August 30, 2015

Kathleen Loomis' new book: Pattern-Free Quilts

I was the lucky winner of a copy of Kathleen Loomis' new book, Pattern-Free Quilts: Riffs on the Rail Fence Block.  I have long followed Loomis' blog, Art with a Needle, on which she usually writes about the sophisticated, challenging, stunning art quilts that she makes, and which have been shown in the top quilt/fiberart exhibitions such as Quilt National, Color Improvisations, and Quilts=Arts=Quilts. Her art quilts are distinguished by an intensity of design that requires a vast reservoir of persistence and commitment to carry off.  See, for example, her postage quilts, or her fine lines series.  But she also enjoys making simpler quilts.  As she explains:  "For almost 15 years, I have been working fulltime as a quilt artist.  I've made hundreds of quilts that have been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe.  But I still will make a baby quilt at the drop of a hat, and have a deep love for quilts of every style and use, whether they're made for show, for a living room wall or for somebody's bed" (p. 5).  I found it reassuring to know that this tremendously accomplished artist also enjoys quilting simpler things!

I have made many quilts without patterns, include a number based on the rail fence block,  but Loomis' book still has given me a lot to think about.  The book opens with a thoughtful discussion of why one would want to make a quilt without starting with a pattern.  Her guiding advice is "Sew first, plan second."  A plan does develop, but in response to what one begins to sew.  Loomis doesn't explain why she uses the term "pattern-free" rather than "improvisational," and her method certainly has much in common with the improvisation strategies taught by Jean Wells, Gwen Marston, Sherri Lynn Woods, Jacquie Gehring, and others.  I would say that Loomis brings planning (even with no pattern) into the process sooner than most others, and she also focuses on building quilts out of blocks.  By focusing in the book on one type of block--rail fence--Loomis can play out a wide variety of ways of approaching a block, and she gives clear, detailed instructions for a number of variations.  I appreciated, for example, her instructions for three different ways to piece wedge-shaped or diagonal "rails" (pp. 50-53).

The book includes a gallery of about 25 quilts that use rail-fence in inspiring ways, from the simple to the complex.  Most of the quilts are by Loomis, but there are also a few by other artists (Terry Jarrard-Dimond, Zoe Willis, Norma Schlager, Kathleen Wilkins, Melinda Snyder).  I would definitely recommend this book to quilters at all levels.

August 25, 2015

A video interview

The Quilt Alliance is an organization devoted to the documentation of American quilts.  One of their projects is "Go Tell It At the Quilt Show," where they invite everyone showing quilts at a particular show to be interviewed.  They did this for the Sacred Threads exhibition, in which I showed three quilts.  Here's a link to the interview with me, where I talk about these three quilts:  Self-Portrait, Year 2: Beneath the Surface; Regret; and Accident.  The video lasts 5-1/2 minutes.

August 20, 2015


Today I did the overdyeing for Accident-2.  Since I was doing this on the cloth alone (no screen stretched over the top), I realized I could do this step on my large padded work table, rather than on the floor.  The photo below shows the top edge of the quilt pinned to the table.  (Ignore the messy splotches on the drop cloth under the piece--it's been through the wash.)  The rest of the piece is hanging over the table and resting on the floor.  After I finished each section (applying the four colors across, from right to left), I pulled the piece up and over the back of the table.  I put a sheet on the basement floor to protect it.

I ran a line of thread loosely down in the turquoise section, to mark where I wanted to extend the royal blue.   (I removed the thread as I worked--otherwise it would have served as a resist and left a line in the fabric.)

The next photo shows me at about 2/3 down the piece.  Here I'm finishing up scraping on the new layer of black dye, and am using a narrow strip of a cut up (expired) credit card to scrape the black dye carefully on the edge of the ochre shape; the larger areas are scraped with a whole credit card--a great tool!  In my left hand, I'm holding a foam tray with a puddle of thickened dye.  I know this looks like I've made the black area totally solid, but once the dye is washed out, the letters will be gray, against the black background.

I feel cautiously optimistic about how the piece will turn out.  There is a certain amount of fixing I can do after I see how this overdye turned out.  I can't make anything revert to white, but I can add further color to areas, if I decide that's needed.  Now I wait about 10 days for the dye to batch.  I may do a little screen printing on cloth napkins with some of the thickened dye I have left over.  And perhaps I'll get back to the hourglass quilt--the top is done, but I still have to figure out how to finish it into a tablecloth.

August 19, 2015

Accident 2--penultimate version

I left this work to batch for about 10 days.  Today I washed it out--detail above, full piece below.  The final step will be to overdye the piece in turquoise, blue, ochre, and black, with the goal of diminishing the visibility of the text.  The overdye will also give me a chance to reconsider the royal blue section.  I made it narrow in this version, just edging the ochre--not sure why I did that, and I don't think there's enough of the blue.  So when I overdye, I'll expand that section more into the turquoise, and make it more of a wedge rather than a stripe, more like it was in this earlier trial.  I am satisfied with the shape of the ochre in this version.

Pulling the dye on this large piece was grueling.  I thought it would take about an hour, but it took three, on my hands and knees.  It was helpful to have done the smaller trials (about 1/3 the size), but I didn't anticipate how much easier they were to complete than the full-size version.  

Screen placed on cloth, ready to pull the dye through the screen.
I have in the back of my mind that if I'm not happy with this version, I can always do another (perhaps trying a version without the ochre divider).  I hope I'm satisfied with this version. . .

August 8, 2015

Work and Play

Working on pieces like "Accident" is just that--work.  These deeply personal pieces are challenging and difficult, both in the conceptual/emotional process that leads to a design and in the construction of the quilt.  For most of these works, the thinking process takes years--how best to convey my idea in the design?  The construction is quicker, but still, it takes months to figure out how to construct the design that I've come up with and then to complete it.  This kind of work is satisfying, especially in those moments when I hit on a design that I can say yes to, and when a construction technique I've come up with or tried out works just as I'd hoped--or leads me to a new solution.  But it is not fun.  I have to push myself to keep at it.  Break it into small chunks that I can handle.  It helps to have something on hand that I can play with when I take a break from the big work.  I just have to be careful not to get sidetracked into making the play an occasion of procrastination from the work.  With "Accident," there are stretches of time where waiting is built into the process, so that gives me a chance to play freely for a while.  Here's what I've been doing with my playtime recently: the photo below shows the first four rows of the center section of the pattern "Walk in the Park," by Bill Kerr and Weeks Ringle:

Here's a photo of their pattern, published in American Patchwork and Quilting, June 2015:

I've had a collection of Kaffe Fassett striped shot cottons on hand for over ten years, and I'd been keeping my eye out for possible ways to use them.  About six months ago, I decided to make hourglass blocks from them, and when at a four-day quilting retreat in March, I made several dozen blocks, all with two fabrics in each block, sometimes a solid and a stripe, sometimes two different stripes.

I liked the blocks individually, but couldn't come up with an arrangement that I liked, whether a mixture as above, all solid/stripe blocks, or all stripe/stripe blocks.  I set aside the project.  Then, about a month later, I saw the Kerr/Ringle pattern and I knew that would be a great solution--have the hourglass blocks be all stripes, but break them up and border them with a solid.  Also, the pattern suggests four different fabrics in each hourglass, so I decided to try that also.  The photo below shows a few rows with four different striped fabrics in each hourglass (top) and a few rows with two different fabrics (bottom).  I decided I preferred the version with 4 different fabrics.

Although the blocks are shown above with solid blue, my first thought was to use green.  I had a sample of the apple green on the right below, and I thought this would be a good use for it.  I do like how that looks, but it was more contrast than I wanted for this particular piece, so I added some blue to the formula for dyeing the fabric and came up with the fabric on the left.  
 I liked the feel of this combination better, and was going to go with it, but in the end realized that I just didn't like that color green very much, and decided to try a blue instead.  I tested out five different values of a premixed indigo blue color, and tried out the blocks.

I chose a medium value, and am happy with the choice.  Here's a photo with a large piece of the blue underneath the rows I've completed.  (In the final piece, the solid will be on the sides, as in the published pattern.)

Well, as you can see, there's a lot of thought and decision-making that goes into even following someone else's pattern!  But now I'm at the stage of just sewing together block after block, just what I need for the occasional break from "Accident."

Side note for those interested in Photoshop Elements:  My six-week class with the Pixeladies is now over, and I'm trying to find occasions to practice what I learned so I don't forget it all.  I used it for two of the photos in this post:  In the photo of the pattern, I typed the pattern information onto the photo, and backed it with a non-opaque rectangle so that the words would show up better.  The photo of the two green fabrics side by side was created by putting two photos together into one new file.  I do highly recommend their classes.  They plan to do a revamp of their Fabric Design class in winter 2016, which I'm looking forward to.

August 3, 2015

Progress on Accident 2

I'm making progress again on Accident 2.  When I last wrote about the piece (in this post), I had gotten to this point in the trials:

Since then, I've considered the helpful comments I've received, consulted with friends, and done one more trial.  The biggest decision I've made is to diminish the starkness of the text by overdyeing the piece, turquoise over turquoise, blue over blue, etc.  The photo below shows the overdyeing trial.  I tried two different values of each color, and three different values of black.  I prefer the darker overdye (towards the top of the piece, most easily seen in the black section).  This also opens up another design possibility:  I will leave a small part of the narrative in white, for the sake of emphasis.  This will draw the viewer to one key part of the text, rather than reading the text as a whole.  I have chosen a sentence to emphasize--not the one I happened to leave white in the trial piece.

I also decided not to use the "scratchy" writing in the bottom half of the trial piece.  And I will make the ochre divider less of a line and more of a thin, varying shape.  So, that left me ready to do the full-scale version.  The first step was to write out the whole narrative on a large, taped-together sheet of newsprint.  It ended up being about 52" wide and about 87" long.

I decided on a combination of printing and script, something close to my natural writing.  It took me a few tries to get the size/spacing correct.  By the third time, I gave myself room for error by writing it out first in regular pencil (easy to erase), and then going over it with a heavy graphite crayon.

I put the paper version up on my design wall so that I could work on the shaping of the ochre divider. Using a small watercolor sketch that I like, I drew a version on a separate piece of plain newsprint.  I will cut this out and use it as a guideline when applying the ochre dye.  It was possible to improvise this line/shape when doing the small watercolor, but when working large, on my knees on the floor, there has to be more planning involved.

Then the narrative-on-paper was laid down on my huge printing board in the basement, and a layer of polyester sheer laid over it and stapled down. 

The text written on the paper serves as a guide for writing the text onto the polyester sheer, using matte medium.  I put some blue paint in the matte medium, as this makes it easier to see what I've done, and also helps in the washing out process, when I will need to scrape off all the paper from the sheer, except for the parts that have stuck to the screen (which will show because of the blue paint).

Now I wait 24 hours for the screen to dry.