Regular readers of MQU have no doubt noticed this little icon
sprinkled throughout the magazine. It stands for our WebExtras! What are WebExtras!? Sometimes we have so much great content that it won’t all fit in the magazine. For instance, Kit Robinson has been writing a popular series of articles on different types of landscape quilts. She often finds so many wonderful examples that if she included them all, her articles would end up being too long for the allotted space. WebExtras! to the rescue!
Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the College Park Aviation Museum to see my friend Misty Cole and her solo exhibit of quilts entitled Flying Solo. The museum is on the grounds of the College Park Airport, the oldest continuously operating airport in the world!
This exhibit is fascinating on many levels, but what I find most intriguing is that Misty created the quilts in the exhibit based on her impressions of items in the museum’s collection. To see her work shown in the environment that inspired it is very special. She and her two sons have frequently visited the museum, and the details of color, texture, and contrasting materials caught Misty’s eye. She set out to interpret what she saw in cloth, and she has certainly succeeded in meeting that goal. Here’s a photo of an item from the collection, a gas pump/tank from what was originally the Croom airport. Below it is Misty’s rendition in fabric.
I love her use of rust dyed fabrics, and the mere suggestion of the numbers.
During her visits, Misty was particularly intrigued by this wall of propellers, and it’s easy to see why. The lines and play of color and textures are fascinating!
Here’s a collection of three of Misty’s pieces that illustrates her vision of a variety of propellers at the museum.
Any artist who’s interested in creating a cohesive body of work, or series, can learn from Misty’s experience. By creating pieces inspired solely by items at the museum, and limiting herself to three specific sizes of work, the exhibit flows beautifully from piece to piece. She also created a book with the work from the exhibit. It highlights each artwork alongside the photo that inspired it.
If you live in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, or are visiting, it’s well worth your time to head to College Park and see both Misty’s exhibit and the aviation museum. I’m sure they’ll inspire you as well!
If you live in the U.S., you’re probably aware that we’re having a big solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. I’m pretty excited about this! I used to work as a Space Shuttle engineer, and come from a family full of scientists, so this is right up my alley.
It recently occurred to me that I should commemorate this event in some special way. An idea for an easy graphic came to mind, and I’m ready to roll.
This is such a simple design, you could easily make one tailored to your location using any of a variety of techniques. First, figure out what percentage of eclipse there will be in your area. You can type your zip code into this website and it will tell you that percentage. It also provides an animation of what the eclipse will look like as it progresses during about a three hour window.
Now you know both the percentage of the sun that will be obscured, and have a basic idea from watching the animation what the sun and moon will look like relative to each other at the peak.
Believe it or not, the sun and the moon appear to be the same size when viewed from the Earth. How convenient! This means our main design is just a square and two circles of equal size. The design could easily be transferred to fabric in a variety of ways:
Use freezer paper stencils to paint the main design on a quilt block or T-shirt. You’ll need a white T-shirt or square of fabric, freezer paper, and blue, white, and black fabric paint. I’ve included step-by-step illustrations and directions for creating a freezer paper stencil to paint your own solar eclipse graphic in this pdf file:Solar eclipse freezer paper stenciling
A simple drawing program could be used to layer the two circles on a square and create the lettering
How about appliqué? Try using white tulle to represent the corona.
I’m not an expert at digitizing machine embroidery, but this design looks straightforward enough that I bet it would be pretty simple to create
On the left hand side of this design I included the latitude and longitude of where I live (in the design I printed I took it out to 6 digits). If you want to include your latitude and longitude just go to this website (Get Lat and Long) and type in your address. Since I wanted a corona around my sun I used the “outer glow” effect on the “sun” when I designed my image in Photoshop.
If you’re including lettering I’d recommend typing it on the computer in any word processing program, then printing it directly on fabric, or using iron on transfer paper. Another option would be to print out the words on typing paper, and if your fabric is lightweight you could use a lightbox to see the printout through your fabric and permanent fabric markers to trace the type.
Quilters have been commemorating events of historical significance for many a year, and an eclipse would be a great design to add to a memory quilt.
At this point I’m seriously considering making a cake with the same design and throwing a little solar eclipse watching party. But remember, save your eyesight! Only look at the sun if you’re wearing special glasses designed for viewing an eclipse.
A few weeks ago I posted a video about neatly turning the corners of a facing on a quilt. In the video I referenced a technique called understitching. Understitching is frequently used in garment construction, and after posting the video it occurred to me that not everyone has made garments, so maybe I should explain further. So, if you’ve never done any understitching, or you just want to brush up on it, here’s a video where I demonstrate this technique.
Our latest issue of MQU includes the conclusion of Alex Askaroff’s exciting article about The Sewing Machine Kings. What it also includes is major sewing machine eye candy!
Look at this little beauty, a German Muller.
It’s so interesting to me that sewing machines were initially designed with form, as well as function, in mind. The incredibly detailed designs on this French L’incomparable might even inspire a wide variety of quilting designs. I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my eyes on my work if I were sewing with it!
And check out the graceful lines and ornamentation of the Singer model 12, the bestselling sewing machine of the 19th century.
These machines are all beautiful enough that I imagine folks would have been proud to leave them out for company to admire. Besides their usefulness, their attractiveness must have certainly been a selling point.
Be sure to check out our latest issue for more lovely historical machines, Alex’s wonderful story, and so much more!
Not long ago I was fortunate enough to go on a very special guided tour of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). To my delight, my longtime quilting friend Eileen Doughty has been training to be a docent at the SAAM, where all of the work was created by American artists. She asked for volunteers to go for practice tours with her and I jumped at the chance. My husband and youngest son also attended the tour, and two other friends of Eileen were in our group.
Eileen focused on including the members of the tour in a conversation about five works throughout the museum and she did a great job of getting everyone involved. I loved that she showed us pieces that were so varied in style. The thread that tied them together was that each piece was made in or represented a time of change in American history.
We started out with Skating in Central Park by Agnes Tait. Made in 1934, this piece was created as part of the Public Works Project in New York. Every group member seemed to notice different details.
Next we saw MVSEVM by David Beck. This fascinating piece was commissioned for the 2006 reopening of the SAAM after it was renovated. The details of the piece refer to collections in the museum as well as the construction of the museum building. Each side is unique and interesting. There are a variety of parts that move or can be opened. Mr. Beck is obviously a master of many different mediums. If you go to the SAAM this is a piece that you must see!
At first glance The Girl I Left Behind Me by Eastman Johnson seemed like a beautiful but not very meaningful piece. However, when we discussed it as a group it became so much more. Much like a critique in one of our quilting groups, having each person talk about what they saw made the experience and the painting come alive.
We moved on to The Library by Jacob Lawrence. As you can see, it has a much more modern, graphic style along with a striking color palette. The patrons of this particular library seem to all be studying art. We discussed who the patrons might be, why were they all studying art, that they all seemed to be very absorbed in their studies, and much more. At about this time our little group was joined by another museum patron that none of us knew. Eileen graciously welcomed her and our new group member made some wonderful contributions to the conversation.
Eileen finished up with a very powerful piece, Manifest Destiny by Alexis Rockman. It depicts a post-apocalyptic version of the Brooklyn waterfront and includes a tremendous array of interesting design elements. Displayed in front of it is Eric Fischl’s moving Tumbling Woman, representing someone who jumped from one of the Twin Towers on 911. Both pieces provided plenty of inspirational discussion.
I’ve been to many museums over the years where I just looked at the art on my own. However, I feel pretty strongly now that sharing the experience with others, led by a knowledgeable guide like Eileen, brings the whole experience to a new level. Thank you Eileen for such a great tour!
After we parted ways with our group, my family members went on to look at some of the other art on our own. It was a treat to see some of the many other interesting works in a variety of mediums, including a few quilts (both by unknown makers).
And this wonderful wood carving by Ulysses Davis (Untitled Hart/Heart).
Thanks to Eileen we had a lovely and inspirational visit to SAAM. I left the museum with all kinds of new perspectives and ideas that might just find their way into some of my own work in the future.
So we’ve all been there. After laboring over a design or project that initially seemed so great, we run into a snag. Maybe we (eek!) accidentally make a hole in a quilt. Or perhaps our stitching is pretty good overall, but one motif has a wobbly bit or mistake. Take heart, there are workarounds for many design “issues” that may at first seem to be just plain errors.
Holes can be covered in various ways. If your quilt is pieced, you can sometimes remove the damaged area and carefully re-piece it. Not fun, but doable. Otherwise, try adding a button or small appliqué . But remember, a single button or appliqué may be quite noticeable. Add several more and it looks like something you designed upfront!
Maybe you’ve stitched a medallion type motif and it looks OK except for the center. Again, a button may be your best friend. Alternatively, try adding a little hand embroidery .
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that if you’re quilting with a contrasting thread and make an errant stitch into another area, sometimes a very fine tipped permanent marker is a huge asset. Pigma markers are especially useful for touching up single stitches.
Of course, you can also add heavier stitching over an area to cover up a less than desirable section, or repeat your error deliberately to make it look like it was planned.
As someone who uses digital imagery quite often, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. Sometimes I order a print and the color is not as I envisioned, or details are not quite as crisp as anticipated. Machine quilting can, of course, add texture, line, and detail. But sometimes you just need paint! Here’s the original digital imagery for a quilt I created a few years ago.
I hadn’t left myself much lead time for a deadline that was looming, so of course when the printed fabric arrived it was not as inspirational as I’d hoped. First, the color was off in that it was far too green. I painted over most of the background with transparent yellow and gold paints. The plan was to add detail on the birds with the quilting. Still, the birds were just sitting there in front of the grasses. After quilting the birds and background I held my breath and screen printed leaves and flowers over large swaths of the quilt, then added more stitching.
This was certainly an improvement and integrated the overall composition somewhat, but from the get go the birds’ eyes were all wrong. Quite honestly, they’re dead looking.
My wonderful friend Debra Gabel taught me long ago that you need a catch light in an animal’s eyes to bring them to life. So, tiny bits of black and white paints were added and it really helped.
Here’s the final piece, which is different than my original “vision”, but to my eye better.
There are times when you’ve invested time and energy in a quilt, you make a mistake or reach a sticking point, and it’s OK to just move on. Perhaps it’s been a good learning experience. But remember, you can try a number of different options to correct or improve errors, and maybe you’ll end up with something you like even better.
Part of what fuels her success is curiosity. Recently intrigued by modern quilts, she realized that some of the design elements common to modern quilts are similar to characteristics associated with traditional Japanese art. So what did she do? She ran with it! The result is her stunning (and award winning) quilt Enso.
I’m fascinated by Kathy’s approach to designing this quilt, and especially appreciate her use of a variety of quilting motifs. Look at how much they contribute to the overall piece.
Want to learn more? Kathy shares her design process in our latest issue with her article Exploring the Modern Quilt Aesthetic. Be sure to check it out, along with many other great articles.
As folks commented on facebook about my last blog post, there are about as many ways to block a quilt as there are quilters. When I spoke with MQU’s Senior Editor, Kit Robinson about blocking, she was quick to chime in. “I hate blocking!” she said. Though blocking can be straightforward (and easier than you think), she regards it as a task she’d rather not do and has graciously shared her technique for avoiding it.
Kit’s beautiful quilts are generally appliquéd and heavily stitched. So how does she keep her work looking pristine? Non-woven interfacing. Using featherweight to lightweight “sew-in” interfacing keeps her work on the straight and narrow.
She constructs her quilt top directly on the interfacing. In addition to whatever appliqué she’s including, she will often add some machine embroidery at this point. Once the top is complete, she layers it with batting and backing. This means that she incorporates four layers in her quilts: the top fabric, interfacing, batting, then backing. Kit goes on to quilt as desired. She says that the top stays true to size and square. Since she leaves a little extra margin all around, she can always trim off some excess to finalize the project.
Many of us find some aspect of completing a quilt unappealing. If that happens to be blocking for you, try Kit’s tip and see if it it helps.
When you go to a quilt show and see a heavily quilted piece hanging perfectly flat, there may be more than just expert stitching at work.
What’s the secret? Blocking. Not every quilter believes in it (I’ve seen some quilting rock stars on both sides of the question), but it can make a huge difference in the final look of your quilt. In my experience you can “block out” quite a bit of trouble, even sometimes going from a fairly skewed parallelogram to a perfectly squared up rectangle.
Margaret Solomon Gunn wrote a very thorough article on blocking in our May/June 2015 issue. I especially like her tips on using foam insulation board as a blocking surface, and marking it to help square your quilt. I often make quilts that have to be a specific size, and have marked insulation board to help me block a quilt to those dimensions.
Margaret’s article explains how to completely soak and immerse a quilt to block it. She also details what to do if a quilt is bleeding, which was the case for the quilt shown in the photo below.
But what if you have a quilt with delicate hand stitching or embellishments on it? Or maybe a painted surface or special materials that you don’t want to soak? There are a couple of things you can do instead.
One option is to lightly spray water on the back of your quilt to just dampen it. The damp fibers can provide you with enough give to gently pull and prod your quilt into submission.
Most folks think of blocking as something that is done on a horizontal flat surface, such as a table or clean flooring. However, my favorite method for blocking an art quilt is steaming. The steamer I have can only be used on a vertical surface.
It works great to pin my work to my design wall, then steam and smooth the quilt. When it’s nice and flat I pin it in place, then allow it to dry for several hours or overnight.
Not everyone realizes is that you can block your quilts repeatedly. If for some reason a quilt becomes distorted, you can repeat the blocking process and bring it back into shape. Even a favorite bed quilt can be lightly blocked as desired after washing.
Do I recommend blocking every quilt? No. Quilts that are intended for heavy use, such as for babies and children, are not going to benefit dramatically from this process. That said, no matter what style or technique you’ve used, if the quilt is not as flat or square as you’d like you always have the option to block it. Go ahead and give it a try, it’s easier than you think.
As Father’s Day and summer roadtrips are at hand, I can’t help but think about my father’s approach to travel. Safety was always paramount, and part of that meant that we needed to know where we were going, literally. As in have the entire trip mapped out. And, since there was no internet, we relied on real maps. We may well have been AAA’s best customers, obtaining TripTiks for every occasion.
Sometimes I feel that we were perhaps a little too well prepared, if that’s possible, but I’m grateful for the lesson. And, just as I still use a map (albeit one online) to figure out how to get someplace, it also helps to know where you’re going when you’re quilting. Three of the things I try to bear in mind before I start that sewing machine motor revving are:
Knowing where I’m going.
Having a plan for how to get there.
What I’m going to do if there’s an “emergency”.
By “knowing where I’m going” I mean that I try to figure out ahead of time the path that I’ll be quilting and how I’ll travel from one section of the quilt to another. This goes hand-in-hand with having a plan for how to get there. When sewing motifs, try to figure out where to stop, where to change directions, and where to go next. When I wrote the “Filler Finesse” column for MQU, I included a diagram for every motif that did just that. Here’s Rose Leaves from the November/December 2012 column.
In this instance I recommended that you start at the bottom, go up to the top of the stem (point 2), turn around and come down to point 3, then stitch each leaf with attached stem before coming back down and starting your next motif. This is a pretty standard approach to sewing motifs. Note that there is some back tracking involved, but I’ve been encouraging you all to brush up on that anyway, and it’s good practice (smile). With a little work you can figure out a path for any motif. Sometimes it helps to draw it with a pencil on some paper, or trace the path you intend to stitch with your finger.
About a year ago I blogged about a basic “order” you could use to systematically approach quilting on a domestic machine. But once you’ve gotten to, say, the filler work, if you think through it first you can streamline your process a little bit. I made the quilt below so long ago that I don’t remember what approach I used to stipple around the motifs. I do know that I could have followed a path like the one indicated by red arrows in the photo.
By stippling in a path traveling back and forth between the yellow and gold areas I could reduce the number of stops and starts, and therefore eliminate having to bury some threads. That’s a win in my book.
This last sample has lots of different threads doing lots of different things. It required some forethought to go in and around the fronds in a reasonably graceful fashion. Again, I made this quilt a long time ago, but I can guarantee that I took my time before stitching to visualize where I needed to travel.
So what do you do if there’s an “emergency”? By that I mean that either you get stuck, or maybe the thread breaks unexpectedly. I recommend that you start and stop in as inconspicuous a place as possible. Think about whether stopping and starting at an intersection or on a smooth curve will be less noticeable; it can vary depending on the design you’re stitching. If you get stuck or trapped in an awkward place, try to backtrack to an escape route, or simply stop and tie off your threads. If the thread breaks I will unsew an inch or more of stitching so that enough thread is left to bury the ends.
And how about my dad? He’s still safety conscious, and still likes to know where he’s going.
Northern Virginia is home to a group of avid quilters who belong to a vibrant and very large guild. Quilters Unlimited is comprised of 11 chapters throughout the Northern Virginia region. Each year they have a show in Dulles, and this year I *finally* made it there.
As you would expect from such a large group, there were a wide variety of quilt styles represented. In addition to the approximately 500 quilts made by QU members, there was a fabulous special exhibit, as well as an unexpectedly large and varied vendor mall. It was certainly worth braving the traffic around the Washington Beltway to get there.
Here’s a sampling of the work shown.
One of the first pieces I saw was this gorgeous original design by Judy Ballance.
Look at the beautifully detailed stitching.
How about this charming story of a quilt that was started in the 1930’s, then finished much later? Dottie Dane’s description of her quilt tells the story better than I can.
Isn’t that wonderful? Here’s a detail of the finished heirloom.
I was delighted to see that John Trundle took an amazing photograph in 1986 of hot air balloons that was much like those I took a few weeks ago at the Preakness Balloon Festival. He made a fantastic quilt based on the photo, and used nylon to pay homage to the balloons themselves. Love it! (My apologies that this particular photo is not completely sharp, the quilt was hung a little too high for me to get a really good shot.)
Baby clothes hold so much sentiment for many of us. (It was all I could do to part with some of my boys’ clothes!) Bonny Siekman incorporated the pockets of baby clothes in this heart-warming quilt. Wouldn’t it be fun to hide message or trinkets in those pockets?
There were a number of challenge quilts at the show. All QU members were invited to submit quilts to represent this year’s Quilt Show theme of “Wing It”. There were many well done pieces, but these two particularly caught my eye.
A Luna moth with detailed stitching? Yes please. Look at the thread play on Wing It – Luna by Sandy Kretzer.
Owl Moon by Anna Willard demonstrates an exceptional use of textured embellishments.
The rickrack, crochet, and raw edged feathers add lots of dimension.
And speaking of the moon, my friend Susanne Jones was also at the show with the Fly Me to the Moon collection that she curated. As always, it was great to see Susanne and this wonderful group of quilts that she’s assembled.
As mentioned previously, the vendor mall was quite impressive. I definitely plan to go back next year! Congratulations and thank you to all the QU folks for putting on such a fine show. I’m looking forward to speaking at the Reston chapter in September and the Arlington chapter in October, as well as getting the opportunity to see more work from these talented quilters.
How many times have you been pinning something together and felt that really, the pins were in the way? Or perhaps distorting the fabric more than you’d like? Glue to the rescue!
There are quilters who prefer to use no adhesive of any kind on their work, and I totally understand that. However, if you plan to wash your quilt, washable glue can be a real time-saver. The glue I recommend is plain old Elmer’s Washable School Glue as I know it will come out. As for glue sticks, I love that today they come in a smaller diameter than the kinds that kids use for school, and are also specifically made for fabric. I’m sure your local quilting or fabric store carries several varieties.
Remember, just a little bit goes a long way! For liquid glue try using a narrow tip that can replace the cap that comes with the glue, like the one shown below. Purple Daisies has an even newer version that can be found here.
To use Elmer’s glue for basting, apply a very thin line, or a series of small dots. Place the fabrics together, then iron the two pieces together with a hot, dry iron. This dries your glue quickly, and you can get to the stitching right away.
Here are just a few of the ways that washable glue products can be used for quilting:
Tacking down appliqué shapes to the background
Turning the edges on appliqué
Turning the edges on English paper piecing
Holding facings or bindings in place for hand stitching (instead of pins or clips)
Keeping labels or hanging sleeves in place for hand stitching
Put a thin line of glue in seam allowances for difficult to match patchwork pieces. By not using a pin you prevent any last second shifting of the fabrics.
Some folks are even brave enough to baste their quilts using glue sparingly!
If you’re a garment sewer you might also find glue handy when sewing zippers or attaching trim. Next time that pins don’t seem to be doing the trick for you, try glue and see if it helps.
Even after making many quilts, there are still times that my finished corners don’t end up being as neat as I like. And nobody wants “dog eared” corners, do they?
On Friday I was facing a quilt, and realized that maybe a little trick I learned long ago about making collars might work for my faced quilt edge as well. And it did! A little background: I cut my facings 3″ wide, then pressed under 1/2″ on a long edge of each.
I sewed the top and bottom facings on first, sewing around each corner using a 1/2″ seam. The side facings were then added, but I cut them 2 inches shorter than the entire length and centered them, meaning that they each end 1″ shy of every corner. Not having this extra layer of facing in the corner cuts down on bulk in the end as explained in the video below. I also edge stitch each facing as much as possible to help the sides turn neatly.
Here’s a quick video that shows how to trim the corner and turn it for a nice, neat finish.
So many deadlines this week! We’re editing the proofs for the next issue of the magazine, my niece is graduating from high school, and the entries for the International Quilt Festival are due by Friday night.
It’s times like these that a little bit of streamlining comes in handy. I strongly believe in good workmanship, but every once in a while I lower my standards ever so slightly for the sake of efficiency.
Example 1: The pink stitching on the flower behind this butterfly’s antennae.
Here’s a more close up view:
Note that the pink stitching goes right through those antennae. It would have been very challenging to start and stop each time the lines went through them. Lucky for me, the antennae are black, and are visually above the flower. This made it very easy to simply stitch those pink lines continuously, then come back in with a Pigma Micron marker and color the pink stitching black. (If you look very closely you may even see where I missed a spot or two.) This would work for any instance in which some darker area is above a light area. It should also be noted that the pink threads are rayon, so they easily accepted the color from the pen. Polyester thread might not be so forgiving.
Example 2: Oops! We all end up with a little bit of bobbin yuckiness every once in a while. Here I was using a very heavy thread in the needle, and a much lighter thread in the bobbin.
Normally I would carefully separate the offending threads and either rip out and resew, or bury the untangled ends. However, in this case the stitching is only a quarter of an inch from where I’m going to trim the edge of this quilt. The quilt is going to have a facing, not a binding, so this little mistake can be very easily hidden. Hanging sleeves and labels are also sometimes handy means of covering up small booboos. Just sayin’.
Example 3: Quilting off the edge. Have you ever noticed how many longarm quilters use “Piano Keys” on the edge of quilts they make for hire? It’s a design that allows fast and easy maneuvering and it only requires precision in one direction. I used the same basic concept here.
The dark area at the bottom of this detail is the binding of this quilt. I sewed the feathers and fronds right off of the edge of the quilt, then trimmed my border after everything was said and done. Being able to work with the extra fabric beyond the border, and not trying to fit a motif precisely in a specific area made the quilting much faster, easier, and fun.
I hope one of these tips comes in handy for you the next time you’re in a time crunch. What are some of your favorite time saving tips?
There was no school today, and normally I would have cherished the opportunity to sleep in past the crack of dawn instead of waking up teenage boys. However, the Preakness Balloon Festival is going on just a few minutes from where I live, and a “mass ascension” was scheduled for 6:00 AM. How could I pass that up? So much floating fabric and color!
When I arrived at the fairgrounds at 5:40 AM(yes, you read that correctly) it appeared that perhaps only two balloons were going to be involved. I was a little deflated (haha).
I didn’t realize how quickly a hot air balloon could be inflated, and by 6:00 more than ten balloons were nearly ready to take off.
I knew that I would not create photos of entire balloons, or even several entire balloons together, that would be in any way unique or memorable to me. Instead, I decided to study the color, line, and construction. After all, part of the fascination of the balloons is their shape, which is definitely related to the stitching used to create them.
Some of the balloons flew right over head, giving an entirely different perspective, and revealing more of the construction details.
I came away with all kinds of inspiration. It’s remarkable that the unique nature of fabric, and it’s ability to be sculpted by stitch, can result in such beautiful creations. Kind of like quilts, hmmm?
And, of course, it was lovely when the balloons took off and flew towards the sunrise.
Have you inherited, or acquired, some vintage linens? Margaret Solomon Gunn has, and she’s put her considerable machine quilting skills to good use while incorporating them into her work. Recycling, or upcycling, linens in this way has become increasingly popular in the last few years.
In our May/June 2017 issue, Margaret shares great tips and techniques on how to work with these older and sometimes fragile treasures.
She covers cleaning the linens, stabilizing them if necessary, quilt design considerations, how to handle embroidered or crocheted edges, and much more.
Many quilters have a variety of other artistic or crafty interests. Sometimes it’s fun to explore other mediums, and you never know what might inspire you and end up being used in your quilting.
I’ve dabbled in paper arts for many years, and incorporated paintings I’ve created in some of my work. Recently the opportunity arose for me to go on a retreat to learn eco dyeing on paper and fabric, so of course I jumped at it.
That’s how last weekend I ended up meandering over to a retreat center near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia for a Red Thread Retreat coordinated by Lesley Riley. Our instructor for the weekend was the amazing Leslie Marsh, a book artist who incorporates eco dyed paper and fabric in her work. We collected plant matter from around the property and combined it with materials that Leslie and other class member brought to share. Then we started the amazing chemical process by stacking plant materials and paper or fabric together, and creating bundles that were submerged or steamed to create the prints.
Eco dyeing is not an exact science. The success of your prints depends on a wide variety of factors, from time of year to age of the plant matter to amount of mordant. However, that’s part of the fun, as opening each bundle is like getting a present. There was a lot of squealing when we were all opening up our finished bundles. Here are two of my favorite prints on fabric:
You can tell we had a very productive day by the looks of the studio at the end of Saturday.
To my delight we also did some leaf printing.
You can bet that something like that will end up in a quilt in the future.
But, the very best part of the weekend was the many new friends I made. They are an amazing group of women and I already have tentative plans to meet up again with some of them for more arty fun.
I’m so glad I took the plunge and “branched out” (pun intended) to try this fun technique to add to my artistic skills. How have you branched out recently?
Last fall my first glimpse of Kathryn Harmer Fox‘s award winning The Three Watchers stopped me in my tracks.
Her arresting and exceptional work is unique in the world of quilting. We were delighted to have her as our cover artist for our January/February issue of the magazine.
In our latest issue (May/June 2017) we’re pleased to include an article that details more about her process.
Hailing from South Africa, she combines detailed drawings with a variety of sewing and quilting techniques to create her work. As she says “I am a figurative rather than a landscape artist. The figure can be human or animal, bird, fish, or flower; creatures big and small entice me to render them in paint, fabric, and thread.”
Her process incorporates embedding tiny snippets of fabric through thread work, along with creating detail through free motion machine embroidery. As you can see, the results are amazing!
Fusible machine appliqué is surprisingly easy, and fun to boot! Page through almost any issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited and you’ll find loads of examples of this great technique.
A few weeks ago I was creating a sample for an upcoming class on machine appliqué, and it reminded me that it all comes down to two key elements: fusible web, and stabilizer. Combine these two and you’re golden.
I’d love to recommend a single product that is the secret sauce for all of your appliqué needs, but there is no one perfect solution for everyone. The perfect solution for you is what you find works best. I have friends who are die hard users of Lite Steam-A-Seam 2, others who are Misty Fusers for life, and then, of course, there’s the Wonder-Under crowd. These are just a few of the fusible choices available. If you’re not familiar with using fusible web, I’d recommend getting a small amount of several kinds (maybe share with friends?) and creating a few test or practice appliqués. Not a whole block or quilt, just a few shapes to see what look and feel you prefer. Different products yield varying degrees of stiffness and hold. Be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s pressing directions for the specific product you’re using.
As for stabilizers, once again there are many choices. When I first began to machine appliqué (which pre-dated when I began quilting!) I didn’t know about stabilizers. They make all the difference in your stitch quality! Even putting something as simple as copy paper or freezer paper under your work can improve the look of your project. I no longer use paper as a stabilizer, since removing it can be tiresome, but instead rely on some of the easier to manage tear-away or wash-away products that are readily available at any quilt or fabric store. Again, doing a little test will help you determine which stabilizer best suits your needs.
Part of the fun of fusible appliqué is that you can easily vary the look of your design by using different stitches. Some folks don’t stitch down their edges at all, but instead rely on how they quilt their work to hold the appliqué in place. This works great for pieces you don’t intend to wash.
For quilted items that you would like to wash, try using a small zigzag, satin stitching, a blanket stitch, or even straight stitching (though if washed this may fray a little).
In the sample above the leaves and the lavender stars are finished with a tiny zigzag, the rose colored portion of the flower is blanket stitched, the deep orange has satin stitching, and the lightest orange is straight stitched. It’s fun to combine a variety of edge treatments like this, and it also adds a little visual interest.
Though our latest issue (May/June 2017) is barely off the presses, we’ve already received numerous comments from our readers who have enjoyed part one of Alex Askaroff’s two part series, The Sewing Machine Kings.
Alex is a man of many talents, including but not limited to being an author, a sewing machine engineer, and a photographer. His fascinating retelling of the history behind what is arguable my favorite type of machine is quite the page turner. Who knew??
While we all wait for the second installment of Alex’s history of The Sewing Machine Kings, I asked him a few questions about the machines he is so expert at restoring and repairing.
Diane: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of restoring and or repairing sewing machines?
Alex: The most challenging aspect of restoring a sewing machine usually in my ‘man cave’ is that with sewing machines there is no 99%. If a machine is not perfect it will always be a problem for its operator. It is one of the reasons why it took so long to invent the sewing machine. The tolerances that you are working to are about 1000th of an inch (the thickness of a human hair). It is also one of the reasons that there are not many sewing machine engineers around.
Diane: What is your most treasured machine?
Alex: My most treasured machine is a Dolly Varden, made in America during the 19th Century and named after a character created by Charles Dickens. It’s not worth a fortune but the story behind it is priceless (see my blog for more info and pictures).
Diane: What is, in your opinion, the most beautiful machine you’ve encountered?
Diane: And finally, is there a machine that you’ve always wanted to have but is “the one that got away”?
Alex: I have always yearned after the French made Hurtu sewing machine called L’Abeille (the bee). They are super rare but oh so beautiful. When they come up for auction they always shoot way above what I have in the bank at the time. Still one day I may win the lottery and then it will be at the top of my shopping list after our trip to Venice.
Alex resides in beautiful Eastbourne on the South Coast of England, and frequently shares photos of the lovely countryside.
Alex has certainly inspired me to a new found interest in vintage sewing machines. It never occurred to me what an impact the advent of the sewing machine had on so many aspects of our daily lives. Stay tuned, part two of Alex’s article will be in our next issue!
My grandmother was a professional artist who worked in oils and watercolors. Her work was widely exhibited and sold. Though she took many photos, I would have to say that she was not a gifted photographer (despite her many other fine qualities!). The truth is that the technical quality of the photograph was not important to her. She was simply trying to capture the moment, whether the joy in a family gathering or an eye catching composition.
I’ll never forget sitting at our kitchen counter together one day drawing simple houses, flowers, and trees with markers. As she demonstrated the magic that happens when you paint a little water on the lines, I told her that I envied her ability to draw anything. Nana looked at me in surprise. She said that not only had it required a tremendous amount of practice, but she couldn’t draw much of anything simply from memory. She relied on sketches and photographs to reliably produce work with the correct proportions, scale, and lines. Wow! That was truly a light bulb moment for me.
We are lucky today that many of us have a camera, in the form of a phone, with us everywhere. We can easily use the photos we take as a reference for many aspects of quilt design, no matter what style we prefer. Whether we want to replicate a photograph as closely as possible, or simply use it as a reference or guide, the sky’s the limit.
This month’s cover artist, Cynthia England, used a photograph she took in Capetown, South Africa as the inspiration for her award winning piece Reflections of Capetown.
As you can see, Cynthia recreated her original photograph in great detail with her picture piecing technique. (You can see more info about how Cynthia creates her work in our May/June 2017 issue of the magazine.)
But what if you just want to create an appliqué that is reasonably accurate and recognizable as, say, a bird? Just take a photo and work from there. It doesn’t have to be pin sharp or perfectly composed to do the job.
Here’s a not so great photo I took through the dining room window. What is great is how the bird is posed. (And I do realize that some of you don’t like grackles, sorry!)
If you enlarge this photo you’ll see that’s it’s grainy, and it has some extra birds that detract from the subject. However, if I’m using it for reference I can just ignore those extra bits. Here I’ve traced the outline of the main bird and the bird feeder. I simply printed the photo on an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, placed a transparency on top, and used a marker.
Voila! By just outlining some key parts of the photo, I have a reasonably shaped bird that’s well proportioned relative to the bird feeder. The beauty is that I can take what I want from one photo, and combine it with bits from others, or draw designs that are uniquely my own.
Here’s one of my favorite tricks, photographing or scanning a leaf or other flat object on a plain piece of paper.
The stark contrast makes it super easy to outline the leaf and create a design, whether appliquéd or stitched.
And, of course, you can also take pictures simply to remember a color combination or shape that you love. (See the blog posts here and here for more on that.)
I’ll always be grateful that Nana shared her artistic “secret” with me. We can’t all be world class photographers, but it’s not a necessary skill for creating pleasing and successful designs. Next time you’re having a bit of difficulty creating the right shape, line, proportions, or colors, just “take your best shot” and work from there.
Most quilters learn sooner or later that multicolored fabrics have a handy dandy tool on the edge of the selvedge.
The manufacturers have kindly printed the separate colors used in the design right there on the edge of the fabric. How convenient! This allows us to easily select coordinating fabrics. (Of course, if you stay within one fabric collection you’ll find fabrics designed to coordinate with each other.)
But, what if you’re designing a quilt of your own, and don’t feel entirely confident about choosing the colors? Or, you’re completely smitten with the colors in a photograph or other image? Luckily for us there are online tools that will quickly help us to separate out the colors of an image we love.
Here’s one of my favorite images, a photo I took years ago at Brookside Gardens here in Maryland.
Let’s look at the results from three different online tools that can help us create a color palette based on this photo. There’s nothing particularly special about any of these, I just searched for “color picker from photographs” and used three that were some of the first to pop up. Each has a very simple interface that allows you to select a photo to upload. Be careful about your image size, some of programs have a size limit for the photos.
Hmmm, very interesting. They provide a smaller, and completely different range of colors. Hexadecimal codes are also given for these colors (again, good for precise color matching in various image programs). I do like the other palettes that they provide, though they seem kind of random.
The complete color palette shows a much wider range of colors than the other two. They also show light, medium, and dark palettes. The little boxes at the bottom indicate that you can save the palette for use in Photoshop or to create a stylesheet for webdesign (the CSS stylesheet). Though I didn’t do it in this example, you can select a color from one of the palettes and the program will provide you with the Hexadecimal code that is assigned to that color.
I think it’s interesting that the pickers gave such varied results, yet each has value. (No pun intended.) So, next time you’re stymied about a color palette for your latest creation, consider choosing colors from a favorite photo or image. Use one of the many online tools available, print out the results, and you’ll have a reference to use as you choose your fabrics in a color scheme that is uniquely yours.
Prior to becoming a quilter, I never gave freezer paper a second thought. It wasn’t my storage solution of choice, and it never occurred to me that it might have other uses.
Due to its unique nature of having a paper side and a plasticized backing, it’s actually one of the most versatile supplies any quilter could have. It’s easy to apply the freezer paper to fabric by ironing the shiny side of the freezer paper to the fabric using a hot, dry iron. Here are just a few ways it can be used by quilters:
To stabilize fabric. Handwriting a label on fabric or creating a memory quilt with signatures? Iron some freezer paper to the back of your fabric first and it will be much easier to write on it. Running some fabric through a printer to create a label or design your own fabric? Again, iron the shiny side of the freezer paper on the back. Encase the leading edge of the paper/fabric sandwich with tape, and your fabric should run through your printer like a charm.
Creating templates for piecing. Draw your design on the paper side of the freezer paper, cut it apart on the design lines, then iron the plastic side of the freezer paper to your fabric and cut away. Be sure to add seam allowances as necessary. The paper is somewhat transparent, making it easy to trace designs as well.
Turned edge appliqué. Cut out the shape you want to create, such as a heart or leaf. Iron the freezer paper to the back of your fabric, cut out leaving a scant 1/4″ seam allowance. The crisp edge of the freezer paper makes it easy to turn under the raw edges, which can then be lightly glued or basted in place. Conversely, you can lightly glue the dull side of the paper to the back of your appliqué , then turn the edges over and iron them to the shiny side. Now you’re ready to appliqué by either hand or machine.
Sewing inset circles. This is an amazing technique that creates a perfect circle very easily. There are many great online tutorials for how to do this, just search for “freezer paper inset circle technique” and many will pop up.
Stabilizing simple machine embroidery orappliqué. There are a number of fine commercial products available for stabilizing your machine embroidery or applique, but in a pinch you can use good old freezer paper. Try it first on a sample to make sure that your tension is OK.
As a stencil. By applying freezer to the right side of your fabric you can draw or sew around the shape. It’s easy to follow the crisp edge.
Freezer paper can also be cut and used as a stencil to add a bit of painting to your work.
It’s readily available (at least in the U.S.) at grocery stores and most quilt shops. I like to keep it on hand as I never know when it might come in handy. What other uses have you found for freezer paper?
The spring quilt shows are in full swing! Last Friday I braved the rain and drove up to the Lancaster show and it did not disappoint. This year the lighting was *very* improved, affording a much better view of the quilts. Here are some that caught my eye.
First off, Snow Bird by Charleen M. Van Steenberg. I love pointy piecing, and the way she quilted feathers in the outer rays was very effective. It’s based on the Glacier Star pattern and Mariner’s Compass pattern by Judy and Bradley Niemeyer.
Look at this gorgeous array of Mariner’s Compasses! It’s called Barbara’s Circle and was made by Beth Nufer and Clem Buzick. Note how the pebble quilting is varied in size and some of the pebbles have a tiny grid in them, adding extra interest.
I already gushed about Red December on a facebook live video. It was made by Gail H. Smith and Angela McCorkle and is based on the Red December pattern by Esther Aliu. The quilting is suits the design to a T.
I’ll end today’s post with a bang, or, more accurately, The Big Bang by Kathie Beltz and Mara Novak. What a great use of color and super quilting!
Stay tuned, as I’ll share some more photos later this week.
Spring!! I do believe it’s finally here. I don’t know about you, but we’ve certainly had a rocky start to spring here in Maryland. First unseasonably warm weather, then a period of freezing temperatures and snow that wreaked havoc on many plants that were blooming a little too early. Things are more normal now, and I’m happy to report that our biggest cherry tree seems to be blooming unscathed.
This season of rebirth and warmer temperatures is a cause for celebration. Here are just a few examples of quilts we’ve featured over the years that have been inspired by spring.
Kate Themel truly captured the essence of a gorgeous Tulip Magnolia in her lovely Fresh Magnolias.
Here’s another magnolia quilt, aptly named Magnolia. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is one of my all time favorite quilts. It was made by Sylvia Gegaregian of Portola Valley, California.
And how about Margaret Solomon Gunn’s masterful Springtime in the Geisha’s Garden? I love the variety of pink blossoms and, of course, the incredible quilting.
This small piece by Neroli Henderson, Cherry Blossom, has such a wonderful sense of movement and great composition.
Finally, here’s one of my quilts, inspired by the cherry tree I mentioned in the beginning of the post. I love to stand beneath the branches and admire the back lit blossoms.
Last May I mentioned the wonderful three part series that Patsy Thompson was writing about ruler work on a domestic machine for MQU. Since then I’ve taken the plunge and am loving working with rulers on my own machine. It’s really fun!
I am in no way as expert as Patsy is, but, as a relative newcomer to this type of work would like to share a few tips that have really helped me.
As always, having a large flat surface to support your quilt makes the job easier.
Consider making a practice quilt to improve your skills.
A little marking can help a lot. Most rulers have a variety of marks etched on them to help guide you as you quilt, but I’ve found that especially for circular designs having additional marks to follow is very helpful.
Most of my errors have occurred when I finished a line of stitching (or a circle) and moved the ruler. It’s important to be sure that you gently snug up the ruler right to the foot to create an accurate design.
Be sure to add some type of grippy material to the back of your rulers. Handigrip is one popular brand. Some of my Westalee rulers came with a grip that reminds me of shelf liner with adhesive on the back. Either way it helps to keep your ruler in place as you manipulate your quilt under the machine.
If you hold your ruler in place it’s relatively easy to backtrack over previous lines to maneuver. However, remember that if your design requires backtracking that a thinner thread that matches the color of your fabric will produce less noticeable thread buildup.
People who make rulers want to sell them, so most of them have great videos that demonstrate how to use rulers on a domestic machine. Just search for “domestic machine ruler work videos” , or go directly to a manufacturer’s website, and you’ll find plenty of demos.
Remember to breathe, take regular breaks, and have fun! I certainly can’t wait to keep playing with this new-to-me technique.