Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Weekly Squares #25, 26, and 27

I’m behind on posting my 6x6” weekly journal squares, so here are three:

Week 25, 8/9-8/15: This square was influenced by family discord that occurred this week. The layers, tangled threads, and connecting "broken" triangle pieces symbolize the depth and complexity of family relationships; the sheer overlay with a peaceful lotus screen print represents the way we smooth over all that complexity, turmoil, and rockiness.

I started with a base of painted and stamped (ugly) cotton fabric, then layered colored silk, silk threads, and screen printed sheers over it. The binding is fused silk:


Week 26, 8/16-8/22: This square was influenced by the pieced quilt I was working on (see this post for more info a picture of that quilt); I used some of the fabric strips left over from that quilt. I have been wanting to try foundation piecing, and then use that piece in an art quilt (symbolized by the heart charm). This square was “practice” for foundation piecing. It was also influenced by the never-ending heat wave here in Central Texas.

(Note: the binding looks more wonky in the picture than it actually is, though it’s still a little wonky. This is sort of a reverse binding: where I usually stitch it to front, turn it to the back, and hand-stitch, I started this one on the back and turned it to the front, then machine-stitched):


Week 27, 8/23-8/29: This square was influenced by, again, the pieced quilt I’ve been working on (I used a leftover block from that quilt), and by thinking about ways to use traditional piecing techniques in art quilts. It was also influenced by the record-breaking heat, and the skinny, scraggly birds that are constantly eating the dog’s food and drinking and bathing in their water:


As usual, I can now say I’m “almost” caught up with my weekly journal squares. I still have #17, which requires scanning a picture in, and #21, which I misplaced in its half-finished state, and only found today after going through some of the piles in my sewing room.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Piece by Piece

I’ve finished another pieced quilt top; this one is from a great quilting book, Jelly Roll Quilts. I’ve never owned a jelly roll, but I wanted some fairly simple patterns that used strip piecing. For this quilt, I cut all those fat quarters I’ve had forever into 2-1/2” strips, and used some white-on-white fabric for the connecting strips (cut into 1-1/2” strips).

There were a LOT of seams in this quilt, and so it was pretty disheartening to realize that my 1/4” quilting foot isn’t really 1/4”, and my blocks were off. I was able to trim them and save the quilt, but if you look closely you can see some mismatched seams!


I decided to make this quilt before using the fabric I showed in my last post; I wanted a little more practice on making a pieced quilt, and I thought I wouldn’t mind “wasting” all those fat quarters if it didn’t turn out. I’m actually pretty happy with it. It took a week to cut and piece the top, so I’m too tired to quilt it now, but that will be my next big project.

I’ve enjoyed this “break” from feeling like I have to be creative. It’s been nice to have a pattern to follow, and rote tasks to complete step-by-step. I feel like completing these pieced quilts has ordered and centered my thinking a little, and now I'm feeling a little more anxious to get back to more creative projects.

In fact, I felt a real need to do something free-form and fast and fun. The other day, I stopped by my Mom’s house and saw all the fabric postcards I’ve sent her displayed in her hallway next to the family photos. I realized I haven’t sent her one in a while, so I thread-painted flowers onto silk and turned it into a PC for her:


I also owe a friend in Chicago a postcard, so I made this one from stitched paper:


As I mentioned a post or two back, the pieced quilts I've been making have been “practice” for the queen-sized quilt I want to make for our bed. I’m not sure whether I’ve worked up enough self-confidence to start on that one yet, or whether I need to make one more practice quilt first. I guess I’ll know when I get there!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

View from the Top (Again)

The first time I made it a quilt, I likened it to reaching the top of a mountain in this now (slightly) more-familiar world of quilting. I still feel that way.

I’ve been a little embarrassed about this quilt, because it was so easily pieced out of large squares of fabric. I still wish I had put a little more effort into cutting and piecing the fabric, but now I know that I just didn’t have the self-confidence. Completing this quilt, though, has given me that confidence, so I have even bigger (meaning, of course “smaller” in terms of the piece size) plans for the next quilt. And so, here’s the quilt that I love not just for itself, but for everything it has taught me:



Making this quilt was just what I needed right now—no pressure to be creative, just a nice, solid project to take one step at a time. I finally used the fabric I bought a very long time ago just because I like it. Plus, we really needed a quilt for the guest room (the sofa in the picture above has a pull-out double-sized bed), so I feel like I’ve done something practical. And, as I said, I both learned a lot in the process of completing this quilt, and gained enough confidence to tackle something a little more difficult.

Now, I’m anxious to get started on the next quilt, and I’m trying to convert a double-sized pattern to a queen-sized one, and figure out whether I have enough fabric to manage that size. I see now why quilter’s complain about the math involved.

Here are some of the raw ingredients for the next quilt--fabric that’s been tucked in a drawer for a couple of years:


Stay tuned for progress notes and pictures!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quilting 101

Yesterday, I cleaned off my sewing table and made my quilt sandwich for my double-sized quilt. I was SO careful to make sure the backing fabric was “taut and smooth, but not stretched” as the books, blogs, and sources suggest. I spray basted and hand basted. I rolled up the quilt the way the same sources suggested (note: I’ve done quite a bit of free-motion quilting, and have actually gotten pretty good at it. But I’ve never quilted anything this large before).

Today, I started free-motion quilting and immediately found myself fighting the quilt, barely able to move it around under the needle. I turned to the wise and experienced members of the Quilt Art list, and without exception, everyone said to do away with that log-roll I had to the right side of the needle. Just that one suggestion helped immensely, and free-motion quilting was a lot easier once I unrolled that log and just smooshed the fabric into the throat of the machine. (The experts gave me some other good advice, as well: get the quilt lifted up level with or above the machine, so it’s not pulling down against the machine, for example.)

After machine-quilting for a while, I turned the quilt over and saw a couple of frustrating tucks. Even worse, the backing fabric was pushing out past the basting I had spent so much time working on. I knew I needed to tear it all out, but I wondered whether it would work to re-baste only small sections that I was about to quilt. Someone I was corresponding with regarding free-motion tips said that’s exactly what she does: she only bastes or safety pins a small section of the quilt at a time, then quilts, stops quilting, presses the backing out, and pins new sections.

I guess there’s just no substitute for experience. But it’s so frustrating to pull out my books and follow instructions that not only don’t work, but that actually hinder progress. Thank goodness for the Internet and the Quilt Art list!

Ok, rant’s over; back to the quilting!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Look Ma, No WIPs!


Just Kidding. Here’s the pile I moved off of the design wall and onto the sewing table:


so that I could use the design wall to put up the blocks for a pieced quilt:


Ok, they’re not really “blocks” so much as big chunks. But I’ve been feeling guilty about not using this fabric that I bought last year at the Houston show:


I knew that if I didn’t use it, my sweetie would probably bring it up at this year’s show (which is creeping up fast!) when I try to convince her that I NEED new fabric!

A couple of years ago, I promised my sweetie I would make a queen-sized quilt for our bed; we promptly went to the quilt shop and bought the fabric, which has been sitting in a drawer ever since. Truthfully, I’m scared I’ll mess it up because I’m just not that good at traditional, pieced quilts. I try SO hard to be careful when cutting the fabric, sewing the 1/4” seams, then pressing them. Something always seems a little wonky, though.

Plus, I don’t have a lot of patience when it comes to a lot of quilt pattern instructions. I puzzle over them and, when I finally figure out the first few steps, I feel like a kindergartener with a gold star on her paper. Then I realize I could have made an art quilt, 3 postcards, and an ATC in the time it took me to figure out the quilt instructions.

So, wanting to practice my quilting skills before I tackled the queen-sized bed quilt, I decided to start with a very simple pattern—just the big chunks of fabric stitched into columns, then the columns stitched together to make the quilt top. Here’s the completed top:


This is a double-sized quilt, which makes it the largest quilt I’ve tackled to date. It will be interesting to see how well I machine-quilt it, but I figure I’ll get a sense of what it will be like to tackle that queen-sized quilt!

To test the “test” quilt even further, I decided that last week’s 6x6” journal square (#24) should be a small, pieced quilt-lette using the same fabric:


The border on this square is actually the backing fabric for the large quilt, and the polka-dot binding isn’t related to the actual quilt at all—it just looked like fun, so I threw it on. I’m a little worried about the backing fabric; it seemed to stretch a lot when I sewed it into this square, so I’m anxious about how it will behave when I try to quilt the large quilt.

I'm torn about how to quilt the quilt. I go back and forth between free-motion quilting, and straight-line stitching on a diagonal. I do like to free-motion quilt, so I'll probably end up doing that (as soon as I work up the nerve!).

The queen-sized quilt pattern I'm going to use is much more involved, and uses strips of sewn-together wedges, which are cut out using a template--yet another thing to be nervous about!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Weekly Square #22

As I hoped, I was able to back up and finish another 6x6” weekly journal square—this one, for week #22, the week of July 19-25.

As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I spent an entertaining couple of weeks with the desperate housewives of Wisteria Lane. This square, then, is my homage to that time:


My perspective is a little off, obviously; I think I should have started the road much wider and narrowed it more rapidly. I really enjoyed thread painting this piece, though, and I think it was good practice for a future project.

I started this square with a piece of painted fabric, and fused the road over it. Then, I thread-painted the road and the wisteria. Finally, I fused the arch and lattice over the top of the square, then stitched those pieces down.

I originally wanted to add a black binding around the edge to simulate the edges of a television sceen, but I didn't want to cover up more of the piece, so I just finished it with a zig-zag stitch.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Weekly Square #23

I’m missing a couple of my 6x6” weekly journal squares; I’ll circle back and finish those this week (I hope!).

This is last week’s square. I was inspired by the Sharpie marker experiment (see the previous blog entry), and in particular one of the pieces of fabric I colored.

I was also inspired by an online class I’m taking, “Calligra-Fun” (thanks Fannie and Sue, for mentioning this class on your blogs). I’ve been trying for a very long time to learn calligraphy, and I just can’t get it. Every book on calligraphy I have starts out by explaining how you hold the pen “at a 45 degree angle,” but none of them seem to feel the need to explain this. Does this mean the nib is at a 45 degree angle to the paper? Or that the nib is turned to either the left or the right at a 45 degree angle? I’ve tried both ways, but I can’t seem to get the thick and thin lines to come out right.

Calligra-Fun uses brush markers to create thick and thin lines, so there’s no 45 degree angle confusion involved. It's not really calligraphy so much as lettering. It's hard to tell in the picture that there really ARE thick and thin lines, since I added some highlights and outlining.

Clearly, I have a lot more work to do on my lettering, but this is a start, and I’ve already improved dramatically with just a little practice.

Other influences for last week’s square: the relentless heat, and my feeling of enervation that has kept me from creating anything. The blooms are surviving in our flower beds, though, and my creativity is starting to bloom again, as well.


On a completely different note, I met my sweetie for lunch today. On the way home, I noticed a handmade bread store, so I popped in. I sampled the Butterscotch Pecan bread, and, after practically swooning, bought a loaf. Heavenly!

Sharpie “Dyes”

The nice thing about going through a period where I’m not feeling creative is that I can finally get around to those techniques I’ve been wanting to try. In this case, it was coloring fabric with Sharpie markers. Sharpies will typically not run with water, but they will run with alcohol. For these pieces, I colored the fabric with Sharpies, then spritzed with alcohol until the colors ran together and colored the white fabric. After the pieces dried (alcohol dries very quickly), I heat-set the colors with a hot, dry iron.

I like this technique. I’ve been trying to figure out if there are advantages to it over other techniques I already use, and here’s what I’ve concluded:

  • The effect is very similar to Dyna-Flow paints, but the advantage is that Sharpie markers allow drawing onto the fabric.
  • Tsukineko inks would give me control and allow me to draw onto the fabric, and to get a similar color effect, but spritzing the inks with water to make the colors mix dilutes them quite a bit.
  • Painting dyes onto fabric would give a similar effect, but that doesn’t allow quite as much control as markers, and my Procion MX dyes won’t work on synthetic fabrics, while Sharpie markers will.

So, here are the results:


The above piece is dupioni silk, colored with yellow, red, and orange Sharpies; while it was still wet, I added a little purple color here and there.


The above piece is Habotai silk. The picture shows a little more separation in the colors than you can see in person, but you can tell that much of the original drawing (the spirals) is retained on the habotai. I used a lot of alcohol to get the color to blend, and it was very wet, so I took a piece of cotton muslin and laid it over the silk to absorb some of the color:


The following piece is a synthetic fabric (taffeta); I stamped it with white acrylic paint and, when the paint dried, colored around it with yellow, red, green, and purple Sharpies. The colors blended particularly well on this fabric:

If you have some colored Sharpies lying around, try this technique; it’s fun!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Home Again

I haven’t posted in a while because I haven’t done any creative work. In fact, I needed to get away from everything for a while. Since I’m still not healthy enough to travel, I took a virtual vacation. All I needed was my bed, lots of pillows for propping, and a set of rented DVDs (and a snack now and then).

I didn’t go anywhere adventurous or, on the surface, too exciting. Instead, I went to Wisteria Lane and met some interesting women: Bree, Susan, Lynette, Gabrielle, and Edie. I got to know their families, eavesdropped on their private lives, shared their secrets. I laughed with them, cried with them, and groaned and rolled my eyes when they did stupid things. It was the perfect escape, and exactly what I needed.

In all seriousness, I had never watched Desperate Housewives because I assumed it was a silly, shallow, prime-time soap opera. Silly on occasion and definitely soapy, yes, but I love that DP is anything but shallow. Characters are complex—there are no good guys in white hats or bad guys in black hats, because almost all the characters end up being like most of us humans: good and evil, caring and hateful, selfish and generous (sometimes all at the same time). Even more intriguing, the show illustrates over and over again how even our best efforts to control and manipulate situations, or to do the thing we think is the best thing, or to behave in ways that will benefit ourselves or others, don’t always turn out the way we think they will. In other words, the consequences of our actions are often impossible to predict, but on Wisteria Lane they make for some fascinating life situations, lessons, and entertainment.

I spent 4 years on Wisteria Lane (TV time is like dog years: in this case, 4 years—or 4 seasons—equaled about 2 weeks of real life), and I didn’t want to “come home.” I miss those women and their families, the daily joys and miseries and intrigues of their lives. On a positive note, I’m now so bored that I’ve forced myself out of bed for a while every day to work on something crafty.

(Btw, I’ll be visiting Wisteria Lane again in September, when the Season 5 DVD is available, and then I’ll be dropping in on those gals weekly for an hour or so throughout the season).

And now, on to those crafty somethings:

Results of gelatin printing, from Rayna Gillman’s book, Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth (as part of the A.R.T. Yahoo group’s workshop based on the book):




The last two pieces above were made by brayering paint onto the gelatin plate, then removing it with a potato masher (and, on the last piece, adding a piece of sequin waste).





I love the colors in the pieces above, but I’m not happy with the white fabric. I may go in and add color to those areas at some point. On the following pieces, I laid silk leaves over the brayered paint; on the last piece, I removed the leaves.




I have to admit that I've been stalling on this lesson for the A.R.T. workshop, but I was motivated to finally try gelatin printing by Frances Holliday Alford’s work on the cover of the latest issue of Quilting Arts. I had seen her gelatin prints before and have wanted to try the process ever since. I have a way to go before I produce anything as beautiful as Alford’s gelatin prints, but that gives me something to work toward.