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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

A Discussion About Wall Art Quilt Sizes

I make art quilts now primarily  to first show them and then sell them (or give them away).  I think that these two goals slightly conflict with each other.  I believe most people would find wall quilts wider than about 50 inches just simply too big for most homes or offices today.  Normally, smaller is better for sale items.  Shows, however, seem to not see it that way, and I kind of understand that, since when they are in the show the impact is increased by the size for the most part.  I have been quite surprised, however, when I have made a quilt that is around 50 inches wide, which seems fairly large at home in my studio, and then go to the show to see it in place where it seems really small hanging there.  Nevertheless, I think the sizes I end up with are right for the styles and may make them more possible to sell later.  So you see, I have a bit of an argument with myself about sizes.   Just so you can see, I usually size my quilts to fit within the American Quilting Society’s guidelines because, truly, they are the least flexible.  Here are next year’s categories with sizes.

Another consideration is the physical challenge of dealing with large quilts. The older and creakier I get the more difficult I find large bed-sized quilts to make, but it helps that I have a large table for my main machine (Bernina 830LE) and my sit-down longarm (Bernina Q20) with a large table.  So I really can work up to about 60 x 60 with no problems.  Currently, I am working on my Bayou quilt, which is 60 inches wide and 30 inches long.  The original art work I am working with is 30 x 15, so when I enlarged it to a size that would be a good show quilt, I had no choice other than 60 x 30 if I were to keep the aspect ratio the same and meet AQS specifications.  Why is that?  Well, I want to enter it into AQS Virginia Beach 2018.  As you can see, if it is any wider than 60 inches it moves to the large quilts category that has a minimum of 60 inches long.  If it is any narrower than 60 inches the length would becomes shorter than the required 30 inches.

Normally, I get the design worked out and decide how I am going to approach making it and then enlarge the design to a showable and saleable size.  I kind of aim at 40 to 50 inches wide, which is really a small quilt for most shows,  but it also is a nice size for most walls.  I might try making a few of the AQS Fiber Art wall quilt sizes this year (24 to 40 inches wide by 24 to 60 inches long).  As a matter of fact, most of my Ancient Manuscript series fit within this size, but as you see, not all their shows support this size.

And finally, some consideration must be given to the cost of fabric.  If I am making a quilt all in silks, I want to use high quality silk fabric and that is expensive.  So smaller is more affordable.

I would love to start a discussion about wall quilt sizes.  What sizes do you think are the best, in general, and do you think the shows should set their sizes by specified width and length groups or by either perimeter inches or square inches, which would allow an ancient manuscript that is 27 x 37 into the wall quilt categories that would not be allowed now?  Or maybe it doesn’t really matter to you, just so you can make your quilt like you want it.  What do you think are the ideal parameters for wall art quilts for home or office?

Canterbury Silk. This all-silk quilt is the first in my Ancient Manuscript inspired series. It is 35 x 44 inches.

Sew happy everyone.  Make yourself a beautiful piece of fabric art for your wall, or make them for gifts.  They make wonderful presents if you know they would fit in the lives of the people you give them to (give that some serious consideration before giving them a quilt).  Also, check out my quilts on my website (link at top of this blog).  I have revamped my site slightly so you can really see the quilts better.  The prices and sizes can also be found there.

 

New Design from an Artist Wizard

I think I’m a little nuts. I spotted a picture that I thought would make a fabulous quilt. It just seems magical and it’s by Joel Christopher Payne, a really wonderful artist.  So, since we have been FB friends for a while, I really just wanted to tell him how much I liked his piece and, unable to keep my trap shut about it, I mentioned how I thought it would make a great design inspiration for an art quilt. And, just curious, you see, I asked if he ever gave or sold permission to use his art in such a way.

He told me he had never considered the idea, and that he had a standard price for the rights to most of his work and mentioned what it was.  I told him that was probably appropriate, but my little micro-business could not manage that. Well, he then wanted to know what I would do with it, and I explained a little more and he asked for pictures of my work.  I provided a link to my website so he could see some.

In the end, he came substantially down on the price for the rights to his piece, since I was only going to use it one time for a quilt, and also, I think he was a little intrigued by the idea. He came down enough that I felt it would be well worth it, and so, I now have a new quilt project for an exciting piece.

Yesterday, he sent me the permission and a high-res jpg and I spent most of the day analyzing the colors and figuring out how I would approach this project. I made a little guide with the colors, using my various drawing softwares so I could hunt for the appropriate fabrics.

I had fun this afternoon pulling out fabrics from my stash and have found that I have what I believe to be all the right fabrics, colors, and even a rather large collection of wood-print fabrics (there is a fair amount of wood in the picture), which will require piecing and shading with inks or fabric crayons to make it work.

I just restocked my battings last week, and I even have a piece I can use for the backing. We all know my thread collection is taking over my fabric stash…so there you are.

Let the fun begin! (Sorry, I am not going to be able to share pictures until the project is complete). My goal is to complete it by June to enter it into AQS Virginia Beach 2018. I have two other show quilts in the works too. Exciting time in the old studio.

Sew happy everyone!  NEVER use someones art for your design inspiration that you don’t ask first.  Sometimes it works, sometimes you just have to walk away and find something else.  This is important.

Take care all of you folks caught in the horrible storm and floods.  My thoughts and prayers are with you.