March 31, 2013

Using black

I timed a recent visit to New York so that I could see a large Matisse exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  When I think of Matisse's use of color, I think of his vibrant blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and reds.  The label next to two paintings of apples included this quote from Matisse on his use of black:  "Before, when I didn't know what color to put down, I put down black.  Black is a force:  I used black as a ballast to simplify the construction."  Ah, if Matisse sometimes had to rely on black, then I don't feel so bad about my own use of it.  I am especially drawn to using black when working with solid fabrics.  But I've felt a little guilty about it, because it does simplify decisions.  Scroll down through these images from the Matisse show, and you'll see the many places he uses black, including the two 1916 paintings of apples, where I saw the quotation.  The apples also here and here.

So, here are some thoughts on work where adding black in has, I think, improved it.  I took a workshop recently from Sherri Lynn Wood on doing improvisational quilting, starting from a traditional block.  I started out from a "rail fence" block.  Here's a photo of a pretty standard rail fence layout, which consists of a combination of four small blocks, each of them with parallel "rails":

And below is an array of the piecing I did in the workshop, improvising off of this basic model. (Double-click to enlarge the image.)  Starting at the top left is a pretty standard block, but with the rails cut free-hand, with no attempt to be precisely regular.  The changes proceed from there (moving left to right and then down).  In the second row, on the left, you can see the swath of strip-pieced fabric (tan and teal here), from which the smaller blocks would be cut (a typical way to construct the smaller blocks, so that each doesn't have to be pieced individually).  Then in the 3rd row, I simplified the color, putting in black and reducing the color to two shades of one color.  I liked this more, especially the third one (yellow-green), where I also curved the lines for the black pieces, rather than having them straight. 

In fact, I would have stopped there, quite satisfied with the results of the workshop, but there was another hour or so to go, so I figured I may as well continue on.  I made another swath of strip-pieced fabric (bottom left), but left it in a vertical arrangement (pieces put in a different order).  Then I got the idea to leave the larger swath whole, but to break up the piecing in the middle piece, which resulted in the final two pieces in the bottom row.  These I really love!
I will definitely come back to these.  I think a number of them could combine well into a quilt.  And/or I could do a somewhat larger version of one swath and make it into a table runner.

But first, I'm going back to the intermediary result of the black/2 shades rail fence, working this up into a lap-sized quilt.  I chose four colors of Kona cotton, and then dyed some fabric to make a lighter shade for each:
I worked up some blocks in each color, to see if I wanted to continue.  Answer is yes:

There will be endless possibilities for how the blocks will eventually be laid out.  Should be fun to play with.

So, hurray for black, with colors. . .

March 13, 2013

"Regret"--the top is pieced

It's been a long time since I posted about this quilt, but I have slowly been making progress.  There were lots of decisions to be made before I cut into the fabric.  You can see the story of this quilt on "Regret" here.  That post shows a small maquette of the quilt; the maquette was about 28x23", while the actual quilt top is 72x60".  The basic design remained the same, but I tipped the figure on the left a bit, which I think is an improvement.  The design process was arduous; the simpler the design, and the smaller the range of colors, the more impact each decision has.  I won't go into the many days it took me to dye exactly the red I wanted, and then to replicate it on the 3 pieces of fabric I needed to cut all the shapes.  The black too, took some trials, as there are two different blacks that I commonly use.  With the fabric finally done this weekend, I could go back to the full-size pattern I'd made and start cutting.  I'm glad I did a lot of garment sewing in my teens and twenties, as it made sense to construct this quilt using many of those techniques, which I thankfully remembered.  Things like using a pattern, cutting notches to help match up seams, using a 5/8" seam (versus the 1/4" generally used in quilting), pressing open the seams, stay-stitching around the outer edge, much of which is on the bias.  Here's a photo of the pattern, which I cut into its component parts and laid out on the fabric:

A detail shot shows a little better how I marked the cutting lines.  The pencilled scribble is a trial of the quilting.  More about that once I get to the quilting stage.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had originally planned to do this design through applique, starting with one large piece of rusty/red fabric and hand-sewing the black shapes on top.  I did the maquette to try out piecing instead, and I decided I preferred the very straight lines and sharper corners that I could get with piecing.  I'd prefer not to have the piecing lines visible in the background, but they're not dominant, and I think once the piece is quilted, they will mostly disappear.

This quilt has been a long time in the making.  I am glad to have reached the point where it has actually come into being.  There is a lot more to do, but it should be easier from here.

There was a bit of magic, too, in the making.  I struggled with dyeing the fabric, and I struggled some when cutting out the pieces, making a couple of mistakes that necessitated re-cutting, and having to break down a couple of larger pieces into smaller parts.  This is par for the course for me.  Even when I think I'm being careful, I make mistakes.  I just accept it as part of the process for me.  But when I was piecing, everything went together on the first pass.  My trusty seam-ripper, always at hand, was not picked up once.  Because of the irregular shapes of the pieces, many of the edges were on the bias of the fabric, rather than straight of grain, which I thought would be problematic in the sewing.  But for this, I seem to have been careful enough, and it's all OK!

The pattern pieces, having done their job.

March 10, 2013

Designing a quilt by drawing in Microsoft Word

During a longish intermission at a concert recently, I looked around the church for something to draw.   My eye was caught by the simple pattern of the wood panelling on one wall, so I made a rough sketch, with some guesses about spacing (1x, 2x, 3x):

I've been meaning to learn how to do simple drawings in Word for a while--I haven't been able to figure it out on my own just from messing around with the Drawing toolbar.  It occurred to me that this simple drawing would be a good way to start out.  So, I googled "Drawing in Word" and got all the help I needed.  This YouTube video got me started; various other sites give more detailed info.  Here's the drawing I made with Word, the plain sketch and then one quick stab at colors:

Now I can have fun trying out different colors.  It's also daunting--in simple designs with few shapes, each choice of color and value has a very loud voice.   I have a great set of Color-aid papers, 314 colors (thank you Rick!).  I have been hesitant to do much cutting up of the papers (each of my swatches is 4.5x6"), but I think they're just the thing to help me with this project.

Now, where to put this in my line-up.  Things currently in progress:
  • Large piece on "Regret."  I'm just now finishing up the dyeing of the fabric for this piece, and hope to get much of the construction done this week.  This is my main priority right now.
  • Finishing up hand-sewing the binding on my shot cotton "Spectrum" quilt.
  • Getting started on a quilt in which I'll be doing an improvised version of a rail fence quilt.
  • Following up from a recent workshop with Lotta Jansdottir to do some stencilling.  Today I took this drawing from last summer
and changed it into this, which I'm hoping to make into a stencil:
I'll start by cutting just one branch, to see how it works.  The image might be better for a thermofax screen than a stencil.