Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's getting closer...

Things remain a bit quiet in the studio, now that the few gifts are made, wrapped and in the mail. The work table became the wrapping/shipping center, with bits of gift wrap, ribbon and labels still scatter upon it. Clothesline lies pooled under my sewing table, leftover strips huddle in small piles on the table - the odds and ends of the basket project which tantalize me since they are just enough for some small lipped plates. But the Christmas preparation is only partly complete. Any sewing will have to wait for cards to be written and the rest of the decorations to be put out. There may even be some cookie baking before I'm done!

It's a good time to let one's mind wander, to reflect on the past year, especially the fruits of one's artistic labors. Will it be simply "carry on" when the holidays conclude or is a major overhaul in order? With two projects in process, I'll be carrying on at least until they are done. At the moment, I can't really see much past them. I may revisit some ufo's, especially one that is not all that far from being done. I got a little stuck on it, then unexpectedly spent 3 months away from home, and upon returning moved on to other things. But it is worth figuring out the last bits, and I'm hoping to find the frame of mind to do that.

I will leave you with a couple of thoughts to ponder as you wrap up the year and contemplate the next. First is from an interview with artist Mary Whyte who had this to say about what she tells students they need to have to become accomplished artists - these three things (with my own thoughts in parentheses):
  1. Something to say (I've always referred to this as having a vision)
  2. The ability to say it (I'm thinking probably not just via skill and technique)
  3. The courage to do it (I've seen how easily we can talk ourselves out of believing in our vision and skill)
I think this sums it up pretty well. Personally, after years of producing both traditional and art quilts, I still know I have things to say and usually the skills I need to say them (and if not, the persistence to learn the skill I need). But that last one can trip me up, even with all the confidence I've gained through doing and exhibiting (leading me to think I should consider "fearless" as my resolution word for 2015). Perhaps that's why this quotation attributed to art critic Robert Hughes is so comforting to one who often doubts.
"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt; perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."
And with that, I must get back to my holiday preparations. Since actual quilting has been sparsely represented lately, I will leave you with the only Christmas quilt picture I could find - one I made for my mother-in-law from a pattern & fabric she'd bought, then decided she didn't have the oomph to put together. You can see detail shots on this blog post.

 

 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh what fun!

Working down my November list, I switched back to baskets this week. Nothing fancy, just sticking to the basic formula for a round basket with slightly angled sides. With a Christmas jazz station playing in the background, it was most delightful to sit at the machine, wrapping fabric strips around clothesline and zigzagging the coils together. So relaxing...


I started with the blue bowl since I had that fabric set aside since my first foray into these baskets. These two are ones I can't foresee working into any quilts, so no hesitation on my part cutting them into strips. It still fascinates me how these prints transform.


It went without a hitch and I was so pleased with the result. That's saying something because I usually find some fault, something I've miscalculated that doesn't ruin the final result but leaves me a little disappointed. Not so this time, so I dug into my stash for candidates for the second one. Both of these are lovely fabrics, a quarter yard or less, that probably came in a scrap bag purchase. At the time, I'm sure I thought I'd eventually work them into something, but now I know they likely will not. So it is both fun and gratifying to find a way to transform them into something useful.


So what's with the mason jar, you may ask? I bought some short ones to fill with goodies instead of the standard 8 oz jars so they would fit inside a basket like this. The baskets are about 4-1/2 inches across at the base and 3-1/2 inches high - perfect!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Sundries

This is my small town post office, barely wide enough to accommodate two lines of customers on either side of a lengthwise counter (one coming, one going), or for someone to lean over to retrieve mail from the boxes that line each wall without bumping that counter or blocking the path. The clerks have a very cramped space in the back but they maintain their cheer for the most part. Post offices like these are a gathering spot for locals, to share news, gossip and talk politics. The clerks are often long-time residents of the area, if not the town itself, and so can be an invaluable source of information beyond postage rates and delivery times. It was this realization that led me to ask my postmistress if she knew what that boarded up building along the highway used to be, the one I sketched here. She pondered a few moments, getting it straight in her head what I was referring to, and was pretty sure it used to be a bar, until it got so rundown it had to be closed. "With living quarters above," I asked? "Yes," she nodded, "with living quarters above." It makes sense and now that mystery is solved.

We got a bit of snow last week, just an inch or so, so I was surprised to hear the unmistakable sound of snow shovels and took a look out my upstairs window to see who was being so industrious. Indeed, the lady across the street was clearing her driveway. I didn't see any kids about but apparently some had been busy. A closer look and I spotted quite the snowman next to the freshly-shoveled driveway.

Rather thought that hat a bit brilliant. Can't figure out what they used for hair or for the mouth and eyes for that matter. But what a cheery addition to the neighborhood!  

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Photos on Fabric

I've been working up a journal to give my hair stylist for Christmas. She's an avid huntress who did not have the best luck this year. I'd told her about the issue I ran into when thinking to use my moose photo on a padfolio with the nose ending up on the flap and...oh no - the moose's rear on the front cover. She laughed and thought that might actually be fun. I came up with a different solution and this moose on fabric has been hanging around the studio ever since, waiting for a place to be used. It was sized almost perfectly for a journal cover and I knew if I gave it to my hair stylist, the moose's rear on the back cover would only make her smile. And perhaps she could use it to keep track of her scouting and weather, her successes and failures. Using the same formula as here, I added a strip to the bottom to make it long enough and fused it to craft felt. This was printed out on muslin and lacked the extra stability that the heavier waxed batik had. I was hoping the fusible web would rectify that. And because I didn't have the extra I did on the other journal cover, I planned to satin stitch the edges. If you click on the picture, you should be able to see I've started "quilting" by outlining the moose in dark brown thread.


Because it is fused, I can get away with less quilting. And there's a limit to what I want to add. Some might go whole hog and thread paint over the entire moose, but that seems redundant to me - why would I want to cover up the detail on a photo that printed so clearly to fabric? I settled for adding some bushes which because of how heavily the snow was falling did not show up much in the photo. But a couple did - and they really were red - so I extended them across the piece. I also used the alphabet function on my machine to customize the cover.


The cover still was pretty flimsy, so I started looking for a fabric to line what would be the inside cover cutting it twice as long as needed so I could create a pocket front and back. Again, I used fusible web to adhere it to the felt, then turned up the excess, pressing the fold at the bottom.


Then the top was folded back down even with the bottom to create perfect pockets. A little basting glue along the edges held it in place for the satin stitching of the edges all round.


Since making the last journal, I've picked up a few tricks for low-cost bookbinding tools. You can buy or make a piercing cradle - a v-shaped contraption for holding your folded signatures while punching holes along the fold. Or in a pinch, you can use an old phonebook to cradle your signatures. And you need an awl to punch those holes (and if I were making lots of books, I'd no doubt invest in one), but you can also use a push pin or a long thick needle. I have some doll needles I bought for thread basting on someone's recommendation, but they turned out to be too big for that. I'd been thinking about trying one for piercing although the needle might be tricky to hold onto. Then I ran across a tip that suggested protecting the point on an awl by sticking it into a wine cork before putting it away. Hmmm - could I embed the other end of my needle in a cork to make a handle? Indeed I could! A champagne cork has a comfortable rounded top that feels good on the palm of my hand.


So here's the finished journal, with signatures sewn in with the long stitch again, using an off-white/grey yarn (you can see some of it along the left in the pic above). If I'd had the right color of red, I might have used that but I think I like this more unobtrusive color better. The button is out of my several generational collection and has a woven patterning that makes it a little more special.

There's a lot of discussion currently about the use of photos in quilt art, including the same issues being brought up about wholecloth painted quilts. Why print a photo on fabric and add stitching instead of printing it on photo paper? Why paint on cotton and add stitches rather than paint on stretched canvas or watercolor paper? I've always been conflicted about the use of photos on fabric. I've seen it masterfully done, where the photo is first manipulated or where its image us used much like a patterned fabric might be. But untouched photo to fabric incorporated into a quilt? I think there has to be a very good reason, and that adding of stitch can be quite tricky to pull off well. Which is why this moose never made it into a quilt for the wall, although I'm sure I could have surrounded it with pieced blocks or an appliqued extension of the landscape and on some level it would have worked. However, used as a journal cover, with accents of stitch, makes a certain sense. Still, I rarely do this, feeling more comfortable using manipulations of my photos rather than realistic images.

Where do you come down on this issue? Do you use photos printed on fabric in your work? If so, I'd love to see how you do it. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Back to Work

Miniature sample of Eisenberg Fountain design
The studio hasn't seen much of me the last few weeks it seems. And now I'm facing down some Christmas gift-making deadlines with no work space if I don't finish something. Besides no table space, one machine is set up for quilting on the shibori piece while the other is set up to work through construction issues on the wall fountain piece. Time to free up some space. Yesterday I finished putting together the puzzle-like pieces of the fountain sample, first finishing up the "quilting" (pleased with the straight line section, cascading section needs some work), then holding overlapped sections together with glue baste so they could be stitched together. I'm really going to have to be careful to allow plenty of extra for those overlaps and be very accurate in my cutting, I now see, as well as watch my values to ensure good contrast between the different sections. I still have questions about the stitching along turned under edges and am still pondering how to apply the backing, but those can wait. As I've said before, I am so glad I chose to do this sample before committing to the really big piece. I've saved myself countless headaches. And now I have one machine freed up.

Overcoming the fear of over-quilting

But it's not the machine I need for the gift item I want to finish before next Tuesday. So today, it was the Shibori piece that got attention with addition of more quilting lines along the Shibori pattern, this time without the copper thread added in. If you recall, I'd stop working on this because the first lines of stitching not only were more glittery than expected but also appeared to cause the Shibori patterning to be lost. I lamented that I was stuck and disheartened. But since then, I've become unstuck and am now encouraged. I'd left it on the table, had studied it numerous times until I remembered what I'd told my art group - that I was going to put lots of quilting in that water section so the texture would read rippling water. And yet, I did what I so often do when beginning the quilting process - I stopped for fear that more quilting would make it worse. No no - in this case, lots of quilting makes it better. There's just enough sparkle and rippling I think. So this too can be set aside for later, freeing up not just the machine but a place to put my cutting mat. There was even time to start that gift. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tis the Season...and a Tip

I had the odd sale on my cafepress site a few weeks ago which reminded me I should promote it a bit on my blog. (Disclaimer: I HATE marketing). I've never had a lot of sales but I do usually sell a few calendars and perhaps some gift items this time of year. Think of it as going to an art museum and then buying a postcard or print of a favorite painting at the gift shop. You may not be able to afford the original of any of my quilt art, or perhaps a favorite piece is not for sale or already in a private collection, but perhaps you might find an image of it on an affordable mug, greeting card or decorative tile or treasure box. There's even a journal with four different choices of paper. And who can't use a calendar in your studio or office? I've always been pleased with the quality of the merchandise cafepress prints my images on and the images themselves are high quality as well. Treat yourself or get a start on your holiday shopping at my shop!

Now as a reward for suffering through that commercial break, here is the promised tip. One of my art group was admiring the way I'd paired filled bobbins with their matching spool of thread by stacking the pairs on the pegs in my thread rack. Unfortunately, not all of my thread will fit in this rack, although it holds a lot of thread. So I shared this alternate method for spools stored in drawers or shallow bins. It merely requires ordinary cotton swabs. I don't remember where I read about it but I was skeptical that it would really work. But truly it does...look!


Finally, circling back to "tis the season", I've treated myself to a new lightweight winter jacket in a color for which I have no suitably colored scarf. But I was pretty sure I'd bought a very luxurious yarn a few years back that had some blue in it. It didn't take me long to find it (while I have a yarn stash, it really isn't very big), and I was so pleased to discover it not only had the right color of blue, but also some teal green that matches the jacket lining. So I've started knitting a cowl scarf from this wool/silk hand-painted fingering yarn while I watch a little snow fly outside the window.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Aftermath of All That Input

Gently prodded along by the interest in my fountain piece and impatience to see progress (you know who you are!) I settled in yesterday afternoon with my sample, my pattern, my reference photos and my art group input fresh in my mind. Time to stitch in those grout lines. I'm figuring out so many things with this sample simply by doing and then realizing there would have been a better sequence of attack. If I were satin stitching around the outside of each unit as well as the outside of the finished piece as initially planned, the starts and stops of this grout stitching would be covered and secured by that last bit of stitching. Now I can see that it would be to my advantage to do all this satin stitching as well as the quilting before turning the edges to the back. Yes, I'm making notes as I go.


Some of the sections will overlap, others will butt up against each other and be joined by a "grout" line of satin stitching. I may change my mind and cut these two as one piece like I did a section on the other side.

Doing my best to emulate the sketch on the right

Before I can sew any more sections together, I must run the stitching lines representing water. I studied a video I took of the fountain (see below) and sketched out several ideas for mimicking how the water moved over the wall even before I started playing with cropping the uneven edges around the design. Now I went back to the video to confirm my thinking about using some white thread as well as an opalescent for sparkle. How did I not notice the almost scallop-shaped flow over one section? I quickly tried sketching it and think I will try that in the upper section. But in this main big section I'm trying the sketch that I'm hoping will give the impression of sideways rippling, which on re-viewing I'm seeing is more angled motion. Oh well, I'm sticking with this on the sample, running the opalescent sliver thread and the white rayon together through the needle. I think this is the effect I wanted - a not too in your face white with just a hint of sparkle. I am hoping it translates the same to the larger piece where there might be more room between the lines of white stitching which could be filled with just opalescent or a metallic thread. Lots of thread tails to be pulled to the back and more stitching to be added but this is where I stopped yesterday. The Stiff Stuff, by the way, coupled with the Misty Fuse is really nice to sew through, I'm tempted to say "like butter".


Valuable Feedback on Art Group Day

Can't believe I let them take pictures in my messy studio
As much good feedback as I can get on-line, nothing beats showing your work in person where those making comments can see true colors, true sizes, ask lots of questions and voice opinions while I clarify and ask my own questions. Not only did I get verifications and more things to think about on my fountain wall piece, I also got more feedback on that shibori piece I got stuck on. As for the fountain, there seems to be agreement about ditching the one batik and leaving some of those turned edges without satin stitching. We laid out various threads options for the stitching that will run through the center, and talked about what one is really seeing when observing running water, how that might be interpreted in stitch.

Detail of quilting in Donna Deaver's newest textile work

As for the question of interpreting the foliage in the upper part of the shibori piece, there was less concrete advise, save Donna's suggestion to study some of the Urban Sketchers methods of suggesting tree and bush forms. Good idea! However, it wasn't until the next day when I saw this detail shot of her beach reflections quilt on her Facebook page that I felt I had my answer. Seeing the quilt in person as a whole, I'd focused on other parts of it. Now I could see my bushes and trees in her stitching in this small part. I'd only gotten as far in my thinking as outlining the major areas with no idea of how to fill them in. Now I think contour stitching similar to this in those delineated areas is my answer.


Meg shared some pieces she's working on for an upcoming group exhibit. She does these stand-alone pieces that in the traditional quilt world would be appliqued to a background. Hers are built up on Peltex to be arranged installation style on walls. With the exhibit opening in January, she's keying in on winter themes with these snow people. She shared that as her work has developed, she's recognized that some of her figures exude more energy than others and is currently focusing on instilling a sense of energy in each of her designs, be it a person or thing (her example being a page in her sketchbook filled with feathers both stagnant and not). We agreed she'd done just that with these guys.


She's also working on this large tree which is presenting it's own technical challenges due to its size. We talked of ways she could divide it into sections for transport while maintaining a seamless appearance once installed. The tree will have additions that can be changed out and rearranged at will (leaves, birds, a swing, bird house) which is also raising technical questions. She normally satin stitches around the outside of her pieces, which she sees as a problem with the joins in the tree. So she was very interested in my sample where I turned the edges to the back. Yes, this is the great thing about sharing with a group, finding unexpected answers to niggling problems through the sharing of each other's unique journey and lots of spirited discussion!

Robin & Donna in Houston

It's not all about the work though. Two of our members had the great fortune to attend the International Quilt Festival in Houston last month, while the other two of us stayed home. They did not forget us though, posting pictures of themselves and quilts they thought we'd be interested in, making us feel not so left out of the fun. Robin couldn't meet with us this week, but Donna shared more about the experience, including the workshop she took with Hollis Chatelain.


And to us homebodies' surprise, they collected a bag of vendor freebie's for each of us - what a hoot! And what great friends...

Testing, Testing

Knowing I'd be meeting with my art group this week, I spent the weekend working up a small sample of my fountain wall design. Too much at stake here in materials and untested techniques not to do a trial run in miniature. First up - lay out the fabrics I'm considering over the full-size master drawing in their approximate locations. (As you view the following photos, use this one as reference as closest to the fabrics' true colors.)


Part of what I'm testing is a heavy interfacing I've not used before. I've been using Decor Bond rather than batting when I needed to create a border or "mat" with no stitching across the fabric. It has worked relatively well but I've experienced some issues that this new interfacing promised to alleviate. Stiff Stuff by Lazy Girl Designs advertises that you can crumple it up and it bounces right back, and it doesn't hold a fold. Watch the videos on their website - it really is quite amazing. I'm planning on constructing my fountain wall totally of fabric fused to interfacing which could be problematic come time to stuff it through the machine. Maybe not with Stiff Stuff if it really is that flexible and resilient. So imagine my surprise when my 4 yards of it arrived rolled with breaks like this showing.


Granted, once I unrolled it a bit, the breaks weren't as obvious, and if I were using this as the sew-in interfacing it is, perhaps this would not be an issue. But I'll be fusing my fabric to it and guessing those breaks will show through, just like with the Decor Bond. Well, let's test it out. I took a print-out of the fountain wall I'd made on a regular piece of paper, did some measurements and started cutting units from Stiff Stuff. Decor Bond can shrink slightly during the fusing process so I immediately tested Stiff Stuff's claim of no shrinkage. I steamed it extensively with no change in size - excellent! I opted for Misty Fuse as my fusible since I have quite a bit of it and I'd read it worked really well on synthetic felt. It requires a hot iron which Stiff Stuff held up to nicely. The Misty Fuse applied perfectly and then the fabric fused perfectly on top. I did a test crumple to see if the fabric truly would stay put (it did) and whether I'd see those breaks showing through (I did). The good news is, going over it with a warm iron made those breaks disappear for a smooth smooth surface. I'd originally planned to trim the fabric even with the edge of the interfacing, but I realize it'd be really easy to just turn those edges to the back, and for this sample I used glue stick to hold it down. On the big piece, I'll fuse Misty Fuse to the fabric first so there will be fusible all the way to the edge, ready to hold the extra when rolled to the back.


So this is probably how I will break down the units, with the "grout" lines added with satin stitching and the sections butted and joined by satin stitching as well. However, I may not satin stitch all the edges as originally planned. I really like the look of the fabric turned over the edge which is adding to the realistic look of this piece. Also, I'm questioning the use of the new batik - the spots in it are more widely spaced than in the stash batiks which keeps it from looking like it fits. I probably should not have speckled fabric in that section anyway. And of course, the scale of the patterning in fabric does not miniaturize with the scaling down of the design pattern so this is not a good representation of how it will read in the big piece. We'll see what the art group has to say.