Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tis the Season...and a Tip

I had the odd sale on my cafepress site a few weeks ago which reminded me I should promote it a bit on my blog. (Disclaimer: I HATE marketing). I've never had a lot of sales but I do usually sell a few calendars and perhaps some gift items this time of year. Think of it as going to an art museum and then buying a postcard or print of a favorite painting at the gift shop. You may not be able to afford the original of any of my quilt art, or perhaps a favorite piece is not for sale or already in a private collection, but perhaps you might find an image of it on an affordable mug, greeting card or decorative tile or treasure box. There's even a journal with four different choices of paper. And who can't use a calendar in your studio or office? I've always been pleased with the quality of the merchandise cafepress prints my images on and the images themselves are high quality as well. Treat yourself or get a start on your holiday shopping at my shop!

Now as a reward for suffering through that commercial break, here is the promised tip. One of my art group was admiring the way I'd paired filled bobbins with their matching spool of thread by stacking the pairs on the pegs in my thread rack. Unfortunately, not all of my thread will fit in this rack, although it holds a lot of thread. So I shared this alternate method for spools stored in drawers or shallow bins. It merely requires ordinary cotton swabs. I don't remember where I read about it but I was skeptical that it would really work. But truly it does...look!

Finally, circling back to "tis the season", I've treated myself to a new lightweight winter jacket in a color for which I have no suitably colored scarf. But I was pretty sure I'd bought a very luxurious yarn a few years back that had some blue in it. It didn't take me long to find it (while I have a yarn stash, it really isn't very big), and I was so pleased to discover it not only had the right color of blue, but also some teal green that matches the jacket lining. So I've started knitting a cowl scarf from this wool/silk hand-painted fingering yarn while I watch a little snow fly outside the window.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Aftermath of All That Input

Gently prodded along by the interest in my fountain piece and impatience to see progress (you know who you are!) I settled in yesterday afternoon with my sample, my pattern, my reference photos and my art group input fresh in my mind. Time to stitch in those grout lines. I'm figuring out so many things with this sample simply by doing and then realizing there would have been a better sequence of attack. If I were satin stitching around the outside of each unit as well as the outside of the finished piece as initially planned, the starts and stops of this grout stitching would be covered and secured by that last bit of stitching. Now I can see that it would be to my advantage to do all this satin stitching as well as the quilting before turning the edges to the back. Yes, I'm making notes as I go.

Some of the sections will overlap, others will butt up against each other and be joined by a "grout" line of satin stitching. I may change my mind and cut these two as one piece like I did a section on the other side.

Doing my best to emulate the sketch on the right

Before I can sew any more sections together, I must run the stitching lines representing water. I studied a video I took of the fountain (see below) and sketched out several ideas for mimicking how the water moved over the wall even before I started playing with cropping the uneven edges around the design. Now I went back to the video to confirm my thinking about using some white thread as well as an opalescent for sparkle. How did I not notice the almost scallop-shaped flow over one section? I quickly tried sketching it and think I will try that in the upper section. But in this main big section I'm trying the sketch that I'm hoping will give the impression of sideways rippling, which on re-viewing I'm seeing is more angled motion. Oh well, I'm sticking with this on the sample, running the opalescent sliver thread and the white rayon together through the needle. I think this is the effect I wanted - a not too in your face white with just a hint of sparkle. I am hoping it translates the same to the larger piece where there might be more room between the lines of white stitching which could be filled with just opalescent or a metallic thread. Lots of thread tails to be pulled to the back and more stitching to be added but this is where I stopped yesterday. The Stiff Stuff, by the way, coupled with the Misty Fuse is really nice to sew through, I'm tempted to say "like butter".

Valuable Feedback on Art Group Day

Can't believe I let them take pictures in my messy studio
As much good feedback as I can get on-line, nothing beats showing your work in person where those making comments can see true colors, true sizes, ask lots of questions and voice opinions while I clarify and ask my own questions. Not only did I get verifications and more things to think about on my fountain wall piece, I also got more feedback on that shibori piece I got stuck on. As for the fountain, there seems to be agreement about ditching the one batik and leaving some of those turned edges without satin stitching. We laid out various threads options for the stitching that will run through the center, and talked about what one is really seeing when observing running water, how that might be interpreted in stitch.

Detail of quilting in Donna Deaver's newest textile work

As for the question of interpreting the foliage in the upper part of the shibori piece, there was less concrete advise, save Donna's suggestion to study some of the Urban Sketchers methods of suggesting tree and bush forms. Good idea! However, it wasn't until the next day when I saw this detail shot of her beach reflections quilt on her Facebook page that I felt I had my answer. Seeing the quilt in person as a whole, I'd focused on other parts of it. Now I could see my bushes and trees in her stitching in this small part. I'd only gotten as far in my thinking as outlining the major areas with no idea of how to fill them in. Now I think contour stitching similar to this in those delineated areas is my answer.

Meg shared some pieces she's working on for an upcoming group exhibit. She does these stand-alone pieces that in the traditional quilt world would be appliqued to a background. Hers are built up on Peltex to be arranged installation style on walls. With the exhibit opening in January, she's keying in on winter themes with these snow people. She shared that as her work has developed, she's recognized that some of her figures exude more energy than others and is currently focusing on instilling a sense of energy in each of her designs, be it a person or thing (her example being a page in her sketchbook filled with feathers both stagnant and not). We agreed she'd done just that with these guys.

She's also working on this large tree which is presenting it's own technical challenges due to its size. We talked of ways she could divide it into sections for transport while maintaining a seamless appearance once installed. The tree will have additions that can be changed out and rearranged at will (leaves, birds, a swing, bird house) which is also raising technical questions. She normally satin stitches around the outside of her pieces, which she sees as a problem with the joins in the tree. So she was very interested in my sample where I turned the edges to the back. Yes, this is the great thing about sharing with a group, finding unexpected answers to niggling problems through the sharing of each other's unique journey and lots of spirited discussion!

Robin & Donna in Houston

It's not all about the work though. Two of our members had the great fortune to attend the International Quilt Festival in Houston last month, while the other two of us stayed home. They did not forget us though, posting pictures of themselves and quilts they thought we'd be interested in, making us feel not so left out of the fun. Robin couldn't meet with us this week, but Donna shared more about the experience, including the workshop she took with Hollis Chatelain.

And to us homebodies' surprise, they collected a bag of vendor freebie's for each of us - what a hoot! And what great friends...

Testing, Testing

Knowing I'd be meeting with my art group this week, I spent the weekend working up a small sample of my fountain wall design. Too much at stake here in materials and untested techniques not to do a trial run in miniature. First up - lay out the fabrics I'm considering over the full-size master drawing in their approximate locations. (As you view the following photos, use this one as reference as closest to the fabrics' true colors.)

Part of what I'm testing is a heavy interfacing I've not used before. I've been using Decor Bond rather than batting when I needed to create a border or "mat" with no stitching across the fabric. It has worked relatively well but I've experienced some issues that this new interfacing promised to alleviate. Stiff Stuff by Lazy Girl Designs advertises that you can crumple it up and it bounces right back, and it doesn't hold a fold. Watch the videos on their website - it really is quite amazing. I'm planning on constructing my fountain wall totally of fabric fused to interfacing which could be problematic come time to stuff it through the machine. Maybe not with Stiff Stuff if it really is that flexible and resilient. So imagine my surprise when my 4 yards of it arrived rolled with breaks like this showing.

Granted, once I unrolled it a bit, the breaks weren't as obvious, and if I were using this as the sew-in interfacing it is, perhaps this would not be an issue. But I'll be fusing my fabric to it and guessing those breaks will show through, just like with the Decor Bond. Well, let's test it out. I took a print-out of the fountain wall I'd made on a regular piece of paper, did some measurements and started cutting units from Stiff Stuff. Decor Bond can shrink slightly during the fusing process so I immediately tested Stiff Stuff's claim of no shrinkage. I steamed it extensively with no change in size - excellent! I opted for Misty Fuse as my fusible since I have quite a bit of it and I'd read it worked really well on synthetic felt. It requires a hot iron which Stiff Stuff held up to nicely. The Misty Fuse applied perfectly and then the fabric fused perfectly on top. I did a test crumple to see if the fabric truly would stay put (it did) and whether I'd see those breaks showing through (I did). The good news is, going over it with a warm iron made those breaks disappear for a smooth smooth surface. I'd originally planned to trim the fabric even with the edge of the interfacing, but I realize it'd be really easy to just turn those edges to the back, and for this sample I used glue stick to hold it down. On the big piece, I'll fuse Misty Fuse to the fabric first so there will be fusible all the way to the edge, ready to hold the extra when rolled to the back.

So this is probably how I will break down the units, with the "grout" lines added with satin stitching and the sections butted and joined by satin stitching as well. However, I may not satin stitch all the edges as originally planned. I really like the look of the fabric turned over the edge which is adding to the realistic look of this piece. Also, I'm questioning the use of the new batik - the spots in it are more widely spaced than in the stash batiks which keeps it from looking like it fits. I probably should not have speckled fabric in that section anyway. And of course, the scale of the patterning in fabric does not miniaturize with the scaling down of the design pattern so this is not a good representation of how it will read in the big piece. We'll see what the art group has to say.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Back To The Wall

The camera does not do these fabrics justice - batiks & Stonehenge
Hmmm - did I say I wasn't in a big hurry to finish the fountain wall quilt? Yes I did, but I also got down to the quilt shop in the sorta big city this week to check out their batiks and selection of Stonehenge fabrics. At the size I'm wanting to make this, there isn't enough of the fabrics I have on hand that I'd hoped to use. They are old enough that there was little in stock even remotely close to the spotted batik and the grey batik (lower left in above photo), but I may have found fabrics to work with them or replace them all together.

Working on the dining room table

Well, THAT got me fired up. I've been dragging my feet about cleaning up my test print-out to make an accurate pattern, but with fabric at the ready, I couldn't keep myself from tackling the drafting yesterday. I'd originally thought to mark my lines on the printout but worried about keeping everything true and at 90 degree angles. It finally dawned on me that I had a few larger sheets of graph paper I could tape together and lay over the printout. It provided the straight lines I needed to keep on track and once again I was reminded just how much I enjoy the full-size drafting part of designing. I think this is pretty accurate now (although it may be a little confusing to the eye what with the joins in the paper). I still need to check the dimensions of the various sections to see how far my original fabrics might go and then audition these new fabric choices. And I also need to do some small samples to test my ideas about how this will go together technically. I want to try something a bit different from what I've done before using an untried product so before I go committing to the large version, best I see if it will actually work as I envision. The bowls, books and bags have been sidelined for the moment...

Friday, November 07, 2014

Another Urban Sketch

Or perhaps more accurately, suburban sketch. This building has long been on my radar. It sits along Highway 200 as it passes through my little blip of a community that is so close to the much larger Sandpoint that it may as well be a suburb. I have no idea what it once was; it looks to be unused and uncared for for some time. Some of the shingles have blown off the roof and the black plastic meant to protect that part has come loose and flaps in the wind. The upper windows are black (blacked out?) and the lower windows and door are boarded over. The door once had a small overhang to shield those coming and going from the weather but it too has come off. Other businesses along this stretch include motels, gas stations and a few store fronts. I can't decide what role this building played in this precursor of the strip mall.  One thing for sure, the red around the windows and edges of the roof peaks still catches the eye. With a "for sale" sign out front, I've been worried that it might either be torn down or rehabilitated before I had a chance to sketch it. And with it being blustery November, I thought my outdoor sketching time was at an end for the year.

But today surprised me. I didn't expect it to be any different from the rest of the week which has been very rainy, windy and cold, but it was. The sun came out and it felt quite warm, and so I grabbed my sketchbook and pen and walked to where I could see the building. Ideally, I should be standing on the shoulder of the highway to get the angle I had in mind, but it's not wide enough to be safe. Instead, I found a spot farther away from my subject than I have for the last couple of sketches, which I think was a good thing. The downside was the railroad track between me and the building - I couldn't get up high enough to see over it; its raised bed hid the base of the building. But I could capture those red-rimmed windows.

I tried a different approach today, using pen instead of pencil (surprisingly freeing) to make dots at key points before drawing in lines. I still got a bit off, but it worked quite well. When there are evenly spaced details like the window peaks, it makes a lot of sense. Then you can just connect the dots! As I often do, I saved the addition of colored pencil for when I got home. Only had a few slight panics; it's amazing how much one forgets even after staring purposefully to supposedly burn the image into one's brain. But I think I got it mostly right.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

October Wrap

View from the studio - tamaracks turn golden
A little late recapping how I did with my October reminders list, but I've been busy with, among other things, finishing up one last item on it that was begun before the month was over. Technically, it belongs to November but I'm going to cheat on this one. October is the first month this year, perhaps the first month for a long time before that where I actually got to everything on my list, no carry forwards! It may sound silly to be this excited about that, but I am! I have to laugh at myself that the first thing on the October list and thus the first thing checked off was "Rue the fact that it's October already." Yes, the year has been zipping by leaving much undone in its wake (and not just in the studio). So face up to it, then carry on. I got caught up on my documentation files, including printing out photos, got the fat-quarter quilt top ready to quilt, worked on Adrift (the shibori piece) and finished washing, ironing and putting away the last of my friend's stash that I brought home late last September. Considering that I ended up with another sinus infection that put me on antibiotics that make me feel almost as cruddy as the infection, I'm very pleased with what got done. I even worked on that fountain wall idea which wasn't on the list.

And as for the last thing on the list, my cheater that got finished today - it's the bag I wanted to make out of the ugly art cloth I redeemed with stamping. The piece of marbling I'd pulled from Judi's stash turned out not to be long enough so I found another one of hers that could provide the extra 4 inches I needed plus pockets - it was marbled on a mottled tan fabric, I noted. It was actually a good thing to need to do this; the patterning on the main piece was not as interesting on the ends as it was in the middle. By cutting it in half to insert the bottom panel, I could flip each piece to put the good pattern at the top of the bag where it would be most seen.

The pattern I'm using on this is one of a collection in a free pdf I snagged off the website. It had the kind of top treatment I had in mind but I made lots of changes to suit my cloth. For instance, the outer shell was pieced in strips, then fusible fleece was to be applied. I wanted a softer bag so chose to apply Pellon fusible interfacing for collars and cuffs (because I happened to have quite a bit of it on hand) to the 4 inch bottom panel and the pockets and leave the heavier art cloth without interfacing. My hope was the stiffness in those two areas would give my bag enough structure. Because my bag is shorter than the bag in the pattern, I could incorporate the bottom of each pocket into the seam joining the bag bottom to the sides. I did my topstitching in navy thread and also sewed down the middle of one pocket to divide it in two. I envision putting phone on one side and sundries on the other, while the larger pocket could hold my kindle or a sketchbook.

That was probably the most time consuming part of the bag. Next step was to sew the side seams of both lining and shell, then sew across the ends of each to create a box bottom. (The pattern called for rounding the corners at the bottom with no accommodation for this feature that I wanted.) Then sew the shell and lining together at the top, leaving an opening for turning, after which I ran topstitching closely around the entire edge. It does appear that the pocket and bag bottom interfacing is doing what I hoped it would.

All that was left was to add grommets - the main reason I chose this pattern. Believe it or not, I've never put grommets in anything before, but I'd bought the proper size and tool to do it and it was ridiculously easy to do. I didn't realize I'd be cutting holes for the grommets, nor that reinforcing those areas would be important, so today I was cutting small squares of fusible interfacing, cutting holes in them and stuffing them through the holes in the cloth, fusing them in place. In retrospect, I realize I could have used a tricot knit fusible interfacing on the shell and that would have given both the right amount of stabilizing to the top while maintaining the softness I wanted and also provided some reinforcement for the grommets. Next time I'll know.

Oh, wait - that wasn't the last thing. I'd cut strips off either side of the art cloth for handles and I had yet to deal with them. I fused more of the interfacing down the center of the stamped design and turned the excess over it, top stitching all in place. This was threaded through the grommets, then joined. The pattern didn't call for it, but I ended up stitching the handles to the bag at each side to make the pulling up and opening of the top easier, keeping the length of the main loops more even. This is pretty much what I had in mind for this bag, although I can see things I could improve on. I wanted something a little bigger than the normal purse I carry but not huge, just something that could hold those extra things that I occasionally want to carry with me.

Late arriving birthday money put to good use - $1.99 a spool!

So now I'm thinking about November, and of course, how close Christmas now is. I had a notion to make gifts this year so I best get crackin'. I think all I need to write on my reminder list is bags, books, and bowls! My order of Superior Threads' October special Twist threads arrived today and no doubt will come in handy on some of these projects. I'll probably add the shibori piece and the fountain wall to the list as well, but I'm not in a huge hurry to finish either. I'll probably just work a bit on them as the mood hits me.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Creative Mind

Artists often get asked where their inspirations come from. I think what people actually want to know, those who don't feel like they have a creative bone in their bodies, is how an artist's mind works. Artists have a difficult time explaining this, or at least I do, because they can't imagine that everyone's mind doesn't work the way theirs do, and because so much of the creative process seems to come out of nowhere. But according to a study of 91 exceptional innovators (as cited in the book Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk), creative people depend on flexibility to an unusual degree, and their personalities show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. Creative people simply embrace contradictory extremes whereas everyone else learns to develop one or the other (the example given was one might grow up cultivating the aggressive competitive side while disdaining or repressing the nurturing cooperative side). I liken this to people who see everything as black and white while others of us can't be that hard-lined, seeing many shades of grey to every subject. No wonder I have so much trouble filling out those multiple choice question surveys - I literally can't choose one answer over another at times. Creative minds really do work differently. This quotation from Alfonso Montuori says it best:

"Creative people alternate order and disorder, simplicity and complexity, sanity and craziness in an ongoing process."

Me to a "T".

As for those ideas that seem to come out of nowhere (and I've mentioned many times when that has happened to me), another section of Powers of Two noted that in interview after interview, creative people recounted that in their "aha" moments, an image or a line or an idea presents itself, coming not from the "I" but as though from a distant source. "The Muses" are often given credit, but the author sees this as the person unwittingly having a dialogue with his or herself; but he also notes that these "out of nowhere" moments are generally trusted more, given more credence or said to produce more superior results than ideas that are consciously created. Creative people seem to have a difficult time taking credit for their best work. Yes, yes yes, it's me again.

Not long ago, I had one of these "out of nowhere" moments that often happens on my walks and that might be a good example of how my mind sometimes works when an idea is sparked. My mind wanders a great deal on my walks, as do my eyes. I'm not looking for anything in particular but every now and then, my eye will stop on something that strikes me as unusual. This particular day, it was this group of tall birches standing at the edge of a wooded area at the back end of a recently cleared lot. I'd walked by this spot dozens of times and I'm sure had seen these trees before, but that day my mind decided to note that it is actually a little unusual to see a close grouping of this mature tree. So I paused to take it in.

My eye traveled from the tight spacing at ground level up into the branches far above the ground, where the trunks began to go their own way, bending this way and that, and putting some space between each other. Suddenly the term "community" popped into my head (out of nowhere - yes). Now why did I think that? Well, this image reminded me of what true community is - I tight-knit group with certain commonalities but whose individual members also have differences and varied interests. There's support but not a demand for uniformity, it grows together but also grows apart. Would anyone else get that if I captured this scene in fabric? Would the title of "Community" be enough to get the idea across? After reading Powers of Two, I'm not totally sure that it would say that to most people. They might be wondering how in the heck my mind was working to come up with that. But other artists or creative types - they might get it. They might see beyond the obvious to the symbolism that presented itself to me on that one day. Or the image might say something different to them. But they would surely see more than trees if given a moment of contemplation.

Does any of this ring true for you? How does your mind work?