Monday, February 26, 2018

A Little Bit More . . .

It's not much, but it's a start
Vestiges of the cold are hanging on but each day I am a bit better and itchy towards late afternoon to get back to something creative. Yesterday I decided it was time to take action on that overdye that produced such an interesting zigzag design. It's been pinned to the wall in my office, then pinned to a wall in my livingroom, places where I could stare idly at it and ponder what to do with it. I don't want to fold it up, and there isn't room for it on the design wall while I determine a "master plan". But I have come up with a possible first step, and now that I have, I was finding it irritating to see it hanging around. Time to act and at least cut a backing in preparation for layering and quilting. While I was at it, I cut the foundation that I will build my section of the bridge slice quilt on and marked where the edge of the design comes.

That really wasn't much and didn't take long so I soon found myself considering batting for my long beautiful piece of fabric. I often use Hobbs Thermore unless I feel I need more heft and stability, in which case I generally use Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 batting. But having recently been through my stash, there were several others I wanted to consider (a cotton/bamboo blend, a polyester fusible, leftovers of a Fairfield 80/20 blend that despite their marketing I found nearly impossible to handquilt through). Much to my amusement, I ended up using that Fairfield batting as much because there was a piece of it that was wide enough and only a bit longer than what I needed, or as Harriet Hargrave discovered swayed many quilter's selection process, it was "the right size" (see previous post). Well, sometimes that really is an ok way to determine what you will use, all things being equal.

These one of a kind specialty pieces are usually difficult for me to work with. My initial reaction is often that I don't want to do anything to them because it might detract from the design and subtle textures in the dyeing. I certainly never think I can cut them up. I talked with my art group about my toe-in-the-water thought of quilting along the edge of the light part of the zigzag and maybe attaching some of these leaves that I am having a terrible time finding an appropriate home for. So as long as the piece was lying on the table, so close to my thread collection, I could not help getting one spool out I'd been thinking would be a good color for that first delineating quilting. And then the Oliver Twists came out, and the more I studied it with those threads, the more I found myself losing my fear of spoiling the design in the cloth and being drawn to ideas that would enhance on every level.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

About That "Precision"

I've been couch-bound most of the week, a seemingly innocuous cold turning feverish, and I've learned the hard way that pushing through these times when the body has its hands full fighting off these bugs only prolongs things. Best to succumb to tea, chicken soup, mostly horizontal rest, and when awake, light reading and/or tv watching - the Olympics coverage has been good company!

Yesterday though, I was out of the fog, temperature down, and getting antsy to be doing a little something on the sewing front. I settled on piecing together the binding strips for the baby quilt, as they were already cut and wouldn't take much mental energy (although you'd be surprised at what an effort it was!). When you know what you will use for binding a quilt, sometimes it's nice to have it all ready to go ahead of time. I picked up this trick somewhere quite some time ago for taming and storing long lengths of pieced binding. All you are doing is accordion-folding it about every 18 inches or so and then feeding the folds on one side onto a large safety pin. It holds it neatly together until you are ready to apply it, at which point you remove one fold at a time from the safety pin as you come to it, the bulk of the folded binding resting in your lap.

I love when I get comments on a post, and I especially enjoyed the ones I received about piecing batting. Good to know I'm not the only frugal person out there (remembering what Harriet said was the number one reason quilters listed for choosing a particular batting was . . . it comes in the right size!) There was also a theme there I decided should be addressed in its own post, because it was something I'd been thinking about, even as I went through my process and described it to you. These things I often do that I am fully aware many quilters don't bother with and do not make their quilts any less than mine have their basis in traditional quilt making of BED QUILTS, not wall quilts and certainly not art quilts. The type of join Harriet Hargrave suggests will stand up to a quilt being washed and tugged during use as well as stay mostly invisible. It's a matter of practicality born out of observing how antique quilts have held up over the years and how these methods might help our own quilts last longer under heavy use, or at least to make us less hesitant to take them off the shelf and use them.

Mill Stars 2002 which won many awards including this blue ribbon at an AQS Nashville Exposition. It is far from perfect and not an original design, but I did obsess over making it as perfect as was within my abilities.

And then there is the whole quilt exhibit and competition thing, where every single technical and design portion of a quilt is scrutinized to within an inch of its life. You might not be bothered by seeing the faint line of a batting join on the quilt you snuggle under, but a quilt judge will see that and make a big point of it, no matter how beautiful and well constructed and well quilted the rest of it may be. That's just the way it is, and I used to enter these shows all the time. So yes, I was always striving to do my very best on every part of the quilt process, and managed to win a few ribbons in the process! That made all that effort worth it for me.

But I didn't realize just how stressful all that made my quilting process until I left the world of quilt shows and focused on art quilts. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized, with some relief, that no one would be inspecting the quilt stitches on the back of the art quilt I was working on, so I could relax and just worry about the front. With the exception of not worrying about a neat back, I still tend towards neat and tidy and yes, often precise, in my designs and in carrying them out, but that is as much about my aesthetic as it is about my training. But trust me, I have loosened up immensely since my traditional quilt-making days, and do things now that my old self would be aghast and very disapproving of! But when I do get back to making something like the baby quilt or a lap quilt that I know will be used and washed, the old ways kick in.

That you think I work with precision I take as a compliment, but really, I think it is just the way I am most comfortable in approaching all parts of my life, with a certain order and neatness in which I find enjoyment and satisfaction. So methods presented to me early in my quilting that fit my need for order and neatness that were also backed up with reasoning for doing them, why they worked or solved a particular problem really appealed to me and became my standard go to methods. It would make sense that I'd carry those over into my art quilting, even though some of them aren't really necessary for a successful outcome. I DO use spray baste on many of my art quilts, especially when I am concerned about the holes that safety pins might leave, but also because I'm in a hurry. If heavily quilted enough over any joins of butted pieces of batting, that basting spray which will not be washed out should sufficiently hold those joins in place - yes Margaret, God has weighed in on that! ;-) As for the basting tape, Mary, I've not actually held it in my hand to know how lightweight it might be, so am suspicious about the bulk or stiffness it might add to the join. That suspicion might be totally unwarranted, so if anyone has actually used that product, please chime in.

I'm still not quite up to snuff to start tackling the quilting of the baby quilt - just the use of the word "tackling" shows you how I feel about the machine quilting that lies ahead - but I am so pleased with the top and its color combinations that are somewhat unusual for me to use, and excited to try out the ideas I have for quilting it. And I am secure in the knowledge that I have prepared it the best way I know how to make the quilting process go as smoothly as possible.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Do You Do This?

Oh how glorious to have a mostly uncluttered space to work in! I pieced together the backing for the baby quilt and taped it to my work table, then dug around in my batting stash (yes, somehow I have acquired a stash of batting) for a large enough piece of the right kind. I had lots of choices, some I have not even tried yet, but in the end, I opted for what has become one of my  favorite and dependable battings: Hobbs Heirloom 80/20. I don't have to worry about bearding (a concern since this has darker fabrics in it and I know it will have multiple washings) and it provides enough loft to show off some quilting. I generally buy the largest size of known quantity battings as it is cheaper with less waste in the long run. Still, I'm often left with pieces not quite long or wide enough and narrow pieces too big to discard. My solution is to splice pieces of batting together. Anyone else out there do this?

I chalk it up to several things, not least of all being raised by parents who lived through the depravities of The Great Depression, impressing upon me the importance of "using it up or doing without", and my own experiences living through the infancy of the environmental movement which often touted the same message but for a different reason. I probably would not have thought to splice together batting had it not been for the influence of batting and machine quilting guru, Harriet Hargrave. She is proof that knowledge of your materials and techniques is never wasted, that good and reliable results are not just luck. Her book, Heirloom Machine Quilting (newer editions available), has been a well-thumbed reference on my shelf for twenty years and has an extensive section on batting. And in it, I learned how to splice batting together.

Click on the photo to better see my stitches

Ok, I have to admit I was in a bit of a hurry this time when I pulled out her book to refresh my memory. The page above is technically showing how to splice batting when using the quilt-as-you-go method. I totally forgot her primary method shown earlier in the book, one that eliminates the hard line and ridge left from the traditional method of butting and whipstitching pieces together.  Ideally, one should overlap the two pieces of batting 6 to 8 inches so that you can make a serpentine cut, removing the end of each layer afterward, and using a herringbone stitch to complete the join. Oh well, I don't think on this quilt it will matter much. It always takes me a minute to get my head around this stitch though, as it is done "backwards" to me. For a right handed person like me, the needle takes a bite right to left, but then rather than continuing to stitch to the left, you "back up" to the right for the next stitch. When done loosely as she suggests, this stitch allows for some movement in the batting and really doesn't show through the quilt top.

Still a smidgen of clutter at the end of the table but not in my way.

And here it is, said quilt top, completing the sandwich and mostly pin basted. I keep my basting safety pins in an Almond Rocha tin and close the pins with the help of some kind of cuticle stick that has worked well for decades. I sure wasn't using it on my cuticles!

I managed to snap this photo from an upstairs window of my snow removal elf, hard at work yesterday, getting on top of our latest storm. We went from no snow on the ground except for a few small piles here and there from plowing to another 10 to 13 inches in the last 24 hours. The winds kicked up today while the temps dropped, so drifting has been a bit of an issue. But this guy is so cute the way he's quick to apologize if I come out and he hasn't totally cleared my side of the driveway. Today when I went out to clear my steps and short sidewalk, I was a little surprised to see he had removed what fell overnight from his side and not mine, unusual for him. He was working at the end of his driveway and hurried over to explain to me that with the direction the wind was blowing, all he'd be doing with his snow blower was watching the snow blow right back onto the driveway. Believe me, I know how demoralizing that is, having had the experience of tossing a shovelful of snow to the side only to have it blown back into my face. But really, how lucky am I to have this guy as a neighbor? 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Quick Update

Can you find the quilt top amongst bits and pieces of future quilts?
I've made progress on the tidying of the studio, partly because the landlord is sending out someone to do a building inspection (and seriously would not be able to inspect upstairs otherwise) and partly because the blocks for the baby quilt are sewn together and ready for layering, if only my work table was cleared. Honestly, the state of my studio was so bad that I had to find a spot on the floor to lay out the blocks, and spent many days walking over the completed top in my stocking feet to reach my laptop. Certainly couldn't let the rental inspectors do that, if they could even get past the piles around the studio door. I've got so much up on the design wall that it's not usable for anything else but decided the quilt top would have to go up there anyway. What do you think?

I found some of my late friend's hand-dyed "one of a kind" fabrics for the backing. At 48" x 48", the top is too big for a single piece of backing, so the largest piece gets an addition along one side.

And the addition along the bottom needs its own addition along one side to be wide enough. The three different pieces of hand-dyed are not a perfect match but similar enough to work, and pick up the blues and deep purples in the prints in the top. I've never been known to use colors and prints typically thought of as appropriate for baby quilts - pastels in blues and pinks, cute animal motifs and the like. Nope, I tend to go with what I usually work with in my other quilts, and the recipients don't seem to mind!

I've often referred to these cleanings of the studio as archaeological digs and this time was no different. The bathroom where I do my stamping and art journaling was particularly bad, and as I was collecting and storing stamps, stencils and papers, I came across things not just forgotten but that I didn't even remember buying. I thought I had most of it fairly organized, but there's a real problem with out of sight out of mind with a lot of it. I'm not sure how to make it better. Maybe I just need to do more of that sort of thing so I am familiar with what I have to work with and where it is.

As for the rest of the studio, some things did get put away, but I fear the bulk of what I did was rearrange and relocate what was on the work table to a different surface, often the floor. In some ways, it wasn't as bad as I thought, not quite so much stuff on there as I remembered, and I was able to organize and stack the bits and pieces of several on-going projects that had gotten lost in the fray. Best of all (and in some ways, saddest of all), I ran across several magazines open to ideas for quilting this current top (or was it the previous baby quilt?), plus some articles pulled from other magazines with additional underwater motifs - perfect timing but boy would I have been upset had I found all this AFTER quilting the top! I also found a group of magazines I'd put with a dvd, all info I remember thinking was what I needed to dive into thread sketching (which is on my list for this year), and which could now join a notebook (located elsewhere of course) that I'd started while watching some videos on the subject.

All this sorting and sifting reminded me once again of how many resources I have at my fingertips, if only I remember having them and can find them when needed. I think of myself as an organized person, or at least someone who likes to organize things. But my interests have become so far ranging that parts of my creative life escape organization and memory. My sketching and art journaling is a good example. I did take time to make the concertina sketchbook for my "sit and pivot" homework, knowing I had a pad of fairly large watercolor paper in the closet. What I'd forgotten was that I also had three, count 'em, three other pads of varying sizes and kinds of drawing paper slipped in next to it. Here I've been buying different sketchbooks, searching for the perfect size and type of paper for my needs when I had plenty of paper to make my own. Well, I've learned a lot from those pre-made sketchbooks, and now my memory is jogged that I have what I need to make my own, including this custom-size concertina!

Hmmm - guess this update wasn't that quick . . .    

Friday, February 09, 2018

Me and the Muse - Part II

I haven't much to show for what else I've been doing these past weeks. You may recall my driving urge to get back to and finish the 5-part Sketchbook Skool class I signed up for last year. There was video to watch - a LOT of video it turned out - and the muse just nodded, flicked her fingers at me in that "get on with it" gesture, and went back to her magazine on the days I headed to the computer to listen to the "lectures" on urban sketching by teacher and illustrator Lynne Chapman.

I don't think the other parts of this course had this much commentary from and insight into the teacher's artistic life. It appeared to be one long fascinating interview done right in Lynne's studio and broken into specific topics, amply illustrated by Lynne's sketchbooks. A big portion of it dealt with Lynne's residency experience and how she captured it and the people she was "studying" in a form of urban sketching carried out in concertina sketchbooks. I took notes, lots of notes, four pages of notes in the sketchbook I've been using for this course, because she was presenting to me a different way of approaching urban sketching. (See more about her urban sketching side at

An earlier part of this course also focused on urban sketching, but mostly on capturing familiar places along your regular route - buildings, parks, that sort of thing - and using watercolor as well as pen to capture it. Get outside and sketch! I mostly focus on buildings and the architectural features that catch my eye or fascinate me. Occasionally I'll sketch the scenery or things like park benches but I rarely add people to my sketches. Since joining this urban sketching movement, I've discovered there's some disagreement about what is true urban sketching, and some of the originators say that if all you are doing is drawing buildings, then that is not urban sketching. Urban sketching should capture the activities on the street level in front of the buildings, i.e. people and cars and food trucks. They seem to look down a bit on people like me who mostly focus on the buildings themselves. They also seem not too crazy about those who sit in cafes and restaurants and sketch their food. Be that as it may, The Urban Sketchers Facebook page has posted this helpful sketch (above) to guide people in determining if they are urban sketching or not.

Although Lynne did do one demonstration of sketching a street scene on site, most of her emphasis was on how to use your sketching to tell a story, inside or out. I found this quite compelling, a bit like photo-journalism, even a bit like how I put together my blog posts with photos and text. I especially liked her instruction on alternative portraits and how it's more than facial features (and even getting them perfect) that can comprise a portrait of a person. I'd already read her book, Sketching People: an Urban Sketcher’s Guide to Drawing Figures and Faces, so had a grasp of how she approached that subject. The new part here was how the things we surround ourselves with, simple ordinary objects, also tell a story that creates a non-figural portrait. Since I'm not keen on drawing people, I really liked this idea.

The concertina sketchbook format she settled on for her residency project turned out to be perfect for her needs. Whether it was capturing snapshots of her route into the building and up to the offices where she spent her days or capturing a sequence of events within a day to give the sense of "the passage of time" or capturing the feel of an entire office, the concertina could hold it all and could be viewed as a conventional sketchbook, page by page, scene by scene, or stretched out flat to view the whole and how the parts integrate (as you can see running along the bottom of the video screen capture above). It also allowed her to work "out of sequence", perhaps starting at the end of the concertina to capture a less challenging part of the scene, and on another day, moving to a different section that she now felt she could face (that bookcase, she said, was a mess and very daunting).

So all very interesting, all very entertaining, all very helpful, all videos watched. Except now to see what the homework assignment is. And now I balked! Lynne wants us to make our own concertina sketchbook (not really that formidable of a task, if only one had her work tables cleared), and use her "sit and pivot" method of doing an alternative portrait, right in your own work space, or any place in your home that you hang out in. Just put a chair in the middle of the room, sketch what's in front of you, pivot and sketch the next view, etc., until you have the whole room sketched. I looked around my small office space and blanched - like my studio, it is a piled up mess, which I guess says a lot about me. I know I don't have to sketch every little detail, but still, do I want to record this room that, without cleaning it up, I wouldn't let anyone into? Ditto for the studio. Maybe the living room since I spend a lot of time there too and there's much less clutter. Oh dear, I am feeling as daunted as Lynne did by that bookcase!

I am not unfamiliar with concertina sketchbooks, and in fact have one that was free with the purchase of something else I was getting. But I was puzzled by the best way to use it. I inquired of the urban sketching community and was told how great it was for capturing landscapes or city scenes that too often can't be confined within even a full page spread. Ok, I get it now, and mused about what wider-than-usual scene might I want to try this out on. I hit upon the idea of sketching the view from City Beach, because the park itself juts out into the lake in a perfect semi-circle with changing views as you stroll the sidewalk. Perhaps I could sketch a panoramic view from start to end. I actually started this last fall, beginning with the motel and condos next to City Beach and moving along to the jetty and its public marina, a pencil sketch which I intend to finish in ink and perhaps some watercolor or watercolor pencils. (I can't figure out what the paper is in this sketchbook but it is smooth and very stiff, almost like card stock.) Already I have taken up over half of the sketchbook in this first sitting and will need to finish out my panorama on the back.

But until the weather warms again, the lake level comes back up and the boats return, I'll not be working on this "sit and pivot" urban sketch. I need to swallow my fears, make my own concertina sketchbook and get to sketching my own story. Because if nothing else, I won't allow myself to view the final part of this course until I do this homework!


Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Me and the Muse - Part I

Let sleeping dogs lie, I say . . . past furry distractions
The muse sometimes reminds me of my late husband, how after I would finally get the current young dog settled down so I could get some work done, he would come home, wake the dog, get the dog all excited with some rough play, and then make his exit, leaving me with said dog now bugging me for attention again. The muse is a bit like that, showing up with all these great ideas, getting me all excited as she ruffles my brain, then going off to relax in a comfy chair in the corner, sipping wine and paging through a magazine, leaving me to sort through the wreckage and figure out how to calm myself enough to come up with some sort of a plan and do the actual work. That's what it has felt like these last few weeks as I've started in on all those tantalizing ideas she's left in her wake. 

My giant 16-1/2 inch blocks

I've made good progress on the baby quilt, finalizing fabric choices, cutting out all the strips and starting to sew them into blocks. As I studied the photo of the quilt I'm using for inspiration, I realized there were two sets of fabrics with a slightly different color combination in each set. This idea works to my advantage since I am using up what I have on hand. Look closely at the photo above and you should be able to see a subtle difference in the background fabrics used in each block which is due to having to use several values of the gradations of two slightly different purple hand-dyes. And while the prints in the long rectangles may at first glance look identical, the two blocks only share the same fabric in the center strip. It is only dumb luck that the one on the right ended up with the directional fabrics and will be arranged in that orientation in the quilt. The other blocks will be turned on their sides (I think) to make a giant nine patch. I have 3 blocks left to piece.

3 different methods of folding plus some machine stitching. The one in the middle was clamped with clothespins.

Those would have gotten sewn over the weekend if not for the weather forecast. It has been raining quite a bit, and although our temps have hovered around freezing, the new forecast was for rain and high 40's. All that snow stacked up around the house has been slowly melting and I knew if I didn't stop sewing and start snow dyeing, I would lose my opportunity. I wanted to try some folding techniques and see if I could improve (refresh!) some disappointing pieces from last year via snow dyeing. The top piece is the really ugly color that resulted from mixing leftover dye from the mustard yellow and lavender dye runs last summer. The other three are from the parfait snow dye method tried almost exactly a year ago. They've not presented any ideas for using them in that time, so let's see if we can improve upon the lot.

Those lines are 3/8" apart. What was I thinking???

There was one more fat quarter from the snow-dyeing last year that because of the way I folded it did not kaleidoscope and left lots of open areas of white. I wanted to try a shibori method requiring gathering on rows of running stitches, but after chalking in some lines, I realized I didn't have time to fool with it right then. It can always go into dye stock, no snow required.

Ugly duckling ugly no more
Because the snow was not fresh and had been rained on, it was very granular - a bit like snow cones. Not sure what affect that would have (some say the amount of water in your snow can make a difference in your results), but since some people use ice cubes and some "make" something between snow and ice by pounding away on a bag of ice cubes with a hammer, I decided it didn't much matter. Because these had color on them already, I decided to limit what I would add to one or two dark dyes. I already had some "better blue-green" dye powder in a salt shaker, left over from last year, and wanted to use cobalt blue because I liked how it worked on last year's folded fabrics. I also had maybe 1/4 cup of mustard yellow dye stock saved from summer, first in the refrigerator and then in the garage when the weather turned cold. I decided I would pour that on first, then shake on the blue-green and finish off with the cobalt blue. The exception was the half yard of ugly fabric. After doing the folding, I loosely rolled it and stood it on end so the dye would seep into the folds and only sprinkled cobalt blue over its snowy cover. Holy moly! It was the transformation star of the group and I am totally in love with how it turned out!

No medallion shape emerged from the folding and stitching on this one

The seafoam one was folded and clamped with clothespins, you can barely see the effect of it in the bottom portion, nothing at all in the top half. Click on the photo for a larger view.

As for the rest, I did manage to knock back the bright fuchsia in one, tone down and improve the green in another and instill a better blue over a third (it was laid in the bottom of the dishpan to soak up all the dyes as they dripped through the others on the rack above). The photos above show what each piece looked like before and after the over-dyeing. (Colors in the photos are a tad iffy, especially the reds.) I did give them all some time in the microwave as I did last year and I do think that may help set the dyes. These still aren't pieces that inspire anything on their own, have any hidden images to tease out. But I think I like the colors better now and may be more apt to cut into them and put them to use. Is the muse pleased? Hard to tell as she still has her nose stuck in a magazine. Maybe she's withholding judgment until I gather up and dye that last fat quarter . . .