Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015

Loving this simple yet interesting stitch pattern
So are you one of those who hustles to finish one last project before the clock ticks over to the new year? I've been working on this ear-warmer headband off and on this month, using up what was left of the hand-dyed wool yarn after making a neck warmer for a friend - you can see it in progress here. In my rush to get it wrapped and in the mail, I failed to take a picture of it, but below is the photo from the pattern to give you an idea. I may or may not finish the earwarmer tonight while watching a movie and waiting for midnight (I really am close), but I'm not stressing about it. It's been quite enjoyable trying a new stitch pattern, and I like this one a lot. So many of the free patterns I have on hand rely on really basic knit and purl which had started to bore me. I was up for something more interesting. The rhythm of this one sucked me right in and I love the texture those slanted "v's" give.

"Hubby Approved Neck Warmer" similar to the one I knitted using zigzag stitch

I do understand the pull to add one last item to the list of completed ones (accomplishments!) as well as to keep a nearly done one from bleeding over into the next regimented time frame. But there's also something to be said for relaxing on this last day of the year, enjoying whatever bits it has to offer.  For me it was lazing over my morning coffee before knitting a bit on the ear-warmer, warming my body up with some yoga, then bundling for an early walk once I noticed the sun was making headway through the cloud cover. It actually broke free mid-afternoon, filling the room where the computer lives with such wonderful light that I've spent time there until it set.

Best of all, I've been enjoying this little rosebush that showed up on my doorstep yesterday - a belated Christmas gift that is in stark contrast to the wintry scene outside.

Look at all those buds! And it has a lovely scent as well.

I'm fairly astounded at the size of these blooms. I've only seen this sort of thing in "miniature" form, tiny tiny roses to grow inside. These rival any on full-size bushes I've tried cultivating in various gardens over the years. I'm hoping I can keep it alive and blooming for a long time.

The sun has now set so I am ready to finish up here on the computer and perhaps wander into the studio to tend to the remaining padfolios. I have some time before heading to the kitchen to fix my traditional New Year's Eve turkey enchiladas. But I find I'm not particularly driven to see them finished today either. It's a deadline that other years has been important to me, but not this year. What doesn't get finished today will get finished soon enough.

Wishing my readers a Happy New Year - I am grateful for you all!


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Wishing You Peace...

Ok, I caved to the holiday prep thing since I last posted, setting aside finishing the last of the padfolios and starting on some cards (yes, the majority of them will be very late). I haven't done any decorating, and would not put up lights outside anyway so the picture above is not of my place, but of my neighbor's. He did such a tasteful job of decorating, as have many people along my street, and I am thankful to each of them for bringing this bit of brightness and joy for me to savor.

Oh - and there's been a fair bit of snow shoveling too. It's one way to earn that calorie-laden eggnog latte I treat myself to this time of year.

Here's the daytime view of the neighbor's abode, to show you the snow that has piled up over the last week or so. We've been getting it in around 4" dumps - sometimes a bit less and not everyday, but many of them.

I love the snow and can't imagine living long someplace that would not have at least a bit of it over the winter. So I don't complain about the shoveling, not when my reward is views like this.

So the padfolios, lined up ready for buttons and cords, can sit tight for a few more days. It's Christmas...may you have a merry one!


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First of the "Fresh" Padfolios

Wispy Swirls Padfolios
I decided I'd share this latest batch of padfolios a few at a time, especially since that is how I am finishing them up. These first two feature a new wrinkle on the elastic band closures. The wider braid-type elastic can be stitched in place, raw ends covered with a button on the flap like here. But this narrow elastic cord that I was so excited to find (see the colors that caught my eye here) cannot be sewn that way. I wasn't happy with what I worked out on this padfolio, and spent several nights as I dropped off to sleep thinking about how to attach it.

It may seem obvious to the rest of you, but the solution has been alluding me for quite some time even though it is quite simple. Really, the only way to secure the ends is to knot them and although I get overly concerned about neatness and hiding things like knots, placing one between the pockets on the inside is unobtrusive. 

I used a large needle to poke two starter holes before drawing the ends through from outside to inside for knotting - two holes because that would be easier than making one big enough for both strands to travel through and because then the elastic loop could never accidentally get pulled all the way through. Make sense? I think it also keeps things less bumpy spreading them out like that - neat and tidy. The other thing I like is that it keeps the elastic out of the way when the padfolio is open. Something about it hanging off the flap seemed more in the way and more prone to catching on things.

Here are the insides of them - the top one for the "Grass Green" padfolio, the bottom one for the "Teal/Green" one. If you're wondering about those colorful junior legal pads, I buy them at Staples when they go on sale.

Rich Rust Oak Leaves Padfolio - front

The other two I want to share today have velcro closures. I'm not that keen on the velcro for myself, but in this case it seemed the best closure for the fabrics involved. I'm calling these Oak Leaves because they are the ones I stitched with oak leaf motifs. This first one is "Rich Rust". I had fun shaping the flap around the oak leaf stitching.

Rich Rust Oak Leaves Padfolio - back

Here's the back. This fabric is so fabulous with that classic hand-dye depth.

The lining fabric has been hanging out in my stash since the mid-'90s I think. I always loved it but never quite figured out how to use the two fat quarters I had. I think it came from a collection of "marbled" prints from Keepsake Quilting. At any rate, it had all the colors in that hand-dye, and it was time to put it to use!

Green/Mahogany Oak Leaves Padfolio - front

The second Oak Leaves padfolio is a highly textured hand-dye of greens and mahoganies. A little angling of the flap edge revealed part of a stitched oak leaf.

Green/Mahogany Oak Leaves Padfolio - back

All that texturing did make it difficult to know how to add stitch. I'm glad I settled on the large oak leaves.

I had enough left of the hand-dye to make the pockets, and found this commercial fabric that matched the green in it.
I've added these four to the Padfolio page on the blog - click on the tab above or here if you are interested in purchasing one. At present, the "Buy Now" Paypal links are only set up for shipping to US addresses, and in fact, it will take a bit of arm twisting to talk me into international shipping. :-)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Almost there...

Was pretty excited to see that bright green among the subtler colors
Look at these beauties I've just added to my thread stash. A friend alerted me that a quilt shop had opened within walking distance of me (good news since we've been without a quilt shop for months, bad news because it's so close!), and I was thrilled to find they are carrying my favorite King Tut variegated threads. Since the shop that got me onto this thread closed its doors 3 or so years ago, I lost that luxury of a few minutes drive when I found myself in the middle of a project lacking the right color of thread or unexpectantly running out. Suddenly, it was an hour drive to the nearest shop carrying it (in limited colors) or peer at the computer screen wondering if the thread really would be that color if I ordered on-line, then wait wait wait. I nearly swooned when I spotted the display, and did some stocking up during their grand opening sale.

I often use this King Tut thread on my padfolios. I really like its short run in the varegations and slightly thinner weight than a standard cotton thread. It works so well for the satin stitching, giving coverage without undue buildup when I make the second pass around the outside edge for durability. It's been so lovely getting reacquainted with my machine, listening to its familiar hum and appreciating its stitching precision (put up those feeddogs and it is much more precise than I will ever be!). Apparently, it is over being a bit miffed at me for spending my time elsewhere for so long, laying down beautiful satin stitching without a hitch on this near-final step of the padfolios.

The first 5 ready for closures

I have missed the deadline of having these ready for holiday gift-giving purchase, but as I saw that goal slipping away, I sensed a different, more important goal had taken its place, a sort of getting back on the horse of how I used to work in the studio, reestablishing routines and sustaining my momentum. It has been a surprise and a relief to find myself truly enjoying working through this little production run, and to be able to work at my previous 3 to 4 hour stints with ease. No sense of drudgery, no checking the clock and wondering why the hands had hardly moved, little frustration thinking through steps and material selections, no physical draining. This is the way creating should be, should feel. It's good to have it back. I'm encouraged and hopeful that I may have finally gotten on top of those medical issues that have been holding me back all year.

Oh look! An elastic cord the perfect color.

So even though I've missed that marketing deadline, and I really should be tending to my Christmas cards, I'm not setting these aside to be finished up later. It's a little something I need to do for myself, seeing this through to completion, remembering how I used to work, remembering how much I enjoyed doing this, looking forward to that triumphal moment when I can step back and admire what I've accomplished. I only have the closures to suss out - mostly velcro or magnets, but perhaps a button or tie or elastic on some. Then a quick application of a protectant spray and they will be ready for sale. I have to say, I am really in love with this batch, love the fabrics and all the little things I learned from them (really - a different approach to design decisions than one makes on art for the wall or quilt for the bed - a little epiphany that is probably obvious to most). And that might have a little something to do with how well they have gone. What started with a sense of obligation to a potential customer turned into a personal journey of pleasure and rediscovery.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Found My Stitch

I've completed all the decorative stitching on the covers of all 9 padfolios in progress - whew! Taking my cue from the batik lining of the first one in line, I took a big breath and started stitching what I hoped would look similar to the ferns on that batik. The thread color worked wonderfully and I found myself slipping into a familiar rhythm - not exactly the ferns but something I realized I'd used before with success. However, I can't remember where that was! Needless to say, it was delightful to find an old comfortable friend that required no marking, second guessing, stress. I used it on another cover, but the thread I chose quilted much darker than I anticipated - subtle it is not! I'm hoping the satin stitching around the outside in the same or similar color with pull it all together. Right now it sorta looks like I used the wrong color, even though those colors are in the cover fabric.

But even though I "found my stitch", the other covers led me back to the successful leaves of the first ones I did. Two with maple leaves arranged along the flow of the colors in the cover fabric, one with the big oak leaves draping across the back, front and flap. I am pleased. Now it's on to fusing on the linings and glue basting pockets in place.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Emerging From The Mire

Talk about a production!
I got bogged down last week, picking out pockets and linings for my padfolios. One of the days I decided I could not move forward if I didn't commit to at least some of the combinations I had paired up with covers. Starting with one I was pretty excited about, I carefully lined up my ruler on the piece of fabric that was just wide enough and a bit deeper than what I needed and made my first cut. Tossed the inches-wide excess to the side. Placed the lining over the cover, only to discover it was inches short in depth. I immediately sensed what had happened, that I'd placed the 15" square-up ruler sideways. Essentially I was lining things up from the 15" mark down when it should have been the 1" mark at the top. And yes, no more of that fabric. As silly mistakes can often do, it threw everything else off for me - you know how that goes. So it was back to pulling even more fabric, stacks everywhere! Yesterday, I finally made my last decision and cut, and put away every unused piece of fabric and a few extra linings and pockets that I decided against. I even discovered under one pile that rust rectangle at the bottom of the picture - now what was that for, a lining? Truly can't remember, but it's ready to go! 

Four down, five more to go. Gotta ramp it up!

The stacks of fabric have been replaced by stacks of padfolio pairings ready for stitching. And now I feel the second guessing setting in - no doubt because of all the second guessing I found myself doing over the pockets and lines. I've said before that I probably spend too much time fussing over them, but I do want the insides to be as interesting as the outsides and to look like they go with them. Ditto for choosing thread color and stitching designs. I thought I'd try something different on these two - outlining the dye resist designs in the one (not sure that worked so well), running diagonal lines across the other. The diagonals took more time than I anticipated; I ended up laying down tape and stitching on either side of it, then up through the middle so my diagonals wouldn't go too far astray. I free-motion stitched the lines with imperfection in mind - gentle wavering (not sure about this one either). I think for the next group I'm going back to leaves...

Friday, November 27, 2015

Belated Greetings

What a motley crew...but it's MY motley crew!
Belated wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to my readers who celebrate that. Even though I wasn't entertaining guests or being one myself, I did pop a turkey breast in the oven and fix yams, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce to enjoy while remembering my recent family gathering. I believe this is the only picture we got of all of us together, thanks to the quick thinking of a nephew and an accommodating waitress. We're a family of storytellers and the storytelling pretty much trumped thoughts of picture-taking since some of us hadn't sat in the same room together for years.

While the turkey roasted, I got in a little more work on the new batch of padfolios. That is, once I'd reintroduced myself to my sewing machine. I swear, when I sat down and turned it on, it said, "Excuse me, do I know you?" Then after setting it up for freemotion stitching, it got testy. Needle would go down but the presser foot failed to follow so I kept getting error messages. So I apologized profusely for neglecting it all these months while focusing on beading and other things. Eventually it forgave me and we got down to work. (But truly this is a worry - possible signs of a motherboard going south.) 

This is my homage to my recent spate of fall color palette photos I guess. You may recognize the oak leaves as ones I cut into stamps. I still had the test prints so it was easy to trace the leaf outlines onto freezer paper lightbox style and use them as templates to quilt around rather than actually stamping images onto the fabric. I do not have the skill to quilt these particular leaves unmarked and this method relieves the stress. Thread choice is always a hold-your-breath proposition for me, even using the "pooling" method of auditioning. I was thrilled that this King Tut variegated thread worked just like I'd envisioned.

Here you can see how I used these templates, in this case maple leaves ironed to another cover for the same process. Once the outline is stitched, the template is peeled away so the veins can be stitched. In this case I used a red-orange YLI machine quilting thread with a very subtle medium to dark variegation.

I'd decided to use the red for several reasons, including this solid red fabric I'd chosen for the lining. I'm thinking I'll use a different thread for the satin stitching to finish the edge, probably the King Tut variegated thread you see here which has some yellow in it. I think it will pull things together. I'm also thinking I might like to introduce a bit of color on the leaves, judiciously with the Derwent Inktense pencils.

These are the only two padfolios of the bunch with autumn themes but I like this idea so well I no doubt will use it again. What do you think? 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Linings and Pockets

This is what happens when you go back to work...

I was only going to do the first fusing of the Peltex to the nine padfolio covers I had cut (I'd found one more fabric in the stack that I decided to use) and get right down to adding some decorative stitching to them. But no - it was too enticing to start rifling through my stash for coordinating linings and pockets fabric first. Rather than experiencing the frustration of past such rifling, i.e. how could I have so much fabric and not have anything that works, I found myself moving from one area when it came up zilch to the next without any of that negativity. And I found some very cool pairings. I've not finalized all of them yet, but have options for all. I think it will become clearer which to use once the stitching is done.

And I've been doing a little knitting in the mornings and evenings while catching up on favorite tv shows. I love the way this hand-painted wool yarn I bought back in September is working up. The darker colors blend more than this photo would imply, but that green really does pop, just a few stitches worth at a time. It's a bit like looking down through water to see the kelp floating under the surface. You can just make out the zigzag pattern I am using for the first time. Really loving it as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The "Fresh" Factor

Perhaps you remember me saying I'd be taking a fresh look at ideas for padfolio covers. One of those ideas would be to reassess my collection of hand-dyed fabrics, the ones with lots of texturing and patterning. I had one of those little epiphanies that I should have had a lot earlier, something that would make determining the suitability of a fabric easier. I've taken a piece of plexiglass from a 12 x 16 inch frame and marked it with the outline of a padfolio as well as lines delineating the front, back and flap. I know - probably an obvious move but one that eluded me even though I've done essentially the same thing with a template in my computer program where I test out photo manipulations for my covers. But when working with actual fabric, I've been squinting instead and trying to envision in my head where those breaks between front and back and flap fall, just where proper placement might be. No more! You can see above how well this works. It would be even better if I trimmed off the excess plexiglass but I don't think I have the proper tools for a clean break along those lines. I've already experienced how easily it cracks when I picked it up along the center of one side - thus the masking tape around the edges.

So I've made a start at that assessing of the stash with a stack of smaller pieces out of my late friend's stash, pieces hard to categorize as one color or another, or patterned in a one-of-a-kind way that make them difficult to file away in my stash (which you KNOW is organized by color). Here you can see a few of the eight covers I cut, some of which will have leaves quilted over them, some of which the stitching is still to be determined (perhaps just straight parallel lines), some of which might even get a little stamping. Some have pockets cut from fabric left over from their cover but most pieces weren't big enough for that. I'll pick out pocket and lining fabric after the decorative stitching is done.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Things I've Been Saving To Share

A new tangle. This is the little notebook where I copy the step-outs for future reference. Besides loving to use Zentangles as frames, I also love the ones that overlap and intertwine. They lend such complexity (and this one creates a frame as well) but when you know the sequence of steps, are really quite simple to draw. This one, called Umble, can also be shaded in different ways, other marks drawn in the center rather than blacking it out, as seen in the bottom two squares.

Why I ask what you think and truly want an honest answer.
“It is hard to judge your own work, no matter who you are. If you are successful, there is the added danger that people might not be honest. My wife, by the way, is absolutely fantastic—she has no ­respect for me. I can hand her a script and she will tell me straight out that it’s boring. And that’s invaluable.”

- Michael Haneke
And why, perhaps, I find it so hard to be satisfied with some of my work.
"If we never felt pleasure from anything we wrote, we’d stop; but if we were completely satisfied, if we didn’t feel the urge to move beyond what we have accomplished or to take on a new challenge, we’d lose interest…" Peter Turchi on Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” for writers

A 3rd century bce silver plaque from a horse harness. I'm a little obsessed with Celtic designs and this is an early one. So very many of them were based on threes, in my book not the easiest configuration to get even. Surely I can find someplace to incorporate this.

A thought I appreciated hearing. I'll be the first to admit that my design skills are often lacking (which is why I've been turning to art journaling exercises). You can depend just so much on "serendipity" and "working intuitively" before it catches up with you. But I swear, many quilt and multi-media artists don't get that. And so it was affirming to run across this on Laura Kemshall's blog:
My aim with these classes is to help the students make the art quilts that they want to make. I think three things are needed - ideas, design and technique. Ideas must always be the students own, technique is easy to come by, it's design that's the tricky one. Knowing what to do and why, understanding why a design 'works' and why another doesn't, that's what I think is often the step that's not covered so much, and the one that we've been tackling bit by bit in our Adventures.

Vickie Moore's recycled catalogue card

Something that made me sad and led to something that made me smile. I'm so old school about so many things, and really do miss the old library card catalogs. It hadn't occurred to me that there was some central place that printed and sent out these cards, but there was...emphasis on the "was". I learned this from a Smithsonian article, The Card Catalog Is Officially Dead. Shed a tear... However, the source that led me there also led me to several sites showing how artists are using the discarded cards from libraries that have converted to computerized versions (and yes, there are still some holdouts). Most of these endeavors left me cold. Sure, you can take a bunch of cards and put them together to make a dress, or some other object with no connection to the cards themselves. But not artist Vickie Moore, interviewed here. "I use obsolete library card catalogue cards as canvases for miniature pieces of art.  The subjects, authors and titles on the cards help suggest imagery for me to use." Her mouse on a motorcycle above really did make me smile and I loved that the text on the card and the imagery of the art were related.

Three more silk ties. Yes, this is an addiction. I may need an intervention. Pickings were mighty slim at the two second hand shops along my walk. Why I even went in is up for speculation - I think I was in a mood. So I was a little relieved that there were only a few ties on display at either place, and those not of the silk variety. And yet, a few days later, I was back at one of them, actually to see if a large pottery vase was still there (the teal glaze caught my eye not to mention the $1.99 price tag). The vase was gone, but a few more ties had been put out. Now do you blame me for picking up these beauties? I might actually gift one of these to a nephew who wears ties to work.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Is It Done?

You wouldn't know it from the blog (and my lack of posts thereon) but I have been diligently working to finish up Masks. I finished stitching beads into the eyes of the antler buttons I'd glued in place, wondered if I should add more buttons, then decided I'd know better after I got rid of that excess batting and backing along the edge. I'd originally intended to apply a facing following the natural unevenness of the edge, but two things changed my mind as I proceeded with the beading. First of all, I became very fond of that soft raveled edged all round. It seemed to play up the tribal feeling of the masks. But more importantly, I realized that especially along the bottom, I had not left enough room past some of the beading for a seam allowance. Still, I needed to do something along that edge in place of the basting stitches that would be removed. I settled on an uneven cross-stitch similar to what I'd done around the eye squares. As I was trying to decide whether to use the blue or the reddish pink thread that had gone around the squares and knowing that neither was probably right, my eyes finally picked up on the fact that I'd purposely used a variegated brown thread to quilt areas near the edges. Ahh - perfect tie-in.

I'd run the quilting stitches all the way out to the edge thinking they'd be caught in a seam. Now I needed to trim away the batting so it wouldn't show but not inadvertently trim away any of the raveled threads, and I'd given myself very little wiggle room in which to do that. After trying different scissors, I settled on these duckbill applique ones. The batting is Hobbs Thermore which is a thin polyester, and it cut away quite easily if I held the excess taut and angled the scissors just so. I managed only one nick in the backing fabric and no loss of fringe - pretty good in my book.

But now what to do about the backing? I considered trimming it flush with the top and fringing it out too but I sensed the edges could use a little stabilizing. I decided to try trimming it so I could turn it twice to the back, leaving about a half inch "facing" that I stitched in place with a running stitch. I felt the running stitch would give a bit more stability than a slip stitch along the edge and now that it is done, I think I am right. And of course, it is totally reversible if I change my mind and want to go back to the idea of fringing it like the front.

Here's how it looks from the front - free fringe, no batting or backing showing, and somewhat primitive-looking cross-stitches. For all the well-meaning people who over the years have advised me to loosen up, told me I was too uptight and concerned about perfection, I say, HERE! I CAN do it...but I must feel it is appropriate to do so. This quilt told me it must be that way and it got no argument from me.

Now it went up on the design wall for a good look. I'd used the equivalent of Cocoa Chanel's admonition to "Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory" with my "face" buttons when auditioning them. I'd pretty much put everything I had somewhere on this quilt before admitting that they were taking over, not adding to the story. A lot of them got set aside, and later I could see why specific ones needed to be left off, even if the quilt called for more buttons. I still had one of three similar ones that I decided needed to be added back on to fill a space and perhaps help move the eye but it was an iffy call. I decided to plunge ahead and just add it. I really like those red beads in the eyes.

The final rendition of Masks? (26W x 29L)

So it is finished - well, except for sleeve and label - or so I thought. When it went back up on the design wall for this picture, I started having second thoughts. At one point I'd toyed with the idea of dangling some wooden beads along the bottom then dismissed needing them. They fit the theme and have dark markings that might balance out that dark right edge. I'd have to mix some other beads in but I think I have something that would work. I'm wondering if they would be the final touch to pull it all together. And I'm also wondering if I should add another round of beads in the hat of the right mask. I've used every single green bead but still have some of the red and white. Also wondering if I should bead some white lines in the upper portion of the left mask hat. Or am I fiddling too much? I just suddenly found my eye a bit confused at what it was seeing so of course thought adding more beads was the answer. What do you think?