The Importance of Practice Pieces

I approach show quilting as an adventure (hence the words “Adventures in Fabric Arts” found on my blog heading).  Every show quilt I have made to date has been designed entirely from my own vision, or inspired by copyright free photographs interpreted by me, or my own vision enhanced with elements from royalty free sources such as Dover Publications.  I so far don’t use other people’s patterns, which I realize are often a wonderful way to approach quilting, and many people make magnificent quilts from patterns and add their own spin on them.  I admire these quilts too, but for me, I love my adventure in quilting.

Because of this approach, for every show quilt I have one or more test pieces accompanying it (I’m getting quite a stack of these little things, and I am reluctant to throw them away).  For making my Spiral Galaxy quilt, I have found this little test piece extremely useful:

Spiral galaxy study/test piece

Spiral galaxy study/test piece

First, I tested the painted background, which I put behind the spiral of Angelina Fibers:

painted background on the test piece

painted background on the test piece

Then I tested the threads for the quilting on this, which allowed me to make the decisions needed for both the threads and the quilting patterns/fills (see this blog post about making my deadline, in which I discuss these choices).

I also tested the spires behind select stars that I designed in my Bernina v7 software and stitched in the hoop.

Star spire test

Star spire test

Today, I am thinking of adding some fabric glitter paint to the very center of the spiral to enhance the look of my homage to the magnificent spiral galaxies created by God and photographed and processed by NASA that have so inspired me.  So I am testing that on the study piece.  So here you have the overall test/study piece, which is very roughly 15″ x 15″.

Over view of test/study piece.

Over view of test/study piece.

Sew I encourage you to include test pieces in your quilt making.  They can save you a lot of mistakes, picking out, restarts, and headaches of all kinds.

Sew happy everyone!  Develop your own adventures in fabric art, but be sure to start with a small study piece.

On Organic Quilting for Landscapes

I always need to work at coming up with how to quilt my landscape and pictorial wall art quilts, as I suspect most quilters do for their quilts.  I went through the recent past couple of years thinking I needed to learn a  more formal quilting style and to avoid the natural flow of organic quilting patterns that came to my mind when looking at a landscape or pictorial quilt.  This probably stemmed from my observations of the details of winning quilts at major quilt shows where the quilter had often used a very formal style of quilting even for pictorial or landscape quilts.  This is a fine way to approach it and probably entered in to the judges’ decisions to award the quilt a ribbon.  But for my quilts, I truly prefer a more organic approach, though I do admit there are places where formal quilt patterns would be in order.

As of this writing, I am currently in the process of quilting my Hoffman Challenge quilt for 2016.  This quilt is heavily appliqued to form a whimsical pictorial quilt of a fantasy forest path with trees, birds, animals, and butterflies.  Since it is so heavily appliqued, it has only small spaces in which to develop any formal types of quilting patterns.  I struggled for some time trying to come up with a good sky pattern for a quilt where the sky is supposed to be sunny and calm…not a lot of wind and no approaching storms.  Believe it or not I found this harder to decide on than I did the “sculptured stormy sky” quilting  that I came up with for Drawing Nigh.

"sculpted sky" quilting pattern for Drawing Nigh

“sculpted sky” quilting sample for Drawing Nigh

In the end, I decided on a simple meander using a 100 weight silk.  It makes the sky recede into the background without implying wind or clouds, and brings the appliques to the foreground, exactly like I wanted.  It’s not perfect (my quilting almost never is), but it seems reasonably good also.

quilting-1-web

This quilt is still in process…for instance, the butterflies don’t have their antenna and beadwork yet. The leaves on the big tree aren’t quilted yet. But this pic shows how the simple meander pushes the sky back where it belongs and brings forth the appliques. I quilted the big tree in a simple bark-like line.

For past quilts, like Noel, I have also struggled to find just the right pattern, or in truth, fill, that maintains the organic feel of the area and still provides enough added interest.  (This quilt won a Honorable Mention in HMQS 2013).

Noel quilting

Mossy side of the cave where the Nativity Scene is pictured within.

For me, it helps my end results to keep it simple, and for these types of quilts the shapes need to be organic and easy to use around complex shapes.  I think every quilter needs to develop their own style that suits them.  I am pretty sure it does not mean that you have less skill if you use organic shapes, although I think some judges think that, but it is an artistic design choice. Some of these organic styles actually require considerably more skill than you may think…for instance large areas of simple meander should be as evenly and appropriately sized for the project as possible, which is not always easy to do.  You also need to figure out if the areas are so large they need breaking up with something for interest sake (wind creatures or clouds, for instance).  I hope that judging is moving toward an understanding of this.  Nevertheless, I think that I will continue along this path, though I do think I should do a formal quilt at some point.  I have something in mind.

Note:  My Bernina sitdown longarm is arriving next week, perhaps Monday, followed by a day of set up and training by my dear Bernina dealer and friend Mei Ling and my magician tech Lew.  I hope very much that this addition to my machine family will not only help my other machines last longer, but provide me with a higher level of quilting.  It seems possible it might also speed up my quilting, since the stitching speed is twice that of my Bernina 830, but that is not a given.  After an enormous reorganization effort of the whole upper flour of my home, I have a wonderful space for the new machine, a nice space for my smaller Koala cabinet where i use my purely domestic machines, and maintained my big cabinet space for my 830 that I also use for cutting clothes and other projects.  This reorg has already brought many positive changes to my studio that I probably should have done earlier.  I’ll post pictures when everything is in place.

Sew happy everyone!  Try some organic free motion quilting for your next landscape scene.

 

Betty Jo’s Fabric Arts: The Adventure Continues!

I am excited about the future of Betty Jo’s Fabric Arts.  Now that Drawing Nigh is completed, I am working to finish my Hoffman Challenge quilt.  I have the top nearly finished, and only have to applique on the animals.  The focus is oversized butterflies, which are flying playfully through a happy, whimsical forest.  I am going to have to figure how I want to quilt this quilt, but I expect to get to the sandwiching and quilting in a day or two.

Some of you may already know the really good news…my Bernina 830 LE, named “Gibbs” was repaired yesterday by Lew, the magician tech who works at G Street Fabrics Bernina section.  It had somehow gotten everything way out of timing among other things and there was a big knot of thread he pulled out of it, but I THINK that was a result not a cause of the problem.  Nevertheless, he says it is in good shape and should keep going for a good long time.

More than ever now I believe I need to get a dedicated quilting machine to help move my quilting a higher level and reduce the stress on my domestic machines, especially Gibbs.  I have been doing a lot of research on sit down longarms.  I had a lot of you all give me some great feedback to my question about what you think I should look into.  While I was at the Mid Atlantic Quilt Festival, I tried a bunch of them there.  That left just a few to look into.

After all the research and a family conference with my sons and Beth (my daughter in law), I have decided on a Bernina Q20.  The dealer is closer (a big point), the machine stitch is beautiful and smooth, and it has a really great stitch regulator (which I particularly wanted).  I had some good feedback from people who have one, and the G Street Bernina dealership has provided me a very good price on one and the table, and starting tomorrow there is a 60 month interest free finance special and sale.

I am now trying to figure out how I can fit it into my studio, and I think I can.  Like a computer adventure game, it starts at a different place from where it will end up and things need to be solved along the way.  I first have to go through my dressers and closets and empty enough from them to remove one of my two dressers.  It is high time anyway, since I still have a bunch of things I no longer wear now that I don’t have a government job that required a totally different wardrobe.  Doable, but somewhat overwhelming.

After I remove the dresser, I will move the Koala cabinet that I use with my backup/alternate Berninas (the B350, and the old 1230), from my office space to my bedroom where the dresser is now. The new cabinet will fit where the Koala cabinet is now in the office side of my two-small-bedroom studio.  I have my ironing board set up in there, and it will not fit after the new machine is there, since it is in a somewhat wider cabinet.  So I will have to figure out what to do with that.   A big job, but there you are…a way forward.

Sew happy everyone.  May your machine(s) play happily with your projects.