Here are photos of two small fiber art pieces I did at different times in the past few years. They are drawn by free-motion quilting, drawing with thread. I would call them moderately successful, but I do not feel I’ve totally mastered the technique of drawing with my sewing machine. The secret to getting really comfortable with any technique is practice, practice, practice. I believe the maxim that it takes ten thousand hours of effort to become an expert at anything. I need more material on which to practice.
So, I’m reviewing and re-evaluate drawings, scribbles in sketchbooks, and unfinished paintings that have accumulated in my studio. I hope to find an image worthy of translating by free-motion quilting to become an art quilt.
Thanks, Dot detail
I try to make an annual trip to an agricultural fair to sketch, my idea of great fun. Yesterday I was at the Loudonville Street Fair, a delightful event that runs through Saturday, October 7, 2017. I spent a few hours in the morning perched on a tiny stool outside the livestock tent with my small sketchbook, graphite pencil and eraser. My animal models are all groomed and captive…but that does not mean they hold still for their portraits. But, if you settle in quietly and have tons of patience, most animals will relax and move minimally, often returning to the same pose. The eraser is as vital as the pencil. My eraser rubbed out several attempts when my chosen model was too active to draw. The last photo is of one of my models. I am not only waiting for the animal to return to position, I must guess what is behind bars of the pen and under the halter. I became fascinated with the swirls and ridges as the hair direction changed on the steer’s face. I now understand why the term “cowlick” is used for rumpled hair.
It may sound a bit odd that I need recovery time after a retreat, but I do. I spend a lovely seven days in Portland, Maine. I went a bit early prior to Susan Carlson’s Monday through Friday class teaching her fabric collage technique. I am a bit sleep deprived. I got up early each morning because I did not want to miss a thing, but my hotel room faced a lively bar that had music thumping until 1:30 am every night. Yesterday I spent a really long travel day coming home. I missed and had to reschedule plane connections going to Maine and coming home, but eventually arrived safely each time!
This retreat has been eagerly anticipated. I had spent weeks refining two drawings, then a full day choosing fabrics to take. I was not sure which project option I would choose. I picked the one that I felt would allow me to learn the most: a head and shoulders view of a Toggenburg goat named Cindy.
I had read both of Susan’s books about fabric collage and I had been following her blog for a year, so nothing she presented was a great surprise. It was very useful to practice the technique with input from Susan. She urged me to use colors brighter than I would have otherwise chosen. It took days of practice until I began to select smaller bits of fabric from many sources rather than a larger piece from a single fabric. Generous fellow students helped by donating vivid fabrics that I never would have purchased. Here are photos taken on the first day and fifth day of the retreat. I will have to set the project aside until I finish things that have a June deadline, but I’m keeping this collage project propped up in my studio and will work on it a bit to keep my motivation up.
Cindy on Friday
Cindy on Monday
Teacher Susan Carlson
Everything I Need
I thought I had Everything I Need ready to be mailed off to her debut showing. But, she was very slightly askew. Being a perfectionist, I want the quilt to hang perfectly straight. So I decided to block the quilt again. I put it in cool water in the bathtub, allowing it to rest submerged to absorb the water throughout all the layers. I drained the tub, folded and squeezed the quilt to get out excess water. I pinned the quilt to the freshly vacuumed rug in the living room with long quilter’s pins. I pulled and patted, using a carpenter’s square to assure all four corners were at 90 degrees. I aimed the overhead fan and a portable fan at the quilt and set them on high speed. Now I wait.
I will record a statement about the symbolism in this quilt for the audio tour of the show. I have the ship date on my calendar. I’ve bought pool noodles and investigated three possible shipping methods. If you want to see this quilt in person, she will be at the Sacred Threads Exhibition at the Floris United Methodist Church, 13600 Frying Pan Road, Herndon, VA 20171 from July 7th through July 23rd, 2017. (sacredthreadsquilts.com for details) She will also travel to other locations, but I’ll post more about that later.
If you make quilts, you want them to be the size and shape that you planned,
and to hang straight if you exhibit them. Here is a checklist that may help:
1. Study diagrams and directions on a pattern to confirm the logic and measurements. To err is human; the pattern designer sometimes makes an error.
2. Cut accurately. The mantra is “measure twice, cut once”.
3. Piece accurately by marking seam allowances, pinning precisely, nesting seams, and confirming that your machine is sewing exactly the width of seam that you want.
4. Press accurately. Finger press seams first. Then press with your iron in a patting, up/down movement instead of sliding your iron, especially when a seam is on the bias of the fabric.
5. Measure each block of pieced work again after pressing. Correct if needed before joining to other blocks. You can rip out, trim, or mark seam allowances that are wider or more narrow than usual, then re-sew to compensate for imprecise blocks.
6. Cut outer borders with their length on grain whenever possible. Use borders that are exactly the size specified in your quilt diagram. Ease pieced blocks to fit the accurately-measured border, instead of sewing a long strip of border fabric to the pieced blocks then trimming the border fabric to fit.
7. Quilt with about the same density of stitching throughout the quilt.
8. Trim the quilt to exact size before binding. A carpenter’s square or triangular ruler are useful to check that corners are 90 degree angles.
9. Block the quilt after quilting. Wet it in sink or tub and squeeze out excess water. Lay the quilt on a clean surface, then stretch, scrunch, and pat until you come as close as possible to having equal measurements of (a) width at both edges and center, (b) height at both edges and center, and (c) both diagonals. I tape together yardsticks or use a metal tape measure that can be locked at any specific length. I’ve read about making a blocking board from a sheet of styrofoam insulation marked with a grid of squares, but I just use a sheet on my living room floor.
10. Store the quilt rolled up instead of folded if possible. Scrunching and stuffing the quilt in a pillowcase or fabric bag is better than folding it. Folding creates creases.
I have a finished quilt that I am preparing to send off to an exhibit. I do not like the way it hangs because I did not follow suggestion number 7 listed above. The interior is quilted more densely than the border, so it “waffles” a bit at the edges. I have one more trick to try. I am hand-sewing a long, strong gathering thread in the ditch at the inner and outer edges of the borders. I’ll let you know how it works.
Here’s my strategy for overcoming fear of feathers. For non-quilters, I better explain that statement. Feathers are a traditional quilting motif consisting of
teardrop shapes aligned on both sides of a central spine. It is a graceful design, but not easy to do well. It is the last challenge on my self-directed journey to learn to free motion quilt. I was a bit intimidated.
My solution was to draw templates, trace them on the fabric, and use the chalk outlines to guide my free motion stitching. I spent an entire afternoon making my designs and marking, then the next day quilting. Fear was abated; quilting accomplished.
drying blocks after washing out markings
My new job teaching outdoor skills to youngsters has been keeping me very busy. The school assigns students to indian-named “tribes” of 12 to 16 students to make classes a manageable size as we teach about natural and human history of the region. It is a camp-like residence school, so I’ll sometimes be asked to serve as dorm supervisor. I needed an upbeat story to tell in the dorm as I settle student/campers down to sleep.
My first thought was the Just So Stories by Kipling, but I couldn’t find my copy. So I’m revisiting a theme from my freshman year in college. For a Comparative Religion course, I had compared origin stories from several religious traditions, including that of native American cultures. I learned to love the wisdom hidden and condensed in these traditional tales. So I went to the public library to look for native American tales.
I found a wonderful one from the Ojibwe people, the legend of Shingebiss. This tale about a plucky Mergaser duck surviving winter is rich in observations about animal life in the great lakes region of the United States. It has practical and spiritual wisdom: conservation, resourcefulness, perseverance and courage.
It will be a pleasure to revive the storytelling skills thatI used when my own children were young. And I must perfect storytelling because, despite years of trying to learn, I’m not confident about performing on my harmonica in public.