Thursday, October 16, 2014

Progress and the Question of Thread

I finished pin basting the fat-quarter quilt today, but rolled it up and set it aside for now (and can already see how much easier this will be to deal with thanks to the light and fairly thin wool batting). I still need to work out the quilting design and am not sure I want to start quilting it right away anyway. That didn't stop my curiosity about what thread I might use. I'm leaning toward the one on the right as it most closely matches the metallic gold tracings in some of the fabrics. But I'll make up a batting sample and try several out before making a final decision.

I went looking for some leaves I'd stitched on a sheer fabric back when I was testing things for the Willow quilt and decided to take one last peak in adjacent bins already searched through for the piping strips my notes in the fat-quarter book (and hazy memory) said I'd planned to use. Hah! I DID find them and indeed, there appear to be the right amount already cut to width but not sewn together yet. Guess I'm going to have to do the piping in the binding after all.

So now that the fat quarter quilt is basted, I feel an antsiness to do something with this that I've been staring at for months and even said would be next up before I succumbed to the fat quarter quilt. I had thought to use both shibori pieces - at one point they looked like they'd work together, but once I'd squared things up and sewn these two piece together, I couldn't figure out a way to make them work together. Being a little less stubborn than normal, I quit fiddling with combinations and set the vertical one aside with a couple of fabrics that may work with it as a separate piece. Then I stepped back to consider what's next and decided maybe it's fine as is. I did try several things along the bottom and side but the balance wasn't right. In fact, I'm thinking I may need to trim just a bit off the top, but I will wait and see what my art group thinks on Monday. As it is, it feels to me like I'm standing on the edge of the water, it sweeping away to the trees on the far bank. The color's a little off here - the hand-dye is more red than it seems in this photo.

I thought the leaves would add something special to the view, attached as if they are floating on the water, but I'm not sure they are the right size. They would be added after the quilting so there's time to decide if I can use them or need to make more.

And yes, I just can't help pulling thread for this one too. I'd been thinking the copper metallic would set the mood I wanted in the water, but gold metallic might be better. The yellow rayon in the center might work too but really, all I want is a hint of sparkle. I may just layer this up and get to quilting the water section before I get feedback on the proper width of the upper section. Really should capitalize on this sudden burst of motivation! 

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Beautiful Backing

I've been unsettled, finding it hard to focus for long on much of anything - reading, tv shows, decision-making. That's how I ended up showing my backing choices on the blog, close to begging someone else to choose for me. In one of my great avoidance ploys, I took a walk and carried my sketchbook along with the idea that I'd pause at that carpet store and see if I could resolve some of the issues with my first attempt to draw it. In the few blocks it took to get there, I went from confident to not - you should have heard the conversation going on in my head! But I made myself sit once I got there, and was soon absorbed in lengthening a line here, moving another up or down, filling in a few more details, until I was satisfied the proportions were closer to real life. The act of study and sketching settled my mind such that when I returned, the answer to my backing dilemma seemed obvious - simplicity was truly best. And I love it.

Of course. that wasn't the end of the decision-making. I centered the backing on my table, clipping it in place, and pondered batting. I actually have a pretty diverse batting stash at the moment and could choose from an heirloom cotton, an 80/20 blend, or a wool. I decided to think about it overnight, how I plan to use this quilt, what kind of batting the quilts already made might have in them. Leaning toward the wool, but maybe the cotton would be better suited as I'm thinking of this as a summer quilt. As I checked out my quilts, I was reminded of how heavy that last big quilt with cotton batting was as I wrestled it through the machine - and that was just rows of straight stitching with a walking foot. I'm planning a free-motion design on this one, thinking how I can incorporate the paisleys in the border/sashing fabric. Wool is so much lighter than cotton - wool it is! I'm about 3/4 done with the pin basting and will start doodling a quilting design soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

An Answer In An Unexpected Place

My attention to detail drives me crazy sometimes. It's just a backing, for goodness sake, but I'm spending far too much time trying to find the perfect fabrics to coordinate with the top. It actually took no time eliminating that muslin from my options. I would have been happy with either one of these two prints on their own had their been enough yardage, but there is not. So what is it about combining them in alternating panels that does not work for me? I've tried to talk myself into it over several days, but I sense it would bug me every time I use the quilt. Because with a "utilitarian" quilt, you really do see the back quite often. But who am I kidding? I go through this same angst choosing a backing for quilts for the wall.

I decided it was the big contrast in value that was bothering me. The off-white needed to be darker and richer in tone, but no - nothing like that in the stash. What I really wanted was a blue, felt I had just the right thing in the stash but couldn't put my finger on it. Dug into the bottom of a big bin that these two came out of and where this elusive blue should have been. Was about to make do with the uncomfortable pairing when I finally found it - yes, an alternate colorway to the off-white. (I also bought yards of it in a muted pink which ended up on the back of the half-square triangle quilt - Mary, stop laughing!). It really is the prefect blue and I'd love it with the leaf print but I've used it too many other places. There's not enough to avoid having to add a third fabric. Try as I might, I couldn't come up with a configuration of these three that did not bug me.

So I went back to the stash, looking through my browns, finding long strips of a reproduction fabric used as backing and borders in this quilt, the pink and brown perhaps working in if only narrow strips were used. That sparked a hazy memory, that maybe there was something tucked away in the drawers holding my ridiculously large stash of reproduction fat quarters. The memory wasn't right but instead, those drawers held something I'd totally forgotten about and which I think is the answer. These are Dutch reproduction border strips - for some reason cut from the original yardage and sold separately. One of the first "shop in your pajamas" internet quilt shops also had a warehouse retail shop within a few hours of where I lived, so I had to check it out. No one else was carrying these Dutch repros and I fell in love with them. I bought fat quarter packs and some separate fat quarters (some of which went into this quilt), yardage that went into a signature quilt similar to this mini-one, and these border strips. I remember thinking at the time how crazy this was buying only one 90" strip of the one color and 3 of the other but that was what they had left. This was probably in 1999. All these years later, I have a use for one/some of them! Suddenly, the off-white print has become the backing of choice and the leaf print set aside.

Yes, there's more dithering to do. Do I use the three red ones as is, spaced between panels of the off-white? That would not give me quite enough width so the blue print could be used at the outside, but it would be such a narrow bit. Or, I could trim the narrow bands off the blue border strip, placing the wide part in the center, the narrow ones on either side of the off-white panels (as I am auditioning with the red in the picture above) and use a wider segment of the blue along the outside. Then again, maybe I should leave the blue border strip intact and run it down the center. All of these are enticing and even exciting, but I feel myself leaning towards using the blue border split up. Then again, the red picks up on the red in some of the prints in the top. Whatever I decide, I can feel I'll be a whole lot happier than if I'd settled with my original two fabrics. Definitely worth the time my stubborn nature is spending.

Any suggestions?   

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Calm Between The Storms

I've been in that in between place, where a goal has been met and the next goal not quite set. I updated my to do list for October and have worked a bit on catching up my documentation files, but really...that totally clear work table coupled with the completion of a couple of non-art quilts has enticed me layer up a quilt top that has been languishing in the closet since probably 2005 instead of start the next art quilt. It was my sample for a class I taught from the book Shape Up Your Fat Quarters by Debbie Caffrey. The shop had gotten in a new line of fabric that I liked (too often I ended up making samples with fabric I wasn't keen on), and I could dip into my stash of reproduction fat quarters to augment it. I was so pleased with how it came out that I knew I'd be quilting this one up for my own use.

But it has stayed on the sidelines while other lap quilts got finished up instead. I've been thinking about it a lot this year, thinking I might want to use it on my bed. But it is a big quilt top, and I kept putting it off. It was calling pretty loudly from the closet last week, and since that is part of what I insisted would drive my project choices this year, I'm at least going to get it layered up and pin-basted this week.

So out of the UFO bin it came yesterday, along with the binding fabric and other leftovers. Inside the book are photos I took of the top (yes, I remembered correctly how much I like), extra block units and a small drunkard's path sample from some of the same fabrics (so THAT'S where it went). The book has quite a few notes jotted throughout the pattern directions - things to point out to students - as well as some dimensions and instructions on piping. Piping? This is the problem with setting aside a project for so long - you literally forget some of the things you meant to do. Been thinking hard about this and vaguely remember something about using up some of the yellow scraps in piping - you know, that bit of pop at the binding? But of the fabric stored with the top, I'm not seeing much yellow. And I'm not sure I'm up for piping, although it's not that hard to add. I'm not even sure I'm up for piecing a backing. Rifling through my store of longer yardages, I came up with two coordinating prints (neither enough yardage on their own) and some 108" wide muslin. The muslin, obviously, is ready to go, the other choice in need of seaming. I'm a bit torn about this decision, so am giving it a rest today.

Something else calling out to me last week was this building. It's on my walking route and I particularly like that angling at the top of the facade. There's also some big pots of plants on either side of the door and the siding is corrugated aluminum - lots to work with. I'm not sure how long I worked on this, but I didn't have the patience to get beyond lightly sketching out some main details - I'll go back on another day and work on it some more. Again, I had the sense I was being held back by the size and even the shape of this sketchbook. I did some blocking in first but still managed to get off. Perhaps what I need to do is start carrying a grid like this dual purpose one (also can be used as a value finder). I learned that trick in a drawing class. I definitely want to add color once done, greys for the siding and those extensions over the doors and windows are about the same red as the grid tool.

In the meantime, fall is edging its way in, the birch outside my studio window starting to succumb. But the geraniums on my back deck are going gangbusters, still afternoons warm enough to sit outside and enjoy them.

By the way, Margaret Cooter has made good on her promise to answer the Around the World Blog Hop questions sans tagging people. Go check out her post here. I think it's pretty interesting stuff!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Good News, Everyone!

"Energy" has a new home
Well, you have to be a Futurama fan to get that reference, but if you are, you understand that the news is more good for me than it is for everyone. Still - I hope you will be as excited as I am. ArtWalk wrapped up back on September 12th with the sale of two more quilts! I'd started seeing my nurse practitioner on a weekly basis for allergy shots, and she quickly made the connection between me, her patient, and me, the artist she'd seen over at Monarch Mountain Coffee. Her practice is expanding, she's redecorating her offices and buying a few new pieces of art to support the local art community. And she wanted to include me in her purchases. I had this sneaking suspicion that she'd want "Tears of Mayo" which I had not offered for sale, and she admitted that she did. Frankly, I couldn't think of a better person for it to go to or a better place for it to be, so we agreed on a price. She surprised me by buying "Energy" as well.

But wait - there's more good news! The manager of the coffee shop had mentioned she might like my work to stay up after ArtWalk, depending on whether any other appropriate artists were lobbying for the space. She confirmed last week that I could continue showing there and was delighted to hear that I could switch out some of the ArtWalk pieces with fall-themed art. I was so glad my work table was still cleaned off so I had a space to set out various pieces for consideration and fill out gallery cards and other paperwork.

And I indeed have many pieces with fall colors or themes, many pieces with leaves, pieces I've shown in various exhibits around town but which probably haven't been seen by most who frequent Monarch Mountain Coffee. It's good to get the older work out of the closet, assessed with a less critical eye than when it was first finished. Down came the newest work from the long wall in the back, up went quilts with trees and leaves. Impossible to get a decent picture so here are links to the individual quilts: Fracture, Falling Leaves, Wisconsin Memories, Far From the Midwest Prairie.

Different work also went up along the wall up front: Azalea Mosaic V: Slippery Slope and Jockeying in the Queue.

"Idaho Maple" took the place of the two Upward Ticks. This guy was sitting in the same spot the day I hung the original exhibit - I think this is his daily spot - and was very gracious about nudging over a bit to give me room to work.

I decided to leave the Upward Ticks there, just move them to a different spot. This idea of moving existing artwork around was the manager's suggestion and a good one. Because of the layout, and the way regular customers often sit at the same table each visit, just moving something to a new location could bring it a new audience. Plus I think these two look quite different over the quasi-fireplace thing with a wall of a different color and different lighting. Note the coffee shop has been decorated for Halloween.

Northwoods Autumn Splendor - Sheila Mahanke Barnes ©2001

While I was digging through my stock of quilts, I ran across this one made in 2001 while living in Wisconsin, briefly considered it for the coffee shop, then decided against it. But I do have this good-size wall in my office where nothing was hanging at the moment. I haven't had "Northwoods Autumn Splendor" out in ages so up it went at home.

My friend Judi brought that leaf fabric back from a quilt show she had vended at and presented it to me - you all must know why. Not at all her style but definitely mine! At the time, I was working with these pyramid blocks of diamonds in another project while always considering how I could work our hand-dyed fabrics into traditional quilt designs. Beyond the piecing, a technical challenge I worked on was how to get parts of the border leaves to extend past the seamline into the body of the quilt. The abstract image of trees in full color is reinforced by the individual leaves fussycut from the border fabric and scattered across the center of the top (they are fused in place). I wasn't terribly comfortable with free-motion quilting yet at this stage - otherwise I might have quilted in a few leaves as well. It's just such a rich quilt colorwise, just like the northwoods of Wisconsin come fall. Leftovers of the leaf fabric went into "Wisconsin Memories" and the last bit of it into Autumn Confetti. Good to the last drop!


Just a reminder to hop on over to Hilary's blog to read her Around the World Blog Hop post here. Also, you might enjoy reading my friend Sherrie's post on the subject and checking out her links. I wanted her to be one of my tagee's but someone beat me to it. And yes, she was getting ready to tag me as well!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Required Reading

Regularly updated, look for the most recent edition
As a general rule, I am not an alarmist. I've been known to roll my eyes at the latest Robbie the Robot "Warning! Warning!" alert. I tire of the sidebars in magazine articles about safety practices for techniques that in my estimation are NOT that dangerous, viewing them as the proverbial CYA of our litigious society. However, when I saw this book show up in an Artist Daily e-newsletter, the brief description led me to believe I really should take a look at it, if only for the chapter on fiberarts. Probably all libraries have a copy of it, as mine did, so no excuses - find a copy and read the introduction if nothing else - just not at bedtime. This is nightmare inducing stuff.

Hazardous materials lurking in my cupboard

I know what you're thinking - I just work with fabric and thread, nothing hazardous there. Well, a lot of these hazards depend on how much exposure you have to them, how many hours a day or days a week you work around them. You probably don't have to worry about lung problems from breathing in loose fibers like dedicated spinners do. But if you doubt you breath in fibers at all, just look at what builds up in your sewing machine from cotton thread and fabric. And I've recently found out from another source that cotton fabric naturally harbors several types of mold which may trigger allergies and asthma in some people. But beyond that, are you using any spray adhesives like 505 Spray Baste? Protecting your finished art quilts with UV or stain repellant products? Do you do as the instructions say and use these in a well ventilated area - probably outside as the common household does not have the sort of vent fan strong enough to remove the toxic nature of some of these products? I've gotten pretty lax about that, having set up a place in a spare bathroom to do my spraying when the weather doesn't cooperate. After reading the section relevant to this issue, I checked to see if anything I was using contained any of the very hazardous ingredients, and sure enough, many did. I've been risking my health with my shortcut methods of "safe" use. Luckily, I don't use these regularly, but when I do, I should be more careful - some effects are reversible, others build over time and are not. When there is a choice, one should pick a non-aerosol which reduces what might get suspended in the air to be breathed in.

Shiva Paintstix & solvents

But there's more to consider. Many of us have started playing with surface design methods, dabbling with paints and screen printing, dyeing and discharge, sketching and using markers and embellishing with unusual materials - areas most of us have little or no training in. Now, I've always been very good about masking up and using gloves when I mix dye powder into solution. Again, if you ever doubt that those powders could travel far, far enough to get up your nose, just put a damp paper towel or piece of fabric on your work surface and see what happens as you spoon your powder into your container. I was truly amazed the first time I did this - those particles really travel. But I've never worried much about fumes from bleach, paint thinners, adhesive sprays fixatives or glues but I should. Do you use Shiva Paintstix? They are oil based you know - smell so that I double bag mine when not in use. Brushes don't clean up with soap and water, like the more forgiving  acrylic paints which are relatively safe, but need a solvent like turpentine. Ooo - a big no no, apparently. Fortunately, when I went shopping, Turpenoid was what was on the shelf. It is odorless and relatively safe to use. Ditto with the acetone I bought to thin my favorite glue. But still, these need to be used carefully. And really, I should probably use gloves more than I do, as some of these hazardous materials can get into your body through the skin. I've also noted a trend among some art quilters to use house paint to achieve the effects they desire. I was quite surprised to find it too has its hazards.

So now I'm a little more aware of my materials, what to look for and how to safely use them. I hope you will read up on this so you will be safe too. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Urban Sketching

Panhandle State Bank taken from Monarch Mountain Coffee sidewalk seating
September seems a difficult month for my art group. With only four of us, we can be flexible and move the date around if a conflict comes up for one of the group. But September often finds one member out of town and scheduling problems for the others. Thus, even though we had moved the date once, a second member had to bow out at the last minute. Meg and I decided the least we could do was meet for coffee, enjoying the outdoor seating on an unseasonably warm day. We sat across from the Panhandle State Bank building, this view which I had identified just the week before as one I wanted to sketch from just this spot before the weather turned cold.

One of the challenges of sketching on location is training the eye to frame the subject matter. When using a camera, the frame is right there and you can move it around, zoom in and out, until you have the perfect shot. Without the camera, the eye takes it all in and sometimes doesn't know where to stop. So I studied the building for a bit before starting. This is what I thought I wanted to include.

This is what I sketched. Another challenge is scaling what you want to include to the size of the drawing surface. And as you can see, I was way off. I have yet to figure out the blocking-in thing, definitely didn't sketch in enough loosely before taking off on details. I essentially worked from the top down and so the size of those first windows determined how much else was going to fit. Still, there were plenty of angles and light play to keep me busy for an hour.

Today I did some touch-up, darkening lines and adding more shading and some color with Prismacolor pencils, still struggling with this tan toned paper and graphite pencil. I either need to use a larger sketchbook or learn to draw smaller!  Wouldn't hurt to look at a book or two on the subject either because, of course, they are available as this urban sketching thing is all the rage right now.

Or...there are always on-line classes. I found out about one called Storytelling being offered by Sketchbook Skool (starts October 3rd) through this blog post by one of my favorites, Mattias Inks. It sounds exactly what I could use and features 3 other instructors besides Mattias. Each style is different so I think it would be great fun and very worthwhile. Unfortunately, time and money are in short supply at the moment, so I will just keep plugging along, learning as I do.