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.

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