Embellishing Techniques Part 1: Hot Fix Crystals

My close friends and competitors…sometimes one in the same…know that I love embellishing my art quilts.  Some quilts simply call for embellishments and, when this is true, I use them generously.  This subject recently came up in a Facebook conversation and so I thought I would run a series of three or so blog posts, not necessarily one right after the other, on my embellishment techniques.  You may have others or your techniques may vary, but these are mine.  I’m always looking for new ideas though, so comment freely please.

My love for embelishments started decades ago when I had my own fashion design and tailoring business when I designed and my shop made formals, wedding dresses, and costumes for operas, dancers, and skaters.  Back at the beginning of that business, I hand sewed or glued most of my embellishments on.  Today I will hand sew some things still, but I use a lot of hot fix crystals and machine techniques that I will talk about in future posts.

When I first started using hot fix crystals  years ago I bought one of those wand style irons.  I still use it by the way, but I’m thinking of replacing it and maybe I can get one that doesn’t flip off the table and land on the carpet and I have to race to pick it up before it burns it…hoping not to burn myself in the process.  It’s supposed to pick up the crystal and you can then place it down, but it never really worked well that way.  Sometimes it would pick it up and hold on to it, so I had to get a straight pin and pry it out.

So I started placing the crystal down where I wanted it and placing the wand iron on top of it. If I was lucky, the crystal would end up in the right place (though I found I could move it slightly if I worked quickly enough).  Sometimes the wand would flip the crystal out of place like a tiddly wink and it would go spinning through the air landing who knows where.  Sometimes I ended up slightly burning the area around the crystal.  And sometimes I ended up burning myself trying to prevent all these things.

And THEN, a friend of mine directed me to hot fix transfer tape! What a great invention and what a wonderful improvement to my crystal placements!!! I think it was invented for people who make those crystal designs for people to put on their clothes.  But anyway, here are the steps I use with it:

  1. Put on your music or audiobook.
  2. Cut a piece of the transfer tape (I use both a smaller cut of around a six inch square and a larger cut of about a 10 inch square. It’s reusable about four or more times.
  3. Place the item you are embellishing  flat on the table or ironing board,
  4. Working in sections, place your hot fix crystals (or other hot fix embellishments) where you want them
  5. Remove the backing from the transfer tape.
  6. Gently and carefully lower your transfer tape piece down over the section of crystals trying not to disturb the pattern and press it down around the crystals and more or less attaching to your project.
  7. Now here you have a choice.  You can either use your regular iron set hot and without steam or the wand iron.  I found the wand iron makes the crystals more secure for the most part but takes longer.
  8. So with the wand iron heat each crystal with the tape still in place for as long as it needs
    • tiny ones require about 12 toe taps or slow counts.
    • medium ones require about 20 counts
    • larger ones require more…30 seconds to 40 counts to be really secure.

Heat setting individual crystals with the wand with the tape still in place.

The transfer tape acts as a pressing cloth, protecting the fabric to which you are attaching the crystal from burns by the wand.  It also holds the crystals in place so they don’t go flipping off into never never land.  If it gets just a little out of alignment, you just move the tape…the crystal stays on the tape until it is fully glued down and then releases with no problem.  This means you can pick up your tape slowly to check if you’ve missed one or if it needs more time.

Another way to approach it is to place lots of crystals on the tape upside down to the sticky side and just move the tape around and place the crystals on one by one.  This is a particularly good method for clothing and other shaped pieces when you are having a hard time getting them flat for crystal placement.

Now if I can only stop my hot wand from falling off the table that would be good.  Maybe I can find a new one at Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival that I am going to this year with my good friend Mei Ling…I’m so excited.  I’ll let you know if my quilt gets in.  Will I see you there?

Sew happy everyone!  Help each other out, encourage other quilt artists…both the beginners and the very advanced.  Even the big winners sometimes need encouragement.

By the way, I have many of my quilts for sale on my website.  You can see them here.  I really want to go to Houston and keep on writing this blog and that is where the money would go.  If you are interested in one of my quilts, contact me at BettyJo@bjfabricartist.com  Or, if you just want to help support the continuance of the blog, see the donate button.  But please keep reading my blog even if you don’t…I understand.

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.

A Discussion About Wall Art Quilt Sizes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Space and Quilts

The Heavens declare the glory of God…(Psalm 19:1) 

Wow!  This week with the eclipse and spending that time with my 14 year-old grandson Kevin was soooo special!  We had eighty-five percent of the eclipse in a pure clear sky with the birds and the noisy cicadas in the woods behind us.  His parents, who are serious astronomy hobbyists, headed down to Tennessee to get in a total eclipse area, but he did not want to spend that long in the car.  The traffic for them was aweful and they had to spend an extra night in a motel on the way home, so he clearly made the right choice for him and it gave me and his uncle David a real special time together with Kevin even though it was not total here.  I am told Ken got some photos to process of the eclipse.  I am looking forward to seeing them.

This comes at an interesting time in my quilting life, because I am trying to line up a couple of new deep space quilts to fill out my space series inspired by the fabulous photos found in the NASA gallery.  The pictures have to be copyright free for me.  I have tried a couple of times to get in touch with the astronomers whose pictures NASA sometimes shows that are copyrighted and they simply ignore my inquiries.  But there are many many magnificent copyright free photos available to use for the basis of new quilts.  I will probably also include a couple of space quilts that may use other techniques inspired by Ken’s (oldest son, Kevin’s Dad) and Beth’s (his wife) photography and ideas.  I am planning on writing about making space quilts and including all of these in the book.  This will probably be a part of my ongoing project of Art Quilt Basics:  Surface Design and Embellishment that I hope to get published this year.  These quilts are practically all surface design and embellishment with organic, but well planned, quilting.  They are very hard to photograph because of all the light reflection, but I leave that to Ken, who does a credible job on it.

Spiral Galaxy No. 3: See this quilt in the upcoming MQX Midwest show!

So I am currently on the hunt for my next deep space quilt photo inspirations.  If you have a favorite, let me know in a comment  but do it soon, because I’m going to start working on this next space quilt very soon. 😄

I hope you are all having fun with your art, sewing, or quilting.  I’m busy drawing up a couple of new ideas and making sampler quiltlets to include in my book project Art Quilt Basics:  Machine Quilting for Art Quilters (this book starts with the very basics for machine quilting (both feed dogs up and free motion) and moves through the process ending with a discussion and ideas specific for art quilters.

Sew happy everyone!  Make yourselves a stack of small quilt sandwiches and play.  You’ll be surprised how much fun it is…use all your machines.  You will benefit by improving your skills and having a lot of fun too.  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!

 

 

Make a Stylized Landscape Quilt with Me: Step One

I am making a fun new design-as-you-go stylized landscape quilt with some kind of flying creature and I hope you will try one of these too. For as many steps as it takes (to be determined) I will be providing a blog post to take us through this quilt together.  This quilt is made without first drawing out and printing a full sized design and will be using techniques that I am sure you may wish to try or have tried already.  I am not providing a pattern, telling you what size it will be, or even tutorials for all the techniques needed.  This is a project for us to play together making some wall art.  I will tell you where you can find the techniques, providing the links, and for some parts I will give tutorials, but not all.  It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it, with guidance as to where you can find help.  And if you have a question all you have to do is make a comment on the blog post and I will respond as soon as I can.

Let’s begin:

I am using some interesting techniques available online at Iquilt and Craftsy.  But you don’t have to take a class for this project, just follow along.  If you have Electric quilt 7 and know how to do foundation paper piecing you, or you already know how to make a compass block, you can do this without additional classes.

For this fun project there are several objects we will need to make and obtain.

  1. Challenge–Make The Sun:  This can be either a simple quarter of a large circle of fabric to applique on a sky or one quarter of a sun compass block or a smaller full stylized star block in your choice of sun colors for your imaginary world.  For my quilt I am using the star block that Karen K. Stone teaches in “English Paper Piecing by Machine” found on iquilt here.  It’s very similar to a regular compass block, but has some interesting differences.  If you watch the sales, you can almost certainly get this class on a very good sale.  But there are a lot of beautiful choices for a star to represent our own star, the sun.  Here are some I found on Electric Quilt 7 that would be great choices with some color changes.  The outside large piece, or the background pieces need to be made from the same fabric as your background sky piece (see below), or you can use the curve to applipiece or piecelique (whatever you call it…it’s just joining the two pieces in an applique manner) it directly into the background sky.  I will provide a little tutorial of this in my next blog related to this project.  So just hold off on attaching the star/sun to the background sky.
  2. These blocks were all found in Electric Quilt 7 and would work very nicely. You can change the colors, of course, however you want them.

    In addition you could draft your own compass rose. I found this fascinating method on The Quilt Show that uses a really neat drafting device available from  Renea Haddadin’s website here.  I don’t have this device, but it really looks useful far beyond the drafting of a compass rose.

  3. Put together the background:  For this you will need a full width of ombre gradiated fabric that will be one third of the length of your finished quilt, or just a plain piece of fabric that looks like a sky to you.  You can paint this, buy this, or construct this with strips of various pieces of fabric.   You just have to size the sun appropriately to fit in the upper left corner of the scene.  Two thirds of your quilt will be mountains and maybe water or grass somewhere in there.  If you want to make this easy, you can use a simple white or off white or even light brown or green for the lower two thirds of your quilt background, giving you a background to applique mountains and rivers and plants onto.  Remember, this is a design as you go quilt and is meant to be just for fun.
  4. Wait to applique the sun in the upper left corner of your background until my next blog when I will be discussing applique techniques.

Okay, that’s all for now.  Go forth and make a sun and gather the background pieces or even make the simple background.  The next part will deal with appli-piecing the sun into the sky, and making the mountains and other parts of the foreground.  Then there is a part for making plants, and finally we will make some kind of flying creature for our scene, which may take several parts.  I plan on following this with a series of blogs focusing on embellishing and quilting.  I am not calling this a “block of the month” or anything, but I am planning this to stretch across several months…not sure how many.

Sew happy everyone!  Do some thinking about this…join me in the adventure and make your own wall quilt just for fun and to stretch your design techniques a bit.

On MAQF, Antiques, and Tutorials

MAQF

I just came home all inspired by a delightful few days at Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival where I had “Pendragon”.  I put together some of my pictures from the show.  Here is a link to the picture file:  Smugmug/MAQF 17

I stayed a day longer than I usually do for this show and it gave me lots of time to see every quilt, take all four lectures I was interested in and see the Show and Tell that I usually miss.  I also did a lot of shopping.  Well, afterall, my 70th birthday will be this coming Friday on March 3rd, so I gave myself some presents…threads, new rulers (a set of circles and a set of ovals), and one of those spinning cutting mats among a few additional small items.

The loot from the show

Pendragon did not place, but I believe it to be mostly because the theme of the show was modern quilting and that quilt has nothing to say that is even remotely modern quiltish.  I still believe it is a ribbon worthy quilt, so we will see what it does in the future. I decided to see if they would include it anyway because I sort of consider MAQF my main show.  It is within driving distance and I have relatives in the area, so going there is always a treat for me.  I did get some nice comments from the judges:

Your original design effective in telling your story; Embroidery well executed; Piecing well done; Quilting motifs compliments the design; Quilt hangs flat and square; Back of quilt should be free of loose threads and lint” (note:  I sticky rolled it and examined it with my big magnifying lamp when I packed it…lint may have happened on their end.  That backing fabric I used was a little lint grabbing…not using that again).

Pendragon
34 x 45

A New Page Is Turned

Now, however, I am turning a page on my work.  From here I am focusing on the quilt work itself, and on figuring out how to pass on what I have learned even as I maintain my studio artist status (not a lot of travel, a little teaching within driving distance, writing books and creating tutorials), rather than so much focus on the competition work. I will still enter shows, and still plan on making show quilts (they teach me a lot and give me a chance to stretch my work), but it’s an attitude and work flow adjustment in my studio that is on this nice new page in my life.   You can see more about this in one of my past blogposts here.

On Antiques

There are lots of definitions of “antique”.  The one I like the best for this discussion is “an object such as … a work of art that has a high value because of its considerable age.”    Tomorrow (Friday, March 3rd), I will be 70 years old.  I am a work (in progress) maybe even a “work of art” and have considerable age. I think every human being has high value…so there you are.  I could probably be called “an antique” fabric artist.  I feel physically great (have also lost some weight recently and hope to lose more) and I believe I am as mentally alert as ever (always a little daphy).  Many of my ancestors lived well into their hundreds.  I have a wonderful plan for my future and my kids are nearby.  My studio is well stocked, and my fleet of machines is wonderful and in good working order.  I’m excited about the future.  Thank the good Lord and I hope you will continue to join me on my quilting journey.

On Tutorials

One of the things I am going to begin on this blog post is a regular short tutorial (every week or month?).  This week’s tutorial is answering a question I got a lot at the show…how I made the chain mail on my characters in Pendragon using Bernina v7.  I haven’t yet gotten v8, but I suspect this would work there also.

Digitizing Chain Mail for Small Applique (Or using special fills to create what you want)

I wanted to make the characters’ chain mail shirts look right, and decided the best approach was to digitize the chain mail in my Bernina v7 software and embroider it in the hoop.  This took me a while to discover how to do it.  I think I spent two or three days on figuring this out, but I just did a chain mail heart shape and took snap pictures for this tutorial all in about three minutes.  So I thought I’d share this with you in case you wanted to create something special with interesting fills and shapes.  Using Bernina v7 software:

  • Draw a closed shape…you can put the picture in the art canvas side and trace it on the embroidery side
  • Right click on the object and bring up the Object Properties dialogue box.

    Draw shape and in object properties box make these selections (sorry the text box got cut off, but that’s what is said more or less).

 

    These are the selections I made..sizes will depend on your own project size and requires a little experimentation to get it right.

 

  • I had to turn my shirts upside down and move them around to get the wave fill to match where the parts of the wave needed to be to show the expansion and contraction of the chain…like a shirt on a beautifully muscled knight. 😀  I also gave each shirt their own color to help me figure out which belonged where when complete.  I embroidered them all in Superior Fantastico 5169..a silvery variegated gray on black fabric.  I cut them out close to the embroidery and glued them on with Roxanne basting glue and blanket stitched the edges in the same thread to give them a finish.

So there you are.  I can see this method working for a wide variety of appliques and purposes.  The software is so flexible, but finding out how to do something you want to do that is a little different can take time.

Finished chain mail in place

On Upcoming Events:

  • For the month of May and a couple of weeks into June, G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland, is hosting an exhibit of my quilts.  I will have one day where I will provide a walking lecture tour of my approximately 15 quilts that will be placed around the store.  I’ll let you know when that is.
  • In June, I will be providing a workshop on machine quilting at G Street.
  • My quilt “Drawing Nigh” will be at AQS in Lancaster, PA, March 20-April 1.  If you attend and see my quilt, let me know.

Sew happy everyone.  Focus on your creative projects to have the most fun, put in your best effort, learn a little bit, and share, and don’t let it stress you out.  I would really appreciate comments.