Monday, November 30, 2009

Basic Quilting

I've got most of the straight-line, stitch-in-the-ditch with feed dogs up/walking foot on quilting done on the mother-in-law quilt. This is my way of easing into the more challenging (for me, anyway) free-motion quilting to come. The green thread has not run out...yet, and I've switched to red rayon for this next bit of star points. The width is perfect for inch-wide spacing of the lines, and I just happened to have inch-wide painter's tape to lay down as a guide.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Murphy's Law of Thread

The thread I thought I'd use to quilt the holiday quilt, and which I have oodles of (that's it on the right), turned out not to work at all. At least, not on the top. It has become my bobbin thread. The lovely green rayon thread is a much better choice, but I have the sinking feeling I don't have enough on the spool to complete the job.

But I know where to get more, just a few miles down the road...

Friday, November 27, 2009

What a little applique can do...

I made good progress yesterday on my "mother-in-law" quilt. I'm using a pattern from Evelyn Sloppy's book "Sew One and You're Done" that may have been the one the mother-in-law had intended to use for her holiday wall quilt. After the intensity, fussiness and decision-riddled nature of my last project, I can see how this kind of quilt appeals to a large segment of the quilting community. The instructions are clear and well laid-out, the individual pieces large by any standard - huge compared to how I normally work - and most quilts are presented in just a few fabrics, so everything goes quite quickly. Six and a half inch patches and half-square triangle units sew up into giant nine-patches. Flying geese units are bigger than goslings.

I caught myself feeling bored, though, even as I appreciated not having to choose fabrics or figure out cutting strategies. Machine quilting enthusiasts might be excited by those big open spaces, chomping at the bit to fill them with swirls and feathers, but not me. How about some applique to make it more Christmasy? Another book Carol had sent along, Mimi Dietrich's "Baltimore Bouquets," had an easy holly wreath about the right size for the center square of the quilt. I could use parts of the wreath in some of those big triangles. Now it was getting interesting and fun as I put my own stamp on this simple quilt.

Thank goodness I had no intention of hand appliqueing these motifs on. The wreath block alone has 27 not quite 3/8" berries. With the addition of holly and berries in the surrounding triangles, there are 48 more. I'm very pleased with how this all looks now, and got it layered and pin-basted today. Let the quilting commence!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Freewill Astrology

I continue my amusement at horoscopes that come dangerously close to the truth, as if they truly are looking into my life and not just Virgos in general. Here is one from a few weeks ago, courtesy of Freewill Astrology by Rob Brezny, that is just too funny and a shoe that nearly fits!

"Hey Rob: I was having trouble finishing my novel - typical writer's block. So I sidetracked myself into making silly creative projects - papier-mache chickens, masks made out of junk mail, collages incorporating bottle caps and dryer lint. I can't say any of it is 'art' but I feel creative again and my house is full of colorful stuff I whipped up myself. If you wait to be perfect, I concluded, you'll never make anything. I tried something I knew I'd be bad at, so failure didn't matter. Now I'm branching out with my inadequacy - not waiting for Mr. Perfect but having a beer with Joe Flawed, forgetting to be right all the time, admitting that I haven't a clue. I've become smilingly, brilliantly dumb. - Inappropriate Virgo." Dear Inappropriate: Congrats! You're doing exactly what I want to advise all Virgos everywhere to try.

What do you think? Ready to join me for a beer??? ;-)

Monday, November 23, 2009

In between

After the unexpected push of the last few months, the studio was a shambles, so I've been puttering around in there, putting things away, updating my documentation files, and clearing space to work on the next project. I don't foresee doing any serious art for the remainder of the year. Holiday preparations alone would make that difficult. But I do have plenty of unfinished business as well as a few must-get-done-before-Christmas fun ideas. First up - a somewhat Christmasy wall quilt for my mother-in-law. She had taken up quilting again, then just as quickly realized she wasn't enjoying it, so sent a lot of stuff my way. In the several boxes arriving on my doorstep was the fabric, batting and pattern for a quilt she had planned for her dining area, one that could be hung for the holidays in place of a bright one she'd made. She didn't ask if I'd make it, but she didn't have to. It seemed a great opportunity to give back to a lady who has given me so much. I just didn't think it would be the end of November before I started on it. But start I have. I cut out the pieces for it yesterday and today , and got quite a bit of it pieced this afternoon.

Above are some of the fabrics she picked for the quilt. Not really Christmas fabrics, but ones she really liked in traditional red and green. They are mostly Thimbleberries fabrics, a line I once liked a lot, but now not really my style. But this quilt isn't about what I like, and because the pattern is so basic, it should go together quickly. With the fabric already decided, that's half the battle!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

POAC'S "That Thing You Do"

Time again for another Pend Orielle Arts Council exhibit at the Power House here in Sandpoint. I have three art quilts in this one. If you make it to the opening reception this Friday, please introduce yourself - I'd love to meet you in real space!

"That Thing You Do"

Nov. 20, 2009 - Jan. 4, 2010

Opening Reception

Friday, November 20, 2009
5:30 - 7:00 pm

The POAC Gallery, in the Old Power House
120 Lake Street, Sandpoint, Idaho

Hors d’oeurves & Refreshments
Provided by
Pend Oreille Pasta & Wine

Free and open to the public

Just in time for the Holiday shopping season, POAC’s That Thing You Do showcases the outstanding work of many of this area’s finest craftsmen.

Some of the more unique treasures include fabulous jewelry, intricate quilting and fiber arts, beautiful sculptures in wood and ceramic, breathtaking glass pieces, one-of-a-kind furniture pieces, and much, much more. An array of original works and media are utilized by these local and regional artists, and all are members of the Pend Oreille Arts Council. There is truly something for everyone, and for every taste.

"This area has many fine craft artists, and POAC wants to explore how their art is evolving" show coordinator Sally Lowry said. "Not only will there be new artists exhibited, but also various media that are not normally part of POAC shows. This is an excellent opportunity to view the breadth of artwork created by artists in our community."

The opening reception is free and the public is encouraged to attend.

Hors d’oeuvres and wine for the reception will be provided by Pend Oreille Pasta and Wine.

That Thing You Do will remain on display through January 4, 2010.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Emily Carr Skies"

"Emily Carr Skies"
12 x 16 Art Quilt
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2009

Here at last is my response to June's October challenge painting. Because I got so caught up in studying the way the painter Emily Carr rendered her skies, my name for this art quilt went from something about dancing trees to "Emily Carr Skies." It is 12 x 16 inches and has been mounted on foamcore board and framed.

The designing of this quilt has been a most interesting conversation between June, June's painting (above), Emily Carr's paintings and me. (For June's explanation of how Carr's work influenced her painting, see her post here.) First of all, the color palette is one I am naturally drawn to so it was easy to limit my fabric choices to those I could pick out in the painting (the more I looked, the more variety I spotted - an on-going conversation). As I studied it further, I was struck by something June said went she sent the painting along, about how Carr's cubist skies worked well with her swirling forests. I'd been noting trees both in nature and in artwork that depicted trees that seemed to be dancing. What if I could get the skies and the trees to dance together? And thus I had my answer to how to respond to June's swirling yet geometric design.

I spent quite a bit of time researching Emily Carr and her work, settling on the above two paintings of Carr's to work out my skies. I loved the idea of cubing the sky spaces as in the painting on the left and filling them with the blues and violets in June's painting. The painting on the right gave me my answer to how to quilt those areas, in undulating parallel lines. I worked at placing the colors and angling the quilting stitches to really get those skies dancing a bit like June had, sections ducking under others in something of a square dance reel.

June used a wide range of browns which was everything I needed for my tree trunks. I opted to leave them unquilted, partly because the quilt seemed busy enough without more stitch and texture being added, partly because unquilted they stand out from the surface increasing the sense of three dimensionality.

June's non-sky area is full of sharp angles. I wasn't sure if those green ones were mountains or trees, but in my design they became mountains. I would have liked to bring in a wider range of greens as June did, but I was afraid of losing my trees in the possible resulting chaos. Also, I really didn't have the greens in my stash to make it work. There are several ways I could have quilted that green area, but I decided to keep it simple and cohesive, mirroring what I'd done in the sky.

As in any good challenge, I learned quite a bit as I worked through various stages. I'd definitely work a sky that way again and carry it into the ground as well. I discovered weaknesses in my original drawing which I may revisit and revise in another quilt, and thought of different color combinations or treatment of the background that might make for a stronger piece of art. I definitely got the urge to piece curved seams out of my system for a bit!

Within the limits of this challenge, I am pleased with my outcome. June says I've done a good job of capturing the spirit of Carr's work without copying, and at this stage of my artistic development, I take that as high praise - thanks! For more detailed explanation of my process and the challenge itself as well as links to information about Emily Carr, see these posts:

More Play With Effects
Emily Carr
Poor Browns?
June's Jockeying
Return to Familiar Territory
Are We Dancing Yet?
Dancing Along
Quilting the Dance

And of course, clicking on any picture will give you a larger view.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Commercial Break

I've just added some new images and products to my cafepress shop. "Angel of the Rock" is now available on a greeting card (above) with a "guardian angel" message inside. Several of my recent fabric postcards can be purchased on greeting or note cards and traditional postcards.
There's a 2010 calendar featuring some of my birch tree quilts.

"Balance Check" and "Jockeying for Space" can now be found on ceramic tiles. Above is the framed tile, the other is a single tile 4-1/2 inches square.

Cafepress offers a great journal book in your choice of 4 different page styles. Mine features my "Simplicity" journal quilt on the cover.
There's even a messenger bag with "Azalea Mosaic 2: Garden Path" on the flap. I've also added the Azalea Mosaic image to a lovely lined lacquered wood box.

I've been very pleased with the quality of cafepress products and image transfers, so I can recommend them without reservation. Please take a look - maybe something will catch your eye - either for yourself or a gift:

End of commercial message...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Sunday Plug

These are my good friends and spiritual advisers, The Rev. JP Carver and his wife, The Reverend Barb Carver. He's a priest and she a vocational deacon in the Episcopal church of which I am a member. They are embarking on a new ministry they have dubbed "Concierge Chaplain Ministry," As they explain it on their website,, it is a "ministry without a building, a ministry which goes to meet people where they are, both spiritually and physically, a ministry modeled on the Celtic principal of living your belief among people..."

I've added the link to their website, to my sidebar & hope you will take a look. If nothing else, you might be interested in JP's eclectic reading list here. Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quilting the Dance

I've spent the last couple of days quilting on my dancing trees challenge quilt. Step one: stabilize and define trunks with stitch in the ditch using a sumptuous silk buttonhole twist in dark brown. You can see how this subtle stitching makes a difference by comparing the unstitched area on the left.

Then it was time to stitch those Emily Carr skies. Perhaps you can see better my plan, how the placement of the different fabrics create an over & under swirling, thread color matched to the underlying fabric. The skies are dancing the Virginia Reel. Note how I worked out the direction of the stitching on one of my sample sketches.

I tested different green threads for the ground and settled on a rayon thread that looked good on both the dark and light green fabric. It didn't do much to blend the two but I decided that was ok. If I want to tone down the lighter green, I like June's idea of applying colored pencil.

So there's a ton of movement in the small quilt, and I'm thinking perhaps I should leave the trees alone. I'm afraid that if I quilt texture into them, or even just irregular lines, it will be too much. Any opinions? Ah, come know you're dying to comment!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Dancing along...

I thought I'd be quilting this on Saturday, but I was still working out the greens in the bottom half. I'd originally thought I'd make each area between the trunks a different green, but I quickly realized that would be too much movement in the piece. Still, I felt one green across the bottom wasn't doing it either. June and Emily Carr both had a definite shaft of light slashing through their work (see this post), but my light source is much subtler. I spent a lot of time studying the play of light in my sky, envisioning where it might logically fall upon the landscape. It wasn't an easy call, perhaps made more difficult by the greens available to me. I'm hoping to tone down and blend the light green with quilting.

Saturday morning found me trying to decide whether the triangle near the center bottom should be the medium green or the dark green. I felt the dark green as you see in the above picture, didn't make as much sense but it was a tough call. If I'd doubted the importance of negative space before, working with this section of the quilt made a believer out of me. In the line sketch version, they did not shout so loudly for my eye's attention. Now that color was being added, I wished those center ones were not so large, or at least shaped differently. It might not have been such an issue for me if I could have cubed the spaces like I did some of the sky spaces.

I had a wonderful conversation with a non-artist friend who'd seen the above picture of just the top half. I was at an impasse with the greens and needed to clear my head. She gave me a rejuvenating image I couldn't get out of my head which got me over the hump of that impasse. Being a retired teacher who had chaperoned many a Friday night dance, she said the trees reminded her of kids dancing to techno-pop in a darkened room, arms waving in the air, each picking up the "fizz" of the lights from the stage (my sky) slightly differently. Having done my own share of chaperoning, I knew just what she meant and agreed! This energized image made working out the rest of the kinks fun again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Are we dancing yet?

Today I faced the challenging piecing, so picked some high energy music to get me moving.

If you've been following along, you know that this piece will finish out at about 12 x 16 inches. As I was drawing the design, I didn't stop to think about the width of some of the tree trunks - I hadn't realized some were just a quarter inch wide. If I make another version of this at journal quilt size, you can bet it will be fused applique, not pieced!

This was the tightest curve I pieced today. It didn't look like it would be that bad, but it was. Many many pins to match and hold the pieces in place, and slow slow stitching. I was very relieved to turn it over and find no pleats or puckers.

Then it was suck it up time as I tried several ways of sewing those deep vees. Hand-piecing crossed my mind but I'm not sure that would have been any easier. I was wishing Ruth McDowell would drop by and offer to sew these for me. They turned out well enough (although close inspection by the quilt police might land me a violation or two).

And that's my sky, as many pieces sewn together into units as possible before moving on to the next step of picking out and cutting the ground fabric. What do you think - does my sky dance? I think it does. Can you see the cubist influence of Emily Carr?

I laid these out over a mid-value green batik and thought it read too busy - there's so much movement in the top portion as to make one dizzy. So I tried a darker one and thought it calmed things down nicely. That was before I broke for lunch and leaf raking/bagging and a walk. When I returned to a studio no longer bathed in natural light, the batik looked way too dark. I've cut pieces from some green painted fabric, but it may be too light - I need to wait until tomorrow to see how it looks in daylight. It's coming, June, it's coming...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Return to Familiar Territory

I struggled with a recalcitrant dance partner all weekend. The dancing skies weren't dancing as I'd envisioned.

Lots of fussy cutting leaving jagged edges and holes as I cajoled them to glide.

Lots of rejects - they didn't like the tango, wouldn't learn to waltz. They came dangerously close to being voted off the show (yes, I watch Dancing With The Stars). So I gave them a rest yesterday, and they reconsidered the dance, allowing me to lead at last.

Finally the pieces fell into place and I could begin what I've been waiting for, the chance to sit at the machine and piece! All straight seams in the sky are sewn and I will tackle the curved ones tomorrow. This is familiar territory, this kind of piecing, any doubt about the time spent marking banished with the ease of matching up units.

And then we'll see if we can get the ground to play along - it need not dance, just create a frame that shows off the main attraction of dancing trees and skies.