Software for Your Fabric Art

Practice painting I did today in Corel Painter

Sew my last couple of posts I’ve talked about the need to learn and practice your machine and quilting.  I don’t know about you, but I also use a lot of software in developing my fabric art.  This, too, requires a bit of practice (nice thing to do when I just want to sit down or am still mulling new ideas around)

I truly appreciate those of you who do everything with pencil, paper, or directly on your fabric.  But one of the things that attracts me to fabric art are the related technologies, and also, I not only find I do a much better job of constructing my pieces when I sketch them all out and print a full sized picture or pattern, but it helps me with a wide variety of decision-making along the way.

I turned mostly to art quilting about a year after my dear Marvin passed in late 2002.  So I’ve been at this now for somewhere around 15 years!  This is astonishing to me.  I have also been quite interested in the tech side of fabric arts for even longer, if you take in in-the-hoop embroidery and computerized machines which I have had now for longer than that.  So I have been collecting software related to my fabric art for a long time, and, while it would be overwhelmingly expensive if purchased all at once, I got it over the years and kept it mostly updated, spreading out the costs.

It started small.  I took a class online from the Pixel Ladies who used Photoshop Elements.  I learned that I could print large patterns using Excel spreadsheets and tape them together.  That opened up the idea to me that I could design my own quilts, quilting designs, and even fabrics using the computer and testing all the colors and placements and so forth without any fabric and stitching to undo or waste in the beginning (note that this saves a lot in the cost of fabrics and threads too).

I also bought Bernina design software when I got my Bernina 200E (I later traded it in for my 830 LE).  I think it was v5 at that time, but not certain.  I skipped everything until I got version 7.0.   I am going to skip the v8 update to save some money because I don’t think the update has sufficient advancement that I use (this does not mean it wouldn’t work for you) on 7.0.  It took me a long time to learn how to use that and very well.  It has some remarkable functions.  I did though, and even nearly finished a book I was writing on learning this program.  It was very close to being done for self publication when they came out with the update, which points out why writing books on software is not particularly the way to go for me.  I take too long to learn it before I can write it.  LOL

From there, I bought Corel Draw, because I found the Bernina software uses a limited version and I wanted all the bells and whistles.  I also added Electric Quilt somewhere along the way years ago.  And then I bought a Wacom drawing tablet that came with a back version of Corel Painter.

Sew there you go….I was off and running and haven’t stopped since.  I’m still learning all this software and probably will always be.  I have found it cheaper to keep it updated at least every other version than let it get old and needing to buy the whole package.  Besides, Corel, especially, gives you some really good buying opportunities once you become their customer, and if you watch carefully, you can often get the updates for much cheaper than the retail price.

Anyway, the point of this is that this year, the year I wasn’t going to buy any new software (heh heh),  I ended up updating everything (except Bernina software), including my Wacom tablet (my old one was 14 years old and had just decided to retire…i.e., it became a paper weight).  And then my son David hooked up his old smaller monitor for me so I have two monitors (really terrific advance and it was free).  So now I have  at my finger tips (and yes, I share it with some of my friends when they come over):

  • Corel Painter 2019 (for painting and fabric design)
  • Corel Draw 2018 (for illustrative drawing, pattern making, and digital work with Bernina design software)
  • Bernina Design v7 (for in-the-hoop embroidery)
  • Corel Paint Shop Pro (for photo editing similar to Adobe Photoshop…I like it better)
  • Electric Quilt 8 (for figuring out how to use a pictorial piece with borders, for designing utility quilts)
  • And several related smaller pieces that came with these items to make them work best.
  • The latest Wacom Intuos Pro tablet with really nice artist’s pen that came with it.  It works with all the above like having a pencil or brush that responds to pressure and turns in some of the programs.

I like Corel because you don’t have to subscribe to it. It also is very powerful, and I can use all the pieces together, and it has great webinars and other tutorials to help you learn it.

So to make a quilt design I might dress up a photo in Photoshop Pro and send it over to Corel Draw for turning pieces into patterns (maybe I liked a flower in the picture, but nothing else), and then to Corel Painter to use as inspiration for fabric pieces and concept design, then put it all together back in Corel Draw where I make a full sized printout or printouts (prepping a fabric file to send to the fabric printing company for larger pieces, for instance).  Then I would maybe design embroidery elements (like lions on the vests in Pendragon or the small wall hangings on the wall).

Now that I have this terrific design setup, for which I am very grateful, I am working to learn it better and practice it more, because I have a ton of ideas how to use all of this.

  1. I am writing a book (or is it three books) on Fabric Art skills that covers everything from the design phase through the making skills, surface design and embellishment, and finishing. It includes patterns, samples, and quilting designs in it (them), and I am hopeful of getting it out by the end of September (but don’t hold your breath).  I’m sure you can see the need for such a setup for this.
  2. In the process I have learned how to make to-size patterns you can print on your regular printer and tape together.  So there will be some of those coming also.
  3. I have already started using digital painting printed on fabrics in my show quilts.  Pendragon has a back castle wall and all the faces that were printed on fabric and used in the construction of the quilt (along with a plethora of other techniques).  I also used a considerable amount of small in-the-hoop embroidery pieces that I digitized myself in Bernina software.

    Pendragon, 34 x 45.  This quilt has been selected for the juried show at IQA Houston this fall.  I’m so excited.

  4. So I am currently working on trying to figure out a design for my next show quilt using this setup.
  5. And finally, well maybe only finally for now, I am thinking of developing a fabric run to assist pictorial/landscape fabric artists and submitting it to fabric companies to see if I can get someone interested in my ideas.  Wouldn’t that be fun?

Sew what did I learn from all of the years working with these technologies?  Learn the software, keep it updated more or less, you can skip at least every other update unless they give you a great deal and have a lot of improvements, practice, and use it to help you save money of fabric, thread, and accompanying items, and it can really help you improve over the years…you can keep your records of your struggles too for future reference.

Sew happy everyone!  If you have design software, it can really open new ideas and opportunities for fabric art if you spend a little time learning and practicing them.  Blessings everyone!

 

 

A Short Slowdown in Art Quilting Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Fireflies, Workshops, Quilt Names, and Other Stuff

 Yes, Virginia, I am alive!

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Soapbox  Rant:

See the source image

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

Sew what am I working on now?

Feed Dogs Up workshop sampler

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.