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!

Portrait of Red Coneflower

 

red-coneflowerA recently purchased linen doily reminded me of a mat for a framed portrait.  I didn’t have a photo on fabric that fit, and wanted to stitch something on this marvelous piece of linen with the wide handmade tatting.

A simple coneflower is always fun to appliqué, and I had seen somewhere the idea of using a spool of thread as the vase.  So, a few snippets of fabric, a good tv show in the background, a bright light at my side, and the stitching began.

Once the appliqué and embroidery were done (see the French knots at the base of the seed head?), it was time to find a base to set off the oval.  The French General print in red was perfect.  So, I layered wool batting beneath the oval, threaded up the machine with silk thread, and echoed the appliqué with free motion quilting.

Once I cut away the remaining batting from behind the red fabric, it was time to seed stitch the piece to an old quilt as the back of the assembly.  A yellow and white pieced basket quilt from an antique store fit the bill, but the white was a bit stark.  A scrap of red ticking came to the rescue, adding another layer of matting to the frame job.

red-coneflower-backAs I neared the finish, I hadn’t come up with a title.  But my original plan to let the doily serve as an inner mat for a portrait was still on my mind, so Portrait of Red Coneflower was simple enough.  One more vintage doily (with a history and stains to prove it) served as the label.

The finished piece measures 16” x 20” and the hanging sleeve utilized a leftover strip of the red ticking.

Ruth’s Drapery Dress

1970s-quiltI met a new quilting sister today.  We have a lot in common.  We grew up learning how to sew, making our own clothes, and each of us added quilting to our lives about 15 years ago.

Ruth does almost all her quilting by hand, in an immaculate room in an immaculate house (I said we have a lot in common, not everything).  Her work is deliberate and beautiful; she enjoys making quilts and other things from cloth, too, like purses and tote bags.

As we shared stories of our first quilts, I mentioned that mine in the 1970s was a pathetic patchwork made from scraps of drapery fabric from my mother’s sample books.  Oh, we shared that, too – mothers who made draperies.  Ruth’s mother was an interior designer at Sears and would sometimes bring home remnants of drapery fabric, or imperfect panels.  Ruth would disassemble them and reuse the fabric.

One of her proudest moments came from a piece of fabric that was a lovely blue floral.  Ruth worked hard to stitch that into a beautiful dress.  She was so proud of it and eager to wear it on her first date.  In those days, the shoes, purse, all the accessories had to be just right.  As she described the preparation, I could imagine her twirling about her living room, light on her feet as the gathered skirt billowed about her tiny waist.

The first stop on their evening out was at his house to meet his parents.  She was confident about her appearance until she entered their living room and was invited to take a seat on their sofa.  A sofa on which she would have become invisible.  She and the furniture were wearing the same fabric.

What a shame.  All that work to make such a lovely dress that would only be worn one time.

Photos:  Ruth doesn’t have any of her fabric left.  But I do have some of my first quilt left; the squares of drapery fabric which haven’t disintegrated.  No, you can’t see the whole thing.  But it measures 87” x  94”  and is hand quilted.  Hand quilted by community women who must still talk about me for asking them to needle this jumble of fabrics, varying in thickness and fiber content.  The backing is flannel.  The whole assembly is ugly, yet warm. That’s the crumpled bundle you see in the top photo.

1970s-quilt-detailHere, in a detail photo, I focused on a fabric that I think might fit the description Ruth gave.  It looks a lot like the fabric covering the first couch I bought.

G’s Treehouse

G's treehouseA couple of years ago a friend of mine told me she was having a baby, a little girl.  This beautiful mother-to-be loved a particular line of fabric which included birds and flowers.

I gathered together some of the fabric from the collection, made a tree, planted some flowers at the base, and constructed a birdhouse.  I had a ball!

A note about the some fabric:  just as I never follow a pattern exactly, I don’t think I’ve ever made anything solely from one designer’s collection.  Though the collections are a great way to get coordinating colors and a variety of scales and patterns, I find they are often a bit static.  I like to add a zinger or a focus, or just something different from another source.  In this case, the collection didn’t have a fabric that said “tree trunk” to me, so I used a little brown check.  Likewise, there was not the right blue for the birdhouse.  And I’m confident that the leaves were cut from green fabrics from the collection and perhaps from others as well.

G's treehouse birdhouseI cut the background to the finished size of the quilt (38″ x 65″), adding a bit in all directions to allow for shrinkage that comes with appliqué and quilting.  The tree, branches, and leaves were all freely cut using the eyeball method on top of the background.  Needle turn appliqué was used throughout.  I like raw edges on leaves (as in After the Chlorophyll, Shade Tree Mechanic, and a few other projects) but this was to be a baby quilt to be used, and I didn’t want fraying to be an issue when washed.  Nor did I want the little one getting stray threads in her hand or mouth.

G's treehouse detailBroderie perse (a fancy word for fussy cutting) was used with the flower centers at the base of the tree.  The birds were larger than those printed on the fabric, but I mimicked the birds the designers had used when I made patterns for mine.

The tree bark was quilted with a dark brown thread, the rest with a matching thread that simply gave texture.  The exception to this was some of the embellishing stitches around the flower heads.  In some cases, there were details printed on the fabric that couldn’t easily be cut out and appliquéd, so I recaptured those with the quilting stitch using a heavier thread.  All threads used were cotton, and the batting was cotton.  That is often my preferred fiber for all components of a quilt, but certainly is the case when it’s for a baby.  Seed stitch was used to embroider the seeds the bird on the ground is eating.

All quilting was done on the sewing machine, hand-guided, free motion stitching.  A variety of motifs were used, including echoing, vines with leaves,  curved crosshatching,  vaguely parallel lines.

Now G is having a little brother.  Hmmm….

Bee Still my Heart

bee skep on notebook page leftbee skep on notebook page right

I see that today has been designated as National Honey Bee Day, begun to increase community awareness of beekeeping in the U.S.  Such a holiday is a perfect excuse to share a few pieces of fiber art with a beekeeping theme.

After I sold my childhood home to Billy, a former colleague of my Daddy, I received a treasured package.  Billy was doing some remodeling and found two of my Daddy’s high school science lab books behind the walls of a closet.  His graduation from Sycamore High School was in 1932, so the Biology and Physical Science lab manuals predate that.

I never knew my Daddy could draw, but in these books I found his drawings of crawfish, birds, fish, chemistry lab equipment, and BEES.  I was excited to find his handwriting, which looked exactly like it did later in life, but the drawings were a wonderful surprise.  I scanned some of the images and printed them on parchment paper and framed them as Christmas gifts for family members, but the lab on the bees got special treatment.

Beekeeping detail rightI printed those two pages on commercially prepared fabric for printing, then used those as the background for appliquéd bee skeps, vines, leaves, berries, and bees.  Cotton was used for the vines and leaves, beehives are a woven cotton, berries are made with silk ribbon, and the bees are appliquéd from felted wool.  The quilting is hand guided free motion on a domestic sewing machine. Each piece of this pair finishes at 12” x 15”. In keeping with the school theme, I entitled this pair Beekeeping 101.

beauty & beesThis reconnection with my Daddy’s history with bees spurred me to stitch several more quilts with bees and beehives.  I modified a pattern from Maggie Bonanomi to create Beauty and the Bees in wool.  The background is commercially handdyed and felted black wool.  All the appliqué pieces are felted wool from recycled clothing, mine and Goodwill’s.  The pink berries and tendrils are machine couched with my free motion couching foot, one of the most fun-to-use tools in my toolbox!

Still busy as a bee, I wanted a colony on blue.  So I created a simple design using a single bee skep, and used needleturn appliqué on the Blackbird Design fabric that looks like a cross stitch sampler.  I return to that fabric frequently, in different colorways, because it adds another layer of interest to any quilt while paying tribute to another one of my needlework loves – cross stitch.  A section of this piece appears in the banner at the top of the page.

bees in guest bedroomThe Beehive on Blue was made to fit an oval frame (8″ x 10″) I found somewhere.  That’s a shape I love and find those frames hard to leave in the store.  So one came home with me, got a coat of chalk paint, and holds my quilt.  It is honored with the presence of an original drawing of a bee by my art instructor and friend, Mark Ballard.

Fifty-Two Tuesdays has a block with a beeskep on linen.  There’s one in Fifty-Two Wednesdays, and  I’ve used this motif in a series of beginning appliqué classes.  I’m certain it will reappear many times.  I sometimes find interesting bee buttons or charms that need a home in a textile hive.

My Daddy, the beekeeper, would have been surprised that those lab manuals were still around, I think.  He built this house in 1946, after having owned at least two farms, then living in another house in town. so why did he keep science lab manuals for fourteen years?  I know if he could see my fabric beehives, he would pretend to think they were silly, printing his workbook pages and sewing on them.  But secretly he would be pleased.  As I think he would be pleased that I treasure such wonderful memories of those glorious mornings checking the beehives with him.

Note:  more details about Beauty and the Bees and working with wool are here.

Strollin’

Strollin'My latest art quilt features a guinea.  I love these funny looking birds; the pattern on their feathers reminds me of little old women wearing black calico dresses, and I love their spirit of self-confidence.  I guess it should be noted that I admire them from a distance.  I don’t think our neighbors would like for us to have them on our property.

My guineas must be relegated to quilts and buttons and such.

Strollin' closeupI found a black and white batik fabric a couple of years ago that said “guinea” to me.  I made an album quilt of Sunbonnet Sue-style guineas and called it Guineas on Parade.

 

The art quilt here uses the same fabric and pattern I drew for that larger quilt.  This one is needleturn appliquéd onto a brown and white checked background (more on the philosophy of that here).  The sunflower in the border is raw edge appliqué on a brown  hand-dyed fabric.  All quilting is hand-guided, freemotion quilting using cotton thread.

Strollin' back closeupThis piece finishes at 16” x 20”.  For the back, I used a delightful batik I bought in Paducah.  Even though it’s on the back, it harkens to my philosophy of “using the good stuff“.

In addition to Guineas on Parade, I’ve included guinea buttons on a block in 52 Tuesdays, and an appliquéd guinea in 52 Wednesdays.  

I found a delightful poem about guineas online. In part, it reads

They seldom walk –‘tis a run or a trot,

Snatching bugs left and right, one for each polka-dot.

The poem in its entirety can be found here.

When I see a guinea, or hear one, it takes me back to a sunny day of softball practice where the “buck-wheat” cry of these birds interrupted our practice.  Those friends, the serenity of a spring day, the joy of playing in the rural outdoors, all come to mind and I feel a smile spreading across my face.

The Seed Stitch

I’ve been delighting in a new stitch in the past few months, the seed stitch.  It is a simple little stitch which is carefree and easy, but adds an amazing punch to textile work in many situations.

If you are a stitcher and haven’t used this versatile stitch lately, give it some thought.  Directions and video tutorials are abundant online.  Just search “seed stitch for embroidery”, or you’ll learn knitting.

seed stitch on floozieIn recent years, I used the seed stitch in this block of Floozies, a quilt I made using a Sue Spargo kit she called Bird Dance in 2013.  In this case, the stitch was done as an embellishment. The seed stitch can be seen in the area under the bird’s feet.

detail of Mourning Flight

In Susan Lenz’s class I took in May and wrote about it in detail here, I realized that this stitch could be used as a quilting stitch, to secure several layers.  In this case, I used a heavy black thread making the stitch itself quite obvious.  This photo is one from Mourning Flight, detailed here, where all the hand quilting is accomplished using this simple stitch.

seed stitch in carBut recently, I’ve used the seed stitch on another piece, this white baby dress on blue, still untitled. Here I’m using a fine thread (30-weight cotton) which matches the background.  The stitch is rather small, so all that is visible is the dimple created when the stitch secures the top, batting and backing.  The photo here is one I took while riding in the car. (The seed stitch is in the area of the white in the lop left quadrant of the photo.)  On a road trip yesterday to see and photograph a rare bird, I got a lot of stitching done.  I was not the driver.

The seed stitch is rather random in nature, neither the length nor direction of the stitch having to be consistent, making it a great travel project.  Much of the seed stitch on Mourning Flight was also done in the car, this time on a birding trip to Florida.

seed stitch intended pink basketAnd remember the pile of vintage linens I brought home here?  Well, salvageable parts of one of those old tablecloths has become this piece. After quilting the inner pink border and the setting triangles densely, the striped center is a bit puffy.  So, I’ll be adding some seed stitch in this area.

One caveat:  the seed stitch does not produce an even result on the back of the piece, so an additional back will be needed.  But if you plan an additional layer on the back, or you intend to frame the work, the seed stitch is an interesting one to consider for securing layers.  I’ve planned for that on the white baby dress, using an extraordinarily thin fabric (harem cloth) as the backing now. And on the pink/green piece, the label will be placed over the seed-stitched area of the back of the finished product.

My Threaded Needle

bluebird on linenSaturday night finds me stitching through layers of delight:

A photo of Eastern Bluebirds made by Jim Gilreath  is printed on a vintage linen tablecloth.

The photo is layered on hand-dyed Osnaburg fabric the color of the male bluebird’s breast.

These are atop a remnant of vintage linen dipped in my indigo vat.

My needle is pulling smooth cotton thread through these layers and wool batting.

I am accompanied by live music from the photographer and his stringed instruments.

Are there really people in the world who would prefer to be anywhere else?  I can’t imagine.

Loving the Blues

indigo fabricsI’ve been playing in my indigo vat for the past few days.  The pile you see here includes some of the results.  I’ve dipped pieces large and small of old vintage sheets, old hankies and napkins, doilies, placemats, purchased commercial fabric, bits of lace, and a cotton Matelasse bedspread.

Fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and combinations of those.  Some have been dipped once, some several times.  I love to watch the magic as the oxidation process occurs.

indigo vatWhen first removed from the vat, the cloth appears green.  As the dye oxidizes, the blue appears.  If a resist is applied to block the dye absorption, interesting patterns can be created.

The only resists I’ve tried are some tying of the fabric and a bit of folding.  Already I can see how addictive this process can be.  And though I’ve already peered into the rabbit hole of staining with tea and blackberries, and then explored the browns, this lover of all things BLUE is tumbling headfirst into the indigo dye.

indigo stitchingThis third photo shows that I’ve started some projects using this most delightful fabric.  I’m loving the work I’ve recently been doing with vintage linen; it’s so deliciously soft to stitch by hand.  The photo shows a vintage baby dress appliquéd on linen now ready to embroider and quilt and some squares prepared for piecing.  Both pieces use techniques I’ve learned from that amazing artist, Jude Hill.  Her invisible basting stitch and paperless piecing technique have changed my stitching forever!

I haven’t limited myself to playing with yardage.  If I took a selfie right now, you would see a cotton knit shirt and a silk scarf which have both spent some time in the indigo vat.