Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Step seven...

...squaring up. In my opinion, no matter how careful you are when constructing a block, by the very nature of the material we're using, it is impossible to make a perfectly square block. Fabric has stretch, to begin with. Inaccuracies can creep in during cutting, seaming, even pressing. Something somewhere is going to be out of whack and need trimming off. Here I've placed my 6" square-up ruler over a block which should be 4" square. If you look closely at the center of the left side and along the bottom, you'll see a bit of fabric beyond the edge of the ruler. This may not seem worth fooling with, but trust me, the more seams in a quilt, the more those little imperfections add up and cause fitting problems on down the road. Better to make the blocks square now than try to deal with the problems it could create later. Not my favorite job, one I view at best as a necessary evil. I'll get to it tomorrow.

Step six...

...joining the two halves and pressing. In spite of another two inches of snow to shovel and clearing a bit of the driveway, then running out for groceries and gas, I found time yesterday to complete my 56 pinwheel blocks.

Ideally, the line of stitching should cross the angled and vertical seam exactly where they intersect. Now some people can get perfect intersections where those 8 seams come together, but I'm not one of them. I'm not going for perfection on this piece, just close enough to meet my personal standard. Sometimes you can get away with being slightly off if the fabric is busy or of low contrast as it is here. And I figure the slight imperfections will probably disappear in the loft of the batting and quilting, and not be visible at the distance at which they will be viewed. I just remember the reaction of students to some of my samples. They would comment on how perfect my points were, then I'd have to show them just where they were not. It's a good lesson for all of us to learn - that what is glaringly wrong to us, others do not see. This piece may or may not end up in competition under the close scrutiny of a quilt judge - probably not - so I'm not going to spend a lot of time pulling out stitches and re-sewing. There were some blocks like this one off enough that I did re-do them today. Then it was on to pressing.

Rather than pressing open or to one side, this is where I use the nifty trick of spinning the seam to that it rotates in line with the other seams. To do this, you have to tease open the stitches of that vertical seam. This allows the seam to go in opposite directions on either side of the intersection. Sometimes the seam will give way with a slight tug, other times you have to help loosen the stitches with a seam ripper.

Once the stitching gives way to the crossing stitching, I flatten out that center and hold it in place with my thumb while I flip the block to the right side for pressing. I carefully remove my thumb to make sure the center has stayed open, then make sure the seam allowance is going in the direction it's supposed to. Now I can carefully press from the front.

For good measure, I usually turn the block back to the wrong side and press the center from the back.

I sometimes worry about compromising the integrety of the stitching with this method because it requires removing those stitches. I try not to use it on quilts that will get hard use and washing. But for wall quilts, I'm comfortable using it.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Step five...

...Clipping and joining the pieced units from last week. When you sew triangles together, you get these "dog ears" that jut out beyond the seam edge and basically get in the way. Some people trim these after the block is all together, or as seams are joined and pressed. Others trim the points off triangles as they are cutting them out, usually with the help of a specialty tool. Most of the time I don't trim until after seaming or when squaring up the block. Since I'm using the post-it note pad as a guide, dog ears will keep me from butting the seam edge along the guide, so I trimmed all the units with scissors today before going to the next step.

A pinwheel block is basically a four-patch - a block that can be divided into a grid of four squares. The pieced units that make up the four quadrants of the block rotate to form the pinwheel and two seams will complete construction. Today I sewed the first seam. Up until now, I haven't used any pins to hold pieces together while sewing; there haven't been any seam intersections to match and the seams have been short. Now however, there are seams at one end to match, so I took care to snug the intersection together (note that the seam allowances are pressed in opposite directions to facilitate this) and held it in place with a single pin.

This seam is pressed to one side again, but not towards the side with the least number of seams as would be preferable. In order to have all seams that come together in the middle of the block pressed the same direction, I must break that "rule."

Next session I'll sew the two halves together which will require a few more pins. That center seam is critical to have matched up just right.

Goals for Week of Nov 27

I did pretty well on last week's goals - definitely spent three days in the studio - actually I think I was in another day as well. I got the tech journal caught up. I worked on the pinwheel blocks, although I did not get them totally pieced. I'm not sure if I thought I could, but it definitely is taking me longer to construct each part of the block than I anticipated. Should have no problem getting them finished this week and sewn into the border units.

What I didn't have time for was working with the leaf prints. I thought I had an idea for one of them, but I couldn't settle my mind on the problem. Those pinwheel blocks were taking up all my thought! What I think I need is to wait until the blocks are done, then spend some time laying the sheer over various background fabrics until I find something that doesn't just work, but works in an interesting way. Right now, the few things I've tried aren't doing it for me.

So in some ways, this week's goals will be similar to last week's:
  1. Spend minimum of three days in studio, which will include the next goals.
  2. Finish piecing pinwheel blocks and join into border strips
  3. Cut trunks to be appliqued on this quilt
  4. Audition background fabrics for sheer leaf print

First Real Snow of the Season

This is what I woke up to this morning - about 5 inches of snow.

For weeks the weathermen have been predicting big storms that never materialized but this time they got it right. The snow started falling right when they said it would - about 11:00 a.m. yesterday - and continued all day and into the night. I shoveled the first few inches off the deck before dinner and tackled the rest this morning.

Now we are going deep freeze diving...From just under 40 degrees this afternoon to the teens tonight, followed by below zero the next few nights. Yikes! The groundskeeper came knocking on my door to give me some advice on how to prepare, including the suggestion to shovel snow against the foundation to seal any cracks that might let cold blasts of air in under the house. This is supposed to help keep the pipes from freezing, along with keeping the utility door open and plugging in the heat tape around the bathroom pipes. I'll keep a little drip of water running in the sinks as well - something I remember from my days growing up not far from here. Brothers dear, are you feeling nostalgic yet?

I may have to re-think how I park the car. It is directly under that large branch, which I suppose could come crashing down if heavily laden enough with snow or if the winds whip up.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Back when I was agonizing over what seemed a necessary step - forsaking my traditional background and work for contemporary and art quilts - a friend suggested that I didn't need to choose between the two. Rather, she recommended I spend 75% of my time on that genre I felt would best advance my overall goals and 25% of my time on the other. She gathered that not only did I get more satisfaction now from the art quilts, I had a better chance of making some money off my efforts in that genre. On the other hand, I had not totally lost my interest in traditional quilting and its history, still enjoyed the occasional foray into that arena, so there was no point in totally forsaking it.

As I've said before, I tend to be an "all or nothing" person, so this was a new concept for me. While I never really figured out how to put it into practice, just the thought of it helped lighten the burden I was feeling when I realized there just wasn't time or even desire to continue doing both, especially if I expected my art quilting to improve to a more professional level.

I was thinking about this again today as I spent some time updating my tech journal. I've suddenly broken through my reluctance to get back in the studio. I want to work without watching the clock again. I want to ignore the non-art things that have to be attended to. The question keeps presenting itself - how does one allocate the time between what we want to do and what we have to do. I want to sew and design and experiment and play. I want/have to keep records. I want and need to read, observe, soak in all kinds of things which enrich my imagination and lend inspiration and knowledge. I have to take care of the mundane housekeeping chores that anyone must - pay my bills, grocery shop, clean the house. Forever the balancing act.

Perhaps I need to sit down and think percentages.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Step four...

...More pressing, this time to one side. Yes, I couldn't stay out of the studio today, so after a lunch break, I went back to press the newly sewn units.

As stated in the other post about pressing, the rest of the seams in this block will be pressed to one side, not open. When possible, the direction to press the seam should be towards the side with no or the least number of seams. In this case, pressing toward the just added triangle and away from the seamed unit will work perfectly, resulting in less bulk in that seam and in the seam joinings to come.

This time there's no advantage to using a slightly rounded surface, but I still use my finger to gently open up the seam before applying the iron. This is always done from the right side to avoid pressing in an unwanted tuck in the seam. Again, go gently to prevent stretching or distorting the unit.

Here's my stack of pressed units, ready for play on the wall. Each unit represents one quarter of the finished block.

Step three...

...Adding a triangle to the unit. I planned to sew 2-1/2 hours today and it took me just a little bit longer to add the triangle to all 56 units. Well, that makes sense because the seam is longer than the seam in the first step. My pairings were relatively random; I just checked to make sure there was adequate contrast between the orange I was adding and the orange in the unit. One of the things I like about hand-dyes and true batiks is that, like a solid fabric, they have no wrong side. However, unlike a solid fabric, there are subtle difference between sides. This doubles your options, so in many cases if one side isn't quite right, the other side will be. Even with my double options, there were some very close matches, but I think that will lend the subtlety I hope to achieve.

Again, here's some additional info for you techies. Feeding triangles under the presser foot is notoriously tricky. Those narrow points twist in the feed dogs and the start and end of seams are often narrower or wider than the rest of the seam. When I'm concerned about accuracy and especially when I sew triangles, I use this trick that I picked up on one of the quilting shows on TV. Remove a stack from a pad of sticky notes and butt the edge against the presser foot. I find I get a better fit if I lower my feed dogs so the presser foot sits flush on the throat plate. The "gummed" side should be against the presser foot and the adhesive from the bottom note should hold the pad in place. If it doesn't, then just use a little temporary hold glue stick. Now you can feed the triangle under the presser foot using the pad as a guide and it keeps that triangle end from twisting out of whack.

I'm sewing on the bias again and I opted to sew with the pieced unit on the bottom partly because the commercial fabric in the unit is not as high a thread count as the hand-dyed fabric, thus it has more stretch. I've found that placing the stretchier fabric next to the feed dogs allows a more even feed. The feet grab the fabric and automatically ease in any stretch.

So here I am with another pile of "leaves" needing to be pressed.

Step two...

...Pressing seams, which also seems to take forever. And so much for giving myself the day off yesterday. Oh, I did the extra cooking, watched some racing I'd recorded awhile ago, but I couldn't get my mind to quit thinking about my pinwheel project. I'm thinking that's a good sign. Well, let's not do any work, but maybe get the design wall flannel up. That would be a very good thing as I'll be needing to arrange these units on it pretty soon. But I couldn't stand it. Once the flannel was up, I started pressing, which took nearly as long as the sewing!

For you process-oriented readers out there, the picture shows the seams of these units pressed open. Most quilters learn early in their careers that seams are to be pressed to one side, preferably towards the dark to prevent shadowing. This may be a holdover from the days of hand piecing when seams were not as strong as when machine pieced. There are many times when pressing seams open is a good thing, reducing bulk, lumps and bumps. I felt that was the case here.

This seam is sewn on the bias of the fabric, which has more stretch than the straight of grain. So care needs to be taken not to stretch and distort the unit while pressing. I open up the seam with my fingers, then lightly run the tip of the iron down the seam. This is easier when done on a firm, slightly rounded surface like a sleeve roll and it also helps control any distortion. Depending on the fabric, sometimes I flip the unit and press again from the right side.

I don't plan to press all the seams of this block open, although I could. Here is the back side of my sample block which shows other seams pressed to one side which results in a nice spin of seams which reduces bulk where multiple seams meet in the center. It will also create opposing seams when the blocks are sewn to each other.

And here is the first play with the units. I have a choice as to whether the dark fabric forms the inner pinwheel as in the sample or will form a pinwheel when the blocks are combined. I'm leaning towards the latter right now as it seems to provide a better bridge between the center panel fabric and the block border. This may all change though as I go along.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wednesday Change of Pace

Wednesday is "Theological Potluck Night" at my church, so my creative energies get channeled into the kitchen on Wednesdays - to cook or bake, not paint, that is. This morning it was cranberry nut bread chosen in honor of the season. The creative part is finessing my very old oven to the proper temperature and getting it to stay there. Something is amiss with the thermostat, which blithely ignores the temperature setting on the dial in a relatively unpredictable way, although I may be detecting a pattern.

Tomorrow we Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day - often by overeating and watching football. And sometimes by even counting our blessings. You all know I have loads to be thankful for this year - a successful and safe relocation, friends who stepped up to help it happen, other friends who cheerleaded from near and far, new friends in the making, beautiful views to inspire, good health, financial means to continue "retirement" and pursue my art, and a plethora of ideas and inspiration. Blessed indeed, and the rest is up to me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Step one...

...chain stitching forever, or so it seemed. Actually, I sat for 2 hours at the machine today, sewing the smaller triangles together for the 56 pinwheel blocks. Yes, I am a masochist.

Does it look a bit like a pile of leaves?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Goals for Week of Nov 20

I feel good about meeting my modest goals of last week. I added "minimum of 3 days in the studio" with no clear idea of how that time would be spent, except for finishing up the placemats. It left me free to do whatever struck my fancy on that day, but by knowing I had to put in the third day, I was more likely to "show up" to do something. That something was a new project - the pinwheel block wall quilt. I refer to it as a new project even though it is an old idea from as long as 7 years ago. Fabrics were placed in a bag along with the source of my inspiration, but since it never got beyond a germ of an idea until last week, I consider it new work. Semantics are everything!

I think I'll leave the minimum studio days at 3 since Thanksgiving is this week. I'm not traveling anywhere or having company in but I do plan to give myself the day off, do a little extra cooking and maybe take in a movie. The beauty of stating "minimum" is that it sets an open-ended goal; if I feel like putting more time in, I certainly will, but I'm not pressured to. For now, that is what I need. So here are the plans for the week:
  1. Spend minimum of 3 days in the studio. Work will include the next two goals:
  2. Piece pinwheel blocks. Don't know if that will be all 56 cut out and ready to go or not. My thinking on the layout is changing and I may not need that many of this color combination.
  3. Work with one of the sheer leaf prints in a journal-type or similar size project.
  4. Update tech journal with leaf printing info and pictures.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Suggestive of Patchwork?

Here are the last of the pictures from a few weeks ago. I shot this first one because of the splash of yellow above the line of fir trees. It was only after I'd looked at it on the computer that I noticed that the yellow wasn't from deciduous trees like maples or ash, but from tamaracks which resemble evergreens with their green needles but are actually a deciduous conifer whose needles turn yellow and drop in the fall. Go here for more on tamaracks.

The other thing I noticed once the picture was up on the computer screen was that if I squinted to blur the image a bit, the jagged line of yellow resembled a bargello-like pattern. Bargello usually refers to a needlepoint stitch or pattern as seen here, but of course, quilters, including me, couldn't resist translating the undulating design in patchwork.

It should be fairly obvious why I captured this shadow pattern created by the low angle of the sun shining through the fence. It rather surprised me that the shadows were so thick. The resulting blocky pattern certainly reminded me of patchwork.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I Be Dancin'!

And not because I've won a prize, or had a piece accepted into a show, but because I spent a big chunk of the day in the studio starting a new piece. And it felt great! I cranked up the stereo (something I rarely could do when I lived in the fourplex), got out fabric set aside a long time ago with thoughts of making a fall-themed wall quilt, did some calculations and dived it. Above is the test block surrounded by all the rest of the pieces I cut today, enough to make 56 pinwheel blocks.

Not sure where this is going. My original idea has morphed along with my interests and skills. I thought I'd incorporate a newer batik bought last year, but when put next to these fabrics, it was clear I needed to stay with my original leaf fabric. The idea comes from a tablerunner pattern, of all things, but I liked its use of this pinwheel block coupled with the fall fabrics. The blocks may end up being the border, or they may end up being the center. I may make more blocks with the larger triangle in green, or I may just stick with this. Eventually, birch trunks will be appliqued in the center.

I enjoyed the relaxed pace I found myself working at. No pressure in terms of deadline. This is for me so no pressure to make a great work of art. I found myself dancing to the music as I worked - yes, a happy dance. I could have incorporated some speed techniques, but I opted not to. That way I can take my time, think about how the colors are working, better control the mottling of the hand-dyed fabric. The two rusts I'm using are very similar, and depending on the cut, can have very little or quite a bit of contrast. The finished size of these blocks is 3-1/2" and I hope I don't get bored making so many of them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More leaf printing

Does leaf printing count as time in the studio, even if it takes place in the kitchen? That's the trouble with getting too literal about things. When I added "3 days in the studio" to my goals, I must admit my mind was envisioning 3 days in that very room, and by default, 3 days sewing or cutting or embellishing. But painting or dyeing will never take place in there, yet they definitely count toward "working." So I guess I need to expand my mind to include the kitchen as part of the studio...Here I am set up on the kitchen table with commercial batik, sheers, leaves & paint.

I worked exclusively with Liquetex acrylics today, adding textile medium and mixing a few colors of my own to more closely resemble the colors of the willow leaves I had on hand. I used camel hair brushes this time, instead of the foam brush, and I think I like the way it applied the paint better. I didn't apply the paint thickly enough on the first few tries but got more consistent as I went along. I thought these acrylics were opaque, but apparently not. You can see one white leaf that was printed over with brown. Or was it the other way around? No telling as the white showed through the brown.

Printing on sheers was an idea that came from Margaret. I'd never thought of it on my own, I'm sure. I rather liked the effect. I suspected there'd be bleed-through, so I tried laying the sheer - really kind of a netting - over the batik.

Here's the netting after printing...

And here's the batik with the bleed-through. Very nice, although hard to see on this particular fabric. I decided after the fact that this was too busy for these colors.

This is a polyester Georgette. It was difficult getting the paint the right consistency to work on this. The effect changed depending on what the georgette was laid on.

I'm not sure what this is but it is the densest sheer of the group. No bleed-through to speak of. Not sure I'm happy with the colors & positions of the leaves, but I liked the way the leaf prints worked on this particular fabric.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Every experience deeply felt in life needs to be passed along - whether it be through words and music, chiseled in stone, painted with a brush, or sewn with a needle, it is a way of reaching for immortality.
Thomas Jefferson

I remember the exact moment I decided what I wanted to be remembered for, my little bit of immortality. I was 39, worked full time, had prominent roles in several worthy organizations, and was childless by choice. I'd dabbled off and on with patchwork over the years, along with other needlecraft, but I'd recently hand-quilted a top appliqued by my mother-in-law as a wedding gift for her daughter. I had little time to make tops but could always fit handwork into my schedule, while she found the hand quilting process bothered her neck and gave her headaches, but appliqueing did not. We struck a deal, and by the time I finished that double-bed size quilt, I not only knew this handcraft was what I wanted to devote my time to above all else, I also knew that my quilts were what I wanted to be remembered for.

I felt this was quite a departure from what everyone else I knew thought was important - what might end up in an obituary to describe one's life. Civic leadership, career achievement and advancement, even children were all the ways others planned to define success in their lives. Not me. I wanted something a little more tangible, a little more lasting, something that, even if the link between me and it were lost, someone in the future might pause over it in awe, wonderment, appreciation or just enjoyment.

It wasn't long after that epiphany that I got the opportunity to quit my job, learn my craft and start amassing a legacy. Some quilts have already gone to new owners - relatives, friends, the needy. Some I will always keep for my own enjoyment and hope they go to appreciative homes after I'm gone (yeah, I know - make a list and get it in the will). The more recent twist in the legacy making is wanting to make quilts that may sell, going to a different type of appreciative audience than I originally envisioned. It's been an exciting journey, and I don't regret my decision to start down this path, forgoing the more typical means of "reaching for immortality."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Goals for Week of Nov 13

I decided two things yesterday as I thought about goals for this week. One was that I needed to get into high gear on these placemats. A look at the calendar jogged me to the realization that Thanksgiving is next week, so completing the placemats couldn't be left for later in the week, in spite of the fact I planned to do the leaf printing today. So I got down to work today and got the two layered and turned pillowcase style, then machine quilted. Quick and dirty and the set of four with tablerunner are packaged, ready to mail tomorrow.

The other thing I decided was that in addition to individual goals, I needed to set a goal for time spent in the studio. I've been undisciplined for so long that re-establishing some discipline in my work habits is a bit of a challenge, especially since discipline is not one of my strong suits. I've fallen back into bad habits and mindsets not conducive to doing the sort of focused and intense work I'd envisioned for my first year out here. Time to get serious and schedule time in the studio, regardless of how it is used.

I no doubt am thinking along these lines because I am re-reading "Art and Fear," a slim but meaty book every aspiring artist should read. In the first few chapters I am reminded that all the misgivings we struggling artists have about our talent and our work are no different from any artist be they amateur, professional, genius or not. In other words, time to suck it up and get to work, because everything we need to learn to move forward can be found in our current piece. I like that thought, and in fact know it to be true from my journey with traditional quilts. Why I'd think it would be any different with my art quilt journey , I don't know.

So here are my goals for the week:
  1. Finish placemats (done!)
  2. Print batik and sheers with willow leaves
  3. Spend minimum of three days in the studio
As an aside, I noticed two things while working on the placemats. One is that the room has a disturbing echo - nothing on the walls yet and no curtains on the windows either to soak up sound. Will have to get those design wall flannels up soon. The other is that I get great natural light falling just right where I position myself to work at the ping pong table. As I looked up, I noticed that although I'm looking at the landlord's vacation home, now that the leaves have fallen off the trees, I can see through them to the lake and mountains beyond. And yes, that's snow on the mountains.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Curves, light, reflection

I planned to leaf print this afternoon, but only got as far as getting everything out and set up. My lower back is giving me grief so instead of pictures of leaf prints, here are more pictures taken last week.

The lake has been drawing down for weeks now, exposing mudflats which the ducks, geese, heron & swans don't seem to mind. Every day the level goes down a bit more, changing the landscape, changing the curves.

Shafts of light were prevelent that day.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about this area is the way the sun plays along the mountainside, creating ever-shifting patches of gold against the shadowy forests.

Clouds and mountains took turns reflecting in the water.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I promised to share some of the pictures I took around the property on Sunday. Once the fog of relocation cleared, I noticed several birch trees over by the landlord's house. With leaves gone, it was clearer that they were there, if that makes sense. They are unlike the slender white-barked birches I avidly studied back in Wisconsin. See sample here.

These weren't the only kind of birches in my neighborhood though. Before moving, I took this picture to reference a birch with a different look. It interested me because the shape and horizontal lines in the bark made it look bottom heavy to me, ponderous as opposed to lithe and souring. This is the type of birch here on the property with trunks that are stouter and straighter, bark less starkly white.

Here's the Idaho version. At first I was shooting to capture basic lines and shapes, then zeroing in closer to capture texture. Some shots I concentrated on composition too as it occurred to me it would be good practice. Much can be learned about composition with a camera. Not telling which shots are which! And as always, you can click on a picture to see a larger view.

As so often happens when snapping away, I was missing some subtle details at first. Like the flesh-color undertones of the trunk, and the delicate green of lichen and moss. I lowered the camera and stepped forward for a closer look.

Then I looked up at the branches. Even more texture going on there as bark curled and lichen multiplied.

These last two are of a different type of tree - not sure what but it had fruit when I first arrived. The upper portion had rough angular texture...

...The lower portion a different look.

Don't know where these images might show up in my work, but it seemed important to capture them for future reference.