Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fenestra Rosa

 I am postponing my planned post as mentioned last week, but will do it next week.  There was a lot of interest in my Fenestra Rosa quilt and I had a lot of fun designing and making it.  It was for the Hoffman Challenge 2013 and won "Best Use of Challenge Fabric."  Below is the challenge fabric and for me it was love at first sight.

2013 Hoffman Chalenge Fabric
I am reposting the photo of "Fenestra Rosa" below so you can follow what I say about it.

I saw an Internet photo of a rose window from a European cathedral, which was the inspiration for this quilt.  I lost the photo and have never seen it again, but developed the design on Adobe Illustrator by starting with the large, circular window and building out from there.  As my ideas coalesced I decided it was time to try my hand at stained glass technique and what you see is what I did.  It is basically machine appliqué with with bias strips to cover raw edges.  I had fun making two kaleidoscopes from the fabric.  Can you find them?  There were so many interesting motifs in this fabric that I was able to use parts and pieces throughout the quilt.

Fenestra Rosa
The following problems and solutions are not necessarily in the order they occurred!

Problem #1.  I worried throughout the construction process about the way the edges would come together about 1/3 down from the top where the background meets the arch.  I marked and measured at every stage and was gratified that it followed my plans perfectly.  There is your TIP right there!

Problem #2.  I wanted a lattice on the bottom so I quilted it on black fabric and began to fill the centers with turquoise thread painting.  I may have marked it sloppily or it became distorted with the quilting.  Doesn't matter.  It looked awful even though I had previewed on a tester piece.

Solution #2.  I ripped out the stitching, but the fabric was destroyed after so much needle punching.  I finally took the rotary cutter and slashed off the whole bottom section, batting and all.  I made sure there was at least 1/4 inch of fabric on the top with which to attach a new bottom using "Quilt As You Go" technique (Amazon has several books on this technique).  I quilted the lattice over challenge fabric using the stained glass technique and then attached it to the top.  In order to avoid any gap between the two battings I butted the edges together and secured them with iron-on Batting Seam Tape.  The backing fabric is seamed together, the front raw edges are covered with a  1/2" black strip, which is securely quilted.  It looks better this way than it ever thought of looking before.

TIP:  Don't give up when things don't work out.  Set the quilt aside and turn your creative brain waves loose on the problem.  I guarantee you will come up with something.  If you are a quilt groupie it may help to share the problem and get suggestions from others.

Problem #3.  The challenge fabric is so pretty and vibrant, but it needed taming for use as the background.

Solution #3.  I put a layer of black tulle over the top background, and under the lattice at the bottom.  It tones the bright colors down just enough without detracting from its beauty.  As a result the stained glass window glows in contrast.

TIP:  Tulle is cheap and can be a useful addition to a quilt.  A dark color tones the colors down and is invisible over dark colors.  A light color lightens color and is invisible over light colors.  A neutral color doesn't change color tone, but can be used to corral a multitude of tiny pieces until they get quilted down.  Once quilted the tulle does not detract or distract and can be seen only if you look very closely.

Problem #4.  Making the binding strips.  That's a post for the future.

Problem #5.  The binding.  I didn't realize I had a problem until it was mentioned on the judge's evaluation.  I will share my findings on that problem next week.

Happy stitching.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Finishing Touches

Some of us like to make quilts for show.  Others like to make quilts for many other reasons.  Whether you show or not you should be aware that the binding and the back of a quilt play a significant part in finishing a quilt and making it look its best for for its chosen purpose.  This means that it is critical that you learn to do it right.

The back must be neat with no loose threads or unsightly thread knots, tangles or pleats.

TIP:  A busy back helps to hide uneven stitches, which is handy for the novice quilter.

TIP:  Avoiding unwanted knots on the back is a matter of practice through which you gain control of hands, feet, eyes and machine.  I am not talking about the hidden knots you tie to secure your threads.

TIP:  Loose threads must be knotted and run into the batting.  I do mine every time I stop so I don't miss any.

Pleats on the back cannot be hidden so it is important to prepare your quilt carefully for quilting.

TIP:  Make sure your backing is free of wrinkles and secured firmly, but not stretched, before you place your batting and quilt top on it to complete the sandwich.  Do you know how to properly sandwich and baste your quilt?  If not, let me know and I will post my method.

None of this is hard to learn, but does require vigilance during the quilting process.

The binding is the icing on the cake and if it is not done right it spoils the look of the whole thing.  I have just discovered Sharon Schamber's method and am very pleased with the results.  This link takes you to part 1, but part 2 is easy to find when you are ready.

The quilt below was in the Hoffman Challenge 2013 and the judge noted on her evaluation that there was "a problem with the binding."  That's a big help!  What was wrong with it?  I had to wait a year to find out because it spent the year traveling with the Hoffman exhibit.  Stay tuned and I will share with you next week what I think the problem was.

Fenestra Rosa

P.S. Fenestra Rosa is latin for Rose Window.  I must have been feeling intellectual when I named it!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Learning Curve Continues

Learning thread painting is throwing me some curves.  It is not the stitching that is the challenge, but rather the planning and not knowing precisely what awaits beyond the next corner.  Last week you read about the things I was learning from my tester piece.  See "Looking Ahead, Stuck Behind"  Now I will write about some other things that have popped up.

Here is the very messed up tester.  Be aware that some experimentation remains as I do not have any thread yet.  With two quilts to block and bind, my pretty bird sits grounded for a short time.   You can refer to this photo as you read the rest of my ramblings.

Phoenix Tester
Layering the fabric properly on this project is counterintuitive.  It is best to lay down the light colored fabrics first and place dark fabrics over them to avoid a shadow under the light fabric, but the dark feathers on my bird look like they should be behind the lighter fabrics.   This scrambles my brain!  In order to counteract reality I need to paint some shadows onto my fabric to make the darker fabric, which is on top, recede into the back.  Thread painting with darker thread in the shadows will add to the effect, but I didn't have any appropriate thread to play with.  I tried black, but it is way too harsh.  No surprise there.  Outline stitching appropriately laid down may help too.

Fabric Paint
*Tsukineko Ink.  I didn't try this because it comes on pretty strong and I have a limited number of colors.
*Copic Pen.  This bled onto the lighter fabric and didn't show up enough on the darker one.  I also have a limited number of colors.
*Inktense Pencil. I put a little fabric medium on a brush, picked up color from the end of the pencil, and scrubbed it into the fabric with a small brush.  I have 36 colors to choose from to coordinate with my fabrics.  Voila!  This is it.

Thread choice  
Should I use cotton or polyester?  I tried both from my thread stash.  Isacord polyester is the clear winner.  I love the sheen it gives the feathers of the bird.  I will use silk for the background quilting because it buries itself in the thickness of the quilt.   I will also try some variegated threads because my research indicates that they provide additional interest.  I ruled out rayon because it is not as sturdy as the polyester.

Quilting (doesn't appear to show up very well on the tester photo) 
Normally I don't worry much about my quilting ahead of time although it does bang around in my head as I work.  However, on this project I have thought a lot about how to quilt the painted background so I tried some of my ideas.  When I looked at the results I realized that there was way too much interest and texture.  The problem is that the bird will be very flat after all the thread painting and I don't want the background to cause visual interference.  My new decision is to do McTavishing with champagne-color, silk thread.  This will tame the beast and still look really nice, maybe a little like smoke from the fire below the bird.  It will allow the bird to fly.

I am painting the background first and wanted to see how the purple air marker and the blue water soluble markers work with the Intense pencils.  I colored with the pencils and fabric medium, heat set the color and marked with both kinds of markers.  No problem.  They disappeared as advertised.

Next, I laid down the blue marker and then colored over it with Inktense pencil and medium.  Wow, the blue marker disappeared.  The fabric medium is water soluble so that makes sense.  The next morning all had dried and the blue marker line was still gone.  I decided to see what happened when I heat set.  Oops!  The blue marker returned as a ghost line.

I used a Lumocolor permanent marker by Staedtler for the red triangular lines.  When I sprayed water on the blue marker lines (see above) they disappeared, but the red lines ran all over the place where they got wet.  How fortunate that I found this out now!  I then tried out a red Micron pen and it worked fine.  I soaked it with water and no bleeding.

I want the painted background to stop just barely under the bird and that is why the concern about markers.  I ended up marking the fabric 1/8 inch inside the borders of the bird lightly with regular pencil.  Those lines will ultimately be covered up by the bird.  Problem solved.  I hope I can see the pencil lines when the time comes, but if not, I will use a light box and the full-size pattern as a guide.

Enjoy your sewing this week.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Looking Ahead, Stuck Behind

Now I am in limbo.  I am quilting my quilt with Kimono Silk thread from Superior, which is lovely thread and nice to work with.  The downside is that I have to order it online.  I ran out of the thread for my border three inches from the end of the last side, on the final side of a feather.  So my quilt sits sullenly on my sewing table waiting for the thread to arrive for the five minute finish.  What is a girl to do but start a new project?  I am a "finisher," but never averse to a fresh start when circumstances dictate.

The new project is a Phoenix that I adapted from the beautiful artwork of my 15 year old granddaughter, with her permission.  She had decorated her father's iPad with it so I took a photo, made some minor changes so I can sew it, enlarged it and have admired it basking in it's own paper glow on the sewing room bed.  With a 20% rewards discount and a $20 gift card I spent an hour in the candy - I mean quilt store and bought my fabric for about half price.  What a deal, and I am so eager to get started.

What am I going to do?  I am going full bore into thread painting this gorgeous red bird.  I have never done any serious thread painting so I am using the pattern of one wing only to experiment with the process.  Am I the only one who starts a new technique running instead of walking?  Wish me luck!

First I used my new Inktense pencils to "paint" the background as in the original artwork.  I will fuse the Phoenix onto this background and then thread paint.  The bird is made up of many feathers, which I will cut from batiks and fuse to the background.

Here is the process as suggested by Lea McComas:

Trace a line pattern on freezer paper from the full-sized, printed design marking with little red arrows where extra fabric will be cut to fit under the adjacent piece.  The color of the fabric to be used is noted on the pattern piece.

Full-sized pattern (color at 50%) with line drawing on top.  This will not be cut.
Cut the freezer paper pattern apart on the drawn lines (sorry no photo before I cut it apart).

Iron fusible material to the back of the fabric.  I use Soft Fuse, but I hear Misty Fuse is excellent too.  Press the freezer paper patterns to the right side of the appropriate fabrics and cut them out.  I love this method as you don't have to remember to reverse the pattern as you would do if you were marking the fusible itself.  That would drive me nuts on a complex piece like this.

Left: front side with freezer paper patterns. Right:  fusible material on the back side of fabric.

Pattern piece cut with extra fabric as needed to go under another piece.  See the red arrows?

Lay the uncut line pattern on a light table and tape it down securely.  Cover it with a teflon sheet (you can see through it) and arrange the pieces on it.  Carefully lay another teflon sheet on top of the arranged pieces to protect your iron from errant fusible gunk.  Iron it all together, let cool, and lift the fused fabric off the teflon in one solid piece to the background fabric.  Iron to the background fabric.

Test piece for practice.
Create a quilt sandwich so you can test the quilting process and threads.

This small piece (12 x 18 in) is strictly for testing, but it has taught me a lot already.  It consists of one full-sized wing of the bird on a full-sized example of the background.  I will use pencil to lightly mark the outlines of some of the feathers and thread painting will blend and shade colors as needed.  What did I learn so far?

1.  I need to make the line drawing twice on freezer paper with all the markings.  One will serve as reference and the other will be cut apart.

2.  This is an insane puzzle so I need to number each little pattern piece to avoid spending so much time trying to figure out where the pieces go.  They don't look the same when the extra fabric is included on some sides, but not all.

3.  I need to allow for better gradations of color from light gold to red.  These fabrics are from my stash and are not the ones I will use for the real quilt.  Some are woven and some are batik.  I have some really luscious, blendable batiks, but I didn't want to use them up on the tester.  I also wanted to see how woven fabrics work with the thread painting.

4.  I don't want the background to show through any fabric (see the yellow on the right).  I need to use a darker fabric, or line the light fabric, or not paint the background where the bird will fly.  The latter is my choice.

The next part of the project is to try my hand at thread painting.  I also want to see how my fabric markers work on the painted background, but now my blue, silk  thread has arrived and I must finish my other quilt.  I'll come back to the Phoenix while the other quilt dries on the blocking board.

TIP:  Take the time to test if there is any uncertainty of the results.  It is well worth the time it takes, as you can see.  A little extra practice is never wasted.

Stay tuned to find out what other challenges surface with the tester that have to be addressed before making the quilt.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Do you know about "frogging?"  Rip it, rip it, rip it.  In spite of all the suggestions and solutions in my last post, in spite of all my planning, in spite of all my practicing, in spite of quilting half of one side of my border and walking away happy.... I later noticed a glaring, ugly line where I wanted a free-flowing curve.  I like to backtrack on the spine of my feathers to bring out the curvaceous base design.  However, if the base design is faulty it shows up like a spotlight.  No photo because it looked too ugly (besides I didn't think to get the camera!).  I sat through two episodes of "The Mentalist" while I ripped out a lot of stitches...carefully.

It didn't take long to solve the problem as it was all due to a poorly designed corner.  I had turned the corner awkwardly and that caused all the spine lines to go the wrong way.  Thus all the ripping.  The next afternoon I re-marked the border and stitched it up again.  Now it looks graceful and I am sooooooo glad I took the time to redo it.  Below is the final feather quilting complete with marking lines and even a dog hair if you hunt really carefully.  Dixie dog likes to add her two cents.

Please don't get the idea that I always make mistakes.  This blog is generally about dealing with problems and my only experience is my own.  Mistakes are OK as long as you learn from them.  Have you ever heard that one before?

TIP:  Don't get discouraged.  It happens.  Encourage the bulldog in you and rip with care.  As you are frogging, your creative, flexible brain can preview options, ponder alternatives and produce new ideas.  Just do it!

See a painting of Dixie here.