Thursday, May 28, 2009

WIP? or File 13?

Here is a piece I have been working on, and I’m just not sure where to go with it. I feel like either it’s a) really awful; or 2) missing something important. If the latter, I can at least work on fixing it; if the former, I may as well give up now.

What do you think? Should I keep going with it? Is it too busy? Are the colors just ugly? Too many textures? Does it lack contrast? Is there a good focal point? Is it boring?

Any and all comments and suggestions will be appreciated, and please remember that you can make anonymous comments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Learned Something New!

Sue left a comment on my post regarding my latest favorite book, Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art: Colour, Texture, and Distortion by C. June Barnes (see the previous post for a review of this book). On the US version of Amazon, there’s no “look inside” feature for this book. However, she noted that sometimes books published in the UK have the “look inside” feature on Amazon UK. So for anyone who wants to take a look inside Stitching to Dye, click here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stitching Exercise Continued

Here is the piece I wrote about yesterday, now with dye and all ready to be embellished!


Monday, May 25, 2009

Another Book Review

After writing yesterday’s post about the way I tend to read craft books, I challenged myself to slow down and read the next one carefully, from beginning to end. Fortunately, I had the perfect book for this type of exercise.

I’ve made a couple of quilts that I stitched first, then colored with either Neocolor crayons or fabric paints. I really enjoy this “backwards” process and have been wanting to pursue it further. So when I ran across Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art: Colour, Texture, and Distortion by C. June Barnes, I knew I had to have it. I glanced at it when it came in the mail, but it wasn’t until I was scouting around for my next project that I remembered I had it.

Barnes’ book includes good, basic information about dyeing fabrics, free-motion stitching, the types of fabrics that work best with her techniques, etc. In addition, there are two extended technique sections in the book, both packed with information and exercises. The first section deals with stitching various fabrics together, adding free-motion stitching, then dyeing the quilt.

The second section was a surprise for me, since I primarily bought the book for the previous technique. In the second section, Barnes details ways to differentially shrink fabric, which I’ll come back to later in this post.

The book includes exercises that progress in difficulty, so after reading through to the end of Exercise 1, I decided to jump in and give it a try. I pulled out various white, off-white, and cream-colored fabrics and pieced them together. I made my quilt sandwich and free-motion quilted it using cotton thread so that it, along with the fabric, would take dye. Here’s a pic of the small quilt:


I then dyed the quilt in a mix of Sky Blue & Magenta:


As you can see, the various fabrics take the dye differently and create an interesting mix of textures and colors. Barnes recommends that you dye your pieces flat in a shallow tray or pan, or in a large bucket. I didn’t have a pan large enough, so I tried squishing this piece into a container and periodically squeezing the dye through. As you can see, I ended up with a few mottled spots, so before I try the technique again I’ll head to the store for a large, flat tray. This piece is now ready to be further embellished; Barnes also includes ideas in her book for additional embellishments.

As I mentioned, the second half of the book focuses on layering different kinds of fabric that shrink at different rates, stitching them, shrinking them through washing and drying, then dyeing them. For the first exercise in this section, I started with wool and layered silk charmeuse over it. I heavily stitched the piece with cotton thread (Barnes includes some excellent information on the effects of various kinds of stitching)


then washed and dried the piece


I haven’t yet dyed this, but I’m very happy with the texture that resulted. Barnes includes a lot of information in this section of the book about various inclusions to get particular effects, so I’m anxious to continue these exercises, as well as those in the first half of the book.

I’m really thrilled with this book and looking forward to continuing to work through it. In fact, I’m so excited about it that I’m considering starting a group to work through the exercises in the book and to share questions, ideas, concerns, and results with each other. I won’t be able to do that until I’ve recovered from my surgery, but let me know if you’re interested in participating, and I’ll get back to you within a few weeks.

Stitching to Dye in Quilt Art: Colour, Texture, and Distortion by C. June Barnes is available on Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the books you can “look inside” of, but you can find more information through that link.

Addendum: Although there's no "look inside" feature on the US version of Amazon for this book, Sue left a comment on this post letting me know that sometimes books published in the UK have the “look inside” feature on Amazon UK. So for anyone who wants to take a look inside Stitching to Dye, click here.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Book Review, and The Lego Test

I recently ordered two new crafting books from Amazon. My bookshelves are overloaded, and I’ve been working hard not to buy more books. I’ve been really good about going to the library, instead, and I’ve become much pickier about which books I actually buy.

As one of my few recent purchases, then, I had high expectations for Melanie Testa’s new book, Inspired to Quilt. Initially, I was disappointed when I flipped through the book. Yes, I am a craft-book “flipper”; I look at the pictures first, check out the project instructions, and only read the large chunks of text when forced to (see the second half of this post for some thoughts on this issue of reading). I tend to jump into a project before I really understand the ideas behind it, because I’m so reluctant to actually READ the book.

Anyway, I was disappointed because it seemed that most of what Testa includes in her book are techniques I already know about: stamping and printing with thickened dyes, for example.

But then my eye caught a few intriguing words here and there: “layering,” “organza,” “freezer-paper stencils.” I kept looking at the wonderful photos of Testa’s work and wondering how she got those lovely effects. I knew there had to be more to this book than initially meets the eye.

As it turns out, Testa actually provides quite a bit of information about how she creates her art quilts, but it’s not laid out in a simple, step-by-step project format. Instead, much of the information regarding design, inspiration, and experimentation that Testa loads into the book can be found by carefully reading the text.

Don’t get me wrong: Testa provides a LOT of step-by-step direction for adding imagery to art quilts: creating monoprints, stamping dyes onto fabric with hand-made stamps (which she tells readers how to make), applying soy wax, using freezer-paper stencils and masks, and many more. I’m familiar with most of these techniques, so I didn’t find much new information there.

However, when I forced myself to slow down, start at the beginning, and read the book, I indeed found myself being “inspired to quilt.” My sense is that Testa wants to both provide people the tools (in the way of techniques) they need to create art quilts, but also the ability and desire to design art quilts. She wants to avoid having people reproduce HER work. Instead, she wants to inspire them to produce their OWN work.

The other thing I really like about the book is that each of the photos of her work is accompanied by a short description of the techniques she used to create that piece; even if she doesn’t give us a step-by-step process for recreating her pieces, she does provide road maps that show us how she got to where she was going.

I’m glad that I bought this book. Not only is it a valuable addition to my library, but it’s helping me in my never-ending quest to slow down and be patient.

To summarize then, here a few pros and cons of Melanie Testa’s new book, Inspired to Quilt:


  • High-quality, slick pages with high-quality photographs of Testa’s work
  • Loads of information, both “buried” within the text and in a step-by-step format
  • Coverage of several different dyeing techniques: direct dye painting, monoprinting, stamping, working with soy wax, using stencils and masks, and more
  • Inspirational ideas about how to layer imagery on fabric to create art quilts
  • Encourages experimentation and “rule-breaking”


  • Few step-by-step “projects”
  • Important information is sometimes buried within the text, so getting the most benefit from the book requires careful reading.

And now, what do LEGOS have to do with this post? Well, here’s the story:

I am a technical writer by profession. Most of my writing provides instructions for people who need to perform a task quickly and efficiently. A few years ago, I took a workshop on minimalist writing, which is, essentially, providing only the information people need, when they need it.

As part of the workshop, we were organized into groups and given a simple task: using the provided instructions, we were to assemble a small Lego tow truck. The “winner” of the contest would be the group who correctly assembled the tow truck in the shortest amount of time. Everyone had the same assignment and the same Lego parts. What we didn’t know is that each group had very different instructions.

The first thing I noticed as my group worked to assemble the tow truck is that we skipped any text in the assembly instructions. Instead, we went straight to the illustrations. If we couldn’t determine the next step in the process from the illustration, we backed up and read the instructions.

My group finished first, not because we were any smarter or more mechanically-minded than the others, but because we were fortunate enough to receive the “best” instructions. It turns out that, every time the instructor taught this class, the group that received the same instructions we did assembled the tow truck first. These instructions had very clear illustrations, supported by clearly formatted and concisely written step-by-step directions. The group that finished 15 minutes or so after us had instructions with fewer and less clear illustrations, and less clearly-written directions. The group that never finished had instructions with NO illustrations, text that was formatted only in paragraphs, and lots of “background” filler information sprinkled in among the directions (long, rambling passages on the the history of Legos, for example).

Now, here’s the really interesting part. It turns out that people read according to what their goal is. If it’s to perform a task as quickly and efficiently as possible, they “read” just like our group did: going straight for the illustrations, then to the numbered steps or bullet points for clarification. On the other hand, if people are reading to educate themselves and really learn something, as many of us did in college, for example, we’re more likely to read long passages of text (think about the way college-level textbooks tend to be written).

Unfortunately, we’ve become both a much more impatient society, as well as a more visual one. People claim that reading is actually on the rise, and point to the increased use of the Internet, and particularly the enormous popularity of blogs. But pay attention to your own reading habits: I’d be willing to bet my lunch money that very few of you have read this post all the way through. More likely, some people dropped in and, seeing no pictures, left immediately. Others skimmed the text, looking for the pictures or the “important points,” and slowed down only when they got to the “pro” and “con” bullet points above. Then, they resumed skimming, and perhaps lost interest before reaching the end.

What about your own reading habits in craft books, on blogs, or on web pages (I’m not counting books such as novels here, since they assume from the beginning a different motive for reading)?

  • Do you go right for the pictures, and read the surrounding text only when the picture interests you?
  • Do you look for the visual formatting cues to “important” information: bullet-dots, numbered lists, quote offsets?
  • Do you skim the text, looking for points of interest, then go back and carefully reread only when the topic seems sufficiently interesting?

I know I do. But sometimes I wonder how much I miss this way. I wonder whether I’m overloading myself with information, but skimping on the more thought-provoking reading experiences that require attention and patience. If we’re all doing the same thing, what are the short- and long-term effects of this way of reading on our culture? On our verbal and visual literacy?

Framing this in term of my craft books, I’m wondering whether what I’m looking for when I initially skim them is the short-term “project” that I can jump into, rather than a longer-term learning experience. Is this one factor that holds me back in being able to design and produce the thoughtful work I hope for?

If you HAVE made it all the way to the end of this post, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On the Town

My sister recently moved to The Domain in Austin, one of those mixed-usage urban areas that includes retail stores like Macy’s, Borders, and Starbucks, along with apartments. She has invited us to dinner several times, but we don’t get out much since I’ve been sick. We were finally able to make it last night, and I actually had a very nice time.

In a sort of crass, commercial way, The Domain is like living in a small town. Everything is within walking distance (including a new Whole Foods that will be finished in the next year or so).

Here’s the view from her apartment:


And, of course, Betsey Johnson:


And, in the other direction, the courtyard in front of Starbuck’s, complete with a fire-pit and jazz ensemble that we listened to as we ate the dinner she cooked for us (rosemary skewered-chicken and veggies with brown rice: yum!).


Afterwards, we strolled down to Sur La Table (a kitchen store)





for over-priced but irresistible flavored bamboo skewers and an olive oil mister, then further down to Viva Chocolato





for very expensive but exquisite truffles:



That little chocolate buttercream cake had our name on it, and it was perfect with coffee and cream.

On the stroll back we window-shopped for a painting to go over Leslie’s sofa


snapped pictures of interesting things




and just enjoyed the beautiful evening.

I couldn’t live at The Domain because I would weigh 300 lbs. and quickly go bankrupt, but it’s a lovely place to visit.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Weekly Square #13

Here is this week’s 6”x6” journal square. Influences for this one include sun-printed fabric and hand-quilting (both of which I’ve done this week); a lot of thought about the don Juan passage regarding “does this path have heart?”; and a desire to create something soothing to help stay calm in the midst of my anxiety.


Sunny Days

We’ve had some very sunny and calm days, so I’ve been wanting to paint up some fabric with the Setacolor paints I keep buying on clearance from Michael’s. I finally got to it a couple of days ago.

This piece started as plain white muslin, and was folded, rubber-banded, and doused with various yellows and reds:


Here it is dry (this picture doesn’t do justice to the differentiation of colors):


I dampened the next piece of white fabric, then squirted various reds and yellows onto it, then squished it to work the paint through. I laid it out in the sun and sprinkled leaves over it to get the “sunprinting” effect. After it was dry, I stamped it with turquoise fabric paint and a stamp I made from rubber gasket material:


No White Fabric!

So, I really loved the hand-quilted piece I made, but I have a hard time not “decorating” white fabric. So I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. Here is the original piece:


Here it is after I wet it, painted it with yellow Setacolor , dropped some leaves on it, sprayed emerald Setacolor on it, let it dry in the sun, rolled titanium white acrylic onto it, then rubbed some green Shiva Painstik into the heart and feather areas:


And here’s a close-up:


Some people might think I ruined it, but I’m actually pretty pleased with it!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Does This Path Have Heart?

I’m avoiding working on my flower quilt. It’s ready to stitch, and I’m in the “fear-of-messing-it-up” phase, so instead I’m finding ways to procrastinate. This is a piece I finished a while back, but it needed to be trimmed and have the binding sewn on:


A close-up of the beading at the top:


I quilted this piece on plain, white muslin, then colored it with Neocolor water-soluble crayons. Then I started beading, and I just couldn’t stop! The finished size is 10x14".

I call this “Does This Path Have Heart?” from Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. This is what kept running through my mind as was working on it. Castaneda, quoting don Juan, a Yaqui Indian, writes:

Look at every path closely and deliberately. Does this path have heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t.

One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

A path without heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy, it does not make you work at liking it.”

This idea, of questioning whether a path has heart, is one I try to live by every day. At the end of my life, I hope that I can say that, most of the time anyway, I at least tried every day to choose the path with heart.

And speaking of, today is my one-year “anniversary” (I hate to use such a positive word for such a negative event) of being stricken with a brutal case of pancreatitis. I feel lucky to be alive, since the doctors say I almost died. I’m still wrestling with the physical after-effects of the ailment, but I feel stronger every day and more hopeful for the future. I’ll be having major surgery on June 1st to clean out some infected debris in my pancreas, and the thought of another hospital stay (after several months in the hospital last year) terrifies me. I’m trying not to panic or let that weigh too heavily on me right now. Instead, I’m working on meditating, deep-breathing, and positive visualization of the experience.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I finished my hand-quilted piece for Nancy Chong’s Hand-quilting class at QU. I had played around with hand-quilting before, but I didn’t really know what I was doing. Here are the results, after I washed and dried the quilt (I love the soft, puffy look that results from washing, plus I had a smear of red velvet cake batter across one part of it):


Here’s a close-up of the stitching:


I discovered that I LOVE hand-quilting. It’s become my new favorite TV-watching activity. I’m anxious to try more, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I have a quilt top that I made a long time ago that I would like to try to hand quilt; I call it “Garden Path”:


And a close-up:


The plants and butterflies are fusible-web appliqués, but everything else is pieced, so I think as long as I don’t try to hand-quilt the appliqués I’ll be fine.

The problem is, I’m not sure what type of hand-quilting “pattern” to use on something like this. Simple, straight lines? Echo quilting? Circles on the center “path” part to look like rocks? I don’t know. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

Friday, May 15, 2009


No not me, someone much better: Melanie Testa!

I recently saw her make a “pretty purse” from her painted fabric on Quilting Arts TV. Now, she’s giving that pretty purse away to promote the Quilting Arts site. Take a look at her blog post, here:

While you’re there, be sure to sign up and add me as a friend! It’s a great site.

Something a Little Different

Every once in a while I get the urge to just paint. Put color on canvas, move it around, make wonderful textures with it. This is the result of the latest urge, with a little bit of a twist: can you guess what else is included in this painting (besides canvas and paint) to give it more texture?

This is 8x10" and I'm calling it "Dream Memories." My sweetie has claimed it for her office at work. I haven't seen it, but I'm beginning to wonder if her office is looking like my own one-woman gallery show, with all my art she's taken up there!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Widget!

I took a deep, scary breath and overwrote some of the code on my blogger template to get a new widget: a tag cloud instead of a label list.

If you understood the previous sentence, you might want to skip to the end of this post, if you're interested in getting code for your own tag cloud on Blogger. If that sentence sounded like a foreign language, here's a translation: widgets are little applications, or mini-programs, that run on something like a blogger page. See all those things in the right column, such as Followers, archived posts, and Twitter Updates? Those are examples of widgets.

One of the widgets I've wanted for a while is a "tag cloud." You know how you can label your posts so that they can be categorized, either by you or someone reading your blog? For example, I label all my posts about my 6x6" weekly square project with "weekly_square." I used to have a label list over in the right column, so someone could click "weekly_square" and see all the posts with that label. Tags are a synonym for labels, but tag clouds are cooler than label lists because they take up less room, and because the font size of the tag indicates the number of posts with that tag. The bigger the font, the more posts tagged with that label. So, if you look over at my tag cloud on the right side, you'll see that "painted fabric" and "quilting" are in a larger font, and so have lots of posts. "Workspace" is in a tiny font, so there aren't many posts with that label. To see all the posts with a particular label or tag, you just click on the word, and Blogger will bring up those posts.

Anyway, the whole point of this post is to thank Raymond at Compender for providing the code for the tag cloud. Blogger has a lot of built-in widgets, but I haven't been able to find one for a tag cloud, so I Googled it and found one right away. The code only works on Blogger; you'll have to keep looking if you have another blog host. Compender has a lot of information on customizing Blogger, so take a look if you're interested.

I did save a backup copy of my template to my system before I made any changes to it, just in case the code didn't work, or I messed up the cut-and-paste job.

Weekly Square #12

This square catches me up through the end of this week on my weekly 6x6” squares. As I mentioned in a previous post, last week’s square depressed me so much that I had to find some way to find—or create—beauty.

I started with the iron-on transfer I made yesterday from a photo of the wilting roses. I went with this one rather than the TAP transfer, because I liked the aged/weathered look for this theme. I added some free-motion quilting. I started with the leaf on the left, then realized I didn’t want to cover the image with stitching, just enhance it. I started to tear the leaf stitching on the left side out, but decided to just leave it.

I didn’t want to detract from the image with a binding or border, so I just zigzag stitched around the edge a couple of times.

Influences for this week’s square: Mother’s Day roses from my son. Iron-on transfer technique. The need to find (or create) beauty, even in the face of decay and death.


Tutorial: Transferring Patterns to Fusible Fabric

I’ve been patiently working on my largest fused quilt to date: 36”x24”. This is a project for Susan Brittingham’s Flower Power class at QU. I seriously considered using freezer paper-appliqué for this quilt, but since I’ve never used that technique, I thought I would save it for a smaller starter project.

I’m a little further ahead with my fusible-piecing than this photo shows, but I’m saving that for the “big reveal”:


In the meantime, I wanted to share a really useful technique I learned from Laura Wasilowski for transferring patterns to Steam-a-Seam. This saves a lot of time, in that you don’t have to mirror-image or continually retrace pattern pieces.

You’ll need to estimate how much fabric you’ll need, since you’re adding the fusible in advance of cutting out the pieces.

1. Lay fabric face-down on ironing surface. Peel release paper from one side and lay Steam-a-Seam (I use S-a-s 2, which is lighter than the original version) fusible side down, paper side up, onto the fabric


2. Press with hot iron (no steam) for 5 seconds or so

3. Let the piece cool for a couple of minutes, then peel the release paper from the fabric. You should now have fabric face-down, sticky fusible face-up


4. Take the release paper you just peeled from the fabric, and lay it over your pattern. Trace a pattern piece onto the release paper with a Sharpie (you can also use a pencil, but my eyes appreciate the thick line of the Sharpie. I don’t know whether the black Sharpie will show through on lighter fabrics, however). Do NOT reverse or mirror-image the pattern. I trace all the pattern pieces for one color of fabric at the same time. Leave a little “cutting room” between each tracing on the release paper.


5. Take your release paper back to the ironing surface, and lay it face-down (Sharpie side down) onto the sticky fusible side of the fabric.


6. Press with a hot iron (no steam) for 5 seconds or so


7. Slowly peel back the release paper to make sure the Sharpie lines have transferred. If they haven’t, replace the release paper and continue to press with the hot iron.


8. You should now have the pattern pieces transferred to the back of your fusible-fabric. Whether you cut them out on the lines or leave a little extra “cutting room” will depend on whether the piece will be overlapped with another piece.


Let me know if something isn’t clear in this tutorial or if you have any questions. Have fun fusing!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the Lab--Transfer Experiments

Last week’s 6x6” weekly square, which I posted yesterday, depressed me so much I had to seek out some beauty. My son had brought my lovely partner (he calls her “other mother”) and me roses for Mother’s Day, but they were fading fast. Because it was an overcast day, I took them outside and laid them against the picnic table and took a few pictures.

roses_on_wood copy

I really love the way the pictures turned out, so I decided to use one of them for this week’s 6x6” square. My first idea was to print the pic onto fabric; I had ONE piece of fabric all cut to size and ironed to freezer paper, so I carefully taped the leading edge and fed it into the printer. It jammed, of course.

I didn’t want to prepare more fabric for the printer, so I scrounged around and found June Tailor “Print ‘n Press Iron-On Transfer Paper.” I printed the pic onto my last sheet of that, then followed the directions to transfer it to cotton fabric.


Hmm; nice, if a little weathered looking. I remembered that I had ordered some TAP (Transfer Artist Paper) from Lesley Riley a while back, so I dug that out. I printed another copy of the image onto it (note: I used the HP printer this time rather than the Epson, so that probably accounts for some of the color difference). Then I transferred the image to cotton, following the TAP instructions:


The directions say to use an iron without steam holes, if possible; I used my regular iron and tried to move it around enough to cover the holes. I think, though, that the steam holes caused the incomplete transfer on the left side.

Ok, I thought, you’re supposed to be able to color TAP and then transfer it to fabric. I grabbed my Micron pens, crayons, and Prismacolor pencils, and drew on the TAP. It was a little hard to use the Micron pens on it, because they tended to catch the polymer and scrape it off, which gunked up the pen tip. The crayons were easier, but it was difficult to get a lot of color onto the TAP with them. The pencils worked the best. Then I ironed this TAP piece to cotton:


Everything transferred really well, including the Micron pen. Then, I wondered whether I could color on top of the already-transferred images. Using the Prismacolor pencils, I added color here and there, then re-ironed the piece:


I also added a little pencil to the rose prints in the areas that hadn’t transferred well.

Both the Print ‘n Press and TAP fabrics had a very stiff hand after the transfers; in addition, the Print ‘n Press was sticky, so I was anxious to see how they would feel after washing (and to see whether the added pencil would wash out). Each of them claim to soften with washing. I gave all three pieces a quick hand-wash with detergent, then dried them in the dryer on high heat. The Print ‘n Press lost much of its stickiness, but both transfer fabrics still had a very stiff hand. Neither felt plastic-like though, which I really like. The TAP polymers did seem more integrated with the fabric, which is one of its claims.

Surprisingly, the added pencil didn’t wash out on any of the fabrics. However, when I gave the TAP a final ironing after washing and drying it, I noticed the blue pencil had smeared or bled a little.

I like the way both of the transfers turned out, for different reasons. I love the aged/weathered look of the Print ‘n Press transfer. Otoh, I don’t want this look all the time, so the TAP is an excellent option for cleaner, crisper images.

Now, on to make my weekly 6x6” square, which I’ll post later today or tomorrow.