Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Who is a Designer?

I read somewhere, but don't remember where, that a designer is a problem solver.  Interesting concept.  I mentioned it my daughter and she noted that designers in all fields are simply problem solvers:  computer techs, architects, landscapers, painters, business people, etc.  Notice to all quilters:   know that you are designers!  Those who sew patterns created by others are designers in the their choice of fabrics and in solving the complications that almost always arise from stitching, fitting, poorly written directions, and on and on.  Isn't that so cool?

I must confess that the mundane tasks that have kept me busy the last two weeks have nothing to do with progress, but everything to do with designing the direction of my seam ripper.  "Again?" you say.  Yes, again.  I thought I was finished quilting, but looked at the fires I was so excited about.  Stepping back I saw what looked like several isolated campfires out on the Sahara desert, unattached, no interconnection.  Besides where did they get the wood?  It made my beautiful Phoenix bird look like he was stuck in space instead of arising from anything.  For two weeks I practiced my ripping skills and took out every stitch of thread-painted flame and McTavishing in the area beneath the bird.  Urgggggh!  I broke one seam ripper that fell on the floor sharp side down and snapped the point off.  The other one came loose from its handle.  Fortunately, all I had to do was twist it back in so it wasn't ruined and I was able to continue my destruction.

I try to test all my designs before sewing, and thought that I had created a workable, beautiful plan.  It failed.  Now I am on my third and last attempt.  I can't rip anymore or the fabric will disintegrate.  Part of designing is figuring out what went wrong so I have analyzed my shortcomings in depth.  The fault lies mainly in the fact that my brain works within a box and I am drawn to photorealism and symmetry.  I have a husband and daughter who wouldn't recognize a brain box if it hit them on the head (called learning disabilities).  As a result they tend to the abstract form of creative thinking.  I never could figure out "abstract."  So, I left my realistic flames and went back to the original drawing where fire is only suggested, not defined.  I cut and spread a few pieces of fire-suggestive fabric on the quilt before I did the ripping and decided that I finally had the final solution.  This is not easy for me, but it is happening.

TIP:  By all means test ideas.  They are more likely to lead to success although there are occasional failures.  Planning is beneficial, but the designer must allow some flexibility in case things don't work out as planned.

After unsewing, it was clear that I had a lot of fabric easing to do so I pinned the affected part of the quilt on a styrofoam board as if blocking it.  I stuck lots of pins in the areas where the fabric resisted flattening.  Then I sprayed it to death with water two or three times, and could almost watch it shrink.  Finally, I took the hair dryer to it in the hope of heat-shrinking it further down to a workable amount of ease.  That did a pretty good job of it, but I decided to nail it down by quilting a grid, black on black.  My wonderful dual feed foot slurps up loose fabric like a desert traveller drinking soup and settled it down ready for the next step.  Now I will fuse and appliqué bits of fabric on top and McTavish the whole thing with red swirlies, going over the grid as well where it shows.  The new pieces of fabric on top will strengthen the weakened areas where I had to rip.

Dual feed foot on a tester scrap showing grid quilting and a tiny bit of fused "flame"
(the red piece is not the fabric I will be using to suggest fire but it will do for testing)
TIP: Heat and moisture work well to get rid of excess fabric.  In those few places that threatened to pleat I used a stylus right in front of the presser foot to force the fabric into submission.  Be careful not to run over the stylus!

Talk about designing.  All that took a lot of problem solving.  The new design has to work because I don't know what else I can do at this point.  At least I won't be quilting until I get the bits of flame-suggesting fabric laid out to my satisfaction.  No more ripping!!!!!

Enjoy designing this week.  I am certainly enjoying it more than reverse sewing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spiralling to the Circus

As I continue to work on mundane tasks I thought I would tell you about my last spiral quilt.  I created this for the 2014 Hoffman Challenge and won Best Machine workmanship.  I think spirals are fascinating to do, and I love the designing as well as the sewing.  It was gone for a year and finally came home just before Christmas.

The central design is a twisted 8-pointed star, all paper pieced.  It uses color gradations of fabric in the same manner as the Log Cabin pattern, only with triangles instead of squares.  RaNae Merrill has published two books (available on Amazon) on spirals with excellent directions.  I learned how to do the intricate designs from her books using Adobe Illustrator for drawing my own patterns, but they can easily be done with paper and pencil.  The star is made up of eight wedges as shown below.  The flower motif was cut from the required Hoffman fabric and hand appliquéd onto black fabric before sewing it all together.  The black triangle is not cut to a point because the circular motif was cut with some of its own background fabric forming the point.
One wedge of the 8-point star (in pieces).
Once assembled I had to figure out how to quilt it.  Before starting the fun part I quilted every seam in the ditch with monofilament thread.  I decided to put a ring around behind the star and from there my design took on a life of its own as the circle reminded me of a circus ring.  I just kept getting more ideas as I went along, ending up with not only with the circus enclosure, but also with animals, and various other appropriate motifs.  Below is the schematic of the quilting design. The idea in the upper left morphed into something entirely different in the end, and the center circle became a simple spiral with gold-colored thread.
Quilting design
Unfortunately the seals don't show up very well on the front.  I couldn't find a color of thread that showed up well on both the dark and light fabrics of the star.  Oh well! The feathers and design in the borders I drew out on tracing paper.  Not only was it easier, but it created the muscle memory in my hands that made the free motion stitching easier.  I also added some clowns which can be seen from the back. They are entirely free motion with no marking and are kind of goofy looking (click to enlarge), but sadly are mostly invisible from the front.

TIP:  When doing circular motifs (mandalas) think about how you will fill the corners.  Check out my quilt "Galaxies" in the gallery of Spirals.  There is lots of quilting around that mandala, but it doesn't show and leaves the whole quilt a bit flat.
I didn't think ahead before taking this photo.  I should have done it before adding the sleeve and label, but I am not going to take it off for another photo and then have to sew it on again...unless there is a VERY good reason to do so.

I learned from another quilt that feathers don't show up well on black unless done with a light thread.  I used a light blue, but I still wasn't happy so I painted every feather with iridescent turquoise PaintStix using a small stencil brush.  Although I tried out the idea on scrap fabric ahead of time,  I started painting with trepidation because once the first stroke of paint went down, I was committed to do the whole thing.  In the end I was very pleased and feel that it really adds a lot to the quilt.  In the photo above of the back you can see the quilting with blue thread only. Scroll back to the first photo and you can see how it looks on the front with the PaintStix embellishment.

TIP:  Have fun!  Make every quilt a circus, enjoy the process, go with the flow, and try something new.

Sew a happy seam this week.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Your Inner Bulldog

Do you have an inner bulldog?  What is that you say?  It is the determination to hang on and complete whatever task is currently on your platter.  Mine is strong and I don't know if it is the result of nature or nurture.  Bulldogs (the animal) are known to hang on to whatever they are biting, and they don't let go.   It does help to have this determination to hang on when you are stitching a quilt.  I love sewing and quilting, but like every piece of life there are some aspects that either get boring or others that you just don't enjoy as much.  As you can tell, I am hard up for a post subject today as I troll along on the less interesting part of quilting the Phoenix.  Mind you, much as I love quilting, at times it seems like it takes forever to cover the ground.

It is like climbing a mountain.  It sometimes gets to be a chore to place one foot in front of the other.  Below is Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and yes, I have climbed it several times.  All those tiresome, uphill steps lead to the release of friendly endorphins, and you begin to see the lovely, small things along the trail such as wildlife and mountain flora.  When you reach the top you forget the hard work and bask in the glory of exhilaration and the beauty before you.  The achievement of that goal stays with you the rest of your life.

Hallett Peak and Dream Lake, RMNP
Later you look at your quilt and forget the hard work and difficulties and enjoy the accomplishment of a finished product.

Don't forget to smell the flowers along the way - the small steps of artistry that have been created by your hand and mind.


Enjoy the wildlife.  Stop to pet your dog or cat or whatever runs around your house.  A child, friend or husband will enjoy a little of your attention too.

Pika (member of the rabbit family)
Sew a happy seam this week.