Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ready for Layering

Before and after piecing a 4" block

Thursday was a rare day when I found myself caught up and not having to run any errands, i.e., no distractions to disrupt hours of studio time. Can't tell you how excited I was to greet the day knowing this and dive back into the sea and sand quilt. I started with this smallest section which I laid out on my 6 inch square ruler. This quilt is made up of just uneven 9-patch blocks with 4-patches in each corner, but the designer, Tammy Silvers, has made them more interesting by stretching them this way and that. This small block and the large block below it are the only totally square blocks in the top. Been a terribly long time since I pieced small blocks like this; the 4-patch squares are cut at 1-1/4 x 1-1/4, the finished block just 4 inches square plus seam allowances.

Finished top @ 41" x 52"

Fortunately, the other sections are mostly large blocks that went together quickly, not all on Thursday, but finished up yesterday. Time to consider backing, check to see if I have the proper batting and get it layered up for quilting.

Using someone else's pattern is always a bit of a leap of faith. It does you no good if there's an error that is corrected in the next issue of the magazine or on-line - what are the chances that you would notice that? So with each section that went together perfectly and then sections themselves also joining together perfectly, there was a smile of relief. This has been such an enjoyable project, and I'm having the rare thought that I'd like to make it again in different colors. I'm generally a "once is enough, too many other patterns to try" sort of gal. Not sure why this one has me thinking differently. If you're interested in this pattern, you can purchase the back issue of Quilter's Newsletter Magazine that it appeared in here (October/November 2015).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Peek at the Art Group Meeting

Meg's tree house
I'm beginning to think of my "Third Mondays" art group as "Third Mondayish" because of our flexibility in adjusting the Monday we meet on to accommodate scheduling conflicts among our small membership. Such was the case this month, which saw us moving our meeting to this week - the fourth Monday of the month. Even so, one member bowed out at the last minute, prompting me to grab my camera so we could at least share some photos with her. Which means I have photos to share with you as well! First up, Meg is still working on additions to her tree, first done up in sketchbooks or ipad apps, then enlarged where she starts auditioning fabrics and thinking about technical issues of execution - doors and windows that open and a railing that sits out from the house to add children behind. This will be a tree house - you can see how it will sit in the tree if you spot the small mock-up laying on it in the upper right. She also had a full-size drawing of a girl to sit in the swing.

Cheryl's Heart

This might look familiar. Our newest member, Cheryl, had brought this to her first meeting looking for help. With our suggestions, she went home and successfully finished it, with additions of quilting and paint sticks applied in areas that needed emphasis. Compare to this "before" shot here.

Hanging rod for the heart quilt

She sewed tabs at the top for a dowel, one she covered with paper towels she uses to mop up during dye sessions and then sealed with decoupage. Even under close inspection, one would never suspect one was looking at the humble paper towel.

Cheryl's marbling experiment

She also brought these pieces which were experiments in marbling. Not perfect or spectacular, she noted, but still maybe worthy of doing something with. They represent three steps - first fabric that was dyed and turned out very light, then marbling over that, and finally doing a more controlled marbling technique to form the branches and leaves. Cheryl said it made her think of peacock feathers. I found this so delicate and with an oriental flavor.

A different way to work with the marbled panels

With a bit of altering orientation and overlapping to line up the branches, we presented this to her. It will be interesting to see where she goes with it from here.

Kavi's quilt is coming together

I used the deadline of the meeting to once again push me along to have some progress to show. I made my final fabric selections and cut the last pieces for the baby quilt and got 3 sections sewn so I could talk about the personal challenge of moving away from matchy matchy.

Sea and Sand ready to sew down off the design wall

Back home, I'd gotten all the pieces up on the design wall. Yes, there are other fabrics awaiting better formation of ideas encroaching but I didn't want to clear them off. I pinned the pattern diagram to the side of the area where the pieces were going up, my road map telling me where and which direction each letter labeled piece should go. Within those stacks of various size pieces, I'd allowed some variations in. For instance, if there were 8 of "A", 6 might be a dark blue and the other two a lighter blue. Most of the blues were not quite fat quarters so I just cut pieces with as little waste as I could muster until the fabric was gone and moved on to the next fabric in the stack. I'd occasionally check the photo in the pattern for distribution of light and dark to have a better idea of what I should be cutting, and I was very pleased at the distribution of my various fabrics as they went up on the wall.

The selections while cutting, though, did not proceed without a little pushback and unease from that conservative voice in my head. This section is a good example of the push and pull. Although the dark blue isn't navy and (perhaps not so much in this photo) does have a leaning toward green, I was uneasy pairing it with blues that were more aqua in nature. Then there was the muted one on the left that was very teal in comparison, so much so I nearly didn't include it. Yet in smaller proportions, it works really well. As for those two batiks, I hadn't intended to use both, was leaning towards the one on the bottom even though much of its background was very teal. Maybe the one with the bluer background would work better but certainly the two together would not be a good choice. But I was really warming to this "sea and sand" theme suggested by Hilary, and that foliage in the teal batik looked very much like kelp to me now. Wouldn't you know, there wasn't enough of either batik on their own, so the decision was made for me - both would go in the quilt and I would just have to hope they looked ok together. Of course, they look great, and Meg pointed out she really liked the variety in that one had quite delicate foliage while the other was bolder. Yes, good point!

Arrows point to 3rd batik

Even so, I cut every bit of both batiks, again less than a fat quarter each, and still needed eight 2 x 2-1/2 inch pieces and eight 2-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch pieces. Both of these batiks are quite old and I couldn't find another batik in my stash that was close. I considered substituting that muted teal hand-dye, but it was already in use. I considered several batiks with one or the other color represented but they simply did not blend. I laid in bed Saturday night, analyzing the one batik in my head, thinking about the sections of it that had smudges of a muted plum so popular during that time period. I mentally went through my batik stash, focusing on those plums that I've found so hard to incorporate, and thought I'd found one that might work. Sunday, I went through my batiks for the 3rd or 4th time and found those plum batiks and sure enough, one of them did pick up on that plum and had enough leaf patterning to keep it from sticking out like a sore thumb. The other batiks I'd left out as last ditch choices went back in the stash. I cut those last pieces, put them in place and smiled. It worked!

I almost feel silly making such a big deal out of mixing up a range of colors. It's the basis of good scrap quilts and constantly found in advice on how to make your quilts "sing". It's one thing to know the theory though, and quite another to carry it out when one's mindset has always been concerned with a particular fabric standing out in a bad way and finding it hard not to be put off by the juxtaposition of certain colors which results in an involuntary cringe. I envy those who can just pull colors I'd never think to put together and have them work so well. I'm glad for the opportunity of this simple quilt to observe my thought processes and push past the invalid ones. I can see how the choices that are unconventional for me are leading to a more visually interesting quilt, one I hope in the end will sparkle like the sea. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Trees, Flowers, and a Blog

Friend and art group member Meg of the Unforgettable Tree has revamped her website and resumed blogging in earnest. Do go take a peak at and leave a comment so she doesn't feel she is talking to the ether. As she promised, she has been adding bits to the tree every few weeks. Look for a robin and its nest, a little girl watering plants and more leaves. You may also find her process of interest. For instance, the additions to the tree on exhibit are auditioned first on a similar prototype tree living in her studio.

And now for some real flora. I finished up "putting in my garden" over the weekend with this final find to round out the color in the planters on my deck. This one will be an orangy yellow and tall, and I was quite amused at what I read when I turned back the tag. Now THAT'S my kind of plant - abuse me please! No full picture of the garden yet as not everything is in bloom, but the pansies have been replenished, I added some very spicy-smelling carnations (for which I had to scare up a suitable planter) and the dianthus has wintered over yet again.

I'm quite pleased with the geraniums I found this year. I've been looking for Ivy geranium for the copper washtub for years to no avail. I remember a "Martha Washington" variety that looked so lovely in it, back when I lived in a turn of the century house with a big front porch that was the perfect spot for the washtub turned planter. And then I wasn't seeing any ivy geranium at all. The blooms on these are quite a bit smaller than the variety of geraniums I've been enjoying the last few years. That's ok - I was ready for a change. How is your garden growing?


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Blame It On The Hat

I pass by two thrift shops on my daily walk - no other route out of my development. Many days I find the siren song strong as I lalala my way past and thank my lucky stars I don't carry cash or credit card with me on these walks. But the other day, I cut through the parking lot of one, getting too close to the windows, spotting a display of straw hats just inside the door. And the next thing I knew, I was in the door and trying them on.

I'd had that fleeting thought, would I really want to wear a hat that had been on someone else's head - a somewhat ewww-inducing thought. But look! Every so often the thrift stores get brand new merchandise and that was the case with the hats. I'd been wanting something with a bigger brim, and who could argue with "organic naturally harvested raffia". And since the profits from this thrift shop go to the adjoining animal shelter, I was even prepared to pay the $26.95 price. I liked the way it looked and made a mental note to come back with money in a day or two.

And I'm sure you can guess what else I checked as long as I was there (siren song, siren song), even though they are always at the very back of the store and I hardly need any more to add to a huge stash I seldom tap into. Yes, I just HAD to see what they had in the way of silk ties. This thrift shop rarely has silk ones so it felt somewhat safe, but I should have known. I moved these to a hook in the back and made a mental note to come back maybe sooner than in a few days.
On the swing back out to the front door, I checked housewares for some small water glasses - I've been breaking ones I've had for years at an alarming rate lately and am not particularly enamored of what I am finding in the stores. Goodness, there were 4 matching ones, no chips, that caught my eye and felt good in my hand. Definitely coming back. And when I did, another silk tie had appeared - a rare find. You just don't find them in such a light value very often and I couldn't believe this yellow one had nary a spot or snag.

You have to admit, great graphics on these. They were only 99 cents each. And when my total purchase of ties, hat and glasses was under $13, I was puzzled. The hat alone was more than that. Take a closer look at the tags in the photo - that pink sticker on the left one was the thrift shop price. Wow - what steal!

And then it struck me that this is pretty much the palette I'm working with on the baby quilt. Progress is slow - it's been an unusually busy week for out of the house appointments and errands, and the cutting instructions a bit fussy requiring rapt attention and the old "measure twice, cut once" routine. So many pieces in so many sizes, some only varying from another by a half inch in one direction. It's been quite awhile since I've followed a pattern like this, and it took a bit to brush off the cobwebs of how to approach it. Organization is key - thus the pencil notations on the pattern instructions and the sticky notes labeling different pieces. Not sure how clear it is in the photo, but it occurred to me that the main yellow I am using is quite dulled and I'd pulled one brighter, clearer hand-dye with the idea that it would add some spark. Normally I look at that kind of color pairing and instinctively think one or the other will stand out like a sore thumb. And then I am disappointed when my finished quilt looks a little flat. So with the photo of the ombre fabrics in the pattern as my guide, I cut a few of the pieces of this brighter yellow. I also discovered some brighter areas of the dull yellow when I unfolded the pieces I had so made sure they got in the mix as well. Next up - the blues!   

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Building a potential palette for Kava's quilt
I've been itchin' to get going on this project. It's one of two baby quilts I'm making for my godkid's babies to come, both due in June. Except, one of the babes decided mid-April was a better time to arrive. Ack! I was thinking I'd have a hard enough time making a sometime-in-June deadline and I hadn't even pulled fabrics when the announcement came. Because the baby was early, he's spending extra time in the hospital (everything ok - just needs to grow a bit before they'll let him go home) so I've got a little breathing space. . .

When I saw this quilt in Quilter's Newsletter Magazine (Nov/Dec 2015 issue), I was drawn to the color palette (the rich golds and teal blues I love) and its manipulation of a standard block to provide a more interesting and asymmetrical design. The maker used ombre fabrics but I could see no reason why my hand-dyes wouldn't work in a similar way. At least, that's the challenge I've set for myself since I will be saving time by not coming up with a design of my own. Why not? Not everything I make has to be an original design (she reminds herself because truly, she sometimes feels guilty when she doesn't).

I would have started on this sooner, such was my excitement about it, but I had those other earlier deadlines of ArtWalk and Slice Quilt and some other things to tend to. And actually, I should work on another small piece for ArtWalk (which hangs mid June). But I am letting my heart have its way for now. The fabrics have been pulled and the cutting has begun!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

From Photo To Fabric

Finally finding a minute to show you my experience with the slice quilt challenge I teased at the end of this post. If you are not familiar with slice quilts, follow the link there for a fairly good general description. Otherwise, I think you will quickly catch on. Above is what each of us were given to work with independently of each other: The article from Quilting Arts magazine about one group's adventure in slice quilts (and which gave our organizer the idea to try this) and a copy of the reference photo (one her husband had taken). Our packets also included a grey-scale full-size copy of our particular slice of the photo (mine was the first slice on the left) and additional instructions pertinent to our challenge. We were told we could use any technique, style, colors and fabrics (as long as we stuck to quilting-weight cottons).

I've worked from photos before and know that my natural tendency is to interpret them literally as opposed to using them as a starting point. So as I studied the photo and my slice, I tried to keep that in mind, especially that I didn't have to include every detail in the shot. Still, I couldn't help wondering what the others would do and how closely they would adhere to what they saw in the photo. And we all had to remember that certain areas had to match up to the adjoining slice, like the roof lines. So working independently but not entirely. Well, I decided, some things are a given. The sky is blue and the grass is green so I can start there in my stash hunt. And I have lots of texture fabrics bought with tree trunks in mind that would work perfectly for barn siding. I pulled a lot of browns before realizing that was my silly left brain assuming all barns are brown, even though I'd studied this photo often and knew THIS barn was grey. Not to worry - I had grey bark fabric too. I admit to briefly wondering if the others would make their barns grey, or would this be a place where they would stray? I spent moments in indecision over this, eventually deciding that of course they would make their barns grey, and even if they didn't, I liked the grey fabric I'd found. Yes, I am easily influence!

I'd decided on raw edge fusing for the most part, but because of using the tacky Steam-a-Seam which didn't always get covered with another fabric on the back, I opted to work on a muslin base. Here I've centered the slightly oversized piece on top of the full-size photocopy to pencil in the outer edge and placement lines for the barn pieces. I'd planned to remove the copy, but liked how well I could see it through the muslin, so left it in place as I started to build my barn. The Steam-a-Seam allowed me to cut the holes in the back of the barn and the windows areas, slip the other fabrics underneath and then fuse the barn sections to the muslin base. The grey bark fabric was so dark that I used the lighter "wrong" side instead.

Remember that I said I was struggling with that roof when I showed my progress to the art group? After much auditioning and digging deep into my many stashes, the fabric that worked the best was a shirting fabric from the days when I made my husband's shirts (eons ago when men with long arms had difficulty finding long sleeved shirts that actually fell past their wrists). It is 100% cotton but a bit thin and looked so blah - even with the stripe that was to emulate the corrugated roofs so often seen on barns. In my search for something more suitable, maybe something with a little pattern to it, I checked a lot of wrong sides of fabrics and made an interesting discovery. Many light fabrics are not printed on a white base fabric, but on an off-white one. Any bit of not pure whiteness just looked wrong next to these greys and black. So it was back to my shirting fabric and laying it over other fabrics. I'd been thinking along these lines even before the art group suggested it and we were right. Fusing it to the textured fabric here (which had been abandoned as both a barn and a roofing solution) beefed it up a bit and its darker texturing just shows through enough to make me think of moss or dirt or other things that end up on an aging barn's roof.

The boards around the door and upper window are yet another grey fabric - just a bit lighter to help them stand out. I could have done raw edge fusing here but I couldn't get past the thought that turning under the edges would give them a more sitting on top look. I did put fusible on the back, the exact dimension of each piece, but then cut with an allowance that I turned to the back. My thinking was that the allowance would then fuse into place, and that mostly was the case, but with too much overlap to leave some fusible exposed for the final placement. Where I did not fuse (like the roof section and these boards), I used basting glue to hold things in place until I could add some stitching. I realized, to my surprise, that were I quilting this myself, much of the detail and final attaching would have been done in the quilting. Since I could not depend on the quilter to read my mind and instinctively know what areas needed going over, I ended up doing some stitching close to the edge. And the overall problem with the disappearing roof edge where similar valued roof and sky meet was solved by a narrow satin stitching with a twist thread before attaching it to the muslin base with a straight stitch.

Now to customize it! I planned to use one piece of fabric for the grass, but "fringe" the top a bit where the photo shows the tall grass coming up above the base of the barn. I only added fusible to that top edge, penciling in the grass on the paper backing to guide my cuts. I could audition against the photocopy as I went along.

Before fusing it in place, I added a fussycut motorcycle in the barn (you may remember how my late husband loved motorcycles and I loved riding with him), and built up what I hoped would look like a lilac bush in full bloom along the side of the barn (where in the photo was only piled up brush and tree limbs). Lilacs bring back pleasant childhood memories of spring Sunday drives in the country, my dad always looking for abandoned farmhouses or barns where we likely would find these beauties and cut big bouquets to bring home. Now I could fuse the grass in place with that fringed area overlapping cycle and bush, and add the last bit of personalizing - a dog! I was hoping one of the dogs from my Labrador retriever fabric would work, since most of my life this was the breed of dog underfoot. Alas, the proportions were off (would have looked like giant mutant puppies), but Meg from the art group remembered she had some Dalmatian fabric. I'll take it! Those puppies on it were just the right size, and the blue bandana ties in with the blue sky and the blue on the motorcycle.

And because there was so little else going on in the upper part of my slice, I added this hawk. I remember watching hawks so often when I lived in Wisconsin, and this one fell out of a piece of "woodland creatures" fabric when I unfolded it - already with fusible on the back and cut out. One of those guess this was meant to be moments.

One last detail also helps with that grand expanse of uninteresting sky. As I peered at the original photo, I noticed faintly in the distance where sky meets land a few telephone poles. Easy to stitch, using the same black/grey twist thread I used in the satin stitching of the roof, and I traveled between poles just on the edge of the grass fabric which had been turned under as opposed to seamed. I think you can really see the textured fabric shadowing through on the roof in this picture. There - I think I am done.

Time to fuse everything needing fusing down, run a line of basting just outside the binding line to hold the top and muslin together where there was no fusible, and check it against the full-size photocopy. Ahhhh - perfection!

Here it is before the final trimming, next to the full-size "pattern". Nothing overly creative here, but true to myself with touches that anyone knowing me would recognize and know this was my slice without being told. And yes, still a bit literal and conservative. I need to work on that. Because. . .

In Slice Order: Sheila Barnes, Alice Weickelt, Mary Carlson, Wanda Meinen

. . . here are all four slices together, before quilting. Yes, my Wisconsin ladies went a bit wild and let their imaginations go for a romp. I look at this and can't help thinking those other slices look a bit like an unruly group of children and mine looks like the playground teacher saying "Kids! Kids! Settle down! ;-)  What a great experience though. As with nearly every project I take on, I learn something valuable about myself, and something valuable about design and technique that I take forward into the next challenge. I'm so pleased my friend Mary thought to include me and that I agreed to take on the challenge!