Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lighting the Fabric on Fire

I have been working on my phoenix quilt and am very pleased with the way the bird turned out.  It is now fused to the background, but I won't do the thread painting until I have the quilt sandwiched for quilting.  Time to move on.

I need to thread paint some fire below the bird.  Since I have never thread painted before, I have been doing a lot of experimenting.  I bought my thread and figured out what looks best for the feathers of the bird, but the fire left me scratching my head.

Tester:  Thread painting on two of the tail feathers.
How am I going to create the translucency and flicker that we all know and love?  How do you go about researching something like that?  There are books on thread painting, but none about setting fabric on fire.  Leah Day burned one of her quilts that was full of quilted words stating negative thoughts, but that's not what I have in mind!  My bird must fly out of the fire into freedom.

First I cut pieces that were the general shape of those in the artwork I am using as a guide, but discovered a major disconnect.  Two tries and I decided the pieces were too solid-looking to ever translate as fire on a quilt even though the original drawing is fantastic.

My next step was to hunt on the Internet and guess what?  I found some great thread paintings of fire here (scroll down to 12 Jan 2008) and here.  Lots of great ideas to look at, but I still felt insecure.

Next on my list was to pull up pictures of real fire on Google images.  Bingo!  Even more ideas emerged by looking at what fire actually looks like.  Isn't that amazing?  It is so familiar, but I couldn't figure out how I was going to make it look right until I saw images of actual flames.

My first attempt:
I have fire!
I need more practice, but am beginning to feel more comfortable as ideas materialize out of the smoke.  I want it a bit less stylistic and less confined.  I'll get there!

TIP:  Practice makes better, and better, and better.  Go for it.  Just because you don't how doesn't mean you can't learn with a little research and a lot of practice.

I don't know who wrote this, but it is apropos to us quilters:
Toil awhile.
Endure awhile.
Believe always.
Never turn back.
Happy stitching this week.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Fusible Methodology

I am busy again building my Phoenix bird and have developed a methodology, which helps with color choices.  I made enough errors at first that I have two nice pieces on which to practice thread painting, but that can't continue so I will share with you how I ended up managing the process.

Iron fusible material to the back of selected fabrics.  I use Soft Fuse, which I buy in a roll, but it also comes in sheets.

Fused fabrics
Draw the finished design on freezer paper in ink for better visualization and to use as a master copy.    Trace a copy in pencil also on freezer paper.  Number the pieces, note the intended color of each one and mark the edges where you will leave 1/4 extra fabric (little red arrows).
Master copy of drawing

Place the master copy on the ironing board and press it down (it is freezer paper after all).  Lay a silicone sheet over it.  You should be able to see the drawing through the sheet.  A few pins will hold it in place.

Now you are ready to cut up the pencil copy as I discussed in a post last month, cut the fabric around your little freezer paper patterns, and tack them onto the silicone sheet with the tip of the iron using the drawing underneath as your guide.  Align the freezer paper edges of each piece with the adjoining pieces, just like working on a puzzle.

TIP:  Cut out one little pattern piece at a time.  Don't cut up the whole thing while you are watching tv.  You'll never find which piece goes where.

Align the freezer paper patterns

This is where I ran into problems.  I couldn't see how the fabric colors interacted as I proceeded.  It was a little like painting with a blindfold on.  The colors on my pattern sometimes needed to be slightly changed.  My first attempt became a tester for thread painting because it was way too yellow for my red bird.  I had to draw a new pencil copy from the master copy and start over.  My solution to the visualization problem is to pull off the freezer paper pieces as soon as there were no more edges to align with that piece.  This way I could better see how the colors were working out as I went.

Remove patterns to assess color
Ahhh!  Much better.  Yes, I had to do my bird's wing over, but now it looks really nice, and I am a happy camper.  I also had to do one set of tail feathers over.  The cost of doing business I guess, but it has been very handy to have these cast-a-ways for thread painting practice.

TIP:  I've said it before, but in case you forgot, I repeat.  Maintain a positive attitude and turn your creative brain loose to solve your problems.

When all the pieces have been assembled with freezer paper patterns removed, you may want to make a change or two.  You still can by gently pulling pieces apart and replacing what you don't like.  When you are happy cover the completed artistic creation with another silicon sheet and iron it all together.  When cool, you can lift the whole thing off the sheet at once and put it up on your design wall.

TIP:  Always remember to admire your beautiful work and pat yourself on the back!  You may keep this tip private, but it is important to feel good about what you are doing.  If you don't, then step back and figure out what is bothering you.

One more comment on the color problem.  I often preview my colors by designing in Illustrator, but this was too complex a design and I didn't want to take the time to draw every feather on the computer.  Pencil is easier for me in this case!  Colored markers or crayons?  Can't make changes.  Colored pencils?  I don't have enough color variety in my set.  Watercolor paint?  Possible.  I didn't even think of using them until now.  The other thing is that colors on paper or computer do not always translate into the fabrics available.

TIP:  Sometimes you just have to make what is available work for you.  That's where creativity is a real friend.  Your artistic ability is there, and the more you use it, the better you get.

Happy stitching this week.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Making Selfie Bias Strips

I made a lot of of bias tape for the stained glass and lattice work on Fenestra Rosa.  I prefer to make my own, but first I'll clue you in to what helps are available.

You can use the ordinary double fold bias tape sold in most stores selling notions.

You can now buy fusible bias tape in a roll.  I have not tried this, nor have I seen it in the stores.  However, I have never looked for it either.  I just know you can get it online
Clover, and maybe other companies, produce a tool in different sizes for making bias strips.  I have read that people really like this, but I had no luck with it.  Some like it, some don't.

Bias Tape Maker
If you want to make your own bias strips you must cut your fabric on a perfect diagonal in order to get the maximum and consistent amount of stretch.  There are good directions in this tutorial for both finding the bias and creating a tube for continuous binding.  That is, you don't have to sew the individual strips together because they come out all sewn when you cut.

Another method for cutting bias strips is by folding a rectangle in a special way.  It is pretty slick and very easy. You can see a video here.  Another video shows how to sew the strips together in addition to cutting methodology.  I have chosen not to go into all these details as they are already well done on numerous sites.

What I want to address occurs after all the cutting is complete.  I did not need to sew my strips together because I didn't need really long strips, and did not want to deal with the bulk of seams in the strips. There are three ways to finish the strips for sewing as taught by Harriett Hargrave:

1.  Cut the strip the desired length and width.  Fold in half lengthwise wrong sides together and stitch the raw edges together in a narrow seam.  Press the resulting tube flat with the seam folded to one side underneath.  (I do not like the added bulk in this method.)

2.  Do the same as in #1, but slide a bias bar (available where you buy notions) through the tube and press.  (Again, not my thing.  My tubes ended up either too tight or too loose for the bar and I lost patience.)

3.  My favorite way is to fold the bias strip in thirds lengthwise, but only at one end.  Keep  the raw edge just shy of the fold so it will be underneath and hidden when applied.  Press about 2 inches.

  Assuming you want your strip to finish about 1/4 inch wide, mark two lines on your ironing board 1/4 inch apart and position a pin across these lines so that there is a 1/4 inch space through which you can thread the folded fabric.  Position another pin in the same manner about 3-4 inches from and parallel to the first pin.

Pull the folded fabric through both pins as shown above, coaxing the folds to the left of the first pin into submission if they get disobedient.  Now you will have a perfect 1/4 inch fold ready to iron.

Then pull another length through and press it, and so on.  It will automatically fold as you gently pull.  A little starch as you go will give crisp folds.

Because there is no seam the edges will be a little loose as shown below.  I did not starch this strip, but that would have settled the edges.  They will be on the underside when the strip is applied to your project.

TIP:  Instead of spraying starch all over the ironing board, spray a little into the cap and use a paint brush to lightly brush some onto the fabric.  A press cloth will save the iron from starch gunk.  P.S. It is not helpful to try to save the ironing board cover if you dump the cap of starch onto it, like I did today!

You could also glue the edges down with Elmer's School Glue and then press (I don't bother.)  I do use the glue to secure the bias to my quilt before sewing.  Pins distort the bias strips and they look much nicer and smoother when glue basted.

For this demo I cut my bias strip 1 inch wide and the finished strip is 5/16 inch finished, which works nicely with stained glass.  Now your strip is ready to appliqué by hand or machine.  I applied mine with a tiny zig-zag stitch and a fairly small stitch length, but not close together like satin stitch.  It doesn't show unless you look very, very closely.

TIP:  If you plan to machine appliqué bias strips, allow some time for practice.  Try the zig-zag with different widths and stitch lengths.  See what looks best and write down your findings.  Every machine has its quirks, and you'd be surprised how fast you can forget the numbers.  Every machine is different.

Happy stitching this week.

Monday, April 6, 2015


It is a nuisance to have to do something over when your work ended too imperfectly.  I mentioned before that a judge commented on my "Fenestra Rosa" that there was a problem with the binding.  She didn't elaborate so I could only guess at the specifics of my offense.  I want to show the quilt some more and decided that it would be best to remove the binding and do it over again.  Grrrrr!  Back to bulldog mode.

The first time, I blocked the quilt and bound it with a method that machine stitches mitered corners.  You cut the binding lengths to match the quilt measurements plus an extra couple of inches.  Once the sides are sewn up to, but not including the seam allowance, you stitch the ends of two bindings together in a miter, press and turn.  The corner is beautifully formed...theoretically.  It looks really nice when done right, but it takes practice to get it right.  Ricky Tims does his quilts this way, but I have not achieved his level of expertise.  My problem might have been a tiny nipple at the point of the turned corner.

TIP:  With this method, if you get a nipple on your corner you may have to do the whole side over because you have trimmed the inner seam just like you would a collar point so there's not much left to work with.

After removing the errant binding I soaked the quilt and re-blocked it.  I first took 3 measurements horizontally and 3 measurements vertically, i.e. 1-2" from the edge of each side, top and bottom and one across the middle of each dimension.  They may not match perfectly, but you can work with some minor discrepancy.  If you have a major discrepancy you may have to trim.   Then I averaged the numbers to get the final dimensions of my quilt.  Next I hauled out my sheet of 1" styrofoam from the local big box hardware store and laid out blue painter's tape in a rectangle so the inner edges were the dimensions of my quilt.  Be sure to measure the diagonals as well.  They must be equal to each other.  A non-square corner can throw the whole thing off.

My Blocking Board
(I have done several quilts so there are extra blue tape lines to ignore.)
After the quilt has soaked throughly ring out as much water as possible, rolling it in a towel to sop it up, or spin it in the washing machine.  Now you are ready to pin with long glass-top pins (at least that is what I use).  I don't like t-pins as they are not as sharp.  Start pinning in the seam allowance at the center of each side and the corners, and then fill in, stretching where necessary, or patting and pinning down excess if needed.  Pins should end up about 1 inch apart all the way around the quilt.  When carefully measured and pinned the quilt will dry into perfect measurements and will stay that way until soaked again.

"Fenestra Rosa" pinned into submission.
This is where I think I went wrong.  The second time around I noticed that the top of the quilt is slightly wider or stretchier than the bottom, which has more quilting because of the lattice.  If my blocking was shoddy when I used pre-measured binding I may have stretched or eased the binding to get it to fit.  Who knows?  I don't remember.  I did not have the option of trimming because I was afraid that would mess up the carefully calculated junction between the background and the arch (scroll down to last week's post to see the quilt).

TIP:  It really comes down to accurate blocking.  If the quilt is off in any dimension it will not hang straight and the judges will catch it every time.  If the quilt is for home use and will only hang on the clothesline this need not be an issue.

This time I bound the quilt with Sharon Schamber's method and it went very smoothly.  We'll see what I get back from future shows.

Happy Stitching until next week.