Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 year-end review

So long, 2017! It was a busy year with ups and downs and lots of miles in between. My pile of "finishes" is not as extensive as in previous years (or as I would like), but there are a few completed projects for which I am proud and several wonderful experiences in which I'm happy to have taken part. Here's a photo montage and a recap.
2017 accomplishments (from top left): Ikat Jacket, knit top, vintage and yarn-dyed mix jacket,
Art Weave class, free-motion embroidery, Blue Violets Art Weave sample,
Cargo Duffle, improv pieced mug rug, Cargo Duffle briefcase.

A jacket inspired by vintage textiles.
Garments and Artwear
My enthusiasm for garment sewing and creating artwear pieces has been renewed—due in large part to the fabric companies I represent that offer fabulous, high quality woven and knit fabrics that are great for sewing clothing as well as quiltmaking. When ya work with "the good stuff," you're more inspired, the projects come out so much better, they wash and wear well, and the "making process" is waaaay more enjoyable.

Oh... and you don't look like the run-of-the-mill chain store Jo (or Joe). We're all different and unique! Let's not dress like twinsies.

I made two jackets this year that I am pleased with the results. I get lots of compliments on them, too. Each one coincided with an industry trade show (Spring and Fall Quilt Markets) and feature the luscious yarn-dyed wovens from Diamond Textiles. No doubt it was a firm deadline that facilitated these projects into the "completed" column. "There's nothing like a deadline to get one motivated," as the saying goes. I also have a selection of knit tops—short and long sleeves—made with Art Gallery knits.
Ikat jacket with Primitive Stars fabric.

Vintage Inspiration and Collaboration with Anonymous
In the Spring of 2017, my quilt guilds brought author and award-winning quiltmaker, Mary Kerr, to Chattanooga for workshops and a lecture. Mary has written books about incorporating vintage textiles and antique quilt blocks into new quilts. The collar on the white jacket (shown above) and this Vintage Wonky Star quilt top (below) were the results of Mary's visit. It was fun to collaborate with the anonymous quilters who made and left behind the original quilt blocks.
Vintage Churn Dash quilt blocks made into A Wonky Star.
An unquilted quilt top made in a workshop with Mary Kerr.

Machine quilting and stitching
I expanded my free-motion quilting to include a new substrate—canvas. I used the Cargo Duffle pattern (with mods) from Noodlehead to construct two zippered bags. I rep two companies—Alexander Henry and Art Gallery Fabrics—that offer cotton canvas fabrics.
Variation of Cargo Duffle with canvas fabric from Alexander Henry Fabrics.
Stripe fabric from Diamond Textiles.
The variegated 50 wt. cotton thread [Tutti from WonderFil Specialty Threads] is still one of my favorites. The contrast striped fabric is one of the World Fabrics from Diamond Textiles.
Free-motion machine quilting on canvas with variegated thread.
Canvas: Alexander Henry fabrics, Thread: WonderFil Tutti 50 wt.
WonderFil's 12wt. cotton thread [Spaghetti] prompted experimentation with machine decorative stitches. The 4-patch blocks are made with the versatile yarn-dyed wovens from Diamond Textiles that were also used in my jackets.  
Decorative machine stitching with 12 wt. thread [WonderFil Threads]
on yarn-dyed textured wovens by Diamond Textiles.

Hand Stitching
Inspired by a studio intensive workshop with Dorothy Caldwell, my take-along travel projects now involve hand stitching.
Kantha stitched cover for Mark Making book from Dorothy Caldwell workshop.
Although the stitching on my patriotic girl is now complete, I haven't decided if this piece will become a pillow or a small quilt.
Hand embroidery with ArtPlay Stitcheries from ADORNit
The background of the embroidery is filled with kantha stitching.
The base fabric: yarn-dyed woven from Diamond Textiles.
Quilting for Charity
I was able to make a few kitty quilts for the kitties at The Cat Clinic. Making these and bringing them to the Clinic warms my heart. The quilts are always appreciated—by the staff and the cats.
Jesse inspects the kitty quilts donated to the kitties at the Cat Clinic. 
Both of my quilt guilds were generous with their time and resources in 2017. I don't think I completed any cuddle quilts all myself, but I donated a bag of fabric swatches to my quilt guild for a year of "Make Do" and improvisational patchwork. The swatches found their way into quilt blocks I pieced and several charity quilts our guild members worked on together. 
Cuddle quilts quilted at the Choo Choo Quilters annual workshop.
At our annual Cuddle Quilt workshop, I was able to free-motion quilt 5 cuddle quilts, so I was part of the team effort. I supported the other guild with a quilt top for a Re-mix Exercise. This quilt will be donated to Chattanooga's Habitat for Humanity organization. The finished quilt can be seen here.

Inspiration, Encouragement and Support
As makers and artists, we don't do our craft alone. We're influenced by the art and artists of both the past and present. And... if we're lucky enough, we can meet, learn from and work with today's talented artists and entrepreneurs that strive to bring their best work into the world... so we can make and do our best work. Here are just a few of them...
From top left, Row 1: Larry, my personal cheerleader and indefatigable supporter;
Leesa Chandler from The Textile Pantry; Rohni Sandu from Diamond Textiles.
Row 2: Me and Mary W. Kerr; representing all shop owners is Donna Sandidge (right); Patrick Lose and I.
Row 3: woodblock printing artist Hiroki Moriroue; fiber artist Dorothy Caldwell and I;
friends from my quilt guild at our Cuddle Quilt workshop.
I have also had the pleasure of being inspired by the students who attend my classes and my fellow classmates who have been in workshops alongside me. And, it's a pleasure to work with owners and associates of numerous quilt shops and independent sewing centers this past year. These shop owners are some of the hardest working, dedicated, small business people around. Please support them!
From the road.
Follow your passion and work at your craft. Wishing you much creativity and inspiration in 2018. It could be right over the next hill or around the next bend in the road.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

One-size-fits-all Christmas gifts

It's gratifying to give handmade gifts. However, it's that time of year when time is at a premium and everyone is so busy. Here are ideas for gifts that are thoughtful, distinctive, useful, fairly quick to make and are sure to "fit" anyone on your list—regardless of their size.
Mug rugs: one size fits all. 
Mug Rugs
Personalize this gift by using fabrics that reflect the likes, hobbies or favorites colors of the recipient. Mug Rugs can be coaster size or something a little bigger. Mine here is 11" x 8". I received a mug rug several years ago from Linda, one of my ATC swap participants, and I use it all the time in my studio. I smile and think of Linda every time I see it.

This is one of my favorite gifts to give! Pillowcases are easy to sew for the maker and a useful gift the recipient will use over and over. She/he will think of you and your thoughtfulness every night when going to bed.
Pillowcases: make them personal with a novelty fabric

Placemats, Runners and Table Toppers
Stash-busting and improvisational piecing go hand in hand with gifts like placemats and table toppers. If you have an idea of the person's decor, search your stash for colors and styles that will complement it. 
Placemats: improvisational piecing and free-motion quilting. 
Improv patchwork table runner.
For even faster turn-around, there are pre-printed placemat and runner fabric panels perfect for these projects. Visit your local quilt shop (YLQS) and ask. The quilting and your choice of a binding will add the personal touch. 

Other one-size-fits-all gift ideas 
  • quilted zippered pouches
  • fabric grocery totes (instead of getting plastic at the store), 
  • fabric drawstring bags (I use these for my slippers and shoes when I travel. Much nicer and quieter than plastic bags!).

Two more bonuses
This is a short list of one-size-fits-all gift ideas. Check YLQS for other ideas and suggestions. These projects may be quick to make, but these gift items are personal, thoughtful and one-of-a-kind. You can't get these items at the mall! 

Another bonus is for you, dear maker! You get to spend a little time at the sewing machine, practicing your free-motion quilting (on smaller size pieces). At this time of year, we need to do a little therapeutic stitching to combat all the craziness. Isn't that right, my blogger stalker??
Mug rug is pin-basted and ready for free-motion quilting.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Filling a defined shape with a quilting motif

Sometimes we want to fill a specific space on a quilt with a quilting motif. It could be an alternate block, a setting triangle, sashing or other defined space. Why not practice free-motion quilting and filling shapes using improv patchwork? 
Filling defined shapes and spaces with free-motion quilting.
This improv quilt is for Jesse The Wonder Cat and the kitties at The Cat Clinic. The improvisational patchwork actually has parts of a fabric handbag that never made it to the quilting stage, so I decided to repurpose the pieces for the kitties. Other improv blocks were incorporated to make the top to size.
The "handbag" kitty quilt, 30.5" x 25"
When I sit down to quilt these small format quilts, I decide on a technique or motif I need to practice. With the larger blocks and a variety of sizes of squares, rectangles and triangles, this quilt top was a good canvas for fillers and motifs in defined spaces.
Zig-zags and a feather in triangular shapes
Moving from section to section, I also got in practice for ditch stitching. You can see the outlines of the shapes (stitching in the ditch) more clearly from the back.
Ditch stitching (back view).
These kitty charity quilts have an abundance of potential for practicing free-motion quilting. And the kitties love them!

Enjoy the antics of the special kitties, Jesse the Wonder Cat, Silly Willie the Super Scooter, Good Golly Miss Dolly that reside at the Cat Clinic of Chattanooga. And if you're thinking about opening your heart to a furry friend this holiday season, there are many cats and dogs that need forever homes. Contact your local shelter to inquire.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

No-sew products for piecing batting scraps, and more

Rarely (if ever) does the size of a quilt batting perfectly coincide with the size of your quilt top. There are always trimmings and irregular-sized pieces left over. And... the frugal and efficient makers that we are... we save them. Right? 
Using Heat Press to fuse batting scraps together.
If you're not making a lot of little projects—mug rugs, zippered pouches, soft books, and such—you probably have a "collection" of these miscellaneous chunks... too big to throw away but not quite big enough for a current need.

Heat Press to the Rescue
I posted two methods for joining batting pieces together: by machine in this post, and by hand in this post. But here is a great product for piecing batting scraps together—using an iron. It's called "Heat Press."

Heat Press is 1.5" wide and is packaged in a roll.
Heat Press is a lightweight, fusible tricot product. It comes on a roll: 15 yards by 1.5" wide. Just lay out the batting pieces, butting them together. Cut a length of Heat Press to cover the join and fuse (low heat with the iron*). Easy and fast and the product is undetectable when machine quilting. [NOTE: I have not tried it with hand quilting, but would be interested in hearing anyone's experience with hand quilting or hand stitching with this product. How 'bout you, my blog stalker, have you hand stitched with this product?]

*The package instructions recommend different heat settings depending on the fiber content of the batting and whether your iron has a teflon plate or not. Be sure to read this so you don't melt the fusible or damage the batting.

More products for other uses
The Heat Press website is chock full of helpful information: video demos, tips and information about related products such as an Appliqué Tape and (OMGosh) a "Stretchy Hem Tape" for working with knits that comes in white and black! Anyone tried this stuff?

These products were invented by Jeanne Harwood, a quilter, garment sewer, instructor and consultant to apparel manufacturers. The products are 100% Made in the USA and can be purchased through the Heat Press website or ask for them at YLQS [your local quilt shop].

Got batting scraps? Use 'em and fuse 'em for your next project.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

When does a 1/4 inch really matter?

When does a 1/4" really matter?
Because I did technical writing in a previous career—writing procedures for digital file creation and file submission to networked, production printing systems—I sometimes get asked to proof or "tech-edit" quilting patterns. A while ago, someone asked if I would look over a draft of instructions they were writing for an easy scrap quilt.

To protect the innocent, I won't show a picture of the quilt design, but will say that the objectives for the project were as follows:
  • to mix a variety of scraps with one background fabric
  • an opportunity to try improv patchwork
  • quilt size: throw or couch quilt
  • experience level: confident beginner
The quilt layout was basically a strip quilt with horizontal strips of [improv] patchwork alternating with strips of the background fabric. The designer was calling the pattern "an easy improv quilt." (keep this concept in mind)

The first read-through
On first review of cutting instructions, here's what was specified:

From the background fabric cut: 
        3 pieces 42" x 6"
        1 piece  42" x 6.25"
        1 piece  42" x 6.5"

Really? REALLY?? The difference between 6" and 6.25" or between 6.25" and 6.5" is A QUARTER OF AN INCH! And once those strips are pieced together with the patchwork/improv strips (and even if the maker did nail the 1/4" seam allowances) who's gonna see the difference between a 6" wide strip, a 6.25" wide strip and a 6.5" wide strip???... on a throw size quilt?  (I think nobody.)

Oh, and when the quilt's washed and the fabric gets all crinkley... ya think you could tell the diff' then?

Would it not be easier and pragmatic to cut 5 pieces 42" x 6"? [or 5 pieces 42" x 6.5"]? (I gently reminded the designer that the pattern's objective was "easy improv.")

Pattern writers have a responsibility
OMGosh, folks. Pattern designers/writers... be kind to those that will make your projects! Pattern designers have a responsibility to be clear, accurate, concise, and present the information and directions in an organized format (visually and in written form). I listened to an interview with Sam Hunter of Hunter's Design Studio and she talked about writing patterns (and re-writing poorly written or confusing ones) and she was right on. It's not easy—or fast—if done correctly. But if you have that skill, talent or passion for creating patterns, and execute the process with your reader in mind, your patterns are golden. (I've used one of Sam Hunter's and it was great!)

If you attempt pattern writing, put yourself in the shoes of those that purchase or will use your pattern—and be accountable. Makers will not only appreciate it, but they will be more successful and feel confident to make the "next something" that catches their eye.

Consumers have a responsibility, too!
And the other side of that coin? When you purchase a pattern, please adhere to copyright laws! Read Sam's post on the ultimate effect of stealing patterns.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving in Ghastlie style

When I was growing up, we had those big, all-day-with-the-extended-family meals (grandparents, parents, siblings, two generations of aunts, uncles, and cousins) for the big holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember it was best for us kids to steer clear of the kitchen because that's where all the brouhaha of food prep, cooking, and last-minute serving details were happening.
Hand embroidery on A Ghastlie Project by Alexander Henry Fabrics.
If this kind of kitchen lunacy happens at your house, you might be having one of "those" hair days as well. Take a page from the Ghastlie's journal—flip your hair up, and stick a flower or colorful hair-bob in your coiffure and don't stress the small stuff.
Early stage of my Ghastlie hand embroidery project.
Or bring along your hand stitching, find a comfy chair in the front room, and stay away from the kitchen—until someone yells it's time to eat.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Aboriginal designs: a vibrant, decorative, Color Party

If you love color, pattern and prints, you'll love the Australian Indigenous fabrics from M&S Textiles!
Australian Aboriginal or Indigenous cotton fabrics from M&S Textiles Australia.
M&S Textiles Australia was founded in Melbourne, Australia in the early 1990s and is the largest fabric manufacturer of Australian Aboriginal or Indigenous designs. Aboriginal art is one of the oldest and longest continuing artistic expressions in the world and the fabrics made with these designs are soft and supple and beautiful to work with.

A Riot of Color
I'm not at all shy about using color and print in my garments or quilts, however, seeing a display of the designs this company has to offer can be a bit overwhelming to the timid eye. 
Aboriginal design fabrics from M&S Textiles Australia.
Think about pairing these larger scale, organic designs with a blender or other "supporting fabric" to provide a bit of breathing room. Don't worry, these prints play well with lots of blender friends available at YLQS [your local quilt shop]!

In my patchwork blocks (below), I've paired M&S Textiles with Pure Elements (the patchwork on the left) and a coordinate by April Rhodes from Boho Fusion from Art Gallery Fabrics (right).
Using pre-cut strips from M&S Textiles with Art Gallery Fabrics.
Block pattern from Duet by Villa Rosa Designs.
These blocks are made with one of M&S Textiles' Dreamtime pre-cut strip sets (red colorway). In the photo below, the strips nestle with a warm pumpkin-colored yarn-dyed cotton from Diamond Textiles. See how everyone plays together?
M&S Textile Dreamtime pre-cut strips with a yarn-dyed woven from Diamond Textiles.
Or how about this duet? Remember the Principles of Design and accompany a selection of Aboriginal prints with Squared Elements from Art Gallery for a contrast in scale. How fun!
M&S Textiles Dreamtime pre-cut strips
with Squared Elements from Art Gallery Fabrics.
Join the Party!
For the fabric lovers, quilters and makers that embrace color and print with open arms, you will be running to join this party! For those that are more shy, I invite you to try a package of pre-cuts or some fat quarters and a simple pattern for an introduction to these colorful fabrics. 

The M&S Textiles website has a selection of free patterns that showcase its fabrics. I can also recommend the postcard patterns from Villa Rosa Designs (which I've used for these blocks). The Villa Rosa patterns are simple, easy to follow and the projects are quick to make (a small investment of time). I've even used the same pieced strip set to make blocks from both the Duet and Mardi Gras patterns. Check out this pattern line—most every quilt shop carries a variety of these little postcard gems. 
Postcard patterns from Villa Rosa Designs and a quilt block from Mardi Gras.

So, whaddaya think? Are you up for a party with bold color and dynamic, Aboriginal prints? Consider this your open invitation!
Australian Aboriginal designs from M&S Textiles Australia.
I have a Blog Stalker
Recently, I was at a local shop in Chattanooga and a quilter came up to me and said, "you know I stalk you on your blog." Whoo hoo! Somebody out there reads me. 

So, in the vein of Jimmy Kimmel who frequently mentions he's run out of time on the show for Matt Damon, here's a shout-out to my blog stalker: I know you aren't afraid of color, so what do you think of these fabrics? 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hand stitching: it's not as Ghastly as some may think

Hand stitched and hand embroidered "Patriotic Girl."
From ArtPlay Stitchery from Adornit.
It's taken me just about a year to get this piece to this stage.

The running kantha stitch is by hand.

The embroidery is by hand (except her hair).

I work on it in small increments of time—between 10 minutes to an hour (if watching a TV program).

It's a portable project and it has no due date.

Yesterday, my quilt guild had its annual brainstorming session to generate ideas for next year's programs. Among the quilting techniques that people were interested in exploring next year were: big stitch, hand embroidery, and sashiko. Traditionally, these are HAND stitching techniques. Although some may feel that "HAND" is a 4-letter word, quilting or stitching by hand can be relaxing, rhythmic and enjoyable... and, yes, it will take a bit more time.

Hand stitching, embroidery and embellishing with heavier weight, decorative threads have made a resurgence in the quilting world the past few years. Its popularity continues to grow. This is thanks to the stitchery artists, pattern designers, authors and instructors [Pepper Cory and Sue Spargo, to name just two] that expose, dazzle and teach us about the artistic potential of these techniques, and the thread and needle manufacturers that bring high-quality products to the marketplace to help us achieve our creative visions.

Here are detail photos of the kantha stitching on my patriotic girl.
Kantha stitching detail.
The top layer is a yarn-dyed fabric from Diamond Textiles, [Primitive collection, PRF-569]. The back layer is a piece of white muslin.
Using up bits of leftover embroidery floss.
There is no pattern marked in the background for the kantha stitching. The needle creates its own path. A new thread is fed into the needle when the previous piece is used up.
Kantha running stitch. No plan, just stitching.

A view of the back. The embroidery [the girl and flag] is embroidered just on the top layer. The kantha stitching is through both layers. 
Back view.

I'm not sure if this will turn into a pillow or a wall hanging. Suggestions? I do like the texture of the background stitching in contrast with the non-quilted, embroidered girl. 

From "Calendar Girls" collection of ArtPlay Stitcheries from Adornit.
Another hand stitching WIP [work in progress] I have going is one of the characters from Alexander Henry's ever popular fabric line called, "The Ghastlies." I picked up "A Ghastlie Project" panel at Bless My Stitches in Murphy, NC.
"A Ghastlie Project"
She might show up on a future artwear jacket.
When choosing a fabric for hand stitching—big stitch quilting, kantha or boro stitching, hand embroidery—I recommend a yarn-dyed woven fabric [see Diamond Textiles] as the needle will glide through with ease.

I hope you consider giving hand stitching a try. It's not as "ghastly" as some may think! 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Primitive Stars jacket, part two—hand stitching

Detail: running stitch on jacket back.
Did you read Part One about my Primitive Stars ikat Jacket? It was about the machine stitching/quilting part of the jacket-creation process. This post is about the hand stitching—or slooooow stitching—process.

The running stitch
On the front, back and sleeve, this jacket is embellished with a mix of fabric scraps—ikat, yarn-dyed wovens and commercial cotton prints. I was following a color palette and was not concerned with the fabric type. These patches are raw edge and attached with a running stitch by hand. I guess you could identify this technique with any or all of the following terms: boro, kantha, appliqué, or quilting... depending on your point of view. 

For this hand stitching, I used Spaghetti and Fruitti [WonderFil Threads] 12 wt. cotton threads. They come in a broad range of beautiful solid and variegated colors. Thread colors were chosen to complement the color of the fabric patches and the color scheme of the jacket.

Stitching on yarn-dyed fabrics
Hand stitching is a dream with the yarn-dyed wovens! You've gotta try it. Really.
Detail: running stitches with 12 wt. cotton thread from WonderFil Threads,
 ikat, and Primitive Stars yarn-dyed wovens from Diamond Textiles.
The thread color for stitching on the cream-colored ikat is Fruitti FT17, a variegated color story of soft lavender, pale periwinkle and a subtle hint of magenta, called "Mountains." 
Jacket pocket with hand stitched decorative band.
The jacket pocket fabric is from a Riverwoods fabric collection by Janine Burke. Looks like a hand-dyed, doesn't it? It's actually a printed fabric, so it's a "hand-dyed look at an affordable price." Quilters and quilt shops—please ask me about availability of this fabric line.

This shows the hand stitches from the lining (inside). It might look like a lot of stitches, but the process is quiet, rhythmic and relaxing—and a nice break from machine quilting.
Hand stitching on jacket (lining side).
This jacket has two buttons and button loop closures. You can see the streaks of raspberry color in the variegated thread in this photo [YLI 40 wt. cotton, color 15V Vineyard].
Button loop closure.
The sleeve detail—machine and hand stitching. I like the juxtaposition!
Sleeve with ikat fabric patch.
My completed jacket. It's a little boro and a little blue.
Primitive Stars jacket with ikat and slow stitching.

Make a jacket, make a friend
And here I am at the International Quilt Market [wearing my jacket] with Maria Shell, quilt artist and newly-published author with her first book, Improv Patchwork: Dynamic Quilts made with Line and Shape. We met in the Houston airport waiting for the Super Shuttle. We both knew immediately where the other was going (wink, wink). You can usually tell someone's a quilter by the clothes they're wearing. (My ikat jacket was a dead give-away.) We struck up a conversation in the shuttle van and in no time found ourselves at the hotel.
Me with Maria Shell and my autographed copy of
her new book, "Improv Patchwork."
Make yourself an artwear jacket. Patchwork... appliqué... kantha stitching... boro with beautiful threads... whatever techniques and materials satisfy your current afflatus (creative impulse). It will start a conversation and you might make a new friend.
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