Project Management for Fabric Art

Since I retired in 2012 to become a full time studio fabric artist, I have found a need to develop a system to keep things organized for time and technique management. Initially, I felt that taking time to keep records cut into my creative time and resembled work too much.  After all, I was here to have fun and make fabric art, right? 😄

Lately, I have added teaching local workshops and for several years have been working on writing several books.

So I found it necessary to figure out a way to keep up with all of this.  In fact, the multi-faceted system I came up with saves time and reduces stress, and some of it is kind of fun. Without records I would spend a lot of time figuring out where I was within a project, what was next, and making mistakes I would not have made if I had notes I could refer to.  This is especially important if there is an interruption in a specific project and I have a gap of time, or if I am working on more than one project at a time, which I often do (a show quilt, an approaching teaching session, a bit of writing, and even something just for me like clothing or my current bed quilt project).

My daughter-in-law Beth, who is also a quilter and a computer professional, suggested I look into www.Trello.com, which is a free organizational program designed for businesses. I find this program very easy to use and set up.  It helps me keep up with project ideas and a general overview of where I am on each project, and you can put in a check list.  It’s especially nice when I am doing a project with another person. Beth and I set up a team “Board” of Tatum Quilters so we could share projects.  We haven’t done much in that direction, but we still talk about it from time to time…LOL  So you might want to check it out.

While Trello helps me keep up with my ideas and plans for quilts, I found I need more detailed information and some of that doesn’t fit into a computerized file.  So I also have my big black low tech notebook.  I use this from the very beginning of a project and also keep other information in it. I write up ideas, make a general overall plan, keep tiny samples of fabrics, lists of threads, and other supplies, and put records of everything I need in this book for keeping my project together. The following images may give you an idea for your own notebook.

Here I have the original design of the Renaissance banner my BFF Anita and I made for the church last year. This is her original design.  I added notes, and a list of the fabrics I ordered for the project.  I just stapled her original drawing in to the notebook since it fit.  If such a design doesn’t fit, I sometimes fold it one or two times and staple it in.

 

So here is the finished design after I put it into the computer and drew a pattern for us, making a few changes we discussed along the way. On the right side is a plan for making the quilt from start to finish, which we checked off as we completed it.  I just printed a page size of the pattern and stapled it in on one page.

 

Sometimes I just staple drawings into the book to keep them from getting lost. This is my train project I am about to start working on.  The one on the left is a copy of the drawing my BFF Anita did for me to use for this, and the one on the right has a few scribbly additions I did thinking about how I might make it.  I have pages after this with a brief list of steps to make this quilt and have space for notes on stitches, settings, etc. for my machine work.

 

Here I have the samples of the fabrics and a list of the threads for Pendragon. Ken (oldest son) and Beth (his wife) gave me this wonderful addition to my stash along with the design for Pendragon that Ken drew. Pendragon was such a major project requiring many advanced techniques I had to develop or had never used it has ten pages in my black book that includes all kinds of things related to it.

 

Here is my trial of the upper left corner of Pendragon. I digitized the outline of the ancient design for stitching just the outline in the hoop, which needed a lot of fixing.  So I had to do a stitchout before putting it on the quilt. I also wanted to try the painting to see how that would go. So I just stapled the sample into the book because I liked it and didn’t want to throw it away.  If you look hard, you can see on the right a very loose sketch of how the quilt pieces fit together.

If you’d like to learn more about Pendragon, I have several blogs in which I included the making of this extensive project.  The testing of borders and the making of Pendragon.  So as you see, I also keep what you might think of as progress reports in this blog.

You might think that would be enough record keeping, but when I started doing show quilts that went to several shows, and sometimes had multiple quilts out for shows or exhibits, I found I had to make sure I knew where they were or were going.  I needed to be careful that I didn’t enter the same quilt in a show that was being held at the same time another show that I had entered was held, or enter it into this year’s shows when they had already been shown or rejected from another year’s show (Just as a matter of principal, I never reenter a show that has rejected my quilt previously even if they accept this kind of entry).  And I found I can’t enter another Mancuso show if the quilt has received a ribbon in another Mancuso show.  So it became a kind of choreograph of the dance of the quilts.

I take care of this with a simple Microsoft Excel workbook with two spreadsheets.  One keeps up with what shows that I am interested in and the deadline dates.  The other spreadsheet keeps up with what has been where or entered where, with a simple asterisk if it placed in that show.  I include an example of my workbook here.  I don’t know if it will work on your computer or if it is anything you might want, but it was easy to include if it works for you and you are into show quilting.

Quilt Show List example

Sew there you are.  Yes, it is a complex four part system, but it also works well for me and so I wanted to share it.  Believe it or not, it saves more time than it spends to do this, especially after getting started with it all, and it really helps keep down the stress factors in my busy busy studio. One more thing, I put on my calendar when a quilt has to be shipped once they are accepted into a show.  I have occassionally waked up and wondered if I had missed a deadline, only to be happy to find I had not by looking on my calendar.

Sew happy everyone!  Try making a show quilt or a master quilt, even if you don’t want to show it.  You might want to keep your own records, with lots of pictures along the way (oh and yes, I have computer files with folders by the year for quilts made in that year.  Yes, I back up everything).  It will be fun to look back on it or if you want to remember how in the world you did that technique on that quilt some years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Fabric Arts Adventures

Background fabric design for use in upcoming quilt

This has been a busy and interesting month so far, and the end of the month promises to be just as unique.  First of all, I want to tell you about the background fabric piece pictured above.  I spent some time (more than a forty hour week) painting this design I wanted to use for a background, to which I will be adding a lot of objects, including trees, rocks, train trestle, train, steam clouds as appliques.  But I painted it digitally in Corel Painter and sent it off to be printed full size by Fabrics on Demand, which has a wide selection of fabrics and does a good job.  I’ve used them before.

So after about a week I got word that they had printed the fabric and shipped it.  I waited, waited, decided I would have to contact them because it had been weeks and no fabric.  In the meantime, we had a snow week, with an 11 inch snow followed by very cold weather.  Then we had a thaw.  Just as I was about to contact the company, my son brought in a wet package that he had found on the side of the front porch under a bush.  Yes it was my fabric.  It had apparently been blown off the porch under the bush and covered in snow and ice.  We might not have found it until even later if the cold weather had continued.

The fabric was in a plastic envelope and carefully packed, but it was totally soaked.  I washed it in the washing machine, thinking that I normally would have hand washed it with Synthrapol detergent, since it was a custom printed piece.  So I wasn’t sure how it would come out.  But it is totally beautiful.  The colors are strong and lovely and the piece is clearly not going to bleed or shrink now as I use it in my quilt.  My friend Anita was amazed at the piece.  She is an artist herself but is new to the fabric art world.  I could tell she is excited to consider that she might be able to turn her art into a piece of fabric. She would have to take a good picture or scan of her art since she doesn’t work digitally in order to get it into fabric in this way, but that works too.

Twelve Skill-Building Projects for Bernina v8

Okay readers, I have been working full-time for several weeks now just to update my Ten Skill-Building Projects for Bernina V7 to a new book for Bernina V8, and I have finished the basic manuscript, sent it to my Beta readers, and designed the cover.  I am looking to have this out by the end of February.  So if you have either V7 or V8, I think you will find working through the projects of these books will provide you with a solid understanding or improvement in your use the software to go forward and make some wonderful in-the-hoop embroidery designs.  You can make what you want for your projects.  These books are designed so if you work through the book the later projects build on what you learn in the earlier projects.  Additionally, you will end up with some fun small items…mug rugs, a color wheel, a needle book, and a bunch of nice designs to use in other ways.

I’m very happy to be more or less finished with this Bernina software books project.  I have more or less been working on this for several years now.  It’s not that the projects are that hard, it was the difficulty of figuring out what should be presented and in what order to help fabric artist that still has the program in the box or has only used it a little because it was a little confusing, or that may not know how much is really there.  It is an amazing software…almost magical.  It has tools to help you get where you need to be, but it does not do a good job of telling you what tools are there.  The reference manual is well presented, but you may not know what you don’t know and you don’t know where to look.  The books are not exhaustive in covering all the tools, but they are enough to give you a real feel for what you can do with the software.

Just as I neared the finish of the first book for V7, Bernina came out with the updated V8, so I put it aside.  But my dear friend Mei-Ling Huang, who is also my Bernina dealer, encouraged me to go ahead and put out the V7 book, because there are a lot of sewists out there still using that software.  And then she pushed me a little to also write the updated V8 version.  I truly don’t think these books would be finished without her encouragement.

Sew now that I have completed these two projects and have gotten my fabrics for the next several show quilts and workshop samplers and kits, I have to straighten up this studio!  It’s a mess!

I’m so excited about the work I have in store for the future.  I made a list of things and put a date I wanted to get them done by, just so I can figure what I need to work on next and next and next.  Let’s get to quilting and embroidering!

I also am thinking about what book I should write next.  I have found that self-publishing through Amazon KDP is not too difficult for me to manage.  I want to get what I know out for people to use. I have learned a great deal in the past sixty plus years of sewing and art work.  Maybe the next one will focus on surface design and embellishment.  I have won several prizes at major shows based on my work in this field.  But I have to get to quilting first.  Just need…to….quilt!

Sew happy everyone!  There’s a fabulous bunch of tools and supplies out there to make some wonderful fabric art.  Teach someone to sew or quilt or try something new yourself!

Cotton, Polyester, Silk, or Rayon?

Periodically the question comes up on social media groups related to quilting about whether a quilter “should” or “can” use polyester or poly blend rather than cotton fabric or thread in their quilts.  This is usually followed by people vehemently claiming it MUST be cotton.  Nothing else but cotton, and declaring this as if the issue were settled and can not be questioned.  Those who suggest otherwise are mostly ignored.

I have also seen  several quilters claim that polyester does not last as long as cotton, which astonished me.  So, I have been doing some research.  You see, I think with today’s high quality manufacturing a quilter should feel free to use whatever fabric or thread they want to use without feeling they MUST use a  specific fiber.  So I thought I would write about this and also ask what you think.

First of all, it was pretty easy to find a lot of comparisons of the properties of cotton and polyester fabrics that had a bit of science behind them.  Without fail, such sites all said the polyester is more durable than cotton, which is what started me off on this hunt.  Cotton is also a wonderful fabric, but it is not true that polyester is less durable.  Some people say they have had a bad experience otherwise, and they probably did, but I suspect it was the quality of the fabric rather than the fiber that made the difference.

Additionally, I have been looking into how well polyester behaves in quilting and sewing, because I want to free up the quilting world to love and appreciate all manner of fibers for their quilts.  I’ve done some experimentation and talked with other quilters who use polyesters in their work.

I am an expert sewist and quilter…very experienced with dealing with fabrics, having sewn for over sixty years.  I had my own business as a fashion designer and tailor some years ago,  and have been a show quilter for over 11 years now, as you all probably know.  I have won some ribbons in international shows. I have made many of my own clothes and those of the men in my family.  Trust me, when I say that I know how fabric should behave.

Years ago I made many special occasion dresses, including wedding dresses, from both silk and polyester.  I also made men’s suits in both wool and wool blends, and special needs clothing for professors and business people in all manner of fabrics. For them and for my own clothes, I used both natural fiber fabrics, which I count Rayon as one, and polyesters.

Since I have been quilting, I use mostly cotton or silk because I like the way it looks.  But about a year ago Kaufman Fabrics ceased making my favorite quilting fabric, which was a blend of cotton and silk in a satin weave called Radiance.

Since then I have been trying out a few things to take its place.  One of those fabrics are various types of polyester satin.  I have found that a really good quality crepe back satin makes a fine quilting fabric.  It has enough give and take to show the quilting well and not to pucker.  The colors are good, the strong colors don’t bleed, the fabric doesn’t shrink.  And oh yes, it is about a third the price of Radiance.  I love it.  I have a polyester satin show quilt planned for this year.

I also think that some of the lighter weight polyesters and different weaves of poly blends are acceptable to use in quilting.

From my own experiences there is a wide range of quality of fabrics of all kind. The quality, no matter the fiber, is really an important factor in determining how the fabric behaves.

Admittedly, when trying to do things like inset sleeves into a garment or piecing a curve, most polyesters will show a slight tendency to pucker.  I have not found that to be the case of the crepe back satin and other crepe weaves, however, because I think the crepe weave gives it enough give and take to counter the lack of ability to shrink.

Sometimes, you need to back your polyesters (and your silks too, I might add) with a light weight fusible interfacing to make it behave well.

Silk is a sometimes difficult fabric to work with, will bleed like everything, and sometimes will shrink.  But it is so beautiful, that it is worth the effort to make it work.  I hand prewash silk using Synthrapol.  It makes it less likely to bleed when you use a little starch or some steam on your finished show quilt.  But sometimes the bleeding is just too great to use with another color.  I also usually back the silk with light weight fusible interfacing.  THEN it works as well as cotton.

Cotton does work the best, admittedly, but it needs to be prewashed to contain the shtrinkage and prevent later bleeding. I use Synthrapol for that too, because some manufacturing does not fully set the dye and there may be some lose dye that could even just bleed from working the fabrics, not even involving water.

Now rayon is a fussy fabric and I have never tried to use it in a quilt, but I love it for some clothing.  It, however, shrinks!  So if you are going to use it be certain to prewash it.  I love how it drapes and moves in a full skirt or loose flowing jacket.  It’s a wonderful fabric made from trees.

And yes, when it comes to threads, I like them all…cotton, poly blends, all polyester, silk, and wool.  Thread is a lovely thing.  You just need to buy a good brand of thread and the right needles to use with them.  Cheap thread does not do a good job.  It can stuff up the inner workings of your machine with fluff, break, pull, shred, and just make a mess, and yes, I have even had it shrink and bleed back when I used it years ago.  But really fine quality thread is a dream.

The answer is…you can use the fabric and threads of your choice and have a good result that lasts for many years and you can pass it down for generations.  Yes, there are bad fabrics out there that will shred, distort, and make a mess, but it’s a quality issue, not a fiber content issue if you pay attention to the right preparation for the fabric.

Sew you can use whatever you want to make your quilt, even burlap, for that matter, if you back it with fusible interfacing, but I won’t go near it, because burlap makes me break out and sneeze.  Hahahaha

Sew happy everyone!  Enjoy your quilting and sewing using the products you like and don’t listen to those who think there is only one way to do things because it was what their great grandparent used back before the fabric manufacturing was as advanced as it is today.