Monday, July 30, 2012

Lime on Papaya, and The Moran Doctrine

Quilter Freddy Moran  famously said that 100 colors work better than 10. The more colors in your quilt, she says, the less you have to worry about them playing nicely together. (Moran is known for her vivid, multicolored concoctions, punctuated by black and white intervals. Here's a Freddy-pattern quilt that my friend Sue and I made years ago, which raised a couple of thousand dollars for a good cause):
(We did get Freddy's permission to use it as a charity auction quilt. My beautiful non-quilting mother is pointing to it.)

I've certainly found Freddy's Doctrine to be true in my quilting life. And on my family's recent summer vacation, I also discovered that it works for other fibers, too.

Virtually all my quilts are done by machine, so I usually don't usually have  quilting handwork to bring on vacation. But I am capable of knitting a sort of rectangle. In preparation for our vacation, I bought, on sale, a kit from a local needlepoint/knitting store. This kit was a small plastic box packed with a huge skein of yarns - made up of dozens of approximately 15-foot long strands of yarn, every single strand different. A label proclaimed it a "Stash Scarf" and suggested I cast on 100 stitches, then knit each row with a different yarn.
This turned out to be the BEST vacation project. It was so much fun to switch to a different yarn with each row (I'm easily entertained by color and texture). If I ever doubted the Moran Doctrine, this project more than proved it. Although I adored most of the yarns, with many jewel tones, there more than a few featuring  yellow/greens - ugh, my least favorite color. Worse, several of the yellow/greens were conspicuous novelty yarns, with bits that poked out. That made me so grumpy, that I ungenerously decided that the shop was trying to get rid of these unsellable yarns. I seriously considered leaving them out of my scarf.

But, on the other hand, I'm open to surprises. So I  decided to just go with it and see what happens.

So  here's what happened:

 I'm almost done. And it's really not that bad at all! See those fluorescent green strands about an inch up on the project? They're interesting! Small amounts of hideous colors can act like lime on a papaya-- they can give a project zing.

Now, back to the quilt world, and speaking of multiple colors....I'm currently working on a commissioned pillbox hat, (based on one of  the yarmulke patterns I sell),  which is made, mosaic style, from batik scraps. The top will look something like this (here's an earlier version):
And the band will be something like this:

 So I had my batik scrap bag out and on my sewing table. Even without any yellow-green scraps, this bag is terrifying. 

It's about 3 feet long, a foot high, 2 feet wide, and those scraps are really smashed in there, so it's heavy, a multicolored black hole for batik scraps. As I selected fabrics for my hat, I moved the scraps from this  bag, where they reside permanently, into a large Trader Joe's paper bag. The scraps topped out the TJ bag and spilled onto the floor.

I know, I know, THROW THEM OUT! But doctor (I say to my imaginary hoarding-specialized  psychotherapist), I can't throw out batiks, not even teeny tiny pieces!! First of all, they were $10 a yard long before all the other cotton quilters fabric reached that level! So they're expensive AND they have seniority! Third, each is a dab of glorious color! Even a small scrap of batik can contain light, variety and the remembrance of human hands. So NO, my kids are going to have to throw them out after I'm gone. Sorry, kids.

The 'stash scarf' project makes me think: Maybe everything in this not-so-black hole goes together! If I can take the smaller scraps, pile them on to a base, and stitch, stitch, stitch them down, I could wind up with a fabric sister to my knitted scarf! Although it might be rather thick. How about a rug? What would Freddy do?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Extreme Embellishment as High Fashion

Quilter Cheryl Lynch directed me to this awesome page of extreme embellished clothing, using many ancient needlework techniques, which were reserved only for the royalty and wealthiest people. The last photos on the page show details from a crazy quilt. I can't even begin to imagine the hours invested in these items!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Circular Quilts, New and Old

As a quilter for nearly 20 years (!), I have a particular passion for quilted circles, medallions, mandalas, Mariner’s Compasses, radiating stars, kaleidoscopes, and such. Circles make some of the most fascinating quilts, not to mention quilt books and tools  –  so, of course,  I collect ‘em all! Some of my favorite approaches to circular quilts:  
  •  I’ve probably made a half-dozen quilts using Marilyn Doheney’s 9-degree circle wedge rulers, including the quilt at the top of this story. With this system, you strip-piece fabrics into sets, then place a wedge-shaped ruler in different positions on the set, and cut out wedges. The design possibilities are so infinite that a quilter named Sheila Finklestein wrote an amazing book called “Magic Quilted Mandalas,” showing a multitude of results that can be achieved by placing wedge rulers like Doheney’s onto striped fabrics – exclusively. If Finklestein had gotten into using multiple fabrics, not just one or two with stripes, the book would have turned into Wikipedia. Using Finklestein's approach, here's the center of a baby quilt I made using a single striped fabric for the central circle:
  • Similarly, Cheryl Phillips’ “WedgeWorks” books use a 15 degree ruler, strip piecing and wedge-cutting at different angles to create satisfying circular stars.
  • Bethany Reynolds’ bestselling and user-friendly“Stack’n’Whack” approach has quilters using the lines on their clear acrylic rulers to cut wedges. (This is a chuppah/wedding canopy I made using her techniques):

  • Gail Garber’s spectacular “Stellar Journeys” book uses wedges which can be created by  paper-foundation piecing, or piecing from templates.
  • Ricky Tims’ ‘Kool Kaleidoscope’ approach has quilters strip-piece fabric sets, cut them out with templates, then join sets, to make complex repeating wedges.
  • At the top of the complexity and technical challenge scale, there’s Paula Nadelstern, queen of the kaleidoscope, with her incredibly intricate, plastic template-based construction.
  • Far at the other end of the precision spectrum, I’ve enjoyed Dianne S. Hire’s book, “QuiltersPlaytime,”  which includes directions for  creating funky imprecise medallions, made with the wedge shapes that are strip-pieced and cut by eye.  
  • (I have not yet read, but high on my wishlist are RaNae Merrill’s two books about spiral mandala quilts).
So, speaking as a circular quilt geek, I was pretty darn excited when I received a review copy of C& T’s book “Circle Quilts;Create Dramatic Medallions from Strip-Pieced Rings,” by Colleen Granger.
Like all the quilters named above, Granger is an innovator. She’s come up with a new way to subdivide a circle: Rather than creating wedges that start in the middle and extends to the circle or star’s outer edge, many of her circles are constructed in concentric rings. Each ring consists of repeated paper-pieced arcs. Completed arcs are sewn together to form the entire ring; and consecutive rings are topstitched together, using invisible thread and a small zigzag stitch, to form the medallion.

When rings are laid together, the colors line up to form unique designs. Like the image on the cover, many are angular, high-energy, and very striking, reflected in names like ‘Tornado Alley,’  and ‘Shazam!’ All three have unusual asymmetric lightening-like jagged shapes emanating from the center, some in a spiral. If I’d first come across these quilts at a quilt show, I would probably have stared at them for a long time before finally giving up hope of figuring out how they were done!

The book provides black-and-white drawings of each quilt, which you can color in, with spaces to glue fabric swatches.  The drawings, with their unusual subdivisions, are also works of art in and of themselves; it’s fascinating to look at the drawings and figure out how the color and shape placement in each individual ring relates to the next ring to create new shapes.  

There are also a couple of floral-feeling circle projects, including “Blooming Garden” and “Flower Dance,” which create the illusion of curves, when in fact all the piecing is straight lines.

Another interesting touch is that some the centers are constructed from many pieces. (Rather than just appliquéing one circle in the middle.) There are helpful tips for getting multiple seams to meet neatly at the center.

And there are directions for what Granger calls “power piecing”. The technique is copiously illustrated with photographs, which is a very good thing, because foundation paper piecing can be very confusing!

I’m wild about her ‘Labyrinth’ quilt;  it’s made up of tiny squares, but they’re not cut individually; for this pattern, the quilter makes strip sets, and those are pieced into arcs. She describes the (fun)‘brown bag’ method for randomly choosing strips for this project.

There are plenty of extras. Granger provides directions for finishing a round quilt; or, for setting the circles into a square or rectangular setting. There are also directions for mitering borders, and for four different pieced zig-zaggy borders that reflect the “lightening bolt” feel of the circles.  There’s a ‘Shazam’ pillow project, with instructions for adding piped cording, and installing a zipper (something quilters don’t practice much, so explanations are appreciated.)  There are directions for creating bias and straight cut binding; for making labels, and for creating hanging sleeves for circular and rectangular quilts.

An interesting detail: Granger says that, with her round quilts, “I insert stainless spring steel in my bindings to help hold the quilts round and taut.” I never heard of that before, but she refers the reader to her website  There, I found a product called “Quilt Shaper Light," stainless steel that is threaded into the binding to hold the quilt stiff – Pretty interesting!?   

I hope she writes a new book, soon, because I want more! More about how she develops designs, and more quilt patterns too!  

In sum, this book is fun, clear, brilliant and innovative - a worthy addition to the best circular/kaleidoscopic/medallion quilting literature, with excellent, clear directions that confident beginners and advanced quilters can use and enjoy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Surfing the Planet of the Apes

This is the quilt in my header. I call it, "After the Fall: Surfing the Planet of the Apes."

It started out with a book by mixed media artist Sherrill Kahn, who writes about how to creatively paint, stamp and stencil on fabric. This particular technique involved a lot of wet fabric, masking tape stripes, cream and regular acrylic paints, and serendipity, my favorite thing.

I wound up with the central large rectangle, tan on the upper left, Caribbean blue elsewhere, with numerous  stripes. It looked like a beach, so I plopped a fish or two (cut from novelty fabric) on the blue side. And then I kept thinking that it needed a Statue of Liberty on the beach, which seemed very odd, until a few weeks later I woke up and realized that it was because of the final  scene in the first Planet of the Apes movie, when (spoiler alert) Charlton Heston, earth astronaut, shot into space in suspended animation, awakens several thousand years later on a planet where literate but cruel apes rule. At the movie's end, he is on the beach, and encounters the head and torch of the Statue of Liberty in the sand. That is the moment that he, and we, realize that they are not on an alien planet; they are on Earth, after an ape-friendly apocolypse.

Naturally, that got me thinking about the apocalypse we may face in the not-so-distant future, not from primates with British accents, but from climate change.

So I put the surfer in the sand.

If our waterways dry up, the next generation will need to invent recreational desert surfing. 

As for saving the environment, I had just learned to use Adobe Illustrator's multi-step 'blend' tool, which allows you to morph shapes from one to another in the number of steps you designate. I morphed the shape of the Statue of Liberty's torch, from its place on the upper left, first into old-fashioned lighbulbs, down the side borders, then into newer eco-friendly spiral lightbulbs, and then, further down  the sides and along the bottom border, some kind of fantastical bulb that has not yet been invented, but which we hope someone develops very soon, which will save enough energy to save the world.

I also extended some of the stencilled lines onto the black border, to unify the piece.

I had a lot of fun quilting waves, rocks, and some kind of radiating sea urchin-like circles into the water.
I wasn't sure what I was going to do with this admittedly odd piece, but fortunately, my teenage son took a liking to it, and now it hangs in his room. He tells me he's going to bring it to college with him next month! (Update: It now hangs over his bed at college!)

Wouldn't it be great if one of the fabric companies came out with Planet of the Apes fabric? I would definitely buy some of that! The only thing this quilt is missing is a kitchen sink, and a literate primate with a British accent.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Steampunk Bobbin Barrettes

My compulsion to create goes beyond fabric. But not too far beyond. Like, all the way to bobbins?

One of the side effects of being a button collector, is that I wind up with a lot of orphan bobbins (Wind up! Get it?). I have lots of bobbins that don't fit any of my machines, virtually all from thrift shops or flea markets. Bobbins are soooooo cool - steampunk steel, or, from more recent machines, groovy, clear plastic.

 I have long unruly hair and always need more barrettes. So I made these:.

Barrette A, front and side view below, is made from plastic bobbins, fully loaded with thread (I didn't load them!). I used a sturdy, sparkly silver plastic yarn (called Jelly Yarns) to stitch them on. Begin by tying a knot at one end of the barrette. Then weave into the top of a bobbin, around the backing, back up through the first bobbin hole, then into the next bobbin hole, around the back, up the same bobbin, and so on, onto the next bobbins.

Barrette B below is made from vintage "one-dot" bobbins. Again, they came fully loaded with the thread you see here. I glued the thread ends down. Then I used a super strong glue to fix the bobbins to the backing.

For barrette C, below, I again started with loaded bobbins. I wired them to the barrette. The wire is fastened at the ends, of course, and there's another piece of wire in the middle, to prevent gapping. Tying that wire in the middle wasn't an elegant solution. Anyone have some better ideas?

Barrette D is my favorite. I used two kinds of bobbins, and large round metal beads. Everything is wired together, similar to the path described in barrette A. Except here, start by securing the wire to one barrette and, and then come up the central hole of the first bobbin; then go through the bead, and down the same hole. Wire is a little clunky to work with, so be very patient with it and yourself.

There are two great advantages to wearing bobbin barrettes. First,  it's like one of those dating cellphone apps that helps single people find other singles in their vicinity. This is a stitching app. Anywhere you go, people who sew or have sewn will recognize the origins of your hair accessory, and will start talking to you!

And second, if you wind up on a desert island with a vintage sewing machine, electricity, fabric, but no bobbins, you can simply unsnap the barrette from the back of your head, pry off a bobbin , and you're good to go!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Crazy Stars

How cool is this  horizontal crazy quilt? It's an antique - I'm guessing 19th century - and I found it, in a gold-edged frame, on the wall at a local boutique. It appears to be made from silk, and while the some of those brown diamonds look a little stressed, the overall impact is extraordinary. Something about those cut off edges gives it a "modern" look, and the energy makes it irresistible.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shouldn't Your Bouquet Match Your Quilts?

Karla Alexander is a well- known quilt teacher and book author, who developed the 'Stack the Deck' book series. Her method/game nicely combines planning with serendipity. The basic idea is to cut a stack of square blocks; subcut blocks  into different pieces; shuffle each pile of pieces differently; and stitch the pieces back into blocks.

You do have to read through the directions a couple of times, but once you grok it, it’s a lot of fun – perfect for when you don’t want to design too much, and just want to get to the sewing.  From her book 'New Cuts for New Quilts, More Ways to Stack the Deck,' I made this quilt, which she calls 'Razzle Dazzle.' Her model quilt was made from multicolored batiks, with sashing in black-and-white checked fabric. I used print fabrics, and a black-and-white square sashing.

A little loud, no? I don’t know why I like purple and yellow so much. I keep coming back to it. Or maybe I cured myself with this project.... 

In any case, once I was done, I liked the quilt, but I liked the pile of scraps generated from trimming up the blocks to size, even better. I mean, this was one heckuva great-looking scrap pile, consisting of slivers from ½” to about 2” wide, each sliver made up of several fabrics.

They were a little too narrow for a scrap quilt…So I decided to turn them into flowers. I cut out backing circles from felt, using my pinking shears. 

The felt circle is a couple of inches shorter than the slivers. Flipped to the front, I piled  a bunch of slivers on each backing, setting each strip at a different angle, like an asterisk. Added a couple of strips cut from the black-and- white sashing to fill things out. 

Stitched them together in the center, added a coordinating button. Then I drenched each flower  in “Stiffy”and laid it to dry on waxed paper. Stiffy keeps the slivers more or less pointing outward. The final step is to hand-stitch on the extra-long pipe cleaners (aka chenille stems). I wound a couple of the stems together to make them stronger. 

And voila! A raggedy bouquet that matches my quilt! (Just what my house needs: MORE crazy yellow and purple explosions everywhere!)
Karla’s latest book, 'Dynamic Quilts with Easy Curves,' uses her shuffle approach to cut curved shapes. One of the great things about her books is that you don’t have to buy the first one to understand the system – she re-explains it in every book. 

Postcard from Pasadena

So what we have here is a bed quilt I made maybe in 2010, from a smallish plastic bag crammed with literally hundreds of pieces – hexagons, petals, squares, and shapeless things – acquired a few years earlier at a flea market.  

This was the vintage find of every quilter’s dreams. Stuffed inside were hundreds of cut-out fan petals, as well as other shapes. Even better, there were several templates. The fan template was cut from an old postcard - the part with the postmark! What are the chances?

The postmarked year was 1936; the town, Alhambra, CA, which is right next door to my town.

The pencil writing on the back is still readable:
“I did not get your….
But awfully glad you calle..
Funeral will be…

There were enough fan pieces for me to complete a 'barn raising' setting, plus three of the four small circles --- you can see that the circle on the lower right only goes 3/4 of the way around.  (In the spirit of modern quilting, I decided to leave the asymmetry.)

I am not really sure why I chose the alternating blue and white setting. My reasoning, in no particular order:
  • I felt like gambling.
  • I had two yards of that pastel blue fabric that someone had given me, and I wanted to get it the heck out of my stash.
  • I love vintage quilts with underlying, secondary patterns. 
  • I love vintage quilts that use pastel colors which, if they weren’t antiques, would annoy me.
The underlying checkerboard, the diversity of prints, along with the documentary templates, makes this one of my absolute favorites. I pieced 7 fan pieces together, into quarter circles, then raw-edge appliqued them to the blue and white squares. (I didn't want to fold back any of the design area on these small gems!)

We keep this quilt on our bed, though I do worry that burglars will  pile it with valuables, bundle it up and take it away. (This actually happened to us about five years ago, and I lost a favorite bed quilt as well as jewelry. On the up side, now I have much less jewelry to steal). But it does make me think that a bed isn’t necessarily the safest place for a favorite quilt.  If we all lived our quilt lives with caution, we’d only have ugly quilts on our beds. Hmmm, What do you think?

That scrap bag was full of surprises. Here are scans of the other two templates. First, for round-edged squares: 

Note the 1941 copyright date. And one for hexagons: 
Here's the reverse side:

The hexagon almost certainly came from the same postcard. The light pencil writing says El Monte on one side, and Pasadena on the other. (Alhambra is more or less in-between)
Sometimes I like to entertain the idea that quilters from the Other Side notice earthly quilters, wandering through thrift shops and flea markets, and they steer us to their scraps, so we can finish what they began. 

Note to unknown quilter from Pasadena or El Monte, now probably in heaven:

I hope you like what I did. I'm awfully glad you called.