Sunday, April 01, 2007

March Journal Quilt

It was a sound concept, I think, but as so many of my envisionings, it has not worked exactly as I'd anticipated, and has fallen a bit short. But this is a journal quilt and is meant to teach me what I don't already know. This is particular apt since March's theme is "Self-Improvement" with the quotation coming from Thomas a Kempis: "Now is the time to be doing, now is the time to be stirring, now is the time to amend myself..." Indeed.

I decided to take the opportunity of the "self-improvement" theme to dabble with photo manipulation and thread "sketching." The sketching I've not done before, and the photo manipulation is something I want to get more adept at. I have a bunch of pictures of my brother, Mad Max, taken specifically with the idea of working them into quilt themes. I'm still uncertain how I will do this, but this was a place to start.

Here is my original picture of Max. As an aside, I am fascinated by how much he resembles portraits of Longfellow and Tennyson now that he is older, greyer, and has let his hair and beard grow.

I spent quite a bit of time working with this photo, trying to make my Corel Paint Shop Pro program and several others do things they didn't want to do. I was trying to reduce the photo to something more like a sketch. In the end, I settled for cutting him out of the background, mirror imaging it and reducing it to black and white. Then I applied a pencil effect, although I'm not sure that was necessary. Finally, I cropped it to the exact image I wanted to use and printed it out full size.

Next I took a transparency sheet and taped it over the printout. Using a fine tip Sharpie pen, I traced the major outlines and features I wanted to include in my thread sketch. Here you see the printout on the left, the traced transparency on the right. It was only at this point that I realized I wouldn't have had to mirror image the photo on the computer, since the clear transparency could be flipped either way.

Now it was on to choosing my background fabric. Max is an artist who works in wood, so I thought it would be clever to use a fabric that reminded me of wood grain. (This is the clever concept part that didn't work quite as well as anticipated.) Since it was somewhat dark, I used a light table to transfer the pattern from the transparency onto it with a soapstone marker. The nice thing about working with the transparency was that I could first move it over the right side of the fabric to find a part of the pattern that would best work with my design. I marked each corner before removing the transparency and lining it up underneath the fabric.

Once marked, I fused Decor Bond (a heavy interfacing) to the back side to avoid having to hoop or use a stabilizer that would have to be removed later. Then on to stitching. The grey/black Sulky Twist didn't show up as well as I'd hoped (used it to outline the shirt), so I switched to a white Madeira 40 wt Rayon thread. I used a black bobbin thread that I allowed to pull slightly to the front to give the white thread a bit more oomph. Here's the back showing the bobbin thread on the interfacing.

I also went back over the grey/black lines with the white, but overall, I wasn't getting enough contrast. Parts of the stitching simply faded away on the lighter parts of the fabric. I only used free motion straight stitching, and wasn't happy with some areas like the eyebrows and beard where I wanted more squiggly lines. I could do it with a pen, but not under the needle. Perhaps with practice I could master this, but all in all, I felt pretty inept.

I decided to mount this piece like I did in January's journal quilt, so trimmed it and a piece of Thermore batting to a size that would leave a 3/4" border once stitched to the background fabric. While auditioning backgrounds, I came across a piece of black with grain line patterning in it and nearly did the hand-hitting-the-forehead bit. If I'd used this fabric for my sketching, I'd have had my wood working theme and the white thread would have shown up fabulously. The brown wood grain fabric then could have been the frame. Oh well, I can try this again with that combination, right?

I cut the background large enough to have plenty to turn to the back and spray basted to the wrong side another piece of Decor Bond (fusible side out) cut to finished size (8-1/2 x 11). This is to give the finished piece the stiffness it needs since there was to be no batting or fused border in that area. Also, it will fuse in place the backing with label info printed on it. I used a little fabric glue baste to hold the batting/top in place and satin stitched around the edges to attach it to the background.

Here was my chance to improve the visibility of the portrait. What to do, what to do? Well, I should have put my white thread back in the machine and gone over some of the lines that needed more definition, as well as adding more lines to the hair area. Instead, I decided to try echo stitching with the black. Yes, I got definition, but I don't think I like it. However, one of our self-imposed rules of the journal quilting is that when you run out of time on the designated day, you quit working on the quilt. And I was out of time. This means that you are more than welcome to give me advice on how I could make this work better - how I might quilt it to bring out the portrait better. Please - fire away! I'm very tempted to break the rules and do some more work on this.

One thing I think might have worked better was a heavier thread. 40 wt Rayon is pretty thin thread. Another thing, as I mentioned earlier, would be to choose a darker fabric, or a darker thread. Finally, my lines may have been more distinct had I used the zigzag method instead of straight stitch. I'm not talking satin stitch here, but a form of free motion where fabric moves more or less in the same direction as the zigzag (as opposed to the usual forward and backward) to form a heavier line than a straight stitch would.

Well, Mad Max, I hope I haven't embarrassed you too much. I promise, the next rendition will be better!


Anonymous said...

Although I don't understand your techniques, I recognized Mad Max instantly.


Mad Max said...

I was wondering when those photos would rear their ugly head (no pun intended). 'Older and greyer?' Thank you very much.

If you insist on producing more of these for god's sake look closer at the photo. How could you have gone from my lovely straight-bridged nose to something that looks like it belongs on an old Roman coin? Focus, focus!