Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to Complete Those WIPs

Time, that is, in two senses of the word: I have this week off and therefore have a little extra play-time, and it’s time to get this stuff off the sewing table/design wall and finish it.

So, after a very lovely and busy Christmas, I’ve started with the easiest WIP. This one just needed a hanger on the back and a signature to be finished:


This is a silk & wool piece, created using a technique from one of my favorite books, Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art by C. June Barnes. After stitching, dyeing, and shrinking the piece, I added the washers and beads, then sewed the piece to a painted canvas. I’m displaying it in our den, but it’s a fairly small piece on a huge wall, so of course I need to make at least one more to hang with it.

And, I’ve caught up with my 6x6” weekly journal squares; these are for the month of December (with the exception of this week, which I’ll complete by the end of the week).

This marks the crocheted Christmas afghan I was working on the beginning of the month:


This one is influenced by work, and the boring, repetitive tasks I had to spend too much time on. Overlaid on that, though, is a little Christmas spirit:


This one is a compilation of the fabrics I used to make the kids & grandkids Christmas stockings; I thought it represented the holiday lunches, open houses, shopping, and other Christmas preparations very well:


And, here are the Christmas stockings, the last of which I finished at 5 pm on Christmas eve:


Finally, here is my 6x6” weekly journal square for the week of Christmas. I free-motion quilted the names of family members who were at Christmas dinner and helped to make it a lovely day:


And now, back to work on those WIPs. Or I could start the next silk and wool piece . . . hmmm, I think I hear that silk calling my name . . .

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fabric Embellishing: Book Review

Somehow we managed, this afternoon, to squeeze in a trip to the bookstore after a holiday lunch with colleagues (the company paid; I should have gotten the salmon, but that’s a different story) and before attending a holiday open house tonight, then meeting friends for our annual Christmas dinner out.

I had been looking forward all afternoon to a hot, creamy latte and a new quilting magazine. You know, just a little treat to help with all the holiday stress and anxiety. Once at the bookstore, I picked out my quilting magazine, ordered my coffee, and caved in to irresistible temptation of a red velvet cupcake in the display case.

All of that was lovely, but then I REALLY got a treat. While checking out the craft & quilting books, I ran across one I hadn’t seen before. Fabric Embellishing: the Basics & Beyond: More Than 50 Techniques With Step-by-step Photos (what is it with gargantuan titles these days?) by Ruth Chandler, Liz Kettle, Heather Thomas, and Lauren Vlcek is a fun, fun book. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a compilation of techniques for manipulating, joining, and decorating fabric and other things we’re pretending are fabric these days: Tyvek, Lutradur, paper, etc.

I’m familiar with quite a few of these techniques: beading, printing images on fabric, and using materials such as Angelina fibers, for example. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been around the block a time or two when it comes to embellishing fabric. So I was surprised to find some techniques in this book I had never even heard of. Even those techniques and materials I’m familiar with are used in ways I hadn’t thought about. The step-by-step instructions are excellent, and the book includes tons of photos, both to accompany the directions and to show off the finished techniques in all their lusciousness. Works by the artists that incorporate the various techniques are shown throughout the book in “gallery” photos, as well, to illustrate ways to combine the techniques to create art quilts.

Fabric Embellishing: the Basics & Beyond: More Than 50 Techniques With Step-by-step Photos is not a book that I really needed. It’s probably not even a book that I should have bought when I was supposed to be shopping for others’ gifts. But this book sure does make me happy. I love both the techniques and the photos of them, and I’m inspired to jump in and start working through all of the techniques—even the ones I’m familiar with!

The authors suggest that you make a journal quilt for each of the techniques, then bind them together in book format. They’ve included instructions for doing that, as well.

Once my year of creating weekly 6x6 quilted journal squares is up in February, I may create a new challenge for myself to work through this book and practice every technique in it. There’s certainly plenty of material in Fabric Embellishing to keep me busy for a while!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Quilts and Clay Part 2

Sorry for the delay in posting this review. My only excuse is that my brain was so overloaded yesterday by my day job that it temporarily short-circuited. (Oh ok, and that the finale of So You Think You Can Dance was on last night).

Anyway, Polymer Clay and Mixed Media Together at Last: Incorporating Craft Materials and Found Objects in Clay Figures, by Christi Friesen is a fun and useful addition to your library if you like polymer clay. Or even if you don’t. I should start by saying that I successfully avoided polymer clay for years. I smugly fast-forwarded through all the polymer clay segments on my recorded craft shows; let my eyes slide right past the polymer clay books at the book store; and refused to even discuss it with my friends. Like PMC silver clay, metalworking of any kind (including the kind that requires big, scary torches), and raisins, I just didn’t have time for it in my life.

Deep down, though, I secretly lusted after polymer clay (as I do PMC silver clay and torches, but probably not raisins), so when my partner breezily announced one day that she had an “idea” in her head that had to be accomplished in polymer clay, I was relieved and a little giddy. I ran to the car, drove her to Michael’s, and proceeded to fill up a big basket with all things polymer-related. We bought clay in every color imaginable, and any tool that we could get our hands on, including a pasta machine for rolling the stuff out. Apparently my brain was paying attention enough to pick up on—and store indefinitely—a lot of that fast-forwarded information from the craft shows, which is a good lesson and a warning not to ever record and then fast-forward through horror movies or political speeches.

My partner, who is a casual but brilliant artisan (she seems to have no interest in art, but occasionally breezes in, throws together a magnificent stained glass window or intricate geometric drawing or mouth-watering piece of jewelry, then goes right back to reading novels about vampires) finished her polymer clay project and used all of about 2 blocks of clay. Which leaves me, of course, with drawers full of clay and a pasta roller just waiting to taunt me whenever I enter my craft room.

SO. All this is to say that I am a novice and somewhat reluctant polymer clay user. Polymer Clay and Mixed Media Together at Last: Incorporating Craft Materials and Found Objects in Clay Figures may be responsible for making me a little more enthusiastic, though. The book strikes a nice balance, I think, between offering introductory information about polymer clay and projects that can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. The “mixed media” part of the title might make you think that Friesen offers a lot of new and innovative ways to incorporate all that OTHER stuff in my craft room into polymer clay, and while I can’t vouch for how new or innovative the ideas are, her incorporation of other mediums lends a real depth and layers of detail to her polymer clay pieces. Friesen incorporates materials like fibers, paper, metal, glass, paint, and found objects into her projects (and mica powders! I have mica powders!). She never loses focus on the primary element, though—the polymer clay.

The two things I like best about this book are Friesen’s fun and casual writing style (though her occasional use of explanation points can be a little distracting! But she just seems so excited about polymer clay! So you know her enthusiasm is somewhat contagious!). Despite her casual style, though, her step-by-step project instructions are thorough and well-written, and I didn’t have any trouble walking in my imagination through each of the projects.

Which leads me to my second favorite thing about the book: the projects. Her style is fun and somewhat whimsical, so the chapter called “Oh, Grow Up!” includes pieces like thistle pins (complete with prickles and spiky “hair” from a chip brush) and leaf and flower designs. Friesen’s liberal use of beads, paint and powders helps push polymer clay beyond the basics in projects such as her imaginative and almost life-like “Aztec heads,” her whimsical gecko and sea turtle sculptures, and her “ammonite fossil pin”. Even better, Friesen sparks my imagination, and I can envision lots of variations on her ideas to make my little polymer clay pieces my own.

If you’re at all interested in polymer clay (or if you’re finally willing to admit there’s a little polymer clay figure in you fighting to get out), Christi Friesen's Polymer Clay and Mixed Media Together at Last might be just what you need to get the clay out of the drawers and into the pasta machine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quilts and Clay: Book Reviews

I stopped by the library the other day to pick up a couple of novels, and I was thrilled to see some unfamiliar craft books on the New Non-Fiction shelves. It turns out that neither of these books are exactly “new” (they were both published in 2008), but just new to my library, I guess.

The first one really got my heart pounding: Hand-Dyed Quilts by Marquetta Bell-Johnson. What could be better than combining two of my favorite things, quilting and hand-dyed fabrics? Plus, the author sounded familiar, and as I flipped through the book, I realized that I had seen her on an old episode of the tv show, That’s Clever! (or maybe it was Crafters Coast to Coast, the show’s earlier incarnation). In fact, I was so excited when I originally saw Marquetta’s episode that I immediately created some “hand-dyed” fabric based on her instructions. Here are the results:


Now, one reason I was excited was because, at the time, I knew nothing about dyeing fabrics, and I had no dyeing supplies. Bell-Johnson doesn’t use traditional fabric dye, however; instead, she uses airbrush paints (which I happened to have on hand), so technically her fabric is not dyed, it’s painted. However, Belle-Johnson claims in her book that airbrush paint, while an acrylic, migrates through the fabric and bonds with the fibers, which might explain why she classifies this technique as dyeing rather than painting.

At any rate, Hand-Dyed Quilts is an extension of the basic techniques the author demonstrated in that television episode. She takes us through the process of coloring the fabric, and most of her patterning is accomplished through various fabric-folding techniques, which are detailed in this book and include nice illustrations of luscious patterned fabric created through lots of color and folding variations.

Bell-Johnson’s book also includes basic quilting information, but this section of the book is disappointing, to say the least. It’s not clear who the intended audience is here. For example, hand-quilting instructions include this information:

1. Begin your stitches by backstitching and burying the thread tail between the layers of the quilt on the back side . . .

2. Sew, using the running stitch and following your chosen design . . .

Now, if I’m new to hand quilting, I’m not sure I’ll know what a backstitch is, how to bury thread tails, or how to complete a running stitch. I’m probably asking, “what is my ‘chosen design’ and how do I get it onto the fabric?” On the other hand, if I already know how to do these things, I’m probably familiar with hand quilting and so don’t need this section at all.

The last section of the book is a compilation of simple quilting projects, none of which really caught my attention or inspired me to create. However, I can imagine that new or fairly inexperienced quilters might find them useful for learning basic piecing and for completing simple projects using the fabric they’ve colored.

For me, this book was, overall, disappointing. I think the detailed information on folding and coloring fabric makes Hand-Dyed Quilts worth owning if you’re interested in that type of thing, particularly since the cost of it is fairly reasonable on Amazon (and especially if you get a used copy). On the other hand, there’s probably not much even in the fabric-folding section that can’t be found in a book on shibori.

Tomorrow’s review: Polymer Clay and Mixed Media Together at Last: Incorporating Craft Materials and Found Objects in Clay Figures, by Christi Friesen. Despite the ridiculously long title, you’ll want to stick around for this one if you’re interested in polymer clay.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Out with the Old?

I'm trying out new blog templates. I don't know, what do you think? I go back and forth between the "stretch" templates--a nice wide alley for text, but do we really want text all the way across a wide screen?--and regular templates, which seem a little squished in the middle.

I'm still working on/contemplating it, so don't be surprised if you see my "look" change several times over the next few days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scrappy Ornaments Tutorial

The other night, I was lying in bed and thinking about how to make a detachable fabric Christmas tree ornament that I could stick onto the front of greeting cards for family and friends. The next day, Pokey Bolton sent a link to a tutorial for making fabric trees to the quiltart list:

I was inspired to follow through with making my ornaments, so I’ve created my own tutorial here. These tree ornaments are made with four layers: backing fabric, acrylic felt, scraps of fabric, and tulle. In addition, I used a couple of layers of Misty Fuse, although any fusible web would work. Here are the steps:

1. Attach fusible web to one side of the acrylic felt (felt will melt, so make sure your iron is just hot enough to fuse the web onto the felt, and don’t the iron in one place for too long).

2. Attach fusible web to the wrong side of the backing fabric.

3. Lay the backing fabric right side down/fusible side up, then lay the felt, fusible side up, over that. Begin laying fabric scraps over the felt.


4. Apply a layer of fusible web over the scrap fabric, then lay a sheer fabric over the web and fuse.


Note: You should now have the following layers, from the bottom up: backing fabric, batting or acrylic felt, scrap fabric, and sheer fabric. It’s not necessary to include a layer of fusible web between each of these, but I do if I’m using a light brand, such as MistyFuse, just to keep everything from slipping.

5. Create your tree template. I drew 1/2 of a tree freehand on a piece of paper, folded the paper vertically, and cut both sides of the tree at the same time.


6. Trace the tree template onto your fabric sandwich. There are several ways to do this. I applied iron-on tear-away stabilizer to the backing fabric and traced the tree onto the stabilizer (I could have traced the tree directly onto the backing fabric, but mine was dark and I would have had a hard time seeing the tracing lines. I could have also traced the tree onto the front, but it’s hard to mark sheer fabric). Trace as many trees as will fit onto your fabric.

Alternatively, you could trace the trees onto freezer paper, cut them out, and iron them onto the fabric.

7. With the backing fabric facing UP (assuming you've ironed tear-away stabilizer to the back), stitch a single line of stitching around each traced tree shape. Make sure the bobbin thread will show up on the front of the fabric.

8. Tear or cut away the stabilizer.


9. Turn the fabric over so that it is now right-side up. Set your machine to a zig-zag or wide decorative stitch, and stitch over all your tree lines.


10. Cut the trees out close to the stitching line. You may either leave the edges raw, or zig-zag stitch around them again.

11. If you want to, punch a hole in the top of the tree and add a piece of ribbon for a hanger; or, decorate the top (or the whole tree!) with beads, buttons, charms, etc.


I’m going to add a hanger, and then use some temporary double-sided tape to attach mine to Christmas cards, which I’m sending out to my family. Soon. Any day now. Really.

Enjoy your tree-making!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Art Knows No Holiday, and Weekly Square #40

Thanksgiving morning I was cutting up some celery, and I noticed how lovely the root was after I had chopped the stalks from it. I couldn’t help myself; I stopped making the stuffing immediately, grabbed some fabric and some paint, and started stamping:

celery stamped fabric

Here’s a close up of one of the celery “roses”:

celery stamped fabric closeup

I also had some really nice fibrous-paper, disposable washcloths I had brought home the hospital. I had previously painted a couple of those, so I grabbed them and stamped them as well. These are hard to photograph; because of the texture of the paper, the paint comes out very luminous:

celery stamped paper1

celery stamped paper2

Finally, here is last week’s 6x6” weekly square. Influences: Thanksgiving (what else?): “My cup(s) runneth over.”