Sunday, June 30, 2013

Loving Linen, Zoning Out on Zakka

My LQS (local quilt shop) has a few linen bolts, which called to me for a long time. A couple of years ago, I finally broke down, bought myself a quarter-yard of a delightful off-white, and decided to use it for small quilted cuffs (which I call quiltlets, and can be used as bracelets, wall art, bookmarks, and more).

I fell deeply in love with the linen's selvage, which featured an inexplicable navy-blue line of stitching. (Can one of you selvage gurus explain that?) So I displayed it prominently in the first wrist cuff below. That's a vintage mother-of-pearl buckle, along with vintage m-o-p carved buttons.

That one's not quilted, but the next one is. It has a pillowcase finish, low-loft cotton batting inside, and is machine quilted. It turns out that linen takes machine quilting beautifully! 
 The khaki rick-rack is extra-fat (also new from my LQS), and I found an old belt-buckle to stitch to one end.. The metal iron-on triangular embellishments came new from my LQS. 
It has a bit of a steampunk feel. The polka dot yo-yo is green vintage satin, and the brown  tortoise-shell-plastic-and-metal button on top is vintage. 

Finally, I used the linen as a base for a quiltlet that includes a neutral-colored new polka-dot cotton fabric, a large grey m-o-p button, and grey grosgrain ribbons (along the bottom). There are two horizontal lines of quilting along the top.
None of these things look even remotely like what I usually make - too little color, too clean lines!

I made them because I was having a zakka moment. Zakka is a Japanese aesthetic, which, in turn was influenced by modern Scandinavian design. It's all about simplicity and muted (if any) colors. It's one of those things that, when I first saw it, struck me as incredibly boring...but about three minutes later, once it had sunk in, I needed to make some RIGHT NOW. Zakka projects are often precious little objects for the home. Although I now love it, I couldn't take a steady diet of it.

Want to try it but not sure what to make? Do an Amazon search for "zakka sewing" and you'll turn up a half-dozen project books. I own Rashida Coleman-Hales "I Love Patchwork; 21 Irresistible Zakka Projects to Sew;' you can browse inside that book as well as the others on Amazon to find a project that inspires you.

My friend Karen, who alas, is not a quilter, is the queen of linen. She buys linen garments at thrift shops, dyes them, and the results are earthily, mutedly, magnificent. Do a search for "upcycling linen" on Pinterest to see many different ideas for using linen from former garments, or from the LQS.

What have you made from linen?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Placing Paper in an Art Quilt

I think I've mentioned here before that many of my friends bring me orphan fabrics, which is exactly like bringing chocolate. When I look at it, I can't even remember a reason to say no.

But this particular delivery was one of the oddest. A dear friend had a mother in her late 90s. She'd been wearing the same heavy wool coat since at least the 1950s. Eventually, the coat's brown satin lining wore out, and my friend had a tailor install a new lining. The tailor gave him back the old lining. And my friend brought it to me.

At first, I thought, "This shredded shmata is the last thing I need in my house." I was finally going to turn away an orphan!

But then I looked at it some more. It was so soft and shiny. It had fascinating frayed areas. And then I found  the patch. It was beige, round, oval patch. It had been ineptly stitched on to the brown satin, using.... that ... could it be...forest green thread? Doubled?

Yes, I said, I will take it in.

My friend's mom died not long after that. So I constructed a quilt about mortality. And maybe because I'm lazy, and maybe because this quilt was built around a tangible relic of a mostly 20th century life, I decided to incorporate authentic 20th century paper, rather than photo-transfering paper images onto fabric.

I dove into my paper stash (not quite as deep as my fabric stash), and came up with classical sheet music book from the early 1900s, a paper printout of a statue (from a copyright-free Dover Book), and a circle of paper that I'd experimentally crumbled and painted with silver-blue acrylic paint.

In general, it's a good idea to strengthen paper before you add it to a quilt. My paper-strengthening secret is Golden Gel medium (regular). I cut out the statue, used the gel to adhere it to the blue circle, and glued that to the sheet music. Then I slathered that paper construction, front and back with several more layers of the gel medium, letting it dry in between applications.

Along with adhesion and strength, the medium gives paper a satisfying leathery feeling. The more layers the better. (Of course, no matter how much you strengthen it, it will never go through the wash.)

I did not dare machine-sew the sheet music to the black felt background; the stitching holes would almost certainly have ripped through. I hand-stitched it on with brown cross stitches.
That's an authentic worn spot in the coat lining on the lower right. 
 There was one tear during construction - you can see it in the photo above, between the last two vertical cross stitches. Fortunately, it fits into the theme. In hindsight, if that sheet music had been precious, transferring it to fabric first would have been a much better idea. (As it was, it came from a thick book of sheet music.)

I also did some long running stitches (with white thread), and french knots in the brown satin areas. I machine quilted a paisley design on the far right and lower left.
 This two-tone brown fabric, on the lower left of the piece, came from an upholstery sample book.  
Technically, this is not a quilt - the elements are stitched onto one large piece of black felt. So there are only two layers. Eventually, I'll frame it. For now, it's just tacked to the wall, and has held up quite well over several years.

There are many artists who combine paper and fabric, using lots of different approaches. Beryl Taylor has durable and inexpensive way to turn paper into strong fabric and incorporate it into art quilts, using watered down white glue.There's a wonderful, free article that you can download describing her process and showing her beautiful work, at

I hope this will inspire you to experiment with paper in your art quilts. And if you've already done it, I'd love to hear about what works for you!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why a Chicken? No-Mistake Hand Embroidery for Quilts and Beyond

Did you hear a  contented humming sound coming from the Left Coast last Sunday morning? That was my fellow Los Angeles stitchers and me, sewing flowers, chickens, African baskets, and other things, in a very  happy class.
We were attending a Southern California meeting of the awesome Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework; the class was African Folklore Embroidery, taught by Leora Raikin, an extraordinary young artist who was raised in South Africa

Everyone in the class received a kit, which is to say a 16" square piece of  black  fabric, with a simple outline sketched in white and a few sparse details. We could choose from designs depicting flora, fauna, Africana, Americana, or, unlikeliest of all, Judaica, which, it turns out, reflects Leora's heritage. (Choices here.)

I'd been reading a book about the lives of industrial chickens, so, perhaps out of guilt, perhaps as a tribute to my grandmother's soup, perhaps just because roosters are awesome, I chose the chicken; I picked the poultry.

The stitches Leora taught us just couldn't be simpler - mostly chain stitch, plus some interesting wrapping of threads around those chain stitches, easily creating complex-looking effects.

The embroidery threads that came with our kit were absolutely gorgeous - variegated threads dyed by South African women using environmentally friendly methods. As a result of Leora's enterprise, "All the women involved in the thread dying process have been able to move from shack housing to formal housing with running water and electricity," she notes.

So we're helping needy people while we sew! Especially with perilously ill Nelson Mandela in our thoughts, what could be better? Leora is dedicated to supporting African folk art, and to battling AIDS in her homeland. Read more about this remarkable woman here.

Quilts made from her designs have also won prizes at quilt shows - see the far right column on this page.

My rooster struck a perfect balance between relaxing-because-you're-following-instructions (i.e. the outlines), and exciting-because-you're-choosing-colors-and-stitches. It also helped that Leora prohibited us from ripping things out. "There are no mistakes!" she insisted. "No matter what you do, it will be gorgeous!" And she was right! What could be better?

And so, despite my unfortunate choice of a mohawk coiffure for the bird (no ripping!)...
...I couldn't put him/her down. After the conference, and into the night, I stitched until s/he was more or less done.  (I'm a little vague about ascertaining hen/rooster gender. No wattle?)

More! I needed to embroider more! So, (not quite finished with my denim creation spasm) I cut two leg segments from a pair of denim jeans, and turned them into wrist/coffee cup cuffs/quiltlets, embellished with useful reminders/affirmations.

First, Imagine
That's an amazing yarn called Sashay on the bottom. My Local Teen wants me to take that part off.
There are three vintage plastic buttons down the right side, and three hand-stitched buttonholes horizontally down the left side (look closely).

Second,  "I (heart) Green."
The top and bottom edging are crocheted. Three more vintage buttons run down the right side. I haven't yet put buttonholes down the left. The outline of the leaf below shows more clearly what a chain stitch looks like when it's wrapped with another color, as Leora had taught us. It started as  a light green outline, and both sides of each stitch were wrapped with dark green. Pretty cool, eh?
The small light green stitches on the leaf seemed like a good idea at the time, but eventually I realized they kind of look like an egg infestation...but no ripping! This cuff serves as a reminder to eat a lot of organic salad, disregarding any vermin; and/or to purchase fair-trade environmentally-friendly coffee, as well as embroidery threads.

Want to give it a shot? One of Leora's kits or classes will definitely put you directly into the happy zone. There are also lots of simple embroidery stitch tutorials on the web, including  those from Sublime Stitching and Sarah's Hand Embroidery Tutorials.

To make a denim coffee/wrist cuff:

1. Cut a loop from a jeans leg. I cut mine to about  3" high (for 'Imagine') or 3 1/2" high (for 'Green').

2. Make the cut down along the right side of the less obvious vertical seam. When you open it up, the strip should be in a gentle arch, with the center a bit higher than both outer ends.

3. Measure it and cut it back to about 9" long, with one of those inches extending to the right, past the thick seam.

4. Pin it onto your wrist with the button end going under the other end. (Or pin it around a cardboard coffee cup). Figure out and mark an area to the right of the thick seam where the buttons should go. Mark where the buttonholes should go on the upper flap. Don't cut the holes out yet. You may want to cut the cuff shorter, as needed.

5. Sew the buttons in position.

6. If you want lettering or a drawing, it's probably a good idea to write it out on the denim first. I used a white chalk pencil. The longest side should be the top (in order to work with flared coffee cups).

7. Go to town with embroidery threads. (You can even order Leora's beautiful do-good threads, with or  without the kits.) Stitch yourself into the happy zone.

8. Optional: If you want to cover the stitching on the back, use fusible web to attach a layer of fabric cut to the same size as the denim strip onto the back. I'm liking my thready backs, so I haven't done this yet.

9. Do a blanket stitch all the way around (Edge Perfect blade can help).

10. Cut buttonholes. Add a few drops of fray-stopping fluid to each and let dry. Whip stitch around each opening.

10. Place on arm and/or coffee cup and wear with pride!
 Yes, I would like to hear about your favorite hand-embroidery experiences!

Oh, and one more thing: What should I do with my funky chicken? Bed quilt bird? Framed fowl? Poultry purse?

UPDATE: A reader told me about Canadian quilter Valerie Hearder, whose website sells quilt squares, textiles, jewelry and other items made by South African women, which helps them support their families in difficult conditions. Read her story and shop here:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Scrap Heaven: A 'Come As You Are' Creativity Game

Scrap Heaven I, 93"x 41". 
My scrap bin - an overstuffed 1960s-era blue cardboard suitcase - is like the Hotel California. I can check out those scraps any time I want. But they almost never leave.

I won't claim that this project will create vacancy in your scrap pile, but you will use up several of your most interesting fragments, and have fun doing it. It will transport you out of your left brain, and deposit you into the shape/color/intuitive right brain zone. It will open the doors to serendipity. Plus, you'll wind up with something that might be described as a "modern" quilt.

The most important rule of this particular exercise is to avoid cutting into the scraps. You can chop off segments so they'll fit into the background. But that's it. Cutting out shapes is cheating! (Or more precisely, it's a different creative exercise.) We want these scraps to arrive on your quilt and be loved just the way they are. Then again, we are in scrap heaven here, so no matter how much you cheat, you are totally and unconditionally forgiven.

1.  Begin by diving into your scrap collection and coming up with (a) an inspiration fabric - maybe a print with abstract  shapes, and (b) scraps that connect to #1 in some way, like shape, color, vibration, etc.

I started with three strips of this fabulous blue/white/red/black print, which I adored and was desperately sorry to be almost out of .

Close up: 
(It's Midori, apparently from the 41st century. If any of you time travellers have any more of this, I'd like to buy it from you. Seriously)
It's a gorgeous cotton sateen, with Miro-like abstract irregular shapes, including triangularish white shapes. 

Here's where the serendipity enters. I found I had a lot of scraps with arched triangular pieces missing (cut out during yarmulke-making adventures), as you can see in the red fabric, and the black-and-white fabric below.  The curvy triangles started talking to each other. 

I found other parallels; the blue strip had a red circle; and my black scrap, plus one of my yellow scraps, also had circles cut from them.

2. Once you have a bunch of candidate scraps, press them out with starch or sizing. Stiff is good.

3. Arrange them on a neutral background. I used a piece of very dark grey/light black fabric, full width off the bolt. I made it as long as it needed to be to accommodate my relevant scraps. (which turned out to be a rather overlong  91") Overlap pieces or not - that's your call. Most of my shapes hang in space, with only a tiny bit of overlap where the black shape hits the red one.

4. Using a nice new temporary glue stick, or applique glue, gently adhere each scrap all the way around its edges.

5. When the glue is dry, stitch the shapes down around the edges with invisible thread and/or matching thread, and a wide zigzag. Frayed edges and strands are part of the charm.

6. Sandwich, baste, and quilt as desired. I quilted a double-line wavy grid in grey thread, across everything. (It sort of represents the dark matter of the universe, and/or curved heavenly space.)

The view at the top of this post shows the quilt on the vertical. That's how I designed it. But I also like it on the horizontal:
I can't decide which I like better, tall or wide. (Opinions welcomed).  At 2 1/2 yards long, I'll be needing a larger couch, in a larger room, in a larger house, to hang it horizontally.
Doesn't that look fun? Give it a try. I predict that your family and friends who admire modern art and Gees Bend quilts will love it. I was astonished by how genuinely enthusiastic my Local Guys were about this quilt. (They tend to like abstraction, cosmology, and science fiction. They thought that the black shape looks like a cloaked Klingon Bird of Prey or Star Wars Fighter Pod.) Friends who prefer your complex, realistic, meticulous quilts (like, say, your portrait quilts) will fear that you have gone over to the dark side. And you have. But you can always come back.

Quilting all these wavy grid lines took a long time, so I did a lot of thinking. One thing I thought: This is sort of a meta-quilt, about sewing and quilting. The pieces laid out on the long piece of yardage remind me of garment pattern layout. Also: I love that the cutaway shapes are, in their absence, still present. That makes it a sort of memory quilt.

So, yes, I would love to hear about/see your vision of scrap heaven!

6/14 Update: This link has been shared on Nina Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Fridays project. Lots of wonderful art quilts there!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Play With Your Jeans: More Denim Vessels

Dare to cut the legs off a pair of jeans, and play with the resulting tubes! To add to the denim vessels in my last post, here are some more, created (or revised) last week. These projects are fast, easy, and you can  make up the rules as you go along. I didn't use any interfacing ; a lining made from more denim, or another stiff fabric, is all they need. Hide a glass vase inside if you're going to put flowers (faux or real) in it.

For this first one, I simply cut two shallow curves on either side of a leg, leaving most of the side seams intact.
I stitched a duplicate from angel-printed denim yardage for the lining. Ovals of denim are inset into the bottom. Sturdy lining is what allows it to stand up (in a slouchy sort of way).
It's reversible: 
At the moment I'm using it to store scraps - the more I stuff in, the straighter it stands! It could also make great party centerpieces. My Local Teen took one look at it, slipped it on her hand, declared it an oven mitt, and promptly began using it as... exfoliating facial mitt!? (Hey, that could work! Normally, it sits on your kitchen table holding an exquisite dried flower arrangement, until you need to fetch something from the oven. Then, simply dump out the flowers, place it over your hand, grab hot things, put them down, and, while the mitt's still warm, vigorously rub it against your cheeks, before returning it to the table and rearranging the fallen flowers in it.)

(Cheaper than blush! Oh, and it's also collapsible. Pack it along on vacations. Place a hotel glass inside when your out-of-town admirers send bouquets to your hotel room. If that's not a practical gift, I don't know what!)

Where were we? Next: a pocket vase.

It's made from two jeans legs, cut to the same length, one leg placed inside the other. The inside leg is right side in. It's bottomless at the moment - let's call it a vase sleeve.  Slip it over a heavy glass vase. The pocket came from a different pair of jeans.

Place flora just  in the pocket,
Or in the pocket AND in the top: 

(by the way, these are lace painted flowers I made a while back for a bat mitzvah...)
Or, climbing FROM the pocket, up to the top, or vice versa...
Above are felt flowers that I didn't make.
The back:
Lee jeans should send me money, right? 
I crocheted the edging with cotton (blue) and bamboo (gold) ribbon yarn. To cut even holes for the blue yarn, I used the Edge Perfect Blade, praised in an earlier post.)

And finally, my Gaetano basket, named after genius Italian designer Gaetano Pesce. I came across his work while googling vases. He's a giant in the design world - check out his colorful jewelry. Some of his chairs look like this: 
Hmmm, all of you are quilters are musing - that's pretty darn quilty! (Ho hum, another man being called a genius for doing things that mostly women  have been doing for years. Fortunately, I'm not bitter.) (UPDATE: Pesce really is a genius. More of his amazing artwork is here!)

With Gaetano chairs dancing in my head, I cut off a large round slice from a jeans leg. Cut open one seam and laid it flat. Cut a piece of denim yardage to a little bigger, to serve as backing. Laid the backing denim flat on the table, put a piece of cotton batting on top, then drizzled polyester stuffing as evenly as possible all across the top of the batting. Put the jeans leg slice on top of the sandwich. That sucker is now very puffy. (A little too puffy. Next time I think I'd just use batting, not the stuffing).  

Machine quilted across the breadth of it. 
The horizontal lines aren't actually stitched; they're loose threads. I did a couple of zig-zag tacking stitches in one place, then lifted the presser foot, moved the piece about an inch forward, and then did another couple of tacking stitches, moved forward, and so forth. You might want to measure and mark first if you're new to machine quilting. 
I bound the top and sides, set a quilted circle of denim in the bottom, and bound the bottom edge. The top is embellished with white embroidery floss stitches and mother-of-pearl (mostly) buttons (which make everything much better.) Results:

A few hand-tacking stitches (or the addition of some buttonholes and more buttons along the edges) will make it as open or closed as you want. 
I'm using mine to store balls of yarn that I'm working with, on my coffee table. 

It's reversible, too. On the bobbin side, I used variegated thread. 
Grazie, Signore Gaetano!

Finally, I elaborated on the paisley vessel shown in the last post. I added a round of cross stitches, and finished the top edge with a cuff from the lining, held in place by french knots.
I haven't made up a tutorial for any of these yet, but will if people let me know which (from this post or the the last) that they'd like to see. Meanwhile, here are three fun and easy denim vessel tutorials from around the web: One, two, and three. Braided denim vessels, a la braided rugs, to ogle here

Denim has SO many possibilities. I want to try distressing the denim before creating the vessels. Some family, yard sale, and expensive designer jeans come with delightful worn spots and holes. And some jeans are made with interesting seams and embroideries, which would be fun to show off in a vessel. I can see them as vases, handbags, lunch bags, and - what else?  I hope this inspires you to play with your jeans! And, yes, I would LOVE to see pictures of your creations!