Sunday, December 29, 2019

Post-Christmas Review

It was supposed to be a quiet Christmas, just me, my Christmas music and some holiday goodies. It's what I told everyone on the cards I sent out. And then this guy called a couple of days before Christmas, asking if I had plans. Yeah, plans to clean house because you must be headed my way! This is my nephew Darren who lives about a 5 hour drive away. He's a manager at a Trader Joe's in the Seattle area, and as such, rarely gets enough time off around any holiday to get home to his family in CA. But if he has even two days (which was the case this time) and clear roads, he asks if he can come spend them with me. How special is that?

He arrived mid-afternoon on Christmas day, bearing gifts of wine, chocolates, mini-cakes and the most fabulous apple tortes (missing from the photo because we drowned them in cream and devoured them for dessert). All selections from his Trader Joe's store. I accused him of not being able to decide what to get so he got a bit of everything!

About 24 hours later, after staying up late talking and drinking wine, and the next day bundling up to take the short walk to the neighborhood Mexican restaurant for lunch, he was loading up and heading for home.  Rolled up under his arm was the quilt he had slept under. I've pondered about giving him this quilt for quite awhile but was worried about all the pink fabric mixed into it and on the back. But when I saw his reaction when I opened it up to spread over the guest bed, the jaw drop and the "wow" and the "this is so cool" that exploded out of his mouth, well, I found myself saying, "I guess you should take it home with you then." It is so gratifying to know that this quilt is going to a new home as something desired and appreciated. I'm sure you know what I mean - there's no guarantee that a gift of a quilt will be received in the same spirit as it is given and duly appreciated. I know this one is in good hands, because before he left he quizzed me on whether it could be used and washed (he has a declawed cat) or should just go up on the wall. Well, either, I assured him. It was made with the intention that it be used, but it looks fantastic on the wall too.

View out my front door
A front was predicted to pass through overnight, pretty much like the last Christmas he spent with me, and I was relieved to get the text later that night that he had made it safely over the pass (but not the cranberry bread I'd sent with him, he noted with a laugh). Because this is what I woke up to the next morning - a couple of inches of very wet snow that made the roads slick and icy and caused lots of accidents in the area. Since most of the snow had melted off the lawns before Christmas, only visible along the tops of mountains, I was happy to see this new bit of snow, even if it didn't come in time for Christmas. In fact, its absence was what gave me my very special Christmas this year.

View out the back

Hope you also had a special, family filled holiday! 

Monday, December 09, 2019

4 Needle Coptic Binding Book

4 needle coptic binding - signatures measuring 5 x 3-1/2 inches
I actually finished this "level-up" coptic binding book last weekend but have been almost literally sitting on it, having had it under heavy books trying to get it to behave. I was eager to make this slightly larger 4 needle version now that I'd tried the simpler version and gotten some great information about how to navigate some of the issues I had making it. Forged ahead with confidence that I would end up with a perfect book this time.

Eco-printed paper wrapped around every other signature

I decided that while learning the ropes, I'd follow as closely as possible the materials the teacher is using in her tutorials, and make my books the same sizes before I strike out on my own experimenting with alternate materials. I don't want to be the bookbinding equivalent of the beginner quilting student who comes to class with wool or polyester fabric instead of quilting cotton and bargain barrel sewing thread. But for this version, the teacher was using handmade paper which I don't have, and wrapping each signature in two different colors of it to add interest. However, she did say her paper was 140lb which is the same weight as the watercolor paper I have on hand - hopefully close enough. And I got really excited when I realized I could use some of that eco-printed watercolor paper for the wrappers. Time to start cutting!

Rather than wrapping each signature in eco-print paper, I alternated wrapping around the outside and placing it in the center

Remember me mentioning similarities to quilting I kept running into? Did I mention that you have to be cognoscente of grain direction, not only in the paper for the signatures, but in the book board and whatever you choose to cover it with? It's not an issue of stability like in fabric (different directions stretch more than others) but an issue of making folds that do not crack the paper or spring open (try it with a piece of copy paper - hold it flat in the palms of your hand and gently bend in each direction - one with resist more than the other), and cover paper that doesn't warp the boards because the grains are pulling in opposite directions. All grain in each part of the book must be going in the same direction. And so when I went to check my eco prints, I realized I couldn't fold them in half as I'd intended, but that the grain ran the long way. Wouldn't be able to use the measurements from the teacher, so got some practice figuring what mine would be based on the paper I'd be using. Definitely worth it. But in preparing to cut that 10 inch long eco-print in half for my 5 inch high signatures, I thought to check if the paper was really still 10 inches after eco-printing it. Yikes! Just like in quilting fabric, watercolor paper can shrink! I'd lost nearly a quarter of an inch in length! So glad I paused to check.

Looks much more like leather. Need to clean up around the holes.

While the signatures spent some time under heavy books (really helps to flatten them out and set the fold) I proceeded to cover my boards. I decided to use the "faux leather" paper colored with several different shades of blue paint, the result of a second round of experimentation. It just looked too flat so I tried rubbing different colors of ink pads over the wrinkles. Black was too stark. I didn't have a navy blue one. Brown didn't look right. I didn't think a lime green would likely work, but tried it anyway, and it was just the thing. I think there are more wrinkles in the pieces I used than in the first trial of this technique, I was more careful when I glued it to the boards so I didn't inadvertently smooth them out, and it definitely looks more leather-like.

When I took the signatures out from under the books, they sprung open a bit which concerned me but I decided to get them stitched together anyway. I left more of a gap between the covers and the signatures as suggested to give more breathing space for the book to close up. It all went very well, but the more signatures I added, the more I could see the signatures springing open. But I couldn't believe that more space would solve things, though I pulled and wiggled and tried to make larger gaps. After more time under books and still resistance in staying closed, my best guess is that my watercolor paper is stiffer and perhaps thicker than the teacher's handmade paper, and I probably should have used fewer pieces in each signature. I'm trying to decide if carefully removing a folio from each signature would make things better, or if I should just make a closure to hold it together.

I really do love it though. I found a piece of handmade lotka plant paper in a sampler pack my niece gave me long ago that was perfect for the endpapers. And cutting those eco-prints up and interspersing them with the blank pages changed them from too precious to know what to do with them to images sparking inspiration. I've got ideas now of how I want to fill the blank pages. Not unlike quilt fabric that sits in the stash not knowing what it can be until one gets it out and starts working with it.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

What Else Percolated

Apologies for not the greatest photo . . .
Towards the end of summer, I think my creative brain had rested enough that it was starting to fire again. Even before my palette musing I had another one of those accidental juxtapositions of fabric that resulted in a perfect pairing. Thing is, the two fabrics had been sitting a foot or two from each other in separate stacks on the floor for months. I'd seen them numerous times as I stepped over them or glanced that direction while sitting at my laptop. Eventually, yet another glance down that narrow piece of floor between work table and storage cabinets suddenly made the connection that the batik with mariner compass designs provided the design solution for that piece of snow-dyed fabric. I've always liked it but knew I needed to add something more to it, and had only thought about how it could be quilted. Ding dong - that compass in the batik looks the perfect size to fit in the upper left corner if cut out and appliqued in place, and has the right colors to go with those in the snow dye. Well, THAT was exciting to discover. (Don't ask how soon I'll follow up.)

More recently, I found I couldn't let this faux leather from paper bags technique go without giving it another try for better results. This time I experimented with both brown and white paper bags. On the white one I used acrylic paints which moved and blended once laid down and worked with a wet brush. Much better results than with the Art Graf. On the brown one I used several shades of blue from a Marabu Fashon spray set. I wasn't too keen on the nozzles on these spray bottles - did not give a fine spray and were prone to sudden unexpected big drops. But it was a quick way to get some color on the paper.

These still look more like hand-dyed fabric than leather to me, but I'd been doing a little more research and learning that most of the time, people were rubbing additional layers over the paper to either create depth or highlight the wrinkles. I planned to use one of these on my next bookbinding effort so tucked that info away for later - my usual mulling process.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019


If you've been quilting for as long as I have, I'm sure from time to time you look through your stash and realize you have a few pieces here and there that are starting to look dated or that you thought were similar to a newer fabric but when seen side by side, you can see the fabric designers have altered the color just enough that it will not go with the older fabric. I have such a stash, started in the 1990's and added to as I shopped at numerous quilt shows, that was specifically for a state block quilt that never got beyond the first block ("Michigan" made for a block contest) and some patterns I tracked down. It resides in a bin drawer along with orphan blocks, leftovers from strip sets and other odds and ends too good to toss but difficult to know what to do with. I have looked at that stash now and then over the years, never wanting to dip into it for other projects, but the last few times my best sense said it's time to incorporate those fabrics into my regular stash because it is clear I am never going to make that state block quilt.

Close-up of BOM quilt ad next to my stash and my Michigan Block

However, the last time I looked at them, which was probably earlier this year, I had to admit those peachy fabrics looked mighty dated and didn't belong in any of my stashes. Maybe I could make charity quilts with it but I thought it might be embarrassing to hand over a quilt with obviously dated fabric. So imagine my surprise when an October Connecting Threads catalog arrived advertising a new block of the month quilt that included these exact peachy colors paired with the same green. I can't believe it's back! But maybe it's only back because this BOM quilt is "inspired by an actual heirloom quilt, handed down from one generation to the next" in the designer's family. According to the ad, the original was paper pieced which means it can't be THAT old and perhaps was made during the same period as I was collecting my fabrics. And the original color palette was faithfully copied for the new line of fabrics. Whatever the story is, it is rare for a fabric color to reappear unchanged years later (unless it is a faithful reproduction fabric) and uncomfortably confirms my general modus operandi of keeping things forever because one day it might be just what I need. Uncomfortable because it leaves me conflicted about something I was close to letting go of!

Yes, I've been at this for a long time, and my tastes and leanings have definitely changed over the years. My stash is filled with batiks and hand-dyes now and brighter commercial fabrics that would be easy to match up with, say, the flowers in this year's deck garden. I haven't done that kind of "bring the outdoors in" sort of matching for years (my Azalea series started just so), yet here I was in September, thinking about what joy this little garden had brought me all summer and wondering how much longer before a season change would stop it in its tracks. As you know, quilting hadn't exactly been forefront in my mind for months, and yet as I sat there, my thoughts idly wandered to considering that these many colors might make a pretty scrap quilt. Stunned that I would be thinking this after all this time, I followed up by getting some shots of the various flowers, just in case whimsy would find me following up on the idea and needing reference photos. What do you think? If nothing else, if you are sitting in snow or rain and feeling a bit dreary, this might perk you up.

Lots of yellows and oranges, bright and pale.

Deep burgundy to light pink and some blue.
The tiniest pale lavender bloom, no bigger than 3/4 inch

And my most favorite, the dahlia with red accents.