Monday, November 27, 2017

Tamping Down the Second Guessing

Should I or shouldn't I? The safe bet was to do nothing, but I didn't feel like being safe. I wanted to add a little stitching along the edge of the fused center square. My sewing machine has minimal embroidery stitches by most standards, and still far more than I ever use. I had it in my head that #40 on the second row would give the jagged look I wanted, even though I had vague memory of thinking the same before and ditching it for another stitch. #41 turned out to be the ticket, although not at default stitch and width it turned out, and not without trying other options first. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

When in doubt, stitch it out. I started with the short sample on top and right away, my chosen stitch was too dense and didn't look all that jagged. I also tried numbers 17 through 20, this time remembering I could fiddle with changing the default settings. Everything looked too regimented or too dense, until I went back to #41 and experimented with stretching it out. Oooo - onto something there! So I started stitching it out on a longer strip, inking the settings on the fabric with each change.

I'd already done the "visualizing" stare-down with Leaf Cluster VII on the design wall, and knew I needed those samples up there to aid in my visualizations. That's how I came to a fairly quick conclusion that nothing on the first sample was right. Now it was a matter of deciding which of the settings for #41 would do what I wanted, if any of them would. As I sat pondering it on the wall, I actually said out loud, "Come on, Wild Woman. Where are you when I need you?" It would have been very easy to back out at that point, but the Wild Woman in a bottle said, "Oh for Pete's sake. GO for it!" She even allowed me a minute to apply some design logic to the choice, just to make me a little more comfortable.

That logic was one of repeating a motif or shape throughout a design. As I studied the quilt and the stitches, I saw the similarity in the pointy shapes the stitch pattern made to the bits of cutaway texture from the stamp that had printed here and there, and the pointy ends of the diamonds in the border fabric. It all went together.

It's a subtle addition, that round  of jagged stitching. It would have been fine without it, I think, but if I'm not going to try out things in the course of finishing up the leaf clusters already printed, where will I? This will have about a half inch trimmed off all around for it to fit in a 14 inch square metal frame. When I use this kind of frame, I usually attach the quilt to a piece of foam core board, but wouldn't you know it, the leftovers on hand are not big enough and I don't have another full-size board in the closet. Luckily, an office supply store is minutes away. I'm moving along with less dilly dallying over details and options it would seem, and thus with less anxiety. But Tick Tock, exhibit deadline is not far off so must stay focused. Which made this recent cartoon in my newspaper so apropos.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017


While waiting to make the final decision on positioning what will be Leaf Cluster VI in its frame (see previous post and the comments for the outcome), I moved on to the next one. I've been fussing with it off and on ever since I held my breath and placed the stamp down on a carefully cut and arranged group of triangles that were fused to a batik background. I wasn't happy with the paint color, as I recall, and I don't think it was a very even print either (I can't find any post-printing photos). After printing up other fabric with unmixed red paint, I decided to try overprinting with that red paint to bring back some of the red that was missing in the first attempt. I came very close to landing the stamp in the exact same spot as the first time, close enough to be happy.

But when it went up on the design wall once the paint was dry, I noticed that at certain angles, I was getting a sort of glare off the paint that wasn't happening on any of the other prints. I still don't know for sure what caused it, although I think I may have mixed too much textile medium into the acrylic paint. But I do know that it has kept me from taking the next step.

I tried several things to get rid of the shine/glare/milky look that wasn't there looking straight on at it. And since the leaves were now quite red, I did a bit of stippling over it with a black permanent brush pen, hoping that it would also have the effect of getting rid of the glare. I like that addition of black, but it did nothing to tone down that glare (again, no photos).

But I'd determined that it would be one I'd definitely finish for the upcoming exhibit. Time to dive in. I'd already mulled framing over binding (it will be framed in a metal frame that gives the look of binding), and backing it with Decor Bond only vs layering with felt. I'd pulled it from the wall and was about make that last decision about stabilizer or felt when I was hit with that glare again. Arghhhh - I couldn't do it. I had to see if I could rid the glare.

Leaf Print overpainted with Marabu Textil plus
And this is when the reckless part kicked in. I do not know where it came from because I'm usually ruled by caution if not actual fear, but perhaps this is the beauty of working in a series. Suddenly, no one piece becomes precious because you have a ton of them you're going to play with. I was never going to be comfortable with it and that glare so a what-do-I-have-to-lose feeling came over me. Next thing I knew, the piece was laid out in my paint area, the batik border masked off, and I was getting brush and acrylic paint out - neither of which I feel adept with. First I tried the same acrylic paint I had stamped with, except without any textile medium - no need as this was paint on paint. It had no effect, probably because it is not an opaque paint. But wait! I'd recently purchased a few colors of Marabu opaque Textil plus paint including a red because I'd been so disappointed with how my Liquitex Acrylic had failed to pop off dark backgrounds. If anything will work, this will.

Both of my cameras struggle to capture the true colors in these batiks

And it did! I carefully painted it on and it started to cover the black pen stipples. When dry, I tipped the cloth at an angle to catch the light and no glare. I re-stippled to tone down the red a bit, and spray-basted it to felt in preparation for stitching.

Funny what I wild woman I felt, wielding my paint brush over my shiny leaves. I wish I could bottle that feeling to counter those times when I'm stuck in my usual timid approach to my textile art.

Maybe a bit of that wild woman confidence stuck with me though. I haven't spent nearly the time pondering the quilting and the color of threads to do it in as I did on the other leaf clusters. I outlined the leaf cluster in the burgundy thread but did not echo it. It doesn't show much but it doesn't need to. Then I traced around the irregular lines in the batik with my finger to get a sense for which ones to follow so that the quilting would more or less spiral into the middle rather than make concentric squares. It too doesn't show a great deal unless you are close up but again, it doesn't need to.

If I had used Decor Bond to stabilize this, I would not need to stitch out into the border at all - the main reason I started experimenting with it. But I went with the felt because I instinctively wanted to run stitching around those diamond shapes. I was a tiny bit iffy about using the same color of variegated thread out there as used against the rusty batik, but it only took a few lines of stitching to know it was just fine, pulling me away from my usual matchy matchy inclinations.

I've finished quilting diagonally in both directions now, those wonkily placed diamond shapes now reminding me of fluttering leaves which strike me as the perfect backdrop for the leaf cluster star of the show. It certainly wasn't on my mind as I audition fabrics to properly set off the square upon which that cluster would be stamped. Happy accident? My next step is to test a satin stitch that alternates varying lengths of stitch width to give a jagged effect. I'm thinking I want to add that to the edge of the square where it meets the "border" batik, done in the burgundy thread. The vision in my head says it is the final touch while my cautious side wonders if I should leave well enough alone. Perhaps I'll get reckless again... 

Thursday, November 16, 2017


"The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art."

I love it when I run across a quotation that validates my view or way of operating that doesn't seem to be "trending" in popular circles. I was about to embark on adding the last of the parallel line quilting on the latest Leaf Clusters piece, those very short runs between leaf and stem in the last of the gaps that you can see in the picture below. I'd first done all the lines that ran edge to edge, then went back in and quilted from edge until I ran into the edge of a leaf or the stem. When I'd done the first round of quilting, spacing the lines the width of the presser foot, I didn't pull the thread tails to the back and tie them off until all the stitching was done. That left me with quite a mess on the back, sorting out threads that had tangled and in some cases been run over as I quilted along. This time I quilted up to the leaves on one side, then paused to pull tails to back and tie them off before doing the same on the other half. Much better. 

Note those very small areas between upper leaves and stem yet to be stitched

But those short runs - I remember accidentally pulling a thread all the way out, undoing the 4 or 6 stitches altogether and having to restitch. They also demand precise placement of the needle at beginning and end so no gaps show between the end of the line and the leaf or stem it is headed for, and in the case of the stems, lining up with stitching on the other side of the stem. So with the addition of these lines, I stopped after each pass to tend to the thread ends.

Slow going. And I knew it would be. But I didn't care because I did not want to be backtracking over previously stitched lines to move from one area to the next, and I didn't want to do the "tacking" stitch at starts and stops, preferring instead the clean look of the even stitches. It's my personal aesthetic and I don't care if it takes me longer. And it was nice to run across Junot Dias's quotation (from a The Daily Beast interview) that validated my decision to work this way. In this "hurry up" society, and part of the quilting world that is always flashing "quick and easy" methods at us, it's nice to be reminded that speed is not always necessary, and how much you produce is not always relevant. It's ok to take your time. And for me, taking my time is part of enjoying the process.

Through the magic of Paint Shop Pro, one positioning option

So here's a question for you. When I stamped this leaf cluster on that test print scrap, I specifically placed it down in the corner. I even made notes along the edges of the fabric about placement and which way was up. I decided it would look good in this frame, bought with several other frames when I wasn't sure which would work the best on the first Leaf Cluster I finished. It was a 10 x 10 frame, the same size I've been working with for the ones that went over stretched canvas before going in the floater frame. The piece of fabric itself is about 11 x 12 which is not big enough to wrap around the canvas, thus the decision to use a regular frame. But when I got the frame unwrapped to audition how it would look, there wasn't a lot of my little quilt showing through the window, certainly not ten inches. I got a ruler out to discover that the outside of the frame is 10 x 10 with the opening for the art being only 8-1/2 x 8-1/2. That's way more cropping than I thought I'd be doing. I decided that wasn't an altogether bad thing, so I'm proceeding with that frame, positioning it with the leaf cluster down in the corner.

Second position option - subtle shift to center

But of course, in the midst of moving things around, I suddenly had the frame positioned with the leaf cluster centered in the opening. And now I am torn, unable to decide which looks best. If this was your piece, or if you were a viewer at an exhibit, which would you think is the better positioning for this particular textile? I really want to know what you think.

As I've gone back and forth over the various decisions I've had to make on just this piece, I once again found a reassuring quotation to make me feel better about the time I've spent mulling my options. And I am taking it to heart:

"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."

Saturday, November 11, 2017


This is the view I woke up to a week ago (November 3). It was forecasted, but still a bit of a shock as to just how much snow we got, how cold it got and how long it hung around with a few lesser repeats of flurries.

Not unheard of to get snow this early around here. This is a picture of me and fellow students on the college's intramural staff taken on November 4, 1973. There was to be an intramural football game that morning and we were totally surprised to wake up to a foot of snow. After some discussion, the games went on!

Because of the direction of the wind, snow blew in under my covered deck and blanketed my little container garden. I was amused at the way the snow formed balls around the daisy-like blooms of one of the plants.

Seeing this from every window instantly changed my mood and drew me into the studio. Suddenly there was no struggle to convince myself to be in there like I experience when the weather is nicer, warmer, inviting you to spend time out in it. Which is a good thing now that Inktober is over and I need to get back to my art quilts in preparation for a December exhibit. I remember hoping during last year's Inktober that the habit formed with the daily drawing would cross over to my textile work. I can't remember all that was going on then, but do remember that I did NOT get back to daily sessions in the studio. Then again, I don't think I had any exhibit to prepare for, although I did end up working on one small piece for a Christmas present.

So as I took a few days off to catch up on things I'd put aside to accommodate the daily drawing, I thought about why I can successfully commit to a daily challenge like Inktober but not commit to daily time in the studio. The excuse of not being able to find the time obviously does not hold. The sketches took anywhere from 45 minutes to almost 3 hours in one case. Think how much I could get done in the studio if I consistently got in there for even an hour each day. Why do I keep talking myself out of it? It really is a matter of mindset, I decided, and that is when I came up with the idea of creating my own month-long challenge that I am calling Stitchvember.

I started by reassessing the pieces in the leaf cluster series that are in various stages of completion and the frames I'd recently purchased for some of them. I settled on beginning my Stitchvember challenge with this one that I'd quilted back in July. I still had some thread tails to pull to the back and tie off and was unsure whether it needed more lines of stitching or not. I'd asked that question of the art group last month and they were as iffy as I about that, but agreed it probably needed something more. Now that I auditioned what it would look like in the intended frame, with more cropping than I remembered it would get, it looked like maybe it wouldn't need more stitching after all.

But when looking at a friend's blog and how she was using Photoshop to audition motifs and paint colors she might stamp or stencil over a pieced quilt, it dawned on me that I could use my own Paint Shop Pro to add stitching to that photo I'd taken with the frame, and get a better idea than I was getting by laying down lengths of thread. It convinced me that adding more stitching is the way to go.

One suggestion from the art group that really appealed to me was that if I could somehow add some loft to the leaves, it would help them to stand out from the busy background. Since I used felt and not batting under the top, I got no real dimension under those leaves and in fact, the fabric looked a bit loose in those areas. I'd considered maybe stitching in veins, but I liked the idea of padding them better, and knew just the method. It's a faux trapunto technique where you add acrylic yarn under the backing if you have sandwiched your top with batting and backing. In this case, I am using the needle to thread the yarn in between the felt and the top. When the area is filled in, the yarn tails are clipped close to the backing to slip fully inside.

Because acrylic yarn has spring, it will fluff up and add the desired dimension, which you can sort of see here. The first yarn I tried in this example though did not have the desired springiness, and I've replaced it and completed the other leaves' padding with a different yarn. Now all I need to do is stitch in those additional lines, trim to size, attach to poster board and pop into the frame.

I've not been as faithful to the Stitchvember as I was to Inktober, but I'm certainly doing better than I think I would otherwise without the catchy name of a challenge to spur me on. While threading the yarn under the leaves, I've had ample time to contemplate why I've been able to do daily sketching challenges but not daily studio time. One thought prevails: with the sketching, there is a subject and a definitive end. Pick a shoe, or a cup, or whatever, draw it and you are done. But with the textile work, it is not that straightforward and doesn't always result in an end product or quantifiable progress each session. So much of what I do is long-term and to get to the end is a succession of steps that can't always be completed in a single session. I think this plays on my mind when I think, do I have time to work in the studio today? I seldom think the opposite direction, as in, I have an hour, let's see how far I can get on something. Now that I am fresh out of the mindset of "I have to make time to complete a drawing" and know that I indeed have time to devote to something arty, I am suppressing that all or nothing part of my personality that often finds me turning myself away at the studio door because the "something" always seems to require a bigger chunk of time.

And sometimes, the "something" isn't even something that results in visible progress. My first Stitchvember day was just that, the reassessing of the leaf cluster pieces to determine which ones I should tackle for the exhibit, and the consideration of framing and seeing what I had on hand. Needed activity but difficult to quantify and one that initially left me thinking, I've done nothing today, even though I did. Another day it was that time on the computer adding the additional lines of stitching. No actual stitching but I almost didn't do it because of that, my mind saying I must be working with piece in hand for it to count, not time for visuals on the computer. It was quite exciting when I ditched that thought and realized I could indeed include this kind of valuable activity towards my Stitchvember challenge. Yes, my mind is and always has been my biggest enemy. But maybe by the end of my Stitchvember, I will have gently molded it into a new way of looking at studio time and into a new habit. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


I've been so fixated on my daily #INKtober challenge drawing that I nearly forgot all about my pocket calendar spread for November. So it has been a rather quick coloring in over the last 10 days or so, not a lot of thought going into it. But I think I like what I ended up doing, again limiting the colors this time to those in the yellow/orange/brown range to give off a nice autumn feel. If only I had big beautiful blooms like this on my back deck... 

I had bought a big bag of assorted candies in preparation for trick or treaters last night. Generally I don't get too many kids coming by but I always enjoy the costumes as well as watching the parents who come with them. But last night I only had two little ones show up at my door, one dressed in a bear costume, the other totally encased in a Star Wars storm trooper costume. If I could have given him a prize for best costume, I would have. Instead, I told him to take more than one piece of candy. Very impressive how many pieces he managed to grab with his storm trooper-gloved hands!