Planning the Day

I retired on January 1st of 2012 to become a full time fabric artist.  When I think about it, it is a surprise to me that is 8 years plus a few months! During this time I have developed a loosely professional approach to ordering my day and I have found it really makes me feel right about the day.  I guess it is because I spent decades working in sometimes pretty intense situations in my work life and got kind of use to having to put order in the day by necessity.

Now, even though I am home-based in my studio for work, I still like to take a professional approach to the day, and if you are sheltering in place at home you may find this really helpful.  So I start like I am planning to go to work at my former job, only I have a little more relaxing time about it, and my wardrobe is more casual (all happy things).   Here’s the list I give myself.

  1. Make my bed
  2. Get dressed
  3. Read my email and make a plan for the day…a to do list if you will…which I may or may not write down, but I thoughtfully think it through.
  4. Have breakfast
  5. Clean the kitchen
  6. Go to “work”.  I put it in quotes because it is so much fun for me to work in my studio working with with fabrics and threads, or designing my next project.  Remember that work can and should include some educational activities (like TQS offers and Bluprint or Iquilt) sometime during the week.
  7. Listen to podcasts, music, and audio books as I work.
  8. Keep to a (loose) schedule and actually have a “quitting time”, a day for chores (cleaning, bill paying, shopping), a day or a couple of half days I don’t “work” and just chill out.  Sometimes I chill out in my studio though because I love this fabric art thing so much.  Try hard to stick to this schedule.
  9. Eat well
  10. Try to get some exercise every day, even if it is just stretching or walking around in my house.
  11. Enjoy a relaxed evening during and after dinner (I might do some handwork here and watch a movie with my son).
  12. Get a good night’s sleep, but don’t set an alarm (that’s partly the fun of being home-based) unless I find I am way over sleeping more than one day a week

These may seem fundamental to many of you, and a lot of you would have a different list, but I know from watching myself and my youngest son, who is a writer and also a home-based self employed person) that it is easy to get sloppy about things and before I know it my production and self esteem suffer.  This helps me to stay away from that.

Sew happy everyone!  I hope I don’t sound preachy here, but I thought you may find thinking about this helpful in this stuck at home by yourself, especially if you are new to it.  Personally, I love working in my studio most all the time so that the only thing I miss is a few social activities, but I am somewhat making up for that with Facebook and YouTube videos.  There are lots of fun things out there for that…The Quilt Show, Pat Sloan videos…look around on the Internet.  I’m sure you’ll find some you really like.  And stay mostly away from the news so you don’t get all scared or depressed.  Just check briefly now and again or online.  That’s all from grandma BJ here.  LOL

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part Three: Tools and Encouraging Words

This nice drawing is from Dover’s Chinese Designs. Whatever would I do without Dover!

A word about today’s situation

Hi gentle readers.  Life is a little crazy right now.  Among all the negatives, there are some positives in all of this…a lot of us have a little more time to spend in our studios working on our quilted art, for instance.  Some get to spend more time with their family members.  Maybe we can even sleep a little later.  We have time to wash our hands and do some praying (prayer at this time is, in my opinion, very important).  My church suggests we pray or sing encouraging hymns while we wash our hands.  I like this idea and am doing that some.

We have an advantage that past such events from history did not have…most of us can learn, shop, communicate, and entertain ourselves using our computers and our streaming services while we stay safely at home.  There is a much stronger understanding in the medical community of what a virus is and how to address it than there was in 1918, for instance.

Also, there is hope.  Many people who have had the virus are getting well.  Research is being done.  Quicker testing methods have just been approved by the FDA and shortly there will be mass testing stations set up in parking lots of several of our major companies, like CVS and Walgreens.  You won’t even have to get out of your car.  They also just announced they have a vaccine ready for testing (this does take time though).  There is an end for this and when it is over the US will have a gigantic party…we will all recover.

But in the meantime, let’s pull op our big girl or boy pants, go into our studios and get to work.  There may be, in the near future, need for some charity quilts.  In fact, there is almost always need for charity quilts, if you want to do that.  Our friends, family, and those around us also need to be cheered up and encouraged.  Quilted art that lifts the spirits can be part of that too.  If you know of a small business related to our craft, I urge you to use them.  Many of them have gone online or will help you via phone.  Boxes can still be delivered to your door (you can always wipe them off with a disinfectant if that worries you and wash your hands after disposing of the box…LOL).

A Look at the Tools of Our Tradecraft

So today I want to address the tools for our quilted art.  We all have them.  Some of us, like myself, are blessed with advanced machines and quilting machines, but even if you don’t have those, there is much that can be done with more basic machines.  I actually see a lot of bisic informational help out there for those with basic machines, I also see a need to provide encouragement and instruction for those of us who do have the more advanced machines to use them to their fullest abilities, and learn how to use them well.  I began addressing some of this with my books on Bernina design software, and I am working on a book (or books) on embellishment techniques by machine.

Preparing for our Quilt Quarantines or Even Anytime:

So what will your machine do?  It may be time to make yourself some sample squares to work on, cut some circles, vines, and shapes for applique, and test things out.  So check your studio and actually list out what you have to use and what you may need to order for delivery to your front door:

  • Do you need a new ripper…I’ll bet lots of you are still using the ripper you bought some years ago.  A new sharp ripper is really a blessing.  I buy a new one once a year.
  • Do you need needles (make sure you have the different sizes you like to use..I particularly like 90/14 Top Stitch Superior Needles, 80/12 Top Stitch Superior Needles, and 70/10 Top Stitch Needle the most.  I also have a few 60/8 needles for beading by machine (not something I am good at yet, but I’m working on it).  These are easily ordered online.
  • Ironing:  Clean your irons (there are many techniques for this.  I use Rowenta Cleaning kit I get from Amazon..it really works) and if your ironing board is really dirty and the cover is removable, wash it.  If it is not, do a wipe down (I use Mr Clean Magic Erasers for this…it removes some of the stuff that may stick to fabric, though does not necessarily make it look clean, and steam press it when finished).
  • Rotary Cutters:  Replace the blade in your rotary cutters and order more if you don’t have a stock of replacement blades.
  • Wipe off your cutting board (again with Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, though some may have other methods)
  • Dust every surface you can in your studio.  In fact, take our your Clorox wipe (or similar product) if you have it and wipe down your room, your  machine, your keyboards on your computer, your door knobs, your light switches, your phones, etc.)  And wash your hands when done while you sing or pray or quote Lady Macbeth or some such.
  • Clean and oil your machines and replace the needles, if needed. Make them ready to go.
  • Do a little “tidying up” as Pat Sloan likes to say and make your studio ready to go to work.
  • And finally, vacuum the floor.

So next pull out your project plan you developed in part one of this series, or your kit, or that pattern you’ve been wanting to make, and have assembled your fabrics as suggested in part two and prepare them for cutting.

Sew happy everyone, even in these times or especially in these times!  Let’s get to work.  There is much to do.  You may even have the opportunity to teach someone to quilt or sew.  Imagine what we will have done when we come out on the other side of this (and we will come out on the other side).  Please be sure to share online what you are doing.  It will make everyone else happy to see.  The Quilt Show asks that you share pictures and projects on Facebook and use #quiltersquarantine so we can have our neat community throughout this time.  I am doing that.  Hugs everyone…or maybe that is the Star Trek hand gesture…Live Long and Prosper…it does not require physical contact.  😀  Stay well everyone, and if you get it let us know…we will pray for you and prayer is powerful.

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part Two, Collecting the Parts

Sew I got some interesting feedback from some of you on my last post where I discussed obtaining or creating the design and pattern, and thinking through the instructions.  Several of my quilty friends…some of them prize wining quilters and teachers…just dive right in and go.  So I want you to know that this series of blogs is primarily designed to lead people like me who need a plan to work from through building a good fabric art/quilting project.

Personally, I like to work with a plan.  Very often, however, I make so many changes along the way the end result is unrecognizable from the beginning.  But it helps me to approach a new project with a plan in mind.  I will say though that sometimes I get kind of stuck on the pattern making part and in this case I may just go with a loose sketch and not a fully drawn pattern. I know what I want to do in my head, but getting it down into a pattern or plan is often kind of difficult for me, but I like it when I can.  I have friends who can just draw it out on their background fabric and start, or even just cut a bunch of fabric and start.  That would be amazing to have such a skill, but that is not me.  LOL

Sew once you have a project in mind, how do you pick your fabrics?  Do you buy a bundle from a particular fabric line?  Do you shop your own stash?  Do you just go to the store and buy a new set of fabrics?

I have an extensive stash that I have organized more or less by color and fabric type.  So I generally take my pattern I struggled to make, lay it out on my table, and start pulling fabrics from my stash that I think will fit into the quilt.  This is quite a messy process.  I end up with a pile of fabrics on my table, floor, and chair that might work.  Once I get to that insane place, I do a second pull of fabrics.  Then I put away the ones I decide definately won’t work and lay out what I have to work with.  From there I may eliminate a few more.

My idea is to put together my own kit for the project.  Here I will find if I need to buy additional pieces to pull it all together, which is usually the case.  I will say, however, that I frequently do not need additional fabrics.  I almost always need additional notions like stabilizers for embroidered embellishments, or more spray starch, a certain paint color, or a specific kind of cording or yarn to couch on the quilt.  It all depends on my project, but after all these years of collecting and trying to keep things organized I can usually make a nice quilt without buying a lot.  I will occassionally make a comfort quilt just to use up some of my stash and then I have a quilt to snuggle in or give away.  I think the hardest thing for me to keep in stock is the right battings, because I don’t have a lot of storage space for battings and I like different ones for different projects.

Sew here are the steps I take:

  1. Referencing the pattern or drawing I pull from my stash the fabrics that seem to me might work.  If you are new to this or don’t keep a stash, this would be done in the fabric store making a stack on the cutting table and asking them to let it stay there for a bit.
  2. Then I arrange the fabrics in a stack according to color or part of the quilt.  Here is where those small pieces leftover from some great piece of hand dyed fabrics come into play if I only need a small piece to make that flower petal, piece of armour, or leather saddle (yes, I do use leather for leather saddles on my horses).
  3. This arranging with the pattern in hand enables me to remove the fabrics that don’t work either because the color is jarring, the print is simply not right for the quilt, the value change is either too much or not enough, or I don’t like the whole set of fabrics so I put them back and start over.  Yes, I have done that.  Sometimes this fabric selection part can take a considerable amount of tme.
  4. If I’m shopping from my home stash I can determine at this point if I need to purchase more fabric.  If you are at the store, you may find you need to pull another piece and put back a bunch. Sometimes you can get a lot of what you need in a bundle of precuts and save a lot of money.
  5. Sew now I put away all the fabrics I will not be using and usually spray starch and iron the ones I will be using.  I prewash all my fabrics (unless they are not washable for unusual uses) before storing them away, so all I have left is the spray starching and ironing in preparation for use.

Now that I have my fabric bundle/kit put together, it is a good time to pick the threads. Actually, if I’m going to be using a lot of thread changes in my stitching I will just leave the threads in their storage place but check to make sure I have the right ones and that they are sufficient.  In my art quilts I use a LOT of threads…different colors, different weights, different types all for different uses, and over the last few years I have built a very nice thread stash, but I use them a lot so sometimes I have to replace a color.  It can be very frustrating when I am working hard to finish something and run out of a particular thread at an awkward time.  My closest brick and morter fabric store that carries the kinds of threads I like is 45 minutes away, and they may not have the color I want or some such.  So I order my threads online and that takes time, especially if I want to wait for a sale.  I also purchase threads at quilting and sewing events where they usually have a discount, so I try to keep a list of colors I need in my bag when I go to those.  You can save a lot of money on threads if you pay attention to what you use a lot of and what you may need in the future and who is having a sale on those.

The next thing to check for your kit collections is all the additional things that make your project work right…the batting, the stabilizers, the embellishments (paints, cords, beads, and so forth), and things you may not think of like thread nets if you use coned threads, fray check if you use that, interfacing if you are backing your light weight fabrics with a fusible, for instance.  I’m probably forgetting something.

So do you have it all together?  Are you ready to start the fun part of actually making your project?  Do you have the right tools?  Oh, I’ll talk about tools in my next blog post.

Sew happy everyone!  Enjoy yourselves while you are picking all the pieces for your next project.  Petting fabrics and admiring thread colors can be a lot of fun.  If you can shop your stash for everything you need on this project you can pretend you aren’t spending anything on it, because once these things are there and settle down into your stash it’s free, right?!  LOL

 

 

 

 

Fine Tuning Quilted Art Projects: Part One, the Design to Pattern

I realized with some astonishment recently that 2020 is my sixteenth year of making quilted art projects, mostly, but not entirely in the form of wall art quilts.  I have been sewing since since I was five, when my mother began teaching me to sew, followed by years of learning and making my own clothes and helping my mother in her own sewing pursuits.  I retired from my intensive job with the US Government at the beginning of 2012, but I had already been working toward moving to full-time fabric artist upon retirement for a number of years.

Over the years I have learned a great deal.  I have almost always been in a learning mode, because I find it fun.  For me, a terrific development has been provided by generous fabric artists, digital artists and sewing technicians through online informative sewing and quilting sites, video classes, The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims, and YouTube.  This has enabled me to continue my love of learning new techniques and improvement of my skills while hanging out in my own studio and at a very low cost or even free.

What has all this to do with the title of this blog, you may be asking about now.  Well, I just wanted you to know that I do have a significantly solid and advanced basis to pull from for this series I will be blogging over the next month or so about building quilted projects for fun and excellence.

Sew approaching a new project should begin with a bit of planning and record keeping. Such projects can be divided several ways, but I like the following 10 steps, each of which will be dealt with in their own blog post:

  1.  Designing or Obtaining the Pattern
  2. Collecting the Parts
  3. Checking the Tools
  4. Cutting and Marking
  5. Constructing the Top
  6. Sandwiching Properly
  7. Quilting
  8. Blocking and Squaring
  9. Adding Embellishments
  10. Binding and Finishing.

Designing or Obtaining a Pattern for Your Project

Since I don’t normally use purchased patterns and usually create my own designs, for me that first step of designing frequently takes just under half of the time I spend on a project.  I use my computer heavily in this step.  Here are the computer apps I currently use for this:

  1. Corel Paint Shop Pro 2020 (for processing photographs)
  2. Corel Draw Graphics Suite 2018 (makes very good vector designs and communicates with Bernina Software.  This also helps me create my own pattern, size it, and print it out full size to tape together)
  3. Corel Painter 2020 (for painting.  It’s almost like having real paint,  brushes, and pencil collections with no mess and the ability to erase or add something in the middle layer.  I often start here for concept art)
  4. Bernina Embroidery Software V8.2 (for digitizing or personalizing embroidery designs, and even for some quilting)
  5. Electric Quilt 8 (aids in figuring placements, sizing, yardage, and if I need a traditionally pieced area for my quilt project, this is where I turn).

I won’t cover how to use these drawing packages for this, because I know even if you use digital design programs to help you out, you probably don’t use the same ones I do and they are expensive to gather, take time to learn, and there are lots of really good classes out there on youtube and on the sites where the packages are sold.

Once I have my design, I write out the steps, list the fabrics and threads, list the additional pieces, and think about the tools that will be required.  In other words, I create my own pattern with instructions. You may be surprised to learn that I mostly do this the old fashioned way in my planning notebook, where I glue in samples of the fabrics, write out steps, and keep other important notes as I go along. You can read about how I manage these things in my blog Project Management for Fabric Art from a year ago.  I still do things this way.

Now I know many of you don’t want to use the computer designing process, and if you want to design them yourself you would greatly prefer using a sketch book or graph paper and doing math to figure out what you need to make your project, or at the very least use Electric Quilt 8, which is an easy way to produce a good traditional quilt pattern.  This is a good approach, but I do encourage you to scan in your resulting images/designs,  keep a record of your project on your computer, and write out the steps you need to take for your project so you can start with a good pattern with steps to completion already thought through.

Also, there are those who prefer starting with a pattern that has good instructions.  That’s probably why you can make a quilt much faster than I can, and I think this is also a good approach if you have different goals from mine.  One of the keys to this is to use patterns from reliable designers that provide good instructions.

In other words, whichever your approach, the first step is to obtain or create the design with good instructions and project steps already thought through.

For me, I also want to load up my audible books, music, and podcasts to listen to while I work through the construction phase.  My next blog post will discuss building your own kit so you know you have what you need.

Sew happy everyone!  I encourage you to use an ordered approach to your quilted projects, however small or large, and you will really enjoy the process and probably come out with a wonderful result.