If you have every tried to enter a contest, I imagine you have felt the sting of rejection or loss. It is not fun, but it is an opportunity to grow and learn. When I was younger it was the soccer game or the field hockey sectional match up. The games taught you how to dig a little deeper, and sometimes no matter how good you were, someone else is going to come out on top. You learn acceptance at the very least. These days it is quilt show/competitions.
When I first started entering quilt shows, my quilts where typically an arrangement of traditional blocks. In those days, I just re-arranged parts until I was pleased with the arrangement and color placement. The blocks were typically all the same size or combined to the same size, so they went together pretty easily. These days, I am not starting with pre-drawn blocks made to fit together. I am starting from ground zero; concept through finishing, figuring out how to express my thoughts with line, shape, color, texture… It is more personal, and more work. At the same time, I have gotten more comfortable with the fact that I am creating for myself. If it pleases someone else, it's a bonus. I still want to share my quilts for feedback. And these days, acceptance into the show brings joy.
I had finished the above quilt earlier this year. I have tried to enter it into two different shows. Both rejected it. My guess, it wasn't distinctive enough. But here is the thing, I still love it. It hangs above my couch. Every evening as I sit down to stitch I notice something new about it. The fact that it still holds my interest, this is my best reward.
The video clip below walks you through the simple steps of making a gnome. The fabric you choose will help to individualize your gnomes, but don't be afraid to alter the size of the body, size and color of the nose, length of the beard, maybe add some legs or arms. I am also knitting some hats with worsted weight yarn. Maybe add some trim to the hat or a sprig of holly. Be creative and have fun.
Just to reiterate the steps: To make the body, take a 6"x12" piece of fabric, sew down the sides, tapering the top of bit for the hat to easily fit over. Make the box pleat at the bottom: separate the front and back, align the side seam with the bottom fold and sew across the body about 1" from the corner. Turn body right side out. Put some rice or pellets in the bottom, filling about a ½" or so. Stuff the rest of the body with polyfill. Make the hat by taking two triangle pieces of wool or felt that measure 6" across the bottom and 9" tall, sew down the two sides of the hat. Turn it right side out. Hot Glue wool rovings to the body at least 1" above where the hit sits. Now to make the nose: draw a circle (1.75"-2") on a piece of fabric, cut it about ¼" larger than the drawn line, sew on the drawn line, start to gather by pulling up on sewing thread, before it is completely gathered fill with polyfill. Your nose can match the body, can be skin tone, red, or any other color. Make a little part in the middle of the beard just below where the hat sits. Glue nose in the part. Now secure hat at sides and back with a touch of hot glue. Wa la! Cute little gnome.
So, the kumo shape and line work has become inspiration for a new series. Now it's time to get to work. First, I am going to try to piece together a similar design. I had committed to making a challenge quilt for a group to which I belong. The only restrictions were size and color; 20” x 32” and three shades of yellow and three shades of blue. I had hoped that using different shades would add dimension. It was not as successful as I had hoped, but it is something to continue to work towards. This quilt has a faced edge, so the lines go all the way to the edge. I used three different color threads in my machine quilting: blue, light yellow, and a darker/brighter yellow. The first two pictures show the challenge piece. The middle picture is me starting another piece. I felt overwhelmed by background, and decided to simplify. The right two pictures show the piece in the end. While I don’t know as though my lines/figures are as wonky or complex as a dyed kumo, I think the designs still work. I think that the quilting lines helped develop the design.
During the time I was making the above quilt, I was experimenting with MX dyes to find the right combinations of colors to match my indigo dyed work. My thought was that I would need yardage to match, also if I needed to fix something, I could mix the color with Print paste. It took many trials to work this out, but I did find one that works well. I wanted to use one of my multiple kumo pieces as a whole cloth (see first picture above). I found the areas in between the kumo designs deadening, it stopped my eye from moving around. My thought was if I darkened them, your eye would be drawn around the piece better, and the kumo would pop more. My first attempt wasn’t quite right. While I feel my eye moves around the piece better and the kumo definite pop, the edges are too definitive, they look too fake or altered. More later about this piece. With leftover print paste, I decided to try and print some designs related to the kumo, or should I say riff on the spiderweb. While I “like” some of them, I am not sure any of them are a particularly successfully riff on the kumo. Three are more burst then kumo. But I am happy to keep exploring the idea of printing. I may quilt the ones I am happy with as whole cloth quilts. Not sure what will happen to the other two… they may get quilted or cut up into other work.
Remember the piece I said that I would use as a whole cloth quilt? I wanted to experiment with it. So, I added some color to fill in some empty areas. I cut a stencil that mimics the lines of a dyed kumo. I need to make sure not lead the eye off the piece, or to take away from the kumo figures, so I added the yellow lines in the first picture. While it doesn’t seem to be much of a change, I find that it added a focal point… which is something I didn’t notice I was lacking. I quilted the area within the yellow line with yellow thread, but it did not define the area as well as I had hoped. So it was time to break out the inks. I mixed yellow ink with aloe gel to lighten it, then painted the mixture onto the quilt surface. The second picture shows the final quilt, close-ups are on the right.
So far, I have made 5 kumo quilts (and numerous t-shirts), and have a new piece percolating on the design wall. I still have ideas to explore. This is a series I can stick with as it feels challenging and more distinctive.
I have been quilting since 1995. So, 25 years, this year. When I was starting, I wanted to learn every technique and make a quilt with every pattern. Dyeing my own fabric was a technique I learned early on. While I have always individualized my quilts, I began a concerted effort to make my work more original and less about following a prescribed pattern. During these ten years of study, one of the things I saw others being able to do is work in a series or build a body of recognizable work. Some may say a distinguishing style. This is something I have struggled to do. Even when I have tried, my attention wandered. Whether is some of this inability comes from the fact that I wanted to learn everything, I don’t know. I have always thought of having separate series, so I could keep piecing, printing and playing. However, it takes a lot of time to build that many bodies of work, so back to focusing on a body of work that is recognizable and distinctive.
After taking an indigo shibori class last summer, I had decided that I wanted to go further exploring indigo on my own this summer (… A great idea to fill some isolation time). So, I spent a week or two preparing fabric by manipulating it in many different ways. Indigo is such a beautiful color. We see it every day and it’s thought of as comfortable. However, it maintains an air of elegance and luxury. Shibori is serendipitous… while you can control how the material is manipulated, control only goes so far, and it is always a bit of a surprise when you unwrap it.
After unwrapping and rinsing the first batch, there was something about the kumo (spiderweb) design that struck a chord with me. First of all, it is shaped like a burst, so it is a powerful and energic design. But on a closer look, these graceful lines are made up of awkward, wonky shapes. (Gives me hope that something awkward can be seen as beautiful.) The bursts are visibly unbalanced but yet feel natural. They hold my attention.
The inspiration hit… this was something I could try to emulate with piecing, I could dye them, and I could try to print them. I could put them together into one piece, or even combine the dyed ones with piecing. This might be something to hold my attention. Adding different colors would allow for some variation. I am off to try it all.
Joining West Michigan Quilt Guild allowed me to take classes. I began to take as many classes as I could afford and fit into my schedule. After 22 years of membership, I have learned numerous techniques and met many wonderful people. When I have gone to quilt shows, taking classes was my main focus. I have many quilts as a result of those classes, most of which are finished.
As the quantity of classes slowed, their intensity increased. Half day classes became full day classes. One day classes became two day classes. Then week long classes became the norm. Today, they are usually two week classes. One of my teachers, a college art professor, said he was able to teach as much in two weeks (with 8 hour days) as he was in a college semester. It kinda felt like it too. It took a while at home, going back over information to absorb it all.
Since I knew I would not able to take a two week class this year, I decided to enroll in my first online class. It would be self-paced, so I could fit it in to my schedule (before I knew Covid crisis would obliviate it). It would run from March to December. A nine month class seemed a bit daunting, but it was a subject which I needed help and it was with a teacher on my bucket list.
So I enrolled in Jane Dunnewold's Creative Strength Training class in March. This year there would be particular emphasis on working in a series. She provides monthly information for you to digest on your own time frame, exercises for you to pick and chose from, and small groups for you to participate (if you choose). She has a book by the same title. The purpose of the class is to improve your creative process by learning more about yourself.
While I don't think my new work is revolutionary, this class has allowed me to find a way to work in a series, make it a bit more distinctive. I continue to think of ways to move forward with this series. I am not confident that it is great art, but I do feel like I am learning and going deeper.
With the unexpected events of this year, I am trying to make the most of my studio time. For me, uninterrupted time in my studio is a joy. If I could ignore chores and other duties, I could be happy for days in my studio. After completing a project as spring was turning to summer, I decided to try my hand at an indigo pot. I used pre-reduced indigo like we did in a class last summer. While we had learned different methods of folding, clamping and binding, we really didn't have time to fully explore each one. So making my own vat would allow me to understand the chemistry of the vat and explore different shibori methods. Now, as summer turns to fall, I have exhausted 4 vats and made what I hope will be enough indigo shibori pieces to keep me entertained for a long winter in my studio.
Recently at a speaking engagement, I was asked what quilt batting I used. My favorites are Thermore for hand quilting and Quilters’ Dream Request Cotton or Wool for machine quilting. The person followed up with do use always use a thin batt. My answer was it was my preference. The better answer came to me about a week to late...
Thin batting is my preference because thin batting make my stitches look better. The improved stitch quality was something that I noticed on my own years ago. Stitch quality is something that as a Certified Quilt Judge that I look for in others quilts. While there are many characteristics to stitch quality, one of the most common is consistent stitch length. Whether you are machine quilting or hand quality, having a consistent stitch length adds to the visual appeal. I have found having a thick batt makes it more difficult to keep a consistent small stitch. Another feature of stitch quality is having the stitches align. While those babbles that happen are typically from moving your hands while machine quilting, or using a bent needle while hand quilting, having a thick batting also makes keeping the stitches aligned more difficult (in my experience).
I am looking for a quilt batt that helps my stitches look their best as opposed to a fluffy quilt to snuggle under. This is my preference, and my experience. If you are looking to improve your stitch quality, you may want to try a thinner batt.
There are 4 things I would like to share about working with scraps:
Thing One: Unity
When working with scraps there can be a unity problem...they can look disjointed/scrambled/in-cohesive. Now the ladies in Gees Bend don't have this problem. They work with the theory, if you cut it up small enough everything goes. However, they also balance color, line, and shape across their work to create unity. You can work this way also. However, if you like a more organized or matching look don't rule out working with scraps. You just need to organize a bit before hand. Sort your scraps into pleasing color combinations. Think easy palettes: spring, fall, winter, Christmas, Halloween... Or maybe cool colors (green, blue and purple) and warm colors (red, yellow, and orange). Or get out your color wheel and experiment with new combinations. You can always add another fabric (solid or print) at act as a unifying agent.
Thing Two: Be Prepared
It is easy to complete a scrap quilt while piecing a planned project if you always keep the scrap pieces next to your machine. Bonnie Hunter calls them "leaders and enders". Many people use a scrap of material when starting to piece/strip piecing. It helps with keeping the pieces from getting pulled down into the feed dogs and eliminates thread tails. Instead of using a scrap piece, use a pair of scrap blocks. Do your strip piecing for your planned quilt, then at the end of the strip add another set of scrap blocks. Cut off the planned blocks while leaving the scrap blocks under the needle and foot of the machine. This set of scrap blocks then becomes the leader for the start of the next set of planned blocks. Just set aside the scrap blocks as you complete them. Eventually they become a project unto themselves.
Keep strips of leftover fabric together. Keep squares of leftover fabric together. I recommend picking either sizes based on 2" or 3", so you can build blocks of either 4", 6", and 8" or 6", 9" or 12".
Thing Three: Build It
If your pieces aren't big enough, you can piece your fabric. Strip piece to create your own striped fabric. Use blocks to create checkered fabric. Use triangles. Crazy piece it. Make your own fabric... improvise. In the words of Tim Gunn "make it work!"
Thing Four: Keep It Simple
There are enough basic blocks and combinations to keep things interesting, especially if you make your own fabric. Think about it...
If you just worked with stripes: Rail fence, Roman Coins, Log Cabin, Pineapples, Chervons. Now, what if cut a strip of striped fabric and used it in place of log or rail... or substituted a row of half triangle squares for a log or rail...
The same is true if you are working with a four patch or half triangle squares!
Let's start by talking about what a print board is, and how it is used. I use my print boards when I am printing fabric with thickened dyes. I pin fabric down to the board before I print it. This keeps the fabric taunt and straight while I roll or scrap thickened dyes over it. It helps keep my imagery crisp. There are probably as many ways to make a print board as there are people printing fabric. I like to use 1" insulation board (found in hardware/home improvement stores). I put a layer of quilt batting down, then cover both the board and batting with a painter's drop cloth paper product. It is called "One Tuff Dropcloth". I like it because it absorbs any liquid, is reuseable, typically doesn't need to be wiped down and doesn't allow any thickened dye onto the next piece of cloth I pin down. I know others cover the insulation with clear plastic. I have found the clear plastic needs to be carefully wiped down in between each pinning and allows moisture to get into the batting. However it does work. I typically use a thin cotton batt, however, I will use any scrap of batting that is the right size. As far as the size of the board, it depends on the size of fabric which you want to print. The board should be several inches bigger, in both directions, than the piece of fabric. The boards typically come in 4' x 8' sheets. They are fairly easy to cut with a box cutter. You should be able to get 8- 24"x 24" print boards from one insulation board. This size should be suitable for working with fat quarters. I use t-pins to stretch the batt and drop cloth over the insulation board, then I duct tape all the edges to hold it secure. Here are some pictures to show you want I mean:
So blogging has never been my thing; as writing is more of a chore than joy for me. I am going to try to get better about regular, monthly posts. But in this first one I am going to explain a bit about the new site. I recently received an invitation to join TAFA (The Textile and Fiber Art List). One of the things that they talk about is consistent branding... using the same name in all locations. It's kind like having your work look consistent, so people can recognize it. A subject I find very difficult. I am a bit scattered, as is my style and my branding. I started out trying to sell my hand-dyed fabrics, and my business name, SELC Fabrics LLC centered around that. But then came teaching and judging. And now my work getting more visibility. In a effort to tighten things, up I started this new website, and changed the name on business Facebook page. While I am making an effort to tighten up my branding and my art work, my post will be about whatever I am working on at the moment. It could be about quilt construction, fabric dyeing, fabric printing, or what is on the long-arm. Maybe judging or teaching... Possibly even about how I fell over in yoga this morning. Hope you will check back for future posts.