Monday, February 23, 2015

Near Death Situation

I had a near death situation this afternoon.  My sewing machine began to clank and chirp.  My husband listened and said, "Stop right now and take it in."  So I bundled up to beat the major incoming snowstorm, drove an hour off my mountain, and visited my very accommodating sewing machine guru.  Of course  the ornery thing didn't clank and didn't chirp for him, and his diagnosis was that it is OK.  He said to take it home try again and if it still makes ominous noises bring it back.  Sure the predicted two feet of snow???  Not going to happen until the roads clear so, dear machine, you had better work!

 I have feathers on my mind and the final border awaits:  a 2 1/2 inch width to quilt with feathers.  I am told that all quilting designs should be worked out when you first start planning your quilt.  I disagree.  As I piece my fabrics I get better acquainted with my quilt.  I suck in ideas from all around me.  I create ideas in my head.  I think about quilting in my dreams.  Finally, except for fillers,  I sit down with my pad of tracing paper and start drawing.  Many times my planned designs land in the trash and I end up with totally different ideas based on something I just saw somewhere.  I don't start drawing until an idea crystallizes and that sometimes doesn't happen until I am ready to work on a particular part of the quilt.  That's OK...for me anyway.

Here is the paper design for the spokes I mentioned last week.  I was so excited as I liked the look.  I printed the feathers on Sulky Sticky Fabri-solvey, but realized immediately that I had a problem. I thought that the size of the drawing was exactly the right size, but too late I realized I should have printed it smaller.  Oh well, that didn't spoil the idea so I printed a sheet the right size and stuck it to the quilt.  Then my needle gummed up very badly as it tried to negotiate the adhesive and two layers of batting.  This definitely was not going to work.
Tracing paper design
N.B.  I have used the Sticky Fabri-solvy successfully before and have recommended it to you.  However, I think the problem here was the thickness of the batting or maybe they have changed the adhesive.  Whatever the problem, it didn't work this time.

TIP:  Measure before you print, measure before you sew, test ideas and products for each individual quilt, exercise your mental flexibility.

I have read of quilters who draw the spine of a feather on their quilt, and then let the needle figure out the feathers.  I am a line-follower and was reluctant to do this.  However, on my dark fabric, I could see no other solution.  I began hesitantly, and guess what, I did it!  I have drawn so many feathers on tracing paper over the years, and that skill just communicated itself to the needle.  I learned a few things as I progressed through twelve spokes, and I am happy with the results.

After much figuring of dimensions and practice with pencil and paper I have finally started the outer hand.  I marked only circles and spine on my quilt.

Basic design marked with white ceramic Sew-line pencil
Incomplete freehand feathers.
TIP: When you are practicing with paper and pencil take careful notice of where you have to erase.  What was wrong with that line?  How can you avoid sewing a bad line like that?  Solve the problems ahead of time so you don't have to "erase" your sewing.  Train your eye to look ahead.

TIP:  Bite the bullet and try something new!  Draw your ideas on paper first.  You may be in for a big surprise as to the capabilities of that needle.  I certainly was.

BTW my sewing machine was not sick.  I have always had problems winding the bobbin on this machine and it ends up with a rat's nest at the beginning.  That's what was jamming up the works.  My faithful repairman showed me a different way to wind the bobbin (not in the manual).  I can pass the thread through an almost invisible, tiny hole in the top of the bobbin and hold the thread end until the thing gets to winding properly, then cut it off.  So easy...and it works like a charm!  No more snarls from me or the machine.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mistakes. Who me???

You don't make mistakes on your quilts, do you?  I have asked the Quilt Fairy to eliminate all mistakes from my sewing machine.  She is probably hovering over my sewing room laughing.

I have been working on a quilt for over a year now and have tackled both large and small design flaws and outright errors.  One afternoon I did a really stupid thing.  I was quilting some long, narrow spokes with a line of diamonds down the middle.  I did five spokes and when I was done, I scrutinized my work and then realized I had used the wrong color thread.  I do Art Quilts and like to show them.  If that quilt had been for a child's bed I wouldn't have worried about it, but for a show quilt I am sure the judges would ding me.  Besides, it would drive me crazy so I swallowed my pride and did it over.  The rest of my daily sewing time was spent taking all those little stitches out.  Lost afternoon.

TIP:  Do I really need to say it?  Make sure you have the right thread, right needle and right tension before you start quilting.  It is much more fun to quilt than to rip!

Even for an Art quilt there are some errors that I will let pass. In the same photo (above) you can see that the the curl at the top of one feather goes one way.  The next one goes the opposite direction.  Well, they were supposed to curl the same way, but I decided to leave it rather than take it out.  God doesn't make all flowers grow the same direction.  Do you think the judges will notice or care?  We will see.  I think it adds a bit of tension and interest, like putting a dab of orange next to magenta.  Most people won't even notice it anyway (I  hope).

TIP:  If you like it, leave it. It is a judgment call. If judges don't like it, consider it a lesson learned, but don't leave an obvious mistake just because you are too lazy to take it out.  You can wait until tomorrow when you are fresh or work in front of tv to take your mind off the disappointment of having to rip out tiny stitches.  You will be happy when you redo it right.

I was busy quilting away when I came to a corner on this same quilt and discovered that a small block was set in slightly off kilter.  Where was the Quilt Fairy when I did that?  The diagonal seam was 1/8 inch off where it was supposed to meet the intersection of two borders (see the drawn line in photo below).  The seams were sewn, stitched in the ditch, and decorative quilting stitches had everything fastened down tight.  It wasn't just an issue of ripping out a few stitches on a top.  A technical error like this is a magnet for the judges' eyes and can cost you a win.

This was a BIG MISTAKE and was a bear to fix.  I took out the quilting on the two borders and the little block, set the block straight, hand-sewed the seams, and replaced the quilting......and it was still crooked with the added disgrace of a bow in the blue border.  I re-ripped the hand work and quilting, but more this time.  Then I grabbed the bottle of Elmer's School Glue, and with a vengeance set the borders accurately into a measured 90º intersection and secured them with glue.  Then I took a pin and moved the offending block until it's seam was accurately placed in the corner, glued it and ironed the glue to set it.  Ahhhh, looks good.  Finally I re-did the seams by hand and re-quilted.  Success!  I don't have a before photo of the corner, but you can see the final result.  It took two afternoons to twice rip and repair, but I am pleased with the result so it was worth it.  Sometimes my bulldog genes shine!

TIP:  Don't wait until later to discover an error.  Check your quilt top carefully as you sew the seams and again before you assemble the quilt sandwich.  It will pay dividends in time and frustration.  I will take my own advice next time, believe me!

TIP:  Follow the above tip to make life easier, but if you do mess up, be assured that there is usually a way to fix it.  Appliqué can be a great coverup, but obviously it wouldn't work on the problem in this particular quilt.  Sometimes you may need to ponder the problem to arrive at a solution.  Let your brain percolate and get creative.  Then put on your virtual overalls and get to work.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Egyptian Tent Makers

The Egyptian Tent Makers are from a family that has decorated tents in the middle east for generations.  Around the Mediterranean Sea almost every surface is intensely decorated with intricate designs and many colors.  The tent makers carried this tradition to fabric and they made tents that were exquisite works of art.  Today they use the same techniques to make decorative wall hangings and they are amazing.  See their website for more information about them.

The base fabric they use is heavy and thick, like for tents.  I am sure the book they are selling gives more specific information, but I passed up the opportunity to buy it so I really cannot talk about materials and techniques in detail.  Men are the artists and do all the sewing, and two of them were at the Albuquerque show working on hangings.  There were many completed examples for show and sale.

Each man had a grocery bag full of pieces of fabric.  He cut a shape or a strip with huge, tailors' scissors as he was ready to sew.  No patterns.  The only references I noted were some minimal markings on the background fabric, which somehow told him what to put where.  Using a large needle the cut pieces were appliquéd with functional stitches that were rather large compared to what we are used to seeing in our traditional quilting appliqué.  The designs are amazingly intricate, beautiful, and each one is different.  All are done by hand.

I hope you can see the stitching on this closeup
Some more examples to drool over:

It was a wonderful quilt show with lots of interesting and beautiful things to see.

Monday, February 2, 2015

More Albuquerque Quilts

I am having such fun reliving the AQS Albuquerque quilt show and sharing some of the beauty with you.

This is "Tink's Choice" by Laura Trenbeath.  It appeared in one of my magazines and you may have seen it too, but the exquisite detail work was not shown.  It is embellished by colored crystals and small gold metal disks.  Most unusual.  The quilting is gorgeous and the colors are striking.  Lots of tiny pieces.

"Tink's Choice"
Gold disks on "Tink's Choice"
Quilting on "Tink's Choice"
"My Version of a Persian" by Christine Wickert is entirely made of silk - the top, batting, backing and all thread.  Beautiful appliqué that really looks like a persian rug in quilt form.

"My Version of a Persian"
"My Version of a Persian" detail
"I Dream of Wild Horses" by Kris Vierra is reminiscent of a Native American dream catcher, which is said to catch bad dreams and let the good ones through.  The first thing you see are the lovely, realistic horses and then you notice the beautiful quilting around them.  Finally you look at the dark background where the quilting is done in lovely colors that shine in the dark.  The edge is scalloped.
"I Dream of Wild Horses"
"I Dream of Wild Horses" detail
"I Dream of Wild Horses" detail of dark background.
In spite of all the stunning quilts I think "Crime Scene Investigation" by Pauline Salzman is probably my favorite.  It brought a chuckle to this dog lover.  It was hard to get a close look and photograph it because there were people around it all the time.  Some of the fence boards are made with comical text relating to dogs and their mischief.  Ms. Salzman says, "They are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."  So very clever.

"Crime Scene Investigation"
"Crime Scene Investigation" detail
"Crime Scene Investigation" text on fence (two of many)
There were several car quilts, but I will subject you to only one, "Smokin' Hot Truck" by Lynne Pillus.  It is a representation of an old fire truck, the original of which is in the Patrick Ranch Museum in Butte county, CA.
"Smokin' Hot Truck"
That's it folks.  Next week I will show some photos of the work of the Egyptian Tent Makers.