Saturday, June 30, 2007

June Journal Quilt Revisited

I finally got my June journal quilt's edges finished off and a decent scan taken. Above are the different threads and stitches I tried out. I'm getting more comfortable with the new machine, although I still have the manual right next to me for constant reference. I'm not crazy about the sound it makes - very industrial, a bit like a truck firing up at times, not at all soothing like my old 990. But boy, do I like its features, especially the presser foot that automatically lifts slightly when stopping in the needle down position for pivoting. This is Viking's answer to other brand's knee lift and I must admit, it's very cool.

As you can see, the wider satin stitch won out, as did the yellow/green Sulky rayon twist. I didn't get good coverage with one pass, so I stitched over it again. A lot of thread used up in this method and I doubt I would use it on anything but trial pieces like this. Click on the picture for a larger view that shows the stitching to good advantage.

A Fast-Moving Storm...

...was what the radio said. I'd been sewing all afternoon and had just gotten up to go feed the dog. I was shocked at the black sky to the south and thought, well, dog, your walk may be a little delayed tonight. The radio confirmed that. I shut down the studio, unplugging my expensive machines; ditto the computer. Within minutes, straight line winds (gusting to over 60 mph I found out later) hit, making the big maple out front dance and sway, making me step back from the windows and wonder what part of the house would be the safest to hide in. And then as quickly as it had come, it was gone. A little rain and lightening lingered, but the big wind had passed. The lights had only flickered a bit. The big maple had not dropped any branches on my car or elsewhere for that matter. But beyond it, across the driveway and the landlord's small pasture, two willow trees had been snapped clean off.

I turned on the news, which comes out of Spokane about 90 miles SW, and their skies were blue! Yes, that was SOME fast moving storm! And then the power went out and stayed out. Skies were clearing here too, so I figured we may as well take that walk and assess the damage. I looked out into the side yard and was shocked to see big branches littering the ground - the maple tree out there had not fared as well as the one out front.

This doesn't look so bad, and in fact it's not, compared with what other people had to deal with. See this local news story from south of me. Nothing hit the house. Then I looked up into the tree. Several very large limbs along with some smaller ones had snapped and were hung up in the high branches. These pictures show one about in the center.

In this picture, the upper branch looks like it's attached to the trunk, but if you look closely, you will see it is not.

We walked around the landlord's place. This very large willow had been pruned this spring. The force of the wind is obvious. My stubby little lab gives some idea just how big this section is that was torn off.

The power stayed off about 4-1/2 hours. With it staying light so much longer these days, I was able to eat dinner and start reading the paper without the aid of candle light. But eventually I fired up my little kerosene lamp and lit a bunch of candles to wait out the evening. The power outage had eliminated my computer time, but given me an opportunity to catch up on some writing before it got too dark. The candle light was sufficient to finish reading the paper and the quiet was nice for a change. By 10:30 the power was back on and life resumed as normal.

I started the clean-up this morning - not exactly what I had planned for the day. Drug away the larger branches, pulled down others that I could reach (but I'm not touching those big hummers looming far above my head), started raking up the smaller branches. Those little ones are the worst and I couldn't believe how many of them there are. I'm even picking up branches from those willow trees. It wasn't until I came in from this first round of clean-up that I found out, via the radio again, that all of Sandpoint proper had lost power and it was not expected to be restored until midnight tonight. Some areas even lost phone service. I didn't realize just how lucky I was.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June Journal Quilt

I'm still feeling a bit intimidated by my new machine, and guilty in general that I haven't done more in the studio lately and have been neglecting the blog as well. So I've cheated a bit in order to get my June journal quilt pictures up. I've magically finished the edges with a frame courtesy of a quick fix of the jpg in Corel Paint Shop Pro. I'm planning a satin stitched edge finish using my new machine and thought Paint Shop could help me audition thread color. I was leaning towards a green thread until I popped this frame on. We'll see what I really end up doing.

This month's calendar theme was "Patience" and the quotation from William Blake: "To create a little flower is the labor of ages." I was reminded of my year of working on Baltimore Album blocks which honed my hand applique skills and definitely taxed my patience at times. But doing a hand appliqued flower journal quilt would just be going over old ground and I wasn't sure I could finish in the allotted day's time frame. Yet fusing a flower didn't seem to require any patience and would again just be doing what I already know how to do. So I was in quite a quandary until I went digging through my marbled fabrics looking for inspiration for a different project. What I came up with isn’t exactly a little flower, and it is fused, but it did take more patience to make than I anticipated and employed an untried technique from Ann Fahl's book Coloring With Thread.

I started with these two marbled squares that were a not-too-successful attempt at creating a flower effect. Hopefully I could make them look more like flowers with Ann’s machine embroidery method. Following her directions, I backed these with WonderUnder, trimmed away excess fabric and tried them out on different background fabrics.

Here are the three backgrounds I considered. Although I really liked the darker busy purple one, it was barely wide enough for my needs and I was afraid it would overpower the flowers. And so the light lavender and white one won out.

Now that I'd chosen the background, I could see I needed to trim away a bit more of the yellow. Once that was done, I arranged and fused the flowers in place. Rather than use a hoop or the type of removable or cutaway stabilizers Ann suggested, I fused Decor Bond to the back since I've had such good luck with it in the past.

Ann covers all her applique with dense stitching, so the next step was to choose threads. I'd just added a dozen new colors of King Tut thread to my stash, so this was a good place to try some of them out. Here are some that I used.

And now the stitching begins - all free motion with a #100 Top-stitching needle as recommended in the book. I was afraid that would be way too big, but with the two layers of fusibles, the smaller needle I tried first just frayed the cotton thread. Ann tells you to run your stitches just over the edge to help secure the raw edge, even though it is fused. That works fine for flowers and leaves and such but I don't know how well it would work on other types of applique. I started with dark thread to outline "petals," then changed to paler threads to highlight.

Here I'm building up more stitching. I tried to add a little more depth in the spaces between petals on the larger flower with a more variegated dark thread from my Oliver Twist collection. I introduced a more aqua blue into the smaller flower which I'm not sure really worked all that well. After the stitching is completed, Ann suggests blocking the piece with steam before layering for quilting. There was no draw up or distortion with the Decor Bond on the back so I skipped the steam when I pressed.

The last step is to layer and quilt. I used Thermore polyester batting, and intended to use Pellon Shirt Tailor interfacing on the bottom as in the past, but apparently I’d run out. The batting wouldn’t slide easily on the machine bed so I spray-basted some Sulky EasyTear to it instead. This worked very well and I decided to leave it in place after quilting. Ann suggests outlining all the applique with invisible thread, and if the pieces are large, also using it to quilt dimension within each applique. This is a brilliant approach which eliminates a visible line of stitching outlining each applique piece, which in some cases would be a distraction. Once this stitching is done, go wild with decorative quilting around the applique. Here is the back after quilting so you can see not every embroidered line of stitching was duplicated.

I'm glad I worked through this process. I've always admired Ann's work and marveled at all the stitching on it, how wonderfully it enhances her flowers and leaves. I've never liked quilting through WonderUnder so I assumed I'd have trouble with this. But as I mentioned above, Ann's recommendation of using top-stitch needles in larger sizes solved any issues I might have had. And doing the majority of the stitching as embroidery instead of quilting reduces distortion and undue flattening of the appliqued areas. I see no reason why this type of embroidering couldn't be done over applique that wasn't fused - would just need to spray or glue baste applique in place and be sure the piece is well stabilized or hooped.

It was a treat to find a use for those imperfect marbled squares I just couldn't toss out. Don't ask me what kind of flowers these are - fantasy flowers I suppose, although the one reminds me of a peony. Do peonies come in purple? And now I'm off to do that satin stitching...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sunset on the Lake

Here's another reason I haven't played with my new machine yet. Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to go out on the lake with some friends from the church. I'd purposely left my camera at home, but there were plenty of other cameras snapping away. Thanks to Geoffrey Cant for sharing this photo with me - the sherbet reflection on the water was the one image of several that really caught my imagination. Geoffry has shared others of his photos with me, ones he sensed I'd find inspiration in, and he is so right. It is as if he sees with my eyes. I'm hoping some of those mountain images make their way into my art.


A girl shouldn't have to buy herself gems, but then again, in this case we're talking a sewing machine, and I've just brought home Viking's newest model, the Sapphire 850. I've been sitting on some Christmas money, always on the lookout for things that will solve ALL my quilting problems and am delighted that my loyalty to Viking has been rewarded.

Its biggest draw for me is the 10 inch space between the needle and the arm. My current machines are only 7, and stuffing a quilt into any opening to machine quilt it is a trick; the more room the better.

This isn't their first machine with the wider opening, but it is classed with their Designer line, meaning it has many of the cool features of the top of the line machine, but fewer of the embroidery options that I'm not interested in. Thus, this is priced more in my range and I feel I've gotten the best of both worlds.

I haven't played with it yet - was journal quilting today and didn't want to double stress myself - but I've read through the owner's handbook. Some significant differences from my current machines, so there will be a bit of a learning curve while I get used to it, figure out how to override some features and tap into others. But I'm pretty excited about this and anxious to fire it up!

Monday, June 18, 2007

How We Learn

"When I first started painting, I was most interested in technique. Then as I became more familiar with the media, composition became more important to me. As I started to understand composition, expression became important. And to express myself effectively in painting, I needed to know an astonishing amount about color. Thus I began the process of studying color and working with structured color schemes in my painting. The more I worked with these color schemes, the more exciting color became to me....I discovered that the more I worked and applied these theories, the more my color sense developed. I was training my eye! As I began to understand structured color schemes more fully, I started to use color more subjectively. But I began to use color subjectively with knowledge. To me the knowledge of color is the key. The more the artist knows about color, the more personal the color can become."

-Stephen Quiller, Color Choices copyright 1989

If I substitute "quilting" for "painting" in this quotation, I find it is an apt description of my own journey. That is, up to the point where he talks about working with structured color themes. I've not really done that, and so I think that may be the reason I still err and flounder at times. My experience dyeing fabric really opened my eyes to what was going on with color, but I clearly have much more to learn. Quiller, like so many working artists, has emphasized the value in doing in order to train our eyes, improve our senses. But should we ever expect to arrive at perfect knowledge and understanding? Thank goodness, NO!

"In my eagerness to research the masters and learn how they approached color, I found that all these great painters had one quality in common: They were students their whole lives...The list of masters who studied masters could go on and on.

What really brought this idea home to me was a trip to the East Coast. I was at the drawing and print study room at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and asked to see a portfolio of Winslow Homer watercolors. As I was going through the paintings, I commented on a certain area of one of them. The curator remarked that Andrew Wyeth had been in the day before and made a similar comment about that area of the same painting...a living master, one of the most legendary painters of our time, is still studying and growing."

To view some of Quiller's work, visit Quiller Gallery website or the gallery itself in Creede, Colorado. His use of color really is extraordinary.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A little glow...

It's still slow going but I took another step towards completing the angel quilt. After some pondering, I decided I really did want to run some piping along the frame, and that the yellow-green batik would do the trick. Of course, I'd never know for sure if I didn't just do it. It'd have to be on the bias to make its way smoothly around that curve at the top, and with only a 9 " width of fabric to work with, that was going to be a lot of piecing of short strips. Unless...

...Somewhere I'd read that if the curve is gentle, the strip does not have to be cut on the true bias. Slightly off grain should provide enough stretch. I placed my ruler to cut a cut the length of the curved part only and found that the angle was less than 30 degrees but the fabric still had ample give. I cut a 3/4" strip, then cut two 3/4" strips on the straight of grain long enough for the straight side portions. Yes, I was insufferably pleased with myself for coming up with that fabric stretching solution.

Inserting the piping (folded in half and leaving just 1/8" exposed) probably would have been easier to do had I done it before my careful pinning in place of the frame. On the other hand, it wasn't that big of a deal to move the pins out far enough to accommodate the piping's seam allowance, then re-pin through all layers close to the frame's edge. I top-stitched with invisible thread the same way I secured each layer of the background (see this post), so there is consistency in method, if nothing else.

When I stepped back to view the results, I was pleased at how the bright piping helped draw the eye inward to the angel, exactly what I felt the piece needed. Of course, I soon started second guessing as to whether the piping was too bright, but I still plan to do some lightening up around the angel itself which should help produce a more cohesive glowing effect. Well, at least that's the plan. Much further to go on figuring out the additional details in this design.

Now it is back up on the design wall with pieces of potential side border fabric hanging on either side, waiting for me to make up my mind if either will work and what else I'll do to pull this design together.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I may as well admit it; I really do have to push myself to get anything done. Here is "Rebirth" finished yesterday afternoon, hanging sleeve, label info and all. (Finished out at 11" x 13") Did I mention I was making this for my church (partial penance since the angel quilt is taking longer than I planned) and that I was determined to present it at the potluck last night? As much as I hate deadlines, I obviously need them when I get in these insecure moods and start to lose faith in myself.

I tried yet another way to attach the "quilt" part to the mounting base, and thought I'd take you through the process. I've used this before on a pillow top, but not for something to hang on the wall. I start by attaching binding strips to the quilted piece. Here I'm using single fold binding cut narrower than if it truly was wrapping around the outside and needed the extra 1/4" seam allowance folded under.

You may recall I used a piece of newsprint instead of fabric on the back. I definitely wasn't thinking clearly when I decided to do that. The paper has to be removed and newsprint held in place with spray baste does not remove easily. I spent a couple of hours in front of the TV tearing it away and picking at the bits with tweezers. A Sulky tearaway stabilizer would have worked much better.

The next day I prepared the mount. This can be prepared in several different ways, but for a truly stiff and stable end result, I fuse Decor Bond interfacing to both the top and the backing. I cut it the exact size of the finished mount, fuse it to fabric, and add the seam allowance as I trim away the excess fabric. The backing gets a slit cut in it, usually where the sleeve will cover it, or it can also be hidden by the label. This mount has no batting and will need no quilting stitches.

The edge of the interfacing now becomes the stitching guide. Pinning parallel to the seam line allows you to check underneath to be sure the bottom is lined up properly to the front.

And here I am stitching. Stitch all the way around - no need to leave an opening because this will be turned inside out through the slit in the backing.

Before turning, clip the corners to reduce bulk. It's hard enough getting those points poked out.

Once you have the corners to your liking, secure the slit with a whip stitch or herringbone stitch. Remember, this will be covered by the sleeve, so it doesn't have to be pretty. Sometimes, I've fused this closed. Then give the edges a good pressing, taking care to pull the backing under if necessary so that it doesn't show from the front.

Now it's time to attach the quilt to the mount. Before removing the newsprint, I'd pressed the binding under so I'd have that guide once the hard edge of the paper was gone. Here I'm using a little Roxanne Glue Baste to secure it in place. It's particularly helpful to glue the double layers at the corners.

Center the quilt on the mount, which may be tricky. It can be pinned, glue basted or spray basted in place. I opted to use spray baste, then stitched in the ditch with invisible thread with the feeddogs down and the free motion quilting foot on. I was worried about shifting if I used a regular foot.

With the top secure, I could add some additional quilting - enough to secure it nicely to the mount, then I put my regular foot back on and stitched the outside edge of the binding to the mount with a narrow zigzag stitch and clear thread. I wasn't as pleased with how this came out as I thought I would be and wished I'd cut the binding wider so that it would have been well secured with the stitch in the ditch. Then I could have left that edge free. I wasn't about to hand applique it down which would have given a more invisible look. I think it must have been the combination of the tight weave batik and the flat surface of the mount. The pillow I'd done this way didn't show the stitching. On this it almost looked top-stitched.

Overall, I'm pleased with this, although I reneged again on doing a more elaborate background. I haven't tried the fusible web over a seam and I guess I was afraid I'd have a line if I pieced a background. I hoped that the sprigs of grass would be delineation enough and just followed colors in the batik to mimic clouds in the sky. A bit trite, perhaps, but I couldn't think of anything else to do. I'm not sure the batting added as much to it as I'd hoped - the stump stayed pretty flat. Yet another learning experience.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Today's Work

Since the angel and I are at a bit of an impasse, I decided to work on another version of my tree stump made with painted fusible web. But I tell you, I really had to push myself to do it. I was quite intimidated at the thought of reproducing that stump again. Why I think I have to have it come out the same, I'm not sure, but that's what I decided was making me so hesitant to dive in. I hesitated a bit over the background as well, second guessing the decision I'd made days ago to use this fabric that was the border on the journal quilt. Also, I was using up what was left of the original pieces of painted fusible, and I didn't have that much to choose from.

Once I got to a certain point, though, I finally loosened up a bit. I wasn't pleased with what was before me, so figured I couldn't make it worse by continuing to add to it. I had some pretty light pieces, too light really, and some darker ones with green. I decided to try pulling the web away from the paper so I could better see the true color of the paint on it. This worked really well, and I was able to cut tiny pieces and move them around until I had the look I wanted. I used a piece of release paper instead of the Teflon sheet to protect my iron, and discovered that if I pulled it off quickly instead of slow and carefully, I had less problem with the paint or fusible separating from it. I'm still getting some shine, but I'm learning to ignore it. Eventually I stopped, hoping that quilting would cover the places I felt too abrupt, light or dark, and enhance the look of bark.

As in the journal quilt version (see here), I felt much better about it after the quilting. Click on the picture to see more detail. In this case, I am quilting with a layer of batting and a piece of newsprint under that. I'll be mounting this to a base that will act a bit like a mat, so don't need the layer of backing fabric at this point. Once mounted, I'll add more quilting detail to keep it from pooching away from the mount.

More Roses

I'm a bit behind on posting the continuing cavalcade of blooms. In fact, they have been coming so fast and furious the last few weeks that I've not taken shots of a lot of them yet. And to think that there was a period a few months ago when I thought things would never green up, let alone burst into bloom.

Anyway, not long after I noticed the wild roses on the bike trail, my own roses started to bloom. I have two old-fashioned bushes, one of which looks just like the wild ones across the way.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Extreme Texture

When I was setting up for my open house back in February, I remember commenting to my brother, Mad Max, that there were a disturbing number of birch tree quilts. I didn't know whether I should be concerned about that or not. He blithely said, so quit making birch tree quilts. But my sense was, and still is, that I have more to say with birches, and as long as that is true, it's ok to keep working with that image. One might think that I am pursuing birches, but I rather think it is the other way around. I can't seem to escape them.

Case in point: Not long ago, a flatbed trailer loaded with birch logs mysteriously showed up next door. I grabbed my camera and took several dozen shots, capturing an amazing array of shapes, textures and colors. Good thing I didn't wait until the next day to do this. As unexpectedly as it had arrived, the trailer disappeared, its load unceremoniously dumped behind a fence, no longer accessible to me and my camera.

The first thing to catch my eye was shape. I automatically think of logs as being perfectly round, so this oblong one amused and intrigued me.

The bark was wildly curling away from this one. It reminded me of surf - big waves on the ocean.

The thinner layer of the bark curled like ribbon drawn across the blade of a scissor, or like wood shavings from a plane.

Being birch, black lines were also in evidence.

I'm so used to thinking of birch bark as stark white. These trees' bark was darker and shaded in spots with peach and burgundy undertones.

Ok, so maybe it wasn't so mysterious, this bunch of logs arriving. But the following week, I had the distinct impression that I was being stalked by them. Within my fenced yard, there's a narrow passageway between the back of my house and a shed - the route I take when going out to walk the dog. It is quite a ways from where the birch logs were dumped, even the opposite side of the driveway. Yet this particular morning, there was this three inch square of birch bark lodged next to the shed along this passageway. I can't imagine how it got there, and yes, it was a bit spooky!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Nuts & Bolts

Yesterday I bit the bullet, and proceeded with my arbor idea out of the fern batik for the angel quilt. The scrolls will be incorporated later somehow. I'm thinking of this not as a border but more of a frame, and it only goes on three sides - and even then, not all the way to the bottom. Here's the nuts & bolts of how I did it.

I started by making freezer paper templates - one of my favorite methods. I measured the width of the opening and added 2 inches top and side. My fabric wasn't wide enough for the frame to be one piece, so I only needed to make one half of the pattern, and rather than continue the freezer paper the entire length of the sides, I just made it a little past the curved section. I drew the arc the old fashioned way - with a string tied to my pencil and anchored at the center point with a pin. I didn't add seam allowance to the pattern before cutting it, but did jot reminders to myself about how much extra to leave when cutting the fabric - about 1/2" on the outside edges and 1/4" along the inside edge. Since I needed a mirror image template, I placed another sheet of freezer paper shiny side to shiny side of the piece with my cutting lines and cut them both at the same time. These were then ironed to the wrong side of my fabric and the pieces cut out with the appropriate seam allowances added.
Besides the seam in the center, I had to piece strips to each side to get the proper frame length. Ah, the joy of working with limited fabric yardage! These seams were pressed open.

Here I've moved to the ironing board so I can press under the seam allowance along the curved edge. I realize now that you can't really tell that it is pressed over the edge of the freezer paper, but it is. I thought I might have to clip the edges to make a smooth flat turn, but I didn't. The tight weave of the batik makes a nice crisp crease that will stay in place after the freezer paper is removed. I continued to press under 1/4" along the rest of the seam beyond where the freezer paper template ended. I checked periodically with a ruler to be sure this seam allowance was even.

Now to center it over the background. The edges of the background section are quite uneven, but I took care to keep the top edge straight and subsequent sections true horizontally. This allowed me to line up the background on my cutting mat grid (taped on the corners to prevent shifting) and then line up the frame so it would also be straight and true.

Once I was satisfied with its position, I carefully started pinning it in place, placing pins perpendicular to the seam, then going back and putting more in spaced more closely and parallel to the seam line. It was at this point I realized that in another life, I would have machine pieced this seam. In fact, this freezer paper template method was learned during a Mariner's Compass class where we machine pieced our circular compasses into their round frames. Frankly, it never occurred to me to do that, probably because of the way I layered and "appliqued" the background together. On this piece, I don't mind the top-stitching necessary to secure these pieces down. And it is a lot easier and faster than piecing at this point.

I haven't sewn this down yet for two reasons. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with the ends yet, and I may want to insert a piping along the edge - something a little bright to add a glow. I'm still feeling that this quilt lacks zing, that it will all muddle together when viewed from a distance (which in all likelihood will be the case in its new home.) I've searched high and low through my various stashes and can't quite seem to come up with a suitable solution. So yesterday I swung by the local quilt shop for inspiration. I restrained myself from buying a lot of yardage for a change, since I'm not sure any of these will really fit the bill (although now that they are home, it's looking promising). My default answer to "how much of this do you want" has usually been 1/2 a yard or more likely, a full yard. But I decided that, with the exception of piping, I only needed a 1/4 yard of my zinger solution, so 1/4 yards is all I got. Besides, the store's having a sale in just a week, so if any of these require more yardage, I'll go back and get them a little cheaper. Gotta be frugal about something! Two are batiks, and frankly, I knew the blue wasn't right, but thought I'd give it a try anyway. The other is a lovely pale spring green - exactly what I was searching for in my stash. The other three all have metallic gold touches which I think might be perfect to pick up the light. You can see that better if you click on the picture for the larger version.