Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lancaster Notes

After waking up at the very early hour of 4:15 AM I spent all day Friday going to, coming from, and soaking up all the sights to be seen at the quilt show in Lancaster, now under the auspices of the American Quilt Society. Of course, I couldn't help make comparisons with the old Lancaster show since this was under new administration and at a new venue (actually two venues).  The big hole in my experience of the day was the absence of the Quilt National traveling exhibit--a room where I always found some quilts I wanted to contemplate for a while.  This one did have a small traveling exhibit from Studio Art Quilters Association as well as a special exhibit of quilts from the Association of Pacific West Quilters whose members are playing with some innovative techniques and where I took a lot of pictures.  The new convention center was not as well lighted or as large as the Host Resort of previous years, and the shuttle to the second venue ate up our limited time, but this is the first year AQS has hosted the show so I will wait for next year to see how they settle in, and there were indeed some beautiful, inspiring quilts there.

There were certainly plenty of vendors as well, although I am now fairly well supplied with gadgets and since I am doing more dyeing, I tend to look for the unusual fabrics.  From Batik Timbal I got some beautiful cotton that looks and feels like silk, woven in Bali, and from Mekong River Textiles, I was so awed by the Sunshine Silk, handwoven in Thailand, that I had to have some, although I could only afford a half yard.

This fabric just glows in real life.  I also got a gorgeous hand-dyed cotton from Ghana at a West African fabric booth.

Of course the question on the bus was "What are you going to make with these?"  And, of course, I have no idea.  I was looking for fabrics that said something new to me so I couldn't go with any preconceived ideas.  But I am finding that letting a strong unique fabric suggest a project to me is often a good way for me to begin so we will see where these end up.  Right now they are just a joy to be around.

One of my final purchases was a 4-inch square of fabric from around 1830, reflecting my split personality when it comes to quilting.  I love the connection with the tradition of quilting, particularly with the pre-twentieth century work, and so I love being able to have my own mini-collection of old fabrics that I can touch and look at closely.

That show was certainly worth getting up before sunrise to see.  And now I'm ready to get back to my own work.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Praise of Wonkiness

Today is St. Patrick's Day and it is one beautiful day!  As I took my early walk with Terra, the sun was glinting off the heavy frost, making the hill magical; it was just cold enough to wake me up with a promise of warming temperatures the rest of the day; the red-winged blackbirds were making the valley echo as they proclaimed their presence; and the sky was that perfect blue that I would love to get in my hand-dyes.  A great beginning to a birthday.

As I walked along I saw a pattern in a shriveled flower that I thought might work for my ventures into free motion quilting, and it reminded me of my last practice piece.  Last night I had not gotten my full twenty minutes in so the last thing I did before I collapsed on the couch to check e-mail was a freehand flower to see if I could pull it off.  I had earlier made a frame--more about that later--and congratulated myself that I finished the flower without any major bobbles.  But as I looked at it I realized it wasn't totally symmetrical.    Have to try harder next time I thought.  Earlier that day I had happened upon the FMQ work of one of the master quilters whose feathers and swirls look flawless and like carbon copy cutouts of each other and her work was in my mind's eye as I evaluated mine.
You might be able to see the quilting better on the back:
But a good night's sleep and a walk in the woods reminded me that I liked things that were random, a little bit skewed, things that didn't match exactly (not talking about my seams here--I still have my perfectionist streak).  After all, no two oak leaves or maple leaves ever match each other--and then there are the snowflakes, of course.  I want to have the skill and control to make oak leaves that look like oak leaves, but they don't have to look exactly alike  What I am trying to discover this year is what my goals are, not to mindlessly follow someone else who may produce knock-out beautiful quilts for her, but to see what works with my kind of quilting.  And I am beginning to see that what FMQ contributes to my quilts may involve spontaneity and maybe even surprise.

All this is different from work that is slipshod . . .  And that brings us to the frame, another experiment,  done quickly before the potatoes burned for dinner.  One corner of the zigzag stitch is definitely out of place.  It is not charmingly skewed but just a mistake when I lost my focus.  But the frame itself is more uptight than the flower and probably requires exactness.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  I just discovered that there is some basis to believe that Patrick wrote against slavery, which was rampant in the fifth century world. Don't know how that relates, but another reason I'm proud to be born on his day.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring is coming!

Yesterday as I walked into our kitchen to fix lunch, I saw over thirty robins in our yard and near the barn, but I needed to see a red-winged blackbird to know that spring was getting close.  My friend Susan had gotten a picture of one yesterday at her house, but I hadn't seen a trace of one on our hill.  This morning as I set out down our hill for a walk with Terra I suddenly realized that I was hearing red-winged blackbirds from all directions.  They have a unique rusty, creaky call that has always sounded to me like one of those wind-up alarm clocks we used to have when you don't turn off the alarm and it gradually moves from a bell ringing to an unharmonious winding down.

Finally I saw one at the top of a tree near our pond, singing his heart out with the red on his shoulders clearly visible in case any females are in the neighborhood.  Spring is on its way!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

As part of the agenda for the year, I have promised myself to work on improving my free motion machine quilting as well as trying some new stitches and approaches.  And I have known for a long time that the only way to master machine quilting--well, let's stick with improving right now--is the answer to the Carnegie Hall joke--practice, practice, practice.  So I set myself the task of doing some FMQ every day.

Now I still have not bowed to the siren song of the long/mid arm and I do my quilting on my Bernina so I decided I would work on regularizing my stitches on small things first.  I started on just practice pieces that could be thrown away, using some of that fabric that I wonder who bought.  But many of the stitches began to make interesting patterns and were not embarrassingly bad, for the most part, so I decided to make something useful:  practice potholders or hot plate pads for the fancier ones, eight to nine inches square, with Insul-brite, which has a heat shield, as the batting.

My first was a little shaky, but I decided to bind it anyway.

My next attempts were a little better:

The backs, of course, look as good as the  fronts so that they are reversible pieces:

I have to say that I was proud of the circles in the border since I was not sure they would turn out at all freehand.  They are not perfect but are acceptable.

For this one I played around with a freehand zigzag stitch (above is the front, and below the back), and again I tried some loops:

One of my latest is a real pot-pourri of stitches.  If I could do it over I would the circles in a less bright thread.

I finally decided that I would sell some of these, and, much to my surprise, they did sell.

I had to keep my attitude that these were practice pieces, so I could try something new and difficult and if it didn't turn out, it just went in the trash with no emotional upheaval.  Easy enough to say until the first time it happened, but now it has happened enough that I'm getting the emotions under control--at least in terms of hot plate pads.

I am also now practicing on some larger pieces, but am still learning a lot from these little exercises, which are enough fun that I willingly work on them for about twenty minutes a day.

And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Every Valentine's Day for a number of years I have made my husband a little quilt.  Well, actually I give him a little quilt top with a promise to finish it at some point.  And let's just say that more of Tom's quilt tops are unfinished than finished.  But this year I actually kept up the momentum and sandwiched, quilted, and faced the top.  

A few months ago when I was thinking about how to make tree trunks I came up with the image of creating one with loops of raw-edged fused fabric.  I thought Tom's quilt would be a perfect place to try this on a small scale so I played around with the trunk, liked it, and then thought this technique might suggest the essence of a tree canopy as well, particularly if I made the loops intertwine, capturing the deep interconnectedness within this complicated living system and then extending it to the ground below.  I know, I know. I have always said that I don't like raw-edged applique, but this is a year of  experiment. . . .

So I moved from paper to my hand-dyes, ironed Misty-fuse to the back of some gradated greens as well as a brown and gray, and started playing.  I thought the bit of red (a commercial fabric) would give it some zing.  For a while I contemplated doing a blanket or satin stitch around the edges of each piece, and even tried it on one, but it changed the look of the tree so I settled for outlining each piece with a straight quilting stitch, which will mean a bit of fraying, but I think I can live with that.  

In the quilting phase I also added the pearl cotton fly stitches, thanks to Laura Wasilowski, who had just given a mini-lesson on her blog about the stitch.

As I was finishing up the quilting and was contemplating a title, I was listening to Mark O'Connor's amazing fiddling where the melody lines and rhythms twine into each other, reminding me of the patterns in the tree.  So, it has officially become "Mark O'Connor's Tree."  

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Snow Dyeing Obsession

I wasn't sure I was going to do any more snow dyeing this season, but that beautiful foot of nice wet snow beckoned last weekend.   Plus my friend Kate wanted to try another round.  I tried a couple of new twists this time, (literally I did twist one piece of fabric) and here are the results.  All but the last were placed on hardware cloth above the bottoms of the trays so that they were not sitting in the dye as the snow melted.

For both of these I treated the fabric with soda ash water and then froze it the night before.  Well, I intended to freeze it--left it out on the front porch and checked in the morning but after so many nights of temperatures in the twenties, it hadn't made it down to 32 degrees and so I shoved them in the freezer for a few hours.  Much has been discussed on the Quiltart email list about whether the fabric should be frozen or not.   So you can judge if it makes a difference.  The one on the right was a mix of brilliant blue, black, yellow, and plum; on the left deep purple and black.

These two were not frozen.  The one on the right is my favorite of this batch, although the photo did not pick up all the colors in it.  This is the kona cotton that I was complaining about in the last batch, but I am now sure it was the quality of the snow that made the difference there.  It is a mixture of fire red, moss green, and some other dye I thought was brown but was so old it was before I was labeling everything and must have had some blue in it.  The one on the right is just plain dyer's cloth with yellow, moss green and that undetermined bluish color.  Of course, if I was doing a real experiment I should have used the same colors on the frozen and unfrozen fabric, but I don't think the freezing made any difference.
This is my twisted experiment--I twisted the fabric instead of scrunching it.  The dyes were fire red, black, and a little plum.

And I had to try another folded piece.  The colors here are frustratingly inaccurate--sorry, but you get a little of the idea.  The dyes were moss green and yellow so the color should be a bit greener than it is. 

These are much richer results than what I got the second time I did this.  I was careful to use more dye and used it full strength so that might have helped but I think the quality of the snow has a lot to do with it.  This was wet snow, so packable it kept forming individual snow balls as Kate and I tried to cover the fabric in the bins.  

And if you want a more scientific explanation you can look at a book called Winter: An Ecological Handbook, which my husband handed me, after I kept remarking on what a difference the snow made.  In the book are twelve pages of charts and descriptions on how to classify different types of snow.  Fascinating stuff.   So many connections.

And I promise my next post will not be about snow dyeing. . . .