Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back on the Path

I finally got the craft room cleaned and organized and actually have spaces to work!

What I'm working on this week:

My January journal quilt, JUST in the nick of time! This was a lot of fun, since I got to practice beading and embroidery, which I'm terrible at, and used fun things like Shiva Painstiks on the trees.

Fabric dyeing: I forgot to take a pic of the last batch of rainbow fabric I dyed. Now I'll have to see if I can separate it back out since I've already put it away!

Fabric painting with dye: The piece to the left was painted with thin dyes and then discharged with SoftScrub with Bleach through a stencil. I'm going to think about what what the next layer will be for a while before I do anything else with it.

Fabric resist/bleaching: I've been messing with the piece on the right forever. I dyed it turquoise, but didn't like the color, so I added some green. I still didn't like it, so I overdyed it with rust. Then I stenciled on Inkodye resist (and made sea grass with fork tines), let that dry, then rolled SS w/bleach over the whole piece. I finally like it! I think I'll add a little color to the fish next.

The pieces below were painted with thick fabric dyes on dry fabric. I've never painted with dye before, and this was a lot of fun! Though I did have a moment of panic when my dye & print paste mix appeared to be drying out just minutes after I started applying it. I ended up spritzing the fabric with water and worried that it would dilute the dyes, but they seemed to do just fine.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Digging Out

I've been petting my latest dyed fabrics in between cleaning the craft room. And it was (ok, still sort of is) a mess! I've just been piling things here and there for months until I couldn't find anything. I was stepping over fabric on the floor, digging through stuff on the worktable to find what I needed--just a big ol' mess. I've been cleaning, rearranging, and reorganizing all day, and I'm beginning to see a tiny light way off in the distance at the end of that proverbial tunnel . . .

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Whole 'Nother World

I didn't get as much done over the long weekend as I had hoped, because my beloved decided that she had to have Guitar Hero for her Playstation. She actually dragged home Rock Band, which includes a guitar, a drum-set, and a microphone so that several people can play together.

I typically don't have much interest in video games (at least not since Ultima wouldn't run on my latest computer), but she talked me into playing the guitar, and I was hooked. I even gave the drums a shot, but that was short-lived. My grown kids came over and my daughter sang, my son took on the drums (and quickly displayed envious talent), I played guitar, and my sweetie played bass (she had to run back to the store for a second guitar). My 8-yr. old grandson rotated and played both guitar and drums, but mostly sang with his mom. This is a really fun game and very family- or group-oriented, and I like the fact that there's no violence (and only a few problematic lyrics in some of the songs). The pic is of my son playing guitar.

I did manage to finish the doll I started a while back. She's lovely, at least in my opinion! I'm currently ghost-writing her autobiography for her.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Beer and Dye Don't Mix

Ok, so I didn't mix beer with the fabric dye. Nor was I actually drinking beer and dyeing fabric at the same time. But I did have two beers last night when we out for Mexican food, and this morning I had a hard time concentrating (probably because I hardly ever drink).

I intended to dye 12 pieces of fabric, but as I was setting up my chart I quickly cut that down to 6. I was having to concentrate very hard but finally got my recipe chart all set out.

My goal was to dye 6 pieces of fabric:
  • #1, ochre brown from last week's Quilt U lesson (I'm taking the Quilter's Palette fabric dyeing class) now that I have the teeny-tiny measuring spoons;
  • #2, warm brown from last week's lesson;
  • #3, a brown that "tweaked" #1 a bit to try to get less green in it;
  • #4, a brown that "tweaked" #2 a bit;
  • #5, a mix of #1 & #2
  • #6, a mix of #3 & #4.
I set everything up, measured the powdered dyes into cups 1-4, added a little water, and mixed. Then I added the remaining water and mixed.

I poured 1/2 of #1 and 1/2 of #2 into a cup and added the fabric; same with #3 and #4. OOPS! I meant to add the dyes separately to the fabric to get some color separation. Oh well.

I pull the soaking fabric out of the water to add to the remaining dye cups and realized OOPS! that I hadn't added salt or soda ash to anything yet. Yikes! I poured the dye off of #5 & #6, mixed the salt and soda ash into it, added the fabric back in. Added salt and soda ash to cups 1-4, then added the fabric. Of course, my carefully calculated measurements were all thrown off because I had already split out the dye. Oh well. Again.

I came out with some lovely colors anyway, though I'm still trying to get good browns with less green. You can see the results in the first picture; the pieces are #1-#6, left to right.

I also made a little piece of "mystery" fabric. I was using a little tub to rinse off my spoons between colors, and there seemed to be enough dye in it to do something with, so I added a little salt and soda ash and a fat quarter, and ended up with this lovely ivory and light green piece.

It was fun anyway, but I think I'll save the complicated stuff for when I'm able to concentrate.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Down a Rabbit Hole

I've been bitten (smitten?) by the dyeing bug. Yesterday morning I was so excited to get started on this project that I woke up at 5. A good thing, too, since dyeing takes so long. I'm pretty pleased with the results.

The colors did turn out lighter than I expected, which I attribute to one or all of the following:

  • I'm using bleached pfd fabric (rather than unbleached--apparently the bleach never completely comes out of the fabric, and can affect the dye)
  • I strained my dyes through cheesecloth, which worked really well to catch the gunk and unmixed particles, but may have removed too much of the color
  • I only let the fabric soak in the dye for an hour
  • I'm using the "lighter" set of primary colors from Dharma (fuschia, lemon yellow, and turquoise).
I'm going to experiment more by changing some of the variables above, but I don't want to use up my pfd muslin since I'm supposed to be using it in my Quilt U class and don't want to order more right now.

Last night I mixed up some sodium alginate and let it sit. I followed the directions in the Kemshalls' book, The Painted Quilt and mixed 2 t. SA with 1-1/2 c. of water, and proceeded to try to whisk this sludge. I kept adding water until the entire tub was filled, and that stuff just kept getting thicker, it seemed. I finally let it sit overnight and took a spoonful this morning and mixed it with more water to get a thick honey consistency. Then I added in some of the leftover dye concentrate from yesterday, and proceeded to stamp, roll, and brush. I played with 3 pieces of fabric--1 undyed, 2 previously dyed--and rolled them up to set for 24 hours, so I'll see tomorrow what I turn out with.

In the meantime, I have to get a grip. It's awfully hard to go to the day-job after getting up at 5 and putting in a couple of labor-intensive hours dyeing fabric!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back to School

After being so relaxed from our Salado trip, I almost forgot that my Quilting U class, "Quilter's Palette," started yesterday! By the time I signed in last night, everyone had introduced themselves and there was a long list of discussion topics to wade through. I HATE being late to class! On the other hand, I didn't have to drive myself nuts waiting for the first lesson to be posted.

This is a class on dyeing fabric in colors that are good for landscape and portrait quilts. I wish I had taken the introductory dyeing class first, but it was held earlier last year, and I didn't want to wait for this one to come around again, so I'm jumping in. Dyeing is somewhat labor intensive, and even more so if all of your workspaces are cluttered up and you have to clean up before you can even begin :-)

I spent almost 2 hours this morning preparing, setting up, and getting the fabric into the dye pots; another hour waiting to pull the pieces out, and an hour rinsing them and getting them into the washer. According to the formulas, the colors should be, left to right in the photo, a mottled brown and a darker shade of mottled brown; mottled green and a darker shade of mottled green; mottled blue and a darker shade of mottled blue; and a light and dark variegation of grays. The browns came out too olive green, and the blues are too solid and not mottled enough. I love the gray piece, though!

With the exception of the blue pieces, all the mottling and variegation is just beautiful. But I hope I can get to the point where I can predict the outcome of the dye colors--even if it is a little like Christmas morning now, waiting to see what comes out of the dryer.

Road Trip

I've had a little touch of the January, no-sun blues, and since it was so beautiful yesterday my sweetie decided to take me on a little road trip. We had breakfast at El Rincon (which has the best migas around), then headed to Salado, which is just about 30 miles north of us. I took the camera and got a few interesting pics of things I liked: the back of an old building (I love the juxtaposition of the solid stone with the frail stairs, and of the inviting white door and wreath with the bars that say "keep out"); a closeup of the lion's head knocker on the door of the old building; a decorated door that leads to nowhere; more doors, this time replacing the pickets in a fence (hmm, am I sensing a theme here?).

We wandered and shopped and oohed and aahed, and of course, had to stop by Bird in The Hand, because they carry Brian Andreas's Story People art and his fabulous books.

I picked up some mulberry paper and printed tissue paper at the scrapbooking store to play with in collages.

And then, since no trip to Salado is complete without a stop by The Sewing Basket, Salado's quilt store, we popped in "just to look" and maybe fondle a fat quarter or two. The people at The Sewing Basket are always so nice, and so of course an hour later and quite a bit money poorer, I came out with all this beautiful fabric. I've been looking for something like this for a while: shabby-chicish, girly, soft, old-fashioned. I want to make a rag quilt, something soft and fluffy that just makes me feel good.

It was a lovely, relaxing day; my sweetie always knows how to make me feel better!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

WIPs (or, "Why I'm Pooped")

Things I've been working on . . . thinking about . . . considering finishing . . .

The pic on the left is what is currently hanging on the design wall. A large piece of fabric that I dyed using the rubber-band technique. I'm considering over-dyeing but haven't decided yet. A needle-felted pear on blue jean material, just because I was curious about whether I could do it. A few strips I cut off of the "fire" piece I did a while back in Linda Schmidt's "Elements" class (they were too pretty to throw away; there must be a use for them, right?). A piece of "fabric" that I made by stitching scraps, threads, and ribbons through water-soluble stabilizer. Another piece of "fabric" I made by chopping up scraps and layering them onto ugly fabric, and under some chiffon or organza or something filmy, then stitching all over. The problem with things like this is that, if I put them away, I'll never remember I have them and will never use them. If I don't put them away, they take up space and I still never use them. Sigh. To the right, btw, is the "water" piece I did in Linda's class, still waiting for a border or a frame or some method of finishing.

Other things I've been working on: a piece of fabric I painted with some green colors, then overdyed with rust brown. I stamped sunflowers on and am waiting for them to dry so that I can add details, highlights, and shading with paint.

A crocheted baby blanket that I started for my great-niece, who is having a baby this month (yes, I have a pregnant great-niece, but really, I'm NOT that old; my niece--her mother--is only 2 years younger than me!). I decided to give her a quilt instead, and have been working on this while watching TV; not much good TV lately with the holidays and the writer's strike, so not much progress on the blanket.

January's journal quilt--maybe. I've never done journal quilts, but am considering doing one a month this year. I'm still playing with the idea and with this piece, and while I'm thinking about it I'm embellishing some beads onto it.

And finally, a pattern from a photo I took in Seattle of a stack of rocks. These were everywhere in Seattle when I visited a couple of years ago, and particularly at the parks. I have no idea why people stack rocks, but I was enchanted with them.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Slow Learner?

I've learned this about my personal creative process: I can think and think and think, look and look, and try for hours, days, or weeks to come up with an idea. But until my body actually becomes engaged in the process and I begin to draw, paint, cut, or sew, nothing but frustration will come about.

I've learned that, but I always manage to forget it at the most crucial times.

So I've spent the last couple of days thinking and looking and become increasingly desperate for a creative idea, then trying to console myself with the idea that this is January, after all, the season of rest and lull and creative-battery-recharging, then resigning myself to the fact that I'm just not that creative and will never have another idea again.

Then I repeat the process all over again.

This morning I decided just to draw something--anything--as a way to begin. Of course, I couldn't think of anything to draw, so I pulled out a quilting book and began to draw one of the landscapes featured in it. I knew I might want to create a journal quilt for January, so I thought as I sketched about what January trees might look like, what color values might be important, what January feels like.

When I finished sketching I knew I wasn't particularly excited about actually creating this piece, and my tiny trollish inner critic immediately started jumping up and down and screaming "it's not your design! it doesn't mean anything to you! You'll just screw it up anyway and it will look ugly and then you'll hate it! Besides, you can't even DRAW." "Nevertheless," I calmly responded, and proceeded to scan the sketch into my computer (this is one of my favorite responses to the troll, and one that I read about a couple of years ago--I wish I could remember where, but you know how that goes . . . "Nevertheless, I'm going to try it anyway"; "Nevertheless, I'm going to just draw this tree and see what happens"; etc.).

As the scanner was doing its part, I thought about what I liked about the sketch, and I settled on the trees. One very tentative idea pushed its way in, then another, then suddenly ideas were flooding into my head. "What if I drew just the trees . . .what if I painted the trees onto fabric . . . no, I know! What if I drew them with crayons onto paper and then transferred that onto fabric . . ." and I was off and running. Before I knew it, I was playing with fabric and crayons and ironing and pulling out those little batik squares I bought because I loved the browns and grays and whites, and just in general having a great time.

So once again, I'm reminded of this lesson I'm apparently destined to have to learn and relearn over and over again: the brain thinks it can work in isolation, but it can't create without the body.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Bird Immortalized

A while back I posted about the baby birds born in our smoker. For this piece, I started with a pic I took of one of the babies learning to fly, after he had struggled all day to make his way across the yard. His moment of triumph seemed to be when he actually flew to the top of the fence. I photoshopped the pic, printed it on fabric, and hung it on the design board, where it has been ever since.

After working on some of the techniques in Vikki Pignatelli's Quilting by Improvisation, I was inspired to create this piece. I love this piece because it has real meaning for me and because I designed it from scratch (design flaws and all), with thoughts of that little bird valiently struggling to learn to fly.

Friday, January 4, 2008


Is there anything better than taking a few days off from the day job to focus on the work I really love? And, my timing couldn't have been better to finally pick up a copy of Vikki Pignatelli's Quilting by Improvisation. I love this book!

Vikki's technique involves drawing patterns onto freezer paper, cutting out one piece at a time, and assembling the pieces onto stabilizer. Then, everything is topstitched together, quilted, and finished. I really do feel like I can create my own original designs without worrying about piecing problems.

The first project I completed from the book was a copy of Vikki's design, "My Star Dances." I haven't added the hanging sleeve yet, so it all looks a little crooked, but it's not.

The second project I completed from the book was a poppy piece. I had a little problem at one of the curves--I thought I could straighten this little pucker out with the iron, but was mistaken. Lesson learned: make sure every curve is clipped correctly and fully! I sewed washers to the back to hang the piece, which worked well.

I was a little intimidated by this book at first, because there's a lot of text that has to be carefully read. My tech writer training often leads me to skip directly to the numbered instructions, but that's not a good idea with this book. Much of the important information is buried in the text, so I recommend taking the time to read everything thoroughly before starting a project. You'll probably feel completely overwhelmed as I did, but once I started actually working on the pieces I was amazed not only by easy the techniques really were, but by how fast these pieces went together!

What really inspires me is that I've been able to so quickly take the ideas in the book and apply them to a project that I was stuck on. A few months ago, I printed a photo of one of our back-yard baby birds onto fabric and hung it on my design board. It's been staring reproachfully at me ever since, but I had no idea what to do with it. Once I completed these projects, I knew exactly what to do with it! I've finished the quilt top and need to quilt and finish it. Stay tuned: the finished piece may be the topic of my next post!