Saturday, July 17, 2010

In the Company of Quilters

This week two friends and I wended our way up the hills of Ithaca to Cornell's Herbert F. Johnson Museum, which was hosting an exhibit of quilts from the collection of Etsuko Terasaki, who began buying quilts in 1975.  Sadly, the origins of most of these quilts is unknown, and even when the maker signed the quilt, nothing appears to be known about her life or even where the quilt was made.  While a few bore specific dates in the 1800s, most were labelled late 19th or early 20th century.  These were not abstract, out-of-the-box art quilts, but traditional, historical works made primarily to be used, and I found much to contemplate.  

Usually when I go to big quilt shows I take off on my own, since I may want to linger at a quilt that someone else may not be interested in--or vice versa.  But this was a small show---probably twenty bed quilts--and we stayed together, commenting on different aspects of the quilts and sharing our general impressions.   Why, we wondered, did one quilter take care to keep her seams matched and points sharp but did not cut the striped fabric for the sashing so that it matched up?  The cheddar orange, that favorite color of some 18th c. quilters, blared out at us in one quilt, fighting with the pink and teal of the some of the other fabrics, but just gave a zing to another eight-pointed star quilt.  We spent time picking out spider webs and tennis rackets and peacocks and flowers and unusual fabrics from the multiplicity of images and techniques on a beautiful crazy quilt, and we all admired a tumbling blocks quilt, where the randomness of the perspective and colors of the small blocks gave it a lively energy.  And I only set off an alarm once! 

Many of the topics of our discussions I might have noticed on my own, but some I would have missed. Much has been written about the experiences of quilters quilting together, but quilters looking at quilts together, something not possible before the age of quilt exhibits, can be an equally specialized form of experience--and a great way to spend a hot summer morning.

Top it off with a quick trip to a well stocked quilt shop, Quilters Corner, and an incomparable lunch at Moosewood and you have a great way to spend a day.

No photos of quilts possible but the exhibit is at the museum until August 1. 

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Doodle Squares

My little free motion quilting practice pieces now have an official name--Doodle Squares.  They are indeed my version of doodling, but they are also in honor of the large, enthusiastic free spirit in our house, a Golden Doodle named Terra.

She embodies a  lot of what I was trying for when I started this practice:  learning to loosen up and being ready to try anything.  I'm not sure how gaining control over the stitch length fits into her personality, but she would easily take control of most situations if allowed.

My original goal was to practice FMQ every day for at least fifteen minutes, an impossible goal, I know, but by going for the impossible I have gotten it done most days and feel guilty enough about it that sometimes I'm shutting everything down at 9 PM and realize I still need to do those fifteen minutes--and do them.  But guilt is not the main component of these squares--I am also doing them because they have become a time when I am just, well, doodling, following my own little mini-vision, and if it doesn't turn out, then I am still getting some FMQ practice in.

I have kept the squares small so they are easy to finish:  8 1/2" square top, 9" batting piece, and 9 1/2" backing.  Given the amount of quilting on each piece, they usually square up to 8 1/4" bound.  I was using Insul-Brite at the beginning because I envisioned selling them as hot plate pads, but everyone who has bought one has wanted to hang it on the wall so I have switched to my regular Quilter's Dream cotton batting.  The Insul-Brite also has a tendency to beard on a dark backing anyway.

With my newest crop I have, of course, been trying some new things.  One of my favorites from a couple of months ago plays with a dense stitching that makes the stones/bubbles/circles pop in the middle border.  Click on any of the photos to make them bigger.
A close-up lets you see it better.  I began by outlining the circles with a stitching line connecting them since I wasn't going to start and stop with each one, so my background stitch--basically a scribble--needed to be dense enough to cover up that connecting line.
I thought I was getting in a rut with the center square surrounded by borders--although that is still my favorite set-up--so I tried something a bit uncentered:

I must apologize for my preference for dark fabrics, which make the quilting difficult to see in a photo, but a close-up of the back (all are reversible) will give you a better view:

After marking the diagonals of the square with chalk, I created this by again using a chalk marker and ruler to draw the diamond-ish shape and then drawing the five straight lines with chalk and a ruler so I could position them where they looked right.  I began sewing at the bottom, following a straight line up and then free-handing the curves back down to the bottom so I could begin stitching the next line and so on. 

I have done several variations of vines with leaves as a quilting design but was wondering if I could make a more abstract vine with a continuous, sinuous line interrupted by ovals, and you can see the result in the center section.   I decided I liked the patterns it made.
I have always been partial to a three-bladed grassy shape and so gave a try at a free-hand version in thread for the final border.  It was obvious at the beginning that my connecting line was not going to be totally straight and so I emphasized the waviness.  As a calligrapher friend of mine told me years ago, if you make a "mistake," make it into a design element.
My last example, for this round, is another row sampler, which is becoming a favorite exercise of mine, since I just have short bursts of a pattern to complete--keeps me from getting bored.  But on this one I got the great idea of trying some machine couching, which you can see in the blue row.
Not half bad, I thought, until I turned it over. Now these squares, as I said before, are reversible, and, of course, as anyone who thinks ahead already knows, the zigzag machine stitches that hold the heavier thread down and are almost invisible on the front appear on the back as rather utilitarian zigzag machine stitches.  I was ready to just chalk this one up to experience and put it in the "no one will ever see these" pile when I wondered if another quilting stitch could  hide the zigzags.  I tried those wavy interlaced lines, and, while they don't hide them, they do distract enough from them so that don't become the focal point of the reverse side.
If you look closely, you may also see in the row above the blue that three-bladed grass shape again.

My FMQ has definitely benefited from these squares. I have learned some new techniques and patterns and gained a bit of confidence.  A couple of weeks ago an artist friend who makes glass beads was describing how she avoided a particular technique because she thought she just didn't like it, but she needed to learn it for some occasion.   So she did it every day for a week and sure enough loved the process once she got comfortable with it.  As I described my experience with the Doodle squares, we started laughing at ourselves because we had both made the remarkable discovery that practice does just what all those know-it-alls told us years ago. 

I still have much to learn about free-motion quilting--which gives me an excuse to keep making these little squares, but a bigger format is definitely in my plans as well.  Now back to the three other quilting projects I am working on.  And if you are still with me, thanks for the company.