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.

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 2: Machine embroidery

I’m getting really excited about the upcoming Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, 22-25 Feb.  One of my best friends, Mei Ling,  is going with me.  We share a love of Berninas, quilting, and sewing.  Several of my other friends will be there and Mei Ling and I are both going to the Fashion Show and taking a class with Sue Nickles on applique.  Yes, I could teach a class on machine stitched applique, but Sue is the very best and I always learn things when I go to a class.  It’s mainly just fun for me to be there with a bunch of others who love fabric arts whether I already know how to do something or not.  Plus my latest quilt, which has some free motion and one small piece of in-the-hoop machine embroidery on it, will be in the show!  Sorry, you still have to wait until the judging takes place for MAQF and then I will share the quilt with you.  I’ll blog about the quilt when I get home from the show.

An aside:  Last night, the day before it started, my son pointed out to me that Birds of a Feather quilting workshop event moved to Herndon, VA, twelve minutes away from my home this year.  I had just assumed it was still in Williamsburg this year (see what assuming does for you….lol).  So today I went over to see if I could grab a few classes and I caught something I wanted to see very badly, which was Bethanne Nemesh demonstrating yarn couching on a longarm, which she has been developing lately.  I spent about ten minutes talking with her about it and she gave me a few hints, letting me try my hand at it.  It was worth a whole workshop for me even though it was just a few minutes.  I also managed to meet Gina Perks.  And I signed up for three shorter classes from those two notable quilters.

Sew what am I doing now?  Well, I’m preparing to go the MAQF show, making a vest and tote bag and gathering the items needed for Sue’s class. The vest is reversible. It has this delightful tropical birds and plants on a black background print on one side, and the other is a slightly textured solid fabric that I have embroidered some pretty flourishes on the back and fronts.

Which leads me to the supposed topic of this blog…decorative stitches and machine embroidery for embellishing quilts and wearable fabric art. Over the years I have used a lot of machine embroidery…both free motion and machine generated. I have found some things to know about that you may already be aware of, but I found out my student/apprentice Anita has never heard about. Sew I decided to summarize briefly a few pointers here for successful machine embroidery of all types.  I am including this information in a more expanded version in my current book I’m working on about surface design and embellishment.

Thread choice makes a very big difference in getting the look you want when doing machine embroidery.  Choosing  those threads requires some thought and a bit of readily available education.  Mind you, this takes a little time and practice and testing at first, but once you get it in your head you can do this quickly:

  1. Decide if you want a shiny or matt finish thread
    • Rayon is shinier than polyester, though some polys are pretty shiny too and make wonderful bird feathers or flowers or shiny objects or…well you get the idea.
    • Cotton is mat finished and makes great trees or grasses or sinks into the background just a bit when you want it to,
    • Wool is very interesting and is great for coats of furry animals or tree trunks, and when you want the look to be more hand-like because you are doing a folk art piece.
    • Silk can be both shiny or mat.  Silk is really versatile, but finding the silk threads you have in mind can be somewhat difficult.
  2. Look at several websites of thread companies and learn about what’s available and what they do.  A lot of them have some really good educational information there.  Every new little bit I learn about threads helps my next project.  It shows up in surprising ways.  Sew I encourage you to take some time with these interesting links:
  3. After looking at these sites and playing around with threads, you will better understand thread quality and weights.  If possible, obtain a bit of the threads you are interested in  and do samples to test how they work with the design you are planning to use on the fabric you plan to use.

Well, this is getting pretty long, and I still have much to say, even in a “brief” summary about machine embroidery, so I will stop here and continue in my next blog with a word about stabilizers and how to remove a heavily machine embroidered mistake.  Then maybe another blog with pictures.

Sew happy everyone!  Go learn about some threads.  There is much to learn.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t.

 

Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

My close friends and competitors…sometimes one in the same…know that I love embellishing my art quilts.  Some quilts simply call for embellishments and, when this is true, I use them generously.  This subject recently came up in a Facebook conversation and so I thought I would run a series of three or so blog posts, not necessarily one right after the other, on my embellishment techniques.  You may have others or your techniques may vary, but these are mine.  I’m always looking for new ideas though, so comment freely please.

My love for embelishments started decades ago when I had my own fashion design and tailoring business when I designed and my shop made formals, wedding dresses, and costumes for operas, dancers, and skaters.  Back at the beginning of that business, I hand sewed or glued most of my embellishments on.  Today I will hand sew some things still, but I use a lot of hot fix crystals and machine techniques that I will talk about in future posts.

When I first started using hot fix crystals  years ago I bought one of those wand style irons.  I still use it by the way, but I’m thinking of replacing it and maybe I can get one that doesn’t flip off the table and land on the carpet and I have to race to pick it up before it burns it…hoping not to burn myself in the process.  It’s supposed to pick up the crystal and you can then place it down, but it never really worked well that way.  Sometimes it would pick it up and hold on to it, so I had to get a straight pin and pry it out.

So I started placing the crystal down where I wanted it and placing the wand iron on top of it. If I was lucky, the crystal would end up in the right place (though I found I could move it slightly if I worked quickly enough).  Sometimes the wand would flip the crystal out of place like a tiddly wink and it would go spinning through the air landing who knows where.  Sometimes I ended up slightly burning the area around the crystal.  And sometimes I ended up burning myself trying to prevent all these things.

And THEN, a friend of mine directed me to hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! I think it was invented for people who make those crystal designs for people to put on their clothes.  But anyway, here are the steps I use with it:

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. Cut a piece of the transfer tape (I use both a smaller cut of around a six inch square and a larger cut of about a 10 inch square. It’s reusable about four or more times.
  3. Place the item you are embellishing  flat on the table or ironing board,
  4. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) where you want them
  5. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  6. Gently and carefully lower your transfer tape piece down over the section of crystals trying not to disturb the pattern and press it down around the crystals and more or less attaching to your project.
  7. Now here you have a choice.  You can either use your regular iron set hot and without steam or the wand iron.  I found the wand iron makes the crystals more secure for the most part but takes longer.
  8. So with the wand iron heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • larger ones require more…30 seconds to 40 counts to be really secure.

Heat setting individual crystals with the wand with the tape still in place.

The transfer tape acts as a pressing cloth, protecting the fabric to which you are attaching the crystal from burns by the wand.  It also holds the crystals in place so they don’t go flipping off into never never land.  If it gets just a little out of alignment, you just move the tape…the crystal stays on the tape until it is fully glued down and then releases with no problem.  This means you can pick up your tape slowly to check if you’ve missed one or if it needs more time.

Another way to approach it is to place lots of crystals on the tape upside down to the sticky side and just move the tape around and place the crystals on one by one.  This is a particularly good method for clothing and other shaped pieces when you are having a hard time getting them flat for crystal placement.

Now if I can only stop my hot wand from falling off the table that would be good.  Maybe I can find a new one at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival that I am going to this year with my good friend Mei Ling…I’m so excited.  I’ll let you know if my quilt gets in.  Will I see you there?

Sew happy everyone!  Help each other out, encourage other quilt artists…both the beginners and the very advanced.  Even the big winners sometimes need encouragement.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t…I understand.

Starting and Stopping Thread Work and Quilting

Sew it’s been a while.  I’ve been enormously busy finishing my quilt for the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival…and yes, I finished and I’m now working on my little Milky Way “You are Here” mini.  It’s only about 20 x 20 inches and it’s for my part of the space exhibit at MQX.  All of my deep space quilts will be there and this is just a little fun piece to show where we are in our home galaxy.

There are a lot of opinions out there in fabric art/quilting land about how to best start and stop your thread.  Do you bury it? Do you stitch small stitches and cut close? Do you back it up and cut close?  The answers to these questions can frustrate anyone dealing with this issue.  Some quilters have no problems with it because they’ve already decided just what they are going to do and do it the same all the time.  I however have a plethora of ways to get going and stop.

For the most part, I hate to bury knots.  On my show quilts, especially, I stitch very densely in many areas, and sometimes there simply is no way to get that knot fully under the top without problems.  Also, I’m not convinced it really holds down the thread any better than other methods.  So I analyze what I’m working with and so forth to decide what to do.  Let me just say at the start, that if I am making a utility quilt…baby, give away, cuddle on a cold night…I will back stitch or stitch a short stitch close cut.  It just takes the rough and tumble better than buried knots.  I’m sure there are those who will disagree with me about this, but I stand by it after 65 years of sewing.  So here is how I handle this issue for wall and show quilts:

  • Thicker threads, such as 12 weights and some 30 weights almost require burying in some form because they just show up at the end.  Maybe I will just bury them without a knot and carry the thread through the quilt fairly far using a long basting needle.  If it works out in my overall quilting, I bury the thicker thread and stitch over the end in my background quilting, but that doesn’t always work.
  • Very thin threads of 50, 60 or 100 weight can easily just be cut close after some close stitching…say 15 stitches per inch (spi), so I never bury those.

But what about those 40 weights and specialty threads, such as monopoly and metallics?  Well, it has been my experience that these very lively threads  WORK better and stay better with a careful back trace stitching and then cut close.  I am not sure judges will agree with me, but the thing is, such lively threads  WILL come up from a bury even when knotted if certain directions of friction are encountered in the handling of the quilt for shipping and hanging and unhanging.  If stitched carefully enough, a backtrack is virtually unnoticeable, except you can probably see it with a magnifying glass and a flashlight. (Did you know that some judges look st your quilts that way?)  But I decided my metallics will be backstitched and close cut since they go through a lot when sent to shows.  If you decide to do this, go really slowly when you backstitch and get it as exact as possible.

The 40 weights are the problem because they aren’t easily determined.  Some of them, such as Superior’s Magnifico and Sulky’s rayons are really shiny and show up everything, especially with a high contrast.  So in that case, I will probably bury them with the long thread no knot method if I can bring myself to do it.  LOL.  Some of them, such as Superior’s King Tut, a cotton thread, will melt into the background when the contrast is low. They do well with a short stitch close cut ending.

Sew the answer then is either to quilt so well and planned that you NEVER have a start or stop (LOL) or to test the starts and stops before setting out on quilting that special project and decide how you are going to approach it. Also, always be flexible as you go, because when you are quilting certain places you can change your mind.

Sew Happy Everyone!  May your dreams be met, your life be full of love and simply lovely!

By the way, I need some funds to help me keep my dreams for 2018 going, so I am hoping to sell several of my quilts this year to finance my attending the Houston show and keep me in stitches (LOL) and make room in my house for more.  You can see which ones on my website gallery…just scroll over the quilt and you can see the price and size.  Contact me if you are interested in one and maybe we can work something out that suits your budget.  I’ve instituted a lay away plan for the quilts. If you don’t want to buy a quilt but do want to help, there is a donate button on this blog if you are so inclined and the funds will all go to financing my trip or keeping this blog going.

 

Happy New Year and Planning for a Great 2018

 

Happy New Year everyone!  I really want to thank those of you who read my blog for sticking with me this year.  I am planning on doing more how-tos, reviews, and showing progress on my quilts this year.  I am expecting and declaring that 2018 will be one of the best from start to finish for me, my family, and all my friends. 

I have a lot of fun planned for 2018 and I want to share the quilting/sewing part of it with my readers.  I’m putting this in a list format and we’ll talk more about these over the next few months.

Two Quilt Shows I’m planning to attend.  Will you be there?

  • Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival 22 Feb-27 Feb.  I’m hopeful of having my current quilt in this show.  I’m also hoping one of my friends will be accompanying me.
  • International Quilt Festival in Houston, Nov 7-11.  Again, I am working on a quilt for this show.  We’ll see if I make it on time.  But I also am planning on entering Pendragon in this show.

Classes/Workshops I’m Developing…Not sure where or even if these will happen, but I’ll let you know along the way:

  • Basic free motion quilting for the new sit-down quilter
  • (Intermediate) Organic Free Motion and Other Quilting
  • A Demo-Lecture on Surface Design and Embellishment for Fabric Art
  • Machine Applique…Multiple Methods and When to Use Each One
  • Make a Quilted Bag

Books already started I hope to finish:

  • Quilting for Fabric Art
  • Machine Applique…Multiple Methods and When to Use Each One
  • Surface Design and Embellishment for Fabric Art

And most importantly quilts I am making or hope to make in 2018:

  • The one for MAQF (it’s a secret until after the judging, then I will blog about it)
  • Bayou quilt based on Joel Christopher Paynes artwork I bought the right for one quilt
  • A fourth, and possibly fifth, deep space quilt.  I hope to get the fourth one made for MQX East to celebrate its space theme
  • I have a bunch more show quilts, so we will see what I manage to make beyond the three above.
  • Several utility quilts, including one for my own bed and periodically make up a fast charity quilt.
  • I have dropped two sizes in 2017, still have a long ways to go, but I need to make a few nice new clothing items for me.

Sew Happy in the New Year Everyone!  May your dreams be met, your life be full of love, and your year fun and simply lovely!

By the way, I need some funds to help me keep my dreams for 2018 going, so I am hoping to sell several of my quilts this year to finance my attending the Houston show and keep me in stitches (LOL) and make room in my house for more.  You can see which ones on my website gallery…just scroll over the quilt and you can see the price and size.  Contact me if you are interested in one and maybe we can work something out that suits your budget.  I’ve instituted a lay away plan for the quilts.

 

 

Working with My Bernina Q20 and New Attachments

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

As many of you know, I am racing to meet a deadline for a show quilt for the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, a quilt I had not included in my business plan for 2018.  In spite of a major mistake I made that required that I basically start over with the quilt, I have met my goal of getting the top complete and the quilt sandwiched and ready to quilt by Christmas.  In fact, I started the quilting yesterday, but not before I installed a new interesting attachment on Fritz, my Bernina Q20 sit down longarm.  It is a laser light pointer that puts a red laser light point exactly where the needle will come down.

I gave this new attachment to myself for Christmas in celebration of my dear late husband Marvin.  He always gave me the most wonderful presents.  One of the ways I have learned to deal with Christmas since his passing fifteen years ago is to give myself a nice present as if it came from him.  I miss him as much all these years later as I did the first Christmas after he passed.  Strong, solid, reliable, loving, brilliant, and fun to be with was my Marvin.

Sew I got my new show quilt all sandwiched with one layer of thin polyester batting and one of wool batting.  Using the newly-installed laser pointer, I spent most of yesterday afternoon and about five hours today quilting.  I have a fair amount of appliques on this quilt and some challenging designs planned for the quilting.  So far, I love the pin-pointer in mode 1 (on all the time I stitch), and Fritz is working like clockwork despite all the challenging threads I am throwing at it.

I started by stitching in the ditch and around the appliques (and no the star pictured at the top is not in the quilt) with Superior’s superb monopoly…so thin…so strong…nearly totally invisible and not very shiny like other monopolies.  Truly, handling this thread is like I imagine sewing with spider webs or something equally hard would be, except it doesn’t break once you get all the tensions and needles correct (I used top tension 1.75, bobbin is Superior Bottom Line 60 wt polyester set at 180 tension, and an Organ 75/11 titanium embroidery needle).

The laser light pointed the way.  I was able to stitch amazingly accurately and extremely close around those appliques.  I used the Q20’s BSR1 (stitch regulator mode 1) and the kickstarter that allows me to stitch without pressing the pedal.  I love the kickstart.  I didn’t at first, but now that I am really use to it, I use it nearly all the time for all the work I do at Fritz.

I then did some detail work within one of the appliques that truly brought it to life, with the laser pointer aimed at the chalk marks I had marked on the applique.  The monopoly was perfect for this, because I had painted the applique and free motion embroidered it.   I did not want to impact the free motion embroidery but I did want to quilt in the trapunto.  I had added an extra layer of wool batting behind the applique to give it that trapunto fill. I am very happy with it.  I haven’t yet done the detail for any of the other appliques.

So I then switched to metallic thread.  Metallics are known to be troublesome, but today Fritz was happy to play.  The metallic stitching I have done so far was just plain wonderful.  It is ruler work, stitching along several long marked lines.  The laser pointer works great with ruler work, pointing exactly where the stitch will go, so lining up that quarter inch, which is sometimes a little elusive, is no problem at all.  However I did find that the #72 ruler foot works better with the laser pointer than the #96.  The 96 has a diagonal fill in the center to help you place the needle that makes the laser point difficult to see if you are not leaning over it more than I do.  The 72 has an empty center, and that works just great.  For ruler work I use the BSR2 (stitch regulator designed for ruler work that moves when you move and stops when you stop, but sometimes it will take a stitch if it detects even a small amount of movement).  For metallic thread I set a top tension of 2.5, and use Bottom Line with the same 180 tension.  I also thread it so it runs across that little silicone liquid pad thingy.  In fact, I did that for both threads.

I have, in the past, had metallic thread stitch through a tiny tiny bit regardless of how hard I tried to get that perfect, causing judges to fuss about my tension.  For this quilt so far, this is not happening.  The tension appears perfect to me on both sides of the quilt. I’m really happy because I didn’t want to put metallic in the bobbin.  If the judges say I have tension issues on this quilt, I will just have to think they have some kind of special vision.  LOL

Sew my next challenge for the laser pointer light and Fritz are the complex pictographs I have to quilt on the quilt.  At least one of them will be stitched in metallics.  Then I still have to decide how I am going to stitch the background…I have an idea developing, but it will be a big challenge for me.  Still, if I can carry it off, I think it will be a wonderful quilt.  It’s so very much fun though.  I really recommend the laser light pointer and the use of the kickstarter if you have a Q20.  I also bought the echo circle attachments for the #72 foot that I am planning on using on this quilt.  I’ll give a review of their use when I get to that.

Sew happy everyone!  Try something new and don’t be discouraged if you have to spend some time learning it.  Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Sunday Musings on Quilts

I don’t have a large number of ribbons from the big shows like some of my quilty friends do, but I do have a few.  Several of them center around surface design, color choice, and embellishment.  I got to thinking about that recently and  I decided that I am really more of a fiber artist than I am a quilter and wondering if that impactsthe ribbon worthiness of my quilts.  True, I have struggled to learn the things one must pay attention to as a competition quilter, such as nice square corners and even quilting, but I am far more interested in the overall look of the art of my show work than I am the overall quilting techniques.  When i am doing the actual quilting, I might take a more organic freestyle pattern over a more formal design pattern simply because I think it corresponds best to my quilts.  One of my quilts recently received “quilting needs to improve” from a judge, when I was thinking it was one of my best results because it looked like the wind to me.  Maybe that’s not what they meant.  I don’t know.  I wish they had said what they meant.

Drawing Nigh, completed 4/17/2016, 39.5 x 44.5 “Quilting needs to be improved.” Original design by BJ

Sky quilting

I regard “making a quilt” as an entirely different activity than “making an art quilt” or to the extreme of “making a competition art quilt”.  I love warm cuddly love-filled quilts that one can curl up in, drape over a lap, eat a picnic on, give to your pet, or cover your bed with.  I enjoy making them.  I just would never make one for a competition quilt.  Why, you ask?  Well, because I am not that good at it.  I have been to enough quilt shows to see those fabulous traditional or even contemporary perfections.  But I am really good at making a piece of fabric art in the form of a wall quilt. Still, I do make snuggle quilts, but I usually use only piecing and applique and perhaps a little bit of embroidery.  My points aren’t always good, and things just never quite look right, but they are fun and pretty.

I love joining my computer art, hand painted art, thread painted art, composition fun, color play, and even my love of history or space together in a piece of quilted art for the wall.  In my enthusiasm to get the look I want, I draw from whatever technique I think will work, sometimes resulting in a project with piecing, applique, hand painting, digital art on fabric, thread painting, machine embroidery, quilting, beading, hot fix crystals, and some additional elements on one single piece.  Does it work?  Well, it works for me, not always for judges, apparently.  LOL

detail from one of my deep space quilts with Angelina Fibers and hot fix crystals quilted over a lightly painted background.

Sew what do you think?  Is a piece of quilted wall art actually a quilt?

Sew happy everyone!  Make that quilted piece you love.  Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkuh!

 

 

 

 

To Prewash or Not to Prewash, That Is the Question

Color Swirl by Kevin Tatum (my grandson) using Corel Painter.

Any quilter who follows quilting-related social media is probably well aware of the frequent discussions about whether or not to prewash one’s fabric before starting a new project.  Why should one ever want to wash that nice crisp fabric with a good finish?  I’ve heard many a quilter say they don’t  always prewash their fabric.  So why should one prewash?

I came into quilting following decades of fashion sewing.  In fashion, it is always always necessary to prewash washables, or do whatever needs to be done to preshrink the fabric before making it into a beautifully fitted garment that could shrink or change the hand of the fabric when washed, cleaned, or steam ironed.

When I was a young woman I made the most beautiful two piece dress from a drapey rayon challis that I did not prewash because I was anxious to complete the outfit in time for a special event.  I did wear it to that event, and a couple of times after that.  But then it had to be cleaned and I hand washed it in cold water.  I loved that outfit.  It was flattering and beautiful and I had done an exceptional job making it.  When I washed it, it shrank multiple sizes despite the cold water and line drying.  I was astonished.  I was distressed.

I, too, love the look and workability of fabric direct from the store.  Once in a while I have made a small item without washing it.  But on occasion, when pressing something with a strong color and using spray starch or spray water, the color from the fabric migrated to my ironing board cover.  Sometimes that happens even to prewashed fabrics.  The worst colors for this are red, browns with red in them, purples with red in them, and some greens.

I prewash everything washable now, even it it is going in a quilt I will not wash when completed.  I even prewash most silks albeit by hand.  Sometimes, I even wash fabrics twice if they are dark reds or some color that uses dark reds.   On rare occasions, I have been very disappointed when they came out of the wash, because they faded badly or changed the fabric hand in some way to make it seem less desireable.  But I figure it is far far better to find this out about the fabric BEFORE I put all those hours into making the quilt than after.

Prewashing is not only important to prevent bleeding when blocking a quilt, but fabrics shrink at different rates. Differences in the tightness of the twist of the thread when spinning,  the thread count, where the cotton was grown, and the dying and finishing processes can all affect the amount of shrinkage.  This means that soaking/washing the quilt might cause the pieces to become misshapen.  It could cause your perfectly pieced quit top to no longer be perfect, and your appliques to slightly misshape.  It might be so slight you wouldn’t be able to figure out just what happened.  Why does your quilt have a wave now when you were sure it didn’t before?  Why is there a bump in that part of the quilt when you hadn’t seen it before?  why is there a wiggle in that center section that you thought was really straight.  Of course, a lot of that can be corrected in blocking, but if you had prewashed everything, it may be possible these things don’t happen.  Of course, it might just be you hadn’t seen it before.  LOL

So after the fabrics are washed, I will often iron them with spray starch (starching on the wring side to prevent flakiness).  Once that is complete, the fabric is nice and crisp and ready to place in the quilt.  The colors are true to what they will be when blocked.  Despite the time it takes, I encourage you to prewash and iron your fabric before you start your quilt.

One more thing. If you DO have a bleed on your beautiful quilt, the best advice on fixing it that I have ever seen comes from Vicki Welsh in her blog here.

Sew happy everyone.  Have fun working on your Christmas/Holiday projects.

Decided to Make an Additional Show Quilt

I’m working on a new show quilt with a January 23rd deadline.  I started it too late, so it will be a bit of a race to finish on time.  But the thing is, I am really having fun making it.  I am making it mainly so I have something to enter into Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival because I suddenly realized I had nothing for that show and I have already made arrangements to go to it.  I won’t be sharing pictures or descriptions about it until after its debut.  I put aside the Bayou quilt I am making for a while, because the deadline for it is months later next summer.  This new quilt is going together mostly just from my idea and directly on the quilt, because I wanted to keep the design time very short.  I just made a concept sketch and plunged in, using fabrics I already had on hand and, surprisingly, I have already made a fair amount of progress.  I had an interesting idea for it that required one piece of fabric I didn’t have, so I ordered that.  Everything else is on hand.  So there you go, I have already greatly shortened my usual design time and eliminated the shopping time for this quilt.  This probably means I will finish it, although it is touch and go.  I’m keeping anything about what it is like quiet because I want to give it the best chance possible.  Now that I have been playing around in the quilting community for a while I find I know a lot of the judges, as is the case for MAQF.  They also frequently know my quilts.  I’m sure this is true with other show quilters out there.  Maybe I can make one that they won’t recognize as mine. 

A quilt project like this makes it hard to write blog posts on a regular basis.  Additionally, the Bayou quilt also has some restrictions on sharing pictures of it for the most part until completion, at least.  Nevertheless, trust me when I say it is all fun right now. I’ve gotten both quilts fairly well started and over some of the beginning problems I had for both of them. 

A Question for my readers:

Over the decades I have accumulated a lot of sewing and quilting knowledge.  I’ve sometimes thought I am a techniques collector just for the heck of it.  LOL.  Sew my question to my readers, assuming there are any, is what would you like me to blog about? I can provide some short tutorials, answer how to questions, and talk about quilty things.  I will use your responses to write my blogs while I’m working on these two quilts.  Please respond.

Sew happy everyone! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Sewing Machine and Design Software Fan

Gibbs at work.

Make no mistake, I love my machines and enjoy using my various pieces of design software to help me create art quilts, or just to sew, or just draw, paint, and design digitally.  It’s more than a hobby.  It’s my fun and my full time occupation, though I hardly make much money from it.  Indeed, I spend more than I make at this point.  It would be great to turn that around, especially since I periodically do things to update, add to, or improve my fleet of machines and suite of software because I think it is the right thing to do,

Oh, did I tell you?  They have a new pin point laser light attachment for Fritz that shows exactly where the needle will enter the fabric to help with precision quilting and free motion thread work.  Awesome!  I ordered one (they had a 25 percent off offer).  LOL  I need all the help I can get making my quilting sing.  Last week, I also updated my Electric Quilt to EQ8 (they had a great offer).

Sew now that we have clearly established that I spend too much on my super hobby and I make too little with it,  I keep thinking how I can turn this situation around and start making at least enough to support my quilt-making habit, and even have some for trips to places like Houston or Paducah for the big shows.  For example, I just updated my website gallery last week so you can see my quilts better and see what the sizes and prices are for those that are on sale.  By the way, the exhibit of my quilts is still going on at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, where most, not all, of my quilts are on display through Thanksgiving if you have a chance to go.

Most of you probably know I am a Bernina girl.  I love Berninas.  I have four of them right now, but I am selling my Bernina 1230 to my student/apprentice,  Anita is one of my best friends, a true beginning quilter, and I am teaching her to quilt and improve her sewing, and to use the 1230 all just for fun.   I also have a Baby Lock Serger (yes, really!!!). Now I reluctantly admit that Baby Lock is also a very good brand, and they make wonderful sergers.  If I had to choose a machine other than Bernina, it would probably be Baby Lock.

My Bernina Q20 named Fritz.

Anyway, when Anita takes home the 1230 once she gets her sewing space set up and completes her initial classes on the machine, this will allow me to have all my machines in their own cabinet (except the serger), which makes my playground just plain wonderful.  It’s wonderful already, in fact, though it needs a little reorganizing and cleaning.  It’s a magical space even if it isn’t all slick and spacious.  I have Gibbs, my Bernina 830 LE in Studio Gibbs (meant to be a small bedroom), where I store the bulk of my quilting stash and have a small kitchen island for cutting and painting and the like.  Gibbs has a very large custom cabinet that can be a nice big work table if I simply move Gibbs.  I also have Studio Fritz, another small bedroom, where Fritz, my Bernina Q20 and, my ironing station, and my computers live.  Then there is Studio Betsy, well, actually that’s part of my bedroom, where I have my original Koala cabinet.  That’s where the Bernina 1230, named Betsy (for Betsy Ross) is currently residing, but I will be putting E.Claire (named for Edith Claire Head), my little Bernina 350 that is now on the floor in the cabinet.  Wilcox, my serger, hides under one end of that cabinet.  Plus the bulk of my sewing books are also housed in my still rather nice bedroom.  So nearly my whole upper floor in my modest townhome is pretty much dedicated to my studio.  I even briefly considered working out a way to sleep under a longarm frame when I bought Fritz, but decided the sit down setup for him would be the better option.  😉

My grandson a couple or years ago at  E, Claire, my Berinina 350

I have really neat plans for 2018.  I have several quilts already started or close to being started, and I am writing a couple of books on art quilting and I hope Anita will be my beginner beta tester of the projects in the book once I get her started.  My daughter in law Beth, who is an advanced quilter with a fabulous studio, will be my advanced beta tester.  Additionally, I am working out a few workshops for local teaching, but I seldom really make any money to speak of on those because it takes so much time for me to get them pulled together.  Maybe eventually those will make money too.  I really do them to learn what people want to know and am putting that in my books.  So they are still valuable to me.

Sew maybe 2018 will be my year…I’ll go through a whole year without updating any software or buying any new machines, start selling more quilts, win more and better cash award ribbons, and finish my two books which will, of course, each be a major hit and sell, sell, sell.  Ha-ha-ha-ha,,,,,,,,In the meantime, however, I plan on continuing to thoroughly enjoy my fleet of machines and suite of drawing and design software and endeavor to rein in my desire to have the very latest machines, attachments, and software.  We just won’t mention “adjustments” to my stash of fabrics, threads, yarns, beads, and paints here.  But they are necessary, right?

Sew happy everyone.  I hope you have a play space you enjoy.