Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once in a Blue Moon

How often does a blue moon and New Year's Eve coincide? I'm guessing even less often than once in a blue moon! So how can I pass up the opportunity to crack open my bottle of Blue Moon wine and raise a glass to the full blue moon? Of course, I had hoped it would be clear enough to SEE the blue moon, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen. Well, I KNOW it's up there. Cheers and happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chasing our tails?

60 x 90 w/c on paper
Joseph Raffael 2008

When I first became aware of the "contemporary" or art quilt movement in the 1980's, those quilters were doing their best to distance themselves from anything that might inadvertently connect them to bed quilts. Repeating blocks were boring and restricting, bindings so unartistic. These quilters openly stated they wanted their work to look like a fine painting, which to them meant the design running right to the edge, sometimes finished with a facing, other times left raw. Apparently the idea of creating the effect of a matted and framed painting with fabric borders, piping and bindings was unacceptable, too similar to the way a traditional quilt of blocks might be finished.

Initially, I was impatient with this attitude, but over time I've come to understand their concern, have myself had to endure the difficulty of gaining respect for my wall quilts. The last few years I've experimented with alternate ways of finishing my smaller quilts to enhance the notion that they are pieces of art, not pot holders or doll quilts. I developed a system for mounting the "art" part on an unstitched background stiffened with a heavy interfacing and "pillow-turned" with its lining as in "Off the Grid"(see this post), and I've played with other ways to achieve that knife edge no binding finish as in "Autumn Confetti" (see this post) and the fused "frames" cut oversized to allow wrapping around to the back on my first series of journal quilts (see this example). More recently I've tried pinning the finished piece to foamcore board and inserting it into a glassless frame as in "Balance Check" (see this post). I've even tried the currently in vogue wrapping of the textile art over stretched canvas or stretcher bars as in "Jockeying for Space" (see this post). All of these methods have worked well to give my textile art more presence on the wall, the mount acting a bit like a mat, the frame in the case of the narrow metal ones actually reminiscent of a binding.

"A Passage"
58x 82 w/c on paper

Joseph Raffael 2008

And yet, I still find a simple 1/2 inch binding, perhaps with piping as in "Flow" (see this post), the perfect ending for some pieces.
Mmm - the harder we try to run from the perception of tradition, the more we find we've circled back. I've actually made peace with the whole thing, knowing that ultimately the art itself dictates what to do, and that while some finishes might set off a work better than others, there may be multiple good solutions resulting in a decision of taste or expediency. But I can't help thinking that once in the "run-from-tradition" mindset, we may instinctively base some of these decisions on what would make our textiles look more like paintings in their presentation.

"Summer's Dream of Spring"
60 x 89 w/c on paper

Joseph Raffael 2008

So it was with a bit of a start that, as I enjoyed some large floral watercolor paintings in the May 2009 issue of The Artist's Magazine (and shown here), I realized they all sported a narrow border looking all in the world like quilt binding. These paintings are by Joseph Raffael, and were reminding me anyway of the work of quilter Ruth McDowell. I must be mistaken, I thought. Probably just a narrow frame that they are displayed in. But no, on closer inspection, it is obvious that these "borders" are part of the painting itself. In his autobiography on the Nancy Hoffman Gallery site (really worth the read), he mentions a stint as a freelance textile artist in 1960. I can't help but wonder if this has anything to do with this current style in his work. If nothing else, I find it ironic to discover the appearance in a fine art painting of the very thing so many art quilters choose not to use, and in some cases even denigrate, thinking it will make their work look less like art. I hope we aren't spending too much time chasing our tails.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Scene Fabric Postcard by Alice Weickelt

This lovely little fabric postcard came in today's mail from a talented friend in Wisconsin. Alice and I first met when we were thrown together as roommates on a bus tour to the AQS quilt show in Paducah, Kentucky. We often ran into each other at various quilt shows around the Midwest, no planning apparently needed. We've kept in touch since I moved away, and it was a fabric postcard from Alice that got me thinking I should try this too. Alice is nothing if not adventurous when it comes to her quilting, doing everything from traditional "hole in the barn door" quilts to experimental art quilts. This card informs me that her painted Pellon pieces are selling, that she is finishing up her Warmth from Wisconsin entry (year twenty and she often wins an award) and that she is on her 6th selvage quilt (which unlike the others, has grown to bed-size). And she does all this without much fanfare. She reminds me one can loosen up and stop taking this so seriously and achieve wonderful results. Thanks, Alice!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Something to Ponder

I've had this photo for several years. The juxtaposition of the concrete forms caught my eye. I've left it in a folder on the computer where I see it often. Yet I have not been struck by a flash of inspiration telling me how to use this in a quilt design.

I've been pondering it more actively for the last month or so, foremost on my mind that I didn't want to just render essentially a duplicate of the photo in fabric - always a hazard when working from photos. What to do, what to do?

And then this thought came to me: Take the ordinary and make it...interesting.

Yes, that is the challenge all artists face, when you come right down to it. We all look at the everyday world surrounding us and try to record it or capture its essence or elevate it or distill it using our own unique filters. We hope the result will resonate with others, make them nod in agreement, puzzle for a moment, smile or laugh or cry along with us. We hope, I think, to encourage them to take a second look at the ordinary in their own lives, discover the richness that lies within.

Once this thought crossed my mind, I couldn't help jotting down more words to describe what I might turn the ordinary into. Take the ordinary and make it:
  • memorable
  • exciting
  • different
  • extraordinary
  • special
  • remarkable
I still don't know what to do with this image, to make it any of the above. I know it will come to me eventually, or else it was never meant to be more than an interesting photograph. However, I find myself extremely curious about how someone else might use it to create an original work of art. And so, I challenge any of you who may be interested to use my photo as a jumping off point. Use any medium - I'm not restricting you to textile art - post your finished work to your blog or on-line photo account, then leave a comment on this post with the link to your photo by the end of January. Note what medium you worked in and share as much of the process you went through as you would like. Remember that if you sign in anonymously, you'll need to add your name to your comment. If you don't have an on-line place to post the photo, you can e-mail it to me at If there's enough interest, I'll make a bit of a contest of it with some kind of a prize to the one deemed the most interesting, memorable, exciting, different, extraordinary, special, or remarkable interpretation of my photo. Tell your friends and let the creativity begin!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Here are the last two gift padfolios which I delivered today. Talk about finishing up in the St. Nick of time!

This is the second of the leaf print ones - already fused to Decor Bond so no additional Peltex between front and lining. It helps to press in the folds at the stitching.

This one has a long strip of Velcro along the angled edge for a closure. The recipient is an avid hunter, so I know she will appreciate this antler embellishment. They are both glued and stitched in place.

On the other one I wanted to try a magnet closure like on a commercial journal I bought a while ago. If you look closely, you can see the bump it makes under the lining. These magnets aren't strong enough to hold through more than one layer of fabric and need to line up exactly in order to snap in place. They have a bit of adhesive on one side, so I measured carefully and adhered them to the proper side of the Peltex before assembling: the outside of the front and the lining side of the flap.

I used a beautiful border print on the outside, cutting it so that one of the wide sections became the flap. I decided, why not use the same fabric for the pockets and a gilded bright fabric for the lining? I wanted to write something on that lining, and did, but note to you all - pen does not write well over that gilt! Being in a hurry, this one got no decorative stitching, although I was tempted to run a line of stitching along the different sections of the border print.

I just gave the house a whirlwind cleaning, and except for making some cookies, I am ready for Christmas. I plan to spend the day quietly, treating myself to extended reading sessions and maybe a little handwork by the fire. May you enjoy the day in your own special way and safe travels to any of you out and about over the next few days.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Padfolio Ideas

While you're waiting for me to get my act together and make a few more padfolios to show off, pop on over to Beth Wheeler's blog and see the ones she's just made. There are variations in shaping the flap and some great surface design ideas. I'm excited all over again!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holly Postcards

Today I made three fabric postcards. Yes, I'm really running this down to the wire. I had extra holly leaves left over from the holiday quilt, so it wasn't much of a trick to trace and cut more berries, arrange on the background, fuse and quilt around. I was disappointed with how the variegated thread I used for the quilting looked around the outside, so switched to the dark green rayon thread for the other two. Then I went back and used a triple stitch in the green next to the variegated satin stitching to create a little definition. These two are going to the sister-in-law' who by now have seen the wall quilt that inspired them.

By the way, did you know you could quilt with ease through two postcards at once? Yes, I lost about half an hour taking out quilting when I realized I'd not separated the two stacked on top of one another. I guess the effects of that cold are still lingering...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Padfolio Round 2

For my second padfolio (see my first effort here), I had a specific person in mind, so was casting about in my studio and my memory for a suitable fabric. I found myself gazing at this bright batik that I'd leaf-printed about the same time as the fabric in the first padfolio. I wanted to see the effect on a busier fabric, and wanted to try a metallic paint with some rather large maple leaves. I also printed a few smaller leaves with red acrylic paint. Those showed up, but the metallic ones were incredibly subtle. (Click on this or any picture to see a larger view.) I couldn't think of anything to do with this, short of perhaps a vest or purse lining, so it has been on one of my design walls for 3 years. My recipient rather likes splashy colors and the subtlety of the stamping would not be a disadvantage on a padfolio, so yeah! More unfinished business coming down off my walls! This one I'm stiffening with Peltex per Beth Wheeler's padfolio instructions.

(By the way, I think I failed to mention that there is an error on the first page of the pattern in the materials list. The dimension of the focus fabric for the outside is listed as 14-3/4 x 5-1/2 but that second dimension should be 8-1/2. That becomes obvious as you work through the directions, but I nearly cut my fabric first off that initial list. Also, if you are shy the full 14-3/4 inch length, you can fudge a bit as I did on my first one. As long as you have 2 inches of flap, you'll be fine.)

One of my thoughts as I played with the first padfolio was I might not need to pick different lining and pocket fabric from the outside, and if that were true, there might be an advantage to cutting the front and lining as one piece. So here you see that piece, the Peltex fused on one side, the Wonder Under on the other. In truth, I don't think cutting one big piece saved me much time or fuss, but in this case, I did like using the same fabric throughout. I'm a bit confused about the Peltex, though. I thought only one side had fusible, so I am very glad I used my Teflon sheet under it when I pressed from the fabric side. Had I known it would fuse on both sides, I wouldn't have needed the Wonder Under on the lining side. The gaps you see between the Peltex pieces allow the padfolio to easily fold around the notepad.

Remember me mentioning that I thought the pockets could use some stiffening and that I needed to address the slippage of the two layers during stitching? I fused these narrow strips along the inside of the larger pocket to hold the two layers together, and it did help. The smaller "pen" pocket got entirely lined with Wonder Under to add that stiffness I felt it needed as well as holding the two layers together.

After fusing on the Peltex and before stitching on the pockets, you can add decorative stitching to your focus fabric. I decided to leave it as is, let the subtleties of the stamping shine on their own. I didn't think I could enhance that at all with stitching (especially in my still somewhat under par condition). I just needed to get this done. So I loaded a bobbin with an Aurefil variegated embroidery weight cotton thread, same as I would be using through the needle, and started the stitching process. Cough. Cough. CCOOUUGGHH!

Yes, no sooner had I sat down at the machine than my nagging cough decided it wanted some attention. So I took a quick break to fix a cup of lemon-ginger tea - an excellent move!

I'm not sure this was the best choice of thread - the fabric with the metallic paint has a more formal look than the cotton thread changing color so often - but at least I had plenty of it (unlike the rayon I used on the first one and ran out of 2 inches from the end...). I really like where the leaf stamping falls. I only wish it were easier to photograph metallic paint.

All that was left now was a closure. I decided to search my button and bead collection and see if I had anything suitable for this type of a wrap closure. I'm not sure I did this properly but it seems to work. That's an Oliver Twist hand-dyed chenille thread and four beads I got "free" during a promotion at my bead shop 3 or 4 years ago. Note that I chose not to trim angles into the flap. The Peltex is so stiff that it lies perfectly flat, and trimming would have eliminated some of the stamping.

I penned an inscription right onto the fabric on the inside before treating with a protectant. You can see faint glimmers of the leaf stamping.

And here's the inside of the flap, more stamping showing and just a dot of thread where I threaded it through.

I like this version too, very stiff like a store bought journal. I was worried that stitching through the Peltex (which is dense and about 1/8" thick) would be a problem, but it wasn't. I'm pretty excited about this vehicle for using up some of my surface design experiments. I see more of these in my future.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Padfolio Round 1

I'm feeling a bit sharper today, though the cough lingers. I worked on a 2nd padfolio but I'm not ready to reveal it yet. But I can show you what I did with the first one. Above, you see a piece of fabric I leaf printed back in November 2006 (see this post). In April of last year, I fused it to Decor Bond and added some stitching (see this post). I thought I might make an envelop purse out of it, but two things hung me up: 1. What to use for lining (as usual, I didn't seem to have anything proper in the stash) and 2. I don't really think a purse without a gusset is particularly useful. And so it sat while I mulled how I might finish it out as a purse I'd be proud to give as a gift. Yeah, I wasn't getting very far on that. As I contemplated what to use for my trial padfolio, it occurred to me that this fabric might be perfect, and I was sure there was enough for at least two out of it. Time to quit seeing that fabric as precious and cut into it! If you'd like to make your own padfolio, you can download the pattern here.

In my version, I diverged from the pattern instructions a bit. Because the fabric was already backed with a heavy interfacing and stitched, I skipped adding the Timtex stiffener between the outside and lining. I used Wonder Under to fuse the lining and outside together which added a little stiffness, but not as much had I used the Timtex. The pockets are long rectangles folded in half and I found the top piece slid forward a lot as I made the first pass of straight stitching to hold it in place, even though it was pinned. I'd hate to put a walking foot on for just that little bit of stitching, and I thought the pocket itself could use some reinforcing, so I have an idea for the next one. Wouldn't that be a great place for a photo transfer meaningful to the recipient? Velcro closures are recommended - I thought I had some circles of it, but didn't, so just cut squares and glued them in place. I'm really not crazy about Velcro closures on something like this, so again, I have ideas for the next one.

The satin stitching is done with Sulky Ultra Twist in both the top and bobbin. I don't think I've done this before, but the rayon performed just fine through the bobbin and I didn't have to stress as much about whether the tension was perfect. The vertical lines are stitched once, the outside stitched twice like with fabric postcards.

And here you have the finished product, after treating with a scotchgard -ype protectant. The angle cut on the flap stretched a bit during stitching so I ended up putting an additional square of velcro between the first two so that it would lie flat. No doubt, the Timtex would eliminate this problem. It's an elegant little thing, and the soft structure of it seems to be ok. Plus, it's getting a bit of unfinished business off my work table - oh, I like that!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Artist Christmas Cards

George Zoretich 1971

Yeah, as if I had the time...

Actually, I've been battling a nasty cold for over a week, and it has left me tired and fuzzy-brained to the point that I can mess up even the most straight forward task. I've nearly gotten my own (store-boughten) cards signed and in the post, but I'd intended to make a couple of padfolios as special gifts to slip into a couple of packages. I soon found that following Beth Wheeler's easy directions was more than I could muster, and on the day I said I really had to finish one, I had the usual string of mishaps that accompany a task done under adverse conditions.

And so, I send you over to the Smithsonian Magazine's website, where they tell of "A new exhibition of seasonal greetings from artists such as Alexander Calder and Philip Guston [that] celebrates the handmade holiday card." This link takes you to the article, and this one to the photo gallery. Most of them are quite odd, not your typical holiday greeting for sure.

When I get my act together, I'll post pictures of my padfolio adventure.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Early Reflections

A friend recently asked me if I'd started thinking about next year, in terms of my quilting, of course. Normally, I do not allow myself to think very far ahead, allowing the yet-to-be-hung new calendar provide a fierce barrier to getting ahead of myself when I have so much to wrap up before year's end. However, about mid-November, I indeed found my thoughts wandering into next year, perhaps because I'd stated I'd be doing no more "serious" work in 2009. Time enough to reflect and get a head start on next year's game plan.

The rumination began with the two things I started the year with: my resolution word, and my intent for the year. "Unfinished Business" was the shorthand I came up with to remind me how much I wanted to work through the ideas and half finished projects all over my studio. My intent for the year to finish up as many of those as I could. I did make some progress towards that goal, but oh, I let myself get sidetracked with too many new projects and commitments to make as much headway as I'd have liked. Looks like 2010 will be more chipping away at that unfinished business.

I couldn't help but wonder how my resolution word of "calm" may or may not have effected my productivity this year. Staying calm was definitely something I needed to master, and I was pleased that I usually remembered to invoke that word when things got frantic in my life. It helped a lot. However, there's a fine line between calm and comatose, I decided. Sometimes you can be so calm as to not get anything done. Calm does not necessarily give you the needed push to move forward that a little bit of panic does. I'm not willing to ditch it (nor my first resolution word "freedom"), so I let my mind work on the problem of what I was lacking this year.

It didn't take me long to come up with "focus." Too often my "calm" left me drifting, or not sharp enough to know when to turn down things that would be a distraction from my year's intention. I also realized that I'd begun to live in dread. Well, "begun" is not correct. I've always been a bit of a "glass half empty" pessimist. Maybe my resolution word should be whatever the opposite of "dread" is: "welcome," "embrace," or "accept." I have this feeling that if I could be more upbeat about the curve-balls life throws us, I could turn that dread into a positive thing, stay calm and maintain my focus. And all of this should go a long way toward my fulfilling my intent, which remains to deal with all that unfinished business. I may have to adopt two resolution words.

Of course, I full well know that there is no stopping my brain from coming up with new design ideas that I will want to act upon NOW. I can't imagine it would be a good thing to put all that on hold while I work through older ideas. I'll begin the year continuing a couple of challenges I added to my roster this year, but without regret. Both have been good for my artistic growth and remembering how to push myself to meet deadlines. One will be complete by March, the other I have some flexibility on, but in truth, have been using it to put into cloth ideas that have been kicking around for years. It has unwittingly aided me in getting to some of that unfinished business. But I sense I have to be adamant about staving off any additional commitments next year, in or out of the studio. I will have my hands full just completing enough new pieces for next year's ArtWalk exhibit (most of which definitely fall in the category of Unfinished Business), and the experimenting I enjoy but never make enough time for. "Focus" should help me get there.

I have very specific ideas about which will be the first two projects I'll tackle come January. One may or may not work, the other may be the start of a series, both call for hand quilting. I sense the year will see me doing more of this handwork, regardless of the time cost. Perhaps that will become my intent for the year as well - not just unfinished business, but a return to my roots and the hand stitching that calms my soul. We shall see.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Done & Bound

By Friday afternoon, the quilting was complete on the holiday quilt. I used my spray bottle to dampen it front and back as it lay on some towels, then left it overnight for the bit of shrinking the cotton/poly batting would undergo as it dried to work its magic. By morning it was no longer rumpled but had taken on a finished look, the flaws of some of the quilting gently softened.

The center square has a message quilted in as well as quilting around the applique: "Merry Christmas, "Ho Ho Ho" and "2009."

Here you can see how I mimicked the curve of the applique holly leaves in the way I turned the quilting pattern around the corner.

Some of the smaller areas received a single holly leaf with berries. This is one of the areas where I quilted around a freezer paper template rather than through quilting paper needlepunched with the design.

The red fabric used in the star makes a perfect ending in this traditional 1/4" french fold binding applied entirely by machine. I lost an inch both directions after quilting and blocking - it now measures 47 inches square. (Click on any picture for a larger view.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Moving on to Free Motion...

Quilting continues on the holiday quilt for my mother-in-law. The walking foot came off and the free-motion foot went on. I gathered my courage and started by stitching over or around the applique. There were moments of tug of war and misplaced stitches, imperfect echos around berries that some would call charming, but weren't what I had in mind. (Click on any image for a larger view.)

Then came those areas between the diagonal lines of stitching. Some would be able to quilt the continuous line holly leaves and berries without marking, but I don't trust myself at this point to keep the leaves a consistent size, let alone make them fall properly where they turn a corner. So I got out my Golden Threads quilting paper, cut an 18" width to length, and with a little folding and measuring, traced placement of the leaves using the same template I'd made for the applique. (Note also that more applique holly leaves are appearing in the corners of the center square...)

The paper is accordion-folded so that I can make 4 identical patterns, one for each side of the quilt. Staples hold it together as I sew without thread along my traced lines through all 4 layers. I'm not marking the berries - I think I can manage to quilt those without marks.

Remove staples, unfold, and cut into strips which are pinned to the quilt. This is much easier to see than had I tried to mark on the fabric directly. It's better to pin and quilt one section at a time to prevent tearing a part of the pattern as you roll and manipulate the quilt under the needle.

Some directions suggest using spray baste to hold the paper in place, but I don't recommend it. In my experience with the above quilt, the spray baste didn't hold well while manipulating the quilt, but too well when I tried to remove it. It was a nightmare picking out all the little pieces of paper stuck under stitches and in tight spots. If I dropped a piece plucked with tweezers, it would stick to the quilt top where it landed. Even washing didn't release the spray baste. Anyway...

Now I started quilting as I'd visualized - moving along at a fairly good clip without too much of a fight from the quilt. Once quilted, the paper tears easily and cleanly away from the stitching without any distortion of the stitches. Smaller bits can be dislodged with tweezers. I've switched to yet another thread - a lighter version of the green used on the lines and applique. That original green didn't show enough on the dark fabric and too much on the light. This spring green is a nice compromise. Like the other green, I worry about running out before all the quilting is done, but so far, so good.

As I move out to the edge, there are shorter runs of my holly/berry line, so not really worth marking up a paper pattern. Instead, I made a few holly leaves from my old friend, freezer paper. These can be easily arranged and ironed to sections of the quilt, quilted around (not through) and popped off to be used again.

One more day and the quilting should be done.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


I love it when disparate parts of my life come together. In this case, it is the work of a blogger I follow, a Halloween pattern a friend is using and a non-fiction book I'm reading. First the blog, Cynthia St Charles' Living and Dyeing Under the Big Sky. She's been sharing photos she took of petroglyphs at Legend Rock. Yesterday, she unveiled a work that incorporates many of those petroglyphs here. It's called Vision Quest, and includes a character she says is typical of Dinwoody type petroglyphs (third photo down in that link). That figure reminded me of something that I couldn't quite put my finger on, until today. It is somewhat reminiscent of this little guy from a Susan Garman Halloween quilt pattern.

Then I opened one of the books I'm making my way through, Stephen Ambrose's, Lewis & Clark: Voyage of Discovery. In the early 1800's, Lewis and Clark headed up the first U.S. exploratory expedition west of the Mississippi into territory that would become our states of Montana, Idaho, Washington & Oregon. Along the way they kept journals, made maps, and studied the native peoples, wildlife and flora. They wrote about Indian paintings on rocks along the Missouri river, so when I saw the above picture, I naturally assumed it was one of the petroglyphs they wrote of. petroglyphs being on my mind anyway. It certainly looked like some of the petroglyphs in Cynthia's photos. But no. According to the caption, this was a sketch Clark had made to record one of the "new" animals they'd run across. Can you guess what it is? I admit I don't have much imagination when it comes to these things. I always wonder how the experts can be so sure of the animals being depicted in these petroglyphs when it isn't very obvious to me. I never would have guessed that Clark was sketching a bighorn sheep like the one in the engraving below by
Alexander Lawson.