Sunday, June 25, 2017

Kantha embroidery: a painterly solution for floss thrums

Have you ever saved bits and pieces of ____ (thread, fabric, paper... you fill in the blank) for an unknown reason because, in your heart of hearts, you knew their purpose would be revealed at some point in time?
Working from the thread bowl.
The time arrived for my collection of leftover embroidery floss. You know, the bird's nest of odd lengths of floss—sometimes 2, 3, or 4 four strands—and those random bits that are too short or not enough of a single color to use in a new piece? The solution to my collection of arbitrary embroidery floss has been revealed to me: kantha embroidery!
Kantha embroidery stitching.
Through a wonderful and inspiring Shakerag workshop called Human Marks: Drawing, Stitching, Batik, Bookmaking, with fiber artist and icon, the magical Dorothy Caldwell, I was recently exposed to the beauty and painterly qualities of kantha embroidery. Kantha is a hand stitching, mending process from India. It is kin to sashiko and boro. Kantha is used for the purpose of mending textiles to prolong their life and use, but it is also an expressive and decorative way of making marks and telling stories with thread and a running stitch.

Workshop attendees had the privilege of seeing several pieces of Dorothy's collection of kantha embroideries that she purchased during her time in India. The hand and energy of the maker is evident in the stitches.
The kantha running stitch shows the mark of the maker.
Dorothy explained that the women were very literal when choosing the designs that were drawn and then stitched on the pieces. The maker of the kantha quilt below depicted scenes from her visit to New York City. The twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Empire State building can be seen in her quilt.
The images in the quilts recount a visit to New York City. 
Similar to the American wholecloth quilts, the kantha embroideries in Dorothy's collection are done on large pieces of cloth—sometimes a white/natural color and sometimes black. Two pieces of cloth are stitched together. There is no batting or middle layer.
Kantha quilt.
The images are often outlined with a chain stitch for a bolder line. Small running stitches fill the shapes as well as the background. Small knots could be seen on the back (we had to ask about knots!) where the thread starts and stops occurred. The knots were neatly trimmed but makers did not seem concerned with them showing.
Knots and neatly clipped tails show on the back.
Dorothy demonstrated the chain stitch.
Dorothy Caldwell (right) demonstrates the hand stitches.
Workshop attendees displayed their kantha works-in-progress.
A board of kantha embroidery class projects.
We started with two strands of white embroidery floss to create the outlines of the shapes.
Running stitches: two strands of white embroidery floss on black cloth.
After I got into the rhythm of the running stitch, I began to add color—using single strands of floss. (This is when the lightbulb came on for me.)
Introducing colored floss to the kantha stitching.
I pulled strands from the floss bird's nest that resides in my sewing basket... or used the needles from the pin cushion that were already threaded with floss from previous projects. Threads of similar value but different hues began to fill the black canvas. The subtle color changes and the small stitches are reminiscent of brushstrokes of impressionist paintings.
Pre-threaded needles are a source for new stitching.
Now, I feed from a bowl of floss thrums that were accumulating in my sewing basket... and mix colors as if mixing paints on an artist's palette... a small amount of this color, a dab of that. The wait for a perfect stitching opportunity has ended. Kantha is the answer!
Stitching painterly marks with kantha embroidery.
Thank you, Dorothy Caldwell, for your inspiration, guidance and for graciously sharing your vast experience and knowledge with our class. And to my fellow classmates, thank you for sharing your amazing life stories and for the camaraderie and mutual encouragement.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quilt Top Remix at the Chattanooga MQG meeting

The glue sticks, scissors, crayons, pastels, colored pencils and grid paper came out in full force yesterday as the members of the Chattanooga Modern Quilt Guild [ChattMQG] created design mock-ups for a Quilt Top Remix
Slicing and dicing color photocopies of a quilt top to create a new design.
Last year, I moderated the ChattMQG's annual brainstorming session to generate ideas for the 2017 meeting programs. One of the topics that came up several times was that members wanted more instruction or practice with designing modern quilts. What better way to learn, understand and put into practice design principles than to actually design a quilt? 

"One day, I want to be a real quilt!"
At one of the meetings of the guild steering committee, I suggested using an existing quilt top as a starting point for a quilt re-design exercise. My fellow committee members agreed this could be a fun and educational group exercise... and we'd use the resulting quilt to support our guild community service project—quilts for Habitat for Humanity Chattanooga.

This is the quilt top that I offered to sacrifice for the Quilt Top Remix design exercise. Fellow fabric reps and area quilt shops may recognize this fabric line—Mosaic Garden. It was a popular fabric collection from 3 or 4 years ago, and I believe it went into at least one reprint.

This quilt top was made as a sample to showcase the fabric line as well as a pattern—called Miller's Quilt—by the talented pattern designer, Julia LaBeuve, of JML Colors. Until now, this top was destined for quilt top limbo and would not likely be quilted and finished. So, this exercise was its opportunity for a new life—as a "real quilt."

Wanna try this exercise with your quilt guild or group? Here's what we did...
I put the top up on my design wall and took a photo. Photocopies were made from the photo and each guild member received two copies to cut/slice/fold/tear/color and somehow come up with a new design layout that would be re-pieced into a new quilt top at the next guild sew-in. Here is the meeting notice that went out to guild members.
Photocopies of the quilt top.
For reference, the original top: 40" x 60"    Blocks: 8" (finished)   Outside border: 4"
For our guild's community service project, we make quilts approximately 60" x 72"—a generous lap size.

Here are a few of the approaches members took with the design remix.

and drawing.
Drawing guidelines.
Presenting the new designs
When the glueing and taping were complete, each member presented their design mock-up, with considerations for the background fabric and color and quilt top construction. Oh yes, designs can be fabulous, but the piecing and construction needs to be considered as well!
Martha (left) and Ann (right) present their mock-ups.
Denise (below) explained her clever approach that she calls the "magic number." It employs units that are multiples (or divisibles) of a base number.
Denise explains how she designs with her "magic number" approach.

The final mock-ups were just as innovative and diverse as the design approaches.
Zig-zags and fractures.
Improv cutting and piecing.
Pieced or appliqued?
Diagonal or straight sets.
Borderless or partial borders.
What color should the background be?
How did we decide? 
Well, everyone gave their "two cents worth!" (Actually, it was one cent). After the presentations, the design mock-ups were lined up and everyone placed a coin beside the design they thought was the best option for the new quilt top. Here is Vista's 8-penny Mosaic Garden re-design.
Vista's design received the most pennies (votes.)
As Pinocchio finally became a "real boy," so will this top find its way to becoming a "real quilt." Rather than preserve a quilt top "as is," it is far better to deconstruct, remix and reconstruct a top so it can be quilted, finished and enjoyed. Don't you think? I do! 

Guild members indicated they enjoyed the exercise and I think they were more fearless in their designs since personal emotions were not invested in the top that got deconstructed. (It's easier to cut up a top that you didn't make yourself.)

Thanks to the members of the Chatt MQG for contributing their time and talents to this Quilt Top Remix. We'll have another Habitat quilt coming to fruition in the future.
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