Category Archives: In Process

Revisiting the Unknown Family

About a year ago I began a project that involved unlabeled family photos. I envisioned a three part series featuring groups of people, women, and children; all with no identifying names. After finishing one with groups of people I stopped working on the series as I hit a mental block. I just couldn’t make them into art quilts, and the colors were very muted. That was understandable as I was working with old linens. However, I wasn’t ready to take on a huge amount of embroidery to add color, and I wanted to keep the vintage theme.

All I know is that the people in the photos lived in Ireland or Manitoba.

A week ago I hauled out the remaining women and children photos and set to work on developing visually pleasing layouts. I realized that these won’t be art quilts, but are more fabric scrapbook pages. Once I made my peace with that I was able to find a way forward.

The women piece features a wallpaper sample, a linen napkin, pillowcase ends, a hankie, lace, old photos, and crocheted pins.

I had done natural dying on the old pillowcase some years ago, so I was stuck with the muck green color. The central photo may be one of my mother’s cousins. I know it’s not as old as the surrounding photos, which were probably taken in Ireland. The original of the stern matron has the name of a photographer in Letterkenny, Donegal, at the bottom. The crocheted pins were made by a friend of my parents, while the flower filled oval came from a scrap I was given.

I’m not thrilled with how dark some of the photos are, but I don’t have the originals to scan in and edit.

While I still have some hand tacking of edges to do, in my book the women are done.

I can’t say the same for the children. The photos are a mix of studio portraits and casual snapshots. The latter are under or over exposed, but again I don’t have the negatives. The fabrics here are another linen napkin, an embroidered small pillowcase given to me by a friend, hand knit mittens and a hand embroidered bib that may have been made for me. There’s no one left I can ask.

I think it needs an edge treatment but I have nothing suitable.

So, one will go back in my undone pile, while two will go in the completed pile. These aren’t works to be entered in a show. For one thing, shipping would be difficult as they can’t be rolled up or folded. For another, they aren’t works of art, but family mementos. Maybe I can convince one of my cousins they are perfect for their family photo wall.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under In Process, mixed media

Tweaking The Wall

My version of tweaking involves my design wall, not meth, just so you know. Since last week I have been futzing with minor revisions to “The Left Coast” and a shaggy improv piece inspired by fabric designed by Katie Pasquini Masopust. Both works have spent time on the design wall, as I drop by to squint at them, add/subtract bits of fabric, and take a photo. This process was repeated several times each day. My husband calls it “staring at the wall.”

First, thanks for all the comments on “The Left Coast.” I really wasn’t trolling for compliments, but I appreciate all your kind words. I also appreciate the thoughtful comments as to how it could be made even better. Since I don’t want to disassemble the piece I will leave some ideas to apply to any other version I make. I’ve been playing with other ideas, especially the notion of adding something to the upper right hand side, the sky/water area. Since there are many rock formations off of Big Sur I decided to add some to my work. You’d think it would be a simple thing, but I’ve tried several permutations of color, shape, number and position.

“The Left Coast” with rocks

“The Left Coast” original

I know there are color variations between the above photos. Time of day makes a big difference in how this piece photographs, which is actually an unintentional reflection of the Big Sur itself. I’d love to get your reactions to the rock additions as I’ve looked at it so long I can’t tell whether it’s better or not.

The improv piece has two starting points; the fabric and the backside of a failed mixed media piece.

“Square Dance” fabric

The mixed media piece featured hand painted and printed fabric, but it was awkward and just didn’t work. As I balled it up to throw in the trash I looked at the backside and decided I liked it better than the front. Between the lively fabric and the backside of failure I decided to make a wrong side out piece, where the seam allowances would be on top. Further, I decided to sew raw edge fabric bits onto the whole thing. Since my blog is about the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ll show you what resulted.

Part of my tweaking has involved pulling off fabric bits as I went overboard with them. After I reached the stage above I decided that major surgery was needed.

The above photo cropped to eliminate the right side.

I think I crammed too much into the space so it comes across as Fibber Magee’s closet. I’m not so old I remember the show, but my father used to tell me about it. Instead I’ll create two quilts. The right hand side will become a table runner with fabrics added to the ends. The left hand side will become an experiment with decorative stitching and any embellishments I can scrounge. It’s already a mess, so what the heck.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Art quilts, In Process

Marching To My Own Drummer

I would love to find discussions that address my current artistic quandary: at what point do you want to/should you defer to the opinions of others when they have a very different take on your work than your own? I refer specifically to work you feel much more positively about than others do. And you respect the opinions of these others.

Case in point, my current piece that I’ve named “The Left Coast.” It is based on my memories of Big Sur in California, though it’s meant to be evocative rather than representative. I chose to focus on the cliffs rather than the ocean.

“The Left Coast”

I began with a drawing that I turned into templates after enlarging it with the old fashioned grid method. Then I went through my stock of hand dyed fabric.

You can see my high level math as I worked out the grid.

I had a subtle set of gray/purples from Vicki Welsh (she calls it thistle) that I thought would work well. Other gradients dyed by her and batiks completed my choices for the cliffs. The sky/water was more vexing. I tried three different blue and purple gradients, all of which overpowered the cliffs. I resorted to a pastel batik (no idea where I got it, maybe Lunn Fabrics?) that I spent a lot of time recoloring with Neocolor II pastel crayons. At one point I decided the piece was turning into a painting.

Original fabric.

The piece is now sandwiched for quilting. I am using a pieced top I could never get to work right for the backing. It’s part of my use it up campaign.

I have made at least three attempts to redeem it, but lack the energy to try again.

I suspect time will be the ultimate arbiter of whether “The Left Coast” is good art or variations on a bruise. It may be my opinion is like loving a man that all your friends say is bad news. When hindsight shows he was a jerk and it’s a good thing you didn’t marry him, your friends were right. Luckily, the quilt is just fabric and the consequences of misjudging its worth are minimal.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Inspiration

The Bloomin’ Quilting Is Done

Bloomin’ is defined as “just a casual swear word” by The Urban Dictionary, and I used a few while quilting Rhody. As I recounted in an earlier post, I have been developing an impressionistic floral piece made with fabrics I had dyed, painted, and printed.

My original plan called for an undulating circular walking foot quilting design in several thread colors. Then, I decided to create the illusion of leaves around the edges. I had already reached the limits of walking foot quilting on the circular part, so I knew FMQ was the only way I could do leaves.

It turned out there was a lot more edge area to quilt than I had thought, so the FMQ went on for a few days, to allow my shoulders and temper time to recover. I tried several thread colors and weights to emphasize the leaves more, but I declared it was good enough when I found myself quilting the same leaves more than twice. Of course I managed to catch a bit of the excess backing fabric in the quilting, but the facing will cover that up. Only you and I will know about it.

I used seed stitch and french knots to give the flower center texture. It was backed with fusible fleece and satin stitched to the already quilted top.

“Rhody” about 33″ wide by 37″ high

Here are detail shots, plus a view of the back. As always, the back was made with whatever fabrics I had that were large enough. I pay attention to nice backs for working quilts, but not for wall art.

Of course the really boring chores – facing and hanging sleeve – remain. The fabrics are measured and cut, but sewing them on will await a time when I get stuck on my next new project and need thinking time.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, In Process

Paper Work

While I’m resting up my arms and shoulders from a quilt wrestling project (why did I choose a circular quilting design?) I’ve been playing with paper. Some efforts I’ve framed, and some I’ve created as part of Willa Wanders‘ free Fodder Challenge lessons.

After living with so-so framed art for many years I decided new art in the frames would be nice. One is a collage, two are gel plate monoprints, and one is a weaving of collaged strips sewn onto paper. I had forgotten what a pain it is to frame stuff.

In between faulty measurements, I watched several Fodder Challenge lessons. Many were too cute for me. I cannot collage inspirational sayings with a straight face. However, I tackled three projects in my own way.

First I used Drew Steinbrecher‘s collage methods for gel plate printed papers, where you create one large collage and then cut it into several smaller collages, which you work on individually. The last work was done in a board book, and uses illegible words stenciled with modeling paste on tissue paper.

Next I tackled paper strip weaving with Rebecca Sower, an easy way to use collaged papers. Besides the framed weaving shown above, I wove another with strips leftover from that one, and yet one more that used a quilt calendar photo as the base. Some challenge participants wove cool diagonal versions.

My last challenge project involved Jane Chipp‘s button collage with printed tissue paper. The instructor used vintage photos printed on tissue with a home printer, and her results were charming. However, I found that my glue would smear the ink from my printer, so I used a sheet of deli paper I had brayered off on and then drawn and stenciled on. You need large, flat-back buttons, printed tissue, gesso, and matte medium (plus patience) to do this.

Finally, since I had all my collage supplies out, I made two more mixed media pieces from previous starts. My goal was to see how far I could go before the piece was overworked. I toned down some of the black on the left hand piece, which helped pull it back a bit from the overworked edge. The right hand piece began with gold blobs and ink lines on watercolor paper, got some paper glued on and cording sewed on, and ended with Posca pens and acrylic ink.

Now that I have gotten almost all the matte medium off my fingers, I hope to return to quilting in the round. Maybe next week I’ll have a finished quilt to show you.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under collage, In Process, mixed media, Project Ideas

Summer Is Here!

Hot weather means it’s time for me to switch to smaller, what-the-heck projects and leave the larger, more thoughtful ones for autumn. That way I don’t have to quilt large pieces when I don’t need any extra warmth. To inaugurate the fun times I’ve finished “Along Portage Path” plus “Straightback.” Now I’m ready for true frankensteining work.

“Along Portage Path” uses a photo printed on fabric with various hand dyed and painted fabrics (including an old shirt) to convey the idea of driving by a row of crabapple trees in full autumn color. The trees are embroidered with seed stitches in a variety of colors and thread weights to intensify the oranges, reds, and yellows.

“Along Portage Path” 40 inches wide by 19 inches high

“Straightback” shows what happens when I’m determined to use a small top that didn’t turn into the wonderful tour de force I had imagined. My plan had been to create a gradation of dark to light and light to dark in two fabrics with the darkest values of one next to the lightest values of the other. The failure sulked in a box for a bit until I refound a strip of fabric stenciled with chairs and a very strange bit of Spoonflower fabric. A few cuts with my rotary blade and inserts of fabric strips made a piece more to my liking. The edges are finished with fused strips.

“Straightback” 18 inches wide by 24 inches high

A search in my scrap bins for bits of fabric to go with another in progress project unearthed cut off sections of already quilted black and white pieces. The bins are truly the gift that keeps on giving. So far I have pieced unquilted bits together and layered them with batting and backing. The plan is to join them to the already quilted bits to create a new piece. Let the adventure begin.

Commercial fabrics, quilting leftovers and samples, photos printed on fabric, hand printed fabric. Not a final layout.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under Art quilts, Completed Projects, In Process

A New Color Palette and Flowers, Sort Of

I have long maintained that flowers have little to no place in my work. I love flowers in a garden or a vase, but haven’t been drawn to them as subjects for my work. So, I was surprised that I based a piece now under construction on flowers, rhododendrons specifically. Each May I see the bold magenta floral clusters of those plants in the yards of the older houses in my neighborhood. I don’t know if they’ve gone out of fashion, but I don’t see them in newer developments. Of course, that color would give one pause and they like shade.

A mature rhodedendron

But I didn’t start my floral project with the shrub in mind. Instead, I began with a surfeit of high flow quinacridone magenta acrylic paint that I decided to splash on scraps of tablecloths, muslin, PFD cotton, and fabric already printed with bell pepper. Then after I noticed all the rhodies in my neighborhood I came up with a scheme to make a piece with a floral theme out of all that painted fabric cut into squares.

Not exactly a detailed sketch, but it was enough for me.

To the magenta fabric I added squares (including an old sheet) painted with green, yellow-green, and yellow; plus fabric monoprinted with Inktense colors. Once I had the squares arranged to my liking I added thin bias strips of fused fabric. I know that my inspiration shrub doesn’t have skinny leaves, but let’s pretend bindweed has clambered up on it.

The next step I plan is a few tendrils made of even skinnier strips. It’s easy to curve the bias strips as you iron them in place.

The new color palette I became enamoured of is that used by Zoe Zenghelis, a painter who pioneered an appreciation of the role of color in architectural design. The Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh has mounted an exhibit of her paintings, which introduced me to her work. You can read a review of the exhibit below.

Now, I don’t grasp all the architectural aspects of her work, but I do love the shapes and clear, melting colors she uses. I was transported to an alternative universe through her paintings.

Dali, 2019
untitled
Tatiana’s House, 1994
A few of the works on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art

I hope to experiment with my paints to achieve similar effects. Maybe I can learn some subtlety.

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Filed under Art quilts, Exhibits, In Process, Inspiration

So Many Choices

It’s so easy to get tangled up in choices when I design a piece. Since my starting point is usually rough, at best, many shape and color decisions still need to be made. And it’s easy to slip into not seeing the forest for the trees territory.

I finished quilting my four scrappy medallion log cabins so I rewarded myself with a new start, based on a Spoonflower printed photo of a dry stone wall that encloses a local landmark.

Here’s the printed fabric of two rows of walls and trees.

I pulled possible additional fabrics and painted pieces of an old shirt and sheet. Then I pinned them up.

The large piece of commercial fabric is by Marcia Derse.

After I looked at them for about two months I thought of an approach to that wall fabric – make several narrowly separated stacks. I used most of the fabric in the above photo. The Marcia Derse and some teal curtain fabric were dropped. I created bias strips of yellow/red/orange to break up the dark area. At this point the piece measures about 45 inches long by 19 inches high.

Now comes the point I’m stuck at. I want to use narrow strips of a gradient fabric by Vicki Welsh between each stack. Right now my plan is to angle the edges of each stack, and possibly have the stacks at slightly different heights. But, before I cut more fabric I need to decide which way to run the gradient – top to bottom or left to right. Then, I need to decide if I want solid strips across the top and bottom and, if so, what colors.

I’m hoping you’ll have some opinions that will prod my thinking. Some possibilities work for color, but don’t necessarily contribute to the story. The story here is the impression you get of this wall as you drive by it on the street that runs parallel to it.

I’ve thought of blue for sky but the blue fabric I have is too strong and draws attention away from the trees. Below are some options I’ve pinned up. Most show only a few of the stacks as the insert fabric won’t stretch across the whole piece and I don’t want to cut it up and then change my mind.

Option 1: Gradient runs left to right, no top or bottom strip
Option 2: Gradient runs top to bottom, with orange fabric on bottom and gold on top
Option 3: Gradient runs left to right, dark orange on bottom, light orange on top
Option 4: Gradient runs left to right, gold fabric on top, orange fabric on bottom.
Option 5: Gradient runs top to bottom, mottled fabric on top, dark orange on bottom.

I can understood if you’re confused at this point. If nothing else let me know which options you think really don’t work. I’ve become like a toddler – just give me two options for my outfit. Otherwise I’ll dither forever.

One last point about this piece – the printed fabric photographs much less vividly than the other fabrics. IRL the colors are stronger. Maybe the type of printing process used caused this?

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Filed under Art quilts, In Process

Always Something New To Learn

Sometimes I like a continuing program of classes rather than a one shot deal, and Everything Arts’ Wanderlust lessons in mixed media and art journaling are delivering weekly doses of something new. Since I started exploring mixed media in 2020 I have learned much about paper and fabric collage, monoprinting, and even painting. But I don’t have a broad exposure to all the materials and techniques possible in mixed media.

From the video lessons so far I’ve learned about clear and black gesso (who knew there was more than white?), compressed charcoal pencils, and modeling paste, to name a few materials. As lessons are given by different teachers, most new to me, I am seeing diverse ways to approach the same materials and techniques.

Confession time: I don’t really follow the lessons, but I do try out the materials and techniques. The broad idea of the class is to create your work in an art journal. At the end of the course you have a consolidated arrangement of all you’ve created. I grab whatever’s on hand and work on that. So far I’ve used wallpaper samples, old pre-stretched canvases, children’s board books, and watercolor paper. I do indeed have nice unblemished paper, but somehow I feel constrained to reuse stuff. It must be the result of a childhood of saving the “good” dishes for company.

None of what I’ve made is finished work, but messing around is lots of fun.

Mixed media in a board book. Tried acrylic ink for the first time.
Another board book spread with lots of white gesso. That stuff really covers up whatever is beneath it.
First steps for the above two pieces

More gesso over cardboard, thread, and cloth bits with acrylic paint and stencils. Wallpaper samples hold up well.
Modeling paste applied through stencils, collaged and painted over, done on canvas
Gessoed wallpaper with collage and white pen
Inked in cartoon faces over watercolor (this was a bonus video)

The next lessons will delve more into modeling paste, so who knows what I’ll make. If I don’t like this week’s lesson there always will be a new one next week for the next few months.

I am linking to Off The Wall Fridays.

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Filed under collage, In Process, Techniques

Meditative, Schmediative

For some years crafters and quilters have extolled the virtues of slow hand stitching. They say it’s a soothing meditative process that will relax you, make you appreciate the process, and be mentally restorative. The implication is it will make you a better person.

My latest attempt to reach such a zen-like state was sparked by a free online course called Stitch Camp taught by Gwen Hedley on textileartist.org. We began by making random marks on two pieces of white/off white cotton with two contrasting colors.

Initial painted fabrics

Gwen used twigs to apply paint. My first deviation was to skip the twigs as the ground was snow covered. We were to use diluted acrylic paint. My second deviation – I used textile paint that I watered down too much and it made blobs. We were to mark one piece of cotton heavily and the other one lightly, then cut up the cotton however we liked, rearrange the pieces in a way that connected the marks, and hand stitch the pieces together. My third deviation (do you see a pattern?) was to zigzag my pieces by machine and to make two rearranged pieces from them. They were still ugly.

Pieces cut up and arranged into one.
Two starting pieces with some bits left off

Then, we were to use hand stitches to emphasize the connections between the sewn together pieces. After I backed the pieces with fusible fleece, I began to do elementary stitching in red, navy and off white threads. After what seemed like days, I had stitched two long lines, done seed stitching, running and back stitches, and loose satin stitches. I added small bits of fused fabric. (Gwen did small hand sewn applique additions. Deviation four.) The awful looking piece still looked awful, and the only thing I was meditating on was a toss to the waste basket.

Appliqued and embroidered

I figured the piece would become less ugly only if I embroidered over every speck of the surface. That wasn’t going to happen. Every stitch I made annoyed me more as one of my fabrics had a very tight weave that was hard to pull the needle through. The process didn’t make me calmer as Gwen (who stressed this was about process not product) had confidently said I’d feel. I saw many ways the ugliness could be eased, but none involved thread.

Out came the paints and Posca markers. I painted two layers of paint over the piece I had embroidered to help the contrasting colors meld more. I got creative with markers on the unstitched piece and found that process calming.

Painted over and still ugly, but my eye doesn’t skitter everywhere as much
No hand stitching, all fused applique and Posca pens. I think my pen strokes reference many embroidery stitches.

It’s not that I don’t get the tactile pleasure of hand stitching. I enjoyed embroidering my felted wool squares because the colors were bright and wool felt so good to sew. Lots of small pieces to embroider are a better fit with my limited hand stitch attention span. I could finish one square in 15 minutes. However, when my starting point is ugly and stitching is a struggle I am not going to persevere with a project that seems endless. I don’t think my path to process nirvana is hand stitching. The fault is in me, not the instructor. In fact, I could happily fall asleep to Gwen’s soothing voice. I guess Stitch Camp did have some meditative qualities for me.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.

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Filed under Commentary, In Process, Stitch