Surface Design, Texture, and Embellishment

I love adding surface design, texture, beads, artistic thread work, yarns, and other types of embellishments to my wall quilts.  I think these things, when well done, can take them to a different dimension turning what may be an already nice pictorial/art piece that would be acceptable for someone’s wall to a treasure of a piece that makes the viewer want to stand and look at it for a long time or makes them happy every time they pass by it.

“Well-done” in this case by no means implies perfect, symmetrical, or formal, but it does mean interesting, the right amount, beautiful, technically  good, or just plain fun.  Sew this is what I strive for, although I suspect I will still be trying to make these things work as I see them in my mind’s eye to the last day of my quilting/fabric art life (which I plan on doing for the rest of my life).  But that’s one of the many things that makes playing in my studio so much fun.  Here are a few examples of such work.

detail from one of my deep space quilts with Angelina Fibers and hot fix crystals over a lightly painted background.

 

I learned early on that I needed to draw some guide lines for the direction of the stitching or I’d get them to be blowing around in different directions. Since the water in this quilt is going to look very calm and reflective, it didn’t make since to have the Spanish moss blowing around much. Here you see some of my marks. Also note that I had to break the stitching on several clumps so it looked like the limb is further toward the back from the viewer.

I painted these borders to go along with the vintage panel in the middle.

Sew this week I bought a needle punch attachment for use on my little Bernina 350.  I particularly like the way this little machine, which I purchased to have a machine to carry along with me to classes and other events needing a machine, is rapidly becoming an essential in my studio too.  It will be my “embellisher” now and I also have found it makes wonderful bobbin work with specialty thicker threadsm and makes perfect piecing possible.  I am kind of excited about this.  I plan on making interesting bits on some of my pictorial quilts, like steam clouds coming out of a steam locomotive, tree barks, fluffly little animals, and other interesting textural areas.  I just got a package of wool roving in a variety of natural colors to try it out with.  I also think I will get some other things that work this way…ribbons, sheer fabric pieces, ????

Sew happy everyone!  Try a little embellishing if you haven’t yet and if you send me photos I will post them if you don’t mind.  Send to BettyJo@bjfabricartistcom

How to Stop Fearing Your Machine and Start Having Fun

I love this picture from early in the twentieth century.

Periodically in some of my Facebook groups that are focused around quilting and sewing I see a surprising number of people who have sewing or quilting machines they are truly afraid to use.  Now I can see how this might happen.  Today’s machines are often technically advanced, big, powerful, and fast.  That can be very intimidating, especially if you fear making mistakes on your creations or breaking your machine.  Maybe you are afraid of sewing through your fingers.  Maybe you think you can’t possibly figure out how to use that advanced machine.  These are legitimate fears, but you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.

Let’s talk about this a little.  In almost any creative situation you can figure out how to make an approach of taking things apart and moving step by step to find you can do far far more than you ever thought you could.  And yes, you will almost certainly mess up, make mistakes, have to unstitch, break a needle, break some thread, or even mess up so badly you throw a project away.  Give yourself permission to throw things away, and realize they have served their purpose in teaching you something.  This is just sign of progress and that you tried.  So here is my suggested method to overcome the fear of your machines, or even to advance your understanding of them:

  • Read the manual of your machine.  Yes, read it even if you have been sewing for 65 plus years, even if it is a somewhat simpler machine, or even if it’s boring or you don’t understand it, but read it anyway.  Later you will remember that there is an answer to a question you have along the way in your manual so you can go back and look it up in the index at the back when you need it.  You don’t have to remember it until you need it.  You just have to remember that there is an answer there.  Sometimes you may find you do things differently with this machine than you did with your mom’s machine you learned on.  If you don’t find the manual, they are often online free for download.
  • Get yourself a small notebook and make notes as you go.  Keep a record of your steps, the settings on your machine you used for what. Even after 65 years plus of sewing, I still keep notes on projects I do.  It’s so handy when I want to do it again, or have gone out of my project to hem my new jeans and need to get back to where I was on my project.  I have also taken those notes and made spreadsheets or lists that I can print out and stick on my wall for reference.
  • Take advantage of the tools your machine has.  These tools include both the functional tools built into your machine and the accessories (specialty feet, magnifying glass, differing sole plates, optional threading aids, cleaning aids, pinpoint lasers, and other things).  Yes, you have spent a lot buying your machine…so spend a little more and get those specialty feet as you need them for particular projects.  It makes your initial investment truly worth it.
  • Realize that even if you paid a lot for your machines they are not perfect (nothing manufactured is, really!), but usually they will work if you do things right.  They may have some things that might go awry from time to time.  So join those Facebook groups where you can ask what other people do about some things, look in the manual near the end where they have the section usually entitled  “Troubleshooting”, go on YouTube to find if it is something you can fix yourself (if you have a Bernina, take a look at Bernina Boys  on YouTube), contact your machine’s online support (I can’t tell you how many problems I have gotten solved this way without having to lug my machines to the dealer), or yes, lug your machine to the dealer and get that problem fixed.  But start with a cleaning, check on the tensions, and change the needle…maybe even change the thread.
  • And if you are not getting that nagging problem fixed by your dealer, contact the manufacturer (using the online support) and ask them what to do.  Remember, they WANT you to be happy with your machine.  If you are happy with your machine you will tell others about it, and they will buy one.  If you are happy with your machine, you might buy another one that has another function (I have three Berninas).  But I will suggest that if you buy a solid advanced machine and LEARN HOW TO USE IT, you will almost certainly be amazed at what you can do with it.

    My Bernina 830 LE named Gibbs

  • Realize that, surprisingly, sometimes it is the thread, the needle, and something amiss with your machine.  But normally problems can be solved by cleaning the machine, changing the tensions. using a different sized needle, or just replacing a needle that may be slightly bent or have a blunt end.
  • Learning to use your particular machine is like learning to play a new instrument.  You HAVE TO PRACTICE!!!  Yes, practice a little bit frequently and a lot once in a while at the very least.  Practice even if you have sewn for 65 plus years.  Practice is just that.  You are making a practice piece…something that may even end up in the trash.  But this can be really fun.  Remember that..it’s ultimately fun!

    My Bernina B350 named Edith Claire (E.Claire) after Edith Head.

     

  • Plan out your project in small steps.  Prepare your pieces (make the markings you need to make).  Be sure you have the right threads, needles, backings, battings, stabilizers and interfacings on hand.  These things make using your machine so much easier.

    My Bernina Q20 named Fritz.

     

  • And finally, if you have a computerized machine, make sure you keep it updated with the latest updates.  Sometimes the updates are put out primarily to correct some bug they have discovered and so you won’t have that problem happen to you.  Sometimes they add new stitches or new functions.  Find out how to do this in your manual.

Here I have attached a pdf file to print out a small practice project for free motion quilting.  It is sized so you can print it out with normal letter sized paper and tape it together.  Then use it as a marking guide for your fabric.

FMQ Practice

I developed it for a FMQ workshop I will be teaching at the sewing machine department at G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland in October of this year.  I’d love to see you there.  There are only eight spots for students, so call them (ask for sewing machine department) and reserve your space.  It’s about organic fmq for fabric artists…no fancy feathers, but lots of fun.  I’m also teaching a class on 22 September in Machine Applique for Fabric Artists, and one in October on Feed Dogs Up Quilting for Fabric Artists.

Sew happy everyone.  Go read your manual and practice.  Then have some fun making a wonderful project.  You will be happy you conquered your machines…well almost conquered…or at least learned to use them.  LOL

 

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part Two: Making a Tree

One of the most fun I have when making a pictorial quilt is making trees, mountains, rocks and water scenes.  Making these wonderful natural landscape items do not require perfect lines and matched points.  So each kind and size of trees I need to “grow” on a quilt may require a different technique and plan.  I have to consider the distance, the species, where the light is coming from, and then decide how to make them.  Here are a few examples:

Here the trees surround the house. For these trees, I digitized them on my Bernina Software (even the tiny trees have little leaf shaped leaves, though I think that is lost a bit to the viewer because of the size). I then stitched them out on black nylon veiling with wash-away stabilizer and free motion appliqued them onto the quilt top with matching thread.

 

This small tree is the stitch out from an olive tree I digitized in my Bernina software on wash-away stabilizer. I placed a tree photo in the art side and traced it by hand digitizing it in the embroidery side of the software. The same could be done by drawing it onto a piece of wash-away stabilizer with Crayola washable marker and free motion embroidering it. In this case I would advise using a layer of black nylon veiling to hold everything together.  The advantage of black nylon veiling is that it can be cut very close to the embroidery (without cutting through the stitching) and the little bits left tend to disappear when you applique it on…often covered with applique stitching. Note that when you soak away the stabilizer, the Crayola marker goes away also.  This happens to be laying on a paper towel, in case you are wondering.

 

Here you see the trunks of some big Cyprus trees in my current ongoing project. I cut the applique shape from different types of commercial woody type fabrics. So then I did highlighting and lowlighting with Shiva oil paint sticks and a stiff brush, then heat setting with my iron (covering it with a paper towel to absorb excess oil paint. I plan on adding a layer of wool batting behind the trees to give them a little more depth because the trees require considerable stitching to make the base look like the Cyprus, but this is how I started these trees.

So the Cyprus trees appear to have windy limbs that seem smaller than such a massive tree trunk would have.  I decided to couch the limbs on with wool yarns and then free motion embroider the Spanish moss.  Here are two pictures of the progress so far:

Here you see some of the limbs on the different trees with some Spanish moss.  I did a lot of looking at Spanish moss photos before I did these so I could figure how they should look. These seem to me to be coming out ok.

 

I learned early on that I needed to draw some guide lines for the direction of the stitching or I’d get them to be blowing around in different directions. Since the water in this quilt is going to look calm and reflective, it didn’t make since to have the Spanish moss blowing around much, though they don’t have to be exactly the same, but close. Here you see some of my marks for future stitching. Also note that I had to break the stitching on several clumps so it looked like the limb is further toward the back from the viewer.  I need to keep it pretty close to the same proportions as the top part, so drawing lines is helpful.

Sew I’ll show you the whole trees when they are done.  That will be a while now because they need to be quilted, and maybe a little more highlighting, to get the full impression.

Sew happy everyone.  I hope you decide to put some trees on your quilts and relax…they are fun to make.

Building a Pictorial Quilt Part One

I don’t know why, but recently I realized my design and making of a pictorial quilt has fallen into a multi-step method that can be shared with my readers. I suspect that most pictorial quilters work much the same, but each of us develops our own methodology and here is mine.  It might work for you if you are interested in making such quilts.

Work from the background forward. Here I am appliqueing on the pieces.

Sew what do you do when you have a picture you want to make into a quilt…either you drew it yourself, you took a photo, you bought or were gifted the rights from another artist, or you bought a royalty free design from somewhere like Dover that grants permission to use it for artistic purposes (be careful to read the permision statement)?

Plan by taking apart the project in your mind and writing down notes about how you plan to approach it.  If you have worked in digital drawing programs like Corel Draw, Corel Painter, or Adobe Photoshop, for instance, you know you can divide a project into layers and work on each layer one at a time.  You may also know that you need to think from background to foreground in how you approach a design.  It’s the same here.

  1. Print or draw a full-sized quilt plan.  I say “plan” rather than “pattern” because sometimes that’s all it is…just a full sized picture of what you want to make.  But it functions kind of like a pattern. My current project is a Bayou quilt using another artist’s (Joel Christopher Payne, a Disney artist among other things he does) picture for inspiration (though I am using it for inspiration and a guide rather than trying to copy his work).
  2. Study your picture and analyze it for challenges, needed fabrics, techniques you might use.  This quilt has many challenges.
    • It’s dark and details are hard to see
    • It has lots of old wood and cyprus trees and water at night, making texture really important and values more difficult.
    • I am planning on adding more Spanish moss and creating a slightly lighter pictorial quilt than his wonderful picture
    • It has a lot of plays of light shining through the trees, playing out on the water, and fireflies.
    • There are lots of water plants around the Bayou scene.
    • Almost half of the work on this quilt is to be free motion yarn couching, free motion embroidery, and other embellishment work.
    • This quilt background will start with extensive applique work.
    • After the applique there will be a small amount of highlighting and lowlighting with various fabric paints.
    • After the appliques are in place and some of the paint work then I will start with the couching and free motion embroidery work.
    • I have figured out how to deal with the light playing on the water, but I am still not sure about the light coming through the trees…maybe veiling, which is on order.
  3. Along the way you may decide to use some trapunto to give some additional depth to your work.  In this case, I will be adding a layer of wool batting behind the tree trunks, the cabin, and the old house boat.
  4. Building such a challenging pictorial quilt for me sometimes involves testing a technique on a scrap first and then working that part on the quilt, but sometimes I have to change my mind on how I will approach a particular part of the quilt.
  5. Then I have to do the sandwiching, squaring, and quilting that every quilter has to do.

So I now have all the appliques on and have done some of the highlight/lowlight work.  It’s ready to start the couching and free motion embroidery.  This picture is taken from standing over a table, so it isn’t front on like I’d like.  This is like layer two through ten of a 32 layer digital drawing…lots of work left to do…it’s kind of a background at this stage.  LOL  And besides, this is just a small part of it…it’s 60 by 30 inches overall…at least that’s what I’m hoping for in the end.

Sew happy everyone!  Take a plunge and try your own pictorial wall quilt.  Be patient with yourself and realize almost every problem can be overcome in achieving your vision.  Sometimes the problems are really a blessing…they give you new ideas.

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.

 

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.

My Uncle and What’s Happening in My Studio

I’ve taken too long to write a new post.  This past month has had its lows and highs.

My uncle Betterton passed a week and a half ago.  He was 91 and was two years younger than my mom.  I had five aunts and six uncles on my mom’s side and one aunt on my Dad’s side and all are gone now, as well as my parents.   Uncle Betterton was one of my favorite uncles.  He was always close with my mom and someone everyone could rely on for help.  He had various tough illnesses the last several years, mild dementia, and is now no longer suffering.  He was a strong Christian.  Like my father, he was a civil engineer, both served in WWII, and he and Dad enjoyed a strong friendship.  My memories of him are sweet and dear and the pain of losing him is softened by his wonderful long giving life and his final release from the difficulties of his last few years.

Sew what’s going on in my studio these days?  My “apprentice” Anita and I finished the church banner celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  The church members apparently love it, and I was really pleased with how it looks.  I have still not gotten a good photo of it, but I will share as soon as I do.  The big community celebration is next Sunday.  I guess this tells you that I attend a Lutheran church.  I do.  It’s five minutes drive from my house and the it’s a lovely church with services not far in liturgical style from the Episcopal church.  I grew up an Episcopalian.  For many years I drove down to Georgetown to go to the historic St John’s Episcopal in Georgetown where Marvin and I both were very active and sang in the choir.  After Marvin passed, I moved to Ashburn, Virginia, and the drive to Georgetown got even longer, so I looked for somewhere closer.  Our Savior’s Way Lutheran Church is in my neighborhood…now that’s a luxury I had not had for decades.

I have gotten a start on my next show quilt.  I’m not sure I would call them “show quilts” any longer, except that’s a term many understand.  I like to show them, but my primary goal for these quilts is to make wonderful art, and hopefully sell most of them in the long run.  Everything I make I hope to meet show quilt level, but sometimes show judges don’t seem to understand why the techniques I choose are done the way they are, or how difficult they really are.  Sometimes they seem to see things and remark on them that I simply cannot see, and sometimes I think they don’t see something about my quilts that I think is especially unique and interesting.  Maybe I need new glasses, a flashlight, and a better magnifying glass.  Or maybe I need a microscope.  LOL  So I have found a lot of freedom in reaching for creating beautiful art the best way I can make it and not worrying too much about what a judge might see or not see.  Competition can be rough on one’s ego.  He-he-he

Anyway, back to my latest project.  It’s based on the art piece I bought the rights for one art quilt from the Disney artist Joel Christopher Payne.  It’s set in the Bayou and has interesting trees, and two rather rundown homes with light peaking out through the cracks in the boards.  One is a houseboat, and the other is a shack built on stilts on a platform.  The scene is at night and there is a little pale light filtering through the trees in a way that suggests a heart shape, and there are fireflies.  This is a huge challenge for me, but really, I am enjoying myself so far.

I have the houseboat “built” and the shack about half done.  Yesterday I did a little low and high lighting with Neocolor II pigment crayons.  When you use them with fabric, you can just color it on and then brush it with water to blend it onto the fabric and then heat set it for a permanent color.  Sometimes when I heat set it, it gets lighter so I have to go back and add more color, but it’s a wonderful way to over color an existing fabric pattern to add shadows and lights where you need them or “correct” colors.  In this case, I have three different wood print fabrics that I have backed with Steam-a-Seam II light and cut into board shapes.  I am using these to “build” the shack and the houseboat.

The picture has really big trees that also have some Spanish moss hanging from them.  I have five different tree bark prints that I will use to make the tree appliqués.  They, too will need to be overpainted to get the right look and color,  I am planning on thread painting the Spanish moss on, and probably it will be more than Joel put in his picture because this is a fabric and threads interpretation of his wonderful art piece.

I have obtained some glow in the dark paints and threads to make the fireflies with, and the paint has some additional pigment so it will look good in light too.  I may add crystals to the fireflies for added dimension.

The biggest challenge as I see it is the light that is getting the back light that is coming through the trees and reflecting across the water right.  I am thinking this will have to be done with paint, but I’m still thinking about it.

Sew I hope you all have a wonderful week.  Try something new and push to get it as well done as possible.  I have a lot going on in my studio besides this new quilt, so I hope I will get back to my weekly blogs for a while.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down to the Last Minute, and A Thread Review

I am going to take the second batch of my quilts out to G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, for the second part of the exhibit of my quilts.  This exhibit, which runs from mid July until the end of August or so, includes nearly all my show quilts except for Pendragon, Dad’s House plan, this year’s Hoffman Challenge still on tour, and a couple I have sold or given away.  They will be displayed throughout the store, including those that are already there in the Bernina department.  I also have completed one new quilt and nearly finished a second new quilt just for this exhibit.  Some of these quilts are available for purchase.  I will (really) post photos of the exhibit sometime in the latter half of July.

Sew here is where I’m at on the preparations.  I have completed the second one of my Alfred Shaheen panel quilts and named it “Tropical Garden”.  I used a lot of Superior’s new 100 weight polyester thread called Microquilter on both that quilt and the “Field of FLowers” I hope to finish by Friday to include in the exhibit.

A Review of Microquilter Thread

When I won all thirty colors of Superior’s Microquilter 100 weight polyester from Superior Threads, I was really thrilled.  I use almost more 100 weight threads than I do any other thread.  I use it for background quilting, detail thread sketching on things like flowers and line drawings, and I also love it for machine applique.  I do not use it for piecing or bobbins.

I found it a wonderful workable thread.  I tried it in my Bernina Q20 sit down longarm, my Bernina 830 LE, and my Bernina 350.  In every case I had to lower the top tension to keep it from breaking, just as I do for silk 100 wt and monopoly.  It worked beautifully without further adjustment in everything but the Q20.  For that, I had to lower the bobbin tension also (I used it with Bottom Line in the bobbin, though I did try one bobbin with the Microquilter).  I found surprisingly that the Superior top stitch needle size 80 worked better than a smaller needle that I use for monopoly and silk.  So here is how I ended up setting up my Q20 (Fritz) if you have one:

  • I have found my Q20 works better with a Magic Bobbin Genie sized for M bobbin.  I just put it in over the spring in the bobbin.  Without it, I have some thread nests on the bottom of my quilt when I get going really fast, and believe me, the Q20 can go REALLY fast.
  • I set the bobbin tension with Superior’s Bottom Line or the Microquilter itself for 180 using the tension guage that came with my machine.  If you use the Microquilter in your bobbin don’t wind it full.  It works better a little less…starting at about 3/4 full.  In the course of making two quilts, I used both Bottom Line that I wound and some prewound Superior thread bobbins that use Bottom Line.
  • I set the top tension for 125
  • I used a size 80 Superior top stitch titanium needle.
  • I used BSR1 set at 280 speed for tiny little stippling and 200 for slower tiny bubbles
  • This setup makes it work like a dream…no nests, no hangups, no tension problems

I will provide some pictures of my quilting with Microquilter as soon as I get them taken.  I am behind in getting my quilts photographed.

 

I got my little personal app quilt home that was a part of Road to California’s traveling exhibit of app quilts.  It has lost about six hot fix crystals out of hundreds, so I need to replace them by Friday.  I have one quilt that needs washing and reblocking, which I will do today.  I have several more stumpwork butterflies to make for the Field of Flowers and I have to put the rod pocket and label on it.  I think I can make the Friday deadline on this one, since the actual quilt is complete and bound. I even have the silver spider charm on the spider web part of that quilt.  Here’s the dragonfly that is ready to go onto the quilt already.  It’s in parts and needs a little additional embroidery after attachment where the wings attach to the body.  I will do turned edge applique of the body and hide the wing wires under that.  I will also probably darken the little white edges of the sheer to match the stitching.  I may even do a hand blanket stitch over the edges if I decide it needs it.  The first picture shows the pieces after stitching, and the second picture shows the dragonfly together ready to applique on.

The embroidered pieces, which I made in the hoop with my Bernina 830 LE

And I also need to ship “Pendragon” to AQS this week.  I want to do a little gold paint touch up on the border paint before I ship it.

So I have a really busy week ahead of me, but it’s an exciting time.  I am enormously pleased that G Street has asked me to show my quilts in the exhibit there.  It is a real honor.  I hope you have a chance to see it.  The whole show will be available in mid-July. I’m not sure of the exact dates, so you might want to call them before you head there.

Sew happy everyone!  Teach someone to sew or quilt…yourself, you cat, your dog…your son.  Until next time!

 

Two New Digital Quilt Projects

Believe it or not, I have completed all my projects I had going.  Now that the workshop at G Street Fabrics is over (I will be repeating it in the fall), I am going to make two quilts centered around two digital printouts.  I’m hoping to get one of them done by mid July for part two of my Exhibit at G Street Fabrics.

The field of flowers is a photograph by Beth Tatum, my daughter-in-law:

Photo by Beth Tatum, printed on fabric 36″ x 26″

 

The pink flowers I painted in Corel Painter 17 and had it printed.

I painted this one digitally in Corel Painter 17 and had it printed 28″ x 38″.

They came out really wonderful, and I washed them in Synthrapol, rinsing until they ran clear.  There wasn’t much color in the first batch of water and I can’t see any color loss.  So now I can use them in a quilt I will soak when the quilting is complete, which makes marking things  and blocking a lot easier.  I’ll have some embellishments I will add after blocking.

I plan on just sandwiching and quilting the field of flowers photo with  a variety of threads for depth and interest and adding beadwork and some 3D embroidered butterflies.  I might face it instead of binding it.

I plan on adding a double border on the pink flowers.  The inner border will maybe be shaped and appliqued on.  I plan on shortening the flower panel at the top to bring the border down to the vine, and cutting out the top half of the leaves that would be hidden by the border to have them break into the border.  Then I will quilt it with some pictographic flowers, vines, and creatures, also quilting in the flower and leaf textures.  I also am working on designing two or three 3d stumpwork with wire of small birds in
Bernina V7 software to applique on. This is my bigger project, as you might imagine. If this turns out well, this might be a show quilt, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, I have broken down my housecleaning project into small manageable sections and am spreading them out across a couple of weeks.  I did pretty well with this so far.  My upper level is mostly clean, though I have a plan to go through my stash at some point, eliminating some things and slightly reorganizing the fabrics so they all fit back into my storage units.  I’ll do this later, after the mid-July deadline for the second part of my G Street Fabrics exhibit.  I’ll do the main level next week, and David will do his level too (he has a nice “flat” on the walkout lower level that includes his bedroom/office and a nice big living area with his own back deck.  There is a bathroom area that has the rough in plumbing, but I haven’t gotten it finished yet.  Maybe if he has a big hit book, he will do that himself.).

A word about digital fabric art:   It is NOT “cheating” as some quilters seem to think.  For example, it took me s lot of time to paint the pink flowers, and they are fully my own artwork.  Why would that be any less of a “legitimate” quilt than a whole cloth, for instance?  Neither would a photograph that is printed, sandwiched, and quilted as a whole cloth.  I do think there is slightly greater acceptance of the value of digitally printed fabrics than there used to be.  And that is good.  Indeed, am hopeful some of the heated rhetoric about just about everything these days will cool off.  Let’s appreciate one another and their work…traditional, contemporary, modern, and art quilters, white collar and blue collar workers, sharing their Mom’s house while writing wonderful stories for the world to enjoy, making art quilts, plumbing the kitchen, powerwashing your home, managing a business, Democrat, Republican, Independent…cool it everyone.  Life can be wonderful and full of peace and love if we stop the arrogance and heated rhetoric and take a step back to love and appreciation that we are not all-knowing.

Sew happy everyone!  Try your hand at making some digital fabric art if you haven’t tried it yet.  I’ll post more on these projects along the way. Also, I have decided to put the landscape project I tried to start as a kind of block of the month on the backburner.  It needs more definition, and everyone that responded said they were too busy.  I think I am too busy too…LOL.

 

A Word About My Art Quilting and Some Early Quilts

                  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!