Wandering Vines

Wandering VinesIn February, I was quite busy with several demanding projects.  Some of them kept me occupied at the computer, others at the sewing machine,  preparing for our guild’s imminent quilt show.  What I needed was some hand stitching to soothe my rattled nerves.

I had these vines already cut from an assortment of fabrics, having planned to use them as a border on another quilt.  Once they were vetoed for that project, I saved them thinking I would just use them alone on a solid background.  I do love needleturn appliqué and find the process restful to my brain.

Wandering Vines backI found three colors I liked, chose a solid fabric for the background, and stitched them over a few evenings in front of the television.  Recently, I layered the top with Dream Wool batting and a piece of hand-dyed fabric from Wendy Richardson as the back.  I outlined the appliqué and stitched several rows of echo quilting using a variegated thread.  The various edge designs; pebbles, straight lines, and continuous curves were stitched using a neutral color thread of the same weight.

All quilting was hand guided, free motion stitching on my domestic machine.

four little pitchersThis whole project was based on revisiting something I had liked from an earlier quilt.  Four Little Pitchers was my entry in our guild’s annual challenge in 2009.  The challenge was to make a four-block quilt.  I drew the shapes of the pitchers based on some pieces from my pottery collection, used needleturn appliqué to stitch them to the black background, and separated the four blocks with a tiny (1/4”), subtle sashing of black with silver dots.  Then I appliquéd the vine using the pattern from Emily Senuta’s basket book, and continued the design with the quilting motif.  In that case, I continued the vine in green, then echoed all with a black thread.

four pitchers detailThe sashing turned out to be so tiny and so subtle that it became invisible, but I always liked the result of the vine motif and wanted to work with that design again.  Especially after I began using wool batting, I wanted to use it to give extra dimension to the leaves in the quilted vines.  The vine in the latest project is twice the size of the original pattern.

I still have more of the larger vines cut, so  I would like to explore even more possibilities with this simple, elegant shape.

Details of quilts:  Four Little Pitchers measures 38” x 43”.  Fabrics for pitchers is all hand-dyed Cherrywood fabric, vines are Fossill Fern fabrics.  Batting is Dream Cotton request.  All threads are DMC Broder machine embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

Wandering Vines measures 21” x 28”.  Appliqué fabrics are all commercial quilting cottons, the background fabric is hand-dyed Cherrywood cotton. Threads are DMC Broder embroidery thread; 50 weight / 2 ply cotton.

The Calm that comes with Needle and Thread

blocks in blue work on porchThere is something soothing about the pulling of thread through cloth.  I find myself out of sorts if days (okay, even one day) go by without some time spent stitching.

Some say it’s a prayerful experience to sew.  Some liken it to Zen meditation.  Maybe it’s the rhythmic motion of the needle penetrating layers of fabric.  Whatever it is, it soothes my soul.  The ritual of pulling needle and thread through fabric has been a part of my life since childhood.  Even when very busy with demands of family and motherhood, I had some sort of needlework project in the works.  Then days might go by without much time spent with a needle in my hand, but just knowing it was waiting promised serenity.

During years that my mother and later my mother-in-law were in failing health, I learned to keep a sewing basket in the car at all times.  Since each of them had also been seamstresses, I saw it brought peace to each of them to see me with a project in tow.

In the basket was always a project with a threaded needle in the midst of a stitch.  That is still my strategy – without having to find the spot where I stopped, match the thread, locate the needle threader, I’m ready to take the next stitch.  In preparing for a trip, I sometimes spend more time ensuring that I have enough to keep me busy than I do planning my wardrobe.  I might not ever open the basket while away from home, but most times I do find some stitching moments.

I look at Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden and remember visiting with my mother while sewing those hexagons together.  I look at Granny Zee’s Scrap Baskets and remember sitting with my mother-in-law as I stitched the fabrics she had kept from her mother’s stash.  Both of these mothers of mine were suffering from confusion and dementia, but if words weren’t to be had, we communicated through our love of sewing.  I stitched my soul to each of them during their last years of life.

blocks in blueThe top photo is one of me working on Blocks in Blue while staying at the Inn at Iris Meadows in Waynesville, NC.  That quilt was hand pieced and machine quilted in 2005.  It finished at 27” square, and was one of my early attempts at free motion machine quilting.  I used invisible nylon thread in the top, a matching cotton thread in the bobbin.

 

Annie Mae’s Lace

Annie Mae's LaceSome of my quilting sisters think I’ve recently “gone to the dark side.”  Now that I’m taking art classes with artist Mark Ballard and incorporating my drawings onto fabric and into quilts, it seems to them that I’ve left the world of traditional quilting to become an art quilter.

If there is a threshold to cross between those worlds, I don’t see it.  I have recently been experimenting with the above-mentioned technique, crayon rubbings on fabric, watercolor on silk, and using fabrics that are not limited to quilting cottons.  But that’s not new to me.  And traditional quiltmakers have, for centuries, looked for interesting ways to bring images into quilts.

Look at Annie Mae’s Lace, the quilt I made in 2006.  I printed blueprint images of Queen Anne’s Lace onto pretreated fabric and made a quilt.  This piece measures 40” square, the botanical image is 25” square.  I actually made this quilt to refine the border technique.  I had seen photos of borders with vines with the inside and the outside of the vine being different fabrics, but had not seen any instructions on how to do it.  So, this experimentation worked and I then used that technique on the larger Ollie Jane’s Flower Garden.

I’ve used the same sunprinting technique on several quilts; and on fabrics still in a box waiting to come out and play.  I’ve printed feathers, leaves, scrapbooking stencils, and more.  So far I’ve used two techniques – one dry process and one wet.  Both processes involve spreading the fabric out flat, placing the masking object (leaf, stencil, whatever) on top, securing it so it doesn’t blow away, and exposing it to the sun.  Then, when the “developing” is done, you quickly wash it to stop the action.

I’ll note the obvious here:  this has to be done on a sunny day, and the image is sharper if you expose the fabric while the sun is high in the sky.  I began playing with this technique before I retired.  So, I spent some lunch hours securing big branches and leaves (and Queen Anne’s Lace) to the fabric atop foam board or something firm, waiting 15 minutes, washing it and putting it in the dryer.  Lunch was en route to and from my office, I guess.

The dry process entails purchasing pretreated fabric for sunprinting (also known as cyanotype).  These fabrics have been chemically treated to react to the sun and produce a negative image.  If you are old enough, you’ve seen plenty of blueprints made the same way.  The company from whom I bought my fabric is now known as blueprintsonfabric.comDharma Trading Company also sells some.  Both of these vendors also sell the chemicals to prepare your own fabric.

The wet process involves using some type of paint on fabric which produces a negative image when drying.  It is more labor intensive, but there are more colors available for the final outcome, and it can be applied to a printed fabric to add more interest.  I used SetaColor paints available at any hobby shop.

Note that this quilt is ten years old.  Yikes!  There are lots of videos on youtube showing details of how to make a sunprint if you are interested.

I’ve taught the sunprinting technique to my local guild, and luckily, it was a sunny day and we made some successful prints.  The process is fun, and if the wind blows, the worst that can happen is that you end up with some beautiful blue fabric!

Documenting my quilts and their stories is one of my goals for this online journal.  Slowly, I’m doing that.  But I’m also reminding myself of fun things I’ve neglected for a while.  Excuse me while I go dig through my pile of sunprints to see what I might play with next.

Annie Mae closeupFurther details of this quilt:  This was early in my life as a hand-guided, freemotion machine quilter.  I had previously used matching or transparent thread attempting to make my irregularities less noticeable.  Here, for the first time, I dared to try the continuous curves using a heavier, contrasting thread.  I marked a one-inch grid and used that as a guide.   The border fabrics are batiks, the vine is a quilting-weight cotton cut on the bias,  batting is Dream Cotton request, and threads are cotton.

Annie Mae was the name of the beautiful lady who was my teaching assistant when I taught Head Start at Bruce Elementary in the summer of 1973.  I was 22 years old, knew nothing about little kids, had been trained as a high-school teacher, and was surrounded by five-year-olds.  She was my lifesaver!  So I played with the plant name to give homage to the woman who kept me from exiting the teaching profession.

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!

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”.

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.

Daddy was a Beekeeper

bee skep in frameMy Daddy was a hard-working man who loved sports, good conversation, good people, and a simple life.  He did not have a lot of hobbies; didn’t play golf, didn’t go fishing.  I heard stories of his past exploits (before I came along) going hunting, but whether that was for food or the social drinking that came with it, I don’t know.

He did have a hobby that I enjoyed as a participant or a spectator; beekeeping.  During a phase of not-going-to-church during my childhood, Sunday mornings were the time he would choose to “check on the bees.”  I was allowed to go along sometimes with Mama cautioning him to make me wait in the truck.  He didn’t.  Daddy wasn’t afraid of the bees and neither was I.  We both knew that Mama was afraid, however, and that my visits to the hives would be our secret.

Daddy’s hives were kept in an old family cemetery on the farmland of a friend and neighbor, Uncle Hal.  He wasn’t my uncle and his name wasn’t Hal, but if you are from the South, you understand.

We would bump along a rutted road through the pasture to the wooded cemetery.  Daddy would lift the top off a hive or two, lift up a tray to check the status of the honey, and I could hear and see a quivering.  I suppose he was gentle about it.  The bees seemed to be undisturbed and went on about their business.  Daddy would gauge the time to return to collect honey and we would continue on with our day.

If the scuppernongs were ripe, Daddy would have a ladder in the back of the truck, and we would climb up and get some for Mama to make some jelly.  Other times, he would let me respectfully explore the overgrown grave plots. The graves had once been well tended, some groups surrounded with wrought iron fencing.  But now moss-covered headstones, cracked slabs, and invading roots were signs that the bees were mostly undisturbed.

On days when Daddy went to “rob the bees,” I usually stayed home or waited in the truck.  I don’t think he minded my participation, but just knew Mama would not be happy if I did get stung.  She was very afraid of the bees and thought anyone who wasn’t was crazy.  Daddy said the bees could smell her fear.

I remember the preparation included rags, kerosene, a smoker.  I guess he wore gloves and a mask, but I really don’t remember.  I remember his not being afraid and thinking he possessed a kind of magic that the bees respected.  I do remember the big blue enameled canning pot in which he brought home the honey.  It would stay in that pot until Mama sterilized jars and poured it up.  I loved to walk past , sneak open the lid, and get a pinch of honeycomb with honey oozing and chew on the comb for a while.

I have honey on hand at all time and enjoy it in my coffee every morning.  My way of starting the day with Daddy, I guess.

Beehives enter my textile work frequently.  The image above is of all needleturn appliqué on cotton, with free-motion machine quilting.  I designed it to fit in the 8” x 10” frame.  The sampler background fabric is from a line by Blackbird designs.  I’ve used their sampler fabric a lot.  It always adds an element of historic needlework to the piece.  The bees are little charms I picked up somewhere.

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″.