Walker’s Pasture

Version 2In 2010, my photographer husband Jim captured a magical moment at sunrise with cows in the mist.  I was captivated by the photo from the moment I saw it and immediately framed and hung an 8” x 10” print in our house.

Later, when I wanted to experiment with the online service Spoonflower, a business that prints photos on fabric, this image was one of the first I chose to upload.  The print on cotton fabric measures 14” x 19”.  This has been on my design wall for several months waiting for me to be inspired as to what I wanted to do with it.

Our guild’s challenge for 2016 in our guild was “fans”, not my favorite traditional block.  The completed quilt had to be 36” square, contain at least 3 fan blocks, and have yellow in it somewhere.

While researching fan blocks online, I saw a modern interpretation that looked a lot like a windmill to me.  Oh, a windmill.   I just happened to have a pasture waiting for a windmill.

walkers-pasture-toy-windmillI pieced four fan blocks (paper foundation piecing because they are tiny – 2” blocks) to create the windmill.  To create the base, I photographed a toy windmill I have as part of my decor (complete with cows on my hutch in the breakfast room) and printed it in various sizes to test the scale.  Using that photo as a pattern, I painted the windmill base using India ink, appliquéd the fan unit (the windmill) and was ready to quilt.

walkers-pasture-cow-closeupThen I remembered “yellow” requirement.  Yellow, like the sun.  Got it.  The photo was taken at sunrise.  So, a rising sun was appliquéd, then the quilting came into play.  Green grass, blue wind, and continuous curves in the outer border all were quilted with 100 weight silk thread.  Now I’m a fan of fans.

Goats

Pa, he bought him a great big billy goat

Ma, she washed most every day

Hung her clothes out on the line

And that old goat, he’d come that way.

My Daddy didn’t sing a lot, but this song was one of his favorites.  I can hear his gravelly voice belting it out now, often at my request or a plea from any of his grandchildren.  I don’t recall my mother or my sister requesting it – it wasn’t refined enough for them.  Especially the part when the goat belched up that red flannel shirt and he flagged down that durned old freight.

The musical interlude might be followed by the story of Daddy’s experience with goat farming, or rather the decision to end that venture.  Something about a goat and a pond and repeated disciplinary action leaving the goat wet and calmer while Daddy was exhausted.

So fond memories might explain why I like to see goats in a pasture, have taken lots of photos of goats, and why they end up in quilts.

goat-challengeThe guild’s quilt challenge for 2013 required us to use small bits of fabric from Tess’s stash.  The Challenge Queen does this occasionally; requiring the use of what some might think of as uglies.  That certainly was the case for my envelope.  Yuck.  A red and black color combination was given to me, a calico and something else, 2” squares of each.  I tried several things that didn’t make my heart sing, but at some point  I remembered a pattern from Country Threads featuring pieced goats.

I found an assortment of farm and goat looking fabric, pieced three blocks, added a title, and used the ugly fabric as a couple of their kerchiefs.  The piece finishes at 24″ x 18″ and was freemotion quilted using cotton batting and cotton threads.

goat-showA well-dressed goat appears in 52 Tuesdays, too.  One of our visits to the Georgia National Fair in 2015 included attending a goat show.  I was intrigued by the goats awaiting their competition.  After being bathed, blown dry, and powdered, they were often wearing jackets so they stayed clean and sawdust free until their competition.  One wearing a leopard skin coat caught my eye and became the image for that week in the journal quilt.

And, once a goat appeared on the label of one of my quilts, Hartwell Commons.

The photo of the live goat, not in cloth (yet) was taken at the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home national historic site near Plains, Ga.

A Tree Grows in Gondor

I’m still working on my guild’s quilt challenge for 2016.  It’s almost done, and there is nearly a week to spare!  I mentioned it here.

Working on this project has me thinking about how much I’ve learned from the guild’s challenge over the years.  It seems like a good time to document some of those design processes. I’ve shared some challenge quilts earlier, but here’s another.

In 2008, the challenge was “trees”.  The quilt had to contain at least one tree, pieced or appliquéd, and a bit of orange somewhere.  A few years prior, I had been enchanted by the white tree against a blue sky prominent in the Lord of the Rings movie Return of the King.  I’m sure the tree in the movie was a Sycamore, and that must have added to my determination to create this image in cloth.

I chose a brilliant blue hand-dyed fabric from Cherrywood as the background, inserting a narrow inner border of another hand-dyed fabric which included many colors, including orange.  Wanting to include a little interest on the “bark” of the white tree,  I researched quotes about trees and facts about trees.

tree-in-gondor-design-wallThis photo shows the background pinned to the design wall with my paper pattern drawn.  That pattern was transferred to white Kona fabric, then the handwriting began.  Sandpaper underneath the fabric helps to keep the fabric from slipping.  I used Sharpies and Pigma Micron pens.

tree-in-gondor-stitchingOnce the words were pressed to make them permanent, I used needleturn appliqué to fix the tree to the background.  In the areas of white where the blue background fabric showed through, I added a lining layer of white fabric.

tree-in-gondor-closeupCotton batting was used and all quilting was hand-guided, freemotion stitching.  Only the griffins on either side of the trunk were marked, all other quilting was spontaneous.  Most used a matching blue cotton thread (50 weight, 2 ply), but some variegated thread was added in a few places for interest.

The quilt finishes at 40” x 62”.

Information on the label is sunprinted.tree-in-gondor-label

 

Commonly Uncommon

The Common Yellowthroat Warbler is not commonly seen by the average homeowner.  He’s not a “yard bird”, he lives in the swamp.  He likes briars, damp brushy places, weeds, or grass going along country roads (that explains why I like him so much).  This species is a year-round resident in our part of Georgia.

Despite his bright feathers, this fellow is hard to spot, flitting about busily as he does.  This tiny bird is picturesque, though.  So it’s worth the effort to capture his image on film, uh, on a flash card.

These birds don’t come to feeders much, preferring grasshoppers, beetles, spiders over seeds.  According to the iBird Pro app, they love sugar water, fruit, and pieces of nuts.  That may be worth investigating, but water seems to be a big factor in their habitat.  They are most often found near streams, swamps, and marshes.

common-yellowthroatJim captured this shot in a remote area near the Ocmulgee River.  I printed it on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and stitched the background densely. As in Swamp Bird, I stitched with silk thread in closely spaced parallel lines.  Then I added a bit of black and white, a yellow fabric frame, and attached it to an old quilt remnant.

common-yellowthroat-backI used a lot of Jude Hill’s invisible baste stitch to secure everything without penetrating the final layer of the quilt on the back.  I added beads stitched by hand, and made a label from an old doily. 100 weight silk thread was used for machine quilting, 60 weight cotton for the handwork.

The finished piece measures 20” x 16”.

I’ve noticed lately that even though I’ve been designing these pieces by starting from the center and working outward, and beginning with different sized photos or vintage motif, these pieces all seem to end up the same size.  I wonder why.

Challenging Quilting

seasquared-mouthOur guild’s challenge quilt is due in three weeks.  It’s secret until then, so I can’t show photos of it now, but I can say I’m excited about what I’m doing.  Tess, our Challenge Queen, gives us the annual specifications in February with the deadline being our November meeting.  I typically think about it, research photos and patterns, basically collecting thoughts until October or so when I have no choice but to make something.

There are years when I’ve started early, but I often aborted the first plan. There have been exceptions; occasions when I started earlier than usual, stayed focused on a project that took a lot of time, and brought it to completion ahead of schedule.  But several have been done the week before the due date.

On the single occasion when I completed the project early, I really disliked the quilt and abandoned the idea of using it as my entry. The challenge in 2013 was “ Dare to be Square” or something like that.  Tess always comes up with catchy titles.  The rule was that the quilt must be pieced (no appliqué!) and every piece must be a square. In October, I sprang into panic mode, grabbed a half-yard cut of a bold fish print by Brandon Mably, some hand-dyed fabrics of similar colors, and started cutting squares.

seasquared-whole-quiltI cut the largest square I could from the focus print (20” finished. (I know – it must have been a generous half-yard cut)), then cut smaller squares from the fish fabric and the others.  20” finished was a nice measure to use as the reference.  It was easy to patch together units using 1”, 2”, 4”, 5”, 10” components.

seasquared-fishesAs the project grew on the design wall, I had fun finishing a fish.  Where one had been cut off, I could find missing components of that fellow somewhere else in the smaller squares and place it close by to make his image extend into the other spaces.  I even discovered a batik striped fabric that mimicked the background of Mably’s fish and inserted that.

seasquared-starfishAs the “squarequarium” grew on my design wall, I began imagining quilting lines.  I could stitch even more of the missing parts of fish bodies, add bubbles in the water, and enhance fish fins and tails.  Oh, my, how fun was that?

seasquared-octopusI sewed quickly to get the piecing done, layered it with cotton batting, and began dancing with my sewing machine.  I used some heavy threads on some of the solid spaces, enjoyed stitching lots of free-motion quilting motifs, and especially enjoyed adding the octopus and starfish.

Even after all that, things looked a little “flat”.  Eyes.  Fish have prominent eyes.  So out came the wool, a circle cutter, some buttons, and voila!

seasquared-backA solid blue fabric on the back made the stitching details noticeable. Susan said she liked the back of this quilt better than the front.  So for her next birthday, I stitched a fish on blue fabric for her beach house.

This quilt does not contain colors in my house or colors I particularly enjoy using in a quilt.  But I love this finished product because seeing it reminds me how much fun a challenge can be.

I called this finished project “Sea Squared.”  Some of my math colleagues will notice the reference to a  project we worked on for years. The finished size is 40” x 34”.

This year the challenge requires at least three fan blocks, and some yellow fabric.  The finished size is prescribed this time: 36” square.  My first reaction was “I’m not a fan of the fan block,” but in my research I’ve certainly learned a lot about those historic blocks and their reinterpretations through the years.  As a friend said yesterday, “I love our challenges.  They force us to think about things differently.”  Indeed.

Update:  A later post revealed my entry in the fan block challenge.  It is here.

Flowers for Phyllis

phyllis-flowersI was recently asked to create an art quilt as a gift for Phyllis.  I have never visited her home and don’t know her style.  I struggled with the design until I realized that I know one thing Phyllis really likes; art by Mark Allen Ballard.

Mark is my drawing instructor and friend.  He graciously granted me permission to use one of his creations in an art quilt for Phyllis.

phyllis-flowers-closeupI printed the image of the coneflower on silk fabric, layered it on wool batting, and added dense free motion quilting with a fine silk thread.  Dense stitching around the image packs that portion of the design down, forcing the unstitched areas to puff up as if they are stuffed.  Stuffed work, or trapunto, has been done for centuries, especially on wholecloth quilts, to add dimension and interest to quilts.

phyllis-flowers-detailOnce the silk portion was quilted, I added an inner border using a gradated blue fabric, leaving a larger border on the bottom.  I wanted to add interest to that space, so I continued Mark’s design by adding stems and leaves stitched with a heavier green thread.

A second border was added using a delicious damask tablecloth hand dyed by Wendy Richardson.  Over the years, I have collected quite a bit of Wendy’s stunning work, now I’m daring to cut into it more and more often.  This piece was originally a blah white-on-white damask tablecloth.  In Wendy’s studio, she had added many colors of dye which enriched the visual texture and just happened to incorporate some of the same colors as Mark’s drawing.
phyllis-flowers-beadingThat layer was attached to a vintage cross-stitched quilt.  I used Jude HIll’s invisible baste stitch to attach the layers within the blue border, then added blue beads while attaching the outer border.  A raw-edged sleeve and label made from a vintage doily were attached to the back with the same invisible baste stitch. The quilt finished at 16” x 20”.

phyllis-flowers-backI have recently enjoyed incorporating pieces of art from unknown stitchers of the past, using vintage quilts and linens.  This piece did that and more.  I collaborated with Wendy by using her fabric, Jude by using her technique, and Mark by using his drawing.  It was especially fun to share the stitching experience with Mark.  He was excited about the prospect from the beginning, interested in the progress of the piece, and in reports of Phyllis’ reaction.  His agreeing to add his signature to the label makes the gift a special treasure for her.

Fair Days

fair-boothI’m home after three days at the Georgia National Fair where I shared my work as one of their Artists in Residence.

Though I’ve long recognized quilts as an art form, I’m still surprised to see the word artist after my name.  This experience was affirming and fulfilling for me, and I hope it was informative and inspirational to others.

The photo shows my booth where I shared my quilting stories and demonstrated techniques.  I had several quilts entered in the fair, and three of them were easily visible from my booth.  Whether by design or coincidence, the fair organizers added opportunities for me to share more stories of making bed-sized quilts on a home sewing machine, improvisational piecing in the style of Gee’s Bend quilts, and Government Bird Goin’ for a Ride.

Jim and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit with former students, their parents, and now husbands, wives, and children.  We saw former work colleagues and friends, made connections with other artists in textiles, photography, woodworking, drawing, painting, and sculpting.  We made many new friends as people stopped to talk about quilts, my ragged lamp, and my Featherweight sewing machine.

fair-with-featherweightI took the Featherweight because it is my traveling sewing friend.  I take it to classes and work sessions at our local guild, I have taken it on a photo trip when Jim was taking a course and I would have time alone in a motel room.  It is compact, light weight, and a work horse.  Maybe everyone knows that.  But everyone doesn’t know that it can be used for free-motion quilting.

One of the goals of my days at the fair was to share the technique of hand-guided, free-motion quilting.  I chose the Featherweight because it is a simple straight stitch machine.  That’s all you need.  I wanted to erase the notion that you can’t quilt without a big, expensive, computerized machine.  The Featherweight conveyed that message well.

fair-with-childrenChildren were fascinated with the Featherweight.  Maybe because it is so small and sweet it looks manageable.  It’s certainly not threatening in any way.  I stitched names into quilt sandwiches for Marin, Christopher, Alexis, Catherine, Mark, and more.  Fragments of cloth, batting, and a bit of thread can bring smiles to faces of children of all ages.

I talked to men and women whose mothers or grandmothers quilted and they wish they had learned from them while they could.  (I’ll be your substitute Grandma.  I didn’t listen to mine like I should have either, but other quilters and I will be glad to step in and fill in the gaps.  Send me an email (sandy@sandygilreath.com) with a question and I’ll link you to a tutorial online or try to answer you in some way.)

fair-grownupsI talked with women who made one quilt, or started one, then became frustrated with a skill they didn’t have, and put it away.  I talked with those who work full time and can’t work it in their schedule.  My answers: “Relax, it’s supposed to be fun.”  “Join a guild.  Someone there will offer advice and assistance,”  “Start with something portable, like English Paper Piecing.”

I talked with young families wherein the husband/dad wants to explore quilting.  One asked if he could start learning with a $100 machine from a bargain store.  My advice was to find a reliable used older machine.  I fear that a new one made with plastic parts will be less sturdy and operate less smoothly than an old one.  “I’m afraid if you have frustrations with tension or mechanics as you are learning, you might think you don’t like sewing; but what you don’t like is a cheap machine.”

I have almost all my baskets unpacked and things back in place in my sewing room.  My brain is bursting with ideas generated by conversations over the past few days.  Fun times stitching ahead!

Swamp Bird

Sandy art quilt

The gist of a recent conversation with a friend:

Friend:  Hey, have you been busy?

Me:  Oh, yeah, a bit.

Friend:  Sewing?

Me:  Some, but I did have a few days last week when I accomplished less than usual.

Friend:  Why the downturn?

Me:  Exercising my Medicare card a bit.  I can’t believe I’m old enough to have one, and I got it just in time for my annual doctors’ visits.  And, an unexpected visit to another.

Friend:  So what have you learned from the interruption to your life?

Me:  That sometimes a few days to rest and reflect is a good thing.  An interruption can allow you to shift your focus.  Also, that I can see better without my reading glasses than I realized.

Friend:  So what’s your latest finished project?

Me:  An art quilt featuring a photo Jim made of a Prothonotary Warbler in a local swamp.

Friend:  Tell me details.

Me:  I printed the photo on silk fabric, layered it with wool batting atop a square of hand-dyed osnaburg fabric and used dense free motion quilting in the background of the image.  The lines are about a toothpick’s width apart, roughly parallel, but it’s obvious that it is hand guided.  I don’t use rulers.  I want the finished piece to reveal that the project was handmade.

The yellow osnaberg layer was hand stitched to a bit of linen I dyed in the indigo vat, then that layer to a piece of commercial fabric, and then to a vintage quilt.  All of these were attached using the seed stitch and varying threads.  The beads were hand stitched, too.

Sandy art quilt

The label on the back is a portion of an embroidered vintage linen napkin. That and the hanging sleeve were attached using Jude Hill’s invisible baste.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20”.  Jim titled it Swamp Bird.

Friend:  Anything else I should know?

Me:  When you ride your bike, wear your helmet.

Is It Fall, Y’all?

stella-closeupIt’s still hot.  The calendar says tomorrow will be fall, but temperatures still reach 90 everyday.

Nonetheless, I have some pumpkins out in my house.  I love the fall colors.  Maybe it’s the vivid blue skies when the humidity drops, maybe it’s the complimentary colors of the turning leaves and that glorious atmosphere.  I wince whenever Tess, our guild’s Challenge Queen, requires a bit of orange in a quilt, but I don’t know why.  I could just always put a pumpkin in.

In recent years, I have collected pumpkins from other artists including needle-felted beauties by a north Ga artist, wooden pumpkins a friend made, and several pottery ones from Shelby West and Charlie Bob West.  But many of my autumn decorations are of the fabric variety.

pumpkins-and-fall-basketsFall Baskets was made in 2008, using autumn colors of batiks and quilting cottons.  This may be the first quilt I designed using Electric Quilt software.  Now using EQ7, I sometimes turn to this software to audition such quilt features as block size and width of borders and sashing. This one finished at 45″ square.

 

sunbonnet-with-pumpkinThis Sunbonnet Sue piece is one of the first times I made one block ( 9″ x 12″) and said “done.”  Quilting, a binding, and it’s a remarkably fun way to welcome the season.  The block is from a book by Betty Alderman.  I guess it’s unnecessary to point out that the apron is a little brown check.

pumpkins-fusedI have a few quilts with pumpkins on them.  Some wool appliqued pumpkins, some needleturn appliqued ones, and even this fused one (sorry, I don’t recall the name of this pattern or the designer).

 

 

 

stella-harvest-princessMy favorite fall quilt is Stella: Harvest Princess, finished in 2004.  It uses raw edge techniques in the manner of Rosemay Eichorn.  Fall motifs were cut from a commercial autumn print or two, pinned to a base fabric, and free motion quilted with a flannel layer as batting. The technique was fun, the motifs whimsical, and the learning process was transformative.  I use this raw edge appliqué method still.  Looking at this piece for the first time in almost a year, I wonder why I don’t play with those decorative stitches on my machine any more, or use metallic thread very often.  It was FUN to do this experimentation. It measures 25” x 16”.

There is more to Stella’s story – there was quite a learning curve for this one. I saw the technique on Simply Quilts, bought a book by Rosemary and studied her technique, cut and pinned the raw edge motifs in the fall of 2003.  Then it sat in a basket for almost a year, waiting for my free motion quilting skills to improve to the point of completion.  Finally I dared to load the machine with some invisible thread and give it a go.  When asked at my guild how long it took to make it, my answer then was, “a day and a half, or a year and a half, depending on how you look at it; actual construction time, or time from beginning the process to sewing on the label.”  That’s often the most direct answer I can give.  I work in spurts on some things.

pumpkins-in-jailhouseA couple of years ago, Jim and I spent a lovely fall day in Porterdale, GA, where we saw hundreds of pumpkins for sale in and around an old jailhouse.  I took many photos, planning to make a quilt someday called Pumpkins in the Jailhouse.  Maybe this year will be the year that gets done.

Another Voice

prom-dress-girlSometimes the process goes smoothly, other times not.

The secret’s out.  My quilts talk to me.

Here’s what “Prom Dress” girl said to me as I worked on her over a few days. (this piece started with an old photo of my mother, so you may recognize her voice):

I’m wearing the white dress I made for my graduation, all stitched by hand.  We didn’t have a sewing machine.  The photo was taken on the farm beside the smokehouse.  Are you going to cut away the building?  So the focus will be on me?

You’ve printed the photo on vintage linen fabric.  Have you decided if you will put it in a frame when you finish?  I will fit nicely in a 5” x 7”.

What are you doing to my hair?  Brown is the right color, but I never had long hair in my life.  Oh, you put more paint than you planned.  Ok.  Maybe I should have had long hair, this looks pretty good.  And, you are right, now you see a face in there.  I did blend in with the background.  We know the grass is green, but the black/white photo doesn’t reveal that.  You could have planned to paint the grass.  Or stitch it with green thread.

You plan to call this piece Graduation Day, right?  So you have to leave the dress white.  Because it was.

So you’ve cut an oval frame from that beautiful green silk Dupioni.  I like that, but it doesn’t contrast enough with my photo, do you think?  Oh, you’re making an oval “mat” to place in a rectangular frame.  Even if you don’t put it in a wooden frame, you can make a cloth frame.  I get it.

Ouch.  You pinned me to a nice oval doily; guess you abandoned the silk like I said, then you saw that blue Irish linen handkerchief and started over?  You get in such a hurry, then have to redo things.  Think, first, ok?  And now the blue kerchief and I are pinned to a black embroidered hankie, on point.  Ok, but your design is getting bigger and bigger.

What happened to the pieces of the silk log cabin quilt that you cut as my background?  Yes. I guess you can use them for something else.  Wasn’t this supposed to be a quick project?

Now I’m getting a ragged edge.  You are stitching me to the linen and the hankie using wool batting for dimension.  Nice.  Warm.  Are you writing on me?  Oh, drawing lines for stitching details on my dress.  Ok.

Not bad.  When you press me and the marker disappears, it will be good.  And the pebble stitching on the blue looks nice, too.

Now what is that design on the black hankie?  It’s ok, but aren’t those embroidered flowers sorta rough looking?  Is it UPSIDE DOWN?  Maybe you are right, maybe no one will notice.  Go steam these marks out, though, ok?

WHAT?  The marks aren’t disappearing?  You used a regular pen?  You goofball!  Now what?  Oh, I see the blue paint.  Yeah.  My beautiful white graduation dress has to be blue?  So, now it’s not a graduation dress anymore.

And, the black hankie is WHERE?  Well, you saw the problem before stitching the whole thing.  So you have three corners to use in another project.  Think you can remember to check right side up next time?

Whew!  I’m back on the oval white doily you started with as my frame days ago.  But on what?  Oh, this is lovely brown linen.  Just enough drama.  You made it work, but you didn’t make it easy!

Oh, you are finally getting to use a piece of that cross-stitched quilt you bought, aren’t you?  prom-dress-backIts colors do carry the blue dress to the back.  Wasn’t it hard to cut into that old quilt that someone spent many many hours stitching?  And they quilted it by hand, too.

I know it has holes in it, but I can hear the ladies at your guild now.  They aren’t going to like the idea of cutting up an old quilt.  Yeah, you are right.  The nice handwork that remains will be seen now.  With holes in it, it would have been relegated to a closet, or to wrapping furniture for moving.  Or, as you found it, languishing in an old dusty store.

And, you did change the name from Graduation Day to Going to Prom.  No, you cannot call it Bossy Girl in Blue Dress.

 

Ok, I’m back.  The sequence of steps would make more sense if I had photographed each layout, but when I’m feverishly tossing things about, auditioning colors and shapes, there is no thought of documentation, just doing.

Yes, I do have scraps of silk Dupioni, an old silk log cabin quilt, and a beautiful black embroidered hanky that are cut into bits.  But each of them has potential in other projects.   They are not lost, they are not forgotten, and, I confess, they are not well organized.  Serendipity plays a big part in my fabric combinations.  Something that is lying on the cutting table gets stirred to the top of the pile while I’m looking for something else, and the pairings that occur inspire dozens of other projects.  Ideas come faster than I can sew.

This afternoon project wasn’t completed until four days after I started working with it.  Interruptions come about because of life’s events, and because the design stalled and I needed to walk away from it.  And, though this is not the “graduation dress” design I had planned, I can reprint the photo and go at it again if I choose.  If something doesn’t work out, I don’t consider it a failure, but as lessons learned.  I might be more careful in the future to be sure the embroidery is right side up.  And, I’ll check to see that I’m marking with a removable pen when sketching quilting lines.

Photos:  The finished quilt measures 15” x 20”.  Wool batting, silk and cotton threads were used for quilting. Hand-guided, free motion stitching attached the photo to the blue linen, to the vintage doily, and that to the brown linen.  Hand stitching was used to invisibly stitch the lace edges down and to attach the linen to the vintage quilt on the back.  I used a modified seed stitch.  The backing has a bit of lace stitched over a hole in the quilt, and a label made from a portion of a vintage linen napkin.