Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More on last week

Remember me saying that all kinds of wonderful things transpire in my brain when ironing my processed fabric? I had three days to test that theory and I was not wrong. My mind wandered to how I'd approach the journal quilt come Saturday and tentative decisions were made as well as noticing that one of the fabrics I was ironing would make a perfect backdrop for the piece.

More exciting than that though, was some problem solving that surfaced regarding the challenge quilt due at the end of February. As I ironed, this is what I stared at off and on:

On the right is the sun printed fabric from last year. It's yet another piece that was painted in the opposite orientation but when I turned it this way, I suddenly saw sky, mountain, lake and beach. On the left are the three challenge fabrics that I have to incorporate into my piece. Lucky me that they were in the same color range as the painted piece I wanted to use. The theme of the challenge only states that the word "sun" or "Prairie" has to be included in the title. My friend who wanted me to do this challenge with her suggested that we add several rules of our own. Her contribution was that the quilt also had to have something to do with where we wanted to move to as at that time both of us were trying to figure out how to get relocated to the Pacific Northwest. My contribution was that we both had to incorporate one of my painted pieces.

I easily could have made my version without using any other fabric than that painted piece, so I've been a little unenthusiastic about working in these other pieces. But hours of idle thinking and staring produced answers to that dilemma plus a nifty way to proceed with the design process. Maybe I'd cut out those clouds and applique them here and there. Trite, but the sun in the next fabric could be cut out and appliqued on as well. The last one might work as a binding. But before I do anything, I have to remember that there are size limitations in the rules. My painted piece is too long and narrow.

I was trying to think how I could figure out what portion of my piece to use without actually drawing on it or cutting fabric yet. I usually work with newsprint if I want to sketch out ideas to size, but that didn't seem like the best way to approach this. It occurred to me that I had rolls of Golden Needles Quilting paper on hand. Essentially, it is the kind of tissue paper that clothing patterns are made from, so it is see-thru yet sturdy enough to tape, pin and draw on. The maximum size the quilt can be is 24" x 24" so I taped two 12" wide x 24" long pieces together:

Then I placed this over my painted fabric to determine how much of the length I needed to eliminate. I lightly sketched in major design lines that I'd have to work around, like where the "mountain" and "lake" meet and some of the sunprinted leaves.

Lightly is right; you can barely see the pencil lines in this picture. This piece is so similar to my view that I next tried to think how I could add more details to make it interesting. I can see the "long bridge" so I decided to sketch that in. All of a sudden, I had perspective as if I were looking down on the lake from a hillside. Now I was getting excited.

I've always thought I should add a tree somewhere, especially because there is a single tree that blocks an otherwise unobstructed view of the lake. I tentatively sketched a partial tree on the right, then remembered that my fabric was lacking a bit in width. I think ultimately I'll add the trunk on the edge to provide the additional width and drape a branch or two into the center. Balancing it all might be tricky, but then I'm used to my pieces coming out unbalanced and then having to tweak them.

The final aha solution came as I was continuing to study that mottled yellow orange fabric. Mmmm, how much like autumn leaves colors. I think I'll add a few leaves to augment the shadowed sunprinted ones. Yes, the hours of ironing produced good results.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Goals for Week of Jan 29th

I was a busy girl last week, as the lack of posts might indicate. Actually, I was not exactly rising and shining as I should have been, so while I managed to get in 17 studio hours and accomplished almost everything on my list of goals, I wasn't getting a lot else done. Oh, yeah, and let's not forget the time spent in front of the TV watching the US National Figure Skating Championships. They were being held about 2 hours from me so there was lots of extra local coverage and interesting behind-the-scenes articles in the paper. It's a wonder I got anything done!

Mainly, I processed fabric - all but two 4-yard pieces that will be used for backing. I prefer to wash and iron these large pieces right before using them so those will go back in storage as is. There were maybe 5 lengths around 2 yards; most everything else was fat quarters with plenty of those being pre-1900 reproduction fabrics. Gads, what am I going to do with all of them, many of which have lost their charm? I actually found myself wondering if I could improve upon them with dyeing or painting or stamping or discharge. It's a thought.

I'm guessing that most quilters have no idea just how much fabric they have on hand. I know I don't. As the pieces stacked up, I decided I should tally up how much I was processing...and I shocked myself with the figure - 36 yards. This represents a fraction of what I have on hand, so now I'm a little concerned. I suppose I should do an inventory to get a better handle on it in case the unthinkable happens and my stash become damaged or destroyed, because there's no way I'd think to tell an insurance adjustor that I had more than 50 yards of fabric. Now I'm wondering if I don't have well over 100 yards all told.

Not everyone prewashes fabric before putting it into a piece, but it is a habit I've gotten into for several reasons. I suppose first and foremost is because I originally made quilts that I expected would be washed. Pre-washing fabrics removes excess dyes, finishes and dirt from the manufacturing and shipping process. It also takes care of shrinkage which is not the same from fabric to fabric. But even when I moved to making quilts for the wall that might not ever be washed, I still felt it important to prewash my fabric. The quilt may not be immersed in water ever, but during the construction process, I will be exposing the fabrics to steam, misting and heat - all of which can make a fabric shrink or bleed onto another. I just found it easier to hedge my bets and take the time to wash everything before storing it away. Before it goes in the wash, I snip the selvages because they will shrink far more than the rest of the piece, making it almost impossible to press the fabric flat all the way to the edge. On a long piece of yardage, the selvage edge can shrink up as much as an inch more than the center and this will make cutting nice even strips very difficult.

Some selvages are much wider than others. You can see that is true of the fabric on the bottom and that I didn't clip far enough into it to fully release it. This picture also shows my habit of making notes in permanent pen along the selvage. I can notate price per yard, how long the piece is and even where I purchased it.

I decided I'm not going to bother tracking hours or days in the studio this week. I've got a lot of non-art stuff I need to attend to since I neglected it all last week. What gets done in the studio gets done and I don't want to pressure myself into meeting quotas. Still, when I sat down to list what I might do, the list looked pretty lengthy:
  1. Compose and print labels for pinwheel quilt and journal quilt
  2. Finish edges of journal quilt
  3. Layer and baste Grid 3 (only had time to mark quilting lines last week)
  4. Put away fabric processed last week (may require some rearranging of stash)
  5. Design open house invitation
This definitely feels like a catch-up week so that next week I can concentrate on the challenge quilt and details of the open house. I truly can't believe February is right around the corner.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Journal Quilting again

In 2003, friend Judi and I attended the new IQF show in Chicago, which we quickly dubbed "Houston North." I could have spent all my exhibit-viewing time with the inaugural Journal Quilt Project display. For an explanation and pictures of the current project, go here. It was fascinating to see how dozens of quilt artists chose to approach this monthly exercise, and surprising what could be done in such a small space - the size of a piece of typing paper. We got to talking about how we could and should take part in some kind of challenge between us, even though we both had plenty of projects to complete and had been cutting down on activities that sent us in another direction. Judi was the one who suggested we use the journal quilt format - maybe this exercise would help us develop the discipline and time for exploration we both lacked. And so in April of that year, we embarked on our own journal quilt project, with our own rules, including designing our quilts in landscape orientation and not sharing anything about each month's work until it was finished so we would not influence each other. As hoped, it was a good exercise and I learned more than I could have dreamed possible working in this small format. You can see my collection here.

I would have liked to continue with this, but life seemed to work against both of us by the end of our year commitment. We promised that once our lives settled down, we'd do this again, with new rules to keep it interesting. Alas, it wasn't happening, and I couldn't motivate myself to do it on my own, although I made three more last year. After I got moved last fall, I told Judi I'd really like to get back into making journal quilts on a regular basis and she thought maybe her life might be settling a bit to be able to do it too.

So earlier this month, she reminded me. I think we both were rolling our eyes at the timing, as we are both just now gearing back up to regular studio work. But hey - it's important to make time for this sort of thing and be more efficient overall, so we are taking the plunge again. Our new rules include using portrait orientation, selecting the same time each month to work on them and only spending one day on them. That last one is a tough one for me - I've been known to spend weeks on a journal quilt - but Judi thought it a good way to address our concern about waylaying our other projects with this additional commitment. And I really do need to get comfortable with working more quickly and making decisions more quickly. Ok, Judi, you're on!

I think Judi is going to use her journal quilts to explore interpreting her own photos in fabric. I plan to interpret the monthly themes and quotations from a 2004 calendar entitled "Simplicity: Inspirations for a Simpler Life." It hung in my studio that year and exemplified what I felt I needed badly at the time. It still resonates.

So my theme for January is "Connection" and the quotation is a poem by Lucille Clifton: I keep hearing / tree talk / water words / and I keep knowing what they mean. Does that fit me or what? Actually, my last journal quilt from that year challenge was based on this poem (Blue Birches). And today was our designated day to work. I started with this little piece I painted last year:

It reminded me of a beach. However, when I unpacked some things from a bin, it fell out and presented itself turned this way:

Suddenly I saw the hint of tree trunks and thought, "Bingo! My tree and water talk..."

I'd like to say the piece went to plan, but it did not. The first few lines of stitching to delineate the trunks did nothing of the sort. I wanted to experiment with a free-motion zigzag quilting stitch, but my first few runs didn't improve things any. I finally changed threads and allowed myself to cross over the lines that were too straight, then double-stitched along the trunks which helped. Then I worked some zigzag in blue for water, outlined some streaks that looked like dead snags in the background and had to call it good - I was running out of time. The finishing touch was to satin stitch around the outside of the painted panel to firmly adhere it to the background. This was set up much like my "Home Again" piece, and I'd considered couching threads or trying a more decorative stitch, but as I said, I was out of time. Click on the picture above for a larger view.

Definitely no masterpiece, but journal quilts are not supposed to be masterpieces, in spite of the fact that more recent project participants have let the thought of having their fabric journaling exposed to the public eye and possible purchase push them to discard "failures" in favor of redone more successful tries. I think we are losing the original intent, which was to observe how an artist works and learns and grows. As for my own journal quilts, the good ones go up in my studio, the less good ones go in a box, and all are available for reference along with a written journal with additional explanations.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Goals for Week of Jan 22nd

It felt like it would be a busy week as I contemplated what needed doing this week. I put in 17 hours last week - two more than my minimum but necessary to meet all the goals. I miscalculated on the cut width of the pinwheel quilt binding. I wanted it a bit wider than 1/4" but not a full 1/2", and intended to have extra around to the back so that I could machine stitch, not hand stitch it in place. Alas, it just barely covered the stitching line, perfect if I'd meant to finish it by hand. Oh, well. In fact, I like the look better and my dog enjoyed having me join her on the couch for several hours of extra hand sewing.

Two quilts bound now meant two quilts need sleeves - not the most exciting prospect to start out the week. I made the pinwheel quilt sleeve last week, so decided not to bellyache, just sew it on. It still needs a label, but I wanted to get a picture of it, so tried it out in the spot I'd saved for it. For all my misgivings and disappointments during its construction, I was quite taken with how it looked in this dim hallway.

I wasn't planning to spend a full 3 hours in the studio today, but what the heck - how long could it take to sew a sleeve for that 14" Grid 2? I also printed off some pictures and made a few notes on documentation sheets - the type of winding up of loose ends once a quilt is completed that is much too easy to put off until there is a huge pile of such to take care of. I'm pleased I didn't succumb to procrastination today.

I'd like to get on with Grid 3 - I need to mark some quilting lines before I layer it up. But I'd also like to make a big dent in that stack of fabric that needs processing. The one small load I did last week hardly put a dent in it. Again, more unglamorous work, but it has to be done sometime. I have to admit that I rather enjoy the ironing process - it's another one of those mindless tasks that allows my thoughts to drift and often come up with ideas and solutions. And the random juxtaposition of fabric often sparks interesting combinations I wouldn't think to try. So it is not an unpleasant task, but it is a time consuming one.

I may need to put Grid 3 on hold for another reason. I agreed to take part in a challenge quilt contest with a friend, and the quilt is due March 1st. I dug out the fabric and challenge rules last week so I could start contemplating what to do. I'm planning on using one of my sunprinted fabrics, but just how the challenge fabrics will be incorporated is still up in the air. This same friend reminded me that I wanted to get back to doing monthly journal quilts and she is ready to join me, so I am due to make the first one on Saturday. Whew - yes this is shaping up to be a busy week!

I set the date for my open-house/studio tour, but it is almost a month away. Plenty of time to plan and scheme and get a few more things done. I should follow up on a name given to me as a local art quilt contact - I've been building up my courage for weeks now to do that, knowing that I wouldn't be comfortable doing it until I was back actively making quilts again. Well, I am, and I should see if there's a group I can join - a small critique or peer group is what I'm looking for. Now that I have a date for the open house, I can use it as an icebreaker.

Ok, so let's list the goals for the week:
  1. Make and attach sleeves to the pinwheel quilt and Grid 2
  2. Process more fabric
  3. Catch up documentation files and print pictures for same
  4. Work on design for challenge
  5. Mark and layer Grid 2 for quilting
  6. Make journal quilt on Saturday
  7. Contact local artist
I'm tired already!

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Value of Working in a Series

I've not worked in a series before. Oh, I've done variations on a theme, but for the most part, I've never felt I had the luxury to keep re-working an idea to either improve it or explore ideas that keep generating while working through a particular design. Deciding to embark on the Grid Series as a true series is a very new process for me.

I'm only on number three in the series, but already I'm discovering that my attitude is changing. By declaring a series, I am freeing myself from my well-ingrained habit of approaching a piece thinking I have just one chance to get this right. That's a great deal of pressure to put on oneself, and can even lead to making grave mistakes or spending a lot of time undoing work. It can derail play and limit learning that can be gained by following the "what if" trail. It can lead to a lot of beating up of oneself when something doesn't work out quite like one expected.

It's not as if I don't already have a lot of ideas, but I'm also finding that by working within a series framework, even more possibilities surface as I work. I think it's that thing about the subconscious mind doing problem solving that the focused mind can't. Also, as I keep working with the same familiar shapes, I seem to be working faster and with more confidence. Well, it's no doubt the familiarity gained by time spent working and reworking the same basic idea. Certain parts of the work don't take as much thought, and I can focus that energy on the new parts.

I was thinking about all this while I was satin stitching the squares on Grid 3 above. It occurred to me that I didn't have to use the same color thread around each square. These lovely Oliver Twist threads are packaged in collections that work well together, and it is a joy to have a project where I can use more than one thread. Although the squares are cut from the same batik, some showed more blue/green and others more plum. So I chose the two threads that worked the best and matched the blue/green to the blue/green square, and the plum thread to the plum squares. Part way through the stitching, I had one of those hand-hitting-the-forehead moments - Geez, instead of matching thread to square (my default thinking), I should have used the blue/green on the plum, the plum on the blue-green. Just as quickly, I thought - ok, note to try that on another one in the series. The old quilter in me was trying to be heard from the back of my mind - very faintly - making disparaging remarks, no doubt, about my abilities and demanding I rip out the stitching and redo it. Sorry, not necessary in a series...

My brain was so fired up that later I dug out my sketchbooks and looked through my file for the series to see how many of the ideas floating around in my head had actually gotten sketched out and/or noted. Not many, it would appear, so I spent about an hour sketching and writing and thinking about where I can go from here. Pretty exciting stuff for someone who's creativity has been on a bit of a hiatus.

One question though. Just what does one do with all the quilts that a series can generate? Theoretically, only a small percentage of them will emerge as really good pieces worthy of exhibiting or selling. Are the rest destined to live out their lives in a bin in the back of a closet?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grid #2: Big Hairy Deal

Yup, "Big Hairy Deal" is the name I christened this quilt from the day I decided to use that "hairy" thread on it. And now it's bound and done. As you can see, I went with my that blue/plum batik, the one fabric that caught my interest and that I kept gravitating back to. Decided not to fight it.

The feedback I got on which fabric might be best was interesting. See this post. No consensus, for starters, and the arguments for each one were all valid, which goes some way to explain why I was having a difficult time deciding between them. In fact, it may be a good argument that there really wasn't one best choice, but that several of those colors would have made a fine ending. As I studied the pictures of each, it was obvious that the color and value of the binding fabric would influence how the whole piece would read. This might not be true of a larger quilt, but one this size (about 14 inches square) is greatly effected. As I noted, the browns brought too much of the brown speckles in the background fabric to the fore, and quite frankly, I was trying to diminish those. I was very tempted to use that light pink - it gave an almost ethereal look - but eventually decided I wanted a stronger wrap to the piece. The biggest problem with the plum and brown batiks was that they had values ranging from dark to light; I'd have to be careful about where I cut if I wanted the same value all the way around. The blue/plum was more evenly batiked, and those spots fit in well with the blotches on the background. Having both blue and plum in the binding also seems to keep the eye on the quilt, not the binding, yet frames it nicely. I was particularly interested in an optical allusion, perhaps because I used a wider 1/2 inch binding: The quilt appears to be floating on top of the binding as if it were appliqued to a slightly larger background. Actually a pretty cool effect. Don't know if the other fabrics would have done that.

Thanks to those of you who took the time to study the pictures and stick your necks out with an opinion!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Goals for Week of Jan 15th

I tried to post this yesterday, but Blogger wasn't interested in what I had to say. Hopefully, you are. I've had an itch for several weeks that must get scratched this week. It's Grid 3, a happy accident that occurred while choosing squares for Grid 2. Perhaps you recognize that background fabric. I painted that back in May (see this post), and commented that while I liked the texture created, I wasn't sure the color combination was the best. It got hung in the closet with the rest of the work from that day, and there was even the thought that it might have to have more paint applied for me to stomach it.

The background for Grid 2 was another painted piece I was less than happy with. Covering it with squares was my solution to make it usable. I cut several sets of squares from different fabrics, and the ones you see here were the rejects. No problem - I'm doing a grid series, so they would just be incorporated into the next trial piece. But what to use for a background? Well, as you may have guessed, staring at the colors reminded me of that painted piece, so I pulled it out to see if the two would actually work. I think they do. And instead of staying with my up and down grid, I tried turning it on point since the background fabric was large enough to accommodate that. I plan to keep the grid lines of couched thread or decorative stitching running vertically and horizontally, though. But quilting stitches will parallel the sides of the squares, and quilting will be quite heavy.

But I didn't have time to work on it before moving, so it was carefully packed away. When I unearthed it a few weeks ago looking for thread, I found I was very anxious to finish it up. But of course, I also wanted to finish Grid 2 and the pinwheel quilt first, so I've been trying to be patient. Now that those two quilts are down to binding, it's Grid 3's turn. If I continue with my getting up on time and putting the minimum hours in, that should be no problem.

I also have an itch to process a fairly large stack of commercial fabric, mostly fat quarters, that got stuffed into a trunk for the move. Again, it was unearthing them while searching for something else that got me antsy about it. I like to wash all my fabric before storing it away, and here were perfectly good options mixed in with a bunch of reproductions that I don't anticipate using very soon, that were out of sight out of mind. There was even a wonderful navy batik I'd forgotten about. I want to reorganize those reproductions so that they do not have such a prominent place in the studio. They should be in bins in the closet, not my hand-dyes and painted pieces. This feels like a good week to get started on that. So here are the week's goals:
  1. Get up on time and put in minimum 4 days/15 hours in studio.
  2. Finish quilting the pinwheel top (finished that yesterday.)
  3. Bind pinwheel quilt and Grid 2 (worked on binding on Grid 2 yesterday & today)
  4. Sew squares to Grid 3
  5. Start processing commercial fabric backlog

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Yesterday was much better. Still cold but at least the wind had died down and with it my nervousness and sluggishness. I finished quilting the border of the pinwheel top and also along the trunks in the center. All that's left is a little free motion quilting and it will be ready for the binding.

Speaking of binding, I continued pulling and eliminating fabric for Grid 2 binding. This wasn't on my list of goals for the week, but there certainly was time to fool with it. I'm a bit puzzled; I tallied up my time for the week and while I showed up my minimum of 4 days, I fell short of my minimum number of studio hours by a few. Yet I met all my stated goals and did extra. And I thought I was pushing it with my little list. Guess I should feel pretty good that I could accomplish more than I anticipated, even when not up to snuff on every day.

I thought choosing binding for Grid 2 might go fairly quickly, but as usual, the more fabric I got out, the more confused I think I made myself. Annabel commented on this post that Pauline Burbidge said, "
putting something up on a wall and just looking at something for days on end wasn't prevaricating, or obsessing, just making decisions." Ah, thank you Annabel! That thought made today's "prevaricating" more enjoyable. Here's how it went.

I started by pulling from my batiks - several browns, several plums and pinks, and an odd turquoise & plum one just in case. My head thought the browns would probably do it - something dark to frame things and balance out the brown of the threads. But I also thought a strong dark pink or plum would make the pink in the squares take prominence, which would be a good thing. Blue just never occurred to me, but I like to keep those options open.

The next day I viewed my selections in the sun that was streaming onto the work table. With about a binding's width showing around the edge of the quilt, I auditioned each fabric, eliminating all but 5. The plums looked fabulous, the browns disappointing and that blue/plum one surprisingly good. I found myself really drawn to it, so figured it was time to put it up on the design wall. That way I could see it fresh the following day.

So yesterday, after getting the quilting done, I started playing with these fabrics on the design wall. Now with no sunlight on them, they read totally different. The fabulous plums just looked dark and boring:

The browns only highlighted the brown spatters in the background fabric of the quilt - something I was trying to downplay:

But that blue/plum still read interestingly and made my eyes focus on the squares:

Of course, I couldn't be satisfied with that. Pink was still on my mind, so I dug through my regular stash to see what I could find. This pink is a commercial spatter print, which goes well with the background fabric, but I tend to think it is too light:

This pink is close to what I had in mind, but the print doesn't have the right feel to go with the top:

I found this blue which I think looks good - it is somewhat mottled with black:

But I keep going back to that blue/plum. What do you think? (Click on pics for a larger view.)

In the meantime, my studio has stacks of fabric everywhere until I make my final choice. Thank goodness, the pinwheel quilt is getting a black binding...unless I start prevaricating again...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Words of Wisdom on a Cold and Sluggish Day

I fell off the get-up-on-time wagon today. I blame the weather. Temperatures began dropping like a rock last night and the wind came up. I mean, really came up, as in 30 mile an hour gusts that rattled the windows and blew open a storm door. We're heading for zero tonight; in the meantime, weather forecasters warned that the winds would continue all day today leaving windchills of zero before the actual temperature reached that. My warm cozy bed felt particularly warm and cozy, and I didn't relish the thought of braving the cold on the dog walk. Yes, this lab of mine seems to particularly enjoy below freezing weather when the wind is blowing so no respite for me. (P.S. to Felicity - I'm searching for a good picture of her to send you.)

Well, Felicity, based on your comment, I know you understand my desire to linger in bed! And I just didn't feel real spiffy today once I got going, which I also blame on the weather. I find the wind makes me uneasy. Don't remember it being so windy so often here as it has been lately, and I don't remember it bothering me either. Maybe that's a leftover from the years in Wisconsin watching for tornados.

Still, I put in 3-1/2 hours in the studio, pulling some possibilities for Grid 2 binding and starting the quilting on the pinwheel top. I thought I'd be doing freemotion work, so started setting up that machine and picking thread. Then I realized the first little bit was stitching in the ditch so I changed to my other machine with a walking foot and set it up. I always clean out around the bobbin when I start a new project, and I was surprised at how much lint had collected in there from sewing the pinwheel blocks together. Anyway, I got quite a bit of ditch stitching done which was probably about all I was up for today.

The words of wisdom come from "Foundation Borders" by Hall & Haywood, which I was reading in bed this morning. I liked the way they phrased two things I believe in:

Remember that originality is often just a creative response to a problem.
Fabric is fickle...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Quilting the Grid

I got Grid 2 quilted today. I suppose I took the easy route because I did it all with the feed dogs up. All straight line stitching, thin Hobbs Thermore batt and spray basting made it the right choice for me. First I stitched next to the satin stitching along the outside of each square. I knew I couldn't use a walking foot because it would no doubt hang up on that satin stitching. I checked my feet and found this one which is a hemming foot. One side is higher than the other to ride along the thicker side and the other side can be butted up against the edge of that side for a nice close stitch. Worked like a charm.

When starting and stopping the stitching in the same place, especially with a decorative thread like the Sulky Sliver metallic used here, I prefer to pull my threads to the wrong side, knot them, then using a needle, bury the tails between layers. Yes, it takes more time than taking small stitches at the start and finish, but I prefer the look.

I used an Oliver Twist hand dyed cotton thread to quilt a line of stitching between the squares and around the outside rows. I had lots of problems with skipped stitches, which was a surprise. I would have expected problems with the metallic thread, but it sewed like a dream. After trying different types and sizes of needles to no avail, I finally dug out some 100 topstitch needles as recommended by Ann Fahl in her book "Coloring With Thread." I'm convinced it's the very tight weave of the pima cotton background causing the problem. The bigger needle literally punched through the fabric allowing the cotton to get far enough down to be caught by the shuttle. The slick surface of the metallic would have caused no resistance, but there was plenty of drag on the cotton thread.

Finally, I switched back to the metallic thread, set the machine to a narrow zigzag and couched the decorative thread down as I quilted. That was tricky because with all that "hair" I couldn't use my braiding foot. Instead, I used my clear embroidery foot, positioned the thread in its wide slot, held it straight up so I could see the center guide on the foot and slowly made my way down each marked line.

I very much like the result, and as usual, wonder what all the fuss was about when I spent several days obsessing over what thread to use and just how to quilt it. Guess it's a good thing I let it sit for so long. When I got it out again, the answers seemed so obvious.

Now to obsess over the binding...;-)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Goals for Week of Jan 8th

A friend recently asked me why I set my alarm on days when I don't have to be anywhere at a specific time. She works 5 days a week, so on weekends she allows herself to sleep in, i.e., no setting of alarm clocks. I don't have a job outside the home, so she was curious about why I'd bother.

I bother, I told her, because if I didn't, I'd end up sleeping my life away. As it is, I frustrate myself on days when I hit the snooze alarm too many times which means the day gets away from me before I get a chance to do all I want. I've always had this problem of prying myself out of a warm bed, especially if I'm cuddled up to a dog or another person. I can happily doze for hours, well beyond the number needed to function each day. In fact, some days I sleep and doze so long I actually feel worse when I arise than if I'd gotten up when that alarm first went off. I definitely need something to rouse me out of extended slumber.

Honestly, this problem with dragging myself out of bed borders on laziness. True, I stay up later than most early risers, but when I HAVE to be some place early in the day, I CAN do it. It's just that I'd rather not HAVE to. It's a luxury to be able to set my own time table after years of adhering to someone else's, and sometimes I take it to extremes. You'd think I had no other way to fill my time but to sleep. On the contrary, I complain with the best of them about not having enough time to do everything I want to.

And so it occurred to me that a respectable goal for the New Year would be to get up on time every day. How else am I to find the hours to work through several series and that long list of projects in addition to the every day tasks? Wouldn't it be nicer to get up and get going and feel good about all I accomplish than sleep in and spend the rest of the day berating myself for not getting more done?

Today was day one of this trial and I only hit the snooze alarm once. My ambitious list of things to do (probably more than I could possibly complete) was half finished by eleven. I ran out to take care of a little shopping and polished off the rest of the list by four. Yes, this getting up on time feels good & shouldn't be such a big deal. So what if I don't have any place to be by a specific time?

Uh, wait a minute. Actually, I DO have someplace to be - and that's in the studio. Just because I don't have a boss demanding I show up at a specific time doesn't mean I don't have a job to do. And treating my art like a job is exactly what I need to do. I can still be flexible, set my own hours, choose what I work on, give myself a day off, but show up on a regular basis I must. So here's to getting up and arriving in the studio on time! It heads my list of goals for this week:
  1. Get up on time every day
  2. Minimum 4 days/15 hours in studio (can include nonsewing activities)
  3. Cut & sew sleeves onto Willow Leaves & Home Again
  4. Quilt Grid 2
  5. Quilt most, if not all, of the pinwheel quilt
  6. Flesh out some long term goals

Friday, January 05, 2007

And remembering why I set goals

The final thing culled from the week following Christmas was a reminder that goals are merely a framework, an organizational tool, something to aim for and to help one get back on track when digressing or procrastinating. What they are not are absolute. They are meant to be reviewed, adjusted, amended, added to.

The reminder came in the form of a mild rebuke. My stated goals for that week were simple: first and foremost, get the pinwheel top layered and basted for quilting. After that, update my technical journal. Yes, my mind had it that clearly set out as to what was important and what could be moved into the following week. But once I entered the studio, I noted that I had partially filled-out documentation sheets set out for two quilts, a short stack of items to be filed in other documentation folders, and a driving urge to attend to all. I caught myself doing two things - first rationalizing that working on the documentation files were similar to updating the tech journal, so it was ok to work on them, then feeling guilty that I was attending to these chores before attacking my number one goal. "Seize the moment," my rebellious self kept saying. "Get that "bookkeeping" stuff done while you have the desire." And when at the end of the week, the quilt top was mostly but not completely prepared for quilting, I knew it was because I'd deviated from my goals and worked on those files. On the other hand, I'd gotten extra things done, things that helped clear work space and would need to be done soon anyway. It was an achievement that made me feel really good, successful, exhilarated. So why was I feeling it necessary to justify having done it at the expense of my other goal? That's when I remembered that, while goals are a useful tool, I need to be careful about letting goals rule me, especially when adhering to them may actually impede my progress, or when they may no longer apply.

I thought I'd show you how I've been documenting my quilting since I got really serious about it. Someone was marketing a Manila folder with a form printed on it and holes punched along the side so that it could be stored in a notebook binder. Fill out the form with information about the quilt, attach a picture and put any pertinent materials in the envelop. I bought a set of these, then never saw them advertised again. I liked the way this filing system worked, but wanted to change some of the information included on the form, so revised the information to be included and printed my own envelops. Not every quilt needed an envelop though, so I also printed the form on index weight paper as in the picture above.

The front has the basic information such as name, date made, size, pattern or source of inspiration and other things not every quilter might want to include. For instance, I track "time spent" even breaking it down into the various components of construction, quilt prep, quilting and finishing, and also note cost of materials if I know them. I also note the kind of batting and the various techniques used. There's space to note shows & awards. The blank space is for a photo, and to the left of that I glue swatches of the fabric in the quilt. I use the back of the form or envelop for "overflow" - fabric that won't fit on the front, detail shots, additional shows or info about the quilt that won't fit in the space allowed.

As for what goes inside the envelope - well, patterns, sketches, stitching samples, extra photos and slides, show programs, judges' critiques, copies of entry forms and rules - all helpful information to refer back to now and then.

I originally started doing this as a record for myself, since many of my first quilting efforts were given away as gifts. Later, as I began entering exhibits and contests, having this detailed documentation made filling out forms and organizing acceptance, rejections, and award information so much easier.

Last year I noted that my form no longer fit the direction my quilting had taken and needed revising. I've added a space for selling price, and expanded the techniques category options. Now I'm noting that some information slots stay blank on many projects. Perhaps "time spent" isn't quite as important as it once was now that so many of my projects are small. And is filing the sheets in chronological order, as I've been doing for years, my best option? I sense I need a total revamp of my documentation system if I follow through with my desire to exhibit in galleries and sell my work. Perhaps that will show up on my list of goals for the year.

What else happened last week

A funny thing happened when I opened the studio door for the first time last week. As if to hammer home the importance of distancing myself from my work when it is frustrating me or seemingly not turning out well, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of "Home Again" as it sat upright where I had left it after taking pictures. When I'd seen it last, it was after dark and lit by lamps. Now it was bathed in natural daylight, and the metallic in the couched thread glinted and sparkled at me. "Ooo, it looks quite good," I caught myself thinking, "I won't feel embarrassed displaying it in the office after all." Quite different from my feelings about it as I worked on it and made myself stop obsessing over it, as described in this post.

What happened last week

I'm referring to that brief few days between Christmas and taking off for my New Year's getaway, when I was tempted not to do anything in the studio, yet wanted to get something done. What I most wanted to accomplish was getting the pinwheel quilt ready for machine quilting, and I nearly did. Just needed to do that basting around the outside but ran out of time. Was in the mood to do some hand stitching today, so in I went, and not only is that one ready to go, I stitched around the outside of Grid 2 so it can be quilted as well. I should be able to get both done next week, fingers crossed.

For you process-oriented readers, I took pictures of my layering and basting sequence. We begin by laying out the backing, wrong side up, and securing it to the table. I use a combination of masking tape and clips for pieces that are smaller than my table. I got the clips from a mail order source quite a few years ago and have only seen them advertised again once more - some quilt shop in Texas I believe that was highlighted in a magazine. They are plastic and slip over the edge of the table, flexing just enough to hold fabric firmly in place. Another clip people use is the "bulldog" binder clips, but they don't open wide enough to work on my table. I take care to position the backing with one straight edge (like a selvage edge) parallel with an edge of the table. I let the backing overhang the edge enough to wrap under so those clips get a good grip. I start by putting a few clips along the sides from the center out, then smooth the backing out to the other edges and tape them in the same way. The backing needs to be slightly taut, but not stretched unduly. Otherwise, when it is released from the clips, it will spring back to its original size which will be smaller than the layers on top. This could cause problems when quilting.

Next I smooth the batting over the backing. Here I'm using Hobbs 80/20 Black batting which is mostly cotton, so it sticks to the backing and doesn't need to be secured to the table. Some battings stretch more one direction than the other, just like fabric, so I try to position it so that the least stretchy direction is running vertically, especially for a quilt that will be hung. I always cut my backing so there is 3 to 6 inches extending beyond all edges of the top, and the batting several inches bigger on each side than the top.

The top goes on last, centered on the batting and smoothed into place. Here you see how I use a ruler to make sure it is square. I keep smoothing and checking, using the edge of the table and vertical and horizontal seam lines for guides, until I'm satisfied with the straightness of the top. Again, because of the cotton batting, there's no need to secure the top along the edges.

Since this will be machine quilted, I'm using safety pins to baste the layers together. If I were hand quilting, I'd thread baste at this point. I start in the middle and place pins about 3 to 4 inches apart, avoiding places where I know I will be stitching. I'm also avoiding placing pins in the hand-dyed fabric because it is a very tight weave and shows pinholes that do not readily come out.

I use special safety pins made for this purpose. They don't rust and they have a bend in them that make them easier to put in and close. I use the shorter ones since I'm usually using a fairly thin batting.

At this point, many people would remove the tape and clips and get to quilting, but I take two more steps to avoid potential problems. First I run a basting stitch through all three layers about 3/8" from the raw edge of the top. This stabilizes the edge and keeps it in place while quilting, and keeps all three layers in place when applying the binding. Before I started doing this, it was not unusual for me to finish sewing on the binding only to discover that here or there the edge of the backing had turned under leaving a stitched down fold and a bit of raw edge exposed beyond the seam line. I find that if I take the time to baste the edges together, the next steps go more smoothly.

The basting will be left in, and doesn't have to be neat and even. I use a thread that matches if I have it on hand. Anything will do, so I often use cotton covered polyester thread from my garment sewing days, or the somewhat old cotton thread my mother-in-law gave me when she decided her sewing days were over. I used to use a regular large needle until I got on to these basting needles. They are long, relatively thin and have some flex in them, which makes the basting so much easier.

A brief digression - couldn't resist showing you my thread cabinet. It sits on the floor, but supposedly could be hung on the wall. It's really heavy, even without the thread, so it would have to be well bolted to a stud to work on the wall. I'm perfectly happy with it on the floor. On the right side, starting with the 3rd row down, are all those old cotton threads, so you can see why I can pick close matches. Above them are different cotton threads that I use for machine quilting and embroidery. On the left, the top three rows are my old cotton covered poly threads, then two rows of different weight silk threads, and the rest are rayons and metallic. These aren't all my threads, by the way, but these are the ones that would fit in this style of storage unit.

Back to my quilt preparation. The final step is to remove the tape and clips so that I can turn the excess backing over the batting and baste it down. Sometimes I use safety pins for this but on this one I continued with the thread basting. This makes sure that the backing doesn't fold back under and accidentally get quilted into the quilt. Yes, every time I've decided not to take the time for this step, I end up taking out quilting stitches to release an edge of backing. There are several other advantages, though. It keeps the batting from leaving lint on the quilt top or getting snagged by the presser feet or needle when maneuvering the quilt into position. It also gives me a place to try out thread and check my tension.

So here's my neat and tidy package ready to go under the needle.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hello 2007!

Got home last night from my trip out of town - what a wonderful time! Fabulous food, fabulous company, excellent wine and champagne (kudos to New Zealand and their excellent sparkling wine). I always feel so pampered when I visit these friends, and so enjoy the infusion of culture and conversation they provide. My mind was a million miles away from goals and New Year Resolutions, and even though I anticipated time to write a letter, rough out a plan for the year, stitch a little on a redwork embroidery piece, there simply was no time that needed filling with any of that. I relaxed, I enjoyed, I vacationed.

But now I'm home and behind on my usual first of the year routine. See this post for how I usually spend New Year's Day, and obviously couldn't this year because I wasn't home. Calendars need to go up; that parade got recorded and I don't know when I'll have time to watch it. And I sense I need to spend the week clearing the decks as it were and getting organized. In fact, my previous post anticipated this. Everyone else seems to think the last week of the year is the perfect time to do this, but I've always liked to let the last week of the year be the final savoring of the warm feelings Christmas time can bring, a time to let responsibilities go a bit. The first week is time enough to make fresh starts and clean out the deadwood. My mind just isn't ready to focus, get down to business until then. And it's usually a short week anyway, so how better to spend it than by getting all set up for the flurry of activity each new year brings?