A Short Slowdown in Art Quilting Adventures

In my last blog I talked about the need to practice quilting.  I should have also mentioned that it is very helpful to plan ahead for your projects and how and what you will practice.  Truly, at least half of my “planned” projects fall to the wayside as I pursue other ideas.  In fact, though, I often incorporate those original concepts into the projects I finally decide on.  Also, sometimes, I go back and pick a project concept up that I thought had not made the cut because I couldn’t figure out how to do it, or it was not a technique I wanted to use.  This happens when I later learn a new way of doing things, or  figured out just how it really needed to be created.  Sometimes these solutions just come to me while I am doing something simple and am engaged in thought.

Over the course of my sewing/quilting year, I sometimes end up with having finished several things I was working on all at once and then have to spend a little while working through what I may do next.  I have finished my Bayou quilt, and I have gotten the workshops mostly ready, although I still need to work on the kits, but I have until late September for the first one.  Sew I’m at that point right now, although I am still doing some work on my three book efforts.  Even those, though, I am rethinking and wondering just how I should pull those together.  Maybe it will be one larger book.  Not sure yet.

I’m still sewing though.  I’m working on an applique bed quilt using Sue Nickels beautiful pattern I purchased from her at MAQF earlier this year.  It’s my “down-time” project because I find stitched raw-edge applique fun and relaxing, and not particularly challenging, especially since this quilt is just for me.  It will not be a show quilt.  Still, I am exploring some decorative stitch use as I stitch some of the shapes down.   It is, after all, time for me to replace that old box store “quilted” coverlet I have had for decades and have a quilt like a quilter should have on their bed.

This does not mean that I don’t have several ideas in the works, but all three of them involve another artist to help me come up with the concept drawings, and I am waiting on those.  I am working on my own drawings also now, but haven’t settled yet on what is next.

Time to clean?  Ich.  But really I need to clean. LOL  Oh, I know…time to practice!  🦊🦋🏡😄

Sew happy everyone.  Take some time to practice and plan, and maybe just a little time to clean.

 

 

 

 

How to Stop Fearing Your Machine and Start Having Fun

I love this picture from early in the twentieth century.

Periodically in some of my Facebook groups that are focused around quilting and sewing I see a surprising number of people who have sewing or quilting machines they are truly afraid to use.  Now I can see how this might happen.  Today’s machines are often technically advanced, big, powerful, and fast.  That can be very intimidating, especially if you fear making mistakes on your creations or breaking your machine.  Maybe you are afraid of sewing through your fingers.  Maybe you think you can’t possibly figure out how to use that advanced machine.  These are legitimate fears, but you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Let’s talk about this a little.  In almost any creative situation you can figure out how to make an approach of taking things apart and moving step by step to find you can do far far more than you ever thought you could.  And yes, you will almost certainly mess up, make mistakes, have to unstitch, break a needle, break some thread, or even mess up so badly you throw a project away.  Give yourself permission to throw things away, and realize they have served their purpose in teaching you something.  This is just sign of progress and that you tried.  So here is my suggested method to overcome the fear of your machines, or even to advance your understanding of them:

  • Read the manual of your machine.  Yes, read it even if you have been sewing for 65 plus years, even if it is a somewhat simpler machine, or even if it’s boring or you don’t understand it, but read it anyway.  Later you will remember that there is an answer to a question you have along the way in your manual so you can go back and look it up in the index at the back when you need it.  You don’t have to remember it until you need it.  You just have to remember that there is an answer there.  Sometimes you may find you do things differently with this machine than you did with your mom’s machine you learned on.  If you don’t find the manual, they are often online free for download.
  • Get yourself a small notebook and make notes as you go.  Keep a record of your steps, the settings on your machine you used for what. Even after 65 years plus of sewing, I still keep notes on projects I do.  It’s so handy when I want to do it again, or have gone out of my project to hem my new jeans and need to get back to where I was on my project.  I have also taken those notes and made spreadsheets or lists that I can print out and stick on my wall for reference.
  • Take advantage of the tools your machine has.  These tools include both the functional tools built into your machine and the accessories (specialty feet, magnifying glass, differing sole plates, optional threading aids, cleaning aids, pinpoint lasers, and other things).  Yes, you have spent a lot buying your machine…so spend a little more and get those specialty feet as you need them for particular projects.  It makes your initial investment truly worth it.
  • Realize that even if you paid a lot for your machines they are not perfect (nothing manufactured is, really!), but usually they will work if you do things right.  They may have some things that might go awry from time to time.  So join those Facebook groups where you can ask what other people do about some things, look in the manual near the end where they have the section usually entitled  “Troubleshooting”, go on YouTube to find if it is something you can fix yourself (if you have a Bernina, take a look at Bernina Boys  on YouTube), contact your machine’s online support (I can’t tell you how many problems I have gotten solved this way without having to lug my machines to the dealer), or yes, lug your machine to the dealer and get that problem fixed.  But start with a cleaning, check on the tensions, and change the needle…maybe even change the thread.
  • And if you are not getting that nagging problem fixed by your dealer, contact the manufacturer (using the online support) and ask them what to do.  Remember, they WANT you to be happy with your machine.  If you are happy with your machine you will tell others about it, and they will buy one.  If you are happy with your machine, you might buy another one that has another function (I have three Berninas).  But I will suggest that if you buy a solid advanced machine and LEARN HOW TO USE IT, you will almost certainly be amazed at what you can do with it.

    My Bernina 830 LE named Gibbs

  • Realize that, surprisingly, sometimes it is the thread, the needle, and something amiss with your machine.  But normally problems can be solved by cleaning the machine, changing the tensions. using a different sized needle, or just replacing a needle that may be slightly bent or have a blunt end.
  • Learning to use your particular machine is like learning to play a new instrument.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE!!!  Yes, practice a little bit frequently and a lot once in a while at the very least.  Practice even if you have sewn for 65 plus years.  Practice is just that.  You are making a practice piece…something that may even end up in the trash.  But this can be really fun.  Remember that..it’s ultimately fun!

    My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head.

     

  • Plan out your project in small steps.  Prepare your pieces (make the markings you need to make).  Be sure you have the right threads, needles, backings, battings, stabilizers and interfacings on hand.  These things make using your machine so much easier.

    My Bernina Q20 named Fritz.

     

  • And finally, if you have a computerized machine, make sure you keep it updated with the latest updates.  Sometimes the updates are put out primarily to correct some bug they have discovered and so you won’t have that problem happen to you.  Sometimes they add new stitches or new functions.  Find out how to do this in your manual.

Here I have attached a pdf file to print out a small practice project for free motion quilting.  It is sized so you can print it out with normal letter sized paper and tape it together.  Then use it as a marking guide for your fabric.

FMQ Practice

I developed it for a FMQ workshop I will be teaching at the sewing machine department at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland in October of this year.  I’d love to see you there.  There are only eight spots for students, so call them (ask for sewing machine department) and reserve your space.  It’s about organic fmq for fabric artists…no fancy feathers, but lots of fun.  I’m also teaching a class on 22 September in Machine Applique for Fabric Artists, and one in October on Feed Dogs Up Quilting for Fabric Artists.

Sew happy everyone.  Go read your manual and practice.  Then have some fun making a wonderful project.  You will be happy you conquered your machines…well almost conquered…or at least learned to use them.  LOL

 

Fireflies, Workshops, Quilt Names, and Other Stuff

 Yes, Virginia, I am alive!

So sorry to have been away for such a long time.  I have been working hard up until last Friday when I came down with some kind of aweful stomach thingy that hit me like a truck.  I’m all better now, though taking it easy for a few more days, but it did cut into my work schedule.

Before that, I was finishing up my latest show quilt..the Bayou quilt that I have not yet named.  I still have to put the crystals on the fireflies, and get professional photos of the quilt, but here is my little snap I took with my small camera:

So do you have any suggestions for the name?  Here are some ideas…I don’t know that I like any of them;

Home on the Bayou, Bayou at Night, Among the Cyprus, Cyprus Night, Cyprus Shelter, Bayou Night Lights, Bayou Cyprus, Bayou Summer Night, Summertime Night on the Bayou, Fireflies at Play (they will show up better with crystals), Night among the Cyprus.

I was disappointed with the supposedly glow-in-the-dark fabric paint.  It does have some nice pigment in it, and looks kind of nice enhancing the lights, but it doesn’t really glow in the dark very much. So the fireflies are the most disappointing, and I have obtained the tiniest little yellow and slightly orange hot fix crystals to enhance all the painted fireflies.  Otherwise the quilt is complete except for a label.  I even have the rod pocket on it.  I plan to try to debut it at Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza this coming fall. I have no idea where I will send it after that, but I will send it elsewhere for about a year or more.  This quilt has taken me a great many hours.  I don’t have any idea how many.

A Little Soapbox  Rant:

See the source image

With the efforts I put into my own show quilts in mind…I was just watching Craft in America.   The episode they showed today was talking about craft as a livelihood.  They featured Gee’s  Bend quilters among other artisans.  Their quilting style is beautiful and carries on a tradition I am very happy to see in the country.  But I found myself wondering if Craft in America ever had or ever would feature quilt artisans that use contemporary quilting methods and styles (even those who do it all by hand), make exquisite jewels of quilts contemporary, modern, or traditional, or artists that use quilting as their medium sometimes using many techniques in one project.  I somehow doubt it because many responsible for producing such shows, or writing articles about quilts, seem to think the development of quilting, styles, techniques and the craft itself stopped at the water’s edge of the late 19th century.  They probably are not even aware of where the quilt world has flown over the past few decades.  Have they even attended one of the national or international quilt shows?  Do they even know it is a thriving industry economically and deserves attention?  And indeed, it is not just the media that is unaware, as those of us who quilt are well aware.  How often have I told someone I quilt, and they said their [grandma, great grandma, aunt] used to quilt [back when they were alive or physically able].    And finally, I hope you will read Joe Cunningham’s blog Calvin Klein and Me discussing this issue way better than I am here.

Sew what am I working on now?

Feed Dogs Up workshop sampler

Well, right now I’m writing a blog post…but my current project set is to make the samplers, handouts, and kits for three Fabric Arts Workshops I am going to lead at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland this fall.  They are fairly basic, but are designed to provide a suite of techniques that can be used to make quilted fabric art and, of course, some quilting techniques.  They do not include piecing.  I am not a piecer. G Street has quilters who lead some really nice piecing workshops.  So here are my workshops:

  • Fabric Arts Workshop 1:  Applique Techniques — Saturday, 22 September 11 am to 5 pm
  • Fabric Arts Workshop 2: Feed Dogs Up Quilting on a Domestic Machine — Saturday, 6 October 11 am to 5 pm
  • Fabric Arts Workshop 3:  Free Motion Organic Quilting at a Sitdown Machine –, 20 October 11 am to 5 pm

If these go well, I might take them on the road to shows and guilds within a four or five hour driving distance from Ashburn, VA, or just try to do them locally (within an hour’s drive).  I might also add one or two more complex workshops to these.  The nice thing is that some of the work I am doing for these can also be used in the books I’m writing.  Maybe I’ll even be able to publish one of my books before the workshops this fall.

But fear not, I am also making some quilts, just at a slower pace.  I am making a bed quilt (shock!) for myself using a Sue Nickel’s applique quilt pattern.  I have only just begun working on a new design for one of my Ancient Manuscript series quilts.  Actually, truth be told, I have only come up with the idea and haven’t really started the design.  Happy National Sewing Machine day! (this is 6/13/18).

Sew happy everyone!  What are you working on?  Let me know.  Send me pictures. Make comments.  I really want to hear from you.  Hopefully, now, I am back to making about a blog a week or more.

 

Working On Developing Workshops

I have agreed to present three classes or workshops at G Street Fabrics sometime this fall for a six-hour day for each.  One will be on machine applique two ways, one will be quilting with feed dogs up, and one will be free motion quilting for sit down machines.  So I have been working out what exactly I want to present and how best to present them.

In the past I have done a couple of these classes and found flaws in how I developed them and hope these will  be much better.  One thing I did at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival this year was take  a class from Sue Nickels and carefully observed her methods for presentation. She ran one of the best organized and presented classes.   I have also taken classes from other noted quilters, like Pepper Cory, and will be drawing from all of these teaching methods to improve my own.

One of the things Sue Nickels did, as did Libby Lehman in a class I took from her years ago, was to have a camera on their work at the machine so people could really see what she was doing when demonstrating.  I thought this was extremely helpful when taking these classes.

Between my oldest son and myself, I have everything I need to do this with the single exception of the projector.  G Street has a projector they are going to loan me to see if I can make everything all work together to manage this for those classes.  Eventually, though, I will maybe get my own projector if I teach anywhere else.

So I will now make some samples and determine what I need to do to make a kit.  I decided to use my Go! cutter and precut some fusible shapes for the applique kits so it will save the students a lot of time.  I have designed a fall scene for the applique class.

I also will be putting together small sandwiches for the quilting classes.  I tried with my last class having them bring the sandwich.  Several of them arrived with no sandwich at all, some had all the pieces but had not put them together and I had to spend time telling them how to do it.  Time is like gold at a workshop.  So I decided to make a 20 inch x 20 inch sandwich that I premark.  I am only going to have six to eight students per class, so this will not be a huge burden and make a big difference for the class.

So I will really appreciate any suggestions you may have both from the perspective of classes you have attended and of classes you may have taught.  I don’t yet have the dates for these and I’ll tell you more about it later.

Sew happy everyone!  Add your comments to help me make the best workshops ever!

 

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Three: Working with Threads

As I work through my Bayou quilt, and think about past quilts I have made, I realize how much one needs to pay attention to the adjustments, needles, cleaning, setting, and other requirements for optimum machine performance as you use the varying types of techniques, fabrics, and threads.

Threads

Today I am adding more Spanish moss in differing colors of Aurifil’s wool 12 weight thread and additional wool yarn couching using Superior’s almost truly invisible Monopoly.

I was having problems this morning with my wool thread breaking and breaking after hours of working well.  So I stopped and did a thorough clean and check of the machine, oiled it, and added a new 100/16 Superior titanium top stitch needle.  When I cleaned the bobbin, I found a large bunch of wool fluff both outside in the bobbin casing area and in the bobbin casing itself full,  and I blew air through the upper tread track and dislodge additional wool fluff.  I like this thread, but it does require frequent machine cleaning, loosening the top tension, and really fresh needles.  I doubt it would be possible to make wool thread that didn’t do that, although Aurifil’s is excellent.  It is actually 50 percent wool and 50 percent acrylic. I also use a tooth floss threader to thread this through the needle (and the take up lever hole on my Bernina Q20).  I haven’t had the same breakage problem since I did the cleaning.

The Spanish moss here is Aurifil’s Lana wool/acrylic 12 weight thread.

When I am couching using my Bernina Q20, I use Superior’s monopoly.  I truly cannot see it well enough to make sure it is always threaded through the machine right.  Over the past little while, I have found that this thread works best with a universal 70 needle.  I don’t think I could go smaller using this powerful machine, but when I am using my Bernina 830 or Bernina 350, I use a 60 universal needle.  I haven’t figured out why it works better with the universal needle, but it does.  I have almost no problems with it, though I do lower the top tension significantly on all the machines when using this thread.  This thread makes wonderful couching thread when using the machine method that stitches through the yarn or cord.  It basically buries itself down in the yarn and disappears.  In the past, I have also used this thread to quilt over and around painted, appliqued, or thread embroidered areas of a quilt.  I don’t particularly like overall quilting using Monopoly, because I like to see the thread most of the time, even if it is nearly matching and you have to look to see it.  I have used it though when I am quilting through an area that has multiple colors and no particular single color or even variegated thread would work right.  I actually use a magnifying glass to work with this thread.

The gold Celtic border was outlined first with gold thread, then painted with gold paint, but it had no over and under view until after it was quilted with Monopoly thread. I will be using this technique again.

Yarns for couching are really another bit of my stash that might end up growing, but I hope to keep it kind of small.  Still it is exciting to work with.  My machine likes the smoother yarns and cords the best, but I want to use some of the less smooth ones, like the Shetland wool sport weight I am using for the limbs of my trees.  I can see this yarn making whole tree trunks and limbs.  It has various slubs and smooth sections that produces wonderful depth of character.  acrylic yarns are really smooth and even and make wonderful fills.  I’m still learning this element of my pictorial fabric work so I will talk more about it later.  I have found lots of help in learning this from Bethanne Nemesh’s couching work.  She has generously shared much of her techniques on both Facebook videos [only one example…she has several there]  and her blogs.

For background work, I often use Superior’s 100 weight Microquilter or its Kimono silk 100 weight.  This thread seems to call for a small needle also.  I use 60/10 or 70/11 topstitch needle depending on the density of the quilt I’m stitching through.  I sometimes have had to go up to 80/12  topstitch needles when stitching through multiple applique areas or heavily thread embroidered areas.  This thread also requires a lower top tension, just like the Monopoly, though not quite as low.  I  am not giving numbers because everyone’s machine and fabrics are just a little different, so you need to do a sample using the actual fabrics and threads you have on your quilt.

Sttitching on the space dust on one of my deep space quilts using 40 weight variegated Fantastico by Superier.  The background stitching you see here was done with 100 weight Kimono silk.

Sew for most of my quilting where I want the design to really show and machine embroidery, though, I usually use a 40 weight thread of some sort with an 80/12 or 90/14 Superior topstitch needle, depending on the fabrics and threads I am using.   Most of the time I use the 90/14 and it seems to make a great general needle.  My favorite threads for this are Superior’s Fantastico, Magnifico, and Rainbow (they no longer make this thread but I have a lot of it), and when stitching things like rocks or places I don’t want any shine, I use King Tut.  King Tut, a cotton, definitely requires the 90/14 needle.   I also like Aurifil’s 50 weight cotton when I need it a little less visible, but don’t want to use a polyester for some reason.  I use the 80/12 needle with Aurifil 50 weight cotton.

Isn’t this fun?!!! There are soooo many wonderful possibilities to make your pictorial quilt come to life now…I could work hours and hours and hours on it, except my body demands I stop from time to time and walk or stretch or breath….LOL.

Sew happy everyone!  Try out all those wonderful types of threads.  Just get the smallest spools at first so you can figure out whether you like them or not and how they might work for you.  Then make a sampler.

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Two: Making a Tree

One of the most fun I have when making a pictorial quilt is making trees, mountains, rocks and water scenes.  Making these wonderful natural landscape items do not require perfect lines and matched points.  So each kind and size of trees I need to “grow” on a quilt may require a different technique and plan.  I have to consider the distance, the species, where the light is coming from, and then decide how to make them.  Here are a few examples:

Here the trees surround the house. For these trees, I digitized them on my Bernina Software (even the tiny trees have little leaf shaped leaves, though I think that is lost a bit to the viewer because of the size). I then stitched them out on black nylon veiling with wash-away stabilizer and free motion appliqued them onto the quilt top with matching thread.

 

This small tree is the stitch out from an olive tree I digitized in my Bernina software on wash-away stabilizer. I placed a tree photo in the art side and traced it by hand digitizing it in the embroidery side of the software. The same could be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer with Crayola washable marker and free motion embroidering it. In this case I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling to hold everything together.  The advantage of black nylon veiling is that it can be cut very close to the embroidery (without cutting through the stitching) and the little bits left tend to disappear when you applique it on…often covered with applique stitching. Note that when you soak away the stabilizer, the Crayola marker goes away also.  This happens to be laying on a paper towel, in case you are wondering.

 

Here you see the trunks of some big Cyprus trees in my current ongoing project. I cut the applique shape from different types of commercial woody type fabrics. So then I did highlighting and lowlighting with Shiva oil paint sticks and a stiff brush, then heat setting with my iron (covering it with a paper towel to absorb excess oil paint. I plan on adding a layer of wool batting behind the trees to give them a little more depth because the trees require considerable stitching to make the base look like the Cyprus, but this is how I started these trees.

So the Cyprus trees appear to have windy limbs that seem smaller than such a massive tree trunk would have.  I decided to couch the limbs on with wool yarns and then free motion embroider the Spanish moss.  Here are two pictures of the progress so far:

Here you see some of the limbs on the different trees with some Spanish moss.  I did a lot of looking at Spanish moss photos before I did these so I could figure how they should look. These seem to me to be coming out ok.

 

I learned early on that I needed to draw some guide lines for the direction of the stitching or I’d get them to be blowing around in different directions. Since the water in this quilt is going to look calm and reflective, it didn’t make since to have the Spanish moss blowing around much, though they don’t have to be exactly the same, but close. Here you see some of my marks for future stitching. Also note that I had to break the stitching on several clumps so it looked like the limb is further toward the back from the viewer.  I need to keep it pretty close to the same proportions as the top part, so drawing lines is helpful.

Sew I’ll show you the whole trees when they are done.  That will be a while now because they need to be quilted, and maybe a little more highlighting, to get the full impression.

Sew happy everyone.  I hope you decide to put some trees on your quilts and relax…they are fun to make.

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part One

I don’t know why, but recently I realized my design and making of a pictorial quilt has fallen into a multi-step method that can be shared with my readers. I suspect that most pictorial quilters work much the same, but each of us develops our own methodology and here is mine.  It might work for you if you are interested in making such quilts.

Work from the background forward. Here I am appliqueing on the pieces.

Sew what do you do when you have a picture you want to make into a quilt…either you drew it yourself, you took a photo, you bought or were gifted the rights from another artist, or you bought a royalty free design from somewhere like Dover that grants permission to use it for artistic purposes (be careful to read the permision statement)?

Plan by taking apart the project in your mind and writing down notes about how you plan to approach it.  If you have worked in digital drawing programs like Corel Draw, Corel Painter, or Adobe Photoshop, for instance, you know you can divide a project into layers and work on each layer one at a time.  You may also know that you need to think from background to foreground in how you approach a design.  It’s the same here.

  1. Print or draw a full-sized quilt plan.  I say “plan” rather than “pattern” because sometimes that’s all it is…just a full sized picture of what you want to make.  But it functions kind of like a pattern. My current project is a Bayou quilt using another artist’s (Joel Christopher Payne, a Disney artist among other things he does) picture for inspiration (though I am using it for inspiration and a guide rather than trying to copy his work).
  2. Study your picture and analyze it for challenges, needed fabrics, techniques you might use.  This quilt has many challenges.
    • It’s dark and details are hard to see
    • It has lots of old wood and cyprus trees and water at night, making texture really important and values more difficult.
    • I am planning on adding more Spanish moss and creating a slightly lighter pictorial quilt than his wonderful picture
    • It has a lot of plays of light shining through the trees, playing out on the water, and fireflies.
    • There are lots of water plants around the Bayou scene.
    • Almost half of the work on this quilt is to be free motion yarn couching, free motion embroidery, and other embellishment work.
    • This quilt background will start with extensive applique work.
    • After the applique there will be a small amount of highlighting and lowlighting with various fabric paints.
    • After the appliques are in place and some of the paint work then I will start with the couching and free motion embroidery work.
    • I have figured out how to deal with the light playing on the water, but I am still not sure about the light coming through the trees…maybe veiling, which is on order.
  3. Along the way you may decide to use some trapunto to give some additional depth to your work.  In this case, I will be adding a layer of wool batting behind the tree trunks, the cabin, and the old house boat.
  4. Building such a challenging pictorial quilt for me sometimes involves testing a technique on a scrap first and then working that part on the quilt, but sometimes I have to change my mind on how I will approach a particular part of the quilt.
  5. Then I have to do the sandwiching, squaring, and quilting that every quilter has to do.

So I now have all the appliques on and have done some of the highlight/lowlight work.  It’s ready to start the couching and free motion embroidery.  This picture is taken from standing over a table, so it isn’t front on like I’d like.  This is like layer two through ten of a 32 layer digital drawing…lots of work left to do…it’s kind of a background at this stage.  LOL  And besides, this is just a small part of it…it’s 60 by 30 inches overall…at least that’s what I’m hoping for in the end.

Sew happy everyone!  Take a plunge and try your own pictorial wall quilt.  Be patient with yourself and realize almost every problem can be overcome in achieving your vision.  Sometimes the problems are really a blessing…they give you new ideas.

Embellishing Techniques Part 3: Learn All You Can and Use It Well

Okay readers, I am all fired up and my studio is spotless and ready to go.  There isn’t even a chipmunk in my studio (my facebook friends will understand this comment).  After attending Birds of a Feather, and then Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival, and then spending a lot of time getting rid of a chipmunk and cleaning my studio, it was some time before I was able to start using the explosion of inspiration that filled my head and heart for the future after such inspiring quilting events and spending the MAQF with my friend Mei-Ling who also inspired me.

* * * * *

So to continue the Machine Embroidery pointers…I decided I really have to finish and publish my book on Surface Design and Embellishment, which includes among other things both in-the-hoop embroidery and free motion embroidery, to say all I want to say.  But I did want to give you a little list of things to research on your own and to think about.

  1. Learn about stabilizers..there are lots of them out there and they all do different things.  Sometimes you need more than one at once.
  2. It is possible to remove machine embroidery that messes up without damaging your fabric sometimes, but not always.  I got a little electric trimmer for this purpose and it works most of the times if the fabric on which the embroidery is placed is sturdy enough.

    Summer Melody: I made a big mistake when I embroidered the bunnies on the path. They were sideways!!! So I got the Wahl clipper/trimmer and removed the embroidery and redid the bunnies. There was a small hole that I made trying to remove it without the trimmer, but it was covered by the new embroidered bunnies.

  3. If you are using a commercial design, and you have digitizing software, such as Bernina’s, it’s a very good idea to load it into the software and take a good look at how it is stitched.  You can often correct the designers mistakes, resize it, choose different fills, and make different thread selections before you use it…do this to a copy, not the original…and then do a stitchout before placing it on your main project.
  4. Realize that free motion thread painting is also a good option, but requires practice and understanding of thread density and how that affects your fabrics.  This requires its own blog post (and chapter in my book).
  5. Even decorative stitching available on your machine just to go on that beautiful new blouse you are making often requires proper stabilizing and thread to fabric considerations.
  6. You can use decorative stitches within a pictorial wall hanging or to enhance applique and pieced projects.  It’s very exciting and there is much to learn and try out.
  7. This kind of work takes time, thread, stabilizers, and practice but the results can be really rewarding.

* * * * *

Use what you already know how to do in interesting ways and spend some of your precious time learning and practicing.  One excellent idea that some quilters have suggested is to make simple utility, charity, and baby quilts for your learning and practicing.  I think this  is a wonderful idea, but you DO need to do SOME simple practice you are going to throw away or put into your reference notebooks.  I do suggest you don’t let the practicing and learning take over all your sewing and quilting time though.  Make yourself make that masterpiece quilt or  important project.  It’s all about balance in the studio, but be brave!

Suggested project:  Steps to a tree wall-hanging with birds and flowers.  With this wall-hanging, either find a coloring book tree or draw a simple tree and choose by the look you want what techniques, fabrics, and threads to use.  For instance, 1.  Make the background: the background could be pieced, appli-pieced (or pieceliqued..same thing), or painted or all of them to get the background you want.  2.  Make the large part of the tree trunk and large limbs…use appliqued woody fabric, couched on yarn, or paint, then free motion couch or embroider the small twiggy parts of the tree.  3.  Add the leaves…use free motion machine embroidery, appliqued leaves, or digitize leaf sections you embroider on black netting with washaway stabilizer and applique in place.  4.  Add the birds and flowers…use commercial embroidery for in-the-hoop embroidery machines, sizing appropriately, or applique by hand, or paint and then applique.  5. Sandwich and quilt…use monofil polyester to in-the-ditch and around-the appliques stabilizing, then either quilt using your walking foot or free motion stitch the quilt, block, square, and bind.  Please send me a photo to include in a blog post if you make a wall hanging inspired by this idea.

 

 

 

The Wizards’ Duel

The Wizard’s Duel

I promised you all that I would write about this quilt after Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival.  I had a wonderful time going to the show with one of my best friends Mei-Ling Huang.  Mei-Ling is a lot of fun and we share many interests.  She claims not to be a quilter, but I have seen her quilting on the Bernina Q24 longarm set up in her Bernina shop at G Street Fabrics where she is the Bernina dealer.  But she is a long-term sewist and she does make beautiful garments.  Currently, I happen to know that she is working on a t-shirt quilt for her daughter, who is in medical school.  She was clearly fascinated by the goings on at MAQF and we enjoyed very much the class we took together from Sue Nickels on Stitched Raw Edge Applique.  I found the class a perfect example of how to organize and run a class as well as really enjoying the applique instruction,

Sew the picture above is my completed quilt and I got the judges comments back yesterday.  They have marking grades on standard criteria.  It fared very well, getting all top marks (E for Excellent) except for degree of difficulty and that was S for Satisfactory.

Judge 1 commented:

  • Powerful color impression
  • Ambitious Subject Matter
  • Nice use of crystals

Judge 2 commented:

  • Batting a bit too puffy [Huh?!!!]
  • So much care in the figures.  Rocks would benefit from same attention

Judges:  Esterita Austin, Pepper Cory, Marjan Kluepfel

I don’t know which judge had which comments section, though I do know that they weren’t Pepper (a friend of mine), who just signed it.  After looking at it objectively, I happen to agree with the comment about the rocks and plan on adding some additional quilting and maybe a litle more highlighting before I send it out again.  Not sure I agree on degree of difficulty, but seeing some of the other quilts there I am pretty pleased with these marks overall, which is rare when I get my judges comments back.  I am a little puzzled about the batting a bit too puffy comment, but to each his own.  Maybe it had to do with the rocks.

When I am done with a quilt I like to look back at the original concept and see how far away I wandered in the making of the quilt.  Here is the finished concept art, though I did go through a number of other versions along the way.

concept art for Wizards’ Duel

And here are some detail photos of the quilt.  I hope you can see all of the quilting.  I had loads of fun with that turbulent sky full of characters,  I have a Pegasus in this shot.  Go up and look at the full quilt and see if you can find the Phoenix, the small flying bird, a starry kind of symbol like I used in the corners, and the little bit of free motion feather design at the corner near the raven.  I also free motioned and straight ruler stitched the explosion of light (is that a sun?  I think so) behind the wizards.

Detail shot one

And here is detail shot two…on this you may think you see a row of flying geese, but that’s not what they are.  In my mind’s eye these are a row of flying pterodactyls!  Hahaha.  I hopeyou can see these, I know it’s kind of hard to see.  Also pay attention to the border.  This quilt is the first one where I used ruler work extensively. I used a strip of paper that was the exact length of the border and folded it until I got the divisions perfect (no math method) and marked the grid on the border, then used my rulers to quilt the design without additional design marking.  Then I just bubble stitched where it needed filling.  I was pleased with the results.

I will tell you that the biggest challenge was coming up with the figures.  I started with prepared for dye cotton fabric and marked the figures on with a simple Fons and Porter dark marking pencil.  Then I colored them using Neocolor water soluble paint crayons and brushed them with water. After that I ironed them dry, thereby heat setting them, and then I placed a bit of wool batting behind the dragon and stitched the outline and the scales.  After that I used some oil paint sticks to burnish the scales of the dragon a little.  Then I thread painted their garments with Superior metallic threads using my BerninaQ20 longarm sitdown.  Finally, I appliqued them to the quilt top.  After sandwiching them, I quilted the figures sections with Superior Monopoly thread, but that was the only place I used monopoly.  I didn’t want to interfere with the thread painting I had done, but they needed quilting for depth of character.  I wonder if the judges realized the difficulty involved there.  Perhaps they did.

And finally, here is a very good picture of the quilt hanging in the show that my friend Cathy Wiggins took.  I think it shows the quilting clearly…in fact the show had it lit just perfectly so the quilting showed well.

Wizards’ Duel at MAQF courtesy of Cathy Wiggins

The quilts at the quilt show were unbelievably magnificent.  I do think Wizards’ Duel stands up well in such a show, even if it didn’t receive a ribbon.  As I said, I plan on adding some quilting and highlighting on the rocks section and entering it in other shows.  Maybe it will place after that.  It’s very hard to place in such a show.  The MAQF is becoming a very important and popular show and for good reason…it is fabulous.

Mei-Ling and I attended the fashion show too and spent some time viewing the wearable art competition section at the show.  We were so inspired by this that we decided to try to make a joint entry for the wearable art next year.  Mei-Ling is a small beautifully proportioned woman and we will make it to fit her.  More on that much later.

I came home to find a chipmunk had invaded our home…he came in about an hour after I got home.  That is another story that is still going on .  He’s still here and in one of my studio rooms.  My studio is on the upper level of my town home where my bedroom also is.  It consists of two small bedrooms…Studio Fritz (where my computer/office section is and where my Bernina Q20, named Fritz, sits), Studio Gibbs (where my main fabric, thread, and paint stash, my work tables, and my Bernina 830LE named Gibbs sits), and Studio Betsy (one small side of my bedroom where my Bernina 350 named E. Claire sits where my old Bernina 1230 named Betsy used to sit.  I sold Betsy recently to my student and friend Anita).  The chipmunk has taken up residence in Studio Gibbs (thank goodness not my bedroom!).  So far, the only damage he’s done is knock things over and deposit chipmunk poop in places.  The stash is safely in drawers and the closet where he can’t get to chew or soil and Gibbs is of no interest to him so far.  I am soooooo hopeful of getting him out of there today.  I have a live trap set for him and have tried multiple things, and am trying once more today with the trap and all.  I need my studio back.  I never had this happen before.  Please pray for a successful removal of the chipmunk.  Silly me, I name everything, even a chipmunk I may end up killing…this one is Chippy.  I am so hopeful of not having to kill it to get it out of there.

Sew happy everyone!  You know you can get a basket like device to attach over your dryer vent so chipmunks can’t get in and chew holes in your dryer vent hose.  My son just installed one on our house.  I wish we had done it earlier!!!!

 

On Creativity and Competition

Last night I watched the truly magical performance of the short program in men’s figure skating by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. He’s simply magnificent.  Indeed, I find it difficult to find the words to describe his sparkling performance that comes after a career threatening injury just months ago.  Such performances by leading artists are gifts to those who have a chance to see them.  I remember one magical violin concert by Joshua Bell that Marvin and I attended in Istanbul in the ancient and fabulous Hagia Sophia years ago.  It remains a particularly special memory as I look back over my life with Marvin…a wonderful gift to us.

There is a certain similarity between performance art,  tangible art and its subcategory of fabric art.  It’s the ability to stir the mind and touch the heart.  It’s the pulling of the resulting piece out of the mind, heart, hard work, and training that goes into the making of a quilt no matter the category.  This can be seen at major quilt shows or quilt museums when you walk by the exquisite jewels of quilts…every competitive year tougher and more accomplished than the year before as quilters grow in the techniques and understanding of design.

I retired early in 2012 from an interesting, but fairly intense job, to work full time in fabric arts–fabric, thread, surface design, and embellishment–to create beautiful, interesting, fun, or impactful fabric art that touches the heart and mind of the viewer or even makes them laugh.  I was pretty arrogant in the early years, thinking I could make anything and was just as good as those who won big time ribbons.  I was sure it was only a matter of time before I reached that level.  I’m more hopeful than arrogant these days.

It has been just over five years now since retirement and ten since I seriously turned to fabric art, and more or less 65 years since I started sewing.  Looking back I find that I am even more interested in this fascinating activity than I was when I first began years ago.  I love it and I have developed as a studio artist in recent years,   I realize only a very few manage to get to the top and it may not be me, but I still keep on making art.  I belong in my studio studying new ways to do things, designing new pieces, and making them.  I occasionally venture out to teach locally and I even have a student, or maybe she is really an apprentice, who is also one of my best friends.  It is exciting and sometimes I get to meet or virtually befriend other fabric artists/quilters whose work, or teaching, or writing is very inspiring and who have encouraged me along the way.

Next week I am going down to Hampton, Virginia, to the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, which in my humble opinion is becoming one of the important shows in the country.  I have a fun quilt in the show.  I had not originally planned to make this quilt, but decided to make one at nearly the last minute starting in November.   That is about as late as I could have expected to complete it by the deadline, but I decided anyway to add this quilt into my 2018 quilting plans.  I have already worked out my plans for 2018, but I realized I didn’t have any quilt to enter into MAQF, and that I was going to go.

I had some special encouragement from my friends, particularly Lisa Calle, who was also struggling to finish a quilt she had been working on for four years in time to get it in the show.  So we helped each other not give up and keep on despite the various bumps in the road.  Both of us got our quilts in the show.  I’m so looking forward to seeing hers.

I would be surprised if my quilt makes a ribbon, mostly because I’m a little unsure of the both the overall design and the quilting design, but it was a delight to make.  I honestly cannot tell whether it is really good or I just like it.  At some points in the process I didn’t even like it myself.  I like it now, and I can hardly wait to show you photographs and tell you more about the making of it after the judging takes place.

I have been competing since 2004, when I entered my first Hoffman Challenge quilt.

It is a sweet little quilt with a Japanese fan theme and I learned much making it, and it got in and toured.  Today, I try to get my quilts into various shows primarily to share my work with people.  I make them because they are there in my mind and heart and for people to see and I make them to have fun. I have sold a few, and I’d like to sell more of them, but they don’t sell well.  I would like to sell enough to pay for my quilting habit and to go to a big show like Houston or Paducah every now and again.

But it is also true that I am a true competitor.  I want my work to be historically artistic and breathtaking and to be a gift to those who see it even if they don’t end up possessing it, I look back over my older quilts and can see true progression in my work, but there are parts in some of them that are surprisingly really good.

After all my years of sewing and all the recent years of working really hard to improve my techniques and, more recently, to improve my design and my quitling, I now fully believe my work is deserving of getting into the shows and even placing beside the winners, but I am realistic in realizing that my work does not always touch the hearts of the judges even if it touches those of some of the viewers.  It is different.  It is possibly not even what some would call “a quilt” because it is not a warm snuggly thing to warm a person on a cold night or wrap oneself in to gain comfort.  It is to hang on a wall and to look at.  The subject and the design may be pleasing to me, but it may not be understood or at least understood to be the best in a given category by a judge.  Maybe they can’t see what depths of technique and new ideas were placed in the piece or how much I had to pull out of myself to make a quilt. Here is Pendragon which was in MAQF last year.  It did not place there, but it did make a 3rd place ribbon at Paducah fall show.

Pendragon
34 x 45

Maybe some pictorial element I did in a quilt free motion is well done enough they think it is done by computerized machine work, or maybe they see flaws in colors and values and design elements that I would not consider as a flaw because it’s what I like, or I really didn’t see it or even saw it and ignored it.  But there is always that chance, however slight, that the judges will decide it is really really good…maybe even the top of its category.  And maybe there will be no ribbon, but I will be honored to have the quilt in the show and my friends see it who have encouraged me along the way.

Just last Sunday I took a class from Bethanne Nemish at Birds of a Feather, who made the point that the competition is getting tougher all the time, and she’s right.  What would have won ten years ago would not win today, and may not even get in, because the quilting art continues to get better all the time.  Is there a peak?  I don’t think so…not exactly anyway, because quilting will continue to evolve and new techniques, new designs, and even new styles will continue to emerge as long as there is a competitive field on which to show it.  But it is still worth competing.  As Bethanne pointed out in her class, you will be better, you will stretch yourself and you will learn.  It is well worth competing even if you really, in truth, haven’t got a chance at getting a big ribbon.  You need not feel depressed if you don’t win anything.  Besides, you may give someone who really needs it a gift, by lifting their hearts and inspiring their minds.

Besides, it’s amazing that a seventy year old person can compete in a major show alongside the young quilters already at the top.   I expect to continue for a while…don’t know how long…maybe a couple of years, maybe a couple of decades.  (Chuckle)

Sew happy everyone.  See you at MAQF or elsewhere.