Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Lesson on Canvas

As I was cogitating the future of the Phoenix, I looked into using canvas as the stabilizer for thread painting.  I knew that some quilt artists use "light weight" canvas and thought I might try it.  I checked the Web and learned just enough to be dangerous.

Duck cloth is a canvas.  The word comes from the Dutch "doek" meaning "linen canvas."  It is labelled according to its weight, i.e. #1 to #12 with #12 being the lightest weight.  Interesting, but it doesn't give me much to go on so I didn't want to order it sight unseen.

Next I stopped at Joann's and found the canvas aisle.  Some was colored, some was natural and some was primed, but not a one noted the weight.  Not much to go on there either so I came away empty handed.

Finally I found Big Duck Canvas where the various types of canvas are described.  They say that duck cloth/canvas and canvas are two names for the same thing.  There are two types that are separated by weave (single fill and double fill).  This is so well explained on that website that I am not going to redo it here.  The numbered canvas is double fill and is a more tightly woven and stronger product than single fill.  The single fill canvas is labelled by ounces/square yard and is softer and not as strong as the double fill.

I decided that the "light weight" canvas used for stabilizing is probably the single fill type and I ordered one yard of 7 oz canvas.  It is nice, but even the pre-shrunk variety will shrink.  I washed it, decided to use the original bird and packed the canvas away for the next project.  Sorry, I can't tell you how it works....yet.

Who wants to waste a photo on a piece of canvas?  Not I.  Our mountains are exploding with the Fall color of aspen leaves.  Here are a couple of photos I took the other day while hiking through the gold mine of beauty.  Lovely palette for a quilt.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Otis and Hallett peaks, Rocky Mountain National Park
TIP:  Take advantage of a beautiful day and go out exploring.  You will come home ready to sit down and sew.  You may come home with inspiration and/or solutions to incorporate into your quilting.

Sew a happy seam this week (and take a nice long walk outdoors!).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Battle Plan

Cathy commented on my last post about my "battle plan."  Unfortunately, I had been been battling with emotions rather than plans.  Struggling with testers. Figuring out how to do it.  Jayne Bentley Gaskins responded to my email about the thread painting problem even though she was busy setting up a second home in VA.  She kindly shared her expertise and encouraged me to stay with it and try to use the bird that is already thread painted.  So I sat down and did some more testing.  I am going to go for it.  I am so glad to have my decision made.  After two weeks of waffling I am ready to move forward with a true battle plan.

TIP:  When you have a fail and want to move on it helps to walk away for awhile, do something else and let the ideas percolate.  In time it all settles into place and your brain adapts to new possibilities.  Mistakes often evolve into new techniques.

TIP:  Don't be afraid to contact other quilters even if they are well-known and published.  If they don't answer, no loss, but quilters are some of the nicest people with whom I have ever associated.  In my experience they are kind and willing to share.

I have begun the tedious job of drawing the background design on a new piece of fabric.  I say tedious, because it involves drawing precise lines with Micron pens, which are very permanent.  These lines must be measured as exactly as I can manage so I spent two-plus hours working very carefully. Measure twice, check it out, measure again, say a prayer, and draw the line.  I made two slight errors:  one will be painted over and I hope the bird will cover the other.  If not, I will figure out something on the fly, an extra feather or something.  There is a lot more to do, but the areas with the 1/2 inch grid are finished > sigh of relief.  Fatigue reared its ugly head so it was time to quit for the day.

Grid with freezer paper to guide the extent of design so I don't waste
my Inktense pencils.

What did I do differently and better?  I planned out the lines of the background design better.  I will no longer have the bird eating a golf ball.

From the trashed quilt.
I will no longer have a black line of pieced fabric lining up with a black line of background.  I thought that looked a little funny, but I couldn't do anything about it first time around and was just glad I could line them up exactly rather than slightly off.  Now I don't have to worry about that as the point will be in a section of grid rather than on the edge.

From the trashed quilt.
I painted the crosswise, dividing lines with Inktense pencils and got a deeper, more vibrant color this time.  I masked each line with masking tape and was able to pencil harder and darker because I didn't have to worry about going out of the lines.  I used a popsicle stick to rub the tape down tight so no color could escape.  Same thing when I applied the fabric medium over the pencil.  Much easier.  I don't know if it saved time or not, but I am pleased with the results.  Compare the painted black lines in the above photo with the new ones below.

Lines done and masking tape in place for the next one.
I have a lot more painting to do while the bird just relaxes behind my sewing machine waiting for its resurrection.  Actually, it kind of looks dead doesn't it?  Spooky!  Just wait....

Sew a happy seam this week.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Have you ever looked at your quilt and said, "I wish I had done that differently.  I have such a good idea, but it didn't come to me soon enough.  I wish...., but not enough to take it out and do it over."  Every now and then you might have that opportunity for improvement, but I guarantee you will not be happy at first.

I have been quilting along on my Phoenix bird, but I looked at it differently when I laid it out and showed it to my daughter.  The bird is beautiful by itself.  The rest of the quilt looks and feels like warped cardboard.  Oh dear!  This is not going to be good enough to show and none of my photos show how bad it is.  I can't imagine it blocking out.  It won't even be good enough to give to my sweet granddaughter who drew the design.  Realization.  Devastation.  Destruction of denial.

I have been going through past issues of Machine Quilting Unlimited, and serendipitously came across an article by Jayne Bentley Gaskins, "Taking Trapunto to the Limit." I looked at it months ago, but forgot it completely because it didn't apply to my quilting plans at that moment.  She made a beautiful parrot, but she thread painted it separately then appliquéd it to the background by thread painting the edges down so they melded with the previous work on the bird.  She also stuffed the bird heavily (trapunto) with polyfill so it sticks out significantly from the quilt.  One of her points was that the heavy thread painting dramatically shrinks the fabric, which is exactly what happened to me.  I knew that would happen, but thought I had prepared for it adequately with two layers of stabilizer.  Instead, I was left with an unmanageable volume of fabric around the edges so I quilted the background heavily, which took up the excess, but the whole thing ripples like a bad storm at sea.  On the sewing machine it looked ok.  Laid out on a flat surface it is hopeless.

TIP:  Sometimes there is only so much you can do before it is time to throw in the towel, but what a great opportunity to rectify mistakes and make a truly magnificent quilt.  Wipe away the tears and start planning.  Maybe you'll feel better if you move on to a new project, but do move on.  None of us is perfect.

I had to accept that I now have an opportunity to fine tune the quilt and try some new methods.  My cup is quickly moving from half empty to half full and I am ready with new plans.  I thought I could cut out the bird (batting and all) and thread paint the edges down to a new, fully quilted background, so I tried it on one of the old testers that I had laying around.  The bared edges flaunted the layer of white batting.  Ick!

Cut out feathers
OK, how about painting the edges with Inktense pencils?  Great idea.  So I tried it out:

Painted edges.
Better, but not great.  Next I tried stitching the feathers (with painted edges) to another tester piece, which was layered for quilting, and fooled around with some stitching.  Ah, that looks pretty good with just a straight stitch run back an forth along the edges.

Stitched down
Not bad.  DH liked it and so did I.  So...I sat down and cut out the whole bird trying to avoid cutting stitches on the outside edges.  I did cut a few, but figured I could fix that when I stitched the bird down, but then I found another problem.  The back neck of the bird looked like he had been slammed by a rock and had a major bump.  The black backing was also badly frayed after being handled so much.  That's when I threw in the towel.

I ordered light weight canvas and Misty Fuse and I am ready to start completely over.  I will fuse fabric pieces for the feathers to the canvas and thread paint the bird.  I still have to work out the potential of heavy fraying with canvas and how to handle it.  I will do all the quilting for the background separately from the thread painting.  I will then cut out the bird and appliqué it onto the "finished" quilt.  I am already excited about it.  I kept all my pattern pieces and guides so I am ready to go.  With all that done, plus many hours of practice at thread painting I am optimistic that all will go well and faster than first time around.  I've got my mother's bulldog gene!

TIP:  Practice may not make perfect, but it will make better.  I am counting on that.

An apropos quote from "Art and Fear" by David Bayles and Ted Orland:"
"The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars....even the failed pieces are essential"
Sew a happy seam this week.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Testing Always Works - NOT

I spent a lot of time testing materials and techniques for my Phoenix bird and was confident that I had the process carefully planned.  In March I wrote:
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. 

Now the bird is done, the fire is done and one side of the painted background is McTavished.  The result?  I don't like it at all, even though it looks great on the back:

Backside Quilting 
Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of the front, which may be stuck in Adobe Lightroom, which won't open.  Computer frustration is as bad as quilting frustration.  Anyhow, the background is very geometric (thread painting of the bird has not been done in the photo below):

Note background here
When I looked at the McTavishing I had done, I felt it fought with the background design with bumps and poofs that didn't align with the geometry.  The bird is so vivacious and colorful that the background couldn't possibly outshine it.  So I ripped out all the McTavishing, and did precise, tight, geometrical fillers in each section of the background.  BTW  the thread was silk and it is strong and slippery so is relatively easy to rip out...the operative word here is "relatively."

Here is an example of what I finally decided to do with the background:

New background quilting plan
It eats up the extra fabric that was created by the thread painting, but there are still problems, which I will describe next week.

TIP:  Testing is very important in the development of your quilt, but remain flexible because things don't always work out as planned.  (Stay tuned).

Sew a happy seam this week.