Sunday, October 14, 2018

From Tree to Shining Tree (With 3 Tips)

In our last installment, I showed off a commissioned tree-themed quilt. Sending it to its new owner broke my heart! It also lacked buttons. So I rapidly made the following three quilts, each about 15" square. A winter tree:

An autumnal tree (or maybe a summer citrus?)
Can you find the bra clip?
 Next: Winter again? The trunk is white.
But the leaves are green, so let's call it early spring!
The trunk is Jane Austen text so I added a metal heart charm (the text below it says "heart is really attached")...
...and a squirrel from the cake-decorating store.
Want to make your own tree quilt? Two tips:
1. Practice is important, but I like my designs better if I don't draw them first - use scissors to cut trunks from paper. I grab every bit of junk mail and scrap paper in the vicinity to cut out practice trees. Below is a draft for last week's tree quilt, cut from the paper that comes with batting.
And here are two smaller trees cut from a double layer of an old Jo-Ann Fabrics fliers. 
2. To give fabric tree trunks extra dimension, back them with Decor Bond, a medium-weight fusible interfacing. A layer of DB isn't strong enough for, say, a fabric box, but it is thicker than interfacing you'd use for most garments. I pencil-traced my papercut trees onto DB's non-fusible side, rough cut it out (beyond the pencil borders), then pressed the fusible side to the back of the trunk fabric and cut out the two layers together along the pencil line. DB also controls fraying. I then used a glue stick to lightly attach the non-fusible DB side to the background fabric. In the squirrel picture above, you can see the slight but satisfying ridge that raises the trunk above the background. (No financial affiliation with DB.)

3. Combining batiks with prints is always a gamble. The immediate background for two of these tree quilt is a bunch of batik strips I sewed together a couple of years ago, in my Ann Brauer phase
If you want to combine batiks with prints, it's often better to choose prints that have a watery near-batik quality. The postage stamp print below was pretty watery. The button print and text print, not so much. 
As with almost every other decision in quilting, combining batiks and prints means auditioning things next to each other to see if they work!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Use Your Best Scraps for Quilts that Sing

I recently finished this commissioned quilt, a gift for a singer-songwriter. This artist's lyrics are full of natural imagery - I listened to loads of them on Youtube before designing this.
What also served me well was a lesson that took me years to learn: To make a beautiful quilt, start with beautiful fabric. 

I know, guilds are always doing "ugly fabric" challenges - but the exceptions only prove the rule. Fun, funny, interesting can be done easily with hideous fabric. But if you need beautiful, on deadline, pull out the good stuff.

In the background of this piece, the light vertical rectangular column below is from a striated batik, the last remnant of a gorgeous yard. The mottled brown/violet batik horizontally along its top was a fragment of a different yard that made me swoon. 
For the tree, I used up a fat quarter of the richest, thickest turquoise hand-dye that someone gifted me  years ago. 
The planetary print fabric along the top is from a thrift-shop shirt, and has a wonderful antiquey look. More of my favorite batik scraps are down the left side and across the bottom.
The back is batik grape fabric. Grapes are, among other things, a Judaic symbol for joy (via wine!).
I included a hanging dowel along with the quilt, and of course added a label.  It was hard for me to separate from it! All the scraps were favorite children, and I couldn't imagine making another one nearly as good. But then I bought some more beautiful batiks! And made more tree quilts!

Update: Three more batik and print tree quilts are posted here.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Over Japan, Quilts 3 and 4: Definitely My Fave, Maybe

In recent posts, I showed off two large quilts I made from my collection of Japanese textiles. (One, two). Here's the third, which may be my favorite:
It measures 96" x 75". I pieced the vertical side borders from scraps - I especially like the quarter-hexagon design on the left in the photo above, a closeup of which is on the right side of the photo below. I found this quarter-hexagon concept in a book by the brilliant Sara Nephew:
The white sashing above, which looks like graph paper, was from my husband's old shirts. Below is the right border, where I'm fond of the pieced diamonds inside rectangles.
The quilt contains all kinds of Japanese textiles. The red door curtain below has  girly stuff: hair and kimono accessories, and - in the first panel on the left, I'm not sure what the two linked circles are - opera glasses? Handcuffs? I'm pretty sure this piece is Bingata, colorful Okinawan fabric stenciling.
It was purchased in Tokyo in the nineties, as were the next two prints,
The third, the sumo cat fabric directly above was bought in an all-American quilt shop. 
A striking group of horizontal textiles on this quilt were purchased by my friend Debbie at a yard sale (in California). They're all made from thin cotton, and appear to be wall banners. I am looking for someone to translate them for me, but my best guess is that this first one depicts gods....
[UPDATE: I found this image online - they are indeed lucky gods. Find the match here.]
The next one is a guide to traditional kites....
Best of all is this sumo banner....
Next, my friend Mika has informed that this banner advertised a late fall festival in Izu that celebrates the history of stone tugging to build the Edo Castle. It says, in part, "Tug it if you can!"  
The next strip may be a motivational headband.
And there's this calligraphy wallhanging. (I recognize the numbers, but not much else.)
Another headband?
This was a washcloth. 
You'd think after making three massive Japanese fabric quilts, my collection would be exhausted. But it wasn't! So I used some of the leftovers to make this 42" x 42" piece.

The large two-tone square in the center, (dark blue and light plum) is a furoshiki, a Japanese carrying cloth, decorated with beautifully 'sketched' pottery. Scraps are in the borders. And I still have some Japanese fabrics left over!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Over Japan, Quilt 2: Everything But Kitchen Sink

Two weeks ago, I showed off the first quilt made from from my collection of Japanese textiles. The second, below, at 95" x 76", was supposed to be its back - but I liked it so much I decided to make it the front of another quilt. It features a banner memorializing Hokusai's iconic 1829 Japanese woodblock print, "The Great Wave at Kanagawa". 
Above and below it, I put scrappy log cabin blocks in a zig-zag setting to echo the wave.  In the top log cabin wave, the zig-zag is light:  
And in the bottom, it's dark: 
The middle has fabric printed with waves, with koi fish, plus a pieced checkerboard.
I also threw in some kitchen textiles (though not an actual sink). The daikon (radish) on the top is part of a set, so artistically and wittily rendered - they hung in my kitchen for years before I finally set it into this quilt.
The reddish vegetables below it, from the same set, may be carrots, may be some other kind of radish - I'm not sure. I especially wish I knew the name of the artist who created these wonderful designs.

On the lower right of the quilt, the fabric on the top is a furoshiki, a carrying cloth (polyester stabilized with fusible interfacing), embellished with traditional wooden dolls. The red fabric in the middle is new Hello Kitty cotton yardage, of course, and on bottom....
....that's a rectangle cut from a Japan Airlines apron found at a yard sale (in California)! If you look closely around the pocket you can see the print celebrates locations other than Japan, too - Athens, Los Angeles Mexico, Australia. I love the idea that a flight attendant might have worn this.
Why combine root vegetables with ocean waves with Hello Kitty?

  1.  Keep in mind that this was originally supposed to be the BACK of another quilt, so I wasn't thinking too hard. 
  2. But deeper in my mind was this: If you visit Japan. you will experience the intense vibration created by its austere traditional aesthetic rubbing up against its ultra-modern high-energy high-density complexity. It's one of the most mind-blowing places in the world. More Japanese textile quilts to come! 

Japanese Quilt 1

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Quilter's Tour of September Vogue

Quilting is many things - psychotherapy, light exercise, friendship - but it is never a way to get rich, thin, fashionable, or chronologically younger.

So I don't have much to relate to in Vogue magazine photos, which celebrate the trendy, sinewy, wealthy, and post-millenial*. But I do enjoy some of their articles, and read them at the gym, while operating cardio machines, in a vain (pun intended) attempt to youthify myself.

In recent weeks, I've been pedaling faster than ever with excitement over the hefty September, 2018 issue. That's because I deciphered its secret message to quilters: Turn your patchwork into pricey fashion!

Most Vogue pages aren't numbered (why?) so I'll just give you a general idea of regions where this message is hidden. About twenty pages in, there's the following row of napping teens* in a cafe, wearing gloriously-embroidered crazy-quilt skirts, jackets, dresses and purses.
As a mother, I can only pray they're wearing sunscreen. Closer:
How do people so young afford Dior clothing? That's only one of the many enigmas of Vogue. (Also: Who hand-stitched these pieces? Where? How much were they paid?) Vogue never tells. But I found a clearer picture here. And there's a whole page of a model named Bella Hadid wearing them, with equally colorful hair, here.

Next, a coat by a design firm called ETRO appears to incorporate crochet, knitting, metal embellishments, embroidery, furniture tassels, and maybe molas, on the right in this picture:
A much clearer photo is here. The coat costs $7020, with free shipping! How many quilters have sold a quilt for $7020? 

Somewhere around page 300, there's a page titled V Life, with a subhead that reads "Flash: Patch Game." The text: "Matchy-matchy style gives way to quirky, offbeat pairings with Bohemian and Western influences." The illustration:
Let's break it down. On the far left, a celebrity named ASAP Rocky, is wearing a coat and pants made from bandanas by a company called ASYM. Separately, bandanas cost about $4 on Amazon, and only $1 each if you buy a dozen on ebay. But sewn together. the shirt is $1550, and the pants are a chill $1390! These facts make me want to change my name to ATHY and start quilting only in bandanas, which are cheaper than batiks. 

The denim jacket in the center/top of the page... worn by the singer Rihanna, and appears to be made of multiple jeans, with the original pockets and belt loops, a Dolce & Gabbana design. I couldn't find this coat online but I did find a small D & G jeans jacket with a scatter of buttons; its front pocket and a back panel are replaced with floral prints, and it's a steal at $1437, which is 40% off, here!

In the lower right of the page, this outfit was sewn together from blue-and-white geometric fabrics, worn by actress Rosario Dawson.
The text says it's made by Studio 189 -  I looked it up and was happy to discover this fashion line is made by artisans and designers in Ghana, working in conjunction with Dawson, supporting people ethically. Read about it here. If high fashion can sustain African textile artists, can it sustain American quilters too?

On page 327, there's an ad for "Alice + Olivia by Stacey Bendet." This clothing appears to be constructed from patches of Indian or Chinese embroidered silk brocade, punctuated by occasional strips of faux leopard fur, instructing quilters that everything is better with leopard.
The dress in front is called the "Rapunzel Curved-Hem Patchwork Mini-Dress," at Neiman Marcus where it costs $595. And here's an $800 coat like the one in the middle of the ad.

So how ARE your FUR piecing skills? I'm guessing quarter-inch seam allowances don't work. The next photo shows a fur coat by designer Isabel Marant with traditional pinwheel quilt blocks pieced in. (Or dyed/painted?) I couldn't find the identical jacket online; but I did find a shearling version. (Same coat inside-out?) Price: $5150.

On the facing page, there's this provocative purse:

The round embellishment appears to be a cross between a bosom and a cantaloupe, tattooed with a spiderweb. A purse that can feed an infant would be a fabulous gift for nursing mothers and their spouses!? 

And speaking of hunger, further along, beautiful-but-gaunt twin pop singers Miranda and Elektra Kilbey are wrapped in a red-white-and-blue quilt (coat?) with a silver space-blanket lining. Online I learned that the Kilbeys are 27-years-old feminists who encourage women to go topless with the same frequency and insouciance as men, as part of a campaign called Free the Nipple.
Which certainly explains the bosom-themed purse. (Quilters have been freeing their nipples for years, coming home from work, extracting their bras, and dropping them on the floor, while racing to the sewing machine.) 

Just when you think Vogue must have run out of money-making ideas for quilters, page 628 shows us these $3590 Dior boots! Maybe I can glue some quilts to my old boots?
It's followed by a Chanel bag, with richly hand-embroidered autumnal foliage, but nearly impossible to discern against a similar background:
And then, on page 624, only two pages from the end, under the title "Last Look," there's a bunch of Grandmother's flower garden blocks sewn into long gloves. 
(The gloves are laid across a purple aerial photograph, so they're also hard to see.) Bending hexagons to fit neatly around fingers deserves a big reward. If you buy these for your grandmother, and tell her about the $850 price tag, she will never garden in them.

To summarize, fellow quilters, we are vastly underpricing our work. If we would like a living wage from our art, we must strive to sell it to couture firms and designers. They'll turn our tops and UFOs into jackets, gloves, mini skirts, breast-and-leopard themed wearables; and all together, you, me, Vogue, and the young* models - we'll get rich, rich, rich!

*Most current Vogue models weren't even fetuses when I started quilting. But to their credit, the magazine's September issue also includes a very articulate article announcing their new policy to use only elder models - age 18+.

Postscript: Unfortunately, I have no financial affiliation with any of the companies or products mentioned above or below. But some of them might sue me for borrowing their photos.

PS2: Thanks to Wendy of Mission Fitness Center in Alhambra, CA, for granting me permission to swipe their copy of Vogue long enough to write this.

PS3: Buy bandana-print quilt fabric squares here.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Over Japan, Quilt 1 (As in: You Never Get Over Japan)

If anyone asked me what country red, white and blue represents, I'd mention the US, of course; the French flag; and then I'd tell them about Japan's traditional fabrics and quilts. My 75" x 96" quilt below is a tribute to the latter. 
Most fabrics in the large blue rectangles (each about 14" x 19") were dyed in Japan in the early 1990s. I can testify to that fact in a court of law, because I was there.

My husband had a conference in Japan, and I tagged along. I had lived in Tokyo a decade earlier, for about a year, so I was thrilled to re-visit old friends and haunts. I was also a spanking-new quilter, with an eye out for fabric. Our trip took us to Kyoto, and - I can't remember whether it happened on purpose or by accident - we came across a  shop called Aizenkobo, where they stencilled and dyed fabrics with natural, fermented indigo dyes. (It's still there!) Here's a photo from their website:
Not much was happening when we walked in, but our presence seemed to inspire them. They suddenly got busy, dunking and wringing and rinsing fabric in wooden barrels with dye that looks dark green at that stage. My Japanese was terrible enough to be dangerous, so their explanations were mostly lost on me, and I did quite a bit of nodding. Which would have consequences.

After about a half-hour of enjoying the show, they folded up 7 of pieces of gorgeous fabric, placed them into a small blue paper bag -  and handed it to us, along with a bill for about $100.

I was shocked, but way too polite to decline - there was a fair chance that I had agreed to buy it - so we paid and brought it home. This bag sat in my stash for about 25 years, just getting more wrinkled (like me).
I was saving it for something great. That day came this year. Nothing great happened, I just hit a significant birthday and realized it was time to use my Japanese fabric collection.

Although I hadn't returned to Japan, I had by then collected MUCH more Japanese fabric - surprisingly easy in Los Angeles, if you visit flea markets and thrift shops, and have friends who are well-travelled and don't know what to do with their textile souvenirs. My collection included everything from kimono and obis (formal belts), to noren door curtains, handkerchiefs, furoshiki carrying cloths, kasuri ikat fabrics, geometric blue-and-white yukata fabric (bathrobe-like lightweight robes), tablecloths, and much more.

I figured I'd make one giant quilt. Instead, my collection has so far generated THREE queen-size quilts, - six sides, front and back - using a wide array of Japanese and Japanesque fabrics - and I still have enough scraps leftover for more!

At the top of the quilt above, the flying geese (literally!) (herons?) are from a dissected three-panel door curtain. The horizontal strip above them is from a kasuri jacket.
All six fabrics in the top and second rows of dark blue rectangles are from Aizenkobo.
A bit closer: 
Some are merely wonderful, and some are killer. Like the one in the center above, closer:  
The second row:
The wavy one in the upper middle deserves its own photo - it could be a quilting design too, right?
In the third row down, below, the fabric in the middle is from the Aizenkobo pack
It's dawning on me right now as I look at this photo that I installed this panel upside-down! Oh well. The fabric on the far right (below) is from a pair of  farmer's pants I wore in Japan in the 1980s, and on the far left is a heavy blue fabric from I-have-no-idea-where! It may not even be Japanese! (If you know, please tell me!)
The sashing that separates them is cotton from a lightweight yukata robe. A view of the lower right corner of the quilt is below. The red vertical strip on the far right is from a vivid polyester hand-stitched kimono; the fabric to its immediate left I found hidden inside the lining of the same polyester kimono! It's much more worn, gorgeous, cotton print fabric. 
On the opposite side, the wing on the right was in the hidden lining - unfortunately, the head of that bird was not found. 
In the nine-patch above, the red floating flower squares are from a town dump on the Japanese island of Hachijo-jima, where we visited a friend who frequents said dump. There's a dark blue fabric with brown stylized fish, which was a tablecloth; and dark blue-and-white flowers and origami birds were commercial quilting fabrics. 

There's really no place like Japan, and there's nothing quite as wonderful as Japanese fabrics. More quilts made from my extensive collection coming soon!

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