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″.

Geraniums


I planted some geraniums today.  That’s a sign that I think it’s springtime!

I love geraniums.  Especially red geraniums.  They are so perky and straightforward, “I AM A BIG SHOWY FLOWER.  LOOK AT ME!”.

Even my brown thumbs can keep them producing blooms through the summer.

Maybe because Aunt Nellie always had them, I find their presence comforting in the yard.  I put them in terra cotta pots because she said “their roots like to breathe.”

So I found myself thinking of this little quit in the photo.  I made it for our guild’s challenge in 2011.  The challenge that year was to make a “two-block quilt”.  Further details in the rules said you must include two different pieced blocks.

Since I like to try to find an unexpected way to follow the rules, I pieced several sawtooth star blocks; not all the same size, from red and white fabrics in the top section of this quilt.  For the lower section, I pieced square-in-a-square blocks using some of my precious indigo collection.  These fabrics were printed in Africa using copper plates that are several hundred years old.  I bought them from a vendor in Paducah one year and treasure them in a special basket.  But I thought a geranium themed quilt was worthy of putting these treasures under the knife.

Atop the pieced background, I appliquéd the flower pot, stems, leaves, and geraniums using felted wool.  There is minimal quilting on this piece, a simple vine and leaf design that is one of my favorite hand-guided, free-motion quilting motifs.  It finished at 14” x 20”.

I confess that this was likely done at the last minute.  No label is attached as yet and the imaginative title of “Geraniums” is another clue that the deadline was nigh.  The geranium in the pot was inspired by one of Maggie Bonanomi’s designs,  I added a big satin bow to give dimension.

The geraniums in the watering can are a colored pencil Version 3drawing I made last week from a photo taken in our backyard.  I love old, well-worn watering cans almost as much as I love geraniums.  Anything in blue is beautiful  So, the three working together make my soul sing.

Dancing with my Sewing Machine

Miss Ruby's Red Bouquet
Miss Ruby’s Red Bouquet

Occasionally I will stitch layers of fabric and batting together with a hand stitch–to revisit history, or pay homage to my foremothers, or because it “suits the piece”.  But my real love is hand-guided, free-motion quilting on my sewing machine.

I use my simple, straight stitch sewing machine without a stitch regulator.  The “domestic” sewing machine where you sit and move the fabric under the needle.  Some people liken the process to drawing something by holding the pencil in place and moving the paper underneath the point.  That’s it.  Except this pencil point is sharp and is moving up and down.

It did take a lot of practice to become adept at the process.  But I was determined.   Once I became satisfied that I was getting the hang of it, I relaxed and realized I thought of it as “dancing with my sewing machine.”  Now I can stitch and talk at the same time.  I can draw designs with the sewing machine without marking the fabric first.  And, I enjoy it.

How did I learn to do this?  By reading and watching videos.  Diane Gaudynski’s books were the most helpful to me when I started this process.  I watched videos of her at work, as well.  Then I tried the technique myself.  Once I had to have a book at hand at every step of the process, selecting the needle, remembering how to start and stop, adjusting the tension, troubleshooting.

Later on, websites like Leah Day’s 365 Free Motion Quilting Designs  gave me ideas for filler designs and how to stitch them.  Now, I have a file of designs in my sewing room, a bulletin board of designs on Pinterest, and a sampling of ideas in completed projects.  I sometimes run downstairs to look at a quilt on the wall to examine a stitching design.

I do tend to quilt my quilts heavily.  Bullet proof.  Within an inch of their lives.  I can spread the quilting further apart, but I’m usually disappointed in the end result.  My stitches end up being about 1/4″ apart in all motifs. That’s just how I like it.

Details of photo:  This quilt uses cotton fabrics, wool batting and cotton thread.  The variety of textures comes from several quilting designs: a feathered plume, curved grid, pumpkin seeds, some echoing, free hand vines, and paisley loops.

Deadlines are Good

I’m easily distracted.  I love to start projects, but sometimes other obligations (or newer projects) call, and this gets put aside for that.  Sometimes the “this” languishes.

buttonwood farm pruningButtonwood Farm is a wool appliqué project (adapted from Maggie Bonanomi’s book by the same name) which I was anxious to have hanging in my dining room.  To help ensure it was finished in a timely manner, I entered it into our local quilt show.

I finished the applique (some cotton and some felted wool on linen) weeks ago, knowing it “wouldn’t take much time” to quilt a project 43” square. As the show approached, I checked other things off the to-do list:  help with layout of the show floor, format and type booklet for the show, add sleeves to several other projects entered in the show.  Buttonwood Farm’s quilting kept getting postponed.

On Saturday, March 12, before the show was to be hung on Thursday, March 17, I pinbasted the quilt top to the batting and backing.  A few hours home alone that day meant I got the interior section of the quilt outlined and some filler designs done immediately.  In the next few days, sitting down to quilt gave me focus for a few hours, distracting me from the anxiety of the upcoming show.  Stitching soothes me.

On Wednesday, March 16, I added a binding, sleeve, and label.  Whew!  But after a ribbon was attached, I saw stray threads hanging.  One of our vendors loaned me some scissors to do a little pruning.

Oh, and I was “busted” during the awards ceremony.  The project was so fresh that I had forgotten its name and thought they meant the ribbon was going to a friend’s project with a similar title.  But now the quilt is finished and can hang in my dining room.

Details of quilt:  Cotton and felted wool appliqué on linen.  Quilted with Aurafil 50 wt cotton thread.  Dream wool batting.  The name “Buttonwood Farm” is Maggie’s.  I stuck with it when I investigated and found that buttonwood and sycamore were both common names for Platens occidentals.  My hometown of Sycamore was founded in 1891, so I changed the date on my rendition.