Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ew, Yuck!

A couple of months ago, I received in the mail an article from Betsy, a friend of mine, about compost dyeing. Said she was reminded of me when she saw it. (I'm hoping it was the dyeing part and not the compost that reminded her of me.) Although my first thought was that this was a thoroughly disgusting idea, I couldn't help wondering what kind of fabric it would produce. So one day I decided that all I would risk was a yard of fabric and why not give it a try.

The article said to wrap grass clippings and some other vegetation in the fabric, roll it up into a packet, and then bury it in the compost.  I of course had to take a picture so you could share the experience with me:
And here it is decently buried in the most recent additions:
I am a bit skeptical about how much of the color the fabric absorbs will permanently stay because the article said nothing about treating the fabric with anything or adding a mordant and usually vegetable dyes need something more to make them stick. But the fabric packets are supposed to cook for a month or two and then air cure for several days so we shall see.  It has now been decomposing for over a week.

And if you are still with me after that stomach-turning picture, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fiber 101

Instead of staying home and working, I took a field trip today to visit The Fiber Factory near Alfred, NY, where Jen, an artist friend of mine, works and where sheep and alpaca wool is processed. At one point in my checkered career, I was a spinner, even hand carding a fleece (although that was the first and last one I ever did), and then knitting my yarn into sweaters and hats. Although I now work mostly in cottons and silks, all things fiber still interest me, and the afternoon at the mill became even more interesting when I realized that cotton probably follows a similar process to end up as fabric or the thread that I sew with everyday.

Our tour began where the dirty fleeces begin--in the washing machine. One does not want to investigate too closely what exactly is in the fleece.

Then on to the drying rack--still maintaining a bit of the home turf.  

  The dried fleece goes through a cleaner/fluffer-upper machine

and the now cleaner, fluffier fleece is placed on a belt that moves it into the carding machine. I know how much wrist-wrenching labor this machine saves and my chest and back muscles can easily start aching thinking about it.  This was a very touchy, feely afternoon, by the way, since you couldn't help wanting to sink your fingers in this stuff and try out all the changes in texture that take place.
All those drums, and teeth and gears and belts produce roving

that is doubled or tripled in the next machine to make a bulkier roving.
And now, to really put the handspinners to shame, comes a machine that takes not one roving but four at a time and turns them into yarn.
The one-ply thread can be twisted with others to form two or three-ply on the above machine and put on cones. The yarn on the cones was wound around the arms of this machine
to make skeins that were washed a final time and hung up to dry. This is undyed alpaca, their specialty, since they own an alpaca farm.
Jen has been doing some beautiful work with felting and showed us one more machine--the needle felter. Remember that large carding machine? It can be set to produce not long, narrow roving, but flat batts. Here Jen is feeding three layers of thin batts--that were dyed in the wool--under  the many needles of the machine.
and here's the finished product. It felt like a very soft blanket at this point and Jen will run it through several more times to join the fibers more tightly. Later--perhaps this is already obvious to many of you, but sometimes it takes me a while to find the light switch--I realized that a similar machine must produce the cotton batting that I use that is labelled as needlepunched.

Quite the day! And I got home in time to do about an hour's worth of stitching. And if you are still  with me, thanks for the company.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Olympic Quilting

If you aren't already looking forward to the skating, skiing, and sledding of the Winter Olympics , here is something to whet your appetite. The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. in 2014 is going to look like this:
The Sochi Olympic Committee has chosen the patchwork quilt, based on traditional Russian quilting, as the brand for the games. See much more here

That Russia has a long history of quilting came as no surprise to me because my friend Anya posted gorgeous photos from the Russian Quilters Association quilt show on her blog last year.

Oops. Forgot to thank my nonquilting friend Vic for bringing this site to my attention.

And if you're still reading this uncharacteristically short post, thanks for the company.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seek and you might not find

It's the morning of the first full day of quilting I have had for several weeks. I pick up the project I'm working on, grab the thread, reach for the scissors--where are they? Now I have lost scissors and other small necessary quilting tools enough to have spent some time trying to remedy this situation so I don't end up with an hour to spend working and then use ten or fifteen minutes of that precious time looking for something I need. I have made a little organizer for my sewing machine table that has reduced my frustration level quite a bit, but for this to work I have to remember to put things into their appropriate pockets. Being realistic about the way my life goes, I know the schedule--or lack thereof--gets full enough that things don't get put back in their places.  So I had planned for that eventuality by buying, with the help of Joanne's 50 percent off coupons, FOUR pairs of little orange (should be easily visible) Fiskars.
This way I could have one upstairs near my working wall, one downstairs in my sewing machine room, one in a travel kit of hand work I can do in the car, and one floating around in case any of the others don't show up where they are supposed to be. 

But on this morning none of the scissors were in their designated spots. I could not even find my little curved scissors that are wonderful for cutting both upper and lower threads on a machine sewn seam. Fifteen minutes later I finally spied a bit of orange peeking out from under a book on the coffee table and I settled down to work. But my early morning enthusiasm was a bit dampened by all the grumbling I had done and the increasing force with which I returned piles to their places as I searched. 

"People don't change," a friend had intoned last weekend as she described an acquaintance who had made yet another ill-considered choice. Don't we? Am I going to be still wasting time in my disorganized workspace in ten years? I was doing better and I could plead exceptional circumstances with the number of colliding responsibilities that I have been dealing with in the past weeks. But then there's that authority figure from the past saying that challenging times separate the men from the boys. (Why was it never the women from the girls?--Oops, wrong tangent)  And are we, as a species, condemned to continue to make the same stupid decisions that we have been making for centuries based on greed and selfishness and short-sightedness that hurt so many people and other living beings? I don't want to think so.  I hope not.. . .but possibly I will be able to come up with a more certain answer if I ever find those other three pairs of scissors.

And if you're still reading, thanks for the company while I ranted.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Learning from Laura

Laura Wasilowski, the Dean of Corrections of the Chicago School of Fusing, brought her particular brand of quilting humor to our guild this weekend and some members at the meeting Friday night laughed so hard they were wiping their eyes . She used her quilts, like "Gus Cleans His Room" and "Nude Blue Chair Reclining" to tell her "life" story, punctuated with parodies of popular songs.

I, of course, forgot to take pictures on Friday night, but I had another opportunity on Saturday at her workshop, and here she is urging us on in our creative endeavors:
We were all quite involved with our tasks:
and ended up creating an amazing variety of little quilts. The title of the workshop was "Four Little Landscapes,"
and this was the main example of what we would be doing. But Laura, excellent teacher that she is, made up several examples as other options and encouraged us to follow our own creative urges and so we weren't producing carbon copies of her work and were getting the hang of successfully working with a fusible. Most of them did resemble landscapes in some form--flower gardens, mountains, vacation destinations, cityscapes, peace-scapes, tropical isles, Pine Creek, lakes with sail boats-- but then there was mine. Her final option was to go totally abstract, and that was the one I chose:

Actually, there is a triangle missing from that bottom left corner that I discovered on the floor after I photographed these, but these are far from done. They are made from the 1 1/2 yards of Laura's intensely colored hand-dyes that came with the class fees.

At the end, as part of the graduation ceremonies, we all sang the Chicago School of Fusing Fight Song
and Laura declared us all Iron Maidens.

Since I was facilitator for Laura's visit, my mind was half in the class and half watching out for details like lunch orders and extension cords. I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked looking at the examples of her work--beautiful, colorful, whimsical pieces with lots of tiny details and wonderful texture created by all her hand stitching that just doesn't show up sufficiently in photographs. I did, however, get to buy some of her beautiful hand-dyed threads that I have become addicted to:

But one of the perks of being facilitator is that I got to spend some extra time with Laura, getting her from her B&B to the lecture and workshop and taking her out to dinner. I have met several big name quilters over the years I have had this guild position, and I think Laura wins the award as the friendliest. She is genuinely a nice person, and it was a pleasure to spend time with her--and with her husband, who had made the trip with her, a little extra benefit. (Sounds a bit cliched here but the image in my head is not.)  Making art is a solipsistic kind of endeavor--as Laura jokingly says, in both her lecture and her teaching, "Remember. It's all about me. Just about me!"--and it is reassuring to meet someone who has made art for so long and has maintained a sense of humor and enjoys connecting with other people. 

I also envy the amount of energy these national teachers have. Laura had a several hour drive to get here but carried on a lively conversation at dinner and then sang and spoke for an hour at the meeting and talked with members of the guild for another half an hour afterward--and was still awake on the drive to the B&B.

Now back to the rest of my life. And if you're still with me, thanks for the company.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Time to Celebrate

Our travels in Ireland last year took my husband and me to many ancient sites, and I came back with hundreds of images for quilts. One in particular kept rising to the top of my memories--a 5,000-year-old passage tomb on top of one of the Bricklieve Mountains in County Sligo. When Larkin Van Horn described, on the Quiltart e-mail list, a new exhibit she was putting together called Deep Spaces, I knew it was time to make that memory into a quilt and enter it.

Aside from the theme, the only other requirement was the size: 18 x 45 inches, a long narrow quilt, but I wanted to suggest the climb up to the tomb--it was a forty-five minute hike up the mountain; you had to work to get there--and I also wanted to emphasize the sky, one of those memorable Irish skies that you can lose yourself--or find yourself--in. The length gave me the space to include both of those.

So I had a general sketch of where I was going with this piece and my first hands-on decision was how to suggest all those thousands of stones piled by other human hands so long ago. I finally decided on hand applique, which took longer than other methods I considered, but gave the look I wanted. I still had some gray fabric left over from the chickadee quilt, but ended up dyeing another round, as I began to run out of a couple of the gradations. But, aside from the black and white fabrics, I was able to use all my own hand-dyes.

This was one of my major projects during the past year, but finally I put the last of the pearl cotton quilting stitches in, and the photos of "On a Sligo Hill" were ready to send off before the May 1 deadline.
And so the waiting began. Actually, I was so busy that I didn't have much time to think about it, but left it in the hands of the quilting gods and Larkin and her panel of judges to decide its fate. And finally the news came and it was good. The quilt was accepted!

"On a Sligo Hill" now goes to the state of Washington and will travel over the course of a year to three different venues. A catalog of the full exhibit will be available this fall, and the proceeds will go to a very worthy cause, Doctors Without Borders.

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