December 24, 2013

Playing with shape and color-2

The second project I'm working on between stints on the art quilts is a version of a  pattern by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle, "Plain Spoken," published in their book Modern Quilt Workshop.

I've had my eye on this pattern for a long while.  A couple of months ago I was looking at the many extra 2" x 3.5" rectangles I had left over from this shot cotton quilt.  Much as I love that quilt, I decided not to make it again, but to try something new, so I looked around for other patterns for which that size rectangle would work, and Plain Spoken came to mind.  I cut some of the rectangles I had in half, to get the narrower strips.  Each of my two-piece units finish at 2 x 3", while the Plain Spoken pattern has units that finish at 4.25 x 7.5."  So, the proportion is a little different as well as the size, but I think it still works out fine.  I'm piecing nine of the two-piece units into a block.  I need 158 of these blocks for a queen-size quilt.

Here are all the colors I had to work with.  I eliminated the white (top left corner), but used all the rest.

In this project, the shape was pre-determined by the rectangles I had on hand and by the pattern.  But lots of color to play with!  Here's an example of how I worked up the units.  I took a pile of larger rectangles all in one color, and then paired them up with a variety of colors in the narrower piece.

Then I made piles of units according to the color of the larger rectangle and sorted also by value.  

I would browse the piles to come up with nine units that I thought would work together.  Here are some stacks of nine units, waiting to be made into blocks.

And this photo shows all 158 blocks.  The pile on the left has been trimmed up so all are the same size.  The larger pile is yet to be trimmed--not the most fun part of making a quilt. . .

Once the trimming is done comes another interesting part--putting all the blocks up on the design wall and deciding on final placement of each block.  I composed each nine-unit block to have a variety of hue and value.  Will I be able to avoid awkward adjacencies when I put them all together?  I made about 10 extra blocks beyond the 158, so that adds flexibility.

For those of you who aren't familiar with shot cotton, here's a close up.  The warp and weft are usually done with two different colors, creating a lovely complexity in this "solid" fabric.

December 23, 2013

Playing with shape and color-1

I'm in the middle of working on two large art quilts right now, "Regret," which I've posted about before, and another that I started recently, a self-portrait made with words.  These pieces are challenging to work on, and I like to have something easier that I can turn to when I need a break.  This post and the next are about two such projects.

This first project I intended as a table-runner, but I decided I liked it enough that I wanted to see it more frequently, so it is now hanging on my bedroom door.  This piece is a follow-up to the work I did in an improv quilting class I took with Sherri Wood at QuiltCon in February; that work is described here.  Below is a photo that shows one of the pieces that from the workshop next to the larger hanging that I recently finished.  I discovered that it was more challenging to work on the larger scale--each gesture is bigger and so has more consequence.  The small piece was done quickly, working intuitively.  When I scaled it up, the work was slower, and involved more self-conscious planning.

Except for the bit of rusty red in the upper left corner.  I had intended the side pieces to be entirely shades of green, but I miscalculated and one side was too short.  I could have pieced in more green, but decided to try other colors as well.  Turns out the red piece really livens it up!

A detail of the quilting--I think the loose grid worked out nicely.

November 13, 2013

Stitch sampler on a deconstructed screen printing

One of the printing techniques I learned in a workshop with Carol Soderlund last October was "deconstructed screen printing."  It's a way of preparing a silk screen with various textures and thickened dye so that you get multiple prints from the one screen, but the pattern printed changes as the screen "deconstructs." You can also pull through different colors of thickened dye to further vary the prints.  (I've put a few links at the bottom of the post for anyone who would like to learn more about this type of printing.)

You can see the fabric as originally printed in this view of the wall with my work during the workshop.  the deconstructed piece is towards the center, right under my name, multiple prints going down a piece of fabric (click on photo to see this better):

I think I added another layer of grey and tan dye on parts of the cloth.  Then I cut it all up into 3-1/2" squares and played around with them.  Below is an early arrangement, which I later added more to.  This photo gives you a good sense of the patterning from the screen.  The linear element in the patterning came from string that I had placed under the screen.  The rest is the unpredictable result of this method.  Going with unpredictability is a good exercise for a structured/organized person like me.

Here's the final quilt, a nice size to hang on my studio door.

More details:

Some French knots too--

I do love this stitch:

Again, the Dorothy Caldwell workshop really changed how I approached quilting in this piece, which I worked on shortly after the workshop in May.  I didn't have a lot invested in this quilt, so I felt free to use it as a sampler, trying out various stitches, changing the stitch and thread from one small block to the other.  As it turns out, I like the eclectic result.

About deconstructed screen printing:
From Kerr Grabowski, the person who originated this technique:
And a tutorial from Beth Berman:

November 12, 2013

Quilting Regret

I finished piecing the top of "Regret" back in March, described here, where you can see the whole composition.  It took me a long time to figure out what to do about the quilting.  My working plan was to do straight-line machine stitching, which I felt to be in keeping with the starkness of the image/message.  Here's a small maquette I did, quilted in this fashion. (Figures in the final version are placed slightly differently.)
But I couldn't figure out what to do in the black figures, which I thought should be quilted differently from the background.  I was also considering parallel lines going in just one direction through the whole quilt, maybe diagonally.  I had considered hand-quilting, but didn't want the "softness" of look/feel one gets with hand-stitching.  And part of me felt, "I've been working on this quilt long enough.  I want to get it over with, and machine stitching will be so much quicker."

Then I took Dorothy Caldwell's workshop on "Human Marks" last spring.  One of the exercises in the class led me to a stitch (improvised, done while blind-folded, to the word "dialogue") that I've come to think of as my "conversation" stitch.  I tried it out in a small sampler piece (stitched on an entirely different project), detail below.

I decided that this stitch would be meaningful to use in this quilt about regret, which, after all, often comes from missed conversations, or conversations gone awry.  I began the stitch in the black areas.  I liked the way the stitch looked on the back side of the quilt as well, so in the red areas, I've done the same stitch, but worked from the back.  Here's the corner of the quilt that I've quilted so far.  (Ignore the long blue stitches--that's just basting to hold the layers together).

A close-up of the stitching is the top photo in this post.  I've used an occasional black thread in the red area.  I may or may not keep it in--I'll see what I think when more is stitched.  Very easy to remove if I don't like it (one of the benefits of hand-stitching--machine stitching is much more difficult to remove).  I may also try a little red stitching in the black.  The thread, by the way, was dyed to match my hand-dyed fabrics, just lightening the black into charcoal, so that it would show up on the black.

I wanted to keep the quilt as flat as possible (easier with machine stitching than hand-quilting).  I tried stitching just through two layers of fabric, no batting at all (which is how many of Dorothy Caldwell's pieces are done), but I found I missed the sense of weight as I held the fabric on my lap.  I tried a couple of thin battings, but one was not thin enough, and the other "bearded" (bits of batting work their way through the fabric).  I ended up using just a layer of black flannel in the middle--thin, easy to work with the needle, but still gives me the weight I like to feel as I hand-quilt.

Below is the back of the quilt, before quilting.  One of my other quilting ideas had been to write out in machine-stitching the regrets that have fueled the making of this quilt, and I made a list of them to prepare for that.  But when I did trials of the quilting, I found it not satisfying--one can't be as fluid in machine stitching words (especially over such a large surface as this quilt, about 60" wide) as one can in writing by hand.  I decided instead to incorporate the words by writing them on the back of the quilt, and I'm happy with that choice.  Rather than writing in straight lines across the whole quilt, the sentences are written out in sections.  To obscure the writing, I overlapped the lines a little bit.  Words are still sometimes legible, but it is difficult to read more than a word or two in a row, even for me.

Many thanks to my fellow students at Dorothy Caldwell's workshop, whose diverse and beautiful work have so inspired me--and who also coached me through the process of dyeing thread, which I hadn't tried before.  And thanks to Dorothy for her total love of mark-making, and for the encouragement to slow down, and to look at the back of things.

. . . . .

It might be that machine stitching in parallel lines would have been a better choice for the final appearance of this quilt, and it's not impossible I'll do another version that way some time.  But sitting with the quilt for the months it will take to finish this, maybe letting some of my regrets dissipate a bit along the way. . . it's been the right thing for me to do.

October 5, 2013

A new life for my mother's knitted cotton bedspread?

Some years ago, my mother knit this cotton bedspread for me.  She loved to knit, the more complicated the pattern the better.  I used the bedspread for some time, but eventually put it aside.  It is quite heavy, and difficult to manipulate on the bed.  But a few weeks ago, I decided I was tired of the quilt I had on the bed, and pulled this out, to see if I'd want to use it again.

Alas, I discovered that there were a number of large holes in the spread, not just the stretched areas where blocks come together (easy to repair), but other places where the thread had unravelled within a block.  I must have washed the quilt with bleach, trying to remove a few small stains, one of which is visible towards the center of the photo.  The bleach not only didn't work on the stain, but I think it continued to eat away at the fabric.  Having done a little discharge work using bleach, I now know how important it is to rinse the bleach out of the fabric with anti-chlor, not just water, as the bleach will otherwise keep working away.  I've been thinking that I would do the best I could to "darn" the holes closed, but I've been putting it off, reluctant to do the work when I'm not sure I would enjoy the bedspread (for the same reasons I stopped using it before).  I thought about cutting the bedspread up to use for something else, but could think of no garment or other item that would work.

Then today, I got another idea when reading India Flint's book Second Skin: Choosing and Caring for Textiles and Clothing, which I picked up to follow up on the element of Dorothy Caldwell's work that has to do with mending and re-purposing fabrics.  Maybe I can cut out the blocks of the bedspread, stitch them onto another fabric, and put them back together again in some way as a bedspread.  Having a more stable fabric underneath will make the bedspread easier to handle (though will add to the weight).  To lessen the weight, I could make the whole thing somewhat smaller, or use fewer knitted blocks and add plain fabric between them.  India Flint's book mentions repurposing old linens, which I have an enormous supply of (inherited from my mother and my aunt)--maybe I could use some of these for the backing.  I pulled out a linen napkin, and did a quick trial, without cutting anything from the spread.  I've placed the napkin on the back of the spread:

Here's a close-up of the quick running stitch I did.  It's invisible on the front.

I need to think about this quite a bit more before making the irrevocable move of cutting into the spread. Any thoughts/ideas would be most welcome.

Here's another photo of the bedspread, showing how four knitted squares are sewn together into a large block, and also a bit of the scalloped border.

Here's the pattern my mother used, Mrs. Coolidge's Great-Grandmother's Counterpane (double-click on any photo to enlarge):

Here's a close-up of the end of the pattern.  yes, 216 different rows in each square.

And lo and behold, the pattern is available on the great knitting site, Ravelry:

September 4, 2013

Great use for multi-color hand-dyed fabric--and a tutorial for 2-layer receiving blankets

I found a great way to use the multi-colored hand-dyed pieces that I did a week ago--I can use them for one side of a two-layer receiving blanket (other side is flannel).  I've made these before, but using commercial fabric for both sides.  See this post for a description of the blanket and why it makes a great baby gift.  It's also less time-consuming than making an actual quilt, and using the hand-dyed fabric will still give it a personal touch.

Here are two more; all three of these were made with flannel that I had purchased to go with some commercial fabric I had on hand, but that's now back in my stash.

The next one has some applique patches added, because the fabric (an inexpensive muslin) had some holes in it after the washout.

 Here are instructions for the blanket--very simple!


1-1/4 yd flannel
1-1/4 yd cotton (not flannel) 

1.       Prewash and dry the fabrics.
2.       The flannel:  Cut off the selvages, and then trim the other edges.  You'll end up with something about about 42" square. Anything around this size is fine; no need for the width to be exactly the same as the length.
3.       The cotton:  Cut off the selvages, but leave the rest untrimmed.  (This piece of fabric should be a little larger than the flannel.)  Pin the cotton to a design wall, wrong side of fabric towards the wall.  Smooth it out well, pinning it to the wall at about 6" intervals.
4.       Placing the layers together:  Put the flannel up against the cotton, right sides together.  Stick pins into the two layers all around.  (You can move pins from sticking up the cotton to pierce both layers—but leave 2 or 3 pins across the top edge of the cotton fabric as well.)  Do not try to match the edges of the two fabrics.  Just be sure there is a bit of the cotton fabric sticking out beyond the flannel, all the way around.  (If need be, you can cut down the flannel a bit.)  Then go around pin the two fabrics together, preparing them to be sewn on the machine.  When all is pinned, take the two layers off the wall and bring to the machine.
5.       Sewing the layers:  Sew around the edge of the two layers with a half-inch seam, measuring from the cut edge of the flannel, and leaving an opening large enough for your hand to go through.*
6.       Trim: Put the sewn blanket on the cutting table, flannel side up.  Take your rotary cutter and trim the cotton so that it's even with the flannel—no need for a ruler, you can just do this by eye.  Then trim the corners a bit so there's less bulk when turning.
7.       Turn: Turn the blanket, pushing out the corners carefully—no need to get a sharp point!  Iron the seams flat.  No need to sew the opening closed by hand—it will get closed in the next step.
8.       Topstitch: Topstitch around the edge of the blanket, starting a few inches before the opening.  I top-stitch 5/16" from the edge (this is the measurement of my all-purpose foot).**

*I have rounded the corners on one or two of the blankets I've made, including the one at the top of this post (marking a curved line with a small plate), but I like better the ones I've made with a regular 90-degree corner.

**I have used a decorative stitch for the topstitching a couple of times (photo below), but I prefer the look and feel of a plain straight-stitch, and it's faster too.

August 25, 2013

Dyeing folded fabric--fun!

Last weekend, I had some friends over for an evening of dyeing fabric, in preparation for which I mixed up quite a lot of dye in advance, way more than we had time to use.  Having this much dye on hand, and wanting to make use of it while the colors remain true (which gives me about 2-3 weeks), I've been motivated to do some experimenting with using multiple colors on folded fabric, something I've not done much of, as I use mostly solids and close-to-solids in my quilting.  But I thought of a good use for this other sort of dyeing--I can use the whole piece (about 42" square) for the back of a baby quilt.  Or, I can more simply just back the fabric with some flannel and make it into a receiving blanket.
The fabric at the top of the page is my favorite.  The fabric was pushed into parallel folds, and then I manipulated the resulting "rope" into double-S.  The red, purple, and blue dye then ended up being at 90-degrees to the lines of the folds.  Adding black here and there gives extra depth and a bit of mystery.  I won't be giving away this piece!  Some details (double-click on any photo for a larger size):

The next one was folded in lines, the same as the first, but not put in an "S," and no black was used.  I swapped out the blue for teal.  I chose the colors for the various pieces based on a few different flannels I have on hand that I can use for the backing.  This piece is also nice, but not as dramatic.

I did another where the fabric was folded in half, and then the sides pushed down, kind of like a folded umbrella.  Yellow at the point of the "umbrella", then blue and green.

Only problem with this one is that the fabric was an inexpensive muslin, and I didn't see the holes in it until the dyeing was done (or maybe they developed in the process)--there are several more holes like this pair:

I think I'll have to cut up this piece to use it, rather than leave it whole.

The fourth piece is quite nice.  Again I began with a linear fold, but then I manipulated the "rope" into a spiral.  I put yellow in the center, then blue, then green.

And here are a couple of photos from the results of the evening session of dyeing, first the fabric:

and the quilters, very happy with the results: Sharon, Jill, Janis, and Mary Beth.

August 6, 2013

"Union Station" quilt complete

I'm very happy with this quilt!  The fabric is all hand-dyed by me (dyeing discussed here).  The pattern is "Union Station" by Janine Burke, published in Colorful Quilts, by Amy Walsh and Janine Burke.  The back is one large piece of hand-dyed fabric.

Here's a close-up of the quilting.  I chose a dark charcoal thread; I like how the design disappears in the black stripes.
I came up with the quilting pattern, a meander with mostly sharp corners but some curves thrown in.  My sample is on the left below (beige fabric).  I gave this sample to Mary Walck, my go-to long-arm quilter.  She did a great job with the quilting, but it's also interesting to me that even while she was following my design, it has her own "signature"--quilting is like hand-writing that way.

For the binding, I did a machine-stitched binding, sewn first onto the back and then flipped to the front.  I used a "faux-piped binding" method that involves piecing two binding strips together, resulting in a small flange on the front of the binding.  

The method is designed for having the flange in a contrasting color, but if you do both strips the same color, it still has the advantage of giving you a very clear line to follow when doing the top-stitching on the front, and the stitching gets buried in the seam.  This was my first try at using all one color--I like it!  Thanks to fellow Galesburg quilt guild member, Ron Bishop, for telling us about this method, and for suggesting doing it with all one color.  The next photo shows how the binding looks on the front of the quilt (lower horizontal) and how it looks on the back (upper).  One does end up with a line of straight stitching around the edge of the back.  I forgot to put thread in the bobbin to match the green of the background fabric, which would have made it less noticeable.  But being the same color as the rest of the quilting, it still looks OK.