Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Just...Can't...Stop! Even more paint play

Really, I thought I was done for awhile, meant to put everything back on my cart and roll it out of the extra bathroom for awhile. Maybe if I hadn't read on Marion's blog that she likes to use up what paints she's mixed even if she's supposedly done painting for the day, I wouldn't have given in to my own tendency to want to do the same. Just a little of that teal, a bit more of the blue and quite a bit of the brown begged to be used up, and how could I resist on such a warm, dry and windless day?

This time I covered my board with freezer paper to ensure a smooth surface. I had a plan - to lay the paint on thickly in bands, arrange a variety of my dried leaves on top and sprinkle the remaining surface with table salt and barley. Out in the sun it went. I could already see some interesting blending and diffusion going on. (Clicking on any picture will give you a larger version.)

While I was waiting for it to dry, I decided I could clean up my brushes - the chip brush that spread the teal, the mop brush that spread the blue, and a foam roller brush that spread the brown. I've had that roller for awhile but was hesitant to use it, but no better time than now to see how it worked. My, I really liked it too! Anyway, I'd brought a small piece of white muslin down just in case I was inspired to do something else, so decided to see how much paint was still on that chip brush. Not much but it did leave some fine streaks on the cloth. I figured there probably was quite a bit of the brown in that roller foam, so rolled that next. The paint had collected in the end so I pushed really hard while rolling to get it out. More nice streaks. This could easily be a landscape background - more sandy beaches perhaps.

I wiped the remainder of anything on the brushes on my wipe cloth and dipped it in the rinse water and thought I was done. But no - not all of the blue had come out of its bottle, and I had a couple of squares of hand-dyed fabric on the cart plus some tips for that bottle...Oh why not? So I scribbled and drew wavy intersecting lines just for fun. As you can see, it took me a bit to figure out to keep moving or else I'd get a blot of paint. I can see that a thicker paint would be better for this technique.

This time I really did quit, and went to retrieve my sunprint. Oh, this turned out much better - except that the large leaf in the middle didn't print sharply. Many spots on this are nice, if I look closely I can see the effect of the salt in places and I like the shapes left by the barley. Two successful, fun sessions in a row? Can it be???

Monday, May 29, 2006

Painting again

I may be near the end of this round of experimentation. Here you see the 3rd and last go round of the spiraling arcs fabric. I've added some cobalt blue with a little red mixed in it and also some red that was highly diluted. I was looking for a way to add more spots and blend the lighter areas a bit so tried different ways of spattering or sponging on a test cloth. Nothing was working. I finally took a dowel, dipped the end in the paint and used that to make larger dots around the darker areas. Then I spied the toothbrush I'd used to clean my shells; I'd totally ignored the most obvious and basic way of adding a fine spray of paint, a method learned in gradeschool, and all because I'd fixated on using spray bottles. I dipped the brush in the paint, stroked a plastic knife over the bristles and was amazed at how fine the droplets were and how easy they were to control. So I covered the entire piece with a spraying of the blue, then did the same with the red. I think it toned things down enough that I can use it, although the light areas are still a bit more of a contrast than I wanted. Enough with this one! Here's a close-up.

I also did more painting over that packing material, this time with dry unbleached muslin and a 1 inch flat brush. The first time I tried this, I'd stroked the brush back and forth. This time the fabric didn't stay in place, probably because it wasn't damp, so I ended up stroking away from me while I held on to the end. That worked very well to give me the crisp lines of texture that I wanted. I was going for a rippled sand effect and I think I got it. Not sure if the picture reads this way, but the fabric has a very "golden" look to it.

So more learned, more accomplished, more fabric ready to find its way into a quilt.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Design Opportunities

Quilters who might otherwise despair when they make a mistake, or run out of fabric or something just doesn't go right on their quilt are encouraged to see it as a design opportunity. A little like making lemonade out of lemons. But it is often those unexpected "problems" that force us to think past the obvious and sometimes lead to a much better work in the end. Such may be the case with the quilt here - "Easter in America" (which is 15 inches square).

In my goals for this week, I wanted to finish sewing down the binding and needed to do something about the problem that cropped up - a shadowing through of the darker fabric of the top which made a distinct line down the middle of the binding. I considered couching on more of the chenille but decided instead I had the perfect beads that would actually pull some sparkle out into the binding. I hadn't been convinced that my choice of 1/2 inch binding in the light fabric was the best idea, so adding the beads offered a chance to improve that. I was working on turning the problems into a design opportunity.

Today turned out to be a day when sitting and hand sewing really appealed, so I finished sewing down the binding and got out the beads - purple and gold and green bugle beads. I sewed 8 or ten on and stepped back to admire the effect...and could see it wasn't right at all. The beads came across too dark, forming a very hard line that did not look as good as I thought it would. No real sparkle either - very strange. Not one to give up easily, I rifled through my beads and found a lighter bunch of seed beads. They looked nice scattered along the binding, so I started by sewing them in a line, but slightly apart, but again, It was too dark and not a pleasing look. So I tried sewing them scattered. Not only was this going to take a long time, it wasn't going to camouflage the shadowing problem very well and I didn't really like the look anyway. Well, so much for the "perfect" beads.

I gave the chenille another chance and could immediately see that this was going to work. Rather than machine couch it down, I couched it on by hand using monofiliment thread which allowed it to float on the bind. I left tails at either end of each side to be pulled around to the back and glued in place. I'm very pleased with the way this makes that wide light binding a more integral part of the piece. Let's here it for design opportunities!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More Pondering

I've put up another picture to remind me of where I want to be in a few month's time. This painting by Charles Courtney Curran looks so much like a view near my chosen relocation spot that it took my breath away. I want to be that woman in the painting. I used to climb to such vantage points when I was young and there is nothing like it.

When I began my paint session on Thursday, I was riding euphoria brought on by the previous day's events. I'd successfully taken a major step towards my relocation goal, one I'd been dreading and putting off for many reasons. The next step is equally daunting but hinged on the results of this first one. I'd had a chance to share my experience, thoughts, fears, strategies with a friend, a venting which allowed me this momentary freedom from obsessive non-productive worry. Thursday was glorious with a sense of calm and confidence, efficiency and motivation. I couldn't help but wonder if this state of mind was a major player in the way I felt while working with the paints, for the lack of furrowed brow and for the general satisfaction with the session. Was I in an unsettled and worried state of mind on the days the painting did not go well?

The euphoria was short-lived. By Friday I was worrying again about the logistics of the move, putting off taking the next step. Don't want to know, don't want to know... As my mood deteriorated, so too did my positive feelings about the outcome of Thursday's painting session. This is stupid, I told myself. Nothing about the painted fabric has changed between yesterday and today. The only thing that has changed is how I'm feeling about myself.

Many artists, quilters, crafters comment that working in their medium can calm and uplift them, distract them from the worries and woes of the world, provide an escape from the inescapable realities of life. I've felt this myself. But now I am wondering if much of our success or failure can be attributed to our state of mind on any given day, if there are times when our craft does not overcome or distract us from that which is consuming our thoughts. Do those worries instead turn all we try to do into one more way to shake our confidence in ourselves?

I suppose a medical professional would diagnose me as manic-depressive and put me on something to even things out. Frankly, I treasure my highs enough that I'm willing to put up with the occasional lows. I'm convinced that without them, I would not have the revelations that I do, nor appreciate those highs when they come. In the low times, I remind myself that life is a series of peaks and valleys. How long you stay in the valley is somewhat up to you. The climb to the peak is always worth the effort. The view can take you away, bring peace, inspire, fortify and sustain you on the trip back down.

Another Paint Session & Ponderings

Here's before & after pictures showing the latest reworking of the blue/pink painted, then stamped fabric. Don't ask me why overpainting it with this green makes me feel better, but it does. Maybe it's because it got rid of light areas so the shells don't contrast as much. Maybe it's because this green is that teal green I'm so fond of. Whatever the reason, I'm done messing with this one. It no doubt will be cut up and incorporated into something else so I'm not going to worry about an overall balanced look anymore.

Thursday is when I did this, spent the morning mixing paints and reworking several of those pieces from the first painting experiment. While I combined paint colors to come up with more options and mapped out in my head what I wanted to try with which piece, I realized I was feeling more relaxed than my last session. I was pretty frustrated after that one (and after the first one too), but this time I had the distinct sense that I was getting somewhat comfortable with this process. Mmm, wondered if I'd just needed more time to familiarize myself with the tools and materials or if there was more in play here.

I decided that was partly it, but that also I'd gone into the session with quite a different mindset than on the previous occasions. I had not consulted my books or notes to set in my mind a particular look or technique. I had no preconceived ideas about what I wanted the outcome to be. I simply went at it with the idea of, let's try this and see what happens. It allowed real learning, both of the technical side and what tools, colors and effects appealed to me. It removed the inner critic for the moment so I could assess the effect not in terms of my skill or lack of it, but on less personal criteria. It provided that element of surprise I so enjoyed from my dyeing days. In the other sessions, I had said to myself, let's try this because it will give me this effect. And when it didn't, I was naturally disappointed.

So on piece one, I used the Setacolor Transparent Emerald Green because it looked to have a bluish tint to it. I broke out of my mind lock about what I could mix paints in and dug out some artichoke jars - small but wide-mouthed with tight fitting lid. Brushed it on with a 2" chip brush (would have used a larger one but the 2 inch fit perfectly into the jar opening) and immediately liked using it better than the wide foam brush. I concentrated more on controlling the amount of paint on the brush and the pressure while stroking to minimize obvious globs of paint. And I was delighted by the color - whether or not it looked good on this. Emerald Green is definitely a color I will keep in stock.

On to piece two. This packing material has been sitting on my kitchen table for some time. I'd noticed this slit corrugated cardboard being used in shipments from Amazon and eventually it dawned on me that it might make an interesting pattern to paint over. I pulled it apart and laid two sections of it on the work surface and covered it with one of the orchid tints. I used a spray bottle to dampen the fabric with water, then used a 1" mop brush to paint more of that luscious Emerald Green over it. Oooh - I not only loved the design that surfaced, but loved working with that mop brush.

This pattern suggested several things to me. First, I saw hills, then clouds, then ripples in sand. I think I'll take a piece of unbleached muslin and paint over it with brown to get that look of beach sand. After this dried, the green wasn't as dark and I'm not sure putting it over the orchid was the best combination - it seemed to change the color and bring out an orange undertone. It was the dickens to get a picture of it and I also messed around in Corel Paint Shop Pro trying to adjust the colors.

Now it was time to "improve" the piece with the spiraling arcs. I ironed some freezer paper scraps to it to act as a resist, hoping to form straight lines and angles. I poured a brown I'd concocted into a small spray bottle which formerly held eyeglasses cleaner. I didn't dampen the fabric at all because of the freezer paper, just started spraying. The bottle did not produce as fine of a spray as I'd anticipated. I tried different distances but it didn't help much - for my purposes, this is too heavy handed a look. So I'll look for a different nozzle with a finer spray if I do this again. Here it is before and after the freezer paper was removed.

When I removed the freezer paper, the brown looked too much like something one doesn't mention in polite company. Mother's with babies will know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. Also, the contrast between the spayed and resisted areas was a bit more than I intended. So this piece will get one more remake - perhaps spattering or sponging some dark blue over the entire piece. I've even hit upon an idea of how to use it as a background, so I am motivated to take the next step. I have to admit that part of the problem with experimenting with dyeing, printing, and otherwise making your own fabric is figuring out how it will be used.

This was going so well that I decided to try one last thing. I took another of the tints - that light blue one that was so pale you could hardly tell it had any color in it at all - and dampened it, then loosely bunched and rubber banded random areas front and back. Then I used the mop brush to apply Emerald green and a foam brush to apply cobalt blue mixed with some red. Again, it was pretty random, done to both front and back with varying pressure so some paint was lightly applied and heavier in other areas. Finally I spritzed the whole thing front and back with water to be sure the paints ran and diffused a bit.

The piece was finally dry enough today for me to take the bands off and spread it out. I couldn't wait to iron it, so these pictures still show the wrinkles in the fabric. Also, the pictures have a cast & darkness to them that I couldn't get rid of. The background remember is that light blue and since I used quite a bit of the Emerald green, the overall feel of the piece is more green. Anyway, I thought, this is more like it! I very much liked this effect. In the close-ups you can see how that mix of cobalt blue and red diffused much like a dye would. Because I worked from both sides of the fabric, each side has its own slightly different thing going on. This use of paints makes sense to me and I'm sure I will do more of it. It also makes me want to use that cobalt mix with salt.

Above is one side and then a closeup. Below is the other side and its closeup.

The session ended on such a positive note that I was motivated to tackle some of the mess in my studio that afternoon - one item on my list of goals for the week. I reworked my documentation form and printed off a bunch of them and even got a couple of them filled out. Also printed off some pictures for files and tech journal, so I am feeling pretty good about the week's work.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Goals for Week of May 22nd & Easter revisited

As I recall, I was fairly non-committal about my goals for last week. The hope was that I'd do something spectacular to some rather blah painted pieces. That's pieces plural. If you've been following along, you know that ended up being painted piece singular and nothing spectacular transpired. I keep going back to stare at it, contemplate it, even whined about it to two of my on-line groups. What a supportive bunch they are, ready and willing to take on my problem and suggests ways to deal with it. So I may give it another go this week.

I was feeling so low about my lack of success on that primary goal that it quickly drove me right to binding the Easter piece. Binding - I can do it in my sleep it seems, so expected easy success there. Ah, but I have a habit of creating problems for myself, and my binding effort was no different. I'd chosen a light fabric and single, not double fold method plus a wider than usual dimension. This resulted in shadowing that can't easily be fixed (and no, there's not enough fabric for a double fold binding). While I let my inner critic run rampant, I also tried to convince myself that it didn't matter - that this piece wasn't destined for any big competition or exhibit; it was more an exercise in technique and design, an idea I needed to get out of my system, the first in a possible series or study of the floating squares and grid. But I'm never easily convinced by this argument. I'm not a perfectionist, I'm not, I'm not! Well, maybe a little...

This shadowing makes a perfect line through the middle of the binding, so I wondered if I could couch more of the chenille thread over that line to camouflage it. Could, but should? Probably not. And then I thought about running a line of beads along it. Ah yes! I have just the right twisted bugle beads and I think adding a bit of sparkle out there on the light binding will really improve the piece. As they say, not a mistake but a design opportunity! Unfortunately, I wanted to be done with this piece and am only partly done hand stitching the binding to the back. It's hard to think of spending even more time on hand beading, but I'm going to do it. Maybe not this week, but eventually.

The journal size version got finished up yesterday too, and not happily. It's not a good piece and I don't plan to display it - it will just be a good reference of what NOT to do. So I didn't want to spend a lot of time finishing the edges with a binding or frame. Keep seeing where others satin stitch edges of smaller pieces so thought this would be a good place to try that. It might have work had I not used metallic thread, but I got sucked in by having a perfect color and thinking it would balance all that sparkle of the foil. I didn't have trouble on my test piece, or with the first run around with a loose zigzag, but when I stitched the real deal with the wide and tight satin stitch, the metallic thread decided it didn't want to play. Every few inches or so it would skip a stitch and/or snag in the bobbin case - even though I was using the proper needle, had the tension loose, sewed slow. Some days you just can't catch a break. I eventually made it around, not worrying about securing ends when I stopped and started - as I said, this is just a reference piece. Gads, but I'm glad to be done with it! You can see more detail by clicking on the picture for a larger version.
So in a way, I met my goals of last week - minimally. I'll try to have some better vibes this week when I do get a chance to paint or stitch. I think this week will also see some straightening up. The clutter is really bothering me as well as knowing several pieces need their documentation completed. So let's make that a goal for this week too - to catch up on documentation and make a concerted effort to "clear the decks."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Shell Game

Thought I'd show you the shells I used in my stamping yesterday. When I went to take another look at the problem fabric, hoping it wasn't as bad as I thought (almost but not quite) and trying to envision ways to improve it (still a puzzlement), I rather liked the little still life composed of these items set on the counter to dry.

I erroneously thought the 5-petal design on the top of the sand dollar would print, but it actually is more a color change than a raised or otherwise delineated area. The flip side has fissures as well as a rough overall surface, so it printed quite nicely.

The toothbrush gives you an idea of the size of these shells. I used it to clean the paint from the depressions.

Friday, May 19, 2006

More Paint Play

Nan asked if one of the books I read during my surface design reading binge was "Off the Shelf" by Sue Beevers, and yes it was. It was the book that gave me the idea to, among other things, tint fabric using a few drops of paint in water. I had some time yesterday afternoon so decided to hand wash those 4 tinted pieces and press them to really see how they turned out.

I was a little suspicious of the oven method of heat setting I'd tried on them. The directions said to heat oven to 220 degrees, lay fabric on foil and place in oven, and turn off oven. Remove after 10 minutes. I divided the fabric on the two racks and when I opened the door after 10 minutes, some moisture steamed out but the fabric itself didn't seem warm enough to have heat set. Surely not as hot as fabric feels right out of the dryer or after ironing it. So it was with some hesitation that I dipped the first square into the tepid water with a little Orvus Paste in it. I was surprised at how much color released immediately into the water. Ok, so I suppose I should expect some. That's why I'm washing it, right? To removed any paint that didn't bond? But with my overly paranoid nature, it was enough to send me upstairs to iron the other squares. Since I had two pieces essentially the same color, I decided to heatset one of them,, leaving the other as my control piece. The last piece theoretically had been dipped in the least diluted paint, so it got heatset with the iron and I expected it to leave the most color when washed. It actually left the least. The two dipped in the same diluted die sloughed off about the same amount of paint regardless of the one having been ironed. The sloughing didn't happen immediately though, as it had with the first one. Frankly, I don't quite know what to make of it.

I ironed all four pieces while still damp and found myself pretty disappointed. The blue one was so pale and impossible to see any effect of having been folded and placed in the sun. Really no shading at all. The two of the same paint showed similar sunprinting of the wrinkles, even though one was laid flat, the other left crumpled. The delicate veining I thought I could see before washing was very pale and hard to see. The best piece was that last one that was the least diluted and least wrung out before allowing to dry crumpled. But even it left me feeling underwhelmed and wondering, Why bother? I may stamp or paint over these after all.

On to today. I wanted to rework the pink/blue piece and the multi-colored one painted in arcs radiating from the center. I set up, contemplated my strategy, mixed paint and got going - and only worked on one piece. Either there's a very steep learning curve here or this painting and stamping on fabric simply isn't my thing. I really did not like where this piece ended up. On the left is what I started with and on the right is what I ended up with. I hardly see this as an improvement.
Ok, let's look on the bright side then. Utilizing some tips from my Yahoo Surfacing Group, I took a different tact in mixing my Setacolor paints which worked much better. I also was able to mix the purple I thought I'd get from painting with the blue, then the fuschia on wet fabric. Mix first, dilute second. I also darkened the cobalt a little by adding oriental red.

I used that darkened cobalt to add a netting texture over the whole piece. I did this by laying the net from produce bag on my work surface, laying the dry fabric over that, then rolling a hard rubber brayer loaded with paint over the fabric. As you can see, I wasn't careful enough with even loading of the brayer and got some globs here and there. I made two swipes side by side and that is exactly what they looked like, so I shifted the fabric a bit and continued rolling the brayer, but at different angles. I like that effect but I wasn't convinced it was enough and I wanted to get some purple in there. So on to the second idea I had for improving the overall design.

One of my books had said it was possible to use real sea shells to stamp a shell design on fabric. It was suggested to lay the fabric on a one inch piece of foam to do this. I have a shoebox full of shells gathered from my days living a quick walk from the Pacific ocean, so grabbed a couple to experiment with. Again, controlling the paint coverage on the shell was tricky - some came out darker than others, and I actually liked the way it printed on a flat surface better than on the foam. I was more pleased with the back side of a sand dollar which is flat enough to use on an unpadded surface. Click on the picture for a closer look at the cool texture it left.

The problem was, of course, just where to stamp the shells and how many to stamp. After a point, I sensed more was not making it better, but you can't exactly remove them. Also, had I used several colors in varying values, it undoubtedly would have been more interesting. Perhaps these shells were really too large for this small piece of fabric? Whatever - it certainly wasn't going in the direction I'd hoped. This may end up being a cutter - taking the closeup pictures isolated sections that could stand on their own.

Or...I keep wondering if I could overpaint the whole thing with one color that would help pull it together. Someone was talking about "glazing" work, which is essentially adding a wash of color to unify many and provide depth. But what color would that be - perhaps green? Would a dash of yellow help - spattered or sponged? I may as well keep experimenting because I'm sure not happy with it yet.

The more I puzzled over this, the more I kept thinking, "I do better going from dark to light, not light to dark." I was thinking of the green, tan & black squares I'd stamped and the Versatex paint rolled over black fabric lying on netting. Painting and dyeing usually requires you to work light to dark by virtue of their relative transparency, unless using opaque paints. Perhaps I need to find the means to "work backwards" if painting on fabric is going to work for me.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

100th Post

When I started this blog last fall, I wasn't sure how often I'd be posting. I made a promise to update it at least once a week. I also made a promise to not let it be one more diversion from "doing the work."

I was a little surprised this week to see how close I was getting to having posted 100 entries. This is number 100. I think that works out to about 5 posts a week, a pretty good record I think for someone who thought once or twice a week might be a stretch. I wasn't sure if I'd run out of things to say, but I shouldn't have worried. I didn't know if it would actually be helpful committing to something like this, but I find it has been very helpful. I'm not sure how helpful or interesting it has been to those of you who follow it, but by the occasional comment I get, I know some of you are faithful and think me worth your time. Thanks for that!

I thought my comments and journey would be all about contemporary work, but soon found that I couldn't shirk my traditional background that easily. Documenting what I've been working on, whether traditional or contemporary, and the feelings I have during the process has led me to insights I might not have seen
otherwise - at least not as quickly. It has helped me see what I need to leave behind and where I seem to be headed. It has not gotten in the way of the work, and in fact, has kept me on track and moving forward.

One hundred is a fairly big number, so I started thinking about how that number relates to me:

  • 100 years - How long I hope to live and still be producing beautiful work.
  • 100 quilts - A few years ago, I actually tried to count up how many quilts I'd made up to that point. It was one of those questions people seemed to ask for no good reason, but I was curious. My figure was around 75. I'm sure in the ensuing years I've made at least 25 more, especially if you count journal quilts.
  • 100 days - About how many days I have left to find a place out in Idaho if I want to be moved in September.
  • 100 ideas - I must have at least that many for more quilts I want to make, both traditional and arty.
  • 100 trivial and not so trivial things to share - Yes, I'm sure I have at least that many more blog posts in me.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Goals for Week of May 15th

I am so itching to get back to the fabric I painted a couple of weeks ago (see here). It's sitting in a place I walk by every time I head to the kitchen or living room. It nags at me daily. It tempts me with its "ignore everything else, come play with me" attitude. I heat set the tints using an oven method and I really should give them a rinse to see how it worked. Although it's been long enough now that they have probably passively set. At the moment, I don't plan to do anything else to them. They are such pretty colors and have a very delicate veining to them which should make them great for a wholecloth background or even cut up.

The painted pieces though, they definitely could use more work. I want to try imprinting a mesh design on the pink and blue one, and also stamping with the shells that did not sun print. I think I will try a flour paste resist on the leaf one to add a fine crackling to it. As for that swirly one, I think I may try something using the freezer paper discards from my contest block foundation making. Create a resist with it and either spatter or make marks with various brushes. Might even peruse my collection of stamps to see if anything there might help.

So the fabric is my main goal this week. Even though the Easter piece remains unbound (and I'm itching to get it finished too) and my room is still a mess. Hey, give me a little credit - I at least put away everything I used while making those contest blocks! Seriously, though, as much as I thought I'd be winding down work in the studio and tying up loose ends over the next few months, I feel an incredible urge to keep moving forward and start new things. Is that because I'm subconsciously trying to avoid all the mundane details that must be attended to when preparing for a move or because I truly do not want to give up my creative outlet? I think it's a bit of both. When I sensed how much I wanted to keep working, I had to ask, just how long can one put one's art on hold? How many excuses can one come up with to keep from seriously working at it? When will the perfect, right, stars aligned time finally come? Better to keep at it, make time for it in spite of life's interruptions. Let's see how much of both world's tasks I can accomplish this week.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Final Contest Block - Letha's Electric Fan

I decided to make one more block for the Marshfield Faire Peggy Beals Block Contest as long as I had the foundations needlepunched for Letha's Electric Fan (See EQ5 version here). It actually went quite well, my experience with Mariner Compass blocks holding me in good stead. I also made quick decisions about fabric selections - quick not being my forte, but happening none the less. Maybe it was because I wasn't feeling well today so didn't have the energy or tolerance for a lot of fussing, or maybe it was because I decided beforehand to use 1930's reproduction fabrics chosen from a couple of medleys. Thirties fabrics tend to blend together, not showing much contrast from one to the other because of the size of the prints and the many colors included in each.

Here is the fabric that I thought I'd use for the center circle. I thought it worked well with the yellow I wanted to use for the blades. It served as a guide to pick the 5 different prints used in the arc around the fan blades. I wasn't terribly surprised, though, that I didn't think it worked at all once the block was together. This is something I learned from Judy Mathieson in her Mariner's Compass class - to leave the selection of the center circle to last and audition various fabrics through the hole remaining after the block is sewn together. From the medley packs there looked to be several good choices, at least when all was laid flat on the table for auditioning. I decided I could get a better feel if I pinned the block to my design wall and viewed the choices from a distance. Suddenly, those good choices weren't working either. Normally I would not repeat a fabric from the arc in the center, but decided to try that anyway. The green seemed the winner, so I cut a circle, ironed the edges over a circle of freezer paper, positioned with a little glue baste and hand appliqued it in place.

The background is unbleached muslin, very appropriate for a block using 1930's fabric, and the outside edges of those pieces were cut with extra seam allowance. Sewing curves always leaves room for not quite square edges so the extra allowed me wiggle room for squaring up. To my delight, the block laid quite flat. Oh, yes, and you might notice that my blades spin the opposite direction from the EQ version. I over-thought the needlepunching process - erroneously thinking I had to reverse my pattern before punching. Not so when using freezer paper.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day Memories

I grew up in a house perched on the side of a canyon near the base of a gulch on the outskirts of a small northern Idaho town. A dirt road wound past our house and up the gulch where three other houses perched similarly, then suddenly turned steep and narrow as it became a logging road that switchbacked to the top of the mountain. All around us was dense forests, an incredible playground for my brothers and me. One fond memory surrounds thoughts of Mother's Day - that of going up into the woods to pick huge bouquets of wild trilliums to present to Mom, who always acted so surprised and pleased. Heck, she acted surprised and pleased when her little girl proudly presented her with a handful of dandelions. Of course she'd love these beautiful trilliums. And I always marveled at how they knew to bloom just when we needed them for Mom.

I was thinking about this the other day while out walking, thinking how I miss seeing trilliums. Not that I haven't seen trilliums since moving to Wisconsin. They do grow here and I have seen them along side the road north of here. I just don't see them where I walk. And if I did, it would be a crime to pick any and bring them home. No really, I don't mean that figuratively. It really is against the law these days to removed wildflowers from their native habitat. Although I understand the reasoning behind this, I think it is a shame. While it may be teaching the youngsters of today a more responsible attitude towards nature (preserve and enjoy rather than selfishly destroy), I can't help think they are missing out on creating some wonderful memories of their own. I can't believe that the few flowers we brought home from Sunday drives in the country irreparably damaged the environment. There weren't hoards of us in the woods trampling and pulling up flora on a weekly basis. Perhaps it is different today, or at least in some parts of the country.

Still...if my mother were alive, I think I would sneak out and covertly gather a bouquet of trilliums and proudly present them to her. And she would gasp, smile and act like I'd spent a hundred bucks on roses for her. Mom - love you and miss you...

While searching around for a picture of trilliums, I ran across a couple of sites with information that might interest you: here's a description with pictures, and here's an aromatherapist and natural healer's take on the benefits of trilliums. My, I'm sure my mother would be surprised to learn that its essence is "effective for use during meditation, channeling or any time."

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Contest Block - Another Electric Fan

Didn't sew yesterday after all. Turned a bunch of errands into a day of leisurely shopping. I so seldom go into stores other than for groceries or the sort of things you get at Wal-Mart that it is a bit of a treat just to see what's available or in fashion. I wandered the aisles at Michael's Arts & Crafts after finding the one item I came to buy. I perused the fascinating array of papers and notebooks, filing options and gadgets at Office Depot before tracking down the ink cartridge I needed. I lingered among the handbags, summer dresses and luggage at JC Penney after purchasing a pair of shorts on sale (dreaming of a trip???). I dropped off a book at the library and contemplated the exhibit of black and white photos taken at a nearby falls before picking up two more books. Call it Creative Procrastination - I needed the break and different stimuli.

So today I hunkered down and worked on the "stunner" paper pieced electric fan. Foundations were ready to go and some of the fabrics chosen - I just needed to get on with it, choose the remaining fabrics and get sewing. I decided the best way to tell which other fabrics to add was to start piecing the ones I knew I'd use for sure. Fabrics do not read the same in large chunks as in small, and what sits next to them can also alter the way they read, so getting the proportions and juxtapositions in place theoretically makes the process easier. As it turned out, possible candidates I'd left out from Thursday's session weren't used at all. Here is my finished rendition:

Not sure if this is as stunning as the EQ colored version, but I like it. I'd have preferred the two yellows to contrast a bit more but I simply did not have anything in my collection of yellows that would have done that without introducing an orangish coloration. I had to agree with a friend, it reminds me more of windmills than electric fans.

I've mentioned several reason why I like doing these one-off blocks that go away - either to charity or to a block exchange - and while completing this one, I thought of another. It gives me an idea of whether or not I could tolerate making multiples of a particular block. I know many people make a sample block anyway before plunging into a project, but I've always been the type to not want to "waste" my time on a sample. I only feel like it's not wasting time if the block has someplace to go. Having a bunch of "orphan" blocks hanging about is not something I tolerate well. I like them to go away once I've learned what I need to from them.

So what was my feeling about making more of these blocks? As much as I like it, as much as I can see it has interesting possibilities, I tired of the actual making of it once I got the sections of each quadrant pieced. At this point in my journey, I am apparently in need of designs that require less meticulous sewing, fewer individual pieces, faster construction overall. I spent a lot of hours on this block, and in the final few I found my interest waning, my mind wandering, my self getting impatient and wanting to go back to pieces like "Easter in America" or the two birch tree quilts. I also marveled at how much of my fabric stash is 8 to 10 years old and the sorts of things I probably wouldn't incorporate into my current work. I'm not quite at the point of many quilters I read about who actually have cleaned out these older fabrics from their first years of quilting, but I sensed today that I was several steps closer.

I have to say that this block would have been nigh unto impossible to execute, especially with any accuracy, without the use of some kind of foundation or template method. (Although I do admit there are some excellent quilters out there with the skills and patience to make accurate blocks without that kind of assistance.) The fold-back freezer paper method worked particular well for this block because it allowed me the freedom to press my seams any direction they needed to go, including open. Can't do that with tradition paper piecing methods. It also stabilized all those bias edges so that when I squared up the block, everything was perfect. When the paper was removed, the block was perfectly flat with no distortion. Here's the back of the block showing all the different directions those seams went.

Now to decide if I want to make one more block. One part of me is quickly losing interest, another saying one more wouldn't take that much time and the pattern/foundations are already made. Ah, but then there's all the fabric choices to be made again. And I probably don't need to tell you what a mess my room is right now, how much fabric needs to be put away. The thought of getting even more out is somewhat depressing, believe it or not!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Working in Chaos

Here is what I faced when I went to work on my contest blocks this morning (see this post). Most of this is left over from the last three or four projects: things I can put away once I write up my documentation sheets on each, or perhaps the original project sparked another idea and I don't want to shuffle the reminders aside. Or I don't quite know what to do with some of it, or I just hate taking the time to put everything back in its place. I equally hate working in this much mess, but today I'd rather cut and sew. That little corner on the left end of the table, just big enough for my cutting mat, is where I managed to do what I needed to do. The clutter only got worse, by the way, as I drug out fabric options and stacked them around my little space.

Here's the first thing I worked on. Remember me commenting that I'd make this if for no other reason than to warm up on it? Well, warm up indeed! I've been too long away from this kind of work and I felt clumsy working out the cutting dimension and picking the appropriate fabric. It's one thing to settle on a color combination and quite another to actually find workable options in your stash. This is such a simple block that it should have gone together more quickly, but as I said, I was feeling a bit rusty. But I am fairly pleased with this. It reminded me of another reason I enjoy doing these one-off blocks for charity - it helps me use up some of my older fabric. The geometric in the outside triangles had a date of 1996 on the selvage. And the purple one is another heart fabric left from a teaching sample where I had no other choice. As I've noted before, I'm not much for using hearts in my work, but I do think they are fine for charity quilts. Click here to see the EQ coloring of this block.

I thought I would make Daisy Fan today, but once I got out my templates, I realized they weren't the right shape and would leave a pie shaped hole at the corners. I fiddled just a bit trying to see if I could adapt them before it occurred to me it would be simpler to print out templates from EQ directly on freezer paper. Not today, I decided.

Instead, I prepared my foundations for paper piecing Letha's Electric Fan and this version Electric Fan. I plan to use Judy Mathieson's modified version with needlepunched freezer paper foundations that are folded back along the stitching lines rather than sewn through. See this entry for more on that. As long as I was cutting freezer paper and had the old needle in the machine for the needle punching, I also prepared my foundations for Irish Eyes - a wall quilt I want to make soon for a friend's daughter.

I had lots of interruptions early in the day, so didn't have time for any more sewing, but did take a few minutes to consider fabric for the second Electric Fan. I am so motivated to make this one that I just had to do a little more prep work so I can get right to it tomorrow. I made some cutting templates, then laid out some fabric. My yellow stash is not the best but I think I have found two that will work together and have a great blue to set them against. Several options for the outer colors are still stacked around the yellows and blue - I couldn't make up my mind and figured it was best to give it a rest.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Creative Procrastination

This week Omega wrote a very good breakdown of procrastination (read it here). The passive and active kinds, she notes, are important to the creative process. It reminded me of Rollo May's observations in his book "The Courage To Create" written in 1975. Interviews with creative types and his own experience convinced him that those breakthrough moments - the ones where solutions pop up seemingly out of nowhere when we are not actively trying to find them - are not the product of some force outside ourselves (you know - the way we artists so often attribute our insights to the muses, for instance). These aha moments don't come unless we have been trying to work something out. In our break moments, when we go do something totally unrelated, he believes, the tiniest bit of stimulation may trigger the memory of something we need to complete our work, or just letting the subconscious brain chew on the information it has without our conscious getting in the way will result in creative solutions. This quotation sums it up nicely:

"Obviously, poetic and creative insights of all sorts come to us in moments of relaxation. They come not haphazardly, however, but come only in those areas in which we are intensely committed and on which we concentrate in our waking, conscious experience."

In other words, what we may think of as procrastination, he may term relaxation, and without doing that periodically, we miss out on the best insights.

Both May's words and Omega's are encouraging. How often are artists described as "dreamers" in a negative context? How often do I feel guilty because I'm not putting in 8 hour days actively sewing, designing, cutting, producing? A finished quilt, poem, painting, sculpture is proof of our hard work. Less easy to justify are the moments of dreaming, pondering and just getting away from the work long enough to let the subconscious mind work out solutions while we walk through the park, page through a magazine, write on our blogs. It's good to hear that our "relaxation" or "procrastination" is an important part of the creative process.

Yet let's not get too cocky here. Omega warns of a third kind of procrastination which is procrastination and nothing more. I call it avoidance mode and all it is is non-productive time, wasted time that only prolongs the inevitable and in the end makes me feel worse about myself, not better.. May alludes to that concept too when he points out that relaxation only works in areas we are intensely and actively committing our time to.

For another Rollo May quote on creativity, see my blog entry here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A return to tradition

In yesterday's post, I talked about working this week on fan blocks, or at least blocks that would fit a contest theme of fans. And I was feeling pretty ho-hum about it. My mind was stuck on the typical Grandmother's fan, that quarter circle of fan blades set in the corner of the square. Last night I quickly leafed through a couple of books which confirmed that yes, when you say fan, that's the pattern that pops up. So today, I turned to my trusty Electric Quilt software to do a search of block names including the word fan, hoping to find an interesting variation or positioning.

Right away, among the numerous varieties of single fans set in one corner, I found Daisy Fan which appealed. Here each fan has just 3 blades and by setting one in each corner of the block, they delineate an interesting center shape. I'm thinking, quick and easy to piece, quick and easy to machine or hand applique to the block base. I even have rotary cutting templates for the blades. A definite candidate.

I'm also starting to see blocks that have no curved pieces. Could I be that lucky? It would seem that some quilter along the way saw fans in simple triangles and named this one Electric Fan. A snap to cut and piece, I will surely make one of these, if only to use as a warm-up.

Then I spot Letha's Electric Fan. Wow - really different and interesting. More work for sure, but I know I can print out templates for the curved sections and a separate paper piecing template for that strip of odd shaped rectangles. Shouldn't shy away from a challenge - this one is demanding to be considered, so I print out the appropriate patterns.

I go back to considering those blocks with straight seams and find this stunner, another one named Electric Fan. Oh, too many pieces, I think, too many sharp angles. On the other hand, if it can be broken down into paper piecing units, it would make a wonderful block to submit. EQ5 agrees that a quadrant can be broken into 3 sections for paper piecing and each quadrant of the block is the same, so I print out the foundations "just in case." Even if I don't make one for this contest, I think I'd like to fool around with it at some point.

Finally, I noticed yet another Electric Fan that is a combination of half-square triangle units, squares and drunkard's path units. Not too complicated, and the few curved units add interest. Again, I have some rotary cutting templates for the drunkard's path pieces that would make those quick to cut, so I might give this one a try.

So much for ho-hum fan blocks. I think I found plenty to play with that will hold my interest.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Goals for Week of May 8th

For once I have nothing to carry over from last week, but on the other hand, I couldn't think what I wanted to do this week when time allows. The mind-wandering went something like this: Oh, I suppose I can bind the Easter quilt (see previous post) or perhaps take a day to get the paints out again and add some elements to the sunprinted fabric I was less than pleased with. Maybe I should just catch up on notes, or put stuff away, wash a stack of fabric...because I feel at loose ends and not at all like working at something creative. On my way to the computer this morning, I took a quick glance at the studio calendar and suddenly remembered I should be working on blocks for the annual Peggy Beals Block Contest.

I found this contest through an ad in a quilting magazine, back when I first came to Wisconsin and started looking for places to send my quilts. The idea of making a single block ( or two or three) instead of an entire quilt was very appealing, and if you were willing, your block(s) would go into either a raffle quilt (of the winning blocks) or quilts that would be given to Ronald McDonald house. This was in conjunction with the Marshfield Fair in Marshfield MA and organized by Peggy Beals. I came to find out that Peggy pretty much ran the contest by herself with some years receiving as many as 75 entries. Yet she always added a personal note when notifying of winning blocks or responding to requests for entry information. She was always so encouraging. After Peggy died, helpers rallied to see that the contest continued and renamed the contest in her honor. I'm guessing I've entered several blocks every year for over 10 years now and for the last seven, one of my entries has made it into the raffle quilt. Making blocks for this contest is a tradition I enjoy; it allows me to experiment with different patterns and fabrics (a few guidelines leave room for lots of interpretation) while contributing to a worthy cause and can even reward me with a cash prize. Win, win, win!

This year the designated theme is "fans" with no color suggestion (some years they pre-determine the sashing color). Fans are not my favorite, and I pretty much got them out of my system on this quilt made in 1998. If it looks familiar, it may be because it recently showed up in the Readers' Quilt Show section of Quilters Newsletter Magazine November 2005 issue. Amazing how long they hold on to photos before publishing! This picture is not the best but you can see a larger version by clicking on it. Every block in this original design is some variation of a fan block.

So in spite of my feelings about fan blocks, I refuse to let Peggy down. I'll peruse likely candidates in my EQ5 program and no doubt have fabric strewn everywhere before week's end. "Easter" & painting may take a backseat after all this week but we shall see.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Progress on "Easter"

I was in a rebellious mood today, determined to ignore what I "should" be doing and spend some time in the studio. Since my painting play day on Tuesday (see previous post), I've not done anything "creative" and in fact, have had one of those weeks again where interruption after interruption kept me from getting much done off my regular "to do" list. Zip, and the week was gone. So it is with great pleasure that today I can cross off both remaining items off my goals for the week: Easter in America is quilted and the journal version too!

When I last reported in on this quilt (see here), I was wondering about the proper batting. The journal size has been layered with Thermore for awhile so I started with that to test both how I wanted to quilt it and what thread to use. The Thermore was far too flat for the effect I want, so that convinced me I was on the right track thinking Hobbs wool would be the ticket. I used monofilament thread and used the edge of the presser foot as a guide to run lines about 1/4" out from the couched thread and edge of the foil. That makes those sections poof up. Click on the picture for a larger view that shows this better. I greatly reduced my presser foot tension so there wouldn't be problems with shifting. I think the spray baste holding the layers together really helped with that too. I started in the middle, ready to rip stitches and try something different if I didn't like the effect, but I pretty much had to quilt all four center areas before I had a good feel for the overall effect. I've said it before - I sure wish I could visualize the finished product better so there wouldn't be these moments of uncertainty, or downright disappointment. In this case, once I'd quilted around the outer squares, I knew this was exactly the look I wanted and that I wouldn't need to add any quilting elsewhere. And I was happy that I'd used the clear thread.

I was also pleased that although this started as such a secular rendition of a religious holiday, I got my crosses after all - don't know why I couldn't see in my mind's eye that my quilting lines would form them. Now to decide on binding...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Goals for May & Week of May 1st

In April, I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish for the entire month and broke it down week by week in one sitting, which was new and exciting. Up until then, I literally could not think beyond the current week, nor felt compelled to try. I thought perhaps this was a sign of growth in the goal setting department, a promise of becoming adept at making long range plans. I figured my list was pretty ambitious so I wasn't depressed or frustrated (much) when things did not go to plan. I ended up setting a few goals aside to address a couple things I hadn't foreseen. So in the grand scheme of things, I think May went pretty well, even though I was left with some items to shift into May.

I don't have big plans for May. In fact, I thought about not setting any monthly goals at all. I know I'll be concentrating on non-studio things all month, so any quilting or experimenting I do will be catch as catch can, tying up of loose ends, working on projects needing little decision making. But after considering it for a few days, I decided I could lay out a monthly plan anyway, just a few things to have listed so that if a spare moment presents itself, I won't be wasting time wondering what to do with it. As I said, there's plenty left from the April list to get me rolling and one new thing that's been on my mind for awhile:
  1. Play with painting on fabric (and possibly other surface design techniques)
  2. Make "Irish Eyes" (long overdue gift for a friend's child)
  3. Finish "Easter in America"
  4. Finish journal version of Easter
  5. Make journal interpretation of Wisconsin Spring
As for this week, I opted for the painting and then quilting both versions of the Easter piece. Goal one is already done! Tuesday surprised me with being not only sunny, but relatively calm, the first time sun has not been coupled by gusty winds since I bought the paints for sun printing. Certainly not what I planned for the day, but I decided to seize the moment. I had mixed success but now have some practical experience and samples to build on.

I used paints from a Setacolor Transparent kit for sunprinting. All recommendations were to thin the paint with water in a two to one ration. I chose 4 colors to work with: #11 Colbalt Blue, #23 Oriental Red, #49 Fuschia and #13 Buttercup. I didn't want to mix up very much of any of them so used some very small plastic vials with openings large enough for the 1" foam brushes I planned to use. I was hoping the paint would pour, but it is so thick that it really didn't do that very well. I had a very difficult time figuring out just how much water comprised the 2 parts so I'm sure some of the colors were thinned more than others. Also, the buttercup didn't want to dissolve as I stirred - either with a plastic spoon or a thin dowel. Perhaps this all would have been easier if I'd been willing to make up bigger batches but I wasn't confident that I had airtight containers to store the extra for another session that might be days or weeks away.

Here are two attempts at sunprinting. I used a tightweave pima cotton taped to a plastic-covered board and wet with water. I used a separate foam brush for each color, randomly stroking it on. The oriental red and buttercup were used on the left; after applying in horizontal strokes that only minimally overlapped, I went back over it with buttercup vertically. I was going for a more orange color but these two weren't giving me that. Ditto for what was going on in the piece on the left. My dyeing experience led me to believe that if I brushed the cobalt and then the fuschia, I'd get more of a purple effect. Both colors were lighter than I expected except for a few of the brush strokes. In the future I'll be more bold and try mixing the undiluted paint to the colors I want before diluting it for painting and perhaps be more careful about the proportions of water to paint

The left side got a rather large maple leaf centered on it; the right side had various seashells placed on it. Then out into the sun they went. I spritzed them once or twice with water as they seemed to be drying pretty fast. As you can see, the leaf sunprinted nicely but the seashells hardly show at all. (Click on any of the pictures for larger view.) Also, I noticed that the folds from the garbage bag I used to protect the board sunprinted. Didn't really want that but doesn't exactly ruin the piece either.

I had one more square of this fabric so I grabbed a plastic bag and slipped a box lid into it which was just about the right size. This time I dipped the brush for the oriental blue in the little bit of buttercup left to paint arcs alternating with blue arcs radiating out from the center. This struck me as pretty boring so I tried a few swathes of fuschia too. I took it outside, spritzed it a bit and arranged clumps of selvages over the top. The selvages didn't sunprint at all, but the spritzing caused the paints to run together a bit more and apparently pool in the uneven surface of the plastic bag. I think that's what caused the darker spots and streaks. On the top above is the front side and below it is the back. I rather like the back better - softer and more blended - but those spots show pretty badly. A design opportunity?

I obviously need more practice with my brushstrokes, controlling how much paint goes where. But for the rest of this session, I just wanted to try tinting with very diluted paint - using up what was left by dumping it into the container of water for wetting the brushes and fabric. I scoured some bleached muslin and while wet tore it into four squares. Starting with the blue, I pushed the fabric into the container getting it thoroughly saturated, squeezed out the excess, arranged it in offset accordion folds and laid it out in the sun. I dumped what was left of the fuschia in next, saturated another piece of muslin and squeezed out the excess and laid this one out flat in the sun with some of the seashells on top. At this point I added the end of the oriental red (all the buttercup had been used up) and saturated another piece of muslin, then arranged it slightly crumpled in the sun. All this to test the information I'd read that wrinkles and scrunches will also sunprint. Well, I did get some delicate veining, nothing very pronounced, so again, I think this would work better if the paint was darker and less thinned. However, I did end up with a pretty stack of pastels. In this picture they are sitting on my "wipe cloth" which was a piece of unbleached muslin wet in some places and dry in others. As I worked, I'd wipe off my hands or a brush on this cloth, then as I rinsed out my little vials when cleaning up, I poured the tinted water into a bigger cup and dipped the whole thing in that before drying in the sun. I'll keep using this that way until it becomes interesting.

I had one more piece of muslin left and a bit of the blue/fuschia/oriental red mixture so I dunked it and scrunched it much as the previous piece, leaving it pretty wet, sprinkled some salt on it and have left it inside to dry out of the sun. Just wanted a control piece to see how much difference drying in the sun was making. It's still drying.

My general sense is that all these pieces need more done to them to make them more interesting and worth the effort. And that I've got a lot to learn about working with textile paints. Somehow, I find myself yearning for the Procion dye methods I'm familiar with (but don't have a place to work with at the moment). Yes, I'm still out of my comfort zone here.