Category Archives: Techniques

Jumping Off Points

While we art quilters, or at least this one, would like to think all our work springs fresh from our creative minds, sometimes already made sources give us a head start. Like cheater cloth, fabric that mimics the look of patchwork but only needs quilting, I have used a tea towel and motifs from a bedsheet to do the heavy lifting for two of my current projects.

Because I follow Clare Youngs, a talented collagist and print maker, on Instagram, I learned she had designed a tea towel for Werkshoppe, a company that prints original artwork on products like puzzles and tea towels. Even though I find the company’s name painfully precious, I ordered a few towels and set about to translate one of Youngs’ motifs into a border.

This should finish at about 25″ wide by 30″ high

Youngs uses a flying geese type pattern a lot in her work, so I thought a wonky version would make a good border. To keep the long pieces straight I created a freezer paper piecing pattern and used my tutorial for construction. It’s a good thing I could refer to it as I had forgotten a few steps. I scrapped my original plan for a double border when it became apparent I didn’t have enough fabric bits. I always underestimate the amount of fabric triangular paper piecing takes.

For the back I dug out an old unfinished top that was partially disassembled and will add solid strips of orange fabric that’s been in my drawer for too long to bring it up to size. I am thinking of a traditional binding in black as I may use this on a table.

I never added the flying geese and have taken off the top and bottom rows.

My other assisted start project came about as an effort to use my fused fabric scraps. That’s right, yet another scrap collection. A friend had given me pieces of a sheet that was printed with stylized birds. I had attached fusible but never used them. I picked out any fused scraps that could represent leaves or flowers, found a blue piece of a tablecloth I used under painted fabric, and started composing with my scissors.

This should finish at 23″ wide by 19″ high, including the black border

Next, I got creative with Fabrico fabric markers (I have had them at least 9 years) to touch up stems, leaves, and petals. I plan to quilt it to the piece of black felt shown in the photo above and call it done. My working title is “Three Little Birds,” a tribute to the Bob Marley song. I mean, you can’t get more upbeat than that.

However, all quilting will have to wait for my injured left hand index finger to heal (I am a southpaw.) You should see me trying to type – slow and inaccurate.

I am linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Techniques

“Photo Memory Quilts” Book Review

It’s been a long time since I reviewed a fiber art book here, partly because I haven’t found ones I thought were interesting enough and partly because there seem to be fewer craft books published these days. Thanks to my library I came upon Lesley Riley’s latest book, “Photo Memory Quilts,” which I really could have used a year ago when I was making my unknown family quilts.

The book combines discussion of why you would want to make a memory quilt, ways to get ideas for one, and nuts and bolts of constructing one. It has examples of quilts made by Lesley and others, so you’re presented with many different approaches.

Lesley begins with how to photograph old photos. She doesn’t assume you own all the photos you will use, but gives specific online resources for copyright free photos. Then she shows how to edit photos for printing on fabric and gives pros and cons of several printing methods. Of the methods she reviews, I have tried printing directly to prepared fabric sheets (Jacquard,) and on demand digital printing. I have used two other methods – cyanotype, and Solar Fast – though not with photo negatives. Lesley is so right that your editing before printing is important to get the look you want.

Two points of note here: Lesley is the developer of TAP artist transfer paper and she uses Apple products for editing, especially an iPhone. I haven’t used the paper, mostly because it costs about $3 per 8.5 by 11 inch sheet, so I can’t give any opinions there. I have an Android phone, but found the features available on my phone that I tried worked fine. I am looking forward to experimenting with suggested apps for sharpening blurry images and colorizing them.

Once your photos are on fabric and you have a design, Lesley walks you through some of her quilt construction methods, including edge finishes. Basically, it’s whatever works, including wood glue. She doesn’t treat the three layer quilt as sacred. Quilting is enough to hold the parts together, but isn’t dominant in the examples shown.

Would you to see some examples?

Each mini quilt was made separately and then tied together. I plan to use this idea.
Lesley notes that it can be important to have eyes look toward the center.
Hand dyed fabric, on demand printed photo, and machine embroidered fabric were combined.
Glued to a cradled board

If you’re interested in this kind of quilt I recommend you at least page through this book. It has lots of helpful advice and examples, without being a pattern book.


Filed under Art quilts, Books, Commentary, Completed Projects, Techniques

You Don’t Know Until You Try

When I am given interesting materials I like to play and see what I can do with them. Recently in my volunteer work I came across the first of five volumes of a Braille book. No one knew what happened to the other four, so I got to take that volume home.

spiral bound, soft cover book

The Braille printed pages look like code, with raised dots on both sides of each page. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, “Braille symbols are formed within units of space known as braille cells. A full braille cell consists of six raised dots arranged in two parallel rows each having three dots. The dot positions are identified by numbers from one through six. Sixty-four combinations are possible using one or more of these six dots. A single cell can be used to represent an alphabet letter, number, punctuation mark, or even a whole word.”

I experimented with dry and wet media to see how the crisp, white paper covered with dots took color.

Dry media
Wet media

The stamp pad and graphite pencil worked best of the dry media. Cray pas is smeary and the Crayola crayon was too waxy. For the wet media the diluted acrylic orange paint dried quickly so the raised dots remained crisp. I found that the water I applied on the Neocolor II crayon made the dots sink into the paper. The Posca marker (which is acrylic paint) needed to be touched to each raised dot. I tried to create a maze between the dots, but I wasn’t pleased with the results.

I used a bit of the acrylic painted paper in two of my 100 day project four inch collages. The paper certainly adds texture.

Days 72 and 73

Let me know if you think of any other possible uses for this paper. I am willing to try out viable suggestions.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under collage, mixed media, Techniques

Just Because

Thanks to SAQA’s Material Matters seminar for its members, I’ve had a good time viewing videos and websites that feature innovative materials. I love the idea of wearable art, and the shows are certainly more entertaining than the usual art quilt show.

Somehow the women’s costumes seem to focus on hard to walk in and bondage type outfits, but there’s tons of inventive use of materials in this World of Wearable Art Show highlights video. Of course the outfits are probably best suited to Cirque du Soleil performers.

High couture by Iris van Herpen is modeled in a underwater ballet. Again, this is aspirational stuff, not suited to wear for school pickup runs.

And Tim Harding’s work seems a lovely counterpoint to wearable art and goes well with the underwater modeling. Enjoy his Refraction series with sheer organza overlays.

Tim Harding, “Gold Scribble” detail

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Commentary, Inspiration, Techniques

Still Processing

This past Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I participated in a Zoom workshop on Textural Style with Natalya Khorover. We had a two hour Zoom session each day and then homework to do for the next day’s class. The class focused on using scraps of any type to create small machine and hand sewn collages. Natalya stresses materials reuse, especially plastics, in her work and teaching, though this workshop used fabrics more than plastics.

By Friday afternoon my studio looked like a fabric scrap cannon had been fired off, I had started four pieces, and my brain was exhausted. So, there was no Friday blog post.

I will be unpacking the lessons I learned for some time, and then merging them with what I already know to arrive at what works for me. Natalya loves working with small scraps (including old cashmere sweaters) and favors hand stitching. She often uses heavy Pellon interfacing as backing and skips batting. She doesn’t use glue but relies on pins and tulle to hold bits in place until they are sewn down.

Here’s an example of her work, which began with a piece of muslin used on her painting table.

The background is all little scraps sewn down with a running stitch. The fire escape is sewn with velvet thread, something new to me. The Pellon interfacing is easy to sew through yet allows for really long stitches.

Our first assignment was to create two one color small works, one machine stitched and one hand stitched. I finished the machine stitched one, but have miles to go on my hand stitched work.

Scraps from a current WIP.
The start of a glittery, in your face, piece. I hope to use lots of seed stitching to tone things down.

Next, we picked a work by our favorite artist and created a piece that interpreted it. Natalya showed us many examples of her interpretations of work by Matisse, Sargent, and others. I chose “Temple Gardens” by Paul Klee and lived to regret my choice. My first downfall was Klee’s palette which I strove mightily to match from my scraps. My second struggle was trying to interpret the watercolor without copying it.

“Temple Gardens” Paul Klee, 1920
I am now cutting out most of the tulle cover to brighten the colors, and plan to overlay some areas with more scraps for a better composition. Then I will throw this in the bottom of a drawer.

Finally, we were to choose a failed block, ugly dyed fabric, or the like to transform. One of Natalya’s examples was her piece shown at the start of this post. We had a good laugh at the choices made. Lots of dyeing goes wrong, apparently. I chose some cotton with yellow and red dye splotches that I had screen printed over with yucky results. I then started laying ripped up loosely woven old linen scraps on top followed by silk organza scraps. We are to work on this piece on our own.

Some of my scraps need to be smaller, and this will definitely require hand stitching.

Class wrapped up with a review of different ways to finish textile art work. Natalya does no binding and little facing. She often glues her smaller work to canvas with matte medium and then finishes the canvas sides with paint. This type of presentation, along with mounting in deep frames, elevates work from sewn together scraps.

Right now I have mixed feelings about the class. I appreciate the different ways I learned to create with scraps and take advantage of scrap qualities such as their “hairiness” (i.e., raveled edges.) The videos shown of Natalya creating work were informative. On the minus side, I had a hard time creating quickly with no advance directions as to subject and materials needed. For example, the course description could have said, you will create samples in single colorways, interpret a work by your favorite artist, etc. I need time to gather my thoughts and materials, and typically we were told what the next assignment was in the last half of each session. We began work during the Zoom session, but I barely had time to gather my thoughts and start grabbing materials. I asked for more advance notice, but received little guidance. I guess part of the class was about improvisation. I think this class would be better in person so students could interact with Natalya and fellow students as they worked.

Natalya is folding this class into her Innovative Repurposing Community, so it is no longer available as a stand alone course.

The upshot is I now have more hand stitching projects to work on, and a different perspective on what constitutes a scrap to save.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under collage, Commentary, Techniques

Unnatural Fabrics

I don’t know if that’s the proper term for fabrics that aren’t made from naturally derived materials such as cotton and linen. I don’t like the term man made, with its inherent bias, but fabrics developed from polyester often are called that. Here I’m talking about tyvek, evolon, lutrador, and the like. Why am I talking about them? A recent SAQA seminar on such fabrics reminded me of my own efforts to use such stuff.

Part of the seminar was a video conversation with Shannon Conley, an artist who cheerfully tackles all sorts of three dimensional challenges with unusual materials, often made of polyester. She encourages art quilters to explore the materials available in upholstery shops, like the spun poly material used under upholstered furniture. Here’s a sample of her work with painted, melted, and shaped polyester fabric.

“On Dahlias,” Shannon Conley

My efforts with such fabrics aren’t nearly as adventuresome. I have used evolon and Pellon polyester tracing cloth fabric in a few pieces, and have enjoyed their ability to take color from paints and markers and lack of raveling. I understand they’re great to use with cutting machines. Artists such as Betty Busby and Valerie Goodwin have done so.

My past experiments with pattern tracing cloth taught me that it can be colored with Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks, acrylic paint, and markers, though the colors are a bit dull. It also works for stenciling and gel printing. Advantages are its price (cheap,) and ease of use with fusibles. It is somewhat transparent so any layers under it will show a bit.

Moistened Derwent Inktense pencils on tracing
Stenciled gel prints on tracing cloth
I used stenciled tracing cloth over dye painted fabric in “Dark and Deep”

Evolon is a heavier poly fabric with a pleasing suede like finish. It is far more expensive than the tracing cloth, and is often sold in cut pieces rather than from a bolt. I experimented with several coloring methods on dry and damp evolon and found the colors to be brighter than on the tracing cloth. Any marks on dampened evolon spread a lot, as I found with my labels made with a micron pen.

The liquid paints haloed when brushed with water, and the Setasilk did so when applied to dry fabric.
On dampened evolon the micron pen bled a lot and the acrylic and Setasilk paints haloed.
A piece of evolon sprayed with Marabu fashion spray paint and then stenciled with acrylic paint.

I have also experimented with used color catcher sheets. In fact, the bottom part of “Wish I Was Here” is composed of two that I painted and sewed together.

“Wish I Was Here”

While I have no hesitation about using poly materials in art quilts, I don’t know if I’d put them in a quilt meant to be laundered. In their favor, they don’t stretch out of shape or ravel. Still, I don’t know how well stitching would hold up with repeated washings. Also, I have learned to be careful about ironing them. They can’t take high heat.

If you’re interested in exploring such materials, check out the work of Kim Thittichai, who offers online workshops about melting fabrics with a heat gun or soldering iron. If you’re a SAQA member, I suggest the last section of the Materials online seminar about unconventional materials.

I’d love to hear about any experiences you’ve had with such materials – the good, bad, and ugly.

I am linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Techniques

The Florida Project

I have packed an art project every time we’ve spent a few winter weeks in Florida. Last year it was assorted fabric strips and my sewing machine that produced four small quilts. Years before that I took hand stitching projects that resulted in the embroidered squares of “Every Which Way” and “Torii Traces.

“Torii Traces” 2016

To change it up on this trip I took materials for making collages. Of course I had the exciting task of sewing down all those wool felt squares, but that was mindless work. Because I didn’t want to harm the furnishings at my in-laws’ condo I packed only paper scraps, scissors, board books (to use as sketchbooks,) and a glue stick. The paper scraps contained a lot of text, either whole phrases or words, or single letters. A limited number of raw materials really helps focus my mind.

I produced three board books of collages. That isn’t so impressive when I tell you the largest book measures 7.5 by 6 inches. Here’s a sample of my results, grouped by ones I love, I like, and meh.

I had prepped redacted text from an old book.
A lot of text, but yellow dominates.
First time to include flowers.
Here I combined part of a subway map, a brochure for Fallingwater, a page from a old German dictionary, and some Asian text.
The worst of the bunch. I am redoing it, but it’s never going to be great.

Since my return to Ohio I have continued to work in other board books in addition to revising my work from Florida, and can finally show off filled sketchbooks.


Filed under collage, In Process, mixed media, Techniques

It Began As A Quilt

My last big project of 2022 has been finishing a quilt I called “Happy Accidents” because it was inspired by a piece of woven paper my Roomba had chewed up. You can read about it here and here.

I thought it was done, and started the quilting. I managed to quilt most of what I wanted with a walking foot, and planned to do details with hand stitching. Like many plans, that didn’t go as expected. I found that working needle and thread through four, sometimes five, layers of cloth was challenging. After doing a bit of backstitching, my aching hands told me to give that up.

So, there I was with a partially realized quilt that was probably fine as is, but I wanted more. At this point I left the domain of fabric and thread and entered the painting zone. I ruled out acrylic and fabric paint as too runny for a quilted piece. I considered Inktense briefly, but decided I wanted the flexibility of fuzziness that Neocolor II crayons give.

Of course when you make one change everything is affected, and more changes ensue. That’s why I have expanded the name of this piece to “Happy Accidents/Chaos Theory.” I also think parts of it look chaotic.

Here’s how it looks after several applications of Neocolor II to change the brightness or color of a part, and to emphasize lines that were formerly implicit.

The clipped on black and navy edge strips were to audition binding color. I chose the navy.
The top before quilting and painting.

I managed to spin the quilt many, many times as I quilted the circles and curves.

Finished size is 29 inches wide by 44 inches high. I have only to add binding and hanging sleeve, and I can call it done. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it. Maybe someone will hold a chaos theory art exhibit. If so, I have the perfect entry.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under Art quilts, Fabric Printing, Techniques

Board Book Bonanza

Thanks to Drew Steinbrecher’s free online class I have a growing collection of sketch books made from children’s board books. In the past I started sketch books, but didn’t keep up with them. If you ever started a daily exercise program on January 1, found it became weekly by January 20, and maybe every three weeks by February 5, you know the process.

Drew uses his gel prints, gluing them directly on the book pages, but almost any material, paint, or drawing tool can be used as long as you gesso the pages first. Why board books? Because they’re thick cardboard the pages don’t buckle and warp with glue, and they are cheap second hand finds. Library book sales, online auctions, and yard sales are potential sources of inexpensive used ones.

I got this stack from my local library.

I won’t linger on the technical details as Drew covers them thoroughly, but so far I’ve finished two books and am almost done with a third. My leaf gel prints filled up one book by themselves.

It’s fun to make covers for my books.

Tickets and pamphlets from my trip to Spain combined with paper scraps are featured here. The grid paper lined an envelope our credit card company mailed us.

Magazine pages and collage leftovers

I start a fresh page or add to an existing one whenever I get stuck on my current quilting struggle, and find creating something in 30 minutes or less with paper and a glue stick boosts my mood. Then I’m able to return to the slog in a better frame of mind.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under collage, In Process, mixed media, Techniques

You Can Print With Anything

Originally I typed “you can print anything,” but that can be misinterpreted. I want to talk about the use of unconventional objects in gel printing. Of course, there are screens, stencils, stamps, etc., sold for printing. However, I like found objects that are free.

Instagram offers lots of ideas for such objects. Margaret Molinari (@margarts) prints on fabric with all sorts of items – pressed glass, reed baskets, fruits, vegetables, etc. Another artist, @giogiocraft, uses leaves in a fast way to get a ghost print from a gel plate.

I couldn’t resist (ha!) gathering and pressing leaves, and then printing with them on drawing paper and tissue. Some of my papers had been through one printing already, so I had a head start.

Another Instagram inspired printing object was blue jeans. My husband handed over an old pair of his, which has found its way into a quilt (“Damask and Denim”) and now prints on paper.

I think we’ve gotten our money’s worth out of that pair.

If you have printed with interesting found objects, I’d love to hear about it.


Filed under mixed media, Techniques