Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Dog, the Fish and the Galaxy: An Attic Windows Collage

For any number of reasons - whimsy, politics, insomnia, great fabric, sugar avoidance, whatever - sometimes you just need to cut out some nouns and stitch 'em down.
 There's a snooping dog:

A bowl of goldfish,a baby block,

And, of course, a framed Picasso:
I stitched all the components on by hand, using needle-turn applique. That takes a little longer than fusing and cutting, but I think it's much more relaxing and it does result in a nice puffy effect for the furnishings. 

This setting is a traditional quilt block called Attic Windows, which creates a strong 3D effect. Attic Windows can be a challenging design, because of the mitered corners of the strips adjoining the center. There's a huge range of ways to accomplish it:
  •  Very easy fusing (Cut an overlapping strip at 45 degrees, and fuse it to the adjoining strip cut at 90 degrees); 
  • Fairly easy applique, by hand or machine (cut overlapping strip to 45 degrees, turn that edge under and stitch to the adjoining strip by hand or machine);
  • A classic and very easy cheat  trick to avoid mitering completely, via half-square triangles;
  • And, the challenging old-fashioned method: very careful measuring, cutting pressing and stitching, to create a true miter between adjoining strips. (It's also comprehensively outlined in the out-of-print book "Attic Windows, Quilts with a  View," by Diana Leone and Cindy Walter. If you luck into a copy, snatch it up. It shows many, many Attic Windows design options.)
There are also an infinity of Attic Windows styles. They can be made to look like a shelving unit, or windowpanes, as in the second quilt down here.  They can even be done with complex perspective for each window.

Attic Windows are also great way to use large-scale novelty fabrics, placing them 'outside' the window. I used intergalactic fabric in the wallhanging above. There's a deeply hilarious Thanksgiving turkey version, here.

And if those aren't enough examples, here's a slew of inspiring Attic Windows quilts and tutorial links:

I'd love to see what's outside your windows!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Quilted and Crocheted Magic Mushroom Basket

You know how sometimes you make one thing and put it away, and then you make something else, and then one day you realize the two things should be together?

For example. This fun and experimental quilted strip, about 16" long by 4 1/2"  has been sitting in my stash for years. It was quilted only through the top and batting layer, with no backing.

That was some serious psychotherapy. There's a ribbon-yarn wandering across it in waves, and lots of raw edges and variegated threads. 

Then, a couple of days ago,  I crocheted this objet with mostly vintage yarns. (The squiggly blue yarn I used to make bobbles is especially groovy).

Here's a quiz: What do you call this thing? There was a time (a few months ago), when I would have called it a doily, a word that has deeply anti-feminist connotations for me and women of my Boom generation.

But I have recently been immersed in a new world of courageous crochet (which includes "yarn bombing," the coolest thing ever) and have discovered that I can call things like this "mandalas"!  (Do an etsy search for "crochet mandalas," and you'll get several talented crocheters selling patterns.)

Shortly after finishing my improvised, uh, mandala, I was sifting through an unfinished project pile and found the artsy strip. They looked kinda cool together! (It helps that I've been using the same color scheme for years, jewel-tone peacock colors. Must. Break. Out!)

I had a yen to make a basket out of my strip. So I fused the strip to a blue-and-white batik and stitched a side seam. Zig-zagged over the seam edges with thread, and set in a 4 1/2" circle (two layers of fabric, with fused batting in-between)::

Stitched them together, turn right side out, voila.

Back in the pre-feminism days, I would have plopped that basket on top of  the doily on top of a bureau or sideboard or knick-knack shelf or whatever display cases 1950s people enjoyed. But this is the 21rst century, so I tried plopping the doily on top of the vessel!

But it sagged:
Nothing worse than a saggy mandala. 
So I crocheted a lining for the mandala, from dark yarn, slightly smaller than the top. With gold yarn, I crocheted the edges of the top to the bottom.
This pulled in the top, gave it the sturdiness it needed, (Here's it's leaning against the vessel.)

The extra layer also made it look kind of like a mushroom cap!  Mandala Mushroom Vessel Alert!

What's not to love? Well, a lot actually. I'm going to continue to explore the mandala-vessel- lid possibilities. I need to figure out an elegant way to make a hinge that attaches the top to the bottom. In the meantime, I firmly believe that crochet and quilting are natural allies. Both are improvisational, relaxing, serious color therapy and a lot of fun! 

Do you crochet? Have you combined it with quilting? I would like to hear about it!

PS I just realized that the lid also doubles as a yarmulke. Having written a book on yarmulkes, I'm surprised it took me this long to figure it out!

UPDATE 10/7/13 Another vessel with a crocheted lid is here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Quick, Potentially Modern, Double-Sided Quiltlet #10 Tutorial

Here's a quick, relaxing, and potentially modern scrap project. It's a quiltlet that works as a bracelet, bookmark, wallhanging, and more. The fewer appliqued squares you put on top, the more modern it will look. (Maximum modernity: one off-kilter orange square on vast sea of blue).

The front side is blue batik fabric with wonky orange batik squares fused on top.

The other side is a solid lavender quilter’s cotton. The squares on the front and back align, back to back.

So how do you line things up on the front and back? The easiest way (IMHO) is with applique and quilting lines, plus a wee bit of acrylic paint. Here are the details, in tutorial form:

Orange Windows Scrappy Potentially Modern Quiltlet #10

  • Featured side background fabric (blue batik), 3.75" x 10.25"
  • Reverse side background fabric (purple solid), a little bigger than the featured strip above
  • Window fabric for front appliques (orange), small scraps or a strip approx. 3" x 9"
  • Paint, acrylic craft or fabric paint (gold). Color should contrast well with your reverse side fabric.
  • Paper-backed fusible web, same amount as window fabric. I like HTC Trans-Web, or Wonder Under. (No financial affiliation)
  • Thin cotton quilt batting strip (I use Warm'n'Natural), 4" x 10.5"
  • Thread to coordinate with the window fabric, and with the fabric/paint color on the back side.
  • Two buttons, one for each side.
1. Cut the featured background fabric (blue) to 3.75" x 10.25"

2. Cut the  reverse-side background fabric (purple) slightly larger than the featured side. (Don't measure - simply lay the featured side on the reverse side, and cut around.)

3.  Apply paper-backed fusible web to the back of  your window fabric (orange), about 9" x 3".

4. Hand-cut squares and rectangles from the window fabric and arrange them as you want on the featured side. Don't measure, wonky is good! Keep them at least 3/4" from the edges. Fuse in place, but don't stitch  yet.

5. Lay the batting on a table, cut slightly larger than the reverse side strip. Place the reverse side on top of the batting, centered and face up. Finally, place the featured side, face DOWN, centered on the reverse side. Pin the three layers together around the edges of the featured side.

6. Working from the back of the featured side, do a straight stitch most of the way around the edges (maintaining a 1/4" seam allowance on the back of the featured side.) Leave a 2.5" unsewn area along one long side. Backstitch for a few stitches at both ends.

7. Remove from machine, trim seam allowances to a scant 1/4" through all three layers, and snip off corners diagonally, but don't cut through threads.

8. Pull the right sides out of the gap. Use a chopstick and/or pin to fully extrude corners. Press. Neatly press the gap area and either stitch it shut with a few hand stitches, or insert a strip of fusible web and carefully press the gap closed.

9. Machine topstitch all the way around the rectangle, using a straight stitch, approximately 1/8" in from the edges.

10. Choose the threads you want to outline the squares, front and back. (I used a sparkly clear holographic thread on top, and gold metallic on the bottom.). Working from the applique side, do a machine zig-zag around each little square.

11. Machine quilt to fill in the areas around the squares. (I used a rectangle-type continuous freemotion design).

12. Turn it over to the reverse side. With acrylic craft paint or fabric paint, and a small brush, carefully paint inside the zig-zag outlined squares. (As you can see, I did the painting before the quilting, but it doesn't matter much either way.)
13. Stitch a buttonhole in the middle of one short end, and sew two matching buttons, back to back, on the opposite ends. 

Although it's usable as a wrist cuff,

I think it's even better as a coffee cup wrap: 
Done on the square instead of as a long rectangle, it would make for excellent coasters/mug rugs. The technique would also be great for small cases and purses. 

So that's the easiest possible way to coordinate fronts and backs. I'd love to hear how  you've done it! 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Rambler Ride through Corded Quilt Edging, Photos, and Harpo at the Hearst

A lot about quilting is easy and intuitive, but some things are not. Whenever possible, I try to avoid the latter, but they eventually catch up with me and I am forced to wrestle with them.

One of the more challenging things is making a neat satin stitch edging by machine. A satin stitch is a tight zig-zag that goes all the way around and covers the edges. The fabric underneath shouldn't show.

When I started making fabric postcards, maybe a decade ago, I was forced to confront my inadequate satin-stitch edging. I couldn't make it smooth, and little threads were poking out (kind of like the grey hairs on my head). In postcard exchanges, I would receive gorgeous cards edged with tight, neat, satin stitching. What was I doing wrong?

(Satin stitching tends to be used for smaller art quilts, and for small- scale tradeables, like Artist Trading Cards and fabric postcards. Especially if they contain fusible interfacing or web,which makes the edges sturdy. I wouldn't even try this technique on a quilt that didn't have fusible at the edges.)

I begged my swap-mates for their secrets. And they gave it to me cheerfully, though it wasn't what I wanted to hear. As it turned out, for quite a few of them, their secret was a cord. Or piece of thin yarn, or 6-strand embroidery floss, in a color that matched the thread. What they were doing was - at the point where the card was fully sandwiched and ready for an edge finish - butting that cord next to (not on top of) the edge, and going around once with a long zig-zag, swooping over the cord on the right swing, and going into the quilt on the left swing, all the way around.

It struck me as impossible. And what about the corners?

But when I tried it, it turned out to be much easier than it sounds! The trick is to do the first round in a very long zig-zag, so the thread doesn't cover the cord yet. Use an open-toed applique foot; sew slowly and carefully. At the corner, make sure your machine takes a stitch to the far right, then zigs in again as you turn the corner.

Once it's loosely zig-zagged on - meaning you can still see the cord and the edge of the quilt very clearly - THEN you tighten up the zig zag, make it a bit wider, and go around, once, maybe twice more this time completely covering the cord. (Crucial tip: Choose cord that's the same color as the thread, so if anything is showing through no one can tell. A marking pen in a matching color can also help with touch-ups.)

I knew I'd tamed a monster when I made the project below and at the top of this post:

Gosh, aren't those edges smooth! That's regular black thread, satin stitched! 

Yes, that is the Hearst Castle. One summer, when I was about 13 our family drove a Rambler from Boston to Los Angeles, and then up the coast to San Francisco. On the way, we stopped at the Hearst Castle. The two swimming pools - indoor and outdoor- were insanely magnificent. Especially that outdoor pool. 

Since that moment, my lifelong dream has been to fall, be pushed, and/or jump into that pool.

But also hoping to fulfill my lifelong dream of never being arrested, I still didn't have the courage to - whoops! - fall in by the time, decades later,  that my husband and I brought our children to see the castle. Well, OK, if I can't jump in it, I might as well make a quilt (or a quiltlet) out of it.  

The glowing turquoise batik and wavy shape reflected the watery theme. Hearst's  indoor pool had turquoise-and-real-gold tile, as I recall. Thus the gold lame 'frame' for each of the photos. 
Also on that childhood trip, dad took a picture of my teenage brother standing next to one of Hearst's nude marble statues. Talk about awkward family photos! Mysteriously driven to inflict the same embarrassment on my children, I got my DH and DD to pose by a shapely headless lady. The tour guide told us that in Hearst's heyday, Harpo Marx once visited, and draped all the nudes with Hearst's mistress Marion Davies' abundant mink coats, as a gag. (Hearst was supposedly miffed and from then on gave Harpo the worst seat at the dinner table.) So who knows? Maybe Harpo hung minks on this very statue!   
Just as there are many ways to put minks onto statues, there are an awful lot of different ways to put photos onto fabric. My current favorite is EQ Printables Premium Cotton Satin Inkjet Sheets, which I print on with my Epson printer loaded with DuraBrite inks. DuraBrite by itself is ostensibly permanent, but I figure the treated sheets can only help.

This quiltlet is 9" high and actually does function as a cuff bracelet. There's a button on both the front and back of the upper left hand corner, and a buttonhole in the lower left corner.  I'm thinking about giving it to my mom. Mom's memory is mostly gone, but she did love the Hearst castle.

I used sturdy interfacing between the layers, and black cotton on the back. A six-strand black embroidery floss serves as the cording.

P.S. Here's an incredibly useful free Quilting Arts booklet about different ways to bind art quilts, including a variation of the cord method:

Here's a similar finish, but with the cord highlighted:

And here's a similar approach, but with light zigzagging only:

Do you have any satin stitch edging tips?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Quick Project for Quilters Who Love Fonts Too Much.

A bunch of years ago, I took an excellent class on the Adobe InDesign program, which I use to self-publish my patterns. Typography, of course, was an essential part of the class. The teacher told us that his personal font collection ran into the thousands - that's thousands of alphabet styles, and dollars, too, since the good and the new ones tend not to be free. He explained: "I'm a font whore!"

 I'd never heard the term before (although it's been around), but oh my gosh, me, too! Well, wait a sec, that term is pretty rude, since persons who sell their bodies are usually not so enthusiastic about it. So I'll edit that to "font groupie," to reflect the enthusiasm factor. There have been many times that I loved fonts too much and threw them about promiscuously on my pages!

Then I read Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of Steve Jobs. After dropping out of college formally, Jobs nonetheless audited a college calligraphy class. When he developed his first mass market computer, he was determined to give civilians the ability to select fonts, a word that most people didn't even know. Thus Jobs turned typography from an obscure field for graphic designers and printers, to a steamy pleasure for the masses. Jobs was the personal computer age's first f.g.

The other relevant pop culture influence here is the Mary Tyler Moore show. Remember that giant "M" hanging in her living room? I thought it was the coolest thing. [Here's a lovely blogpost by a retired designer, with a picture of Mary's 'M', plus the bloggers' own fab artistic alphabetic wall letter collection:] Just as Jobs launched the font-loving trend, Mary (or her show's set designers) almost certainly launched the wall-alphabet trend.

So what we have at the top of the post are three quiltlets that celebrate font symbols and letters, aka "glyphs." These make excellent wall hangings - solo or in groups - as well as bookmarks, and even, sometimes, bracelets. It's the perfect gift for a literary friend. I trundled through the dozens of fonts on my computer to find suitable glyphs. My main criteria was that they had to be relatively wide - no thin, narrow stretches, or they wouldn't support their weight and would be a big pain to cut out and stitch.

The ampersand is a manipulated version from the font Blackadder. I smoothed it and stretched it. It's about 10" high and 4" at its widest.

It really does work as a bracelet. Here's the ampersand on (petite) Local Teen's tiny wrist.

And then there's the exclamation point.

 I can't figure out if I got it from the Binner D font, or from Gloucester MT Extra Cond - they're similar.  It's 8" high not counting the loop. The black cord loop secures the top to the stacked buttons in the bottom dot. The loop also serves as a wallhanger.

The question mark started out in either Harrington or Poor Richards. Aren't those font names enticing? They REEK of ink, of the Gutenberg Bible, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin.

Want to make your own quilted glyphs? I used a combination of black felt and solid quilters cottons. Here's the approach I used:

1. Choose a letter or character you like, and size it up in a graphic design or word program.* (see below)
2. Print it out (not mirror image). Trace the printout onto freezer paper (or print directly onto freezer paper, if you know how).
3. Press the freezer paper pattern onto your first contrasting color - for the ampersand, I used a red quilters cotton.
4. Don't cut into the red cotton yet - instead, press the wrong side to fusible web, so it is fully backed with fusible, with the freezer paper still on top.
5. Cut out the red cotton letter close around the freezer paper pattern. Remove the pattern
6. Press red cotton symbol to another contrasting color, in this case a dark blue-green cotton.
7. Press the blue's back to more paper-backed fusible web.
8. Cut around the blue-green fabric so a sliver of it shows beyond the red areas.
9. Press the red/blue combination to felt of your choice. (I chose black acrylic felt.) Use a press cloth, and a moderate temperature, so you don't melt the felt. Decide which areas of the felt to cut away, and which to leave in place. Trying it on a wrist will help you engineer a closure.
10. Stitch around each color with a zig-zag. I used a gold metallic thread from Superior, which goes well through sewing machines.
11. Optional: Stitch around the outer edge of the felt, if you want.

* Wondering how to resize and manipulate characters? Here's what I did. First, I typed the glyph into my favorite graphics program, CorelDraw, where I can easily convert it to curves and play with it. If you don't have a graphics program, you can resize in MSWord. Type the letter in the font you like. Select it. Bold it if you want it all a little wider. Select it again - you'll get a menu that allows you to enter the size. My MSW 2010 lets me size the glyphs from 1 to 1638 points, the latter being so huge it takes up about 8 sheets of paper. Size it around 600 points - it should take up most of a standard sized page. If it cuts off the image, try going to to 'page layout' and doing away with the margins. I don't have an Apple, but I'm betting that, thanks to Steve J., it's much easier to play with fonts in their system. Or, resizing on a copy machine may be easier than wrassling with MSW. Sigh! If only Bill Gates were a f.g!

Would love to hear about your passion for fonts!