Friday, February 22, 2013

Drawing on air and other quilt news

So many interesting things came up on my screen this week. They are:
  • The newest, coolest art supply - A pen that draws a tangible, 3-D line, even in mid-air, here. It's sort of like a hot glue gun, but narrower and cooler (temperature-wise as well as hipness). If you send them enough money via Kickstarter, and they start mass-producing, you can eventually own one!

    The Kickstarter video reminded me of Picasso's light drawings. Working with a photographer, Picasso  created ephemeral sketches, recordable only by camera. How Picasso would have loved the 3-D pen! While waiting for yours to arrive, draw with light by following this ultra-easy Youtube tutorial.

    3-D pen lines and light drawings have a parallel in the stitching world - stitching on temporary  (water soluble or heat-away) stabilizer, then dissolving the stabilizer, leaving just the threads in place. People make scarves, vases and bowls this way, as well as elaborate thread-painted flat appliques. Have you made anything 3-D this way? 
  • The thimble lives on! That's the good news. The bad news: The iron has been obliterated! I'm talking, of course, about Monopoly pieces. The company held a Facebook vote on which token should be ditched. On several of my online sewing lists, stitchers were exhorted to stampede to Facebook to vote for keeping the thimble. We succeeded by a thread - the thimble remains - but the iron was voted off the island. Read more about the contest here. Grief-stricken iron  mourners include the quilters of the Chicago School of Fusing. Laura Wasilowski's obituary for the Monopoly iron is here
  • Old sewing machine table reimagined - The bad news is that the vast majority of  old sewing machines in thrift stores are worthless, and their tables are worth less than that. But this imaginative person turned an old sewing machine table into cooler?! 
  • Pretty modern - McCall's Quilting is offering a free, downloadable "modern" quilt pattern booklet with three cute patterns. I'm not sure I'd call them "modern" - too many pieces - but I might call them modernesque, easy, good for beginners. You have to give them your email address, of course, to download the booklet. Sign up and download here.
  • Sewing notions ROCK -  A totally incredible stop-motion animation rock video, starring sewing notions and machine embroidery! With music that's borderline heavy metal! Indescribably wonderful: I think Picasso would approve. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

From UFO to Modern Quilt, Part II: Solids Rising

Desperately needing to get out of my house yesterday, and needing some yarn to finish a scarf I'm crocheting, I headed for the nearest Joann's fabric.While there, what the heck, might as well look at the fabric. Their pre-cut area - where they sell packs of coordinated fat quarters and 'jelly rolls' (2 1/2" wide strips) - is near the entrance, so that was the first stop in my shopping therapy. 

What I saw there amazed me. Solid fabrics now dominate. 

Not so long ago, the vast majority of Joann's pre-cuts were collections of print fabrics. But yesterday, most of the pre-cuts I saw were solids, in gradations, or rainbow colors, or other combinations. Gosh, they even have pre-cut strips that gradate from white through grey, all the way to black (Weird, huh? I'm guessing that's for all the hordes of people making "50 Shades of Grey" quilts?)

This tells me that "modern" quilting is a certifiable, money-making trend. Which is exciting, because just a few years ago the quilt world was collectively anguishing over imminent doom as quilters' average ages rose. Now it's looking like today's young "modern" quilters are saving our pastime/passion. You go, Youth!

Which brings me to a quilt I blogged about a couple of months ago, here. Here's how it looked then. 
I had pieced it in the early 90s from scraps of the solids that I was mostly using them, when solids were more popular, and there weren't nearly as many interesting prints around.  I was a total beginner, and the piece has many, shall we say quirks. 

After piecing it, I stuffed it, just a top, in my cabinet, where it sat for years. Among other things, it was was completely and utterly out of style. (This was also before the renewed interest in improvisational quilting, now very hot). 

I thought of it as a sort of magic doorway, with light coming in around the cracks. A few months ago, I decided to finish it. I backed and batted it, and stitched in the ditch. But I thought it needed something more.  I solicited and received many good suggestions. I especially liked the idea of  Israeli quilter Rachelly Roggel, who suggested a series of arches, in keeping with the doorway theme. She'd suggested doing them off-center, but for some reason I went with centering them; now I think off-center would have been a little more interesting.

I quilted circles into the blocks around the edges. 
More angles: 

Don't look too close.

Aside from the occasional beginner's crease, I like it, and I'm still tickled that a quilt I made so long ago is  au courant! I am thinking about whether I should sew a zillion colorful buttons to it, or leave well enough alone. Other than that, my biggest challenge is to clear some wall space to hang it!

Meanwhile, I broke my tripod (which is why these photos are a bit fuzzy). Can anyone recommend a strong, durable, but not outrageously expensive tripod?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Valentine update: Channeling my inner Northwest coast native person

You know how sometimes you create something and have a strong idea about a design decision, and then minutes/hours/days/weeks/years/decades later you realize where your idea came from?

So, in our last installment, I made a heart-and-arrow flannel and felt 3-D Valentine for my husband, which, when I gave it to him yesterday morning, looked something like this:

He loved it. Yay! In the evening, slightly stoned on excessive amounts of chocolate, I took it back to add a hanging loop.

As I stitched on a yellow ribbon, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to sew tiny, mostly mother-of-pearl white buttons, onto the heart. At first I just sewed just one row within the red heart outline. But then I added more...and more...

The white on the red flannel and felt background just felt so RIGHT.
As I was finishing, I recognized from whence my compulsion had come: The button blankets of the Northwestern coast native tribes, of course! I'd seen them at museums in the Pacific Northwest during a visit to that area 21 years ago, and had been utterly entranced. (This was even before I became a quilter). The coastal people make spectacular red, black (or dark blue), and pearl button as capes and gifts. (They are rarely hung from walls, and never used as bedding, according to Wikipedia). Here's a modern button blanket made by Joshua Sherucij.
Here's an older one by deceased Haida artist Florence Davidson
(Learn more about her here.)
 Here's a family wearing their button capes.
So now I'm thinking....what ELSE can I make from red and black flannel or felt that involves lots of white buttons? (Because my button boxes spilleth over....)
Have you ever made anything like a button blanket?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Valentine Story (Trying not to think about chocolate)

(Update 4/15: This project was massively updated in the next blog post here. )

For a relatively fast fabric Valentine, do something with felt and free-motion quilting. If you use three or so layers, it will be stiff enough to serve as a wall hanging. I used red, black and yellow acrylic felt and/or flannel, and moderate heat with paper-backed fusible web, to fuse layers together.

The result, to my surprise, turned into a Freudian and/or perhaps Nilssonesque fable.

Once upon a time there was a lonely arrow who loved somebody but didn't know who. (The arrow was made up of a top layer of red flannel, machine appliqued and quilted [for the rear feathers] onto a piece of black felt. The words were hand-embroidered with big stitches, and then another layer of black felt was fused and stitched to the back for stability and to cover the embroidery back.)

Meanwhile, not too far away, there was a lonely heart (made of 3 fused layers, stipple quilted). In its heart of hearts, it felt empty. It would often ask itself: What's a buttonhole without a button? 

They met (maybe on, FeltMingle, FHarmony, FDate, or all of the above), and fell in love. 

Together, they hit the target. 
(The important 'Love of Buttons' target.)

The End? Not necessarily. The various components can be rearranged to tell slightly different tales:
Like the story of the heart that walked around with a target on its shirt. 

I haven't yet decided on the ending. (Thus the dangling black thread.) Alternative arrangements and fables welcomed. 

Wishing you lots of stitched love, and more than enough buttons for every buttonhole. 
(Update: Find out how this story, and project, ends, here.) 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Warm and Fuzzy Quilt News Roundup

The weather outside is frightful, so here are three delightful quilt news stories to help keep you warm. 

1. South Dakota Quilters Hit Jackpot - Seventeen quilting friends who've been throwing $2 a week into a collective pool for 5 years just won $55,000 from a scratch ticket in the state lottery. That's about $2400 each after taxes. (Of course buying the tickets cost each $520 over five years, which brings the winnings down to around $1880.) 
 “Our plan is to get a nice place to all live together with our husbands and do quilting,” Richards said. “For $2 a week we have had lots of laughs and many dreams about building our big house. We call it our redneck retirement plan.”
(Article here. Hmmm, I wonder if they're going to make a quilt from the winning scratch card? For example, here's a random scratch card from another state that could inspire an interesting quilt: 
Or maybe not. By the time you've bought enough yellow and red fabric, your $1880 is severely depleted, and the graphics may have given you a headache!)

2. Rock Star Quilter Really Is! - You've heard of McTavishing? It's a way of machine quilting highly elaborate swooping featheresque fillers. It's jaw-droppingly spectacular
Turns out that the inventor, Karen McTavish, is a young woman with dreadlocks, tattoos and gauged ears. Oh, and she's the singer for an alternative metal band called Grounds for Dismissal. Her mother talked her into becoming a quilter, according to this interesting bio in a  local newspaper

3. Quilts = Life - Wisconsin quilter Verna Riddle used to lecture  about her collection of 110 quilts, of which she made about 15. She died in 1999, and now her son Jon takes her show on the road. His talks are profound:

"Verna would say how much piecing a quilt is like living a life. A quilt could explain predestination and free will better than any preacher. Neighbors give a piece of material here and there; whatever is left over or comes along goes into the quilt. When it comes to cutting out the quilt, the pattern is the quilter's choice. The same fabric given to different people will result in different quilts. 'That's the way of living. The Lord sends us the pieces, we can cut 'em out and put 'em together pretty much to suit ourselves,' Verna would say."
 "...The simple fact is that quilts were handmade by people for people. Every phase of their production was permeated by giving and sharing: from the trading of scraps and patterns to the actual production in 'bees,' to the giving away of the final finished work. Quilting was an essentially human activity. There is something about a quilt that says people friendship, community, family, home and love," Jon said. 
In other words, Mr. Data and Mr. Spock should be quilting to find their inner humanity. That's what I do, come to think about it.

More on Verna's legacy (with two nice pictures of embroidered quilts) here. Below is her hand-stitched presidential portrait quilt, made in 1987 (I think that's Reagan at the end).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to be Trendy, Lazy and Fabulous

The good news is, I got a commission to make a baby quilt!

This is a small piece of the finished quilt. If you scroll to the bottom you can see the whole quilt now, but I think you'll have much more fun if you read through the article and let yourself be surprised. 
The somewhat less interesting news is that the commission is from my husband!

 If I make it, I get to continue living with him! (If I don't, same thing.)

Although my marriage is, in all seriousness, my grand prize in life, it still isn't as exciting to have a spouse-who-I-sometimes-take-for-granted commission a quilt, as it would be if it were a random stranger who emailed from afar (Of course, afar strangers usually want Wal-mart prices. In that case, one should politely decline, but still feel grateful that a non-relative liked one's work.)

But back to my commission: It's for one of my husband's colleague's new baby girl! And for an assortment of reasons, I had a two-week deadline! 

I did not leap to accept this commission. Not only do I sometimes take my husband for granted, but also, this was an out-of-town colleague who I hadn't met.

Before accepting his offer,  I had to ascertain whether my husband really liked the colleague. Whether he really, really liked the colleague. Because I'm not going to make a quilt for someone who he doesn't really really really like, if not totally love.

He did. Then I inquired whether the colleague and spouse are the type of people who would appreciate a hand-made quilt. Like most quilters, I learned my lesson early to not make quilts for anyone who isn't WILDLY enthusiastic about the prospect. Otherwise, one is likely to be driving past their house when one spots their yard sale, brakes, and leaps out to discover one's handmade quilt on the sale table, not being used as a table-covering but actually for sale, at substantially less than Wal-Mart prices.

So once my husband swore that he adored them as people, and that they would never sell a handmade quilt at a garage sale, I was free to embrace this new commission.

Everything else about a baby quilt assignment is wonderful. And one of the best things is that, if you actually want the baby to use it, you can and should keep it simple.

Which brings us to "modern" quilts. One of the greatest things about them is that, instead of cutting and stitching thousands of things, you can do 3. Seriously. So that's less work. For example, this very modern hexagon quilt by Julie Herman.  (Buy pattern here: (No financial affiliation, and I haven't made it, I just like the way it looks)....
Totally "modern". Compare that to this non-modern ("old"?) hexagon quilt top below that I bought at a flea market late in the last century. The person who made it, maybe in the 1930s or 40s, used thousands of pieces, and clearly became bored, incapacitated, and/or dead before finishing it, which is why I found it lolling on the sale table at a flea market (for above-Wal-Mart prices). And it looks like the same will be said about me when my great-grandchildren find it in my attic and put it on Craigslist in 2062 (Craigslist by then will be beamed directly into people's brains).
It's huge. You're looking at half of it in the photo above. 
The fabrics are fabulous. I haven't counted the pieces, but I'm estimating around 46,832. 

Even if I did finish it, even if I hacked off a few feet for a crib-size quilt, it would make a dreadful baby quilt. Too many seams! It would not hold up to multiple washes!

But back to the great things about "modern". Another positive attribute is improvisational piecing, in which shapes and angles are off kilter. There are all kinds of wonkily pieced modern quilts out there these days, justifiably winning prizes at quilt shows. For many of us experienced, er, mature quilters, it is far more difficult to do wonky than to square things off. 

There are three ways to do wonky:

1.By actually improvisationally piecing. This is the most labor intensive. Start with a colored scrap. Cut it wonky:
Cut a non-perfect neutral strip:  
Stitch it to one side of piece 1
Add another strip to another side
 And so forth....
This activity will put you into the most pleasant possible meditative state, during which you will lose track of time, which is good, because it will take a long time to make a quilt at the rate you are going.

Once you've completely surrounded your original fabric with the background color, it may look something like this.
(Pretend you can see lots of seams in the white areas). 

Change colors - maybe get a wonky blue strip - surround that one in a similar way, and add it to one side of the first unit. Continue to do that, adding other colors. If you are lucky, it might eventually start to look like this:
(Continue to pretend there are lots of seams in the white fabric).

2. The Fusible Method. This is the easiest. Press paper-backed fusible web to the back of different solid color fabrics, cut them into uneven rectangles, press them to a neutral fabric, and stitch them all around to secure the edges.. The results may look something like this:.
Pretend there is a tiny little zigzag going around the edge of each rectangle.
3. And finally, there is The Shopping Method.  Go out (or stay home) and buy this fabric:
Ha! Did I fool you? This is what quilters call "cheater" fabric! You can pretend you pieced or appliqued it, but it's really just one fabric. Here's some more of it.
Cheating pays! It saves hours, and makes a more durable baby quilt, for people who might not even want a quilt, and hold rapacious yard sales, so why the heck not? And it's certainly more economical to buy one piece of cheater fabric, than to separately buy yardage of all those colors. If you're lucky enough to find "modern" cheater fabric, you can be quick, trendy, lazy AND cheap, while making a fabulous baby quilt!

It just so happens that just before I received this baby quilt commission, I had splurged for myself for Chanukah and bought a pack of FQs from this collection, Kaufman's 'Modern Quilts by Cynthia Frenette.'  The site where I bought it showed only slivers of the fabrics. When I untied the bow holding the stack together, these six tumbled out.
Five of the six fabrics are cheater fabrics, which mimic piecing (or fusing)! The one on the far right is a cheater wedding rings design! Just wait until that baby gets married!

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The central fabric above,with the white background, went great with leftover turquoise owl fabric that I bought a year ago to make my daughter's bat mitzvah quilt. Here's a second peek at a section of  my finished baby quilt:
The baby's middle name is "Olivia." "Owlivia!" Get it? (I didn't find that out til the quilt was finished, though!)

Following the law of threes (art looks better in odd number sets for reasons discussed below), I decided the quilt needed one more section, so I created a section with concentric circles, using method #2 above (fusible backed solid fabrics, with zigzagging over the edges).
Babies like eyes; and I also think babies like dots and circles because they remind them of the, er, the dairy department. My own babies were fascinated by anything round and mammarian at a certain stage of their very young lives. (I still remember a metal fire hose outlet, at one of our favorite parks, which contained metal circles within circles, with one small metal nodule sticking out in the middle, that my baby toddled up to and tried to nurse from).

So, without further ado, here's the quilt I wound up with!
Long ago, when I first started quilting, I read that a good quilt should keep your eye moving, finding patterns, parallels and differences. Not too much symmetry (thus the law of 3s), because it makes the eye stand still, which is a certain indicator of viewer boredom if not death (see zillion hexagon quilt above). In this quilt, I did that by picking up the circles from the owl eyes, and then contrasting them with the rectangles;  everything is unified by some similar colors, and by being  tossed into the air like a chunky salad, with fat round cherry tomatoes, thick carrot and cucumber slabs and, um, owl-shaped vegetables, flying through the air.

So the moral of the story is, if you gotta make a baby quilt fast for people you don't know but your husband swears are absolutely stellar human beings, go for some trendy 'modern' cheater cloth , and you will wind up with sturdy, lovable, baby quilt for people your spouse really, really, I mean really likes, and, if you met them, you probably would too. Ideally, they should be the kind of people who loathe hosting garage sales.

PS I shared this on Nina-Marie Sayre's Off-the-Wall Fridays, with lots of wonderful art quilts: