Saturday, July 30, 2011

Adding spirals

I've finished the filler quilting on all four squares in the big quilt and have moved on to the triangles. Echoing was sufficient in the squares, but the triangles have odd spaces that did not look right with the echoing. It was my chance to insert some traditional spirals.

I must admit, though, that these spirals were not quilted free hand as I talked about in this post. I found I just couldn't get the outer curve right. So I resorted to free hand marking in advance of quilting, using a prismacolor verithin silver pencil. Unlike regular graphite pencil, this rubs right off when no longer needed. Or, as in my case, when the lines need slight editing... Each square took about 3-1/2 hours to quilt. I think the triangles will take a bit longer, but it's hard to tell from this first one - I spent quite a bit of time taking out stitches that weren't working.

You might also want to check out the latest post on my Newspaper Blackout Obituaries blog.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Settling Down

“You finally have to settle down to do well the few things that your brain really can do well—the rest no longer seems pressing and distracting, because it is now permanently out of reach. The feeling that you are stupider than you were is what finally interests you in the really complex subjects of life….You realize that you are no prodigy, your shoulders relax, and you begin to look around you…”

- Nicholson Baker, The Mezzanine

I gotta tell ya, this is a comforting thought in my old age. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized I could do most things that I put my mind to, a whole lot of things, but was doing none of them particularly well. Time to let go of those things I'd never excel at and enjoy the work of those who could. Time to narrow my focus and become really good at a few things. That's when I gave up playing the piano and most of the handcrafts I'd been dabbling in. That's when I got serious about quilting. That was nearly 20 years ago, I realize, and I do not regret my decision. And it is exciting to note some new things I've added to "those things I do" - having made room to relax and look around me. Too bad it takes so long to figure out what this silly brain can really do well.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Blog

As I continue to play with the newspaper blackout obituary exercise, I've felt a need to "keep" them somewhere, so I've started a blog specifically to showcase them. Even though they are a small part of my creative journey, it was feeling odd to post them to this blog. So if you are interested in following along, go to, sign up as a follower or add it to your reader. At the moment, the posting is frequent as I catch up, but once I do, posting should only be once a week - I'm limiting this obsession to the Sunday obituaries.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free-motion Hand Quilting

Years ago I had the fortune to attend a lecture by Welsh Quilt expert Jen Jones. I already knew a little bit about Welsh quilts and could not pass up the opportunity to view some wonderful antique ones in person. What I learned form Jen that day whet my appetite and opened my eyes. I stayed for the workshop led by Martha Waterman to learn more about specific Welsh quilting motifs and how to draw and apply them as wholecloth designs. One of the things I learned was minimal marking could be done, then the spaces filled free-form with traditional spiral and leaf shapes (not unlike the current Zentangle drawing craze). I couldn't imagine being able to quilt such designs without them being marked, but I tried it on a batting sample, and indeed, I could.

Today has been a cold and dreary day (hard to believe it's late July), so perfect for spending some time with the big quilt and the additional hand quilting I know I must add. Quilting, after all, is first and foremost functional, there to hold the layers together and especially in the case of a bed quilt, extend its life. Gaps too big between rows of stitching will cause many problems down the road and detract from the overall appearance even now. There are many reasons I've been trying to get out of adding more quilting and I finally figured out how to get around a couple of them. First, I didn't want to have to mark additional quilting lines (really hard to do once the top is layered), and I didn't want to wrestle with all that weight and bulk as I found I was doing in my hoop on a stand. After finishing the last round of machine quilting, I spread the quilt out on my work table and realized I could hand quilt it right there, letting the table carry the weight and not needing a hoop since so much quilting was already in place. Huge relief when I figured that out, and it is indeed working well.

As for the marking problem, I'm getting around that for the moment by starting with the appliqued squares to which simple echoing adds adequate filler and can be eyeballed accurately enough. This is similar to that lesson I learned about Welsh free-form quilting. I've also dabble a bit in Hawaiian quilting and learned that all that wonderful echo quilting done on traditional quilts typically was measured by the width of the quilter's finger. Straight pins might be placed for a few inches along the track as a guide but otherwise no marking. I discovered that the spacing for my echo lines are about a finger width - very convenient! However, I'm not bothering with pins for guides.

I may add some spirals to other areas of the quilt and am screwing up my courage to do them without marking as well. Just as free motion quilting with a machine can be liberating, so too can unmarked "free motion" quilting by hand. Give it a try!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Retreat Reflections

Definition of retreat:*
1 a
(1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable (2) : the process of receding from a position or state attained b (1) : the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy

Sad to say, my personal retreat did not go as planned. Or shall I say, did not go as it has in the past. I'm not sure I had much of a plan, which might be part of the problem. And the plan that I did have involved working on a quilt that from the beginning has made me want to shy away. But perhaps the biggest problem was the sense that I didn't have anything to retreat from this year. And I've decided that's a very positive development.

2: a place of privacy or safety

Since I live alone, not even a dog for company anymore, my home is almost always a place of privacy and safety. Sometimes too much so. Still, having it invaded by unpredictable interruptions of the phone and outsiders scheduling my time was part of the reason I started these personal retreats. There was a certain frantic nature to my personal life made more frantic by uncontrollable forces. Then I was advised that I could indeed control them for a bit, simply by turning off the phone and not allowing anything to be scheduled that would disrupt my privacy and the activities I felt I'd been distracted from. I've currently settled into a routine and surrounded myself with people that do not threaten my privacy nor feel a threat to my emotional stability, whose occasional "interruptions" I welcome rather than resent. My life is not necessarily what it used to be.

3: a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director

But even with nothing difficult, dangerous or disagreeable to withdraw from, retreats can be a beneficial thing. As I deviated from my plan to focus solely on the big overdue quilt, I confused myself with twinges of guilt. I didn't turn the phones off and forgot I was supposed to be letting the answering machine screen calls. I texted a friend and finally called. I relaxed with books and magazines, reminding myself that retreats are also for taking a break and letting go of tension and routine, for staring off into space and meditating. I knit (just finished a second moebius scarf) and appliqued on a project different from my focus project, both rather meditative practices. I caught up on recorded tv shows, I hate to admit. I chaffed at staying home and spent parts of several days out and about. Yes, I did do some work on the big quilt, but in essence, it didn't feel I'd withdrawn from anything except my desire to be in contact with others, which I found I didn't want or need to retreat from..

This is indeed a change for me. One of my resolution words for this year is "engage" and how do you engage when you are in retreat? My yoga instructor has been emphasizing openness a lot recently and how do you remain open when in retreat? This idea of going off alone for renewal which I've needed in the past and which always worked well suddenly felt counter-intuitive to the way I've tried to approach life this year, and was greatly unsatisfying. I kept catching myself resisting, confused, wishing that if I were really on retreat, I could be sharing it with others.

Well, live and learn.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Closer look at marking method

I didn't give a lot of detail about my "marking method" for the quilting design on the borders of my big quilt, so I thought I'd show it in place. If you click on the picture, you should be able to make out the perforations in the Golden Needles Quilting Paper, which is very much like the paper used in many dress patterns. It is lightweight and translucent like tracing paper so it is easy to line it up properly if needed and easily tears away after stitched. Because of that easy tear quality, I was a bit concerned at how it would hold up to a lot of handling. Initially, I planned to pin and stitch one border at a time, but then I decided to allow the design to "turn the corner" so all borders had to be pinned on at once to get that correct miter turn. I am very pleased to report that the paper held up fine. And the perforations a very easy to see and follow, regardless of the color or pattern of the fabric under it.

I have to admit that when I turned the quilt to look at the back, what I saw made my heart race. No matter how I quilt a quilt, viewing it from the back is always a different sensation than from the front. With nothing to distract, you get the full impact of the quilting design. Most of the time, I feel satisfaction, an ooh-aah moment, get to appreciate the design on a different level, but seldom does my heart race. So why for something so simple and straight forward as this design? My only explanation is that antique quilt and traditional quilting background of mine. Something about grids and parallel lines appeal even though I also appreciate echoes and curves. I suppose it speaks to my need for symmetry and a bit of regimentation. This is why it has been so difficult for me to transition to an art quilt world that is usually all about freedom and asymmetry. I've loosened up my style a lot over the years but it still makes me uneasy to tackle freemotion designs without guides to follow. As I stared at these lines running straight and true and then intersecting for a moment, my only thought was how to bring designs like these into my art quilts. I think I have been subconsciously dismissing their use simply because I know they originate in traditional design, but that doesn't mean I can't adapt them. I think I've had similar conversations with myself, but none quite so clear as this one. This could be the stumbling block that's been holding me back, making me uncomfortable with some of my work. Not sure at the moment what I'll do with this minor revelation, but it does seem important. I can think back to a few quilts where I've gingerly inserted some parallel line quilting and was immediately pleased so why haven't I've used it more? I think I need to give this kind of quilting design a bigger voice in my art quilts.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Go Make Small Art!

“Small Art can impact another person on a meaningful level just as powerfully as Big Art. And Small Art is a lot less hassle to make. And you can make more of it. More often. Without bankrupting yourself or putting your life on hold for months on end. With Small Art, there’s no need to wait for someone else to deem it worthy beforehand, no need to wait nervously for the rich patron, the movie studio exec, or the illustrious museum director to give it the green light. There’s no need for the politics or the schmoozing or the bureaucracy. With Small Art, you just go ahead and make it, and then it exists, and the rest is in the hands of the gods. Your work is already done, and you can get to bed at a decent hour.”

- Hugh MacLeod of Read complete post here: “In Praise of ‘Small Art’

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Personal Retreat

About this time each year, I spend a week on retreat, except I don't leave home to do it. Just ignore the phones and as much of regular life as possible, and focus on getting some serious sewing done. I'm having some trouble with the serious part this year. It's Thursday already and I'm just now starting work on the designated project for the 7 days. Day one was too nice to stay indoors, but instead of one of those restless handwork projects leaping off the shelf to accompany me, a book leaped off the shelf instead. Day two equally nice, but now I was ready for the handwork. I was surprised that this is what I had the urge to tackle. It's a what-was-I-thinking applique I designed for sashing and borders to go with some exchange blocks. Skinny stems, tight curves, dozens of leaf points to negotiate on a flimsy fabric prone to raveling. It may look like a lot of contrast between the two blues, but surprisingly the two blend quite well along the fold making it difficult to see where to place the needle. Working on this, I discovered, takes both excellent light and concentrated energy. I've not had that energy for over a year, so it was a bit delightful to discover it back. There are 4 of these short sashings, 2 longer ones and the 4 borders; in other words, many hours of porch time ahead. For an explanation of the method I'm using, see this post (which will also reveal how long I've been working on this project - really?).

At last, today I was mentally prepared to stay in the studio and tackle the intended project. It helped that it was too windy to sit and work outside, and that a noisy baler was working in the field next to the house. This is the big Lone Star/Celtic applique quilt intended as a wedding present for my nephew. The nephew who's been married for 11 years now. It is part machine quilted and part hand quilted, the last of that hand quilting finished early last year. I added more machine quilting to the star and was set to mark and machine quilt the border when my year turned upside down. Now I have just been dragging my feet, and it really must stop. The border quilting isn't the issue - I'm using a design from a magazine, easy to adapt to my space. It's the unwanted admission that I really need to add more hand quilting. Quilt the border and I can't avoid the issue of hours of more hand quilting needing to be done. I so wanted this quilt to be finished and away. However, ignoring the obvious and wishing it weren't so isn't going to change anything, nor get the quilt done. Attitude has thankfully adjusted, and I found myself no longer dreading but looking forward to choosing filling designs and watching them work their magic soon. See? Energy has returned.

I keep saying this, but really, I am out of practice in terms of how to work, find myself making mistakes, or missing the obvious that normally would come naturally. I made one of those mistakes while working out the border motif spacing which meant I spent a lot of time I needn't have spent. But regardless, the design has been successfully transferred to strips of quilting paper, first by folding the strips and tracing several repeats, then needle punching the design through all four strips. Tomorrow I can pin these strips to the borders and machine stitch along the perforations.

Thought you might like to see my moebius scarf which I finished over the weekend. This knit up so fast and I love the way the yarn striped. This one might be hard to give away.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Time To Remember

It's eleven years today that I lost my husband to a traffic accident. This is him with our last dog Jesse, the two of them giving me accusing looks as they often did. In a succession of furry children, turns were taken as to who the current one "belonged" to. It was my turn again when Jesse came along, and since I wasn't working anymore, I was indeed the one spending the most time with her. Yet as you can see, she was always "daddy's little girl" whenever he was around.

He was the trainer, the disciplinarian always, all of our dogs generally ignoring me until they hit about 3 years old and then obeying grudgingly. Unless of course, he was ignoring them at which point they'd come and bug me. Allen was fond of telling me I needed to remember that I was the master and to quit trying to reason with them. Jesse seemed to bring out this problem more than any dog we'd had. And she was the very definition of what being dogged means. I couldn't get up to walk across the room without her leaping up to follow me. Couldn't shut her out of my studio if I was in there - she'd be whining and howling at the door. Couldn't go outside without her - same treatment. And yet for all our togetherness, she'd desert me instantly when Allen was around, and played the selective hearing game with me. She could be such an irritation and a bother over the course of the day. I hadn't been ready for another dog ("his" dog, Megan, was still around at the time - that's them on the right throwing more accusing looks, why do you hate us so much? We're so cute!). But Allen insisted I needed one.

And then I lost him, and I started thinking of the dog as my blessing and my curse. So stubborn, taxing my patience at every turn, a responsibility I wasn't sure I could handle by myself, still the clinging shadow, perhaps even more so. But also, loyal and there and nose in my face whenever I found myself overcome with grief and tears. She gave me a schedule to keep, a warm body to hold on to, company whether I wanted it or not. I know she was a big part of what got me through the worst of the days. In retrospect, I can see that in those first few years on my own, I clung just as much to that dog as she'd clung to me all those years when it drove me nuts. She didn't seem to mind. And the fact that Allen thought I needed her seems prescient.

Now they're both gone, Jesse for almost three years, and I find myself in no hurry to replace either one of them. Well, really neither one can be replaced as such. And if there is a heaven, I like to think the two of them are together. Spare a pleasant thought for companions of every kind today.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day

I continue to be drawn to the Newspaper Blackout process working with obituaries. I'm finding that it's the photos of the departed that draw me more than the words, but the words soon follow. So many people post obituaries with pictures of the deceased at a younger time in their life - that in itself is interesting. We want to be remembered (or remember others) as they were, at some pivotal point in their lives or happier point, anything apparently than this old broken down person that has lived out a full life. Or maybe they just think old friends and family they may not have seen for years wouldn't recognize them. Not everyone does this, of course, but many do.

This blackout obit seems appropriate for today in America. Just because we won our independence so very long ago does not mean we haven't had to continue our fight to keep it, as well as the independence of others. So many do not survive their battles for Independence. This man did.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Porch Time

After several false starts, it appears our summer may have arrived. That means many pleasant afternoons spent reading or doing handwork out on the porch...starting today. Don't know why a knitting project suddenly seems attractive right when things heat up, but it does. I'm making another moebius scarf, this time a simple pattern using a cotton/rayon/silk variegated yarn with a very long run between color changes. Reminds me of rocks, those colors do. I treated myself to some Addi circular needles - well, "treat" isn't exactly accurate. Once you start looking for circular needles in the 60" length, your options get pretty limited pretty fast. I've read about them but never tried them before, and now I see what all the hubbub is about. They are wonderful and help you zip right along with your knitting.

Out of the corner of my eye, I kept catching big movement, like something landing in the rather overgrown foliage next to the porch. I finally spotted what it was - this little frog! Somewhere between 2 & 3 inches, it was balancing on the broad leaves of the day lilies, occasionally snagging a tiny flying bug. This is a south facing bed, so I was pretty surprised to see him there. I guess it's still pretty damp underneath all that greenery.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Hang-ups and the Kiss of Death

If you've been paying attention, then you should be asking, hey - what happened to that last piece you were making for your ArtWalk exhibit? I had to face the fact that it just wasn't working and that I'd run out of time to fix it. This is what I get for saying I know what I'm going to do with it, it shouldn't take very long, no big deal, then drag my feet about working on it. Kiss of death.

I quilted around the freezer paper leaf templates with a safe choice of thread, the one on the left. Safe in that I'm always concerned that the thread color will show too much and take over. No worries here - I did my usual erring too far on the side of caution. The orange thread on the right is a sample that came with an order of Sulky Threads. It's their relatively new 60 wt PolyLite. Now I like a lightweight thread, but that bright orange made my eyes hurt. Couldn't imagine what I'd use it on and chuckled that of course, the wildest colors that probably aren't moving would be the ones sent out for free. I had to chuckle again at how perfect it is against this fabric, and thought it would show just enough more than the other thread to help bring out the quilting. So I echoed around the leaves with it and alternated it with the other thread in the vertical lines. I really like this thread a lot and see how it would be wonderful in the bobbin for machine quilting. I never trust myself to keep things straight without marking, and used this chalk marker to space the lines about 3/8" apart.

With the quilting done, it was time to couch decorative thread around the squares. I changed my mind about the dark chenille thread and chose a more variegated strand of 3-ply rayon floss from the same Oliver Twist hand-dyed collection. With a brown Sulky Ultra Twist rayon thread in the needle and this nifty narrow braid foot, the thread was easily couched using a blanket stitch.

But again, I seem to have erred too much on the side of caution. It doesn't strike me as being as dark as I thought it would be and thus doesn't make the squares stand out quite like I'd anticipated. But it does make my choice of binding work better.

After each addition of quilting or thread, I'd hold up the quilt, sigh, and know that it needed something else. Too matchy matchy on the thread, quilting not showing up, big empty spaces around the squares that I envisioned being filled with those quilted leaves that now can't really be seen. Balance off, proportions off, something off...

I was down a day and a half to solve this problem, and decided to give it one more go. Maybe once the binding is on it will look fine. If anything, it may have looked worse. Remembered a trick I've used before of couching a decorative thread next to the binding to mimic piping. In this case, I just wanted a tie-in with the couching around the squares. Better, but still not good enough to stand by at the exhibit. I really need those leaves in the quilting to stand out more, so I gave them the same treatment that I gave the stamped leaves on the squares - I quilted around and through them again using the dark brown Ultra Twist.

Finally, the leaves were starting to show a bit, but not enough to balance things out. I hit upon one more idea, but I was tired, it was late, and even if that worked there were hours more of things to be done to it to make it exhibit ready. I finally saw reason and let it go. This needs more mulling and a fresh perspective, and there will be other exhibits for it if it ever recovers from the Kiss of Death.