Sunday, April 30, 2006

Progress Report on Last Week

My goals for last week were simple: Bind the baby quilt, glue foil on Easter piece and mail off any entry forms. Wednesday saw completion of that last one (read saga here), and Thursday saw completion of the other two. Today was a bonus as I found a little time to couch the threads on the Easter piece, as you can see above.

I think I'm going to call this "Easter in America." I'm not sure if other countries put so much emphasis like we do on the Easter bunny and chocolates and all the pastel colors that seem to represent the season more so than the religious symbols. While I certainly think about Easter Lilies and the cross, not to mention the black many churches are shrouded in through Good Friday, I also think about brightly colored Easter outfits so refreshing after a long cold and dark winter, dyeing eggs in a variety of pinks, blues, yellows & greens, and spatter painting a stencil design of a bunny on pink construction paper. That's why the background fabric in "Easter" just says "Easter" to me. (For more information on this fabric click here.) The fact that in recent years the candy companies started packaging my favorite - Reece's Peanut Butter Cups - in these pastel foils reinforces the idea that this color scheme says "Easter" in the same way that red and green say "Christmas."

A little technical info: When I applied Beacon Gem-Tac to the back of the foil, I used a small stencil brush to get good coverage. When I was doing my samples, I was squeezing the glue directly from the bottle onto the foil and trying to spread it around with the tip. Then when I glued the larger pieces to the journal size version (which is still unquilted, incidentally), it occurred to me that I could use a brush once the glue was squeezed onto the foil. The brush I chose, though, had soft bristles so it didn't work all that well. In one of those "Duh" moments when I was assessing my collection of brushes for fabric painting, one of the stiffer bristled brushes presented itself as the solution to spreading the glue. I dipped the stencil brush directing into the glue, then used a combination of stroking and pouncing to get glue on the entire surface of the foil. Worked great.

The chenille thread is couched on with monofilament clear thread with a zigzag stitch set at 2.0 length & 3.0 width and newsprint pinned underneath as a stabilizer to prevent draw up.

Next step will be to quilt it, and I'm wondering what batting to use. I want the thread and foil squares to be puffed up - I especially want the thread to look like it is floating. I'm not sure that Hobbs Thermore (a fairly thin polyester) will give the amount of relief I'm looking for, yet I'm afraid that if I use Hobbs Wool (very springy and is sometimes used for pseudo trapunto work), it will be too puffy. I'm also thinking that I'd like the batt to provide more stiffness than drape to be support under that foil. If the piece needs to be rolled or folded, I don't want the foil to crease or conform to a shape other than flat. Guess I need to try a few samples.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Afterthoughts on Knowledge & Creativity

In my post on "Cycles," I stated, "Knowledge helps suppress the anxiety which holds my creativity hostage," referring to the fact that I often need to research and gather technical information before I am comfortable attacking a new method of working. The next day I was reading from Rollo May's "The Courage to Create" and ran across this thought:
The fact that talent is plentiful but passion is lacking seems to me to be a fundamental facet of the problem of creativity in many fields today, and our ways of approaching creativity by evading the encounter have played directly into this trend. We worship technique - talent - as a way of evading the anxiety of the direct encounter.
I have often suspected that my penchant for obsessive research before beginning a technically challenging piece had a lot to do with procrastination, or as May puts it, "evading the anxiety of the direct encounter." But I stand by my original premise that a little advance knowledge goes a long way toward giving me the courage to overcome my anxiety in order to make that direct encounter. Or perhaps more precisely, to ensure a more successful and less frustrating encounter.

Still no matter how many facts one amasses, there's no substitution for experience. A deeper understanding is gained in the doing, and problem solving is never as effective in theory as in action. At some point I realize I'm just prolonging the inevitable, the leap into the abyss. I guess I'm thinking all that reading will be my parachute in case the abyss is deeper than I thought.

This quotation also struck me because it is similar in tone to the criticisms being made of the art quilt movement today which often seems to be technique driven. Yet it was made in the early 1970's. Do I hear a chorus of "The more things change, the more they stay the same?"

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More confidence building & a little freedom

Wednesday was a great day. I was ready take my last guild newsletter to be printed and processed for mailing. Although this monthly task has been a good learning experience and gave me a forum for sharing information and insights, now two years later, I'm very ready to be free of the responsibility. The sense of release was palpable as I stuffed them into the mailbox.

I'd also made a decision about entering two more juried shows, both with deadlines this week. Although very last minute, I pulled together what I needed for the entry packet to Images 2006 - no awards, but a chance to have a piece for sale - and resisted the urge to try for Quilt Odyssey - some prize money but no opportunity to sell.

I've had pieces in Quilt Odyssey before, and in recent years, the restrictive hoops a successful entrant must jump through have become more of a pain than they are worth. Not to say that the organizers are not justified in what they ask; I'm sure they've had some bad experiences that have led them to this point. But the rewards and prestige just aren't there for me anymore, I'd need to take better pictures of the piece I'd submit and I think it is the type of venue I'm trying to get away from but instinctively lean towards out of habit.

Actually, I didn't have to make my final decision on Quilt Odyssey until Friday, so on Wednesday, I was still considering it but it was not foremost on my mind. Putting together the entry packet for Images 2006 and getting it in the mail was the goal. It required learning another function of my imaging software and coming up with a quick solution to producing a 4 x 6 print when at midnight I discovered my printer low on ink. It required believing in myself enough to follow through in the face of adversity.

As I drove off to the post office, I found myself thinking, "This is the new me. This is my new life. This is who I want to be." I've been slowly making the break from traditional quilter to contemporary or even art quilter, a break which is more mental and emotional than anything, a break of habit to pursue a form that more closely represents where my interests have wandered. Breaks like this come easily to some people, but I struggle with giving up anything I've invested a lot of time and emotion in, as I have my traditional quilting. It's scary striking out on a new path, but each step along helps build the confidence that I can do this and that I indeed want to do this.

By the time I got home, it was easy to drop the Quilt Odyssey entry information into the trash. I could clearly see now that it did not meet the criteria for where I want to go with my quilting at the moment. And that realization was nearly as freeing as being done with my newsletter responsibilities.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I definitely go in cycles. Overall, I try to balance my activities but there are times when I definitely "binge" on something until I'm good and sated. Something or someone piques my interest and the next thing I know, I'm reading everything I can about it. Eventually, I reach a point where I'm tired of the subject or at least reading about it, my brain saturated like a sponge raised dripping from the dish pan. Time to give it a rest or put the information to use. Sometimes between research and practical application, I go through a buying stage, adding references to my collection and supplies to my stores.

Right now I'm at the end of a reading and research cycle. I binged on 8 or 10 library books on surface design, comparing them to a few books I own. I'm not the sort of personality that jumps into new things comfortably unless I have some background knowledge first. I've been dabbling a bit with paints on fabric, but had so many basic questions that I felt I needed a crash course to avoid stumbling and bumbling along, wasting time and materials. This range of books certainly gave me that.

Now I understand about the different types of paint and how to use them, the types of brushes I should buy, how to set up my work surface, the pitfalls to avoid. Now I have ideas of how to play with the basic rules to achieve interesting results. I've ramped up some confidence and added a few paints and brushes and such to my "surface design" cart. And suddenly, I find I don't want to read another word or look at another picture on the subject. I'm ready to squeeze some information out of my saturated brain and get on with the play!

This is an ongoing theme in my creative journey: Knowledge helps suppress the anxiety which holds my creativity hostage.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Goals for Week of April 24th

It's guild newsletter time again (but the last one I have to do), so the first part of the week is devoted to that...and a little catch-up on housework and such. After my successful push last week to finish two pieces (see previous post), I'm not feeling particularly compelled to do great things this week, but should try to tie up some loose ends:
  1. Bind Cobblestones baby quilt and ship.
  2. Glue foil to Easter piece
  3. Check for any entry forms that might need mailing
If I find time or motivation to do more, I'll check my master list of goals for the month for guidance and consider anything else accomplished a bonus.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Insufferably Pleased With Myself

In my goals for the week, I stated that I only wanted to finish up Strawberry Moon and perhaps a second piece for submission to Small Works II. I knew the first could be done and here it is. It was that second piece that was questionable. Also, upon closer scrutiny of the directions, I needed to get the paperwork in the mail a few days earlier than my mind was telling me. In other words, both quilts finished and photocopied, and the paperwork filled out and mailed no later than Monday.

I guess I always need this panic push deadline business as motivation, as much as I hate to admit it. What I hate about working that way is that sometimes I don't leave myself enough time and short change the work. This time, it merely made me get moving.

Friday was a great day in the studio. I'd thought through how I wanted to do the second piece so when I entered my studio it was just a matter of doing it. No floundering, wondering, speculation, time-wasting. All the particulars had been worked out in my mind while doing other things, fabric picked, master pattern found the previous day. Everything went according to plan, I didn't feel rushed and the work was enjoyable. I love days like that. Although based on the same design as Strawberry Moon, this companion piece, Silver Birches, has a much different feel to it. A friend remarked it had a more "industrial" look with all the satin stitching than Strawberry Moon which is all hand stitching. (Click on either pictures for a larger view.) Now there's a comment you probably won't find on any judge's sheet! But I thought it was a good observation. I'd like to try this again with a different technique and softer look, something a bit more ethereal.

Saturday I got my photocopies made, entry form completed and all in the mail. Now if one or both pieces can make it past the jury into the exhibit, I will be even more insufferably pleased!

A few tech notes for those interested in process:

Strawberry Moon's tree trunks were discharged with bleach, using a freezer paper stencil to delineate the areas effected. The moon area had fusible web on the wrong side, then the area was cut away. A small piece of hand dyed cotton was placed underneath and fused in place - effectively, reverse applique. It was then layered with Thermore batting and hand quilted with black rayon thread along the tree trunks and with an Oliver Twist hand dyed cotton thread around the moon. The turning line was marked in chalk and I ran a line of hand basting over it through both layers, then centered it over a pre-made "mount." A few touches of fabric glue were applied to the batting to keep the center from sagging away from the mount. Then I turned under the edges (including the batting) along the basting line, pinned, and slip stitched it to the mount through all layers.

Silver Birches started with a piece of batik cut slightly larger than finished size. Using a light box, I traced the trunks from the master pattern onto the right side of the batik, then cut them out. I spray basted the back of this and then centered it over the silver fabric which became the tree trunks (essentially, reverse applique). I free cut bias "wisps" from a sheer for the fog and played with arrangement, marking with a white pencil the final positioning. These also got a little spray baste on the back so I could stick them in place and cut away sections that would be "behind" a trunk, allowing those raw edges to be caught when the trunks were appliqued. Next I spray basted one side of a piece of Thermore batting and centered the "top" over it. Then I trimmed this to the exact finished size, spray basted the back and centered it over a pre-made "mount." Using a walking foot and black rayon thread, I zigzagged around the outside raw edges first, then along the raw edges of the applique (trunks). Finally, I used a looser zigzag stitch and clear monofilament thread to secure the edges of the sheer "fog."

The "mounts" were made by bonding Decor-Bond cut to the exact finished dimension of the mount to the wrong side of the "top" fabric and fusing a 1-3/4 x 6 inch rectangle of WonderUnder to the wrong side of the "back" fabric. (These two fabrics were cut about 1/2 inch larger all way around than the finished size.) A slit was made through the WonderUnder to within 1/2 inch of either end for turning later. Then the front and back were pinned right sides together, running the pins parallel to the Decor-Bond. Then I stitched all the way around next to but not through the Decor-bond, trimmed the seam allowances to 1/4 inch and clipped the corners, and turned the piece inside out, poking out the corners until they were square. Pressing from the front, I gently rolled the back slightly under the edge so it wouldn't show from the front, creating a perfect knife-edge finish. Finally, I flipped the mount back side up so I could smooth the slit together and fuse it in place.

Finished size of both pieces is 14" x 11"

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Adhesive Trials

I promised to post the results of my search for a glue to adhere metal to fabric, and then promptly forgot to do it. Hell to get old, as my father used to say.

First, my criteria: The adhesive needs to bond without using an iron. It must dry clear and flexible and be supple enough to allow machine stitching through it once dry. It must work on a relatively large piece of medium weight foil like candies are wrapped in ( not as heavy as aluminum foil and not the product used for "foiling") without the foil needing to be wrinkle free. I must be able to apply it to the entire surface as there will be no sheer overlay to hold things in place. And it should be safe to use on fabric - i.e. archival.

Some of the results were predictable as in, yeah, I didn't really expect that to work. Others surprised me, as I expected them to work based on the description that came with the adhesive, but they didn't. In retrospect, I may have skewed some of the results because I didn't think to rinse the foil before bonding trials. One glue was very specific about both surfaces needing to be clean and free from oils - makes perfect sense. So for the last few tests, the foil had been soaked in an ammonia solution, rinsed and left to dry. It also occurred to me that I might not be getting an even application of the adhesives on the foil which would result in what might look like failed adhesion, so was more careful about that in the last samples. Almost all of the glues required lengthy drying time - at least 24 hours - which I think was mostly (but not entirely) related to, how soon they could be immersed in water and still hold.

I should also note that Vicky Taylor-Hood from the Surfacing Yahoo Group recommend I try Jones Tones Plexi Glue, stating, "It's available all over the place," but I couldn't find it in my area. If I ever run across it, I will buy some, because Vicky has used it a lot with excellent results.

  • Permanent Glue Stic: Not specifically for fabric but rated acid free. Loved the way it went on, foil peeled right up.
  • Fabri-Tac by Beacon: This works so great fabric to fabric, but here peeled even more easily than Glue Stic. Clear adhesive that dries clear.
  • Aleene's Tacky Glue: I found a reference suggesting this for foiling, but it doesn't work here. Lack of heat? Should have let it dried some before pressing together? White glue that dries clear.
  • Mrs. Glue: Supposed to attach glitter, sequins, beads (& more!). Took longer than the 24 hours suggested to dry and still the foil peeled off. Also is thicker and stiffer than others tried so far. White glue that dries clear.
  • Loctite Super Glue: Yeah, it surprise. Also no surprise that it dries rock hard and was difficult to apply partly because it dries so fast. Clear adhesive.
  • Gem-Tac by Beacon: I really liked the ease with which this glue applied. I didn't press the foil down very firmly on the fabric so it didn't soak into the fabric as much as some of the other glues. That may account for why the foil reluctantly peeled back in some places but held firm in others. Or perhaps I didn't get it spread evenly enough on the foil. Nice & flexible. I want this one to work. White glue that dries clear.
  • Quick Grip by Beacon: This was more like a super glue - clear with lots of fumes - but it didn't set instantly making it easier to apply than I anticipated. Dries clear and flexible, although it felt a little stiffer than Gem-Tac. Best of all, the foil is Really Stuck Tight to the fabric! Not clear how it might effect fabric over time although it definitely says it is for use with fabric.
I have to say I'm quite impressed with the Beacon line of adhesives now that I've run these tests. They really do what they say they will do. (Plus, for those for which this is important, it is made in America.) Since both the Gem-Tac and Quick Grip were the only glues in these trials that work, they were the only ones that I tried sewing through. I put together a small sample to test couching threads over the glued down foil using metallic thread through a #80 Metallic needle and a zig-zag stitch. Absolutely no problem sewing through either whether it was through a single layer of fabric or layered with backing and a thin poly batt. I also was more careful about good coverage over the foil on these samples and got a better result with the Gem-Tac. Since it is odorless and Quick Grip is not, Gem-Tac won out as my choice for this particular application.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Signs of Spring

I remembered to grab the camera this morning so I could record how spring is shaping up in my neck of the woods. I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures; it was a bit breezy and I was one-handing it for the most part since I had the dog along on a leash, occupying the other hand. As I predicted, the above average warm weather of last week coaxed the flora to show signs of life by Saturday. The willows seemed to be the first to take notice, and by today they are fairly leafed out. On closer inspection, I found they also had their seed pods unfurled.

Near this willow are some young flowering plums. They are not so sure that spring is really here.

I'm not sure what this tree is, but it is willing to believe it's time to leaf out.

I don't know what this tree is either but it's ready to get on with it too.

Not all trees bud out in green. It's easy to spot these red ones which may be maples.

Bulbs are pushing their way through the warming ground...these are iris I think.

And look! I didn't think we had anything blooming yet, but here are some early daffodils.

By now you must realize I don't know my trees very well. So I can only say about this one that I was fascinated by these delicate wispy seed pods. They are about 3 to 4 inches long and the branches are quite thick with them.

Lying in the gutter are pods blown off by our recent gusty winds. Which trees they came from I do not know.

The oaks are the biggest holdouts. They are still tenaciously holding on to their dry and bittle leaves from last year. They rattle in the wind.

Of course, the truest sign of spring are all the "For Sale" signs going up in front of houses all over town.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Goals for Week of April 17th

I'm trying, trying, trying to get myself back on track. Last week was a disaster in terms of accomplishing its list of goals. I find myself back in the situation of feeling slightly panicked and needing to set everything else on hold in order to meet an entry deadline. Fortunately, the items I'd slotted into this week when I made my master list of goals for April are ones of such low priority I have no guilt or remorse associated with ignoring them for now. In fact, it's almost as if I subconsciously knew I'd need the time for something else.

I worked on a few things last week but didn't complete anything as I'd hoped. Cobblestones got quilted but not bound. The Easter piece still sits waiting for me to glue down the foil so threads can be couched, and the journal size version still needs to be quilted. I let my fear of "ruining it in the quilting" keep me from proceeding at all on my Small Works II entry - Strawberry Moon.

Besides all the interruptions and distractions of last week, part of this can be blamed on the season itself. Easter has not been easy for me since my mother died many years ago. We shared a special bond on Easter, much of it tied up in the music sung on that special day, the rest in little traditions like sharing tea we'd drink from mom's collection of china tea cups. I plain old get cranky and depressed, some years more so than others. I'd done pretty well this Lenten season, but it began unraveling last Thursday. Recognizing the mood for what it was, I stayed out of the studio and attended to other things, including a bit of purging, filing and shredding of various things, a precursor to the real cleaning out I need to do prior to moving later this year. Amazing how good it felt to be shed of those bits of papers I don't need any more.

I gave myself a stern talking to last night, sensing that if I didn't take control back soon, I'd risk making the downward spiral of last fall again. I was alarmed that the disinterest in my work had returned and all I seemed to want to do was read my novel or spend time on the computer. Taking the necessary steps to bring my work to completion felt like more effort than I had energy or desire to exert. Time to close myself off from the outside world, pick one focus and then force myself into action. Experience tells me that taking one step past any spot where I've frozen is all it takes to get rolling again, and suspending my interaction with others allows my mind to function.

So this week it is all about Strawberry Moon. I must quit dawdling about how to quilt it, how to mount it; I must just jump in and do it. I decided to go with my original thought to run a few lines of hand quilting through the discharge piece and batting only. Later it will be trimmed and attached to the base fabric (exactly how I will do that is still in question but I'm narrowing down the options). I tried three different threads before settling on a black polyneon. Once the stitches began to flow beneath my fingers, calm set in, my interest returned, my confidence came back. Relief is the best way to describe how I felt. Renewed excitement carried me through the next thought processes for the steps to be taken tomorrow.

I remembered that I hoped to have time to make another small piece so I would have more than one thing to enter. Harrumph, I thought, I've screwed that up. But now my inner self wouldn't listen to my negativity. These pieces are so small, surely you could get something else made, it encouraged. How about your idea for "Silver Birches" based on the same design? I got out the fabric set aside for that and yes, I think it might be possible to do that too and finish it out in the same way as Strawberry Moon. Ooo, a series??? Now let's not get too excited. We'll see how it goes.

The key to this week, indeed to all the weeks ahead, will be controlling anxiety. I say this because of something I gleaned while reading Julie K Norem's "Positive Power of Negative Thinking:"

"Anxiety is no fun, and it can get in the way of our efforts to reach our goals. It impairs our cognitive performance because it makes it hard to concentrate on a task - or indeed, on anything except ourselves and our subjective state. Anxiety can make us forget what we've learned, lose the thread of a conversation, or miss key pieces of information that we need to understand a situation."

And this, I decided, is what is happening when I stand in front of my work and freeze up. I let my anxiety about my abilities, about the next step to take, make me forget what I've learned and know how to do. Control anxiety and I control what I can accomplish.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Erika Carter

The week is getting away from me and has been full of one interruption and distraction after another. So, list or no list of goals, I'm struggling to stay on track and accomplish what I'd hope to this week. Today was a total wash, my mood - unmotivated, my desire to do anything productive non-existent. In other words, I have nothing to show for today except a little fabric brought back from the shopping trip with my neighbor. So instead, I thought I'd send you to look at some work by Erika Carter.

I run across her work now and then in books, and did so again last week. It goes like this: I'm scanning the pages of a book or magazine and spot a work that makes me stop and linger, admire and feel calm, at peace. I check to see who made it, and it's one by Erika. I know one of the reasons I enjoy her is that so many of her pieces include trees, the kind of trees I enjoy working with. The thing that always strikes me is the level of sophistication of her designs, something I've come to think of as "quiet sophistication."

One of my goals for this year is to elevate my own work to a more sophisticated level, and I got an inkling of what that might be when I made "Changing Seasons." But since then, I can't say I've made much progress that direction. Seeing one of Erika's pieces last week reminded me that I meant to emulate her and develop my own style of "quiet sophistication."

I notice in the biographical info on this website showing Erika's work, she is a year younger than I am. For some reason, I've always thought of her as much older than me. Guess I should have started applying my self much earlier if I expected success by now! However, she says, "My sense of success is fleeting...I don't stay comfortable for long. The times when I feel the next step is almost impossible is when is when I am closest to making it successful. This journey, this exploration, this process is evidence of the creative life within." I may not have her level of recognition and success, but I certainly share that sentiment.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Short session today

I only had about an hour and a half in the studio today so decided to couch threads over the candy foil I glued on the journal size sample piece yesterday. I don't really like the placement of the foil that I decided on, and it was only slightly improved with the addition of two additional vertical lines of couching. And as so often happens, the thread itself, which when draped over the piece looked to give exactly the effect I wanted, looked too dark, making me think I should have gone with a pastel yarn instead. Grumble grumble. I hate it when this happens, when I am so enthused about an idea, but the more I work on it, the less I like it. It is ready for quilting now and I have no idea what I want to do. Well, maybe an inkling, but it's not very clear yet. With the few minutes left before racing off for an appointment, I decided to sandwich it for quilting using spray baste and worry about the rest later. Fortunately, I'm still feeling positive about the bigger piece (which you can see the beginnings of in yesterday's post). All aspects of it are different with the exception of the squares of foil and the fact that thread will be couched in a grid over them.

The warm weather continues, so much so that when I got home this afternoon, I donned shorts and a tank top and set up camp on my patio with dog, a late lunch and my neighbor. Solving the problems of the world, we were, or at least of our immediate domain, and feeling like marguaritas were in order (but drat! No makings on hand...). Anything I might have thought to accomplish in the hour or so before the evening routine took a back seat to this pleasant time in the sun.

I looked at the journal piece again once I came inside, pondering the quilting lines and a binding that would help set it off. Throughout the day, it had continued to bug me, and I'd wondered about chopping up some extra foil and scattering it a bit like glitter across the open sections. Now as I stood before it, knowing something needed to happen through the middle, I suddenly thought about that grass that lines Easter Baskets. I have some tucked away in a bag, and now I could envision loose clumps of it undulating from left to right through the middle and held down by quilting lines. Ah, this may be saved afterall. But in the meantime, it strikes me as so awful that I don't want to show it to anyone! You'll just have to check back to see if I successfully salvage it..

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Unexpected Time, Unexpected Yardage

My neighbor caught me off-guard yesterday afternoon by "confirming" our plans to go shopping this morning. I remembered our tentative date to be Thursday. But no matter, getting it out of the way earlier in the week was fine by me. However, her mom went to the hospital unexpectedly and she asked that we postpone our leave time until she learned more. Fine by me - I figured I could find plenty of this and that, but as the morning progressed, it was obvious to me we wouldn't be taking that trip today. Thus the unexpected time to work in my studio.

Yesterday I pondered if anyone hits the ground running on Mondays, implying that by Tuesday one would be ready to go. But I found myself no more anxious to make decisions than yesterday. I thought I could play with the quilting on Strawberry Moon but lost my nerve. Better to work on my foil samples. Here I've couched Knit-Cro-Sheen crochet thread across my glued down foil. These are the two glues that worked the best, both by Beacon: Gem-Tac and Quick Grip. The former is white and odorless, the latter clear and fumey plus a little stiffer. I had no problem sewing through either.
The question in my mind was, should I couch the thread to the fabric, then layer and quilt? Or should I layer and then couch as part of the quilting. The horizontal lines were couched before layering, the vertical ones were couched through all layers. For this particular project, I decided I liked the look of the couching raised up, not as part of the quilting. And I definitely prefer using the Gem-Tac over the Quick Grip.

With those questions answered, I decided to proceed with gluing the foil onto my journal size fabric. Since my friend had not called yet, I decided to glue the foil to the larger piece too. Only one problem - as I unfolded the piece I'd planned to use as the base, I discovered that the pattern I'd sponged on only ran part way up the fabric - about 11 inches worth and I needed at least 14. That's what I get for waiting so long to use fabric. I'd forgotten that I'd folded the fat quarter to see how much of the dye would seep into the second layer, which turned out to be not much. It was very tempting to sigh and give up on the whole idea, but I decided perhaps there was a "creative" solution that would actually improve the piece. I'd done 2 other pieces of fabric with the same dyes, so I got those out to see if they could be substituted - no not really. I considered using the piece with the much lighter portion at the top as if it were sky, but didn't like the abrupt contrast. I considered splicing a piece from the other fabrics and found a portion that was similar enough not to jar but different enough to look like it was intentional.
Here is the spliced fabric (left) sewn to the original fabric (right) with the foil arranged on top (not the final sequence). I plan to trim off part of the left side to make the piece square once I decide just where I want that splice to fall. Or should I rethink my arrangement, leave it offset?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Goals for Week of April 10th

Does anyone hit the ground running on Mondays? I often find myself looking for simple tasks to kick off the week, something that doesn't tax my brain too much, and work into the more challenging stuff as the week progresses. Such was the case today as I looked at my set of goals for the week and checked up to see how well I did with last week's goals.

You may remember that I scoped out the entire month of April in advance (see Goals for April) and slotted them into each week. Last week was a bit of catch-up and I did get my tech journal caught up and the last two glues tested. While reading directions, it occurred to me that I may have sabotaged my glue tests by not cleaning the candy foil. I suppose there may have been a little grease on some of them that would definitely keep any glue from working. So I rinsed all the foil in a solution of water & ammonia and let them air dry. Of course, I didn't get around to doing this until Thursday, then glued the samples up on Friday and had to wait 24 hrs for them to dry. Totally forgot to take into account all this dry time before I could test sewing through whatever sample was successful, then having the same wait once I glued up the journal piece. So instead of actually making my sample journal piece or even doing a stitch test, I spent some time with graph paper sketching out placement and stitching lines for both the journal sample and the larger piece. I'll post a the results of the glue tests in a separate post.

The other thing on last week's list was to sandwich and pin baste the Cobblestones baby quilt, and I indeed got that done, as well as marking diagonal grid lines with a herra marker as a guide for the machine quilting. I tried a new Thinsulate batt, which looks a lot like Hobbs Thermore only fluffier and slick. I wondered if I'd have problems with shifting.

The following is on this week's list of goals:
  1. Quilt and mount "Strawberry Moon" for Small Works II contest.
  2. Quilt and bind Cobblestones.
  3. Make large version of quilt using candy foil.
I'll have to hustle to get that third one done because I have to fool with the journal size version first. But since both are small, it may be doable...provided I don't let a couple of forays I must make into the real world derail me. You'd think that would be my first priority today, but I just didn't want to have to THINK today, making decisions about thread and type of stitch and needle and should I couch the thread on before or after adding batting. Or, since the first one actually has a deadline, surely I would proceed with it, but it was the same problem of decision making and perhaps some trial and error that I just wasn't up to today. No, I just wanted to grab that baby quilt and get it quilted up. Straightforward, simple and quick so that is what I did. The batt worked fine using a walking foot and it is lightly puffy but soft and drapy I think it would work well in quilted clothing where warnth without weight was needed. I'll set it aside now and bind it later in the week, or even next if necessary.

By the way, it got into the 70's today - our first real assurance that perhaps winter is over. While some of the other blogs I read have had pictures of flowering trees and bulbs in bloom, nothing has leafed out or bloomed here, although the grass is starting to green up. But with this warmth, promised to last the week, it shouldn't be long until we join the rest of you.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Detecting a Recurring Theme

A few weeks ago, I talked about getting sidetracked by a few things, including a bit of a shopping spree. The upper three fabrics in the picture on the left are from that spree - a "tie-dyed" polyester rayon and two silk shantungs, all in ranges of brown. I'm automatically drawn to browns, it seems; I buy a lot of it, both for quilting and to wear. I reminded myself of that as I considered these pieces, even looked for other colorways of the rayon, but they didn't appeal to me. Better to go with what I know, I decided, and not fight it. A few days later, I found myself at the local quilt shop - can't remember the last time I'd stopped in there. I was immediately sucked in by the siren call of a beautiful array of batiks, leaving me wishing I could have some of nearly every one of them. Instead, I picked out the three you see in the foreground of thi picture. I think I was partly influenced by a handbag on display that had incorporated some of these. It wasn't until I got home and took them up to my studio that it dawned on me that they would certainly work with my previous finds. Is there some kind of a garment in the offing here?

A few days later, I was sewing away on my pretty pastel baby quilts when I turned in my chair and spotted these ties hanging in the closet (picture on the right). Oh good grief, I thought. These work with all that new fabric too! I bought them at Goodwill at least a year ago and see them hanging there every day I work in that room, so it's not as if I'd forgotten I had them. But really, I hadn't thought of them when I was picking out the other fabric. This colorway and type of design apparently is burned into my subconscious!

And if you think this was just a fluke, consider this: The friend who accompanied me to the quilt show last week was specifically looking for oriental fabric, so while I wasn't really searching for anything, I was helping her spot and choose some for her own collection. I particularly admired the piece to the left, and since she only wanted a fat quarter and the shop wouldn't cut it that way, I told her to get the 1/2 yd and I'd take half of it. And when I got it home, sure enough - here's one more piece that works perfectly with this group.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Small Brag

Yesterday two quilts I'd sent off to the Evergreen Quilt Show in Green Bay, WI returned in the post. As I unrolled them, a blue ribbon tumbled to the table! Now I shouldn't get so excited - this is certainly not the first ribbon I've won - but there I was, screaming and jumping up and down. My "Wild On Birch Street" had won in the "Art-Surreal" category. I suppose I was so excited because I'd struggled so with this piece, and it had done nothing in another show.

The the doorbell rang. I raced downstairs to find my nieghbor standing there grinning. She too had entered a quilt in this show, returned in the same post, sporting a blue ribbon! So here we were, two grown women, screaming and jumping and hugging each other as we waved our prizes. Sheesh - good thing this was the middle of the day and most of the neighbors weren't home to see...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Goals for April

I've never understood how anyone could put together a five year plan. I barely know what I'm doing next week or next month, let alone a year from now. No way can I begin to guess what I'll be doing or where I'll be five years down the road. My weekly "to-do" lists were the only thing that kept me remotely on track and productive. If I look too far into the future, I tend to fret about things that I can't do anything about yet and that fretting takes time and energy away from the things I need to do now. So I guess that has been my rationale for never having set long range goals.

Back when my life was in disarray and I decided to start this blog, I made the connection that I'd let my habit of "to-do" lists fall by the wayside and that was one of the reasons I felt so out of control in all aspects of my life. I realized that the lists were just compilations of short-term goals and that I could easily do the same thing for my quilting life as I'd always done for my regular life. Thus started the posting of weekly goals here.

Doing this goal setting at the beginning of the week worked wonders, and I found I could do a fairly good job of guessing at what I could accomplish in this short period of time. I had no problem moving an undone task from the previous week into the current week. But I never thought beyond the current week's activities until about the middle of March. Suddenly, I found my mind speculating on what could be accomplished in the week or so following and decided to jot those down too as "tentative." It felt like a huge accomplishment to find I wanted to and indeed could look a little farther into the future.

As it turned out, the last two weeks in March took a different turn, but as I looked to my goals for this week, I had my tentative list to refer to. What's more, I found myself thinking in terms of the entire month, just not one week. I didn't want my thinking and planning to be restrained to the shorter time frame. I think this is real progress, but perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the development. Setting goals, no doubt, is like everything else we learn to do in life: It takes practice to learn how to do it and get good at it.

So I started with what I wanted to accomplish by the end of the month, then slotted each goal into each week with an eye to any deadlines or other events that would effect priority. I could quickly see that to reach these goals, I'd have to get out of the vacation mindset I've been in and apply a little discipline to my daily routine. I'd also have to quit circling some technical issues, just trust myself and get on with it. Otherwise, I will be creating undue stress or letting opportunity slip away. I want to do neither.

So here are my major goals for April:

First and foremost, I must finish a small piece I'm calling "June, June, Strawberry Moon" that I want to submit to Small Works II, deadline May 1. Here I go leaving things to the last minute again, but "all" it needs is a little hand quilting of the discharged design and mounting on the background which I plan to stiffen to work like a mounting board (see picture below - click for larger picture). I did this with my piece "Camelot" and liked how it worked.
The next two things are equally important to get done soon and I'm a little torn about which to do first. I want to get the Cobblestones top quilted, bound and sent off to my friend who's baby was born prematurely back in late November. I've kind of been waiting to make sure the baby survived - it was pretty touch and go there for awhile - but things seem to be fine now so I'd rather not delay any longer. And I want to make the piece using the candy foil (actually two - a journal size as trial, then a larger piece for show) by Easter, as that will be its title and it will be done up in those great pastel Easter colors. I'm testing my most recent glue finds and if I can't get satisfactory results, I'll just have to alter my plans and quit fussing about it.

Lastly, I'd like to piece and quilt a wall size quilt for the child of another friend. I'd made a quilt for her first child, but got very sidetracked about getting one done for the second child - the same problem I had with my nephew's wedding quilt. I've had the pattern and fabric set aside for 5 years - I think I'll feel a lot better to get it out of the stack of someday projects and off to its rightful owner.

This may be my last big push before having to divert my attention and energies to relocating out in Idaho. Anything I do after this will probably be "what I can get to when I have time" or "something to work on to get my mind off the logistics of orchestrating a move." I'll probably allow myself some latitude for playing and experimenting rather than concentrating on specific projects, or perhaps finish up some UFO's that don't require much creative impute. At least, that's how I anticipate it will play out.

Here is what I'll try to get done this week:
  1. Catch up technical journal. I still have some results of my photo transfer and painting experiments to notate.
  2. Complete glue samples. Did that today and they need to sit for 24 hrs before I know the results.
  3. Journal quilt trial using candy wrapper foil and decorative thread couching.
  4. Sandwich & baste Cobblestones.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Time Change Blues

Here I was, feeling all in rhythm with nature, my schedule tied to Central Standard Time and the inner clock of my canine, when I was surprised on Sunday with Daylight Savings Time kicking in. Has loused up my schedule completely and I keep running out of time for the computer, which I'd been wedging in around the dog's feeding and walking times. Give me a few days - I'll get it figured out.

I posted no goals last week - figuring if I could survive my trip to the quilt show and finish my taxes, I'd be happy. Well, I managed both, with the tax forms going in the mail today, so I should be able to get back to the studio for the rest of the week. Will post some goals tomorrow.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I've been working my way through the armload of books I brought home from the library a week ago, plus a couple more that arrived through inter-library loan. These all pertain to surface design - mostly painting on fabric, but some also touch on other methods of manipulating or changing cloth before it goes into your textile work. There have been a number of "aha" moments, as in "Aha! So that's where that idea (technique, design, et al) came from. That's why I'm seeing that everywhere now (or a few years back - some of these books date from as much as 10 years ago)." These authors either became trend setters or they capitalized on the latest trends by publishing their own twist on it.

I once read a good description defining the difference between innovative, contemporary and traditional work. I paraphrase here but I think this is a pretty good recapping: An innovative work uses techniques, materials or designs that are new and different, presented for the first time. Others who copy this innovation produce work that is considered contemporary - a part of the current trend. Somewhere down the road, these fresh, new and daring innovations become mainstream and may even be considered traditional if enough time passes.

My current foray through this collection of books is not to get ideas per se but rather to learn the technical side of applying paint to fabric. I'm so technique oriented that in order to feel confident about experimenting, indeed to assure that my tryouts are as successful and positive as possible, I prefer to do a lot of research first and play later. Once I have a handle on the basics, I'm more apt to throw out some of the rules and loosen up. I can definitely see the attraction to trying out and incorporating all these different ways to manipulate and embellish textiles, and I can also see how trendy many of them have become by the quilts being shown in exhibits and magazines. What I often cannot see is how to effectively use some of these ideas in my own work.

This, I think, is where vision comes in. Without vision, we don't really know where we are going. Without vision, our work may become a mere tour de force of the many techniques we know and materials we have at hand. Vision is akin to goals, but it is difficult to set truly effective goals without some kind of vision of where you want to go or what you want to accomplish. Without vision, our work is not cohesive, or it really says nothing other than, look what I can do.

As I stand in front of a blank piece of cloth, stamps and paint and brushes at the ready, I don't know where to begin. It is so unlike the process I'm used to using fabrics ready to go to design my quilt. Directions in one of the books made it clear to me what I needed to do. I needed to have some kind of a plan, not just randomly go at it. That's not to say that my design has to be rigid, drawn out in advance, totally pre-planned before the paints come out. That is only to say I really need to have some kind of idea or vision of what I want to do. I needed to think ahead of time about how colors would work together, blend or become muddy. I needed to consider the overall pattern and color distribution before stamping away. Happy accidents do happen and ideas surface as we work, but I've seen enough truly horrid fabric out there to know success isn't a given.

This all makes perfect sense to me when I think about how I've approached other aspects of my life. I've found myself in leadership positions many times, and it is always clear that leaders can lead in two ways. They can either moderate the group, letting it drift where it may, possibly setting short-term goals and seeing that they are met, or they can have a vision for the group that grabs it and leads it, perhaps in a new direction, but always without a doubt about where it is headed. It should also be noted that like goals that can be met, visions can be fulfilled, leading to new visions. (My track record for working with groups, by the way, has been about a year's worth of vision. After that, I have nothing more to say and need to move on.)

Such it is, I think, for the successful quilt artist. The Quilt Studio, by Pauline Burbidge shows quite well her journey, vision for her work and how that vision has changed over the years. I think many of today's enthusiastic quilters need to heed her words found at the very end of the book:

"If you are like most quiltmakers, your early work is likely to swing from one theme to the next, as you experiment and try out new ways of working. It is usually not a lack of ideas that keeps you from developing your own style but rather lack of concentration or patience to stick with and develop a theme. It's easy to allow yourself to be distracted and change course instead of exploring your original theme in more depth. The experience you gain from making one quilt leads very naturally into the next, and this is how you will develop a visual language of your own. Even if, early on, you make quilts that do not look like a "series," you can be sure there are visual links between them and, in time, if you persist, those links will become more and more apparent in your work."

Well, I am quite guilty of lack of patience to stick with and develop a theme. I am very easily distracted. My vision takes a backseat to the whims of the hour. Time to get back to my themes - I have two of them now that I had planned to explore - birch trees, started a few years ago, and willow leaves, started last fall. Oh, to develop the discipline! I guess the current stack of reading is a start. I've been remembering that I planned to try stamping leaves as the sequel to the machine embroidered Willow Leaves. I'm learning other ways I can use my paints to follow up this theme as well. Maybe there's hope for me yet!