Saturday, June 29, 2013

Diving In

For better or worse, I decided to go with the thread that read darker (and as I stitched, a lot more purple than I thought it would) and am varying the size of the bubbles to include some fairly large as well as fairly small ones. Good variety in sizes seems to make this design work best. This picture makes it look like a lot of light is showing in the thread, but in reality, it reads more like occasional highlights. I wish my stitching was more even, my circles more consistently round, but this is my level of free motion quilting, and I just have to be ok with it. So it's been sink or swim, and I think I am staying afloat, or does that hand look like it belongs to a drowning woman waving for help? It's taking longer than I thought it would (am about 2/3rds done) and using up lots of thread. Yes, I'm eyeing the spool of King Tut thread and hoping it lasts.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Test Run

I've been testing out the Celtic Bubbles quilting design on a batting sample today. The machine was threaded with black thread, so black thread is what I used, making it easy to see what I was doing.  My initial try is on the right, and once done, I realized the spirals are much larger than in the example from my directions. They really make a statement and are the wrong proportion to act as background for my hands. Even if done in matching thread, I think they would overwhelm the hands. I tried again on the other half of the sample, better I think, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to keep the spirals small.

I took a break for lunch, and upon entering the studio again, I saw my sample from this direction. I had been thinking about how those large and small areas could compliment each other, making a really exciting wholecloth background, and when seen from this orientation, it started looking like a landscape - big hills on the bottom, cloud-filled sky on top. As if I didn't have enough options to consider just with thread choice, now I am wondering if I should quilt my narrow background a bit like this. It will be a little narrower than the batting sample and about 20 inches long. Yeah, I love that there are so many ways a pattern can be used, hate having to decide which would be best for this one (not to mention how many other ideas for different quilts are being generated). And here I thought my hardest decision would be choosing between one or the other of blue thread or just going with invisible thread. Argh! Comments welcome.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Can't Stop Thinking About This

I thought I knew exactly which quilt idea I'd be working on next, but apparently something else wants top priority right now. You no doubt remember that I worked up two different hand options for the last bubble prayers quilt. Knowing me and my inability to toss anything, I knew the unused set of hands would find another home eventually. In the process of auditioning and rejecting this pair of hands, they shuffled into a random arrangement that intrigued me and spoke of something having nothing to do with bubbles. I pinned them to my design wall so the idea wouldn't disappear on me and I could think about what to use as background.

My mind was off on a totally different tangent regarding that background when I came across this batik when straightening up the studio last week. It was one I'd considered and rejected for the original bubble prayers quilt. Now it seemed to be saying, I belong with those hands. Ok, I'll put you up there with them, and yes, I think I agree. But you'll have to wait until I make that next quilt using circles. (Yes, I talk to my fabric and quilts all the time.)

But seriously, why wait? The idea is so strong in my head, and I really can't stop thinking about working on it. I can still work with circles because I've also had it in my head that whatever background I chose, I wanted to try a new filler design I found on Diane Gaudynski's blog. I've already delayed experimenting with that one since March. Ok, it's called "Celtic Bubbles" so I guess those hands will have something to do with bubbles after all. I think it's time to heed the call of disparate parts coming together to create a beautiful whole.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


If you follow your favorite blogs in Google Reader as I have, you no doubt know that it is going away at the end of the month - yes, just a few days away to decide what to do if you have not already. There have been lots of suggestions for alternate readers; I looked into several, but they were more on the order of Yahoo's reader that I'd quit using because Google's was just so much quicker and visually pleasing to use. However, a new reader arose phoenix-like from the soon to be ashes of Google reader and dubbed itself The Old Reader...because it has basically cloned the old google reader. I found the transition from Google to The Older Reader easy, quick, nearly seamless. I highly recommend giving it a try if you miss the features of Google Reader that simply aren't being offered anywhere else.

I've also added a widget to the sidebar allowing you to sign up to follow my blog via e-mail. Have no idea how this works, but I decided to provide that option after talking to a few readers who prefer to follow blogs that way.

As far as comments go, I've always had that set for me to review them before they are published to the blog post. Blogger has a pretty good spam filter for errant comments but lately I have been flooded with anonymous spam comments that somehow are bypassing the filter. I rarely get a legitimate anonymous comment anymore, so I am changing the "who can comment" setting to exclude anonymous users. I know how much I hate the word verification thing which would be my other option to stop these spam comments. If this new setting is causing problems for any of my regular commentors, please e-mail me and I will reconsider this change.

And yes, the picture above has nothing to do with all this, but I know how much we all expect lovely pictures accompanying blog posts. This was taken at my ArtWalk opening reception last Friday. There were lots of people, great food, live music and heartfelt feedback on my three pieces. Ample reward for pushing myself to complete them in time.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Recreational Sewing

I have verification that the little gift project I was working on last week has reached the recipients so I can share it with you now. I've mentioned here on occasion my generous niece who lives in New York City. She and her husband have a special tie to Grand Central station. So when I spotted an ad for this NYC subway and Grand Central Station fabric, how could I resist?

The Grand Central fabric is especially developed by New York's own City Quilter, a place my niece had told me about. It is part of the centennial celebration for this beautiful building and a recent addition to their other exclusive New York fabric line.

These kids really do not need another quilt from me, even if an idea for incorporating these fabrics into one would have come to mind. However, due to their lifestyle, I suspected a couple of eco bags might be just the thing to showcase this fabric, something they would really use. I started with instructions from Morsbags which I then modified since I wanted to line my bag (a heavier fabric would not need to be lined necessarily). For instance, with folds ironed into place and handle positioned, I layered lining and outer bag wrong sides together and added the double rows of stitching to secure them.

Then I proceeded with Morsebags' instructions for creating an enclosed side and bottom seam (french seam) which I really like. I also like my bags to have a flat bottom which this pattern did not include. It was easy to add that stitching to make that happen.

Here you can see the box bottom on the subway bag, and the lining of the Grand Central bag.

And there you have it - his and hers sturdy eco bags with special meaning. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Odds and Ends

I've been having a great time catching up on this and that, and doing what I think of as recreational sewing. I can't share the project I just finished yet as it is a gift making its way to the recipients who might just stop by here before it arrives. So instead, here is one of those things that got put aside when my world got so wacky last year. Friends bought this piece that I made for the "Diamonds in the Rough" exhibit last spring, but asked if I could mount it on something so it could be framed. This made me smile because I had wanted to do just that with Fading and Forgotten, but ran out of time to find the right color of metal frame. Now all I had to do was mount it to this foam core board as we had discussed and let them decide about a frame. Lucky for me they've been so patient about me getting that done. I've left plenty of board around the quilt so that they can decide how much of it they want left showing when they take it to their framer.

I've not done this before, but I'd done a little research so I wouldn't be going into it totally blind. After centering the quilt on the board, I pushed a large needle through the quilt near the edge and into the board about every inch and a half. With a smaller needle threaded with linen thread (purchased in preparation for playing with book binding), I made my way around the quilt, going up through the hole from the back, catching a bit of the back of the quilt and returning back through the same hole, snugging the thread up tight.

I did a sort of half-hitch I think, to keep the thread from loosening as I moved to the next hole. Once I made it all the way around, I joined the beginning and end of the thread with a double knot.

And to doubly secure the whole thing, I covered the stitching with strips of linen tape. I'm confident this quilt is going nowhere and it lies snug against the board. Best of all, this is all easily reversible with no damage to the quilt, should the owners at some future date wish to remove it from the board and hang it from the sleeve that is still attached to the back of the quilt.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Finding Its Place

Does this look familiar? It's my first attempt at a bubbles prayer quilt, one that didn't quite work for a piece on the wall. But I didn't toss it because I felt it would work fine as the decorative element of a journal cover of some kind. Now that I can take a little breather before starting the next art quilt, this seemed a good time to see if I was right. And as you can see, I was.

I'd printed this free project for a composition book cover off of Sue Bleiweiss's website a while ago. [NOTE: This project is no longer available on her website] I didn't use composition books when I was in school, but got quite enamored of them afterward for my journal writing for some reason. Haven't written in one for years, and finding this pattern brought back nostalgic thoughts of those post-college years. Maybe I'd buy one the next time Staples had a sale. It took having this little bit of quilted fancy needing a home to get that composition book purchased. Not on sale, but it is an eco version I couldn't resist.

The pattern turned out to be a starting point for general instructions and dimensions - I deviated from it quite a bit right from the start. Instead of fusing my cover fabric to Timtex (why something so stiff?), I applied a fusible mid-weight interfacing. If I'd planned to quilt and add design elements over the entire surface, I probably would have opted for something else, but in this case I was just going to add the quilted bubble piece to the front cover area with satin stitching. A little basting spray held it in place while I stitched.

I dispensed with the lining - didn't quite see the need for that - and decided I didn't want to finish the outer edge with satin stitching per instructions (a necessity if you're using that Timtex), so the inside pockets were pinned to the right side of the cover with a half inch seam allowance. Each pocket is a rectangle of fabric folded in half which struck me as a bit wasteful, especially with this hand-dyed fabric, but for expediency sake, I went with it. I think you could easily get away with a single layer with the inner raw edge turned under and stitched or fused.

My first round of stitching was at about 3/8 inch - the width of my presser foot. I thought the directions were allowing for a little ease, but the 1/2 inch extra all around turned out to be exactly the right amount. For durability sake, I decided I liked that second round of stitching. Corners were trimmed to reduce bulk when turned inside out and the corners poked out.

Once turned and pressed, there was this short span of exposed seam allowance on the inside. I clipped it enough just inside each flap so I could turn the raw edge under. A little strip of Stitch Witchery fusible slipped under it holds it in place. You could also use a little fabric glue.

It's a nice snug fit, and the wide inner flap gives me room to write an inscription. This will be a gift to someone who has been very instrumental in giving me the tools and mindset I needed to get through this last year. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Checking on the Installation

It's been a long time since I have not been responsible for installing my work for an exhibit, so when I dropped off my quilts at the ArtWalk venue earlier this week, it felt very odd to hand them over and walk away. I know the people doing the work, know they have installed countless such multimedia exhibits, but still...after all the angst over the making of these quilts, the care in getting them square and hanging flat and just so, it was difficult to let go. But let go I did, knowing I could go back the next day and check up on them. There were bits of lint to pick off the center one and the two Bubble Prayers quilts' signage was reversed, but other than that, see how perfect they look! It's always questionable hanging near the wall sconces, but in this case, that light is doing my quilts a favor (click on the picture for a larger can see the quilting!). Oh, and I obviously was using the wrong camera to take my shots at home. This was taken with my less fancy one which read the teal green and the purple/blue perfectly. The center one is pretty close too.

I am so pleased with the spot these are hung. Visible as one reaches the second floor by stairs...

And visible from several spots along the third floor. Pleased, pleased, pleased! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bubble Prayers - Release

Bubble Prayers - Release by Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2013 - 16h x 20w
Artist Statement
Some deaths are immediate, some peaceful, others, as in the case of my friend, drawn out agonizing affairs. Especially for that last one, death brings a welcome release from this world's woes. Those looking on in emotional agony also find release. Our helplessness is at an end (though not our sorrow) and the bubble prayers we've been sending up have their answer.
Slivers of iridescent fabric catch the light bringing life to an otherwise lifeless design

Another difficult quilt to photograph, I discovered (lost a lot of the purple in the hand-dye and the sparkle off the bubbles) plus I was under a time crunch. This plus Bubble Prayers - Letting Go and Life's End were delivered today for hanging in this year's ArtWalk. I hadn't planned on participating since I will be exhibiting in July at another venue here in town, but that other exhibit will get little traffic, ArtWalk much more, and these pieces are important to me. So with one month's notice, I decided to push myself to get these quilts done for this better venue. I might have done some things differently on this had there been more time. On the other hand, I might have given up on it, certainly would have delayed trying what I did.

Bubbles over and under the hand
I haven't shared with you yet what the deal is with the second pair of hands. I know some are seeing it as a shadow, but it is not. I've always envisioned this quilt with the one pair of hands, similar to the first bubble quilt but with hands turned a different way expressing a slightly different message. It wasn't until I returned from my friend's Celebration of Life service that the imagery changed. I was meditating, thinking about how connected my friend & I had always been and how I wanted to maintain that connection somehow. I remembered seeing an eagle swoop across my path as I headed home after her service and thought it could be her spirit now protecting the Gorge she loved. I was thinking about this quilt and my friend's release from this world, visualizing the bubbles floating upward, the outstretched hands, the second pair of darker hands behind them...

Wait - a second pair of hands? Where did they come from? Well, they were obviously my friend's hands, mirroring the release of the earthbound hands, almost cradling them. I had my connection to my friend - where I had literally and figurative held her hand through her medical trials and tribulations, she now held mine as I grieved and struggled with these quilts. And now I had an addition to my original idea. Things started moving on this quilt after that.

I've shed so many tears while working on these three quilts. Life's End in particular nearly undid me to the point I couldn't look at it after it was done. They are helping me work through the grieving process for sure and I am so happy to have some place to show the three of them together. Opening reception for ArtWalk is Friday June 21 and the exhibit at Panhandle State Bank in Sandpoint, ID will run through September 9. I hope you'll drop by to see it if you're in the area.  

Click on any picture for a larger view. Once again, I've quilted in such a way that it is difficult to see, so here's the back of the quilt before squaring it up and adding a facing. I think I am done with bubbles for awhile.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Preview of Progress

Dither dither stare stare stare. I finally decided I would not know which pair of hands to use nor which sheer for the second pair of hands would be best until I fused down the bubbles so I could see how they will actually read. Some bubbles will be behind the hands so the easiest plan of attack was to finalize the arrangement of what bubbles I had, fuse and quilt them. I'm adding little rays to some of them to mimic what I was seeing in my reference photo.

I experimented with layering an iridescent under the sheer to bring the bubbles to life but it didn't look right at all. However, now I am thinking a little dot fused to some and a little sliver fused on top of the ones with rays will add the sparkle my bubbles lack.

For awhile I thought the darker pair of hands would look best but once the stitching with the opalescent thread was done, I liked the light ones better. I'm taxing my camera again, apparently. The hands are not nearly as white as this picture would lead you to believe. The second pair of hands are the blue silk organza fused on with Misty Fuse. Yes, I finally found a situation where it works better than my favorite Steam-a-Seam lite. Once these are quilted and the main pair of hands stitched into place, more bubbles will be added on top of them.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Back to the Hands

And back to more decision making - I've returned to the second bubble prayers quilt. Because the hand fabric is relatively thin allowing too much shadowing through, I decided to fuse the hands onto white fabric. That also facilitates the stitching I want to do while the hands are off the quilt. As always, it's a question of what color thread to use.

I've also gone back through my sheers and am auditioning some here for the second set of hands. They will be partially behind the other hands, more of a shadow than anything. The blue silk chiffon is looking good for this.

I've had so much trouble visualizing how the fabrics will read that I cut hands out of two steps from this gradation. I'm pretty sure the darker of the two is too dark so it became my practice piece for trying out threads and lines. I tried stitching around the outside of the hand and then stitching in the lines across where fingers bend and along the palm but it looked really bad. Thread painting wasn't my intention, but thread painting is what I ended up doing, in this case with the light teal Oliver Twist hand-dyed thread, and am surprised at how much I like it. Since this is done with the feed dogs up and fusible to help stabilize it, there was little distortion.

So on to the lighter set of hands and none of my threads were quite what I wanted. This King Tut was the best but I wish it didn't variegate so dark. I went ahead anyway since the other threads I tried were worse, convincing myself I could find a way to modify the thread color after the fact. But, I don't know, I maybe like this after all. Click on any picture for a larger view. 

Monday, June 03, 2013

Life's End

Life's End by Sheila Mahanke Barnes 2013 - 20" x 26"
The quilt and I came to a compromise: it agreed to give up its dream of a wide black border if I'd agree to at least a bit of black to finish it off. Frankly, I spent a lot of time with the batik that is in those black mountains (it has a faint undertone of blue running through it), and while the exposed black batting gave one look, the black fabric gave another. No width looked right - it just looked a little jarring. No matter, I didn't want to fuss with it anyway. I opted for this 1/2" binding because in truth, no contrasting edging at all didn't look right either. I'm still wondering if 1/4" binding would have been better, can easily alter this to that width if I decide to later, but for now, I think I am ok with this.

I'm going through a bit of no pleasing me with this quilt. Initially I didn't want any stitching across those mountains for some reason, but of course, stitching there would have to be. And then, once all the quilting was done and I stood back, I was disappointed that the quilting didn't show up more. I did quite a bit of inking over threads to darken some areas that didn't contrast enough as well as some down in the brown that contrasted too much. Ah, well, it is done and I can go back to the bubbles and the hands that share the same fate of no pleasing me.

I took these shots outside for a change (click on any for a larger view) and still felt it was reading brighter than in person so have tried toning it down, the actual quilt sitting next to me at the computer. It's one of those quilts that reads differently depending on the light but mostly comes across as dark and maybe a bit brooding. The shot above is one I tried in direct sunlight which lets you see the quilting.  As for the title of the piece, it came to me while I was working on the African quilt, thinking about my dying friend, our time together at the Mayo Clinic, how as she quickly faded, a part of me wished I could be there still holding her hand, but knowing she was not dying alone. I jotted down my thoughts in poem form, not the best piece of poetry, and thought about how I would take those sunset-colored triangles and incorporate them into a quilt.

Life's End
At life's end 
one hopes to 
still have friends
standing by, standing in
watching the light fade
watching the sunset,
sun setting in your eyes
and remembering. 

Saturday, June 01, 2013

What Color Is This?

This spot in the background fabric of my sunset piece had me stumped. Here was this tan area that not a single tan or brown thread I tried across it was even close. Well, no wonder; when looking for another thread in my specialty thread drawer, my eyes landed on this plum thread and the light bulb went on. Yes, my tan patch was not tan at all but somehow related to the pink family. Quilting leaped ahead once I made this connection.

So now all the quilting is done and all thread tails pulled to the back and buried. Not all lines of stitching were done that way, but many were. And this is what you get at the bottom of your wastebasket after burying and trimming off all those threads. And no, I do not save my thread trimmings to scatter as embellishments - just not my thing.

I was congratulating myself for making this no muss no fuss with plans to do a simple facing to finish off the edge. I spoke too soon. As I released the basting stitches holding the backing in place over the extra batting along the sides of the quilt, said quilt asked if it could please have a black border just like that black batting. No you may not, if for no other reason than there isn't the same amount of excess batting and batting on each side. But it got me thinking - maybe a black binding? I've been fiddling and thinking ever since, turning back that batting to different widths to test my ideas. Binding too narrow, narrowest amount of excess batting (about an inch) also too narrow, widest amount of excess batting (about 2-1/2 inches) looking about right. The black allows the landscape to float and ties in the black triangles and the darkness at the top. I don't want to do it because it will be a lot of time consuming fiddly work, but now that I've seen it, I sense that going back to facing the piece will leave me unsatisfied and disappointed. I just wanted to be done with this by the end of the weekend, and back to the bubble quilt on Monday. I'm fighting, and it's probably a losing battle.