May 19, 2015

An interview with me in Why Quilts Matter

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the reception of my quilt "Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface" at QuiltCon.  I also received two requests for interviews, which are now being published.  The first out is an interview by Bill Volckening in Why Quilts Matter.  The interview is long, so it has been divided in two parts.  You can read Part 1 here.  Part 2 will be published in June.

I am honored and humbled that Bill found my quilt and its story worthy of an interview.  Bill is a distinguished collector of quilts and writes extensively about quilts on his blog and on Facebook--do check out his website:

Thank you Bill!

May 18, 2015

A small dyeing interlude

In the midst of a long, slow process of doing trials on a large work in progress, I took some time out to dye a couple of T-shirts, one for myself, and one for a young friend.  First I dyed both shirts turquoise, then in a second step added pattern with black.  The patterning on the first shirt was done by loosely folding the dyed shirt diagonally, and then dripping black dye over the folds.

 And here's the shirt I made for myself, in a different process that I was trying out for the first time.  I like how it came out!

 Here's the set up (photo below):  I tipped a print board (foam insulation board, covered with fabric, and then a sheet of plastic) by resting it against a box of books, with the bottom edge draining into the blue lid of a large storage box.  I pinned the bottom edge of the turquoise shirt to the top edge of the board, scrunching the shirt into vertical folds.  (The shirt is wet at this point, so the folds hold.)  Then with a bottle of black dye, I squeezed on some dye, working from the top of the board (the bottom edge of the shirt), aiming to have the bottom edge mostly black, but leaving the neckline turquoise.  The photo shows the shirt about 12 hours after the application of dye (time needed for the dye to batch).  If I had taken a photo immediately after the application of the dye, you would see that the dye travelled quite a way down the shirt after the application, something I hadn't taken into account--I was thinking more turquoise would be left at the top.  But I do like how it came out, so no problem.

Improv Log Cabin workshop

I'll be teaching an improv workshop at my local quilt guild, Piecemakers (Galesburg, IL), on August 22.  The workshop is designed for quilters who are new to improvisational quilting, but those with experience are most welcome also; we'll focus on versions of the Log Cabin block.  Most of the time will be taken up with experimenting with different making a variety of blocks, but I thought people might like to have directions for a small project they could make with as few as four 6" blocks.  So I made several tablerunners, illustrating different fabric, setting, and quilting choices.  In the chartreuse one (below left), I used all solids, with a background of one color related to (but not in) the blocks, quilted with a 1" grid, and bound with a contrasting fabric.  In the blue one, I used print fabrics, a narrower blue/orange color scheme, I framed each block to set them off from the background, quilted in an overall free-motion design, and bound with fabric close in color to the background.  (Double-click on photo for a closer view.)

Then I made a third runner with larger blocks and no background.  I love this color scheme of green and gray, (a combination I saw in a quilt by Erin Wilson in a show in NYC last fall--can't find a photo on the web).  This one I quilted with straight lines, and did a faced binding (so no binding shows on the front):

Then I thought I'd try one more using a combination of patterned and solid fabric, blocks sewn together, but with a frame and border.  This one I don't like very much, so I didn't bother to continue with quilting it.  Maybe I'll do a giveaway of it at the workshop, if a few people are interested.

I look forward to the workshop, and seeing what everyone comes up with--should be a lot of fun!  For more inspiration from photos of improvised log cabin quilts, try a google image search. If you're interested in signing up for the workshop, you'll find more information here.

May 11, 2015

Wild Geese: Improvisational quilting with Sherri Lynn Woods (and book giveaway)

I'm delighted to be a stop on the blog tour for Sherri Lynn Wood's new book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters.  I was one of the quilters who volunteered to follow an improv "score" assigned by Sherri, so that she could illustrate the range of quilts that could result from the same underlying guidelines.  165 quilts were submitted and 22 accepted; I'm delighted that mine made it in!  In this post, I'll describe the process through which I came to the final composition, talk about what I learned through the process, review Sherri's book, and, last but not least, offer a giveaway of the book to a lucky reader.

The score that I was assigned is called "Modern Block Improv."  The basic idea of this score is to take a traditional block--here Flying Geese--and to work with it improvisationally.   My finished quilt: 
"Wild Geese" (38 x 40")

I had taken a class from Sherri at QuiltCon in 2013, and the class had focused on the same idea of starting from a traditional block.  In that case, we had been asked to come to the class having chosen a block that we wanted to work with.  I had chosen "Rail Fence," and really enjoyed the process of discovering totally new directions from the focused improvisation.  You can see posts on the workshop and later work based on that here, here, and here.

For the flying geese project, I began by trying out a number of variations on the block.  I found doing improv with triangles quite a bit more challenging than the rectangles I'd used before (in working with Rail Fence, and also Log Cabin)--but that also meant some interesting surprises.  The photo below shows the earliest versions at the top (two normal flying geese blocks, but cut by eye rather than by measuring), and the later versions below that.  I was glad I tried out a variation with curved "triangles," but they didn't end up in the quilt.  One side effect of improv piecing--quite a few experimental blocks end up in the scrap bin.

After I had a stock of blocks, I played around with juxtaposing them.  Really interesting shapes can develop.

I find making the array of blocks, trying out one thing after another, to be a very playful activity; the really hard work comes when trying to put the blocks together into a composition.  Without a set pattern to follow, there are so many possibilities.  I found it important to continually and consciously keep design principles in mind as I moved the blocks around the design wall--e.g., line, shape, color, balance, asymmetry.  (Value and texture didn't come into play  here, because of my decision early on to use only red and white.)

The traditional flying geese block lends itself to be organized in rows, either in a border or in the whole quilt; you can see an array of such uses in this Google image search.  I wanted to reference that traditional layout in my quilt, but not to make it the central design feature.  In this first pass at making a composition, I put a row of traditional blocks in a column on the left side of the quilt, and some version of that stayed through to the end.

It bothered me that I could see a cat's face in the composition:  two white ears and a chin.  Improved by taking out the "chin" and simplifying the center of the quilt:

Better yet--I like the addition of more red, including reversing the colors of the flying geese blocks in the bottom left:

The version above was sandwiched, and I was about to start the quilting the finished top.  But the two large vertical triangles that had previously bothered me as "ears," now bothered me as "mountains."  The human mind sometimes fights against abstraction!  Rather than undo a lot of the piecing and trying to insert new sections, I decided to use applique to change that area of the design by sewing other pieces of fabric over the composition.  It worked--once the quilt was quilted, even I can't find the spots that were appliqued unless I compare the photos.  The final composition:

Deciding on the quilting was another challenge.  I wanted to quilt white on white and red on red, which meant a lot of starting and stopping as I sewed.  I also wanted to change quilting designs in the various areas of the quilt.  I tried out a number of designs with pencil and paper, many of which were included in the quilt:

I love how the back of the quilt has it's own design, as a result of the red quilting showing through on the white back:

I definitely recommend Sherri Lynn Wood's book to anyone who is interested in improvisational quilting, either trying it out for the first time, or looking to extend the ways in which you already use improvisation.  Take a "look inside" on the Amazon listing to see the table of contents and sample pages.  One of the main sections of the book are the ten quilt Scores, which will guide you through a variety of strategies for improvisation, and another main section is on "Patchwork Techniques" that are used in one or more of the scores, techniques that are helpful no matter how you incorporate improvisation into your quilting.  I'm looking forward to trying out more of the scores, starting with Patchwork Doodle, Layered Curve, and Showing Up.

I'm happy to be able to offer a copy of the book to one of my readers--just leave a comment by Friday, May 15, and I'll choose one person at random to receive the book--U.S. residents only.  Please be sure to include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win.

I'd encourage you to check out other stops on the blog tour.  A number of them show or give a link to all the quilts submitted for a particular score, so you'll see a wider range than the ones published in the book.  May 13 will show the quilts for the "Modern Block Improv" score that I did for my quilt.

May 2Sew Mama Sew – Score for Floating Squares Gallery
May 4 STC Craft – Score for Rhythmic Grid Gallery
May 4Plaid Portico – Score for Strings Gallery
May 6During Quiet Time – Test Quilter Amy Friend – GIVEAWAY through May 10
May 8Wise Craft Handmade – Score for Get Your Curve On Gallery
May 11Studio Notes – Test Quilter Penny Gold – GIVEAWAY through May 15
May 13Quiltville – Score for Modern Block Improv Gallery
May 15Peppermint Pinwheels – Test Quilter Stacey Sharman
May 18Quirky Quilts – Test Quilter Kim McPeake
May 20PoppyPrintCreates – Score for Patchwork Doodle Gallery
May 22The Last Piece – Test Quilter Sara Fielke
May 25Cauchy Complete – Score for Layered Curves Gallery
May 26Diary of a Quilter – Score for Bias Strip Petals Gallery
May 28Getting Stitched on the Farm –Score for Improv Round Robin Gallery
May 29Spoonflower – Score for Showing Up Gallery
May 30Fresh Modern Quilts – Test Quilter Rossie Hutchinson

May 4, 2015

"Plain Spoken" now on the bed

Today I finished this quilt, begun about a year and a half ago.  It's a version of a pattern by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr, "Plain Spoken," published in their book, Modern Quilt Workshop; the fabric is Kaffe Fassett shot cotton.  I've written several earlier posts about the quilt, so if you'd like to read about the quilt in process, you can find those posts here.  

I've been working on the hand-quilting since last July; it has been nice to start each day with a half-hour or so of this quilt on my lap.  

Backing and binding are hand-dyed fabric.

April 16, 2015

Paula Kovarik and a drawing of Jeremy's

I mentioned several weeks ago that I had sent a number of Jeremy's drawings to Paula Kovarik, who was planning to develop further the work she had been doing with children's drawings.  She recently completed a quilt incorporating one of Jeremy's drawings, a quilt she has titled, "Don't Go In the Basement." You can read her post about it here.

Paula Kovarik, "Don't Go in the Basement"

And here's the drawing of Jeremy's that makes an appearance in the lower right corner of the quilt:

Jeremy's drawing, 1991 (age 5-1/2)

It is very difficult to express what this means to me--to see something from Jeremy's hand enter a new life in a beautiful creation by another person.  I think Paula has pulled off an amazing combination:  being true to Jeremy's drawing--capturing the child-like drift and energy of the lines--and yet also making something entirely new and wonderful by putting it in an abstract setting and with other figures.  

Kudos to Paula!  May you go from strength to strength.  You can see more of Paula's work on her website.

N.B. To those of you who read Paula's post.  Paula knows that Jeremy died ten years ago, but chose to address him directly in her post.  Her choice moves me--that she speaks to him herself, not reducing him to a lost voice. . .

March 12, 2015

Working with words and shapes

It is almost six months since I participated in a week-long workshop with Claire Benn at the Crow Barn in Ohio.  The workshop gave me a chance to work on multiple ways of producing graphic shapes and lettering on fabric.  Most of the examples above will reappear below, as I describe the work.

The workshop was called "Graphics and Graffiti."  Most of the sample work that Claire took us through had to do with ways of using letters/words, but we were also encouraged to do graphic work more broadly.  Most of what I did falls into three categories:  writing/marking with ink (on both paper and fabric),  screen printing with shapes drawn from my "Regret" quilt, and using a paper lamination screen to print a large block of narrative text.

Writing/marking with ink:
The first day of the workshop was devoted to working with paper, using markers and then various implements with India ink.  Many of the exercises we did were inspired by the work of Denise Lach, who takes calligraphy into the world of abstract art.  Claire had us choose a phrase or sentence, and work with that over and over again throughout the day.  Several years ago, I asked a rabbi if he had a blessing for someone for a broken heart.  He replied, "The Kotzker Rebbe said, 'There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.'"  This sentence touched me deeply, and it's the one I chose to work with for these exercises.  My favorite version is the one below (which came late in the process), in which I formed the letters of the word broken with the fat end of a wooden shim.  The letters B, R, and O are in the top line, K, E, and N in the bottom line.

Screen printing with shapes drawn from my "Regret" quilt
I have long been drawn to repeated but varying abstract patterns, with some favorites being Matisse cutouts and Kuba cloth.  Early on in my quilting, I thought of replicating such a design in applique, but decided I would rather wait and come up with my own repeated shape.  Now, years later, it occurs to me that the shape I used in my quilt on regret might also work as a smaller repeated shape, with perhaps some other related shapes added in.  Here's an early attempt:  the shapes were cut out of freezer paper, adhered to a silk screen, and printed with black thickened dye.

 For this next piece, I used one large piece of freezer paper, with shapes cut out of it and set aside; pulling the dye through the shaped holes gave me black shapes on a white background.  The photo was taken after I had made repeated pulls of the same screen; you can see some of what just one pull looks like on the far right.

I added another pull or two for more overlapping black shapes, and then added some splotches of yellow.  I like this piece a lot--not so much as a whole composition, but as material to cut up to put on note cards or to be used in some other kind of composition.

Here's another screen made with the freezer paper shapes set aside from the piece above, screened five times on a large piece of cloth.

Then I went back over with the screen turned 90 degrees from the first pull.  When doing multiple layers like this, you need to wait for the first layer to dry a bit before printing again.  I didn't realized that the first pull after the wait would come out lighter--seen in the bottom left corner in the photo below.

This mistake led to a lovely variation in texture.

Using a paper lamination screen to print a large block of narrative text
One of the techniques totally new to me was making a printing screen out of a piece of polyester sheer fabric, with no frame.  This method allows you to make a very large screen, as the fabric is about 54" wide and as long as you want.  It's called "paper lamination" because the basic process involves making paper stick to the back side of the sheer, in whatever design you put on with liquid matte medium.  So, it's a great method for making a screened image of handwriting, or any kind of line drawing.  Below is a photo of part of the screen that I made.  Most of the image is looking at the front of the screen; I've turned over the sheer on the left side, so that you can see the back, with the paper stuck on.   (Double-click on the photo to see more detail.)  Sorry if this isn't clear--it's the kind of process that is better demonstrated than written about.  Just trust me that it makes it very easy to do a large screen with direct application of line drawing.

 The text I'm using here is part of a narrative of the night Jeremy died.  I wrote the narrative shortly after the accident, in 2004.  Writing down what happened helped me stop going over and over it in my mind.  Last winter I started a quilt that incorporated the text of the narrative, which I stamped into a mud-colored cloth.

The letters are 3/8" high, resulting in a piece that is 35x48." (I haven't yet posted about this quilt--I'm waiting to make a few final decisions about it.)  As Claire explained the possibilities of working with a paper laminated screen,  it occurred to me that I could work again with the narrative of the accident, but use a very different method, to a different purpose--where expressiveness would be more important than legibility.  I made a screen, trying out different kinds of handwriting styles: script, print, all caps.  I printed two versions, one with a range of color on white cloth, and a second all black on gray cloth.  I especially like the potential for expressiveness in the multi-color one.

 I have recently begun the planning process for a very large piece (about 80x90") done with this process.

And a couple of other things:
Flour paste resist is another possibility for a large piece using the accident narrative.  This method, too, would allow me to work very large.  This technique involves spreading a layer of a flour/water mix on the cloth, and then scraping a design in with a skewer or other instrument; thickened dye pulled over that leaves black letters on the white background of the cloth.

Another way to get black lettering is to use a soy wax resist on black cloth and then discharge the black, leaving only the lettering that stays under the wax (which is washed out after the discharge process).  I tried several versions at the workshop, of which this is my favorite:

But I don't so much enjoy working with the wax, and the paper lamination and flour paste resist give me plenty to work with.

Many thanks to Claire Benn for a great workshop!  She'll be doing a similar workshop again this fall at the Barn, if you're interested, as well as a second one on "Exploring Gray through Surface Design.  You can see more of Claire's work here.

If you've never been, the workspace at the Crow Barn is great, and the whole set up is very conducive to positive relationships with other students as well as with the teachers and staff.  Here I am with Stephanie Meisel and MJ Kinman, both of whom I first met at a Barn workshop taught by Dorothy Caldwell.  Students tend to come back to the Barn, so paths can cross again in later workshops, which is really nice.