Friday, November 24, 2017

Scaps and Bridal Tulle to make a Quilt Background.



I liked the image of the boots with leaves that I made for the SAQA Benefit Auction a few years back, so I decided to use the same design to make larger version.

The boots are made from fabric that I hand-dyed.  My actual boots are brown, but I hate brown and love purple.  to get the variation in color that I hoped would look like light reflecting off wet boots, I used the low-water immersion process with Procion dyes from Dharma.  Low-water immersion dyeing produces lots of variation in color throughout the fabric that I love.

The leaves are fused on, as are the toes of the boots using Misty Fuse.

to get the bright blue stripes along the toe of the boots, I used Derwent  INKtense color blocks.  If you dampen the fabric, color it with the INKtense, and then heat set it with a hot iron, it is supposed to be color fast.  That certainly seems to be the case.  I never wash my quilts, but just hanging on walls, the colors I've used on other quilts seem to have maintained their rich. bright hues over the years.

I wanted a background that looked like grass, but that didn't detract from the boots.  I tried a number of "grassy" fabrics, but....yuck.  I finally settled on using a jillion slivers of scraps--mostly green, but also yellow, purple and beige.  To make the scraps skinny enough to look like grass,  I piled them on my cutting mat, and ran over them a million times with my rotary cutter.  Then I cut the fabric for my quilt backing--about 6 inches bigger all around than I intended my quilt to be, and I laid a piece of batting about the same size over that, heaped the scraps on the batting. The batting helped hold the scraps in place kind of like Velcro.

Next I layered a piece of black tulle over the whole background and pinned it in place about every two inches in all directions, and solidly along the edges so everything didn't fall out when I moved the piece to my sewing machine. Stuff still tumbled out when I moved the piece to the sewing machine, but I just kept stuffing the scraps back in, and putting more pins in place. (the boots were NOT attached at this point.) I quilted the piece very tightly, as you can see in the photo below.  The lines of random quilting are about a quarter inch apart.

After stitching all those fraying little scraps between the tulle and batting, your sewing machine will need a MAJOR cleaning.

(NOTE:  that skinny little yellow trim on the toe of the boot is actually about an inch wide, but only an 1/16th to 1/8th inch or so is peeking out from the blue piece layered over it.   That is really the only way I can manage small sliver-y accent pieces.)




Once the background was stitched, I added the boots, quilted them in place, and as my British husband would say, Bob's your uncle.  Then this piece joined the cue to wait for a binding, hanging sleeve, and label.  sigh.  Old habits die hard.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Glue, Fuseibles, or Pins? That is the Question

Putting together a collaged quilt can be done in many ways.  Before sections make their way to the sewing machine everything has to be held together in some way.  There are those who swear by glue, others who use pins , and still others who are devotees of fusibles.  I have tried them all.

For me, glue wins the prize--and not just any glue, but Elmer's Washable School Glue. 

I have tried glue sticks as well as Aleene's Tacky Glue, but Elmer's School Glue--NOT regular Elmer's works best for me.    I found glue sticks too messy, and Aleene's Tacky Glue too sticky.  When Aleene's Glue sets it is there to stay, whick can be a good thing, but I change my mind a lot.  I need something that holds all those little pieces  together, but that can be pulled apart without making the edges of the fabric fray or distorting the fabric.

Also, if I accidentally get a splodge of glue on the right side of the fabric--which I'm prone to do, Aleene's makes pretty permanent shiny spot, but Elmer's can be sponged off pretty easily.  

large section held together with glue only.


On the piece to the left--about a third of my quilt is complete, and at this point, only glued together with Elmer's Washable School Glue.   As you can see, it is sturdy enough to hang from one pin without anything falling apart.

small squeeze bottle with very small metal tip, sold by Amazon
I think heat setting the glue is what makes it work.   I put a thin line of glue on the edge of the fabric (thinner than can be made with the bottle of glue itself) and I heat set it with a hot iron.

I bought this little bottle on Amazon for a couple bucks.  I've been using it a couple years and it seems up to the task.  Some times I have to run a straight pin down the spout to clear out the dried glue, but that's the only issue I've ever had with it.  I like the control, and as you can see it takes very little glue to hold things securely.

I have tried using lots of different fusibles--Wonder Under, Misty Fuse, Soft Fuse, and found them all to be a pain in the neck.  Once you press fusible down, it is DOWN.  You will not be pulling that piece off without a disaster.  I've tried to not press anything until I had all my little pieces where I was sure I wanted them, but then I needed a million pins to keep things in place, which distorted the fabric, and made it harder to keep everything flat.  FLAT is what I want most. 


ALSO, as I pinned and moved the construction around, it I wrinkled it.  YIKES! It's not FLAT!  Flat is what I strive for at all stages.  So I'd pressed my pieces without thinking...there by attaching hours of my work to my ironing board cover. Dang it!


School Glue is made for fools like me.  It's easy, holds when you need it to, but can be easily torn apart without wrecking the fabric, can be cleaned up with water, plus it's cheap and available literally everywhere. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Art Quilt Constructed in Units

How do you do that? is a question I'm often asked about my quilts.  When I look at the entire finished thing, I think, "yeah, how DID I do that?"  The truth is, I DON'T do that.  I mean, I don't make the whole thing at once.  That would make me crazy.  I just make a lot of little pieces that I call units, and if I like them, I keep them, start hooking them together, and after awhile, I end up with a whole big quilt top. I might make a single unit 5 or 6 times before I think, yeah, that's it.  (Or, to hell with this!)

The photo below is of the Deer Harbor Post Office.  I think the building is charming, and it is the core of the community that has been my home for more than 20 years, so I wanted to quilt it.  It's kind of a complicated scene, further complicated by a Christmas Tree next to the door, and the winter-dead bushes around it.  But it had all the elements I like--the windows, the madrona tree, the dentalia trim on the porch and the corbels under the eves.  So I decided this is my new project.  I am going to try to change the point of view somewhat so that eye-level will be about where the "1893" sign is, instead of right into that obnoxious bed of English ivy.  That will also allow me to eliminate the wall.  I'm also eliminating most of the the madrona trees (even though I love them).  I'm going to keep the one on the far right of the building and make it bigger to help frame the building. At least that's the plan.  As I work through these things, plans change, often due to my limited ability to put my plan into fruition, or because I get a new, though not necessarily better, idea.


The most important units to me were the signs on the side of the post office.  If I couldn't make those, then the whole piece would suffer.  I figured out the signs and moved to the windows next, because again, those are the highest priority--they make this building what it is.  If I couldn't make good windows, then the piece wouldn't please me and I'd like abandon it.  
Next I made the one tree I am keeping in the image, then the eves and sky above it.  As each unit is made, if it really goes with the rest of the piece, I start attaching them to each other with my fall back product:  Elmer's Washable School Glue.  I put a thin bead along the edges of the pieces and heat set the glue with a hot iron.  The glue holds the pieces together very well, but can still be pulled apart without damage to the edges of the pieces if I need to change something.

I usually let things sit around in the glued state a few days to make sure I REALLY like them before using invisible monopoly thread and a narrow blind hem stitch to connect things in a more permanent way.

In the images on the left, three units are connected--the signs on the wall, the bench, and the first window.  At this point, I pretty much decide if the piece is going to work, and if I like it.  If I do, then I plunge ahead.  In the photo on the right, the eves and sky above have been added along with the tree.  The second window was made, but not connected yet.
Here's the drain pipe under construction, which will finish that whole right side of the building.    Since there's only going to be ONE tree, I went all in on it--it took about a jillion pins to put it together.  Next I think I'll move to the eves and porch roof on the left side of the image.  Chunk by chunk, each element gets added to the whole. 

One of the many ways I can screw up is not deciding what goes in front or in back of which other piece.  For example, above I've left an opening for the second window.  The gap has about an extra inch of fabric all around so the second window will be layered on top of it.  If I misjudge how much fabric is needed for the overlap, I can end up with a hole.  Then I have to decide if I can patch it, or if I need to remake that piece.  I make those decisions after a bit of cussing of course.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Post Office Quilt Part 2


About 4 weeks into this project and here I am.  I took the photo I'm working from in the winter, but I decided to change the season to early fall...mostly because I wanted some foliage to fill in above the roof line and break up some of that vacant sky.  Also, last year I noticed how the afternoon sun filtered through the trees and made a really beautiful variation of light and dark on the side of the building.  

Except for some foliage along the base of the building and tree, the west side of the building is done.  

Now I can turn my attention to the north-facing side and that cool dentalia trip over the porch.  Once again, I'm eliminating things from the image--the christmas tree by the door, the barren lilac bush that's obscuring most of the north-facing window, and the parking sign.  I've shifted the eye-level line up a bit, and hope I can carry that through on the north side.  I'm going to put the north side in a deeper shadow than shown in the photo so that the sunny side stands out as the focal point.  At least that's the plan right now.

I don't want to make the entire north-side of the building because I want the sunny west-side to be the focal point.  I get nervous at this point, because I've got a month or so invested in this piece, and I don't want to screw it up.  (However, I'm already thinking of plan B in case I do, such as putting a madrone tree where that barren lilac bush is and obscuring most of the north-side.  

Well, there's nothing left to do but dive in and see where I end up.



Barb's Good Ole Boys

My brother and his partner Barb are incredible photographers.  They post a lot of their photos online where I pour over them.  One element I'd been struggling with in my quilts is SHINE.  How to use fabric to make something look shiny and or transparent.

When I saw this image of trucks I wanted to try to recreate it in fabric. I emailed my brother and Barb to ask if I could use the image. They weren't sure which one of them took the photo, but they graciously agreed I could use the image. 

I changed a few things, like I moved the window, and added the brown truck to try to balance the composition a bit. I also made the second truck all red because I wanted it to be clearly separate from the yellow truck in the foreground.  But mostly I stayed pretty true to the original image.   I like to sketch old farm equipment and trucks because they are complex, but this was my first attempt to quilt machinery.



ipad sketch, on Sketchbook Pro 


Pen & ink plus watercolor sketch of Grand Canyon train.

As usual, I made each element separately. Since the yellow truck is so big, I broke that into smaller units too--the grill and lights, the hood, the cab, and the big tire.  That way, if I screwed something up, I wouldn't ruined the entire piece.   

I couldn't find any school-bus yellow fabric, so I ended up hand-dyeing the yellow fabric with Procion Cold Water dyes from Dharma. With low-water immersion dyeing I was able to get variations in the color that looked a bit like the deterioration of the metal on the truck. 

I wasn't sure about the background.  I didn't really like the metal walls in the original photo.  I wanted something brighter, but in the end, went with the warehouse look.  the window draws the eye back into the image, but I'm not happy about it.  I think I should have made the window panes more green-ish, but since the walls were blue-gray, I decided, wrongly, that blueish window panes would work. I might go back and try to alter the color with Derwent INKtense color blocks...but that's always risky business on a finished quilt, because if I screw that up, I'll be in a bad mood for about a week.


Here's a close up of the truck fender.  I glue all the little pieces in place with Elmer's Washable School Glue until I can get the section to the sewing machine and stitch things in place with clear monopoly thread.   The glue is great, but I don't trust it to hold things over the long-haul.

I didn't build these pieces on a background fabric, each little piece is only attached to it's neighbor.  Initially I pin all the little bits in place, then I go back and glue down the edges, and then stitch it.  Yes.  It's redundant.  Yes, it takes longer.  BUT I like the process, and until the quilting begins, I have lots of chances to change my mind.

When I'm happy with the look of things, I make my "quilt sandwich" (the top which is the image of course, the batting and a backing fabric, and then I spend about a month tightly quilting the dickens out of the piece.   The quilting not only nails everything in place, but by using varying colors of thread I can add shadow, highlights, or blend together areas that are a little choppy. 



 I was especially pleased with the coke machine.  I wasn't sure How I could do that, but I ended up tracing the logo on Golden Threads Quilting Paper,  then I just sewed around the outline of the lettering, tore the Golden Threads paper off, and filled in the outline with free-motion quilting.  It's a little wonky, but I'm OK with that.

As usual, once I finish constructing and quilting, I avoid the boring final steps--square it up, binding it, making a hanging sleeve and label.  Once the creative parts are done, I'm pretty much finished...unless I HAVE to finish it up for a show.  My motto, "If it doesn't HAVE to be done today, do it next month."




Friday, September 29, 2017

SAQA Benefit Auction Piece, 2017

Bread and Bike, 12"x12".  Donated to SAQA 2017 Benefit Auction.  Sold for $1000.
Every year The Studio Art Quilter's Association (SAQA) holds an online auction to help fund the organization.  They ask members to create a 12-inch by 12-inch quilt and donate it to the group.  Then, in the month of September every year, they hold an online auction.  The pieces start out on day one going for $1000.  Each day a quilt is not sold, it's price drops.  I hope my quilt sells before it hits the-bottom-of-the-barrel price.

For me, making the auction quilts are a good opportunity to try out a new technique or an work on an  image that I would like to make into a bigger piece.  Bread and Bike is one I hope to make into a larger piece this winter.  As my quilts go, with the exception of the bike, it's a fairly easy design--mostly straight edges.

A few years ago I donated the piece below, called Spring Wellies, to SAQA.  Since then I have made a larger version that looks very similar.  It's rather handy to work out all the design issues on a little piece first--small investment in both time and money, and then to make the larger piece.

Well, before I could post this entry, I got an email From SAQA with news about my Bread and Bike Quilt.  It sold right out of the gate for $1000.  I was stunned.  Pleased, but stunned!  Thank you Shirley Neary!  I could never make a $1000 donation to an organization like SAQA, so it's really nice to have my little quilt fetch a nice donation.
 
 



Saturday, September 23, 2017

From A to Z on Howard's Portrait Quilt.

I sketch a lot and take a ridiculous amount of fairly bad photographs.  Every now and then one of those sketches or photos really grabs me, and want to make a quilt based on it.  This picture of my husband  was one of those.  The photo appealed to me, not just because of the subject, but because of the huge variation in values from pure white to pitch black.
The quilt top is pieced, but obviously not finished being quilted or bound
I tried enlarging the photo freehand onto butcher paper, but just couldn't get the proportions right, so I ended up enlarging the photo with a free, online poster-maker website called Rasterbator.  It is easy, and produces a very sharp image on multiple sheets of paper, that are numbered, making reassembling the sheets into the poster-sized image easy.

I experimented with a different technique for constructing this quilt.  I used silk organza as a base.  I mounted the enlarged Rasterbator photo on a piece of foam insulation and layered silk organza over the photo so I could build the quilt pieces on the organza with bits of glue.  The organza is simi-transparent, so I could see the areas of light and dark through it as I added the fabric.
 
It was a mild success.   The glue soaked through the organza and stuck to the paper underneath, which made removing the piece from the board to quilt it a bit of a mess.  I guess I should have put a piece of clear plastic shower curtain between the organza and the paper to better protect the paper, but I didn't.

I don't really like to build my quilts on a backing, because it means there is one more layer of fabric that can shift around when I quilt everything.  I am manic about keeping everything FLAT.  The more layers, the more likely something will shift.  To help reduce the possibility of movement, I used spray basting to adhere the quilt top to the batting and then hand basted around the major image areas to keep things as flat as possible.  There are a few puckery spots, but nothing that catches my eye, unless I go looking for them.


Black tulle laid over gray and black areas of the quilt.
With raw-edged applique there are always bits of loose threads, which normally I like, but on a portrait, can be distracting.  So as a final layer, I overlaid the entire piece with black tulle.  the glasses frames are layered on top, rather than as reverse-applique, which is what I usually do with skinny little pieces.  I was worried they might come loose or get too tattered, so tulle helped secure them. Unfortunately, the tulle dulled the whites too much, so I cut away the black tulle from the stark white of the beard, nose and hat.

Then, I densely quilted the piece.  I always anguish over quilting on portraits, because the quilting definitely can enhance or detract from the image.  I basically try to follow the contours of the face, but when deep shadows are involved, it creates a bit of consternation.

Once I get the quilting done, I just can barely face doing the squaring up, binding, hanging sleeve and label.  Wish I had the money to hire someone to do those diddley bits for me!