Sunday, August 30, 2015

Give Me Books and Quilts: Mary Marks' New Mystery

Love books? Here's a quiltlet that I made a couple of years ago. It's 7" long and illustrates a famous John Keats quotation: "Give me books, fruit, French wine, fine weather, and a little music out of doors played by somebody I do not know." 
It's a wall hanging, a coaster, a bookmark, or even a cuff bracelet. I call these concoctions quiltlets. (Find more in the word cloud on the lower right.)

And speaking of books and the people one knows - I don't read a lot of quilting fiction, but I make an exception for my friend Mary Marks' quilty mystery series. First, they are fast-paced page turners, Second, they are hilarious. And third, her heroine is a quilty, clever, reckless, zaftig, 55-year-old heroine, Martha Rose.

There is one drawback; this third book, Gone But Not Forgottenfeatures luscious descriptions of a broad range of Los Angeles cuisine, from In-and-Out's secret menu to a Salvadoran restaurant; plus chocolate babka, pastrami, Italian roast coffee, and raisin challah, applesauce cake - you get the idea. I was torn between not wanting to stop reading, and needing to leap up and drive to the nearest bakery or ethnic restaurant.

You also gotta love that her heroine, Martha, is a hot mama who is the object of various character's romantic desires. She's a not-always-nice Jewish girl, living the dream, with plot twists aplenty, and quilting tips at the end.

If you haven't read one of Mary's books yet, I suggest starting with the first, Forget Me Knot, and second, Knot in My Backyard, since the characters develop in interesting ways. Read them outdoors with a glass of fine wine - you will enjoy them, I guarantee!

(No financial affiliation with Amazon or Mary. I did receive a review copy of her book from the publisher.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Double Jeopardy: Quilt the Seven Species

A couple of weeks ago, I wept buckets at the marriage of two young people who dedicate their lives to helping Los Angeles' neediest. One uses his artistic genius to help at-risk youth; the other brings affordable farmer's markets to low-income communities.

I gave them a quilt that I made a while ago, mostly from Fabri-Quilt's Farmer John fabric prints. (pattern.) This quilt had been waiting for a forever home - as soon as I learned about the bride's job supporting urban farmer's markets, I knew this quilt was for her. I blogged about it here.
Plus, since they are religious, I made them a small botanical wallhanging/potholder. Pop quiz:  Can you name the seven species of the Bible? (Dum Da Dum Da Dum Da DUM. Dum Da Dum Da DEEP dum dum de dum de= Jeopardy music). Not sure? Here's a hint:
Top row: figs, olives, pomegranates. Middle row: grapes, wheat, dates. Bottom: barley!?

Admittedly, the "barley" looks more like my Southern California lawn (pre-drought), but I'm declaring it green barley (a potentially bogus nutritional supplement). Commercial barley-themed fabric does not abound at my local quilt shop or online.

The fig and the date fabric are realistic prints.The olives and barley are batiks. Usually I don't mix batiks and prints, but the Bible made me do it? I was in a big hurry. In the borders, the Hebrew letters' font is similar to Torah calligraphy.

To see some truly spectacular seven species fiber art, made by people who were not in a big hurry, check out:
  • Deborah Schwartzman's (here and here)
  • Adina Gatt of Efod Art Embroidery (here). 
  • Deborah Kembell's quilt here
  • Marilyn Levy's seven species inspired work here
  • Elana Schachter's incredible ark curtain and table cover, here
If you have an embroidery machine and want to make a relatively fast Seven Species project, an elegant way to go is this set from Stitches by Sue Warshell, here (no financial affiliation). A different machine embroidery set is here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Say 'Yes' to the Wedding Quilt, Part I: Everything you need to know about making a wedding quilt is on reality t.v.

I have a secret guilty pleasure—tell no one! It’s that t.v. show called ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ about brides and their families and friends, shopping for pricey wedding dresses. 
Shows need plots, and in this one, it’s usually a power struggle. Whether concocted by producers, or genuine, I don’t know (people say ‘reality t.v.’ is an oxymoron), but on nearly every episode, a sister, mother, best friend, or groom tries to force the bride to buy something that he or she loves, but the bride does not.  

And when the bride does find a dress she loves, and  emerges from the dressing room to show it off on the store's runway, the offender(s) giggle and carp:  “You look like a linebacker!” “You look like a bedspread!” or, the classic, “You look like a hooker!” The bride scurries back to the changing room in tears (except for that one bride who wanted to look like a hooker).  

In the dressing room, one of the sales associates – all skilled psychotherapists   –   gives the bride a powerful pep talk, explaining that if she’s old enough to get married, she’s certainly old enough to choose a dress. Meanwhile, the manager is scolding the rude entourage. An invisible, troubled-sounding male narrator ominously intones, “Will Rachel’s mom [sister/cousin /best friend] stand in the way of her dreams?” 

After a commercial break or three, everyone behaves better, and the bride nearly always winds up with a gown she loves. In the closing moments, the now-jubilant narrator declares: “If a bride stays true to her style, she’ll glow as she walks down the aisle,”  or, “If everyone keeps an open mind, she’ll walk down the aisle looking divine.” Or something like that, which almost rhymes.

Formula, yes, but in today’s troubled times, I find it soothing. As an unrepentant quilt embellisher, I enjoy looking at lace, tulle, silk, satin, tiaras, pearls, bows and bling. Pretty dresses, pretty brides, pretty crazy entourages and pretty steep prices (from $1,000 to $30,000 or more) – except for the tab, the stakes are pretty low. So it’s relaxing to listen to The Show while I quilt, or take coffee and chocolate breaks to watch.

Over the past several months, my whole life began to morph an episode of The Show.  That’s because height of my addiction coincided with working on a commissioned quilt that would also serve as a wedding canopy, called a “chuppah,” at a Jewish wedding.

This bride first wrote to me in December telling me she wanted to collaborate in making an heirloom quilt that would serve as a canopy for her summer wedding, and then would stay in the family as a quilt for generations.

I‘ve made chuppot (the plural in Hebrew') before, but never while hooked on bridal t.v.  The next thing I knew, the edges of my daily reality got all fuzzy, like on The Twilight Zone, and I transmogrified into the supportive Sales Associate, while my bride became, well, The Bride. She had the hopes and dreams, and it was my job to help her realize them.

Here are some of the lessons I learned that are as true of helping a bride choose a wedding dress on reality television as they are of making a bride a wedding quilt in regular old reality.

1. Start with the visuals. Sales associates like it when brides bring in photographs of favorite gowns. They don’t have to guess from a zillion possibilities. Similarly, my collaboration with this bride started with images. She told me which quilts on my website she liked best. She also told me she wanted a scene of Jerusalem in the middle, surrounded by a Hebrew quotation. I started sketching variations and emailing them to her as pdfs. (I sketch them on my computer - I find Coreldraw easy and intuitive). I had some Jerusalem fabric in shades of gold, and I scanned it to use it in the drafts as the Jerusalem landscape.

 Ideas flew back and forth. (By the way, the Hebrew in this image and the one below is nonsense/placeholder Hebrew. Don't worry, we straightened it out!)

We soon learned that what really needed figuring out was the border, which brought me to the next lesson…

2.  More is more.  In t.v.-land, some brides want it all – rhinestones, pearls, lace, feathers, beads, ruching, fabric flowers, a train, the whole 9 yards (literally).  The sales associate has to break the news that more costs more.  My bride especially admired one of the most complex quilts on my Judaiquilt website, called ‘Invocation’.
 Oh sure, what’s not to like? That particular piece is the quilty equivalent of a gown by P’nina Tornai  (designer of famously sexy, overwrought, expensive wedding dresses. Yes, that's a see-through bodice).
 Invocation isn’t sexy, doesn’t have any bodice, nor tens of thousands of sparkly jewels and feathers, but it is a bit overwrought, with a 500+ piece border, made from dozens of different batik fabrics in shifting values, which took me, oh, about a decade (on and off) to arrange. 

So, just like a sales associate  suggesting only gowns within the bride’s budget, I tried very hard to focus my bride with sketches of MUCH less complex borders (like, 14 pieces instead of 500).

No go. She kept choosing the more intricate options. I reluctantly told her that, if she really wanted that 500-piece border, I would have to raise the initial price. I held my breath, as they always do on The Show, wondering if the bride’s family could or would pay the extra to get what they really wanted. They did.  Phew! 

4. Sometimes the bride has to touch the textiles. From The Show, I learned that there are poufy “ball gown”-style wedding dresses, which differ from slender “mermaid gowns,” complete with tail fins – who knew? A bride who walks into the salon wanting to look like Cinderella might, to her shock, walk (or swim) out looking like The Little Mermaid. Or vice versa. Only by trying a dress on can a bride learn what she likes.

Similarly, figuring out colors and textures for our quilt.  In our early emails, my bride told me she imagined ‘royal’ colors, like golds, silvers, coppers, and whites. I couldn’t quite figure how that would work in cotton batiks, which I had initially planned on using (Batiks are what give Invocation a painterly quality). If a quilter’s cotton isn’t overprinted with metallic ink, the golds, silvers and copper become yellows, greys and brown. So I offered alternatives. What about adding more color, in jewel tones, like blues, purples, greens?  Then I had another idea: What if I made the quilt in silk dupionis? Then they would have the metallic sheen! I sent her lots of snapshots of different fabrics.
What a mess, right? It took me a while to realize that all these photographs were confusing us further.  A photo can only go so far in capturing the real look, feel and hue. So, in desperation, I stuffed about 30 fabric swatches into an envelope, and mailed them to her, in the good old U.S. Reality Mail. I asked her to sort them into three piles: Love, Indifferent, and Hate. 

She and her fiancé did the sorting together. When they mailed those swatches back to me, in three  marked bundles, I could never, ever have predicted the results:  
 I stapled the results to three seperate pieces of paper. LOVE swatches are on the left; INDIFFERENT in the Middle; and  HATE on the right.

They loved many of the blues, browns and tans.  Hated all purples and greens! They didn’t like grays (= cotton silvers). They were indifferent to the pinks. But there were lots of exceptions, which took me completely by surprise. They disliked several of the blues that were the exact same hue as the blues they loved, but which had a different subtle print or batiked design. Same with the browns. Same hue, but different patterns, raised strong feelings in them, much, much more than I would have predicted

I hung the three sheets on my wall, and referred to them frequently, making the quilt as much as possible from LOVE set, throwing in INDIFFERENTs when necessary, and no HATES, of course. This very specific information was pure gold in terms of steering my fabric choices.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Woven Quilted Dishes

Sometimes you just need to weave. I made a bunch of woven batik wallhangings a few months ago (Basic technique here). 

More recently, while rummaging through my silk stash, I found an assortment of cotton/nylon blend fat quarters, in gorgeous colors, with a hand-dyed look and a silken sheen. I cut strips. and wove them on top of a piece of muslin backed with batting. The resulting strip measured about 9" x 18"
I zigzagged over all the raw edges with holographic thread: 
Cut the weaving into two pieces, each about 9"x 9". 
On the first piece, I freemotioned spiral circles with holographic thread, and added a binding. 
 No, I don't know why my work always comes out wonky. The back:
Then I started playing. I stood it up...
...pinched the corners,,,
....flipped it to the reverse....
...Caught opposite corners with a button...

...Pinched the midline and folded into a bowl....
...underside of the bowl..
...reversed it...
I'm still deciding! 
Here's the saga of piece 2. After cutting the long weaving into two, it looked like this: 
I covered it with a layer of medium blue irridescent tulle. It grayed out the colors, but created a nice consistency.
Next, an angular stipple with gold metallic thread over the tulle...
...laid floral wire along each edge, and overcast with variegated thread: 
...bent it like Beckham (whatever that means)...
...Bent it a little differently, with the four corners in the air. I really like it! 

It's a sort of dish! I might add tassles or solo earrings to the corners. It can hold, um, my daughter's guitar picks, Jelly Belly's, spare change, and other dry substances. like acorns, if we had any around here.

Finally, piece 3. It started as a small weaving on muslin and batting. I used several very narrow strips: 
Unlike the first two pieces, I did not stitch over the strips' raw edges. I tested sparkly gold tulle on top: 
Perfect gift for Hansel and Gretel - everywhere they take it, the glitter leaves a trail. I hastily returned the sheddy tulle to its airtight pod, before it could infect relatives and medical devices, then sloooowly freemotion stippled without any tulle: 
(Slowly because, if you move fast and there's no tulle on top, your presser foot will catch under raw edges.) Trimmed it square...
...pinched the side centers...
Tried only two midline pinches - an interesting asymetrical dish: 
The edges are also overcast with variegated thread, but not wired. Tacking stitches hold everything in place (I took out the pins).
 Finished with buttons:
 Here's the bottom.
I lined them all up for a group portrait, and realized that I have an art installation here!? Ahem. It makes a statement about the joys of shrivelling. Growing shorter, grayer and more wrinkly is good as long as you keep vintage buttons and shiny fabrics front and center. Also, tulle does wonders for the complexion.
More fabric strip weaving at 123). 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Scrap Adventures Hit It With Everything You've Got

Last week, I turned a silk ear into a sow's purse, in the form of a squarish silk scrap dupioni piece that turned into a barely tolerable bowl
At about the same time I created a long strip in a similar way - laying silk scraps on muslin, then freemotion stippling on top.  Like the bowl, the initial results didn't impress me.
But then I happened to go through my yarn stash, searching for a take-along crochet project for our Hawaii vacation. I came across a bag of yarn scraps, including lots of metallics and tinsel and embroidery thread and what-not.  I started peeling it apart and strewing mini-clots with abandon:
Next, from my sheer stash, I dug out an old garlic bag (the lavender netting), and various strips of tulle - sparkly blue, gold with glitter, off white, etc, I distributed them on top. 
The more I buried it, the more I liked it: 
You can't just start stitch over this. The presser foot will catch under every thread.  If I owned a felting machine, it could have just pounded the layers together.  Fortunately, there's a cheap and effective alternative: Cover the chaos with water-soluble stabilizer (I use Solvy)...
...Then freemotion stitch on top with a decorative thread....
...Once the stitching is done, soak it to remove the Solvy. Since I didn't stitch too tightly, I decided to just tear the Solvy away.
By the time I was done, I didn't just like it  - by gosh, I loved it! 
The back was a non-colorful mess (I ran down random bobbins), but I had to do one more thing before covering my tracks. I crossed two 18" pieces of floral wire on the back and hand basted them in place. They fit perfectly, from corner to corner. 
When we returned from Hawaii, I fused a blue dupioni silk to the back side: 
And I bent....
...and bent...
It felt like an oceanic seascape. Iridescent algae, tropical fish, and seagull shadows? Plastic bags, water bottles, lost jewelry? I tossed a broken rhinestone necklace on top. 
That looked poignant, and made me think of the Titanic. It also reminded me of the expensive prescription glasses I'd just mysteriously lost on a Hawaiian beach, possibly abducted by the local chickens or dolphins (Somewhere off Kauai there's a fortunate farsighted dolphin wearing Transitions (r) progressives). Going with the lost valuables theme,  I tossed on a few vintage metallic buttons. 
...and tested different bends: 
The more I bent it, the more I realized I had something else stuck in the back of my head. It finally came to me - in Hawaii, we not only experienced multiple H2O waves, but also glass ocean waves. I saw these glass sculptures in several galleries, first in Kela's Gallery, a fantastic glass shop just up the street from Vickie's Fabric in Kapaa (described in my blog post two weeks ago). Here's one from  Kela's. (Google 'glass ocean wave sculpture' and you'll see many variations by many different artists.)
Eureka! My piece wanted to be like that. I curled under one end and found a netted produce bag to pin on for the foam.... 

That's a definite maybe! I'm also going to experiment with lace. When finished, it can serve as an elaborate gigantic coaster: or a nightstand piece to park my replacement Costco eyeglasses (insurance isn't paying); or as a coffee table conversation piece.

Or not. There are other choices as well. If I hadn't put in wire,  and folded two edges to the middle,  I could have a  hypothetical cocktail purse:
Hypothetical, because I am so rarely invited to cocktails (Pause for pity party ). Or, I could roll it and set it sideways and make a base, as a vase/basket
Or, I could cut it apart to make a more structured vessel.  A pillbox hat? A doormat? Speculation welcomed!