Playtime

Today’s experiments:watercolor flower on silk

Silk radiance fabric.  Dream Wool batting.  Freeform stitching of a feather and simple flower using Aurafil cotton thread (50 weight/2 ply).  Echoing and background quilting using silk thread (100 weight).  Flower is painted with watercolors, hand embroidery added in the center.

freeform feather on silkFun!

Tidying Up

Kaffe baskets in basketFriends and I were discussing the Tidying Up bestseller at dinner last night.  I’ve not read the entire book, but I have read a lot of it.  First, let me say that this woman’s definition of tidying up is different from mine.  My idea of tidying up means someone is coming over and it’s time to run the sweeper and stash some items in the closet.  (I will admit that I later straighten the closet and periodically purge it of unused items, but not on a rigid schedule and not enough to invite visitors to admire.)

Though I agree that “stuff” can get in the way of living your life, I’m here to tell you that cleaning can do the same thing.  Balance, people, balance.  Don’t be a hoarder, don’t live in squalor.  But, then again, don’t obsess over everything being perfect.

I wonder how many people on their deathbeds wish they had taken one more load of unworn clothing to the Salvation Army.  Can you tell that I spent yesterday cleaning and wished I were sewing?

When it comes to my quilting stash, I do sometimes find the need to straighten it to see what I have.  Sometimes I share remnants with other quilters.  It is fun to see their faces light up when they find a fabric I’ve used in a quilt they like and now they get to play with it, too.

My working style is that I have several quilt projects in progress at one time.  I sometimes get bored with one technique or another, but often the reason is location.  I always need a project that is portable – to stitch while watching tv or sitting on the porch, or recently, while riding in the car.  Once that phase of the stitching is done, that piece might get set aside until I have time to prepare it for the next level.

I do keep the fabrics that I’ve selected for a given project together until it’s completed.  I use baskets to contain them.  Sometimes there are lists in the baskets telling me what is  cut, how many are remaining to be stitched; maybe a sketch of the layout possibilities.  I will confess that there are a couple of projects that I like seeing the blocks in a basket – so I’m not anxious about assembling those at all.  Alma Allen and Barb Adams depict vignettes of such collections in their books and on their website.  They inspire me to enjoy all phases of the quiltmaking experience.

Susan Lenz explains that the beginning phase and the finishing phase of projects are exciting.  But one doesn’t need to be excited all the time.  The stitching phase is relaxing – so psychologically, I’m centering myself with my working style.

I have come to realize that sometimes I slow down on a project before it’s finished, not wanting to finish until another is at its relaxing stage.

Jude Hill says of one of her magic feather posts, “And yet there is still stitching.  Maybe I have slowed down even more.  Just to make it last.”

Oh, yes, I’m in good company if my working style bears any resemblance to Alma Allen, Barb Adams, Susan Lenz, and Jude Hill.  But it may not look tidy.

Embellishing with Paula

no presser footIf I had known old ladies had so much fun, I would have aged faster.

Today was session two with Paula Reid.  We stitched ribbons and beads and baubles.  We used dental floss implements, funky charms, and fancy stitches with specialty threads.  We made new friends and laughed a lot!

I even won a cone of wine thread.  Yes, you read that right, wine.  I told you old ladies had fun!

Not only did we disengage our feed dogs, we removed the presser foot!  Sewing is not for wimps.  But, man is it fun!  I have a new tool in my arsenal.  Now I know more ways to use those beads and baubles and fancy fibers I’ve collected.

Every member of the class was playing with ribbons and threads in a different way.  Taking a class is so inspirational – not only do you have an experienced teacher who shares her knowledge, but other participants spin off in different directions.  Take a class!

Simply Quilts was still on tv when I began quiltmaking in 2001.  I was still working, so I recorded the show every day, then watched it when I got home.  I learned most everything I know about quilting basics that way.  When I heard Paula Reid was coming to town, I knew she quilted on a domestic machine as I do, using what she calls the “fluff and stuff” method.  I also remembered her episode on beading and embellishments where she removed the presser foot.  I felt like I knew her already, because I had watched those SQ episodes over and over.

Online quilting shows still keep me up-to-date with the latest artists breaking the mold, or perfecting the mold, but it’s not the same.  I spend money to subscribe to some of the online shows (thequiltshow.com hosted by Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson is my primary resource).  I watch some youtube videos, too.

I read quilting blogs.  I listen to quilting podcasts. I follow links to other artists’ work from Facebook.  I goggle names of people whose work I see in magazines and online.

But nothing takes the place of on-site, person-to-person contact with an expert.  Thanks, Couture Sewing Center, for bringing Paula.  And, thank you, Paula, for coming to GA, and sampling our grits.  And, thank you, fellow classmates, for a fun two-day sewing experience!

Improving Skills

Sandy & PaulaI always love to take classes.  Yes, I could have enjoyed being a professional student.

I’ve been fortunate to take classes in the past from many well-known experts in the quilting industry; Hollis Chatelain, Sue Spargo, Ricky Tims, Kaffe Fassett, Sally Collins, Karen Stone, and more. And, I’ve attended lectures by others including Lisa Bongean and Diane Gaudynski.

But until today, I had never taken a class on free motion quilting.  I had learned by watching videos and reading and practicing.  And more practicing.

Today I took a free motion feather class from Paula Reid at my favorite quilt shop.  I’ve tried my hand at feathers before, with limited success.  Today’s class was wonderful.  Paula has quilted professionally for many years.  Now she travels the country teaching others how to quilt on their home machines.

The class was structured so that Paula demonstrated a variety of paths and patterns to fill a quilting space with feathers, then gave individual assistance as we stitched along.  The morning was devoted to feather designs marked with stencils, the afternoon all free motion feathers, unmarked.  So liberating!

Sandy's featherThis photo is my unmarked free motion design from this afternoon.  Red Mettler 50 weight cotton thread in the top, Aurafil 50 weight cotton in the bobbin.  Echoing is done with 60 weight Kimono silk thread.

Here are samples of Paula’s work (she gave permission to share).  The green fabric is a silk/cotton blend –gotta get some of that!  The motifs are fabulous!  And, you are seeing the bobbin side of her work!  Amazing talent she has.  I’m so glad she’s in GA sharing her knowledge with us.

Paula's silk samplePaula's green featherPaula's red feather

And, tomorrow…free motion embellishments with beads and ribbons.

Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I recently described this work as “my first major quilt.”  It was completed in 2007, so it doesn’t belong in the catalog of my latest work, but the elements I included in it still appear in many more recent designs.

The quilt was made over a period of six years.  I completed other quilts during that time, but this was an ongoing project.  One of the first piecing techniques that intrigued me was English paper piecing.  I basted the 1” hexagons on freezer paper and had a portable project.  Since I was still working full time, I stitched while riding in the car and on visits with my mother in her assisted living facility, on the porch with her at her nursing home, and in hospital waiting rooms when my sister was ill.

As I was learning more about the world of quilting, I began to think of ways to combine these hexagons with other quilting techniques.  Once I learned needleturn appliqué, I wanted to add some curves to my pieced elements.  I assembled ten of the Grandmother’s Flower Garden units, appliquéd them to a background, and planned to add a vine with leaves in the border.

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I actually made another small quilt to explore the technique of the two-colored border with the vine separating them.  That worked, so I interpreted it large scale.

I wanted a bit more interest in the center of the quilt (well, not really the center…I was already embracing the idea of asymmetrical balance), so I made a bouquet of flowers using some elements of flowers from Barb Adams and Alma Allen’s Quilting in the Garden (a quilt I completed sometime in this process).

detail from Ollie Jane's Flower Garden
detail from Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden

I made my first bow with trapunto here.  I loved the bow.  I still like bows.  Especially plaid bows.  They reveal the folds created when a ribbon is rumpled to tie a knot.

Certainly not the least challenging was the quilting.  Then a beginner, I quilted the hexagons with a continuous curve motif, echoed around the appliqué, used my version of one of Diane Gaudynski’s filler designs in the inner border, and stitched a double grid in the outer border.  The only element of the quilting that was marked was half of the straight lines (they are 1” apart) and then quilted 1/4” away from that using the edge of the free motion foot.  Then, as now, the straight line quilting is the most challenging motif in free motion quilting, but I do still love the effect.

When it was time to give this quilt a title, I enlisted my husband’s input.  He came up with Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden to honor the traditional blocks of hexagons and give tribute to my quilting grandmother, Ollie Jane Hasty.

This quilt has had quite a career appearing in quilt shows and going to lectures with me.  She has earned some ribbons and accolades, but I haven’t retired her.  She hangs in the stairwell of our home, as close to the center of our lives as she can be.

The quilt used all cotton fabrics, some reproduction feed sacks.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  Quilting thread is DMC machine embroidery cotton 50 weight / 2ply.  Finished dimensions are 58” x 68”.

Treasures from India

Oh, I feel loved!

Indian scarvesEarly this morning I got a text message from someone who loves me.  My son-in-law is literally halfway around the world on a work assignment and sent the photo you see here.  He said, “I saw all this fabric and thought you might want some.  There is wool.  There are wool/silk blends.  There are more.  Tell me what you might like.”

Oh, really?  WOW!

I have no shortage of fabric.  I’ve even been on sensory overload this week seeing fabrics of all descriptions at vendors’ booths at the AQS show in Paducah. I bought a lot that thrilled me and I can’t wait to play with it.

But, exotic fabric yet unseen thrills me more.  I’m so excited!  I actually felt a spring in my step as I walked around after the text message exchange.  WooHoo!

Making fabric is a multi-step process involving many people, often in several countries.  Someone plants and harvests the crop, or raises and shears the sheep, or tends the worms. Someone spins the yarn.  Someone weaves the cloth.  Someone grows the dyestuff, mixes the dyes, applies the color, prepares it for distribution and markets it.  I usually don’t know any of those people.  But when I touch the fabric they have produced, I am connected to them.  Across miles and maybe oceans, we share something that helps me realize a comforting project for someone or a piece of art.

But to know that Kenny selected the fabric and brought it to me from a land far away will add a special link in the chain that somehow makes it stronger.  He mentioned scarves.  So I may get to wear it a while and cherish it that way, making memories with it before it becomes anything else.

Cyndi’s killer quilt

killer hexagonsToday at a community event where I was invited to share my quilting story, members of the group were invited to bring some of their family quilts as well.  Several did just that.  What fun to hear others’ quilt stories.

Cyndi brought a beautiful quilt pieced of hexagons.  Of course, the shape of the pieces got my interest immediately.  The arrangement of those hexagonal pieces was one I had not seen before, but the captivating feature of the quilt was its multigenerational story.

The quilt was begun sometime prior to 1917 by Alma, for her daughter Cleona.  Sixteen-year-old Cleona died that year at the age of 16, and  grief-stricken Alma stopped work on the project.  Alma herself died before ever getting back to work on the quilt.

Cleona’s aunt, Norma, took on the project at some point, but she, too, died before completing the work.

Years later, Norma’s daughter Cleona (niece to the first Cleona) married and asked her mother-in-law, Sarah, an accomplished quilter, to complete this piece of history.  Sarah refused, citing “that quilt has already killed three people!”

Determined, but out of connections to help, the younger Cleona took on the task herself.  Her husband built quilting frames for her and she began work.  When the master quilter Sarah saw the sub-standard stitches going into that gorgeous design, she gave in and completed the task.

Sarah lived to be 100 years old, so it seems the curse was broken.

Part of my talk emphasized labeling quilts, writing down the stories for future generations.  Cyndi had already done just that, complete with a genealogical chart to accompany the story.

Version 2Now I’m itching to grab some hexagons and assemble them in the pattern these women used.

Orphan Baskets and Bunnies

framed pearMany quilts are made in small units, or blocks, which are then assembled into a larger quilt top.  Most quiltmakers I know have an abundance of “orphan blocks”.  These can result when a project is abandoned, when extra blocks were made to test color combinations or size, or when the stitcher simply changed her mind about where the design was going.

I sometimes intentionally create orphan blocks.  I find hand stitching to be therapeutic and if I’m not in the midst of a big project, I love to explore single block designs.  Whether piecing or appliqué, I love playing and planning.  Many times, a big idea grows from a small block.

After I completed the appliqué for Indigo Pearadise, I continued to play with this motif in the smaller size.  A single pear fit comfortably in a 5” x 7” frame and makes a sweet little gift.

Early in my appliqué experience, I found that I could successfully stitch the running rabbit pictured in the design below.  To practice the appliqué stitch, to have handwork to do while visiting with my mother, and to explore the soft colors of Spring, I stitched many running rabbits.  Somewhere along the way, I began hearing the phrase “Baskets and Bunnies” in my mind and a theme emerged.  I found patterns for other bunnies, drew a simple basket with a rickrack handle, and kept sewing.

baskets & bunniesSome of these baskets and bunnies still reside in a basket awaiting their opportunity to shine.  The photo you see here is a quilt top that came about when my minigroup needed a quick project for a donation effort a few years ago.  The timing was Spring, my stitching sisters remembered my collection, and we got busy.  The completed top was quilted by a local longarm expert and we had a sweet little quilt in record time!

That little block with the rickrack handle has reappeared in reds and framed for Christmas gifts, too.  I don’t read many books twice, I don’t watch a lot of reruns on tv, but I do my share of repeating blocks I love.

Wool felt – Felted wool – what?

beauty & beesIn my quilts, anything goes.  I love quilting cottons, silk, linen, denim, and wool.  All together or separately, depending on the project.

I’ve worked with felted wool in many ways.  Wool as the background with cotton appliquéd on top.  Wool as the fabric to be appliquéd on a cotton, or linen, or wool background.  Because the wool doesn’t ravel, you don’t have to turn under the edges, and appliqué is fast.  Because the wool is plush, stitches can hide easily, so if your stitches aren’t perfect, and you use a matching thread, no one notices.  If you want your stitches to show, a contrasting or heavier thread or a blanket stitch will do the trick to add another element to your project.

Wool stitched on wool is like sewing through butter.  Both layers are soft and easy to needle.  Stitching goes quickly.  The result is bulky, though.  That’s something to consider if you are making a large quilt.

Wool stitched on cotton is fun.  You get a firm background which layers easily with batting and backing to get a traditional kind of quilt with dimensional wool applique.

Linen, or a 50/50 blend of linen and cotton, is widely available now in quilt shops.  It has a rougher texture that supports the weight of the wool beautifully.  And, I was surprised to see that quilting stitches show up nicely on the linen.

My preference for wool appliqué is to use felted wool, not wool felt.  There is a difference.  Felted wool is woven wool which has been washed and shrunk to tighten the weave.  The holes between the threads are still there. Wool felt has a flatter appearance and is harder to needle. Wool felt is made from fibers tightly pressed together and has no holes.  It’s a personal preference.  Some people like the wool felt.  I’m all about the process, and I like the feel of felted wool.

Note:  wool felt is not woven, it’s smushed.  It may have glue in it.  It lies flatter and ravels less, they say.  But it has a hard hand and a flat appearance to me.  My blog, my opinion.  Only my opinion.  Play with it and draw your own conclusions.

You can buy some absolutely delicious hand dyed felted wool now.  It’s sold in quilt shops, at shows, and online.  But, there is adventure in felting your own wool from recycled garments.  I recently bought a beautiful red cashmere coat for $10.  The store owner was surprised I didn’t need to try it on for size.  I brought it home, disassembled it, then washed it in hot water and threw it in the dryer.  It is the most luscious wool in my stash.  The linings, interlinings, and interfacings are interesting, too.

To felt your own wool, look for a tag that says 100% wool (blends can work, but the higher the wool content, the nicer the finished product).  I don’t bring it in the house until I’ve prepared it for washing.  I didn’t intentionally buy someone else’s bug problem.  I remove buttons, zippers, linings and interfacings.  I also cut away shoulder and sleeve seams before washing.  It’s hard to cut through all the layers after it’s felted.  I might leave some seams in a skirt or the back of a jacket, though, to have a bigger piece of wool.

Put it in the washing machine with detergent and your hottest water for the longest cyle.  Then put it in the dryer, again on hot.  Do check the lint trap frequently as you may have a lot of fibers in there.

Interesting things can happen if you wash red wool with white.  I sometimes am careful about color separation, but usually not.  I like surprises.

Details of photo:  Beauty and the Bees, 31″ x 24″, based on pattern by Maggie Bonanomi.  Felted wool from recycled clothing along with a few purchased hand-dyed wool pieces.  Tendrils and berries are free-motion couched by machine.  Quilting is all free-motion machine stitching.

Simple yet Effective

 

Indigo Pearadise
Indigo Pearadise

I was just looking at some of my favorite quilts on Pinterest and once again noting how appealing some of the simplest designs are.  A little charm pack sewn together with wide sashing and quilted.  Divine.

But, I’m afraid I don’t often make those quilts.  I love designing and tend to add my “what if” philosophy to the process – adding and complicating things.  I like doing that.

Indigo Pearadise is one of those quick, relatively unplanned projects that resulted in a pleasing outcome.  Minimal preparation, some very pleasant zen time with my needle in hand, some dancing with my sewing machine, and I have a little wall quilt.

Last spring, I had been stitching pears in preparation for an upcoming class I was planning to teach at my favorite local quilt shop.  I had drawn this pear as a design to use for the introductory class. With gentle curves and a few pieces, I could focus on the beginning steps in needleturn appliqué, making a template, marking the background, learning the stitch.

In doing my homework for the class, I made numerous samples varying fabrics and backgrounds.  Pears are like chocolate (pears are good with chocolate, too); they can become addictive.

We were anticipating an upcoming trip, and is usually the case, I spend more time thinking about the sewing project I’m taking than the clothes I will wear.  I wanted to continue my pear exploration with minimal preparation.  I had a charm pack from Minick and Simpson’s Indigo Crossing fabric line from Moda and knew I would love whatever project I made.  Anything blue is good.  Anything these two sisters design is good.

So I reduced the size of the original pear pattern I had made for the class (from 6″ x 9″ to about 3″ x 5″), made a plastic template, and marked a linen background with guidelines for even placement of the pears.

I stitched all the pears in the evenings in our B & B in Blue Ridge and later at Amicalola State Park in Ga.  No, the fact that one of our destinations was Blue Ridge did not enter into my fabric choices.  It’s serendipity.

Now when I see this project, I see blue pears.  But I also see rainy days in Blue Ridge, delightful walks about the town, nice meals with my husband, and fun with family at Amicalola.

The quilting is done with 60 weight silk thread using a continuous curve design.  I mark a grid, in this case 1/2”, with a removable marker to guide the free motion quilting.  Dream Wool batting.  This project finished at 16″ x 21″.