Fandance by Moonlight. Hoffman Challenge
2008This is my very first show quilt and you can see the scotch tape on my photograph…LOL. So you can see my professional side of show quilting has grown as well as my quilt making abilities.
As I prepare for my upcoming exhibit of my work at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, one of the things they wanted was for me to provide my Hoffman Challenge quilts, which, if you look at them carefully, you can see my progress as both an artist and a quilter from year to year. Unlike some of my quilty friends who make a quilt, enter it, and win big, I have struggled, indeed still struggle, to move my art quilting to a truly professional level, but it has been fun along the way. I love making art in fabrics, threads, and paints. I think my artist side has been a little slower in developing than my quilting techniques, but I’m working on it.
“Equipped to Stand” 2012
Even though I can now see many flaws in both the design and the quilting making techniques on this quilt, I still love it. I would never send this quilt out for show today, but we all learn. They let it into several shows and the judges were sweet about it and their remarks didn’t bash me down to the point I quit quilting. Unlike this photo, it is square and relatively flat, though I had to undo a lot of it to get a wave out of it. You can see it was not all that long ago. I have come a looong ways from here. If they had torn it apart, I might have quit.
To me, an art quilt needs to have a lot of elements come together to make it good and this is what I am always striving for. Starting with the basic design concept I draw the concept while considering balance, value, color, placement, perspective, and simply artistic appeal. I am constantly attempting to learn more about all this through practice, books (some left from art classes in college and some collected over the years), and, more recently, online training. I’m still trying.
So here is my process for a complex show quilt (not for all of my quilts).
I try to capture the concept that is in my head or the inspirational photo by drawing the picture of the planned quilt on my computer, thereby providing me with a “pattern” . Here is how I work through this.
- I use Corel Draw to draw out some elements, like buildings or space ships, and saving them with a transparent background as a .png file, which will import into other packages without a background.
- I use Corel Painter, a truly powerful digital painting software, to draw the main picture, importing the items from Corel Draw and placing them where they belong. I size it here and save with iterative painter files and finally as a .jpg.
- I may go back and forth between Corel Draw and Corel Painter several times because one program is better than another for various things.
- If I am putting borders on the quilt I will then move to Electric Quilt and set it up with a single block sized properly for my .jpg. Then I play with the borders until I like them. This gives me the pattern for the borders. I save this as a .jpg.
- I move back to Corel Draw and start a new file (you can’t just open a .jpg in Corel Draw, but you can import one). I import the design I saved in Electric Quilt into Corel Draw and size the image to the size I want the quilt to finish. Corel Draw has a wonderful way of tiling the picture into sizes that match the printer paper with symbols to mark where they join. I usually print the pattern on a 11″x 17″ paper. I print one pattern in color and one in gray scale. I also print the border pattern from EQ7.
- I tape the pattern together carefully.
- Then I pin the colored print on my design wall, or tape it somewhere if that is occupied, and sit there looking at it every now and then, wondering how on Earth I am going to accomplish this quilt. At this point, I take time off from this particular project if I have time. This is why I usually have some ongoing simple quilt or clothing projects so I can go work on something else while the concept “marinates” in my mind and I talk to myself…sometimes exclaiming “Oh THAT’s what I can try!” I’m glad my son’s flat is on the lower level, and is not in my studio to hear me, he might be looking for “a place for Mom”, although, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy writer so probably not.
- I keep a notebook nearby to write down my ideas.
Once I’ve figured out more or less how I’m going to make the quilt, I just jump in. I first shop my stash to see if I have what I need for this quilt and buy the rest, including fabrics, threads, paints, and other embellishments. After all my years of sewing and quilting my stash is now such that often I am able to complete a quilt without buying anything, or buying only one item. It generally takes me nearly half the time of total time making a quilt to get to this point.
- I have to take one or two elements of the quilt at a time.
- I make samples and try things until I find what works.
- I have to figure what must come first…usually working from background forward.
- I take photos along the way because for some reason I can see mistakes better in a photograph than directly looking at the project. I think I get too close to it, as they say.
- I unsew and go backwards when I need to, but try to limit this as much as possible. Sometimes “mistakes” are actually result in a good new direction.
As I construct the quilt, I pay close attention to how flat and square the project is becoming along the way. It’s ok not to have a square quilt, but it has to be deliberately not square and obviously not intended to be square. Construction techniques really still need to be right. This often involves my ripping things out for correction, and sometimes even just starting over. I have obtained a laser square and a laser cross-hair lamp to help me with this
I’m not a piecer, but sometimes I have to piece. “Pendragon” had the main center block, and ten border and text block pieces that all HAD to be square and straight and the border had to be lined up so the designs were straight and in the right place. This is one of the more challenging things for me, because, did I say it? I’m not a piecer. Piecing is much more challenging to me than it must be to traditional quilters, who seem to love it. I piece when I have to in order to realize my design. I sometimes use foundation paper piecing when I need a real quilt block, like I did for “Waiting…” and “Drawing Nigh”. So I’m very happy to have these tools and techniques to help me piece.
Sew once I have completed the top, including any highlighting or lowlighting I do with fabric paints and inks, I sandwich my quilt mostly using basting adhesive and rulers to get the lines that need to be straight and square right and adding some quilting pins because I use a very light amount of adhesive spray on the batting only. This is my least favorite thing of making a quilt and I find it physically taxing, especially if it has to be on the floor because of size, and I wear a mask and often have to do it over and over again until it is right.
Then I quilt it, bind it, add a pocket, a label, and block it. My oldest son Ken photographs it at his home in my daughter-in-law’s wonderfully big studio where her longarm and her Bernina 880 resides. Beth was, afterall, the one who pulled me into quilting after Marvin died because she was sure I would love it. I’m not sure she expected me to love it as much as I do, and I know she didn’t expect me to move into the art quilt world. Before this happened, I had made several pieces of fabric art, had sewn for most of my life, used to have my own fashion design and tailoring business, and made my own clothes and some of Marvin’s. I found art quilting simply unleashed and pulled together all the sewing and art skills I had learned in my life, but I did need to learn a lot before it was any good.
And I’m still learning, experimenting, and moving through art quilting. Maybe someday I’ll start winning the big ribbons (I have won a few ribbons, but no BOS).
Sew are any of you making our free design art quilt with me introduced in my last blog post? How’s it coming? I’m not rushing you. It will probably be another couple of weeks or month before I get to the next step. I’m preparing for my exhibit and I figure the first step is a big one.
Sew happy everyone!