There are habits in life that well worth cultivating, an affinity for quirky literature is a good thing. The details of discovering Jasper Fforde escape me, however the long lasting memory of the telling of the life and times of Thursday Next, and the twists and turns of her life bring a smile to the heart and mind. This week two long standing items on the to-do list were accomplished the renewal of the library card, and checking out e-books from the library. The discovery of the lapsed library card brought some consternation, irritation and something of an annoyance as I tried logging into the library on more than one occasion getting nowhere, because lapsed card. In the meantime the purchase of a kindle added to the reading options.
Several times in the last months I’ve tried going to the local library with a city dweller problem, all the street parking spaces were taken. Mind you there’s a school, several restaurants, and businesses within walking distance but, seriously every single time. No parking. With a wee bit of persuasion the house Sweetie that taking me was a great idea. There is the matter of the book he needed to pick up but yeah, whatever. So the library card obtained I accomplished task two, borrowing e-books for the kindle. Both authored by the aforementioned Jasper Fforde. Just in time for a quick trip to Las Vegas to help a friend at a trade show.
Yeah there’s a repeat on the picture, when you talk a lot there has to be a return to the original conversation. This sunset is one that occurred outside my studio window. These kinds of visual treats happen with enough frequency that I look for them as each one is different. The clouds are different, the light is different, the leaves change from day to day. Like the moon, sunsets enthrall me, capture my attention. Sunsets are moments of rest. Sunsets are moments to enjoy the beauty.
And they are characters. When I hunted for a photo for this post memories of first grade drawings popped up. Clouds, mountains, trees, people all have a certain feel, stylized in a child like way, open to the possibilities and mindful of how others in life might think of them. This is a good thing, in so many ways! I can see how these things that I’ve drawn since childhood are making into the quilting I do now:
While working on Moonset there was a moment that adding a squirrel hole somewhere near the area of the major boughs, it’s something I remember doing in a few of the childhood drawings. The funny thing is that I don’t remember seeing a single tree with a squirrel hole, and yet, there they were. The imagination kicked in somewhere along the way. The roots of the tree in the foreground remind me of the old pine on the big hill where we would play in summer, and sled in winter.
The fun thing is bringing the character of those moments into the quilting in these moments, adding interest and character to the stitching.
The beautiful thing about character is that it shows up, does the work, doesn’t worry about perfection, is interested in exploring, and goes places.
As I started thinking about character, texture, and thread a character from about 25 years ago popped up in my thoughts. He and his wife both volunteered with local school students after school. One afternoon he demonstrated asymmetry through showing the students how his eyes, ears, arms, etc were asymmetrical. Most of this someone wouldn’t notice by simply glancing at him, one would have to really look.
Scrolling through photos for a different blog I came across the photo I took at the Bronx Botanical Gardens about 6 years ago. I’m pretty sure I changed the photo to black and white to get a feel for the texture, and tones. What struck me this morning, because I was looking, is all the great texture of the lily pad. The veining is similar and different, the texture on the left is remarkably different than the texture on the right. The lily pad is such a beauty in and of itself. The asymmetry adds to the overall visual appearance of both the photo and the lily pad.
Let’s take this to quilting.
Here on the border of It’s Bigger than I Thought the curve of the border made the perfect spine for the feathers. Each side a little different as I stitched along. The full quilt is below.
I quilted this on my BERNINA 1080 shortly after a Ricky Tims Super Seminar. Ricky reminded us that we, as quilters could do anything we want. He showed us how to do some feather work on the machine, and when I got home, off I went, stitching feathers all over the surface of the quilt. I can guarantee the level of character in the quilt is at a high level. However the overall result is amazing.
Piecing. It’s not been very much of my quilterly life over the last few years as I’ve focused in on machine quilting and have in essence become a whole cloth quilter because I love to play. Oh how I love to play at machine quilting. Watching what develops under the needle is so exciting and peaceful. There is something incredibly beautiful about watching a piece of cloth become something, oh something different and exciting. Changing thread and fiber.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying some piecing. I think I’m doing a bit of a creative reset. It started with Gramma’s quilt and has just moved right along. I love stitching tiny pieces together. There’s something oddly comforting knowing that I can cut accurately and piece well. Please take a moment and pick your chin up off the floor. Thank you.
Last week I posted that Melanie Testa gave me some of her hand printed fabrics. I love them. I think Melly is pretty fab – her creative spirit is energizing. If I ever owned a quilt shop each one of the employees name tags would say “fabric enabler”. I have learned something over the last few years I might be introverted by nature but by quilting bold would do quite well. To me, black would be too strong, a deep gray a bit less strong still deep enough to make the color just pop. I also thought of fuchsia. (please tell me that you’re not really surprised by this fabric choice.)
The lighting is bad here really bad.
I found a way to incorporate the fuchsia into the quilt. The fuchsia is from dyeing to sew. To go with this the choices were a more solidly cheddar orange or a paler orangey/yellow. I went with the palery orangey/yellow to pop the fuchsia. And it worked!
The strips for these 9 patch blocks are cut at 1 1/4″ making the blocks 2 3/4″ finished. Can I just add how fun it is to piece this size block? Part of it is the challenge and part of it is my own confidence level has really changed over the last 5 years. I’m not planning on competing with these, it’s just play time.
I have a confession to make: I’m having a love affair with whole cloth quilts. This passion snuck up on me, quietly whispering, “let’s see what you can do with this cloth”, “what would these threads look like on Radiance”, “did you see that thread?” Wide open spaces get me all giddy thinking about the possibilities. Whole cloth quilts have taken over my quilting. Any cloth will do add bamboo, wool or silk batting, with miles of colorful thread stitched over the surface creating one of a kind designs. I found it difficult to give into the yearnings to just quilt with so many unfinished quilts on the shelf until Melly Testa asked me the all important question, “what is this obsession with finishing?” With this new found freedom along came “Twilight in the Bronx” the first in a series of whole cloth quilts named after the New York City.
Whole Cloth Tradition:
Whole cloth quilts have long been a way for quilters to show their quilting prowess. Whether by hand or machine whole cloth work carries a certain mystique, rich in symbolism and tradition. The images used reflected the area of origin. Whole cloth quilting, trapunto, boutis and matelasse have their roots in Italy and France and came to the US through England during the colonial period. Generally whole cloth quilts were white stitched out on white cotton however many were stitched on colored cloth and were generally tone on tone. Quilters used cotton, wool or silk depending on availability and the specialness of the occasion. Whole cloth work even makes an appearance in feminine fashion in the form of petticoats with an opening in the skirt to revealing the detailed work of the petticoat. I’ve seen amazing examples of these petticoats on display at the Wadsworth Athaneum in Hartford, CT.
Many quilters still embrace traditional whole cloth quilting in white or tone on tone coloration. These quilts and textiles, whether hand or machine quilted, add to the beauty of the quilting world attesting to the skill and artistry of the quilt maker. Like pieced quilts whole cloth quilts take thought, preparation and skill to create.
Diane Guaduynski, Karen McTavish and Sue McCarty have all created award winning, beautiful, tradition honoring whole cloth quilts. Each one of these quilters has created masterpiece whole cloth quilts with Diane earning the title of “Master Quilter” from the National Quilt Association. Personally I am in awe of their work as quilters and as teachers. There are many quilters who are approaching whole cloth in a different way, incorporating a wide variety of background fabrics, thread weight, color and batting choices. Sue McCarty’s Tribute to Tolkein is an amazing example of contemporary whole cloth quilting using mostly metallic thread to create the intricately detailed wedding scene. Sue Patten comes to mind with her ZenSuedle quilts and classes. From Sue’s website I create “continuous line, designs and fillers to create your own one of a kind ZenSuedle whole cloth quilt”.
The practical side of the process of whole cloth quilting
Every type and style of quilting has a process, a way of doing things that is needed for a well made quilt. Learning each skill, from choosing fabrics to binding, takes time to learn and become proficient. Each quilter over time takes those learned skills and makes them their own, finding which styles, tools and processes work best for the style of quilting they love. Whole cloth quilting is no different in that regard, the skills focus on design and the quilting. The next few paragraphs cover practice, inspiration, decisions, and choices for batting, batting thread and binding. It is important to note that your process may be different and I wholeheartedly give you permission to figure out your style. “Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing….sing a song” Just quilt, quilt your heart out!
There’s no getting around the dreaded “p” word – practice.
When I need to figure out the stitching path of a new to me quilting motif I take pen or pencils to paper and spend time working out the stitching path. I do this both right and left handed as I machine quilt with both hands. As I’m practicing other designs, complimentary motifs will crop up; I call this process “mindful practice”. I have sketchbooks filled with these images that inspire new whole cloth quilts. When thinking through a whole cloth quilt the designs are focused and intentional. Or not. Different colors and line thicknesses will help get the idea of what the quilt will look like when it’s finished. Using pencils with erasers offers the opportunity of changing things up prior to sitting down and stitching. This type of practice gets the creative juices flowing, like stretching before exercising.
Inspiration and Design
I wish that complete quilting ideas would pop into my head with a clear understanding of motif and color placement. Ideas develop slowly, like making sour dough bread. The starter must be maintained and fed several days prior to use so that the old sour is replaced, yeast has time to develop and flavors the new ingredients. Once the sour is ready for use the next step is to leaven the bread being made from the sour. The end result is well worth the effort – the aroma filling the house and tasting the bread fresh from the oven! The design process for a whole cloth quilt (any quilt) is the same way, it takes time to develop from inspiration (sour starter) to finished quilt top (tasting the bread).
Inspiration presents itself in a multitude of ways; a piece of fabric, wrought iron, the moon, traditional piecing patterns, flowers, trees and the list goes on. When I’m out and about I keep my camera with me to capture images that inspire. As I take the image I’m mentally trying to think through the stitching process. I usually have a sketchbook, sharpie pens or color pencils at hand to try out these new to me motifs. At a quilting retreat an image of a nautilus shell caught my attention, the spiral shape and connections set me wondering how this could be stitched out. Looking through the sketchbooks this shape became a recurring them in my doodling and has worked into my quilting.
Oh the moon, the beautiful moon with its bright, reflective light. Infrequently I can see the moon from my office window which faces toward Manhattan. I needed an idea for a quilt, the next in the “City” series. I knew I wanted to keep the eight pointed star from “Twilight in the Bronx” but the next part eluded me. One morning from my office window the moon hung so low in the horizon it appeared to be resting on the tips of the Manhattan skyline. In a moment I knew what this quilt would look like, its name, “Moon Over Manhattan” and the star would be stitched out in shades of gray with several star points being obscured by the curve of the moon.
Sometimes inspiration comes from a thought or word. A friend mentioned the word spiral and several ideas popped into my head. From this one word and a set size @play (recently published in Machine Quilting Unlimited) came to be.
With any quilt we all go through a decision making process including: end use of the quilt, size of the finished quilt, cloth and batting. Knowing that each decision will effect the overall look of the quilt, oh heck, seriously I just wing it. Size is based on width the cloth; batting whatever I have on hand and thread, a well stocked stash lends itself to greater creativity.
This is where the fun begins. No matter what, I have a blank canvas and unlimited options. While cotton is traditional here in the states there are so many options including satin, silk, silk/cotton blend, lycra, suede (micro fiber). This is where fat quarters come in handy allowing the opportunity to try a new-to-me fabric without a huge investment. For the back use a
I have cotton, polyester, bamboo, wool and silk on hand so there are plenty of options. A small piece like this provides a great opportunity to experiment with batting, learning what the batting will do in the quilt, how the loft affects the look of the quilt and which battings provide structure and which provide loft. An aside about batting: if it comes from a plant (cotton, bamboo, soy) it’s flat and has a memory; if it comes from an animal (worms, sheep, alpaca) it’s fluffy and doesn’t have a memory. With polyester all bets are off it can be flat or fluffy because the companies can do anything with the fiber. The polyester is meant for another quilt, so no poly. Bamboo will provide structure; it has a memory similar to cotton. Wool will provide structure; has a loft and has no memory. Silk provides structure, loft and has no memory. We all know that when cotton is folded and hand pressed the line can be seen, and a quilt with cotton batting that is folded will retain those lines even when it’s hung even for long periods of time. Neither wool nor silk have memory so when a quilt has been folded for a while and is hung the fold lines will ease out from the weight of the quilt. For quilts where structure is important use two layers of battings in the quilt, this is particularly useful in quilts intended for competition as it is more likely that the interlocking of the stitches will remain in the batting rather than showing on the top or back of the quilt.
Needles & Thread
It’s important to pair needles and thread for good, quality stitches. If the thread is too large for the needle the thread will bounce and skipped stitches will happen. If the thread is too small for the needle a larger than necessary hole will be left and pin dotting may occur looking as though you’re having a tension problem. Rule of thumb: when using a heavy thread use a large needle; fine thread use a smaller needle.
Expect to adjust the tension of your machine: machine tension is set to 60 weight polyester used for garment making, this is a fine thread. Most of the thread used in quilting is much heavier and may require tension adjustments, usually reducing the tension whether on the top or in the bobbin. Even if a home sewing machine has self adjusting tension it’s important to understand that in the quilting process tension adjustments will be necessary. If the manufacturers didn’t want us adjusting tension there wouldn’t be any way for the tension to be adjusted on the machine and there is only 1 machine that I’ve ever seen that did not have some way to adjust the tension, and it needed it.
There are so many good tools available for marking quilt tops. Always mark the quilt before its basted unless using some kind of paper product or loose chalk powder which allows you to mark as you’re quilting. As a general personal rule I use chalk pencils however sometimes the markings don’t show or remove too easily with my hot hands, in this case I use some type of washable or heat removable marker. There may be issues with the ink type marking pens, particularly if the quilt is basted when marking. Try a variety, do a little bit of research and see what quilters are saying and find what works for you.
What do I mark you may be asking? You might (not) be surprised to learn, as little as possible. With each of the quilts mentioned already I marked the underlying structure. For “Twilight in the Bronx” and “Moon Over Manhattan” that means the star and circle; “@play” I drafted on huge sheets of paper, placed the paper under the fabric and drew in the spirals (not the nautilus) and the flying geese. That’s it.
Let’s Get Going
Now that the planning is done and the quilt is marked it’s time to stitch your quilt. This is where the fun begins. Relax your shoulders, breathe, blink and enjoy the process of creating a small whole cloth quilt that reflects your style and color choices. Don’t let a small whole cloth quilt fool you they take hours and hours to get quilted. Slow down and enjoy the process. If something isn’t working remember that “a seam ripper is a quilters best friend”, take the stitches out. Take this time to ponder what’s working and what’s not working and make some simple changes. Being willing to listen to the quilt and make changes as you’re going along will work better than trying to stick to a “set plan”. When quilting Twilight in the Bronx, Moon Over Manhattan and @play I listed to both internal (my own thought process) and external voices (friends in one of my mini-groups) and made changes for the better on both quilts.
With so much stitching it may be necessary to block your quilt. Blocking is a process where the quilt is wetted, pinned to carpet or covered foam insulation sheets so that the quilt is square (use a measuring tape, ruler and t-pins) and dried. It’s best to run fans over the surface of the quilt to aid the drying process. With a small quilt pinning to your design wall or over sized ironing board and letting it dry will work. There are some great tutorials for this.
Once the quilt is blocked it’s time to give consideration to finishing the quilt. Before making a decision on how to treat the edge of the quilt take a photo to gain some perspective, distance from the quilt. Does the quilt need the binding to look complete? If the answer is yes a traditional binding can frame a small quilt beautifully giving the quilt a visual stopping point. If the answer is no, then “facing”, the binding is pulled to the back of the quilt, is the better option. Facing will visually extend the lines of the quilt giving as much visual impact as a traditional binding. Facing is easy and there are a few great tutorials on line. If you’ve decided this quilt will be hung on a wall this is the point to add a sleeve, remember to give consideration to the depth of the rod this will be hung on and allow for that in cutting and stitching the sleeve. If this is meant for competition, check the rules of the show for their requirements.
It’s time to just enjoy your finished whole cloth quilt. That’s right just sit back and enjoy your quilt. Post photos on your blog or on facebook and let us enjoy your quilt too.
In the middle of that experience of being completely drained a there were a couple of amazing things that happened that have helped to restore my sanity. Long conversations with a couple of friends! I know this term is overused in some sense, but these were priceless. In the midst of these “Bang Head Here” was quilted one day. Funny thing is this was supposed to be another quilt entirely (see the quilting on the right). I love the feel of rayon and the look of the black batik rayon from Sew Batik just makes my heart go pitter pat. I’d started some stitching on the rayon and realized that I had not basted it well enough. I may just finish stitching this and see what happens when. . .
I also wrote the potential forward to what I hope will be a book. This moment of gratitude had me thinking about how I want to be as a quilter. I am grateful for all of those quilters who have influenced me and the ones I’m privileged enough to teach. It was during this time that I changed the tagline from “quilting is a beautiful and complicated art” to “giving quilters permission to do whatever they want since 2008”.
Ultimately I needed time to think, review and think some more. I’m grateful for the time that allows me to do that. Over thinking is sometimes a good thing. Sounds odd right?! It’s finally allowing me to get out of the way and let a few things just happen. And I’m grateful for that. My schedule over the summer and into the fall is light and this is giving me time to work on a few quilts (one for a competition), write and quilt samples. As I sit here I can see in my minds eye the next two quilts that I want to make, hmmm, make that 3. Yep, 3 for sure.
I have to remember to take process pictures for the proposal. The photo to the left is one of samples I’m working on. The fabric is part of an 8 step gray gradation from Cherrywood. I’m also planning on using Radiance, batik rayon and silk for this project covering a wide range of fabrics used for quilt making. Yay! If you’re ever in a creative slump I encourage heartily the following: chat with friends and other quilter
purchase pretty fabrics purchase gorgeous thread try new batting get a new coffee/tea mug take lots of pictures of things that inspire you doodle listen teach someone wallow for a little while read my blog and every quilterly blog you can find read great quilterly articles play play play feel free to walk away for a bit wear mismatched socks
I’m going to make a bit of a confession here. It’s challenging to admit this because although in thinking about it my facebook postings while I was in the middle of quilting “@play” gave a clear indication of where I was headed at the time. I kept talking about the quilt as “the unruly teenager” and for a while that’s almost the name the quilt went with however I came to my senses and the quilt ventured into the world as “@play”.
The aftermath shocked me though. I felt completely drained. Drained in a way that I never, ever expected. At first I thought if I’d only finished this sooner instead of just in time to get it to MQU. Well actually with all the other things going on like: work, teaching in Portland and Houston, needing to get things done for Jeanie and a few other thing I just couldn’t.
For the first time in a long time I couldn’t just wing it. This quilt demanded some planning and (shock horror) marking. As a general, personal rule, I do not mark quilt tops. I just go for it. Wholecloth quilts over 15″ are a bit different for me. I need to pay different attention to the design and quilting.
Not for nothing 36″ of quilting with mostly Kimono Silk is a lot of space to fill. Between design and quilting I spent about 100 hours on this quilt in a relatively short amount of time. I started the design work right after I got back from Houston. Met with a friend of mine to talk about which two Ideas made more visual sense. What I find interesting is that the strongest presence in the drawing is the flying geese, which are not quite as prominent in the quilt.
The hours spent quilting were amazing in a great and not so good way. For most of the quilt everything went fine. The red flying geese must have close to 500,000 teeny tiny pebbles. If I’d been using anything other than silk the quilt would have been really bulky. One thread I was using kept breaking ultimately meaning that I had to change something and the end result ended up better than I thought.
After all of this tight quilting the quilt shrunk – it’s to be expected but 1 1/2″ at the point where I realized it is a lot. I must add here that I’m grateful for friends who quilt that offered me encouragement when I was ready to toss this into the corner and go cry. I’m grateful for the commitment and due date on this quilt. Going from @play to “the unruly teenager” and back again was a challenge. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Yes I would. Even with this the aftermath of feeling like I’d given everything, just everything I had to this quilt. This has been the strangest 3 months ever in my quilting life.
The creative funk I’ve been in over the last several months is finally starting to lift. The ideas are starting to flow again. I think spring has something to do with it, this renewal of life, color popping out here, there and everywhere is amazing.
Going to the NY Botanical Garden and the Cloisters help a lot. Nature and architecture inspire me in so many ways. As did the piano concert I went to the other day. As the pianist played I could see machine stitching in my minds eye being stitched out over the surface of a quilt. Quilterly inspiration is filling up and I’ll have something to share with you soon!
Oh yes! Once upon a time there lived a quilter in the Bronx who received an invitation from Vickie Anderson and Kit Robinson to participate in a challenge….a whole cloth challenge arrived in my email in box. She said yes. Sandra Leichner, Terri Doyle, Lisa H. Calle, Jessica Schick , Millie Sorrels and I each made a 36 x 36 whole cloth quilt. They are all gorgeous. And I do mean gorgeous and creative and oh I could just gush on and on.
We were sent Radiance by Robert Kaufman for the top and their cotton sateen for the back. Radiance is one of my favorite fabrics ever! I swooned over the fabric when it arrived and promptly set it aside until after teaching in Houston. Did I mention the quilt was due January 15th?
The Big Idea finally happened after a friend told me it’s time to quilt a spiral. After several tries the thought of incorporating spirals and flying geese into one quilt happened. I had 2 different designed worked out and with a bit of help from the aforementioned friend decided on the design you’ll see in this issue of the magazine and a bit later here on the blog. Somehow I knew the title of the quilt would be @play because when I sit at my machine, I’m playing. I love to quilt. I love the feel of the quilt in my hands as I manuever it under the needle stitching pebbles, feathers, spider webs and all sorts of other quilterly motifs.
All of the quilts will be on display at HMQS May 9 – 11, 2013.
During the process of stitching @play it became “the unruly teenager” as we didn’t get along very well for a while. @play was determined to be the quilt she is and I needed to listen and *stamping my foot* I did NOT want to listen. Well, as quilts do, @play had the final word and we get along well now. Gregory Case photographed all of our quilts and they are STUNNING!
I’ll post the full quilt during the week of the show.