Sunday, February 26, 2012

A small start, a big breakthrough

“Originality is only variation.”

- Holbrook Jackson, Platitudes in the making: precepts and advices for gentlefolk

On the advice of my loyal blog followers, I've tackled that stack of fabric, setting aside the need for the results to match what vision I may be harboring for a background for a specific piece. That bit of blockage I was experiencing, that fear that sometimes sets in at the beginning of a new project, has all but disappeared. This has released me to take a more experimental and less controlling approach, and to add in some colors that in the end I don't think will be appropriate for the shadow grass concept.

However, appropriate or not, even with just this small bit of piecing, I'm really liking the results and getting excited. I'm using as my guide a method laid out in the December/January 2012 issue of Quilters Newsletter Magazine in an article by Pam Rocco. This may be the quickest I've followed up on something pulled from a magazine, possibly because it came at precisely the time I was considering this type of background and pondering how to start. So this is not a matter of copying Pam's rag rug quilt (which I really love, by the way) but taking advantage of her how-to's to create my own variation. Hopefully. This is not unlike the "therapy strips" I recently saw on Sherrie Loves Color and I have to admit, cutting strips without a ruler and sitting at the machine piecing without the need for precision did feel therapeutic. Where this method varies I think is in the insertion of strips that combine two or three different fabrics. This was not something I'd considered when thinking about a strip-pieced background. I like the subtle variety and movement it is lending.

One of the things I've always disliked about this sort of free-form piecing is the way it soon gets out of whack. I know, this doesn't bother everyone, but it often bothers me. Pam not only admits to this inevitability of the process but provides a way to get the piece back on track without losing the great gentle curves. Between every set of 10 strips (which are cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide and about 22 inches long), she has you add what she calls a transition strip, one where you actually cut a curve that matches the curve you will be adding the strip to - thus inserting a strip stabilizing on-grain strip. Brilliant - it can be seen at the bottom of my stripset, and another one will be added at the top. I think I have about 3 more of these sets to piece to get the length I need - oh, providing I actually need it to be the original 16 x 20 I was shooting for. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Never Too Late

I was away over the weekend - traveling by train to visit my good friend Judi for the occasion of her mother's Celebration of Life service. I stayed at my usual motel in one of its "partial view" rooms overlooking the Columbia River - this is the "partial" view from my room which I think is quite something. And yes, there's a bit of snow on the top of the Gorge.

Kind of hard to see but also within my view were several gnarly and twisted trees like this one - always inspiration for me.

As for the never too late bit, Judi presented me with these lovely batiks she'd gotten me for my birthday...and Christmas...and because of how much more of one of them there was, I said next birthday too! My birthday was back in August and she had planned to bring it up to me when she joined Sherrie and me in Gig Harbor - except she was too sick to come. It didn't make it at Christmas either as her mother got ill at that time. So what if I had to wait til February and go pick it up myself! And cut it, as she got enough to split between the two of us.

See the card with the beautiful aspens/birches? It too is a never too late, patience is a virtue thing even more so than the fabric. It is a card she spotted while on a trip, buying it to send because of my fixation on birches, half written on telling me about missed flights and killing time in airports but never finished and mailed. When was this trip? July 2006. I love you Judi, and I'm so glad you never threw it out, that it surfaced again and you weren't too embarrassed to present it along with the belated gifts. You're such a great friend!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Desperately Seeking Inspiration

Or perhaps it's not so much seeking inspiration as solutions for inspiration. This isn't where I started the day but it is where I ended - that vision gap thing getting in the way again. I'm thinking I want to piece a background in horizontal strips - probably curved strips - to be the background for photo manipulations. I printed out the lot on paper today at about the size I thought would work in my planned 16 x 20 inch format. This is the idea that started to come together as I chose discounted floater frames. Anyway, the photos are of the shadows wild grass cast against a paved street. I'll probably print them out on cotton sateen, and my mind said a basically black background would work well. So here I am with all the black fabric in my stash that appears to work together without overpowering the photo images, and I'm just not sure. Have thrown in a couple with a bit of color and guess that the only thing for it is to start cutting and sewing together strips.

I actually started at the computer today, after taking another look at the discharge piece and curious to know what you all thought from yesterday's post. I was supposed to be looking at reference pictures for the thread-painted purple seedheads idea and to work out a sketch or two in preparation for stitching - I'm hoping to have it all done by the end of the month. But I find myself a bit intimidated by it - the pictures show a different orientation than I remembered and thought I'd use, so dithering has begun. I switched to the other idea I'm really more keen on pursuing - a second Palouse Hills with a spring theme. I meant to sketch out main lines from my reference pictures, but the lure of Paint Shop Pro manipulations won out. I printed out 4 or 5 different views, not saving the changes to a file. The one above is just a cool manipulation I stumbled upon of the reference photo I think I'll use. Not sure how I would use this manipulation though.

This is the original photo except I've lightened it and bumped up the contrast. I'm really keen to work with the bright greens I remember from a spring drive through that area.

Ok, it's true that all these things I did today were on my goals list, but it still felt like I hadn't spent any "studio" time and was just avoiding dealing with the wire on the discharge piece. So after lunch I made myself face it. I fiddled a little with the crimp tube but unfortunately, I don't have a crimp tool small enough to work with these. As I studied the knots already tied, I decided they were holding pretty well and opted for a fix that I'd read in Quilting Arts - just apply tape over the wire to hold it in place. I had to change the end point on the 4 corners so that they matched the rest of the wire "x's", retied those knots, then used linen tape to tape over all the knots. I cinched up the rest of the wire I'd woven in and out and around, placing tape over places where it changed direction and wasn't holding the snugging up well. I've pinned it up on the design wall for more pondering. I do think it's destined to be mounted on mat board and framed. The white showing through the middle looks very odd.

Then I circled, and circled, and circled the studio, because dang it, I still had a couple of hours before I could justify stopping. I put away no longer needed items from the work table. I watched my mind scatter to one thing after another that I COULD think about working on. I pondered how to render the spring furrows and whether I could paint swaths of green on the silk fabric I'd used in the fall version. Or could I get that green just with thread? I really have the urge to sit at my machine and piece, and besides the shadow grass piece, I'm thinking about using that same horizontal strip pieced background behind a couple more of those stamped leaves on hand dyed fabric charms. But in staring at them, I moved one onto what's left of that silk fabric wondering if it could be a background instead. No, the pieced background would be better. All these ideas require pulling fabric from the stash and I just don't feel I have a good enough sense of where I'm going with all this to start that process. Except for the shadow grass, or so I thought. And then I remember that sketching of the purple seedheads - maybe that would have been easier than what I ended up doing! Sheesh - so much for confidence and focus!

I think some of this indecision is brought on by an impending trip this weekend. It's splitting my concentration, and even though I have little to do to prepare for the trip, I'm having a heck of a time not letting my mind wander to ridiculous worries about it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


You haven't heard more about progress on this because frankly, I spooked myself with all this wiring and crimping I've not done before. Rather than taking those crimps and securing the wire, I ran for the relative safety of my hand quilting over the weekend. Today I mustered the courage to look at it again and consider my options.

It wasn't just the crimping making me nervous though. In my mind, running the wire beyond the suspended metal plate as if those discharged areas were being suspended too would be a cool tie-in. But without even finishing this embellished effect, I started having second thoughts. Was it too much of a good thing? Would it take away from the discharged areas, draw the eye in a way I hadn't intended? Only one way to know, so today I finished threading the wire over and under and I still can't decide if it adds or detracts. As with all metallics, it's difficult to get a good representation in a photo - the wire here does not read as bronze as it is in real life, but still, what do you think?

Also considering whether it needs to be mounted on something or if it will look ok with whatever wall color showing through the middle. I'd considered tacking it to black mat board and placing it in a metal frame (perhaps dark bronze). Yeah, this is making me insecure and so I'm questioning everything. Second opinions more than welcome.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Unfamiliar Territory

I'm doing things I don't ever do on this quilt. Let's start with the edge finish. I'm Miss Neat and Tidy, using either a traditional binding or a pillowturn (knife-edge) finish or pop it in a picture frame. On pieces that I attach to a mount, I may cover the raw edges with decorative threads or yarns. With the exception of fabric postcards, I would NEVER just satin stitch the edge of a quilt. Well, never say never, because that's exactly the kind of edge finish this quilt cries out for. You may click on the picture for a larger view, but I think you can see that I first ran a line of straight stitch where the outside of the quilt would fall (it is about 13" square). Then I ran a narrow zigzag stitch just to the outside of that line before trimming off the excess. I reset my machine for a satin stitch and made sure the swing was wide enough to encase the black perle cotton (#3 I think) lying next to the edge.

I know lots of people use perle cotton when they satin stitch the edge of small art quilts, but I had never had good luck with it. I would place it on top of the quilt, not alongside the edge - this is what I understood various directions to have me do and it always left a ridge under the stitching. Now I'm thinking I was wrong all along, and that this is what I was to do. The reason I did this should be obvious from the picture. Black fabric, black batting, but I had stabilized the quilt by adding a layer of white Decor Bond. Past experience told me that even with two rounds of satin stitching, I could count on that white peeking through the edge somewhere. On the left is the satin stitching with the perle cotton along the edge - I only had to do one round!

And now time to dive into truly unfamiliar territory (and answer the questions about cutting out the center of the quilt). Remember that metal plate I picked up off the side of the road - the one that became the template for my discharge design? Well, the whole idea was to suspend it in the middle of the quilt, and I've been thinking long and hard about how I would do that (and it is the reason for the extra stabilization of the quilt). I was poking around my local Ben Franklin looking for something to use to attach it to the quilt - thinking maybe leather laces or wire. I picked up three different metal wires from the beading department and settled on this Beadalon wire because it had that rusted look of the plate. Initially I thought that whatever I used would have to be threaded through metal eyelets I'd have to figure out how to insert, but the wire is thin enough that all I had to do was use a large needle to pierce through the quilt which made a hole large enough for the wire that would naturally close up around it. Just hoping it is heavy enough to withstand the weight of the plate.

I've done a lot of fiddling with this, and finally decided I really should have done just a bit more research. I assumed that the Beadalon wire could be twisted together like a twist tie, but it cannot. I thought I could tie a knot in it, but not really. Because it is multiple wire strands that are coated with nylon. The wire is flexible but tends to return to square one. Knots can't be cinched down and slip as well. I spent a lot of time looking through back issues of Quilting Arts for answers (there's a good series about using metal on quilts but little to solve my problem). I was about to ask if any of you had experience with this product and could advise on how to secure it when it occurred to me I might get answers on Beadalon's website. Yes indeed - all is now clear (including learning about that nylon coating), and I determined I needed some crimp tubes to properly secure the wire ends on the back side of the quilt. Back to Ben Franklin today and hopefully these little bits will solve my problem.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

No turning back now...

"In order to arrive at a personal style, you have to have a technique to begin with. In other words, when I say that style is a special case of technique, you have to have the technique — you have to have a place to make the choices from. If you don't have a basis on which to make the choice, then you don't have a style at all. You have a series of accidents."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

February Goals - More of the Same

It didn't take me long to set out my goals for February (which left me plenty of time to play with paper hearts this afternoon). Much of what was on tap for January still needs tending to, but that is not to say I didn't reach my goals, they merely took a different track than expected. I was only to make a start on the found pin piece and the Palouse Hills piece. Instead, they got finished rather than the two on the list that I thought I would finish. An equitable trade in my estimation. As for those things remaining, I actually feel I made some progress on them, though most of that was pondering solutions that I have yet to act upon. Ideas are coming together on the abstract willow design and clarity dawned on how to proceed with the 3 x 3 discharge piece. Again, I think at least partial goals met and I feel ready to dive into those projects with confidence.
  1. Finish 3 x 3 discharge: additional quilting, cut-out and suspension of metal plate, embellish with wire.
  2. Threadpaint purple seedhead grasses, mount and frame.
  3. Print samples of grass shadows manipulations and develop design, possibly piece background.
  4. Continue development of abstract willow design: sketch formats and possibly make sample block(s)
  5. Baste for quilting 2 African batiks (may be companion pieces for "Masks")
  6. Continue hand quilting on "Masks"
A side note: in reviewing my brainstormed list of potential quilt designs for the upcoming exhibits, to see what I could check off, I noticed the Palouse quilt referred to as something different from what I ended up calling it in the last post. I definitely was drawing a blank on what I thought I'd call it, but didn't realize I had the name written down anywhere. I'd planned to call it "Fall Furrows" and make a companion piece called "Spring Greens." What do you think? It's not too late to change the name as I've not labeled the quilt yet.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Palouse Hills: Ready for Winter

"Palouse Hills: Ready For Winter"
13" x 16" Art Quilt
Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2012

My mental attitude truly has shifted, to my relief. All I remember from last year is dread and resistance to things I knew I must do but didn't want to tackle, constantly looking for a way out and wasting plenty of time trying to avoid the inevitable. I still have those moments of - I wish I could find an easy magical way - but they are shorter in duration. Some things are inevitable, no easy way out, so just get to it. That being the case, there wasn't much more thinking that needed to be done about adding the braid to the outside of this quilt. Another look today and I was sure it was what it needed to make me comfortable with it. And just one way to get it on. Actually, it wasn't that much different from applying it along the quilted section and though slow going, it wasn't difficult or troublesome. It's on and I like it. There's still something about it that doesn't feel quite right - I suspect it's partly the odd dimensions. I want to do more on this theme, and hopefully, the design will improve as I go along. Click on the picture for a larger view.

I have to admit that I did fall prey to trying something I've contemplated as a quick magic solution but not dared to do. I don't enjoy sewing on sleeves (may be one reason why I was so compelled to just put this in a frame), and I enjoy it even less on the back of these mounts which have the heavy stabilizer fused on and no batting in between. You have to be more careful than normal to make sure you don't stitch all the way through to the front, and the stiffness makes it difficult to hold and manipulate. So in order to truly finish it today, I used Steam a Seam and fused the sleeve to the back. I'll have to keep my eye on it but I'm hoping that the quilt will be light enough that the sleeve won't pull loose. If it does, it should be easier to tack it in place - pinning into the mount is also a pain. Maybe I'll just put in a few tacking stitches in strategic places to be sure.

I haven't allowed myself to set out my goals for February yet. Too focused on finishing this first and then I can regroup. I'm counting this towards my two quilts for January and it will probably be one that I submit with my application for ArtWalk.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Almost there...

"There’s an awful temptation to just keep on researching. There comes a point where you just have to stop, and start writing. When I began, I thought that the way one should work was to do all the research and then write the book. In time I began to understand that it’s when you start writing that you really find out what you don’t know and need to know.”

I am oh so close to having this done. But in my usual fashion, I have been dithering over several things, one being how to attach that braid to the edge of the quilted section once it was centered over its mount. Worry worry, think think think, stare and try to envision, the equivalent of researching to death. And then today I knew it was fear (of it not lying perfectly along the edge and of the edge of the quilt stretching) and that I must lose the fear and dive in. What's the worse that could happen? It would be a disaster and I'd just take the stitching out and ponder a different solution.

A last minute decision as I sat down saved me from possible frustration and disaster I think. Better to stitch down the edge of the quilt before adding the decorative braid on top. That way I did not have to control two things at once. First pass tacked the quilt to the mount with invisible thread and a narrow zigzag stitch. Second pass used same thread but a wider zigzag over the braid which laid nicely along the edge with the help of the tip of my seam ripper to guide it. Slow slow slow stitching, one thing I love about my Viking - the control to take one stitch at a time.

But when I put it back up on the design wall, the braid did not read as dark as I had hoped, although it is a beautiful complement to colors in this quilt and a beautiful edge finish. Sometimes it doesn't take much to bring a little definition, so I tried something I've done many times, ran a line of straight stitch right next to the braid using a dark brown buttonhole weight silk thread. Perfect!

Now I am dithering about the outside edge of the mount. I think I should have made it a bit smaller, and a part of me wants to pop it into a metal frame to provide a binding-like final edge. But that braid looks nice too. However, I'm not sure how to get it sewn to the edge - yes, the same fears as before but needing a slightly different solution. I guess I won't know until I sit down and start...

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Fallacy of Unique

Look what showed up on my doorstep this snowy February day. So unexpected and so uplifting. Certainly not unique, this bouquet of tulips, but the timing and the arrangement makes them a bit distinctive.

I've struggled with this idea of being unique as I travel my creative journey. How often have we read that our work must be unique. "Unique" is sometimes used as a synonym for "voice" or even paired with it. It is presented as the opposite of derivative. It is what we as artists must aspire to. But really, isn't there a finite number of things truly unique? Does that make the art that does not fall into the strict definition of unique not worth bothering with?

As a member of a jurying committee, I've run into this again with one of the questions asked of our potential artist members, "What makes your art unique?" I found myself very uncomfortable with what that implied, and it wasn't until I was viewing some art being hung for the last ArtWalk that I stumbled upon what we are really looking for in an artist and his or her work. The paintings leaned up against the wall were not unique in any way, but they were distinctive. That distinctiveness is what would make me recognize her work again, pause again to ponder just what it was that made me stop for a second look. Finding your style and voice may be less about being unique (the one and only) than how you put your distinctive (singular or individual) spin on the subjects at hand. Like tulips in the dead of winter, is there something unexpected in your art?

Of course, I wondered if I was going down this path because of my own work, not unique by any means but hopefully distinctive in some way. Imagine my delight to run across a blog entry by Jane Dunnewold shortly thereafter about "Being Distinctive". It's worth reading, and a good reminder in this culture of technique classes and project magazines and blogs galore devoted to art quilting, it takes a bit of work to be distinctive. It's what we should strive for.