Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Roosevelts Made Me Do It: Stacked Squares with Modern Solids

In our last two installments (1, 2) , I used scrap batik fabrics to make a couple of these:
(Wrapped around a stretched canvas & frame backing, to amp the wall-power.) 

I mentioned that this highly therapeutic 'stacked squares' game could be as easily played with solids, for a modern quilt'look. Thanks to Ken Burn's insanely interesting Roosevelts documentary, I found the time to make a solid version. 

First, I cut out and experimented with a mess of blocks: (and I do mean mess). 
Made nine appealing ones. Put them on a congenial 13" square of fabric (blue green in my case ) and backed it with Warm'n'Natural batting (but no backing fabric until later). Find threads in the relevant colors (or close) and zig-zag around the edges (not quite a satin stitch). 
I haven't yet stitched around the central purple-with-white-polka-dot strip because I'm not sure I want to keep it. Before and after the stitching steps, there are SO many ways to play. I experimented with these strips.
Kind of looks like a Xmas package.That might be good, depending on who you're giving it to. Wouldn't it be fun to wrap the fabric strips all the way around to the back of the stretched canvas?
I also tested curly borders:
Meh. I left the borders unadorned, added a grey backing fabric, and finished the edges with a zig-zag satin stitch over embroidery thread, aka a corded edging.  

I used a variegated thread and a serpentine zig-zag to make the two vertical and two horizonal lines that run down the alleys between the blocks.

Finally, on Friday night, I was watching how Franklin and Eleanor handled the beginning of World War II - it was quite stressful - whenever WWII documentaries are on TV, why do I always find myself looking for pictures of my mother in Poland being hustled off to a concentration camp? - so I decided to cut tiny rectangles and attach them with just a stitch or two, or a French knot, of embroidery floss:
I may take them off. Although they got me through most of the war, I'm not completely sold. 
This project could turn into so many things - a pillow, tote bag,  artsy wallhanging, potholder, children's class project, Roosevelt memorial tower & vase cover..,
, you name it! For details on how to construct (glue stick and scissors are required) go to my first post on the subject, two weeks ago. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Increase Your Quilts' Self-Esteem With Stretched Canvas

In our last installment, I performed the following 12-step highly-effective in-home psychotherapy:

1-11. Cut out colorful batik squares, rectangles, and strips, and stack them on top of each other. Use a few dots from a school glue stitck to affix. (For a 'modern quilt,' use solids instead of batiks, and a newer glue stick.)

12. Zig-zag around all the edges.

That's pretty much it. Oh, you should quilt it. Embellishment is then an option. I decided to go for it:

Old metal stag button:
Glass "evil eye" protection bead.....

Pen spring, with seed beads threaded through....
 Tiny dice from a Vegas rosary, so there's already a hole, plus faux pearl:

The final size was 15" x 15" After embellishment, I fooled around with mounting it on a 12" x 12" stretched canvas that happened to be lying around the house....
...Something I've never done before. Several people wrote to me with excellent suggestions. I'm especially grateful to Bethany Garner, a Canadian quilter who makes stunning art quilts and a fantastic blog at She explained her technique, developed by another awesome art quilter, Cathy Breedyk Law, whose art quilt blog is here. The technique (too long to relate here) involves cutting squares out of the corners of the quilt, minus a seam allowance, then stitching the cut edges together (like boxing corners on a purse). Bethany answered many of my questions and I will definitely try it in the future. But I didn't want to cut into this particular quilt. 

So instead I very carefully tucked in the corners, like wrapping a gift. My thumbtacks weren't very strong, so I wound up using mostly a staple gun.
It's not perfect, but still, wow!  I can't stop looking at how slick this is! DH says I can add 400% to the price (but I'm not selling this one).

However, speaking of sales, I was so pleased with it - and I have a community gallery auction coming up - so I decided to make another one to sell:
Instead of zig-zag stitching around each fabric, like in the first piece, I quilted a grid over the whole thing with gold metallic thread. (Embellishment came after that). The cut edges remain raw. 

The backing canvas is 12" x 12" so I made this quilt the same size, to avoid wrapping.  I painted the stretched canvas to match (painting the front of the canvas was unnecessary, but I did it anyway). Here's the first coat:

After a couple of coats, I stitched the quilt onto the front through the back, with strong silamide beading thread: 

Here's the back:
(Ignore that paint thing on the lower left.) A curved needle didn't work at all. I wound up stitching through the back, through the quilt, under the outer edges of the appliqued squares on the front. I don't know how I would have done this if the edges of the squares had been stitched down. How does one sew so the stitches don't show from the front? 

I'm calling this piece "Earth, Wind, and Fire" because of the wild diversity of embellishments. There's a teardrop-shaped dichroic glass bead:
 A silver plated branch:
A lightly-toasted wooden button: 
Four lapis stone cubes: 
 A metal charm and a sequin:
An 'evil eye' glass bead: 
African rolled copper beads: 
 And another one of these.  
And more. Wouldn't this be a great project to do with kids?

This second piece will be sold at the SPACE auction, coming up on October 5. Now I'm collecting stretched canvases for future quilts (cheap at Big Lots and Tuesday Morning, but limited sizes there) - this new-to-me presentation has changed my quilting/life forever! It definitely makes a small quilt look less like a shmata/potholder and more like capital-a Art!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Sew: Stacked Squares Color Psychotherapy

Life is tough. The news sucks. You're tired of thinking. You're creatively stuck. You already sewed strips. You need a new therapy.

Here's another game that will make life much better: Stacked Squares Color Psychotherapy.

Rules: Use batik scraps, or solids. (The latter for more of a 'Modern' quilt look) If you don't have any batik or solid scraps, buy a pack of charms (or smaller).

Rule #1: Don't let anyone give you any rules, including me.

#2. Cut a bunch of them into 3" squares - maybe 12 - and lay them out on a larger piece of fabric. You can use your rotary cutter to cut these squares, if you like, but scissors are fine too. Precision is counter to our mental health aspirations.

#3. Pull your scrap bin (or stack of charms) over to where you are sitting or standing. Now, take your scissors and freehand cut smaller than 3" squares, and start stacking them on top of the 3" squares.

#4. Make even smaller squares and pile them on top.

#5. Play. Rectangles, strips, even circles are okay.

 #6. Don't stop to iron unless something is really creased.
 #7. Don't worry about all those dangly threads.
  #8. It's easy to start suffering over a particular unit. When you find yourself suffering/self-critcizing, work on a different one.
#9. As you finish a unit, use a temporary school glue stick to glue the layers together. You only need a dot in the middle of each layer (unless you have a strip, in which case, a couple of swipes should do it.) No need for complete coverage. 
Here's a ton of psychotherapy on less than a fat quarter of fabric: 
Isn't this satisfying? They each have a unique little personality. From left to right, Sue, Bill, Joe, Frank, Linda....oh never mind. 

#10. Sure they're adorable, you're saying, but they're a hairy mess. You could embrace that - stitch a button in the center of each and send it through the washer and dryer for a shaggy, groovy textured objet d'art. Name it "Hair."

#11. But let's say you're not in a hippie mood. OK, in that case, get out your gold metallic thread and install a topstitching needle in your machine. Don magnifying headgear.

#12. Pick 9 squares that you really love. NOW YOU CAN IRON THEM REALLY REALLY FLAT.

#13. Arrange and lightly glue them on a piece of fabric that's about 15" x 15".

#14. Put a piece of batting behind the fabric. (this will serve as stabilizer. If you don't want to add batting yet, put some kind of stabilizer behind).

#15. Zig-zag around all the edges.
How's that for a personality change? Now you have to rename them Yvette, Diaphanous, Aragorn, Cumberbatch, etc. 

#16. Quilt the background. 

Here's nine of them on a trial run gallery wrap. I'm deciding whether to leave it as is;
Or to add buttons/beads: 
This is for a fundraising auction at my local community arts center. What do you think? Naked or dressed?

The other big question: What's a gallery wrap and how do you do it? It involves installing the above onto one of these: 
I'm figuring out how to do it. Suggestions/directions welcomed. 

Tell me about your favorite quilt therapy! 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Kids Are All Right, with an Appliqued Rock and Roll Prayer Shawl

For me, the most fun thing in the world is making a custom quilt, prayer shawl (tallit), and/or wedding canopy (chuppah). This is the story of an appliqued and pieced prayer shawl I just finished for a 13-year-old who I still haven't met or talked to. It was a wild and wonderful trip from beginning to end. Specifically, a trip on a Yellow Submarine.

I was contacted by the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy in early July. They live maybe a half hour away and found my custom tallitot. The father wanted to surprise his son with a British rock & roll and electric guitar-theme prayer shawl.

Brilliant, as they say in England! I was thrilled! But there was bad news: The event was in early August, I had a one-week vacation plus a complex commissioned chuppah (wedding canopy) due at the same time. I almost said turned him down - but gee, he was such a lovely person, and how the heck could I resist the theme?

His initial vision included a British flag on the tallit, large enough and centered so that it might actually enwrap his son,
(When I told my husband about this, he was ecstatic; with his encyclopedic memory for classic rock and roll trivia, he immediately demanded that I look up the following album cover and put it on the tallit: 

Right about now, you're probably wondering whether a British Rock and Roll tallit is kosher. My client told me right off the bat that he'd described his vision to his rabbi, who replied that anything that gets a kid to wear a tallit is kosher, even dissipated rockers. The rabbi didn't specifically agree to the use of sleeping/stoned members of The Who, but he did agree to my client's desire to use logos like these: 
Is that a gender symbol?
Is tongue a Jewish food?
The Hindenburg wasn't exactly Jewish.
As in Esther?
Happy New Year!

He also wanted guitar manufacturer logos, like these: 

And more. The candidate images multiplied. But wait, back to the first problem - where was I going to find a British flag fabric? I found nothing in online quilt shops, so I posted inquries on my chat groups. Quilters sent all kinds of interesting suggestions - one directed me to a specialty British boutique, where I could order bubble and squeak with my genunine UK flag.

Not all my cybercorrespondents were enthusiastic. One  fretted that Brits might feel that a flag on a prayer shawl is disrespectful towards the flag. (I told her I thought the opposite was just as likely - some Jews might find a British flag disrespectful to a prayer shawl?) 

(But then she looked up British rules regarding their flags, and it turns out the they are a lot less particular with what you do with their flag than Americans. [Brits don't seem to mind if it touches the floor]. Phew!!!! I'd hate to have all the local Jewish Brits storm out of the Temple when the tallit came in, or vice versa.) 

Several people sent me to, a custom-fabric making site that I knew about but hadn't checked yet. Sure enough, I found several variations on a British flag, printed onto cotton, like this one and this one. I sent my clients over to look at them, and this launched him on his own Spoonflower scavenger hunt. He fell out of love with the British flag fabric, and fell into love with:  
...a wonderful Beatles fabric that the artist calls"She Loves You," (buy it here). It even includes little UK flags as you can plainly see. 

He also loved this fabric:  
(Buy here)

And then he wandered over to ebay, and found this:  
It was a yard long, inexplicably 17 inches wide strip. It's a long out-of-print commercially manufactured Beatles novelty fabric. I happened to  have some other fabrics from this same collection, including a Yellow Submarine fabric (we'll get to that).

I wasn't sure those looked good together, but I imported thumbnails into my drawing program and started playing around with layouts. (The small circles and squares, including those in the corners, represent the guitar company and rock band logos):

Any variation on these four designs would be quick to sew up and we'd meet the deadline easily. I wasn't happy that the fabrics didn't really go together in variation 1 - but time was ticking. 

 But then, on July 19, I got a new email from my client. Attached to the email were images of not 1, not 2, but 18 electric guitars. 

I won't show you all 18.  He wrote, "I thought maybe you could randomly intersperse small pics of these different guitars. ...[T]he funny thing is that [my son] can actually identify each of these guitars instantly.  The kid is obsessed with guitars.  It would probably be a lot of work too, but let me know what you think."

Now I panicked!! Shalommmmmmm. I strove to breathe deeply. My top priority is to make the bar mitzvah boy happy. But do you have any idea how much time it would take to transfer all those guitars to fabric and then stitch each one to the background? Not to mention expense. I use Electric Quilt brand premium cotton satin photo transfer sheets - it's pricey, and with all the other images he wanted - at this point we were up to 28 photo transfers  -  I might have to buy extra packs that I hadn't factored into my expenses. But mostly the issue was where in the world to fit all those images and fabrics.

On the other hand, I visually adored those 18 idea popped into my head that I couldn't shake: Use the guitars as stripes. So we culled the number of favorites down to 12.  

My client also made an excellent decision that strewing guitar company logos all over the tallit made it look kinda like an advertising page from Guitar Player magazine.  So all those were out. 

On one visit, I showed him my Yellow Submarine fabric. He decided he wanted to use that as the atarah (collar.)
Plus, at the last minute, he wanted photos of his son playing the electric guitar on both the tallit and the bag. 

Wait, one last request before I started sewing: the guitars in the stripes should be properly aligned, with the the necks pointing to the wearer's left hand. 

And he needed reassurance that the stripes would be precisely straight. 

I won't go into too  many more details. Suffice it to say that I accidentally discovered that putting a dark blue  frame around the novelty fabrics and printed guitars brought the diverse fabrics together and gave the tallit a more traditional/polished look. My client agreed. Here's what we wound up with (modelled by my 15-year- old before delivery. She plays acoustic guitar.)
Here's the back, and some of the lining. 
When we received the fabric from Spoonflower, both of us were surprised that the guitars were so big. But that was okay - they're dramatic! 
The photo of his son is on the lining, as you can see above.

 We decided to put the band logos in the corner.  He narrowed down his son's 7 favorites (Beatles, Who, Stones, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix [yes, not British]) to four: The Beatles and Stones in two corners:
 And the Who and Queen on the other two:
The guitars are printed onto fabric and pieced between the blue strips. Here's the atarah, made from my Yellow Submarine fabric. 
We ended up not fitting the fat quarter of 'She Loves You' onto the tallit. So we decided to use it for the bag instead.  I make my tallit bags quilted, envelope style. The front of the bag has a vintage button with a peace symbol bead glued on. I put a horizontal guitar on the flap so the young man can play air guitar when services start to drag. 
On the back of the bag, lower right, I worked in the other photo of the young man. It fits right in. 
We bought colorful blue-and-gold nylon tzitzyot (ritual fringe) from a truly groovy vendor my client had discovered in this Etsy shop. To my astonishment, the tzitzyot came pre-tied - it never occurred to me that this could work! (You just loop the top loop through the hole and pull the knotted part through the loop - duh!). This saved me a lot of time, which I was able to spend on other things like precision-measuring the stripes. 

In the the end, it took us 80, yes, eight-oh emails and at least three studio visits, but we finished, with time to spare. Despite the twists and turns - or maybe because of them - I loved the process. The results were way better than if either of us had worked alone. The better I got to know my client, the more  I realized the force is strong with this one - with his creativity, zest, newfound love of fabric, and yes, his pickiness, he had all the characteristics of a fine quilter - I recommended he start quilting immediately. It's never too early to start on his son's high-school-graduation tee-shirt quilt. 

The whole family was thrilled with the tallit. It never in a million years would have occured to me to make a British rock and roll tallit, but thanks to my client's and his son's passion. I can now check this off my bucket list. And I am grateful. Now I'm just waiting for someone to ask me for a Tardis Tallit! 

Want to make your own tallit? Here's my web page with more details and a free Hebrew prayer atarah pattern. Want my help? Contact me! 

UPDATE: My client read this blog post and wrote this: "Thank you again for making this very special gift happen.  It was a labor of love for me (even though you did all the work!) and my son has told me that it is the nicest gift he's ever gotten. He's only had the opportunity to wear it once since his Bar Mitzvah, but he got rave reviews! Everybody loves it! I can't wait for him to wear it during high holy day services next month." 

I love happy endings! My client is being modest - he did a lot of the deciding, which is always the hardest part!