Sunday, March 29, 2009

Row Robin Progress

I bet you've been wondering what I've been up to that's kept me from blogging for a week. No? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I took this:

...and searched through almost my entire stash to turn it into this:

I didn't intend for this starter row of my row robin quilt to take so much of my time, but as usually, I set myself a fussy and time-consuming task with these 6" house blocks and the 3 & 4 inch tree blocks in between. Click on the pictures for a larger view to compare the paper vs cloth versions.

It's 43 inches long (yes, I know - a number that no conventional block size falls into) and 7-1/2 inches wide with the strip I added along the bottom of the blocks. That's my house there on the right and my landlord's to the left of it (artistic license taken of course). Then there's a little cottage and what I fancy an older brick house on the end.

Part of what took so long was the size & number of the individual pieces within each block. For the most part, I used my favorite version of paper piecing where the pattern is drawn or printed on freezer paper (I did both) and the freezer paper is folded back so you stitch next to, not through it. That way, pattern pieces pop right off when you're ready and can be used again. This pattern was printed out of Electric Quilt 5 which automatically numbers the piecing order. I usually don't agree with it, liking to start in the center and work my way out to the edges if possible. You can change the order before printing, but it wasn't something I needed to do on something this simple.

Here's the front. That's a 1 inch grid it's lying on, so you can see just how tiny some of the pieces are. I cut "chunks" slightly larger than the area to be covered so that I could keep my grain lines going in the right directions. Where the pieces weren't too small, like the bases of some of the trees, I just cut strips to size and sewed them together normally. Fussy fussy work.

The other thing that took so much time was choosing just the right fabric and trying to blend the sky from morning sunrise across to where it is still nearly night. I'll need to do some paint or thread work to make some of the transitions less abrupt. And then there was the search for just the right door fabric for the block above because I didn't want to use the same yellow as in the windows. I must have tried a dozen different things. As you can see, I ended up using the yellow anyway.

And now all that is left is to write a few guidelines, decide what fabric to send along with it and get it into the mail. All I can say is, good luck to the 6 women who will be adding their rows to this!

Can I get back to some art now??? Not until the piles of auditioned fabrics are put away. Seriously, I tapped into nearly every stockpile I have save my plaids and batiks: the tote with a hand piecing project started in a class, the Ziploc bag with the fabric used on the Suzanne Marshall applique piece, the bins of reproduction fabric, my standard stash, a fruit crate with leftovers from several reproduction quilt projects. Lovely stuff all reminding me of all the beautiful quilts I've made and plan to make. Kind of inspirational and disturbing at the same time.

Before I launched into this, I did spend a few hours quilting the second painted piece, but I hit a snag on one spot and need to rip out and re-quilt it. So I've decided to put off showing you that piece until it is actually done, which should be this week. Right now I'm heaving a huge sigh of relief...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Thread Painting & Diversions

I've been debating whether or not to show the fruits of my Friday labors. I'm not very happy with the result, but I suppose I should show both the good and the bad. It started with this small piece of fabric to which I'd applied paint. It's only about 4" x 10 or 11" so I thought the enhancing thread painting to pick out the Rorschach-like image wouldn't be too time consuming or difficult. I should know better.

The thread I'd auditioned failed to read as anticipated once stitched in place. So I kept adding more lines of stitching with additional threads. There are at least 4 different greens on the mountain area, and as many if not more blues for the water. The teal/blue Oliver Twists appear too bright to me. I think they need toning, and I tried to accomplish that with a more true blue. I tried some tulle over it which had little effect.

So I thought perhaps it would read differently when surrounded by its proposed background fabric. Yeesh - I don't think so, unless I can tie something in around the center portion - either cording or satin stitching in a dark blue?

No picture, but before I put it back up on the wall to simmer, I laid it on a deep navy blue fabric and that may be the answer. That is, unless I just admit defeat and move on. This may be one of my few might-as-well-bin-it efforts.

As for the diversion, I've gotten myself into a row robin challenge with the girls from the Minnesota retreat. I'm to send off my beginning row with instructions and any fabric next week, and so far I've only come up with a theme (my eclectic neighborhood), a rough sketch and some patterns from my vast resources of books and magazine articles. Today I printed out various tree and house blocks from EQ and Block Base and spent a little time playing with arrangement. I'm doing this on the floor because my table is a mess again - too many projects nearing completion but waiting for this or that decision.

One of those is the jungle piece. I've put away all but the black fabric I was considering for the background and now am in a search for a zippy color to edge the quilted portion with. I think I am close to finding the perfect fabric.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Today was a day for auditioning. First, I fused decor bond to the back of the pink piece and layered it with Thermore and muslin. After a little quilting is added to accentuate the tree trunk I see there, I'll attach it to the crushed velvet (relic from the 1970's). The little piece to the left, with any luck, will look like mountains and lake at sunset, and will also get the crushed velvet treatment. Threads pooled or laid on the surface gives me an idea of how the colors will work.

Then it was back to my jungle piece. So far only two votes on which way to orient it and they do not agree, no surprise there. I'm still undecided and thought pairing it with some fabric options might push me one direction or the other. I started with my regular stash and ended up in the batik basket - amazed with how many options there were. Even the background I'm using in the azalea piece is up for consideration.

I guess it all depends on the mood I want to set, along with which ones don't overpower the central design. Black was my first thought, before I started thinking jungle batiks, and in the end, I probably will opt for the black batik which has the subtlest of plums emerging in it. I think if I edge the quilted area with a plum too, it will bring it all to life. And would look good either direction, darn it.

It was pretty fun trying all the different fabrics and seeing how they changed the feel of the piece. Click on the pictures for a larger view that will show the background fabrics better. There's still time to comment on your preferred orientation here. It's always interesting to hear what other people see in the imagery.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Changing Gears

You may remember this piece. It was my trial of thread and quilting motifs for Balance Check. I really liked what was going on there, so set it aside with the idea of finishing it as an actual little work of art. Today I added the additional quilting I felt it needed, put it up on the design wall and started thinking about how to frame it or mount it on a background. It reminds me of the jungle so I am considering batiks that would carry out that theme.

Then I made the mistake of wondering if this orientation was the best, tipped my head and saw this:

Oh, bother. Now I see a mountain with a wild sunset going on above, and reflected in water below. I like this too. So the bother is, now I have to choose between what looks like equally good options.

Which do you like the best?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Solution Found!

I wasn't going to work on this today, but in the process of clearing the detritus of it from around my sewing machine, I got pulled in again. Then, as I stored away some of the rejected purple batiks in their basket under the table, there was something lying on top. Oh, yeah, the batik I used on Jockeying for Space, a fat bundle I wasn't sure I was going to stuff into the basket with the rest. That's when it dawned on me that the solution to my purple quadrant quandary had been staring me in the face the whole time. It doesn't show in the portion that I used on Jockeying, which is still propped against the wall, but this batik has yellow leaf-like motifs across purple that matches the purple I'm using in the mosaic. Some of it is quite orange, but if fussycut just right, the yellow to orange looks amazingly close to that in the yellow quadrant.

I cut a few swatches without fusible just to see if it would be too loud, but I liked what was happening. So I cut four squares with fusible and traded out the other vine batik that didn't feel quite right. Yes, we're getting closer. But I thought I needed more than just 4 squares and I'm just about out of the fusible. What if...those famous words...I added back in one or two of the first batik? And that was the answer. Click on the picture for a larger view and see if you can tell which is which. The new batik with the stronger yellow and orange now makes the lighter yellow and green in the first batik fit, and the two together gives a tad of variety that more of the new batik would not.

After I took this picture, I changed the placement of the batiks and one of the fake batik squares a bit and replaced a few of the hand-dyed squares with a different value or texture and now I think I am thoroughly happy with the arrangement. I think I'll be shifting the whole thing over some more - I didn't allow for some of the background to show as a border and now I think that's what I want. Plus, I think I want to space the squares a little farther apart. Just minor tweaks before I permanently fuse everything down and start the quilting.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Adding Sparkle

Thanks to Wanda for giving me a nudge toward doing what I knew needed doing. She commented that the yellow section of the azalea mosaic that I felt looked flat just needed some really light yellow to spark it up. I let it sit over the weekend, because it's ALWAYS a good idea to set aside what you're working on and view it with fresh eyes and mind after a few days. Yup, as much as I wanted to be done with cutting and arranging squares, I knew Wanda was right. I started with a few squares cut from an almost white section of the light hand-dyed yellow, but the need for pattern was still nagging at the back of my brain. This sent me back to my batik stash where I found a perfect yellow with floral motifs. How this didn't get into the original stack of azalea matching fabric, I'm not sure; unless, of course, it was squirreled away in a pile waiting to be washed. Yeah, that must have been it, because this fabric was given to me as a going away present in 2006. Once again, I am my own worst enemy.

Here is a before and after closeup of the yellow section.

Yes, now that yellow quadrant plays the same game as the tangerine ones (click here to compare with the before full view), and you might notice that the purple one is trying to get in on the game too. I wasn't as lucky finding the perfect batik with a vine or floral motif - this one is a pale yellow with a lot of green and it almost fades off the grid somehow.

I kept digging and found another purple, not a true batik, but a print mimicking one. I'm wishing it had some yellow in it but just the little bit of pattern, I think, is an improvement. I'm still not sure about this section. Perhaps I'll experiment with a scrap of the batik and see if I can brighten that yellow with a little paint.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Thoughts About Design

I've been reading through Beaded Embellishment by Amy C. Clarke & Robin Atkins. Amy's "thoughts about design" near the end of the book resonated, eloquently answering the question of why we create:

" is more than just creating things to protect us from the elements or to make our day-to-day survival easier. We have a desire to perceive and reflect what surrounds us - sometimes we perceive happiness, sometimes despair, sometimes beauty, sometimes ugliness." (Emphasis mine.)

This is exactly what I find myself doing all the time. Little discoveries and insights as I view the world around me are hard to keep to myself. This image of reflecting those things helps me understand why so much of what I observe I have an instinctive need to express in my art.

She goes on to link the ability to design to this ability to perceive:

"Learning to design also means learning to perceive. In the same way that listening goes beyond hearing, perceiving goes beyond simply seeing. It means becoming aware of your surroundings through all of your senses. Perceiving is also seeing with your heart and mind. Designing involves taking what you perceive and translating it into a visual language." (Again,, emphasis is mine.)

Again, this expresses my creative journey well. My father always criticized me for not being very observant. He saw minutia where I only saw the larger picture. But that has changed over the years, and even more quickly over the last 6 or so years. The more I look around me, the more I see, and then the more I perceive. I have become more aware of the minutia of my surroundings, seeing things in new ways, remembering how I once viewed things but had gotten away from seeing them. And always, underlying this constant observation, the need to somehow use it, reflect it, to share with others.

Co-author Robin weighs in on this topic of design as well. She reminds us that we have hidden resources we can trust when it comes to good design:

"...remember that from the moment of your birth, you are surrounded by great designs. Consider nature's perfect balance of color, texture, and line in every flower, every leaf, every insect, every living thing around you - things you see every day of your life...Your subconscious takes it all in - every detail." (Emphasis mine.)

If only we knew how to tap into our subconscious when we needed the details, needed the answers. No wonder some of us take so many photographs, sketch so many ideas. We don't trust our brains to be able to pop out the information on demand. We study books, question others about technique, do everything but rely on ourselves so much of the time. Well, I do, at least. So I appreciated Robin's encouraging conclusion to this section:

"Inside each of us, there's a huge reservoir of knowledge about successful design, based on both conscious and subconscious observations. We have only to trust it to guide our intuition. Trusting your intuition is the key to pleasing yourself with your designs." (Emphasis mine.)

And in pleasing ourselves, we will better create art that will stand the test of time and please others. It just doesn't work very well the other way around - designing to please others and ignoring our intuition.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Experimental Friday - Erasers

Once again it's time for my Surfacing Group's alphabet challenge and we are up to "e." I originally thought I'd try out Elmer's glue gel as a resist, but it was going to take working on it over several days, and I'm already behind on other things. However, I have had this pack of erasers for a long time, bought expressly for trying my hand at making my own rubber stamps. Eraser stamps it is.

I found three sources of information as to how to proceed. The briefest was in Exploring Textile Arts, while the most detailed came from Jean Ray Laury's book, The Fabric Stamping Handbook. I also referenced an article by Laura Wasilowski in the April/May 2008 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine; the information there was very similar to Laury's instructions. I gathered my supplies (Pentel Hi-polymer erasers, X-acto knife, sketchbooks, pencil, pen) and started to think about a design.

These erasers are small - about 1" by 2-1/2" - and I didn't want to do something obvious or like what I already had. No leaves, no crosses, no lines, triangles, crescent moons. I traced around the eraser multiple times in my little sketchbook so I could try out ideas, then looked through my larger sketchbook for motifs. Some of the sketches might work after some practice with this, but in this tiny space, most of them would require intricate cutting. I settled on the design in the middle, taken from an idea portraying a bridge over the lake. The wavy line under the bridge area I guess, indicates the water. I shaded the parts of the design that would not be cut away.

I used a pattern transfer method suggested by both Jean & Laura. I traced the design onto a scrap of release paper from the fusible I've been using the last few days using a soft lead pencil. (Actually, the directions suggested tracing paper, but I knew the release paper would act the same.) Then I placed the tracing paper face down on the eraser and rubbed across it with a thimble. Any kind of burnishing tool would work. In fact, Laura says you can use your fingernail. I lifted a corner to check, and voile! The pencil lines had transferred onto the eraser.

I retraced the pencil lines with a very fine Micron Pigma pen. I tried my Sharpie fine line first but it just oozed and spread on the rubber. Then it was cut along the lines with the X-acto knife, trying to angle the cut out to provide stability for the raised design. Then a cut from the side to remove the background sections. This was easy on the long straight outside edge, but trickier in the middle. I persevered, and while it is not neat and tidy in the cut-out sections, the face of the stamp came out pretty clean.

So here it is tested on paper. The actual stamp is angled at the top left of the paper. I'm much more impressed with this than I thought I'd be. I've lined it up different ways and can actually envision this design stamped over an entire piece of cloth. I'm not sure stamp cutting is for me though - it took an awfully long time to do this. I have two other designs I'd like to try, then it's probably back to buying pre-made stamps, or trying a different material. But I have to admit, the eraser is easy to cut and makes a nifty little stamp.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Trial & Error

Well, actually, lots of trial and very little error as I proceed on this second azalea mosaic. I decided to include a few squares of that cheeky vine batik after all, along with the "this is a keeper" batik and two of my hand-dyes in the "tangerine" quadrants.

The vine one is almost too much pattern I'm afraid, not to mention the way it includes a little yellow. But perhaps the yellow quadrant will make it look like it belongs. Below I try the next to the darkest step in a 4-step gradation of a hand-dyed yellow. It's darker than I thought I would use, but I think it works well with the intensity of the other two colors.

This still needs some tweaks before fusing the squares down, and I'm still not sure about the vine batik. In fact, I'm not sure about the yellow section either.

Even though I incorporated 4 different yellows, it's reading pretty flat compared to the other quadrants. I may need to trade out some squares for some visually more interesting choices.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Breaking the Barrier

As much as I wanted to get working on my second azalea mosaic, I found myself resisting taking that first step - choosing the fabric in which to make the first cuts. I had a general idea of how I wanted to proceed, but for this one I'm taking a more freeform approach. I'm not drawing on grid guidelines, I'm not rotary cutting the mosaic squares, I'm not going for a particular end dimension. Basically, I'm winging it, trying to work loose, and thus, out of my comfort zone. Still, I knew once I took the first step, a lot of the anxiety would disappear as I became engrossed in the work.

You have to start somewhere, and the logical place was with the green that would be the "backbone" of the work. I guessed at 1-1/2 inches as the approximate size of the squares, which was the perfect size for the least waste of the Steam-a-Seam 2 Lite fusible I'd be using. I have it in sheets that are approximately 9 x 12 inches. I really like this product for this type of on-the-wall designing because the fusible has a slight tackiness to it that makes it stick temporarily wherever you place it. The light version also does not bleed through on thinner fabrics like batiks and hand-dyes. At least here I was in my comfort zone. I pressed a sheet of fusible to my green and started cutting strips, eyeballing with my Teflon-coated scissors. Then I sub-cut the strips into squares.

Azalea mosaic 1's squares have pointed corners. On this version, I wanted slightly rounded corners, so went back over each square, trimming off the points in a gentle curve.

Then it was time to peel off the paper backings and start arranging the squares on the background. The green hand-dye had plenty of light and dark areas for variety, so I didn't feel the need to work in any other fabrics. I only used a ruler once to check on the angle of the vertical and horizontal rows. I wanted it to be 90 degrees, and I suspected the horizontal row was swinging up a bit at the end. It was, but where the horizontal and vertical rows crossed, it was a perfect 90 degrees. I was impressed. I guess this loosening up stuff works pretty well. And this is where I stopped on Thursday.

Yesterday I was back at it, but the trepidation had returned. That decision making thing that makes me doubt myself. The four quadrants will be filled in with blocks of one color each, but each quadrant will have more than one fabric in it. But first I needed to shift my green "backbone" over to the right so I could make the horizontal rows a little longer. Then I decided the purple quadrant would be the easiest for me to work on, and I had two different purple hand-dyes I wanted to use. I cut light and dark sections out of each so basically had 4 different shades to work with. I realized that now that I knew approximately how large this piece would be, I needed to mark where the edges most likely will fall. The slant of the rows confuses my eye when eyeballing the true horizontal - I'd placed some squares below that line I discovered when I held up a ruler. So I chalked a plumb line so to speak where the bottom and right edges will fall.

I ended the day contemplating how I'll approach the yellow and tangerine sections. I now think that two quadrants of yellow will be far too overpowering, and I doubt that I'll use that sassy yellow and tangerine batik on the left unless I only cut from certain areas. But I think that batik in the upper left is a keeper, although it probably won't be used in that spot..


One of the things I wanted to wrap up this week was Jockeying for Space, but I ran into a snag. When last you saw it, I was ready to attached it to a batik background and wrap it over a 12 x 12 stretched canvas (see here). I measured around the frame to determine how big to cut the batik, applied Decor Bond to stabilize it, centered the quilt on it and stitched it down with a narrow zigzag stitch with monofilament thread. Next came couching the two slightly twisted together yarns using the same thread and a slightly wider zigzag stitch.

This is where things started to go downhill. The couching flattened the yarns more than I expected, making their twisting look quite different than my audition of them. It was difficult but important to follow the arcing curve of the edge of the quilt, but I had not factored in the slubbiness of the sari yarn which did not maintain that smooth arc on the inner most visible edge. When I pulled it out of the machine, not only was I disappointed that the yarn did not read as strongly as I thought it would, I was also disappointed that the arcs had flattened out a bit.

But I was determined to get this done, so I began wrapping the piece around the frame, using small tacks partly inserted until I was sure things were centered properly. When I flipped it over, the quilted part looked uncomfortable in the 12" space; not enough batik showing around it. My overriding thought was that it need more breathing space! I had some 14" stretcher bars put together, but had already determined that was a bit too much batik showing. Besides, I hadn't allowed enough extra when I cut the batik to wrap around 14" stretcher bars. But maybe, just maybe, I could add a little strip all around to make it work.

In reality, I knew what I needed was 13" bars to stretch it around. As I recall, this was the size I'd determined I needed back when I first went looking for bars or stretched canvas. But none was to be found. 13 is just an odd size not available, at least not at the sources I checked. I laid the piece out on the table and masked it off with strips of paper to see how the 13" size would look, glancing at it now and then as I worked on other things. Then I upped it to 14" and did the same. You wouldn't think an extra 1/2 on a side would make that much difference, but to my eye, 13 just looked better than 12 or 14.

So I reluctantly went to plan B - wrapping it over foam core board and putting it in a frame. I did NOT want this one framed, but sometimes you just have to give it up. I cut a 13" square of the board and pulled the piece around to the back, temporarily securing it with tape, and leaned it up against the wall as you see above. Decided I needed to live with it for a few days to be sure this is what I wanted and that there wasn't something else I needed to do to the piece before final framing. This merely enforced my desire to have it unframed. Sigh...

An art quilter friend called that night, so I had a chance to grouse about this, especially the fact that she had a husband who could make custom size frames and stretcher bars for her and that of course I had to make a piece needing a custom size. I heard some paper rustling in the background and then she was reciting out of a catalog to me - a source for 13" stretcher bars! So last night I did a web search and was amazed to find many sources of 13" stretcher bars, plus a source for 14" x 14" stretched canvas - another item I'd not had luck finding previously.

So quandary is over. I'll order my supplies and soon have Jockeying for Space ready to hang on the wall.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Off on a New Tangent

The urge to break out the tropical fabrics to start the second azalea mosaic has been strong the last few dreary weeks. With the priority items that have kept me from it mostly in hand, I could entertain that urge at last. The background fabric went up on the design wall and I started considering which fabrics might make up my mosaic squares. What a tonic to the rain pouring down outside my window all day! This background is the same colors as the one in azalea mosaic 1, but the pattern is different. The grid on this one will be canted - a printout of a quick mock-up can be seen pinned at the top of the background fabric in the picture above. In looking at this again along with the pictures from 8 months ago that were my inspiration, I wondered about switching the yellow and tangerine placement, so did a quick mock-up of that too. Now that it is printed out next to the original idea, I'm not sure it works as well. I'll be cutting individual squares that will ultimately be fused down so will have ample opportunity to experiment.

All the fabrics for this project have been waiting in the bedroom since I cleared the worktable last month to facilitate quilting the crow's feet quilt. Today, I moved the stack back in, and when I lifted off the background fabric, this fabulous yellow/orange vine batik was revealed. I pretty much remembered the other fabrics I'd squirreled away under there but I'd forgotten all about this one. My little version of an archaeological dig, full of exciting finds. This second mosaic will use this same azalea color palette in the squares as the first one but mix in more fabrics, values and shades - possibly some of the ones seen here.

And because of the fused applique, it will be finished long before the first azalea mosaic with its hand applique. This is one time when I don't mind working out of sequence.