November 1, 2012

Links to a sampling of my quilts

I've recently added links to a selection of my quilts in a box at the top right of my blog home page.  I wanted to include the quilt above, one of the earliest quilts of my own design (begun in 2004), but I had never done a post on it, so I'm putting it here so that I can link back to it in the list.  (You can double-click on the image for a larger view.)  So, this post does double duty--it gets "Circles" up on the web, and lets you know that you can see a sample of my quilts by looking at the newly posted list.  (If you're reading this from an RSS feeder, you can click here to get to the home page.)

Each block is 4-1/2 inches square; the circles are sewn on with needle-turn appliqué.  I had some teal tone-on-tone fabrics left over from another project, so I bought a range of Oriental fabrics that included some teal, and used those for the circles.  I say a bit more about this quilt in the essay I wrote about how I came to quilting and my development as a quilter.

October 31, 2012

Top complete

I finished piecing the top today.  I wanted to give some close-up photos, to show the range of colors in the shot cottons.  They are really beautiful.

And the whole top:

Some sources for shot cotton:
I bought my fabric from Glorious Colour, $9.50/yd, 71 colors, also available in sets, with a new full set coming out late in 2012.  Also stripes.

Other sources carry the fabric also, but either less of a selection or a higher price:
Hancock's of Paducah, $8.98/yd, 19 colors
Portsmouth Fabric, $9.95/yd, 50 colors and a few stripes
Purl Soho, $10.60/yd, 56 colors

October 25, 2012

Playing with value and color

A couple of years ago, I made a baby quilt from a pattern called "Spectrum" by Judy Turner, from her book with Margaret Rolfe, Successful Scrap Quilts from Simple Rectangles.

I really enjoyed making this quilt, for which I used a range of shot cottons.  It was both relaxing and engaging to make the choices of color and value.  The quilt is made up of many rectangles, all cut 2"x3.5".  They are arranged into squares, with either two light rectangles as the center, or two dark.  My sister liked the quilt as well, and I agreed to make a larger one for her.  She stood me to a collection of about 50 1/4-yard cuts of shot cotton, out of which I am getting a lap-quilt for her, and something else for me as well.  It was a great treat to get this huge variety of shot cotton.  I ordered it from, but they don't seem to have this big collection anymore.  Anyway, the blocks at the top of the page are the ones I've just finished up for my sister's quilt; I've been working on the blocks on and off for about five months--a nice project to have on the side, doing a few blocks when I need a break from something else.

When I had all the blocks done, I separated them into two piles, light and dark centers, and then just put them up on the design wall in the order of the pile.  Every once in a while, if I noticed two in my hand that looked too similar, I chose another in the pile, but that's it.  I expected to then do a lot of tweaking, moving blocks around to get a good arrangement of color and value.  But I think I might leave it just as it is!  I could tweak endlessly, but this is pleasing now, so maybe I can restrain myself and leave it alone.

I also checked the value distribution by taking the photo in black and white as well.  Digital cameras are a real boon to quilters! 

Even without black and white, looking at the photo in the camera--where it is much reduced in size--helps one see value distribution.

October 24, 2012

A walk around the block

We've had lovely fall weather here in western Illinois, much appreciated after a blazing-hot summer.  On a beautiful day recently, David and I were spending the day inside at our desks; we both had things that needed to get done--no time for the longer walk that we sometimes take together.  So I suggested we just take a walk around the block, which we did, and then another several blocks beyond that.  I picked up these ash leaves along the way--glowing variations of gold.  I drew with a marker and colored in with Derwent Inktense water-color pencils.  I do love the fall. . . (You can click on the photo to enlarge.)

October 10, 2012

Printing, stamping, and writing with thickened dye

I recently came back from a five-day class at the Barn with Carol Soderlund.  The class was called "Visions and Revisions," and was aimed at experienced dyers.  Students let Carol know ahead of time the particular areas of dyeing that we wanted to work on, and then we worked independently with Carol's guidance.  There were only five of us in the class, so we got a lot of attention, and Carol was enormously generous with her time and knowledge.  I took my first class in fabric dyeing with Carol in the spring of 2009.  With the skills gained in that class, I have been able to successfully dye fabric for a number of quilts, but I felt I needed further help to go in some other directions, particularly in the use of thickened dye as "paint" that one can use to print, stamp, paint, and write with. 

Knowing that I would like to create more fabric with the texture and/or color of stones, I worked with a limited palette of neutrals the whole week.  (For an example of my previous work about stones, done with paint rather than dye, click here.)  With a set limited palette, I could focus on learning techniques, and just use the array of five or six colors that I had mixed up.

I worked on over 30 pieces of fabric over the week, some about a yard long, others just small rectangles.  My favorite piece is the one at the top of the post, especially the top gray tier (click on any photo to bring up a larger image).  This is a silk screen print, using corn husks to mask the screen:  husks torn and arranged on top of white fabric, silk screen laid on top, and then gray dye pulled through--dye goes to the spaces between the shapes of the corn husks.  I printed the screen (about 12x18") several times across the width of the fabric, and then I turned it 90 degrees and printed over the first series.  In the tier printed with tan, I used leaves as well as corn husks; you can see some of those shapes maintained, even though I again did both vertical and horizontal printing.  Here's a detail of the gray tier:

OK, less detail on the rest!  Here are the pieces I did that I am most likely to follow up on in one way or another.  The next one is done with a stamp, stamped in a vertical position with gray dye and then horizontally with tan.

Here's the stamp I made for the piece--very easy to make, cutting shapes out of "Fun Foam" and sticking them on a piece of foam core as the base:

Another kind of printing is done with a thermofax screen, a technique that allows you to burn a line drawing into a screen.  Here I tried out screens made from the drawings I've been doing since the summer:

Here I took the screen for the enlarged detail of salvia (on the right above), and I printed it multiple times.  then I painted grey dye over one bunch to see what it would look like on colored fabric:

And here's one done from laying double-pointed knitting needles on a photocopy machine.  The screen was done with the needles all parallel to each other; the print was done by multiple pulls on the same screen.  This was printed on fabric previously dyed tan.

I like this next piece a lot.  I started with gray fabric, wet it and scrunched it up, and then dabbed gray and tan paint on it.

And a detail--cut up, this would work well as fabric for stones.

I also made some stamps in the shapes of stones.  First I used gray dye and a foam roller for applying the dye:

Then I used more colors, and I used a foam brush to apply the dye, which gave more texture to the stones.

Here's a piece with good potential for stone texture (rather than shape).  It was done using a paint roller, the kind with a very rough foam roller, meant for texturizing paint application.  I rolled over white fabric with grey paint.  I can put another layer or two on, to have less white.  Or if do another piece like this, I would probably start with an already-dyed piece of fabric and then roll over it with one layer.

I was also interested in writing with dye on fabric.  I wanted to obscure the actual text, so this version was done by monoprinting:  I wrote on a plastic-covered table with the dye, then laid the fabric on top of it--so the writing comes out backwards.

Here are a couple of images from fabric I printed using a "deconstructed screen"--a different (and more complicated) process than regular printing with the silk screen, and not one I'm likely to do again, but I can cut some good "stones" out of these pieces.  The base of this screen was twine laid down on the screen in somewhat snaky parallel lines.

Finally, here's a photo of the wall where some of my work was hung up.  A very productive week, with a lot to process in its wake. . .  I am happy with the range of techniques I learned; now I need to look over the work I produced and decide which techniques I'd like to pursue further.  I did not intend to create "finished" fabric at the workshop, so I'm glad to have even just a couple that I'm happy with as is.

September 29, 2012

Dyeing old linens

I have a trunk full of old linens from my mother and my aunt, both of whom delightedly abandoned linen for permanent press.  I have pulled several tablecloths and sets of napkins that I use from time to time for special occasions (and that I can easily iron with the mangle that I also acquired from my mother), but that still leaves me with lots of linens.  This week I got up the courage to try dyeing some of them--they seem so precious, but surely it's better to do something that may give them a new life, rather than just leave them in the trunk in the basement.  The photo shows three different linen napkins on the right, compared to pfd cotton on the far left.  A little lighter in value than the intended color, but that's fine.  Now to consider how I might use the linen.  It is so beautifully soft.

September 26, 2012

Regret--further thoughts

Since my last post on "Regret," I've gone back to my blog several times for one reason or another.  Each time I've looked at the top photo on my August 31 post, I've thought, "not there yet."  I'm thinking the idea behind the quilt might be better expressed by focusing close up on the point of highest tension in the piece--the narrow space between the two figures, as in the photo above.  (Ignore the quilting trials currently in the piece--I'm thinking now just of the interaction of the shapes.)  Very early in the process of sketching this quilt, my friend Mary Beth made a frame around this section, suggesting a focus here.  As I worked on the larger piece, I forgot about this, and then remembered it again more recently.  I thought I would make it as a second quilt.  But maybe this is what I should move to now--this smaller section, sized up to a large quilt.  The next step will be to cut out some large truncated shapes and play around with them on a background. 

August 31, 2012


For several years I've been making notes and sketches for a quilt about "regret."  In the last year or so I finalized the design, seen above in a small maquette; the final quilt will be about 60x72."  My interest has been to capture the nature of the feeling of regret, which to me has to do with a missed connection between two people.  My experience of regret has been intensified by the death of people I love--my parents in 2003 and my son in 2004.  Once a person is gone, those missed/failed connections become more salient, and, at the same time, there is no longer a possibility of repair.  No further chance to apologize, or to change a behavior.  Working on this quilt has helped me understand the pull that regret has come to have in my life.  Working on the quilt hasn't eased the pain, but it has helped me live with it.

There are still key decisions to be made on the construction of the quilt.
  • Should the black figures be appliqued onto one large background piece, or should it all be pieced?  For a long time I assumed I would use applique, but I did this maquette through piecing, in order to get reliably sharp points on the figures (e.g. in photo below).  Other design features will follow from the method I end up choosing.
  • Should the rusty/red background fabric be somewhat mottled or closer to solid?  (This is all fabric I'm dyeing myself, so I can control for this.)
  • What quilting will best express the meaning of the piece, including the differentiation of the figures from the ground?  In this maquette I used mostly straight-line quilting, with one-direction in the figure and multiple directions in the background.  Maybe reverse that?  I've also tried out some hand-quilting in the second figure. (Shown below--you'll probably need to double-click on the image to see this.  I originally machine-quilted the whole piece, but picked out the stitching in the upper right corner so I could try some other things.)
I have received some very helpful (and conflicting) advice from people whose critique I appreciate and trust, and I will be doing some more experimentation along the lines they've suggested.  But probably most important, I now need to make some quiet space to think about which decisions will most successfully express the ideas I have about regret.

July 28, 2012

Beginning to draw

I have started drawing this summer, and am enjoying going out and finding bits of nature to draw.  The different grasses above are from the meadow at my brother's house in Vermont. (Double-click on the image to see more detail.)  I was inspired by an exercise called "Find a Child":

"If you have a child of two or three, or can borrow one, let her give you beginning lessons in looking. It takes just a few minutes. Ask the child to come from the front of the house to the back and closely observe her small journey. It will be full of pauses, circling, touching and picking up in order to smell, shake, taste, rub, and scrape. The child's eyes won't leave the ground, and every piece of paper, every scrap, every object along the path will be a new discovery." From Learning by Heart by Jan Steward and Corita Kent (NY: Allworth Press, 2008; first published 1992), p. 14.  I recommend this book highly!  For more on Corita Kent (Sister Corita), look here.

Even without a child at hand, the core of the instruction in the exercise is clear:  slow down, look closely.  I spent a good bit of time at my brother's drawing.  I tried both pencil and Pigma pens, and found I liked the pens best.  I will be taking a workshop in the fall where I'll be doing printing on fabric, so I am wanting to build up a body of images that I might want to use.


When I came back home, I turned to my own garden:

Some dried coreopsis and baptisia leaves:

Then I added colored pencil (a dried lily bud and lamb's ear):
It interests me that the drawing can be effective (in the sense of giving a feel of the actual subject) even without me being able to be in control or precise:

Then I went out and bought some Derwent Inktense pencils--you use them like colored pencils, but can then go over them with a watercolor brush to get something like watercolor (here rudbeckia triloba):

In addition to these nature drawings, I also played with some line patterns as possibilities for printing on fabric:

All three of the above consist of an element repeated horizontally and then vertically.  This is obvious for the lines in the middle drawing.  The top one is a row of curved humps. The bottom is a series of the Hebrew letter "tet."

June 19, 2012

Triangle Toss (pattern by Corey Yoder)

This quilt is sized down from a pattern by Corey Yoder, published in the May/June 2012 issue of McCall's Quilting.  I love the white of the original, but don't think it's very practical for a baby quilt.

I had to make this quilt in a hurry, as the baby arrived five weeks early.  I had all the fabrics on hand, including the diagonal stripe that I've been wanting to use for a binding for a few years.  I was delighted when I finished the top and realized that the colors were just right for the stripe.  I did also try a solid orange for the binding, which gave the quilt a more unified look, but the playfulness of the stripe seemed right for a kid's room.

I've also had yardage of some "paint drip" fabric on hand for a while, waiting to be the back of a baby quilt.  I think this works well with the top.  (Thanks, Louise--this was one from your "shop.")

I did horizontal line stitching, starting with aqua thread in the ditch on the horizontal seams, and then orange thread spaced about 3/4".  I was happy with how the orange thread blended quite well with the yellow and lime triangles as well as the orange ones, and contrasted with the background.

You can see I didn't do so well on all the points.  (I console myself that when you look at the quilt as a while--as in the top photo--you don't really notice it.)  This pattern was made from templates, not my favorite way to work--I find it easier to be accurate when cutting with a ruler, and even still, precise piecing is a challenge for me.  One reason I like improvisational piecing. . .

Turns out that I chose colors that go really well in the new baby's room.  I put a sleeve on the back, and they'll use it for a wall-hanging. 

May 26, 2012

Best machine binding!

I love the look of a hand-stitched binding as the finish to a quilt, and I enjoy doing the stitching as a kind of final good-bye to a quilt, having this last chance to slowly pass the whole quilt through my hands.  Unfortunately, my love of hand-sewing eventually led to repetitive-motion injury to my right hand.  I can reduce the pain through exercises prescribed by a physical therapist, but I have also had to radically reduce the time I spend hand sewing. With the time limited, my priorities are appliqué and hand-quilting, with binding in 3rd place.  So, I've been on the search for a method of machine binding that is relatively easy to do, that doesn't stiffen the binding with too much thread, and that looks satisfactory to my eye.  I've finally came up with a method that combines elements from a few different sources.  I think this is it!  I'm giving a tutorial here, and then at the end, I've put links to the other methods I've tried--both to acknowledge and thank those I've learned from and to have them there as options for others who may prefer something else.

The photo at the top shows the binding both from the front (top of photo) and the back (below, the plain tan fabric).  The basic method is this:  the double-fold binding is sewn to the back of the quilt, flipped over, and then stitched down with a straight stitch, with top thread matching the binding fabric (here, rusty red) and bobbin thread matching the back (here, tan).  Here are further details:

Sew the double-fold binding onto the back of the quilt.  I cut the binding at 2-1/2" and then fold in half.  I sew the binding on using the width of my general purpose foot, which is between 1/4" and 3/8" (seems overly precise to call it 5/16).
When you get about 3/8" (or whatever your seam measures) from the corner, sew an angle to the corner of the quilt.  This is a new tip I just learned from Mary Beth Clark, who learned it from Wanda Hanson.  Thanks Wanda!  It really helps make the corner come to a nice point.
After you've sewn the binding on all around, press the binding out away from the back.

Then at each corner, fold the miter under and press in the line on the back side.

Pull the binding around to the front (teal fabric is the front), and stitch down with a straight stitch.  Choose a top thread that blends with the binding and a bottom thread that blends with the fabric on the back.
Stitch quite close to the edge.  This will insure that the stitching on the back side falls in the backing, not on the binding itself.  You'll probably be able to feel with your finger as you sew that the stitching line is over the small hump of the binding on the back.
This photo (like the one at the top of the post) compares the resulting stitching on the back with that on the front.  Choosing different threads to match binding and backing is key.  It's a little trickier to keep the bottom thread off the binding when turning the mitered corner on the machine.  Three of my corners looked like this, a little off on the back (double-click on the photo for a closer view):

 But one of the corners was great on the back!  I think with more practice, I'll be able to do better on the corners.

A detail about beginning and ending the top-stitching:  I didn't want this spot visible, so I left long threads at the beginning and ending, and buried them in the quilt with a needle.  See below for links to tutorials on how to sink the threads.

As long as we're looking at this table runner, here's a view of the quilting stitch, a sashiko-style pattern I recently saw in the NQA quarterly (Mary DeRay, "Mocha Latte," The Quilting Quarterly, Spring 2012, pp. 36-37).  It's a really nice, simple stitch for a vertical space, and easily changeable in size along the wedge.

And here's the finished table runner:

Machine binding where you sew binding on the top, fold under, pin, and sew in the ditch from the top: (including a full tutorial on all binding steps).  Two other tutorials of a very similar method: and I love the look of this method, and when these quilters do it (Melody Johnson, Rita of Red Pepper Quilts, Marny Buck and Jill Guffy), it comes out great.  But to get it to work at all for me, I had to spend a good deal of time with the pinning, and I still had trouble getting the back of the binding to look consistently good.  So--looks great from the front, but time consuming, and I wasn't happy with the back.  So, I kept looking.

Machine binding where you sew binding on the bottom, and then use a decorative stitch on the top  What I've outlined above is very close to this--except that I uses a straight stitch rather than the button hole stitch used by Pat Sloan (plus I added in a couple of other small tips).  I much prefer the look of the straight stitch--not as obvious as the decorative stitch--and it also keeps the binding more flexible.  Below is a little sample showing a zig-zag stitch on the top and a button hole stitch on the right edge, towards the bottom.  (Double-click for better view.)

Also, the first time I saw machine binding was in a workshop with Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr.  Their method uses single-fold binding, which I don't like as much as double-fold, and the one time I tried it, I had trouble getting it to look good at all.  Of course, all of Bill and Weeks' bindings are beautiful when they do it!

And as I was searching the web to try to find the tutorial that mentioned ironing the binding and miter so I could acknowledge it (can't find it), I came across this tutorial that shows back to front machine binding with a straight stitch!  I'm kind of relieved to know someone else is doing this--it must be O.K. :-)

Two methods of burying threads in the quilt.  I use mostly the first method, but the second one when the tails are short: