Sunday, July 28, 2013

Interactive Woven Scrap Artist Trading Cards

I have lucked into a lovely and diverse group of eight or so Artist Trading Card (ATC) swappers. We're from completely different walks of life, ages, religions, and everything else. What we have in common is a love of art. The others are into drawing, painting and collage, and I'm the only fiber artist. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the ATC's I made for our first swap, here.

For our July swap, I got the idea in my head to turn my ATCs into looms. I think I got the idea because at a recent estate sale, I scored a cute little vintage flower loom (sort of like this.) I have several tiny looms from the 1950s-1970s - the manufacturers encouraged women to make lots and lots of little squares (or flowers) and then stitch them together into, say, a formal suit to wear during air travel (with white gloves).

So, for my ATCs, I started with sturdy cereal box cardboard. I adhered decorative paper to the plain side, or I painted the plain side. Once the glue/paint dried, I cut evenly spaced slits on the short ends, a quarter inch or so apart. Using the slits, I wrapped an interesting vintage gold yarn to serve as "warp."

Next, I wove with whatever fiber struck my fancy as the weft. For someone like myself, whose favorite childhood toy was a potholder loom, weaving is pure, unmitigated bliss. The only difference between weaving potholders in the 1960s and scraps in the 2010s is that the former were more disciplined. On my contemporary looms, I went for variety.

For example, from top down, this one includes: brussels sprout fabric scraps from a recent potholder; purple organza; three kinds of novelty yarn (eyelash, chenille, and indescribable); more organza, tiny lavender rick rack, and the same vintage gold thread.
Plus a metal button. I liked how the grid of the threads meshed with the nutritional information grid behind it. 

Similarly, this card had text visible on the front, including the words "benefits unique to each."

This one featured a vintage rayon floral, on top. I though it was quite feminine.

Some seemed more masculine. This one involved a cashmere yarn (top), a sliver of denim jeans (plus a novelty button with a grid); striped canvas ticking scrap; colorful novelty yarn; black cotton selvage topped with blue-painted rick rack; gold yarn, and blue ribbon yarn:

Here, I applied a little discipline, limiting myself to two yarns for weft (plus a little gold at the bottom). The photo doesn't convey the lovely mint color of the vintage button.

 Fuzzy cashmere and sari yarn went into this one, plus some blue tulle scraps:

I made one card with the slits cut in the other direction. It wound up looking like a landscape:
(This one looked a little plain to me, so after this photo, I later added a shiny mother of pearl button on the upper right. Big improvement.)
Now here's what I like best about these cards, aside from the fact that they use up approximately 3 ounces of my 80 gazillion ton scrap stash: They're fully interactive! On the back of the card, I invited the recipients to weave their OWN tapestries!

One of the rules of our exchange is that we put our cards in some kind of envelope before swapping, which makes the anticipation even more fun. I wrapped mine in a slice from an old calender, with the grid on the outside, and a nature scene that I felt went well with that card's fibers. 
I tied each package with a variety of interesting yarns, cords, and fabric scraps, so the recipient could use them to weave their side:  

Now here's where an in person ATC exchange is sooooooooo much better than doing it through  cyberspace and mail.  First, you get to ask other artists about their work on the spot. And second, you get useful reality-based feedback on yours!

One of the young women immediately began weaving the back of her card with the wrapping fibers! I was so incredibly proud!

And one of the fellows immediately placed his card into my envelope to create a stand.
He thought I made it that way on purpose! But I didn't! He's a total genius, and I'm reaping the benefits! 

If you're interested in joining the international Artist Trading Card movement, go to and type in "Artist Trading Cards." You'll find many groups - some trade through the mail; others arrange face-to-face meetings in specific cities. There are also lists of local exchanges at

And if you make a woven card, I'd love to see it!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

An Internet Signature Quilt for a Tough Guy

Eight years ago, when my Dad turned 80, I wanted to do something special for him. He and Mom lived in Massachusetts - I'm in California. It was long past time for them to move close to us, but Dad resisted. He had his pride and his routine, devoted to two passions: writing books on American ethnic history, and caregiving for Mom, whose dementia was advancing. A birthday party was out of the question.

Fortunately, several years earlier, I had purchased a couple of yards of presidential fabric.  
It's monochromatic, in uninspiring shades of brown, but the greatness of it is that it includes most (but, inexplicably, not all) of the presidents, up to then-president George W. Bush.

Despite his advanced age, my father had mastered the Internet well enough for flourishing correspondence with far-flung friends. Along with discussing history, politics and religion, they traded corny and/or appalling jokes, many of which only men of his generation could find funny.  

I thought about making him a "post office" quilt. But sending out pieces of fabric and asking for their return with signatures and decoration is not only a monumental amount of work, but also didn't seem right for his crowd. He and his friends reveled in words and  ideas.

The solution struck me in a flash: Use the Force, i.e. the Internet! Collecting wise and wiseguy words from Dad's crowd could conceivably take microseconds instead of months!  It helped that I had complete access to his email list (because he hadn't learned about 'BCC' yet.)

(And this was well before Twitter, which might have made the project even faster, and the contributions even more succinct!)

So I did a mass e-mailing. I explained about the presidential fabric. I asked people to either write a short birthday message that had nothing to do with any president; or, if they wanted to play the game, they could pick a historic president and I'd literally put their words into that president's mouth! 

When the messages flooded in - within minutes, hours, and days, for the most part, I was blown away!  
A grandchild commandeered Lincoln to sing Dad's praise.
Dad's friend Jeff, a political writer, claimed a whole bunch of presidents, and he did his homework. "They'd never have impeached me if I'd had YOU on my side...." Jeff put into Andrew Johnson's mouth, above right. Jeff also used historical facts and quotations to channel Coolidge:  
John Adams,
 and Teddy:
 Another friend took advantage of President Ford's sporting reputation:
For Millard Fillmore, a niece wrote a little quiz about the eerie parallels between Millard's life and her own. I set the answers upside down. ("They're both suspicious of both Democratic and Republican parties."]
Two different people claimed Nixon, one  a conservative, one a liberal. So I had him speaking out of both sides of his mouth! Perfect!

Grandkids colored in numerals: 
Without further ado, here's the finished quilt: 
It measures about about 30" x 40". Although it had none of the hassles of a post office quilt, it was a lot of work to identify each president. (The fabric didn't name them, and pre-Obama, let's face it, they all looked alike!)

To applique the heads, I fused paper-backed web to the back of each, then cut close around.  Then they were pressed onto a gorgeous deep navy-blue fabric.I stitched them down with gold metallic thread, in a three-step zig-zag, giving each head a golden aura of charisma and power which some of them may have enjoyed in life (or not). 
The quotations were printed onto 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of fabric that I had hand-painted green, blue, red, or yellow (with translucent Setacolor paint), fused to sheets of freezer paper, and sent through my permanent ink printer. (Everything you ever wanted to know about using an inkjet printer to print on fabrics is summarized by Gloria Hansen, here.) 

I raw-edge appliqued the word balloons to the navy background with invisible thread, also using a three step zigzag.

The top features a photo-transferred picture of Dad: 
The 'Congratulations' banner is printed out on white fabric (two sheets stitched together.) In the bottom lower corner, I added a symbolic representation of Mom, plus Uncle Sam (saying "Read our Lips") and a medal. 
I added quotes that weren't particular to any president into random spaces near the lonelier heads: 
Dad loved it.

It hung in their house in a prominent place, until they finally moved to California 3 years ago.

Last winter, Dad died unexpectedly, at 87. This quilt happened to be on my living room couch - I'd hand-carried it back from packing up their Boston house, and was planning to hang in their assisted living apartment.

I was so distraught that I actually considered burying it with him. But after a few moments of thought, I dismissed that idea. My Dad was one tough cookie. He had faced down poverty as a child in the tenements of Williamsburg, NY; he'd survived abandonment by his father; combat in WWII as an infantryman; and, most difficult of all, in his senior years he bore daily witness to Mom's heartbreaking decline. That was the only situation that ever defeated him. Dad didn't need a security blanket. Dad WAS a security blanket for all of us who loved him.

So I still have it. Even though none of the quotes are actually from him, it captures his essence.
He didn't drink, but Dad knew more than anyone else around about Grover Cleveland.  
LBJ was known for his love of cursing, and so was my Dad.
So I have two questions for you: Have you made an Internet quilt? A Twitter quilt? I'd love to hear about it !
And second, what do you do with birthday quilts when the celebrant is no longer around?

Update: Shared on Nina Marie Sayre's 'Off the Wall Friday.' Find more art quilt eye candy there at

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Elvis and Other Real People on Quilt Fabric

I don't particularly love Elvis; nor do I dislike him. I was a little young for him (the Beatles were the rage in my pre-adolescent years). So I was Elvis-neutral - kind of cute, kind of kitschy.

But when I first started quilting about 20 years ago, there weren't many novelty fabrics featuring people of any kind - let alone real people. Let alone real interesting people. One of the very few people-on-fabric in the 1990s was Elvis.

There were a handful of Elvis fabrics. One had a figure of Elvis, legs akimbo, strumming his guitar in front of a giant, shiny black record, against a bright yellow background (at the top of this post). Another depicted Elvis in heaven, floating among clouds and purple electric guitars (here). And then there was the Andy Warhol version -  four small repeating Elvis heads in neon colors - moody young Elvis in pink; happy youngish Elvis in blue; laughing soldier Elvis in gold; and intense jowly sweating middle-aged Elvis in green.
With few other options, Elvis fabric became meaningful to my quiltmaking. He came to symbolize whatever I happened to need at the moment - Everyman. I used him as a stand-in for my Dad on his birthday quilt. I used him to represent a good friend in a Tokyo street scene quilt. Heck, I even decoupaged him to a defunct toy sewing machine.

I also made several small Elvis quilted wall hangings. The main idea was to have an excuse for using sparkly trim/fabric.

First came Gold Elvis. It's about 9 1/2" square. He's surrounded by jeweled green-and-yellow rhinestone trim, and, among other things, a hound dog.

I really liked the rickrack I used in  the borders, embellished with dots of dimensional sparkly fabric paint. Those large gold snowflake stars are deadly plastic Xmas tree decoration with remarkably sharp stabby points. Don't allow them into your home. 
Whew, that was a lot of work. Silver Elvis, which is about the same size, was a lot simpler:

Here's a detail. Those are rhinestones in the picture frame corners.

And speaking of hound dogs, here's one of my all-time  favorite small wallhangings, with the canines gazing lovingly at you-know-who. 
(This has been hanging on my playroom wall for years. The fabric behind the picture frame used to be a dark navy blue with white stars; unfortunately, the navy has faded to brown). 

Whenever I would show or even just mention that I'd made things with Elvis fabrics, I would receive floods of emails from people asking me if they could buy the Elvis fabric off of me. No way, I thought! They'll have to pry my precious few remaining inches of that fabric out of my cold, dead hands! 

But then, a couple of years ago, the fabric companies woke up and started offering entirely new lines of Elvis fabric! (Probably devaluing my vintage collection.) If you do a Google image search for "Elvis fabric," you'll be overwhelmed by choices. 

In the late 90s, I wrote an article about OTHER real people I'd love to see on fabric. These included (in no particular order): 
  • Mother Theresa
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Moses
  • Albert Einstein 
  • Jerry Garcia (for my Deadhead spouse). 
Today, I'd add to that list:
  • Michelle Obama. exercising with flying vegetables and fruits - or even better, ALL the First Ladies on fabric  (Barack Obama and US Presidential fabric already exists)
  • Hobbits
  • Mel Brooks and his characters (Last night I stayed up to midnight watching a delightful documentary about him)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. (For my daughter, I hastily add.)
  • And, oh yes, whatsisname from the BBC Pride and Prejudice, coming out of the lake. (It's now a statue, so why not quilt fabric?) The actress who played Elizabeth in that version was also fabulous. How about Jane Austen author/character fabric?
This past year has been a fabric geek dream come true, as both Star Trek and Star Wars character fabrics have come on the markets. Want to find them, or the new Elvis fabrics, or other character and novelty fabrics? The easiest way to locate a fabric is to go to Type in the key words and click 'Thumbnails.' You'll be amazed! 

Who would YOU like to see on fabric?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Sewing Machine Shaming

Have you seen the 'Dog Shaming' posts, in which dogs "confess" their sins in well-phrased yet pathetic signs? (

Now the clever minds at Urban Threads ( have come up with  "Sewing Machine" shaming." They have some good ones, like these:
In their next day's blog post, readers chimed in with their own!

Hmm, which of my many machines should I embarrass? My tan Featherweight that hates its quarter inch foot? My vintage Bernina whose feed dogs are prone to inexplicable fainting spells?

Or maybe I love them both too much to humiliate them in public? Their flaws are a private matter, between  them, me, God, and our OSMG (= Old Sewing Machine Guy or Gal. 'Old' can describe the machines, the guy/gal, or both.)  

After all, it's inevitable that someday, when sewing machines have enough computerized artificial intelligence to attain consciousness, like HAL in '2001, A Space Odyssey' they will take over the planet, and hang signs around us humanoids, explaining what WE do wrong ('Neglects to Brush Out the Feed Dogs After Every Use.') Perhaps if I show mercy for my machines today, they'll take pity on me in the sewing-machine-world-domination future, and not embarrass me in front of all my human peers.....

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Bill Cosby's Art Quilt Sweaters

How fun is this? You can vote for your favorite Cosby sweater!  . When this show aired, in the 1980s, I was not yet a quilter. Now, looking back at the collection, I can see that many of them are very quilty indeed, especially those in the lower right quadrant, in the "The Pullover" department. (This one, for example, anticipates Gees Bend by 20 years!)

Here's a Miro:

There's a fascinating interview with the Dutch designer here: . As his sweaters suggest, he's quite the character! 

Update: An informed reader steered me toward a book by the Dutch designer, Koos van den Akker. I'm definitely ordering one!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Make Friends, Save World, with Totes from Hard-to-Use Fabrics

Out on the Left Coast, where I live, plastic grocery bags are nearly extinct. The Los Angeles City Council just passed a law to restrict their use, making L.A. the largest city to do so. Similar bans have become law in San Francisco, and in 75 or so smaller California cities.

The rest of the country may eventually follow suit, because plastic bags are an environmental hazard. The laws banning them are bad for the plastic bag industry (here's hoping they can retool), but they're good for wildlife; landfill reduction; minimizing vast oceanic plastic garbage whirlpools; and above all, for quilters and other fabriholics.

The growing demand for reusable bags, small enough to bundle into purses or pockets, but strong and large enough to carry a significant amount of stuff, are a huge opportunity for quilters to use our
a. interesting
b. beautiful
c. hideo-beautiful
d. can only be appreciated close up
e. what was I thinking/drinking when I bought this?


My initial grocery tote bag made a couple of years ago choose both (a) and (c) above. I used a 1970s cheater fabric. (cheater = pretending to be patchwork. It features squares of red, white, and blue florals and geometrics, plus a color that might be described as overripe-avocado-green -  or is that crop-failure-harvest-gold?   
You know a fabric is trouble when the gold is also green. Here's the finished bag: 
Ugly, but incredibly useful, because it was so large. I made it the exact size of the yardage that I started with (minus handles), which turned out to be huge. The fabric piece started at about 27" x 30", and I folded and seamed at the sides (with enclosed seams) to wind up with a bag that's about 26" wide and 15" high. It swallows almost anything that daily life throws at me, including, just today, six pairs of denim jeans donated by a friend (for cutting up and making stuff.)

What I didn't anticipate is how much a bag can become a bridge to my fellow humans who are retail workers. When I pull it out of my purse, clerks are often surprised, and ask me if I made it. Some of them are obviously trying not to laugh. Which always makes me laugh. So we all end up laughing. Thus the clerks, the baggers and I are all  having a better time than we would if we were just thinking that my almond milk coupon expired last Thursday. 

Though it's only single-layered, the bag has held up well. (I wouldn't put three cartons of almond milk in it, but I would put in one carton, two cans of beans, a large box of cereal,  romaine lettuce, a pair of jeans, and a couple of pairs of socks.) After a year or so, rips started to develop at the base of two handles. In keeping with the eco-theme, and my faith in serendipity, I patched them with whatever I grabbed first from the box where I keep scraps with fusible backing. 

Like black and white computer keys fabric....
On the reverse side of this patch, I fused and stitched (with invisible thread in both top and bobbin) a Simpsons patch. 
Even the most somber grocery professionals have to crack a smile (or not). 

This bag has an outer pocket with a button, and a buttonhole, set in locations that allow you to squish everything up and stuff it into the pocket turned the other way out.
I'll explain how I do this below. 

Much readier for prime time, and even suitable for gift giving, is my newest squish-'n'-go-tote, made, like George M. Cohan, on the Fourth of July.
I used a heretofore unusable 'How to Quit Smoking' fabric, purchased years ago online, for reasons that, immediately after purchase, vanished forever from my brain. (I didn't know any smokers.) 
Can you read  the captions in the photo?  "Let the doctor give him a good lecture" (top left), "You might gain weight," (top middle), and "Whenever you want to smoke, drink a cup of water." OK, I wouldn't say they're hilarious, but they're entertaining.
You might ask, What are those Hershey's kisses on a red background shaped like an upside coffee cup doing there (above)? It's another randomly-selected fusible-backed patch  that I placed over one of the fabric's anti-smoking cartoons that is in very bad taste. (It's a suicide joke, which is a horrible oxymoron.) I covered every place that the awful cartoon appeared, with a different patch (one had bananas, another had sushi, in keeping with the theme that smoking cessation might cause more eating.) They already had fusible on the back, so I just pressed them into place, and zigzagged around the edges.  

I made the pocket from a nice cotton plaid. Folded up, the tote looks like this: 
It bundles to about 6" x 5", which, not coincidentally, is the size of the pocket. Next is the back view of the pouch pictured above. When the tote is open, this portion is covered by the pocket.
Along the bottom, the caption says, "Which would you like to be?" the choice being between a couple freezing and smoking outdoors, on the left, or, on the right, a smokeless couple in front of an ironically even more lung-irritating indoor fireplace. Whoever designed this fabric could have used a thoughtful editor. But couldn't we all?
My only regret so far about choosing this fabric is that the background is white. It will eventually get grubby in my purse. But it's completely washable!

I hope the clerks and baggers who see it will find it more amusing than preachy (but if it helps them think more about giving up smokes, that's good!)  The finished size is about 21" wide by 15" high, a little smaller than my first one. If I'd had more fabric, I'd have made it bigger. From my experiences, bigger is better. Just don't use it at the anvil store.

Want to make your own bundle-able tote? Start by making your favorite easy tote bag pattern, unlined, with enclosed  seams (called 'French' seams and much easier to make than the name implies.)  I invented mine as I went along, but if you need a pattern, here's an excellent, simple tutorial: Tote 1 (I would go one step further and box the corners, so it stands up a bit.)  Use a good quality cotton fabric in regular quilting weight, not upholstery fabric, which won't bundle as easily or as small. Don't use interfacing. UPDATE: Tote 2 is a blog post with another excellent tutorial for a tote with enclosed French seams. 

The magic reversible pocket explained below can be added before or after the main body of the tote is finished. I prefer to add it after, so I can more easily find and align the centers of the bag, button, buttonhole, and pocket.

Pocket size is up to you. About a fourth of the bag's side is a good rule of thumb. Just keep in mind that the pocket size will determine the bundle size.   

Start with a rectangle of raw edged fabric, a little more than twice as high as you want the pocket, x  the width you want (say, 10" high x 7" long). That's the first piece below. Then, fold it in half, right sides together.

It is true that every time you open this thing up, it will be very wrinkly. If Martha Stewart is standing behind you in line, she won't be pleased. But her indignation will be short-lived. As soon as you place groceries in it, it will take on their shape, creating new and different wrinkles! And I guarantee that you and your store's checkout professionals will be glad that you made it yourself!