Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coming to the end...

It's amazing to me how many little details crop up as I approach the end of a project. Every time I think this quilt is done, I think of something else that needs doing.

I almost let my stubbornness overshadow my better judgment again. When I put the last of the beads on this yesterday late, I so wanted to be done. But that piping around the arbor area had been bugging me ever since I did the quilting. It no longer lay nicely along that seam, but puckered and rippled and stuck out over the unevenness created by the quilting. The thought of another delay to hand stitch the loose edge down was almost more than I could stand. But I knew I'd never be happy if I didn't give it a go, see if indeed tacking it down would make it look better. So I spent the time today, using the YLI heirloom silk thread to make the stitches as unobtrusive as possible, and it was definitely worth the effort.

But I wasn't done yet. In the course of handling, the edge had stretched a bit, some of the fused leaves had lifted, other fused areas had frays needing a trim. I still needed to make and sew on a hanging sleeve as well as compose, print and sew on a label. After all that, it will need one final steaming and passes with a lint roller. I took care of most of that - just the label, blocking and de-linting left, so I thought I'd snap a quick picture to show you the end results. Click on the picture for a larger view to see more detail. And here is a shot of a beading detail I hadn't shown yet.

Monday, October 29, 2007

October Journal Quilt

I worked on my journal quilt this weekend...what a concept, completing October's quilt in October! Been awhile since there hasn't been a conflict on the regularly scheduled Saturday. Also been awhile since my journal partner has been able to join in, but she too found she could work on a journal quilt this weekend. Will post her results later.

I struggled a bit with this month's calendar theme of Awareness, not because I couldn't think of a way to portray it, but rather because most of the ideas I was coming up with were merely rehashing of things I'd already tried. And I have a rule about journal quilts being a place to try out new things, stretch myself, not merely be a place for practice. The Thomas Mann quotation that went along with the theme emphasized the importance of this: "Hold every moment sacred. Give each clarity and meaning, each the weight of thine awareness, each its true and due fulfillment." I'd need to find something worthy to work on. But I couldn't think of anything new I wanted to try. Could I really have explored all I wanted to explore?

Hardly. I remembered the copy of "Exploring Textile Arts" sitting on my shelf and pulled it down. Within just a few pages, the juices were flowing again and I found several things that excited me. I eventually settled on Random Fabric Weaving. The book showed examples using curved strips, but I thought perhaps I could simplify things by cutting my strips with straight edges. It was suggested to sketch out the weaving design to get a sense of how wide to cut the strips and how many might be needed. Here's mine with a little addition of colored pencils

Then it was on to fabric selection. My work table is still laden with fabric used or considered for the angel quilt and my eye went to the one used for the angel's tunic. I thought it might make interesting vertical strips and started pulling other fabrics based on those I saw in it. But it wasn't long until I ran across another fabric I thought would work better. The tunic fabric got set aside, but it was a good place to start.

Here I'm cutting the 1/2 inch strips for the "warp." I had an idea that they could mimic the warp threads in pin weaving - another method in the book that I considered.

These were pinned over a piece of Decor Bond (fusible side up). Then I started cutting wider, angled pieces from my selection of fabrics, and the weaving began. Because all edges were straight, I didn't have to stack fabric in order to get nesting edges. However, I found the weaving took a lot of time partly because the strips weren't easily nesting. I did a lot of pinning for the first few rows. Once all the weaving was complete, I applied a hot iron to start the fusing process, then flipped the piece over to finish fusing from the back.

This was as far as I got the first day. We're not supposed to work on these more than one day, but I'd wasted half of my day just coming up with an idea, then the weaving process took much longer than I anticipated. So Sunday afternoon found me completing the quilting. Because of the raw edges, each strip needs to be sewn down along each edge. I tried to adapt a meandering stitch so I'd only have to make one pass down each "row" where strips abutted, but I couldn't come up with an adjustment that pleased me. I tried several other bridging type stitches, but everything was too heavy, too much visually. If I'd been smart, I would have wound some of the YLI 40wt cotton quilting thread I'd chosen onto a bobbin so I could have used a twin needle. But for some reason I decided that was too much work along with then having to adjust tension. So I made two passes and spent nearly 3 hours quilting this! Oh, another thing that made it take longer was the fact that in the middle of the piece, I changed the weaving pattern so that the yellow strips straddled two warp strips and I didn't want to stitch through that. So there was a lot of starting and stopping as you can see from this picture of the back (click on any picture for a larger view). I used the "fix" function on my machine, which merely stitches back and forth very closely for a few stitches before taking off. I don't normally like to use this because I don't trust that it truly fixes the stitch and partly because it usually leaves a mess like this on the back. But no way was I going to spend time pulling threads to the back, tying and burying them. I finished off the edge with a standard butted binding in the same fabric as the vertical strips.

Although I like the way this turned out, especially the design created by the wedge shapes, there were several things I didn't like about the method itself. Primarily, it was so time consuming that I couldn't help thinking it would have been easier and faster to get the same effect with a piecing technique. I also didn't like dealing with the occasional fraying. I know some use this method by applying a fusible to the fabric before cutting, and I can see the merit in that approach. Perhaps I'll try the curved strips in a larger format and see if it produces an effect that I feel could not easily be achieved another way.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Distractions & Progress

I don't remember the lilac leaves from last fall, know that I took no pictures. So I was surprised to see how they had reacted to the shortening of the days. I've had a bit of a problem adhering to my goal of putting in daily studio time, no matter how long or short. Temperatures shot up, skies cleared, and suddenly there was a two-day weather window in which to get some work in the garden done. Ah well, I was back on track today.

I knew the top of the angel quilt needed something, and this, apparently, was it.

It not only provided balance at the top of the quilt, but balanced the additional beading I wanted to add to the tunic. I think I'll also scatter a few of these beads along the side border seam. And then I may be done...

Monday, October 22, 2007


I've been eking out a little time here and there to add a few beads to the angel quilt. Oh, my...I'd forgotten how addictive beading can be, and that there is no such thing as adding "just a few" beads to a project. All it took was getting out my bead stash to find these sparkly ones for the sky and water, and suddenly I was reminded of other wonderful beads in my collection. I'm contemplating beading along the top binding, beading along the angel's tunic, beading along the seam between the border & arbor (where I'd thought about using metallic thread and then didn't). It is slow contemplative work that sweeps me away.

I had a busy weekend, starting with another symphony concert Friday night, a quilt show on Saturday and a long chat with a friend on Sunday. Thus the "eking" out of time for the beading. It's part of my current approach to getting more done, putting in more studio time. I've made it a point to do something, no matter how small, at least 5 days a week. No waiting for a big chunk of time, no making excuses about how other responsibilities are using up the time I should have spent in the studio. Whether it's been 15 minutes or an hour that might be free, I've fought the urge to say it's not enough time to get anything done. And often as not, the 15 minutes stretches into 30, the hour into two. Amazing what we can convince ourselves of, both good and bad.

Speaking of convincing, I'd convinced myself that I would ignore the vendors at the quilt show. But old habits die hard, and I succumbed to this nifty tote bag pattern (designed by Sheryl Mycroft of Random Threadz) and a fat quarter of marbled fabric (by Suzi Soderlund of Marbled Arts).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Doris Lessing

I love it when I find myself in good company...

A good friend frequently asks me why I'm so hard on myself. This is usually after I've gone through a fallow period and I'm berating my general lack of discipline and comparing my lifestyle to what I consider the norm. And if I don't measure up to that norm (which in fact, may not be as much the norm as I convince myself), then I start feeling worthless and insecure. But what does it matter, my friend asks? If I'm not accountable to anyone else (like a boss, or kids or a husband), then what difference does it make if I stay up late, sleep in, only work a few days a week in the studio? I've always found it a bit hard to explain it, or more precisely, put my finger on what in my background has produced this behavior of mine. Why do I get so bothered and start losing self esteem when I have little tangible to show for my days? Why can't I just enjoy life as it comes? I don't know, but I do know that I get very unhappy if I go too long without making something - be it a quilt or some other textile thing fashioned from my hands. It's just the way I am.

So it made me feel much better when I saw part of an interview with recent Nobel Prize winner and author, Doris Lessing. (See complete transcript here.) The interviewer, Bill Moyers, asked, "Do you never stop writing?" Her answer describes exactly how I feel about my quilting:

"No. I'm compulsive. And I deeply think that it has to be something very neurotic. And I'm not joking. It has to be. Because if I've finished a book, and this wonderful release, which I'm now feeling-- it's off, it's in a parcel, it's gone to a publisher. Bliss and happiness.

I don't have to do anything. Nothing. I can just sit around. But, suddenly it starts, you see. This terrible feeling that I am just wasting my life, I'm useless, I'm no good. Now, it's a fact that if I spend a day busy as a little kitten, racing around. I do this, I do that. But I haven't written, so it's a wasted day, and I'm no good. How do you account for that nonsense?"

So I am in good company and should probably quit worrying about this compulsion of mine that leaves me out of sorts and feeling bad about myself when I'm not actively engaged in it. It may be nonsense to act that way, and like Lessing, I can't account for it. But there's no denying, it's the way I am.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Getting Back Into It

Today I worked on an entry form for a juried exhibition. I swore off entering shows as I prepared to relocate, got settled in, and decided I just needed to work for awhile without the distraction of upcoming show deadlines. When I did think about getting into exhibits, it seemed like way too much work, or too costly, or I feared my work might not measure up. I wasn't sure what direction my work might take and I think I feared being stereotyped. I worried a lot about the image I'd be projecting and whether I might find myself known for something I didn't want to get stuck with forever.

I seem to have turned a corner, though. Whether it's renewed confidence in myself, and thus my work, the change of season, or just that the self-imposed break from competition has done what it needed to do, I find myself eager to get my work out there again. This particular call for entries did not require a lot of paperwork, and the jpg's were pretty much ready to go. I could go back two years when selecting what to submit, and there was more good stuff there than I expected to find. I could enter up to three pieces for the same entry fee so I chose two older works and one new. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

News to Me

This headline in the Sunday newspaper outdoor section caught my eye: Paper keeps outdoor thoughts dry. Reading on brought to light a product I had no idea existed - all-weather writing paper called "Rite in the Rain." According to The Gear Junkie columnist, Stephen Regenold, the paper has an acrylic-based coating that "eschews water like a duck's back" yet allows the transfer of ink or pencil which then will not wash off. It was originally developed for the Pacific Northwest logging industry back in the 1920's. So why am I just hearing about it now?

Not that I do a lot of writing in the rain, or expose my written page to moisture, but I do have one old journal where ink has run and smudged along the edges of the page. The permanency factor, I suppose, is what intrigued me.

Rite as Rain comes in a variety of notebook sizes and styles, and a spiral bound 8.5 x 11 inch All-Weather sketchbook with blank pages is also available. However, I wonder about the sketchbook. The pages apparently have a waxy and almost sticky feel to them, although they do not stick to each other. I'm guessing you'd have to have a really good reason to want to use that kind of paper to sketch - say going on a river rafting trip? Well, that won't be me any time soon, so I think I can skip this product for now. Still, I thought some of you journalers and sketchers out there might be as intrigued with this idea as I was.
Oh, yeah, and the company also makes an All-Weather pen as well....

Monday, October 15, 2007

Judgment vs Will

The binding's sewn down on the angel quilt and I am pleased with how it looks. It was the right choice. So today the plan was to determine what else this quilt might need, specifically, if adding some rosettes would improve the design. And unfortunately, the only way to know that would be to make a bunch of them. These are similar to but smaller than the ones on the first Cathedral Angel quilt. The grid in the picture above is one inch, so you can see I'm working fussy again. I fused two pieces of the red together, traced around a tiny heart template for each petal, then cut each out. The center circle has fusible on the back. Arrange the petals, place the circle on top and fuse to hold all together. The tweezers are helpful in shifting the petals and positioning the circle.

I really wanted to skip this part. Just to test my idea, I figured I'd need to make at least 6 rosettes. That's 30 of those little heart petals. And if I decided the rosettes were a mistake, then what in the heck would I do with them? You know me, I can't toss anything, especially if it's taken me a lot of time to make. My better judgment that suspected this was a detail that would really improve this quilt was getting drowned out by the willful child who just wanted to be done. But even the child had to admit that the quilt still looked blah, a bit dead, and definitely in need of something else.

Those six rosettes were all that was necessary to see I definitely needed to add these. It made making the additional eight less of a chore. Once they were all positioned on the quilt, they helped those outer vines make sense, and I also think they help move the eye around the design. My fear that they would detract from the angel in the center was unfounded. Instead, they echo the fabric in the angel's tunics, seen no where else on the quilt.

I'll stitch them to the quilt using gold metallic thread and probably a buttonhole stitch just around the centers. The petals will be left free. After that I will try a few beads in the sky along those rays in the fabric, and possibly a few in the water as well. And then, I think this quilt will be finished.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Copyright, Derivative Work, Influences

When I started this blog, I promised the occasional rant, and I'm not sure I've made good on that promise yet. Today's post may come close to a rant, although only a mild one. It's triggered by two events: a piece on the program of the Spokane Symphony's season opener last month, and a post on The Ragged Cloth Cafe blog. Both beg the question of when is a work derivative, and why it appears ok for some artists to "copy" another artist's work or style.

I admit I'm a bit touchy about the issue of copyright as it has invaded the quilting world. Copyright is not a big part of quilting's tradition. Quilter's are better known for sharing, copying another's work partly out of admiration, freely using the wealth of block patterns and applique motifs passed through many generations of quilters, being inspired by someone else's idea and racing home to run with it. It was all so innocuous until big money and careers were suddenly at stake. This is not to say that I deny all claims of copyright a modern quilter may make. I only state this to show how the culture of quilting has changed the last 20 or so years, and to note how it has cast a certain pall and uneasiness over a number of quilters. The are still those quilters oblivious to copyright issues, but there are many more that now fear that anything they do might infringe if it ends up as a raffle quilt or gets entered into a show with cash prizes. We no longer can show our admiration of a pattern or a teacher through emulation without wondering if we are crossing a line that will get us sued. Many of us are genuinely confused, and some of the joy has been taken out of our craft. (This is the mild rant part - full of generalizations and simplification of a very complex issue.)

If it's not out and out copyright to be worried about, then the next fear that has been pounded into us it that of producing derivative work. How much do we need to tweak an idea to make it our own? How do we defend ourselves when we discover that what we thought was oh so original on our part has already been done by someone else? This is where the post on The Ragged Cloth Cafe comes in. Clairan Ferrono's post "A Question of Originality" compares similar work by different artists, and the surprise on each is that the least well known of each pair being compared was actually the earlier one to produce that work. This really struck a chord with me.

And then, I went to the symphony and listened to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major. The program notes revealed that Ravel had become interested in American jazz, admired George Gershwin a great deal, and this piece displayed signs of this newfound interest. "...the tempo slows to a bluesy mood, with wailing clarinet and muted trumpet melodies that George Gershwin might have penned." And as I listened, eyes closed, indeed, when that portion was played, it sounded to my ear exactly like a Gershwin piece. Huh, I thought. How'd he get away with that?

It's impossible not to be influenced by what is around us. Alyson Stanfield notes in her Art Biz blog here: "Don't be afraid of being influenced by others. Be afraid of being ignorant of them." And I would add, eventually, you have to put your own spin on whatever is influencing you to make it truly your own, and not derivative. Then, hopefully, when you put that work out there, you won't have to fear copyright infringement or accusations of being less than original in your vision.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Taking the Plunge...

I'm tired of the angel quilt hanging around my neck like an albatross, so today I flipped it over, squared it up and chose a binding. I have to admit, I'm feeling much better about it after having taken a break from it. I find that's often the case with troublesome quilts. This wasn't the first long break I'd taken from it either. It has fought me almost every step of the way.

I'm not sure this binding is "right" but it isn't wrong either. In fact, it looks much better than I thought it would and helps tie in the little bit of that fabric I used through the center of the quilt. I'm still wondering if I should have faced the edges, or at least faced the bottom edge, but I don't need to second guess myself any more on this.

I used single fold binding cut on grain for the sides and top, and bias cut for the curved bottom. I used the butted method rather than continuous mitered at the corners partly so I would have the option to change my mind about the top and bottom if I didn't like what was going on there without having to remove the whole binding. I'd left extra at the top of the quilt, not sure just how wide that border should be to look right. After sewing on the binding and pinning it to the back, I decided the border was too wide. Off came that section of binding, 1/2 an inch was trimmed off, and the binding was sewn back on. You wouldn't think 1/2 an inch would make that much difference, but in a border that isn't terribly wide to begin with, it did. The proportions look much better to me now.

I'll hand stitch it to the back, and then consider adding some stylized roses and beading. Won't know if that will be necessary or overkill until I try it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yeah, That's Me

I was reading the reports of three journalism interns - their expectations when they applied, the collision with reality, how they felt about it all now that they were at the end. Kelly McCrillis's final comment really hit home:

"So few of us really want to strive and succeed - most of us would rather skip the striving part."

The striving part that I want to skip is the one that can be loosely described as marketing. I've always been the type who wanted to be discovered, to have job offers drop into my lap, in short, just do my thing and do it well and wait quietly for the accolades to come. But life seldom works like that. As Kelly goes on to say, roll up your sleeves, dial some numbers...

...and I would add, get comfortable with talking about your art whenever the subject might come up. Don't pass up opportunities to meet new people. You never know who they know that might become the lead you need to greater exposure.

I say this now as I emerge from a year of relative shrinking violet-ism, although I've had my moments. One of those moments is suddenly starting to pay off. A chance meeting last October that resulted in an exchange of business cards has resulted in a recent emailed invitation to be a part of a special exhibit in the spring. She's excited, I'm excited. But she never would have known about me and my art quilting had someone not drug me to that meeting and encouraged me to bring the above example of my work. Thanks all around. Time to roll up my sleeves...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More on The Quilted Line

The quilting line seems to be on a lot of minds lately. Check out this post by Alison Schwabe for observations and opinions that mirror my own.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Pricing and Production

My artist brother Mad Max, the one who works with wood, has been playing with making wine stoppers. I loved the one he made for me so much that I've bartered with him for more. I've spotted a few similar ones here and there, ones that look like afterthoughts, bargain priced and set out next to the more expensive bowls and vases. I could envision the wood worker with scraps left over, and like the waste-not-want-not mentality of quilters, deciding to make something of them rather than toss them out. They impressed me as very cheesy, the lovely wood tops, usually all the same, attached to plastic or cork stoppers. No heft, no weight, no class. These shown here with the metal stopper have substance and a streamline elegance the others lack. These are wine stoppers for the discriminating wine connoisseur.

So the question is, would these sell for what my brother feels he'd need to price them to cover his time and materials? Their simplicity is deceiving. They are time consuming to make. And like me, as much as he'd like to sell his work, my brother doesn't want to end up in the production business. Each one he makes is slightly different, unique. He chooses the wood carefully, matching exotics to the recipient, experiments with grainlines. It would ruin the pleasure of the making if he suddenly had to churn out dozens of these at a time, possibly to someone else's specs. It would take away from the other pieces, the real pieces he wants to make.

Yet, he still toys with the idea of making small quantities of these on a limited basis to sell.

Sound familiar? Starve or sell your soul, are those the only two alternatives for artists? Dip your toe in the market and risk losing control or keep your day job and your independence?

If you are interested in more information on these wine stoppers with a mind to placing an order, e-mail me at, and I will forward your request. Yeah, the mercenary in him couldn't resist!

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Chestnuts have always fascinated me. With their rich color sporting what looks all in the world like wood grain and that smooth polished surface, these could be tiny wood sculptures. They are raining down in earnest at the moment, their less interesting green husks bursting to reveal the treasure within. For a truly beautiful artistic take on the humble chestnut, see what June Underwood has created with silk and thread here.

Today was a day for puttering. Although I didn't share them, I'd set some rather modest goals for the week which were not getting done (with the exception of the journal quilt). The studio was a bit of a mess, so some of the puttering involved straightening up, putting away, clearing a space on the table to have room to work on a couple of those goals. Then I could lay out and steam the angel quilt in preparation for binding it. Then I could cut and sew a sleeve for Willow II and hand-sew it on. Perhaps tomorrow I'll get the label printed and attached, the angel quilt trimmed up and binding considered. Regardless, it just felt good being in the studio, doing anything in there. It was feeling a bit like home instead like a strange place.

I also took a few minutes to sketch an idea that came to me while writing my morning pages yesterday. Upon seeing September's journal quilt, but before seeing the picture that was its inspiration, a close friend commented that it surely represented one hell of a crossroads I've arrived at. Mmmm. Perhaps my subconscious was working overtime, but the idea of this being anything but a rendition of the front of a chest of drawers had not entered into my thinking while making it. I pressed her for more information, and she said she could see fields with roads running in between, representing crossroads. I chuckled to myself. Well, if they're crossroads, they aren't lining up, so no wonder I'm so confused!

Still, it made me think. Sometimes outside observers have a better take on where you are than you do. This was the second time in just a few months that a close friend had commented that I was at a crossroads in my life. Both times I objected and said that I did not feel that I was. I knew where I wanted to go but wasn't sure how to make it happen. In my mind, that's not a crossroads. The crossroads had been whether to seriously pursue art quilting or lapse back into the comfort of traditional quilting. The crossroads had been whether to stay in Wisconsin or move, and then move where. Am I up against another crossroad and just haven't been aware of it yet? I found myself writing, "All I see is a rut - a rutted path disappearing into an unfathomable distance. No signposts. No indication of where it is leading. No place to get off."

Then an image of a woman kneeling by a dirt road popped into my head. She held her face in her hands. She was surrounded by a dense forest. Was she me? I don't know, but I had to try to sketch it. Bear in mind, drawing is not my forte, human figures even less so. But I like this idea and hope someday I can translate this into fabric.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Putting It All Together

"I think the most difficult part of managing the quilted line is to control it and make it a part of a bigger whole. Like any other art form, it may be easy to master different segments of the craft, but difficult to put it together into a cohesive statement."

I pulled the above gem out of this post about The Quilted Line. To me, this sums up the difficulties every quilter faces when expressing an idea in a quilt. It is part of my frustration at times. We need to know how to do so many different things well in order to complete a quilt. Choosing the thread and design of the quilting can be particularly difficult. There may be more than one good solution. Get one thing wrong, and it may destroy the impact of the whole thing. Let the quilting take a leading role when it would be better left subordinate, and it may detract the eye from the real focus of the design. It goes on and on.

Some people opt to hand off certain tasks to someone with greater expertise, or at the very least, a greater love for doing that particular task. I find that difficult to do. I feel some sort of obligation, I suppose, that every part of the process be completed by me and only me. Anything else would be like false advertising or cheating. I don't know where this attitude came from. Certainly not from the history of traditional quilting where there is ample evidence of collaboration in all phases of making a quilt. But there you have it: I feel guilty even thinking about passing off my work to someone else to complete.

I realize there is an exception to that. I often ask for input from others during the design process. Sometimes it's just to confirm what I already know; other times I'm stuck and really looking for ideas to jog me loose. The quilt shown in Pam's post is just that sort of a "collaboration." I suppose that doesn't bother me as much as say, letting someone else actually quilt a piece of mine. I guess I think I'm still in control, still making the final decisions, still doing the actual work even though I'm open to suggestions from others.

The more I think about this, the more I have to admit life itself is a collaboration. So should it be so surprising that working on our art would not also show signs of collaboration? It's impossible to work in vacuum, that's for sure.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

September Journal Quilt

My journal partner, Judi, is quickly settling into her new surroundings, and tells me she even set up her machine and turned it on. Hopefully she'll be able to journal with me in October. In the meantime, my schedule busied up, and Monday was the soonest I could get going on my September effort. "Direction" was the calendar theme with this quotation from Henry David Thoreau: "Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence." I have to admit, that was intimidating. Was it an indictment of how I've spent my time? It seemed to be demanding that I take a good hard look at my creative journey and make a decision about which of many paths I've pursued I should now concentrate on. And once I figure that out, just how would I interpret that in a journal quilt?

One realization I've come to recently is that I may have been fooling myself about ever getting comfortable with and really good at a certain kind of freemotion quilting. I'm ready to admit that no amount of practice will get me to the technical level of expertise that will satisfy me. I just don't think this is one of my strengths, although I can do it well enough to get by when I have to. However, I don't want to just get by. I want to truly enjoy the process while producing high quality work, and neither has been happening. Although I don't think of myself as a follower of the crowd, I'd convinced myself over the years that if I were to be a part of the modern quilting world and "play" with the big girls (and a few boys too!), I simply had to do this kind of freemotion quilting that everyone else was doing. So I tried, and I practiced, and I struggled, and about the only part of it that worked for me was when I reverted to "heirloom" quilting to mimic antique hand-quilted quilts, or when I worked with small motifs. Everything else just left me slightly disappointed. My recent play with feeddogs-up quilting of closely spaced parallel lines, on the other hand, has been very satisfying and enjoyable and a "narrow" path I think I need to pursue with "love and reverence," not apology.

As the last few posts have indicated, I've also re-discovered my love of geometric shapes that hearkens back to my simple traditional quilt block background. One picture from The Magazine Antiques kept calling to me to work with it. The wood grain lines in this closeup of Shaker furniture reminded me of my closely spaced quilting lines. The quotation, I decided, was calling out for me to get back to basics, to a kind of quilting that got me interested in the medium to begin with, and adapt it to my current interest in art quilts.

What I ended up with is a fairly literal interpretation of the original picture, using my favorite color palette, but the methods I explored were slightly different from what I've been doing. I was thinking in terms of my Grid series where I started appliqueing squares of fabric to a background fabric instead of piecing them into the top. But this time, I couldn't see any point in finding two different fabrics to work with. I could still satin stitch around the basic shapes, but I'd used thread to shift the color of a single fabric to make it look like two. (I experimented with this idea with my April journal quilt here & here.) I'm giving in to the allure of beautiful threads in the same way I long ago gave in to the beauty of batiks and hand-dyed fabrics.

I started by pulling out graph paper, ruler and pencil. Once I'd settled on the framing and proportions, I transferred my pattern on to Golden Needles Quilting paper. This is like dress pattern paper or tissue paper which comes in a roll and in two widths. You can sew right through it and it tears away nicely. I figured this would be easier than drawing the main lines directly on the fabric.

I sprayed the back of it lightly with Sulky K2000 temporary basting spray so that it would stick to the master pattern while tracing and to the fabric as I sewed through it. (Word of caution here. I only used the Sulky because I have a little left and I abhor waste. I've not had good luck with it overall and much prefer the 505 Basting spray. But I figured for this project, I could get away with using it.)

I fused Decor Bond to the back of my fabric to stabilize it since I planned to do most of the "wood grain" stitching before layering for quilting. Once I stitched the main lines, the pattern was removed. Here you can see how I use a seam ripper to slide along the perforation to more easily and completely remove the paper. Any tiny pieces left behind can be picked out with tweezers. I particularly like to use the ones that came with my serger.

Now came the fun part, although I bet most of you will think this must have been boring. Again, with feeddogs up, I first ran straight stitches in the "background" areas, using the presser foot as a guide to keep the lines about 1/16 inch apart. My intention was not to have perfectly spaced lines, but to have them vary slightly. I've tried both on other projects, and it is exceedingly hard to keep those line spacings perfect. Actually, I think the slight varying looks better and more interesting. The thread used on this first pass is Oliver Twist Hand-dyed cotton thread.

The second pass in the "drawer" sections was done with a King Tut variegated thread. I was hoping for a little more contrast, a little more of a golden tone, but I decided subtle in this case was ok. This thread on this fabric made it look very tweedy. I could see using this effect on fabric for clothing or handbags.

Yes, I could have done this stitching with the feeddogs up, but it wouldn't have been nearly as relaxing to do, the stitches would have been uneven, which would have bothered me, and I might have had some distortion afterwards which would have been hard to flatten out. I also could have done this stitching after layering with batting; it would have given more texture almost like corduroy wales, but I wanted a flat look instead. The batting would be held in place with the satin stitching outlines of the drawers (done with polyneon thread). The satin stitching also covered up the "traveling" stitch at the end of each line of stitching that allowed me to sew continuously up and down over each section.

I wished that I had allowed more excess fabric beyond the 8-1/2 x 11 finished size. If I had, I think I would have done a facing again like I did last month. I really don't like satin stitching the edge, but I didn't want to do binding either. So I thought perhaps I could make my peace with satin stitching this time around. (It irks me that it really takes two rounds and a ton of thread to get proper coverage, and I especially have trouble turning corners neatly.) I must have tried half a dozen different colors of thread, none of which I liked. I finally settled on this yellow King Tut, reminding myself that this is just a journal quilt, after all. Still, I like to have a decent finish on each that I do. I'd toyed with the idea of couching something along the edge instead, but found I didn't have anything thick enough. It did unearth some hand-dyed threads and cordings, one of which I'd have used for sure had it not been so thin. Now I wondered if I could couch it on next to the satin stitching as a bridge and defining line. It was just what I needed to do to be able to live with the yellow thread.

Here is the special braiding/cording foot that helped apply this. It has a guide to keep the cord centered so you don't have to pay much attention to it as you zig zag over it. This, I think, is a pearle cotton twisted with a gold metallic, and the thread used to couch it down is a smoke monofilament thread. I was glad I took the time to do this. It made me realize that I could use this method instead of inserting piping along the binding seam like I do so often these days. One more option...

This was extremely hard to photograph and scan, which accounts for the variety of shades the work changes to from picture to picture. To see more detail, click on any picture for a larger view. I should mention that I fused a second backing on after the quilting was done and before I satin stitched the edge. This serves as a label, and the WonderUnder not only helps the fabric feed smoothly through my printer, but adds a stiffness to the piece. I like the combination of Decor Bond and WonderUnder to give these smaller pieces extra body so they can almost stand up on their own, making them easier to display.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shaker Furniture

Before I show the results of my journal quilting yesterday, I want to talk a bit about the magazine article from which the design idea originated. The August 2007 issue of The Magazine Antiques featured a story covering "classic Shaker furniture design as it emerged in the early nineteenth century," noting that "...concepts of balance, pattern, and scale all contributed to each piece." This may sound dry, but the pictures of both Shaker furniture (such as the 1860 sewing desk above) and modern pieces influenced by classic Shaker design (such as the 1999 dining chest by Roy McMakin shown below) immediately captured my attention. Oh great, I thought, as if I don't have enough ideas already. But what I was seeing WAS giving me ideas, a new direction for my Grid series (see Grid #2 and Grid #3).

To be honest, after I finished the third in that series, I caught myself losing interest, in spite of the fact that I had not worked through all my original ideas. I was stuck in a rut already. What intrigued me about this furniture was the varying sizes and shapes of the drawers and doors within a single piece, and the asymmetry (such as the 1830 and 1840 washstands below). Seeing these examples unlocked something in my head, reminding me that grids are not always made up of squares and don't necessarily have to be symmetrical. Brilliant!

Of course, I also homed in on the very visible wood grain in some of the pieces, thinking how easily this could be rendered in thread. More on that when I reveal September's journal quilt.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Autumn is Here

I've been AWOL from the studio far too long. Today was just the kind of day weather wise perfect for concentrating on work inside: cool and blustery with on and off sun and rain. As I suspected, once the warm weather bid farewell, I found my desire to be getting stuff done in the studio return. And so today I worked on September's journal quilt - pics to come.

Before I get going on my day, the dog gets a walk. Then she'll leave me alone for awhile, and it gives me time to get my thoughts together, the blood flowing and possibly gather up a little inspiration.

The leaves are a few weeks later in their turning than last year, and the wind and rain we've been having are dislodging colorful examples already. I really have to discipline myself not to collect a few, take pictures of them, stare too long at their details. I did tons of that last fall, and I remember loading my blog with pictures and more pictures. Check the September/October 2006 archives if you're interested.

So you see, I have plenty of references at my fingertips. I need to stop collecting and start using. But of course, I couldn't pass up a few "artistic" shots.

I thought with the cooler weather, I'd seen the last of any new flowers blooming. Yet here these lovely purple flowers suddenly appeared along the drive. A last hurrah, I suppose. There's snow dusting the mountain tops already...