me say I watch way too much Antiques Road Show so I hope that provenance will help the value.)

Because I love his work so much, this post is more of a mash note than a book review. The book is short on text and long on pictures, an excellent balance I think. Most of the text is an interview Todd Oldham, the books’ compiler, had with Charley in 2007. Charley comes across as unassuming, not given to philosophizing about art.

img_8887But enough talk. The pictures are grouped by his book and magazine illustration work (in chronological order), advertising and promotions, mosaics and murals, paintings, and posters. Out of his large body of work, only some were done for himself.  Most were commissions. The book’s index shows thumbnail pictures of work, helpful for quickly finding a work’s title.

Here are some of his pieces that appeal to me especially.

bear_in_birtchesBear In Birches makes you work for the bear.

king-salmonKing Salmon would translate beautifully into a stitched piece, with translucent fabrics for the water and the fish’s body.

grand_canyonGrand Canyon was the July 1952 cover of “Ford Times” magazine. Move over, modern quilters.

unzipped-cryfish-moltingUnzipped shows a crayfish molting, just under the water’s surface. The leaf and water ring shadows economically convey the water’s transparency.

ruby-throated-hummingbirdRuby Throated Hummingbird captures the essence of the bird’s quickness without getting bogged down in ornithological details.

serengeti-spaghettiSerengeti Spaghetti is a herd of zebra reduced to pattern – maybe the way it appears to a lion.

snowy-egretSnowy Egret has wonderful plumage, again quite doable in stitch.

I hope you’re inspired to page through this book. Your public library may have a copy. If you feel like spending $30, treat yourself. You can see (and purchase) many of Charley’s works at


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Mini Designs

By mini, I mean about four inches square, practically drink coaster size. I made seven tiny designs with a small group that is now exploring Deborah Boschert’s “Art Quilt Collage.” The author suggests quick fabric sketches to get familiar with her eight design guides.

Armed with craft felt squares and lots of already fused fabric scraps we arranged our bits and spent some time squinting at the effects. Once we were satisfied we pressed them down. The author says this should be done fairly quickly and spontaneously, but it took us the better part of two hours.

My gallery reflects my love of bright colors and diagonal lines.

mini-designsMaybe I’ll quilt them, zigzag around the edges and use them for drink coasters. I suspect they’d stimulate some conversation about the state of the hostess’ mind.


Filed under Art quilts, Books, In Process

“Picture This: How Pictures Work”

Any quilter who hasn’t followed the exact fabrics and instructions in a quilt pattern has made design decisions. They could have been to change the size or borders, or use a different color scheme; but they were conscious decisions to alter the original in some fashion. I say because even if you don’t design all original work you may benefit from Molly Bang’s “Picture This: How Pictures Work.”

Bang, a children’s book author and illustrator, wanted to explore how certain elements in pictures affect our feelings. After all, in children’s books the illustrations are very much in service to the story. She wanted to ask, “How does the structure of a picture – or any visual art form – affect our emotional response?”

To work through that question Bang told the story of Little Red Riding Hood with very simple geometric shapes, beginning with Red as a bright red triangle.


Using colored paper, Bang created several versions of the scene in the woods with Red and the Wolf. Her goal was to maximize fear on Red’s part and menace on the Wolf’s. The pictures of her changes and the reasons behind them are a master class in design by themselves. The examples below are just two steps of the changes. The final version is on the right.


The books’ second part enumerates 12 design principles and illustrates them with more colored paper images. Now, you’ve probably already read/heard of most of the principles, though I’d never come across “We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves.” before. However, it’s those simple illustrations that made all the difference for me.

I realize that Bang has a story teller’s perspective, but isn’t a primary purpose of art to evoke emotions? I don’t want to get tangled in the thickets of the “purpose of art” here. I do want to share a possibly useful resource with you.

Like many quilters with design aspirations I own Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired To Design,” Joen Wolfrom’s “Adventures In Design,” Sandra Meech’s “Connecting Design To Stitch,” and Jean Wells’ “Intuitive Color & Design.” All these contain valuable insights and copious visual examples. Yet it took a red triangle to make it real for me.

This book was originally published in 1991, but has been recently reissued and expanded. Your library may have a copy.You can read a PDF of the 1991 version. It will take you an hour (at most) to look through it. Sometimes simpler is better.


Filed under Books

“Fabricadabra” Book Review

Paula Nadelstern’s work has weathered the ebb and flow of fashions in original quilts to be featured in art museum solo shows. That’s where I had the joy of a personal tour of her work as part of a workshop I took. What did I make in the workshop? Not much. But I did cobble together a pillow using her template and fabric matching techniques that my son now has.

paula-workshop-giftThis pillow is a sterling example of how critical good fabric selection is to succeed with Paula’s techniques. I chose the wrong fabric – a pseudo symmetrical one that didn’t join up right.

But, C + T has just published a book that gives you a chance to have a go at Paula’s methods in a simpler fashion than her previous kaleidoscope books show. “Fabricadabra: Simple Quilts, Complex Fabric” has many quilts made with her disappearing edge techniques by many people.

fabricadabra-1I thought this was a slick way to make a quilt that looks complex. It works because it uses Paula’s kaleidoscope fabric as cheater cloth.

fabricadabra-2The secret to this quilt is a carefully marked layout of equilateral triangles.

After you gawp at the quilt gallery (some lovely ones were made by Vicki Welsh) Paula gets down to fabrics and methods. I assure you if you read the methods first you might not get to those pretty pictures.

There’s nothing wrong with the explanations, but painstaking care is needed to have fabric motifs match. As Paula says at the beginning, a simple method isn’t the same as an easy one. This is a woman who figured out how much the width of permanent marker lines drawn around shapes add up to over the top of a quilt.

Some of the easier looking tips involve sashings and cornerstones. The pages below show the source fabrics and the resulting sashing. No, these techniques are not for those who dislike fussy cutting or mind a lot of fabric waste.


In fact, Paula’s techniques are ideal for the detail fixated person who fusses over every step. I know just the person, but she doesn’t read this blog. While I may use some of Paula’s ideas, I know I won’t stick with the level of painstaking detail needed to match fabric patterns seamlessly. The pillow shown above is the picture that will save me a thousand words on the subject. That said, this book offers an excellent explanation of Paula’s techniques and wonderful pictures of quilts made using them. It’s neither a pattern nor a theory book, but gives detailed steps to draft your own quilts.


Filed under Books

Quilts As Narrative

Before most of the population was literate visual art was used to tell stories. Think of the stained glass windows that illustrate the Bible in cathedrals, and the like. Quilts have been used to convey social messages for many years – family events, historical commemorations, and commentary on current events.

Ninety-seven quilts that tell stories of the African American experience in what became the United States are in the recently published book, And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations. Carolyn Mazloomi, who curated the commissioned quilts, also organized the exhibit sponsored by the Cincinnati, Ohio, Museum Center, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the Women of Color Quilters Network.

The quilts in the book are arranged by chronological order of the events depicted. The first quilt commemorates the year, 1619, the first African slaves landed in Virginia. The last quilts depict two events from 2012 – the killing of Trayvon Martin and the enactment of voter ID laws in 11 states.

I’m interested in how well quilts can get across their message while being aesthetically appealing. Given that personal bias, the following quilts in the book were most appealing to me. I noticed it’s hard to integrate text and photos with patchwork. Some of the quilts reminded me of school bulletin board displays. But if it provides the viewer with new information then I’d say the quilt was successful.

Valerie Poitier "240 Million African Slaves Ago"

Valerie Poitier “240 Million African Slaves Ago”

Michael Cummings "Harriet Tubman"

Michael Cummings “Harriet Tubman”

April Thomas Shipp "An Open Book To Freedom"

April Thomas Shipp “An Open Book To Freedom” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

Lauren Austin "We Hid In the Woods and Swamp"

Lauren Austin “We Hid In the Woods and Swamp” (Rosewood, Florida)

Linda Gray "Plessy v. Ferguson"

Linda Gray “Plessy v. Ferguson”

Helen Murrell "We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun"

Helen Murrell “We Are All Warmed By The Same Sun” (Tuskegee syphilis study)


Viola Burley Leak "Katrina Wreckage and Tears"

Viola Burley Leak “Katrina Wreckage and Tears”

The curves in the photos are due to the book pages, not the quilts.





Filed under Art quilts, Books, Quilt Shows

Mixed Media Roundup, Part 3

I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so I’ll say right now this is the last installment of my mixed media book reviews. I saved techniques books written by Jane Davies and Sherrill Kahn for last. Why? Mostly because I’ve been dipping into their techniques and needed the time for paint to dry.

Though her book Adventures in Mixed Media (2011) focuses on small scale and 3D work, most of the work Davies shows on her website is larger and painted. I concentrated on the fabric chapters – fusion fabric and fiber and paper quilts and cloth collage, and skipped chapters on making books and boxes, ornaments and shrines, and even dolls.

Given the sincerely earnest messages of some mixed media pieces, I appreciated the lightheartedness of the projects shown below. I hope you can read the text on these pages.

Cleavage purse Jane Davies

Jimmy's Closet Jane Davies

But let me feature the technique I’ve been trying out – fabric paper. I’ll show you my attempts in a future post.

Adventures in Mixed Media Jane Davies

Sherrill Kahn spent many years teaching art in schools, and the techniques she presents in Mixed-Media Master Class (2013) reflect that. Most are easy to master and use low cost, often creatively reused materials. Here are some of the items I’ve used to print on fabric based on Kahn’s suggestions.

printing tools

Like Davies, Kahn works on paper as well as fabric, and some of her techniques wouldn’t work well with fabric. She presents lots of ideas, so if you don’t like one, flip forward a few pages and you’re likely to find another that suits. After all, the book’s subtitle is “50+ Surface-Design Techniques for Fabric &  Paper.” Be aware that she uses paint washes a lot to tie together her printing, so you shouldn’t be surprised if your efforts need that touch to make them look good.

Unlike Davies’ book, Kahn’s is organized by types of techniques: resists, textures, rubbings and printmaking.  The descriptions of materials you can use to create surfaces is better than the usual and the most expensive material is probably matte gel medium.

Here’s a sample set of pages.

Kahn sampleHere’s one of the sample fabric projects from Kahn’s book. The techniques used are listed at the lower left. Many of the projects done on paper are more luminous.

Kahn sample project

I’ve tried the following techniques: making fabric cord, Inktense pencils on fabric, crayon resist, masking tape resist, stenciling with oil pastels, wet into wet paint on pole wrapped fabric, rubbings with assorted objects, fun foam prints, rubber band prints, styrofoam plate prints, and hair gel thickened paint. Some of my experiments were better than others, but I may have to buy a copy of this book.

One footnote. I have no idea why the term “mixed media” is hyphenated in one book and not the other. I assume it’s due to the editorial practices of different publishers.



Filed under Art quilts, Books, Fabric Printing, Inspiration, Project Ideas, Techniques