Saturday, May 30, 2009

Overcoming an artless past

I read in Transitions - Unlocking the Creative Quilter Within (Andrea Balosky) that "after years of focused, committed, hard work, artists go on to create with less blundering. Eventually they approach their work with impenetrable awareness, having developed and refined those instincts that best foster the expression of their ideas. Their point of view and the ideas that extend from it are enmeshed with their execution. It's a fusion which, in retrospect, we label visionary. The concept and the delivery are synthesized powerfully as one and the same."

Note, however, that it takes "years of focused, committed, hard work" - probably a generalization, but true for the most part. I can't let that generalization discourage me, for though I have years of a relatively artless past, I know that I have good innate instincts. My lack of years of focused, committed, hard work results in a lot of blundering. I am unsure from one moment to the next of my final goal - but, nevertheless, I enjoy the journey. My philosophy is, and has been, that a true mistake is very rare. Most "mistakes" can be capitalized upon to result in surprising and even wonderful works, many better than the original idea. I would not ever want to be without these surprises.

What may appear to be self deprecating is more of a defense mechanism to onlookers who can't figure out what on earth I am doing. You might hear me say, "I goofed. I always goof." The friend nods sagely or pats me on the top of my little pointed head to keep me from feeling bad about myself, not aware that I don't feel bad at all - I'm just acknowledging for their benefit that I've been ambushed by circumstances for which I am responsible. It may also be that I am avoiding answering questions.

I goofed. So what? I move on, excited with possibilities for fixing the goof. After all, the piece is no longer what it started out to be. It's something new that will grow on its own, unfettered by plans. The original intent has been sidelined, and behold, a new thing is born.

I lack technical skills that many artists have, because up until recently I have been focused on child rearing, housewifery, farming, and teaching. For instance, I don't have the drawing skill I would like. Drawing is a talent I once had to a degree above the norm, but I have not developed it or even kept it warm in recent decades, and that talent was buried where moth and rust doth corrupt. Use it or lose it, they say. But this kind of lack is not overcomeable. I can work around it, work to improve it, or both. It's a whole new adventure.

To infinity, and beyond!


Friday, May 29, 2009

Trying dyeing

Yesterday and today I've been dyeing fabric, following directions in Color by Accident, by Ann Johnston, for low water immersion dyeing using fiber reactive dyes. I don't know what I'm doing, so am just going lock-step through the book, creating colors I normally don't use in my quilts. But this will be a chance to try new color schemes. On many of these fabrics I will be doing additional work, such as painting, stamping, coloring, and overdyeing.

"Color by accident" is a good description for what I am doing, since "accident about to happen" described my experience. Blue-dyed fingers is one example (forgot gloves yesterday, but the color wore off by today). Since there are waiting periods in the dyeing process, I found myself overlapping batches, and since I'm a newbie at this, keeping several different time schedules and sets of instructions in my brain resulted in a few mistakes.

One thing I will do next time is to write in big letters on my containers: PLAIN WATER, and SODA ASH, so I don't get them mixed up. I did, several times, and am not sure what the effect was. I know I messed up on the green-blue piece, and maybe it would have been more pleasing had I done it correctly.

Another thing I will do is hang a clock on the potting shed wall to keep my cell phone from getting drowned in dye when I turn it on with a rubber-gloved finger to see what time it is. The cell phone remained miraculously dry for the most part, but I could see the possibility of a very wet phone if I weren't careful.

Today I remembered to wear rubber gloves, but they proved useless due to my great skill and grace. Ahem. I had a rubber-banded ball of cloth in a bowl, and decided it needed to be in a deeper container so as to be covered with the dye instead of sitting in a puddle, so I poured the dye from the bowl into a quart jar (mistake in sequences) and worked at forcing the ball of wet fabric into the jar. It slipped in suddenly, of course, and with the impact, the dark blue dye spurted out the sides of the jar like a volcano, splots landing on my face, head, other pieces of fabric, but with most of it going down inside my glove. My arm, wrist, and hand were again blue, and while my right glove was drying out, I tried to do everything left handed.

My little potting shed by the garden has been transformed into my dyeing shed. I love this location under the growing sycamore tree. It's a solitary outdoor place to enjoy myself. The shed has a sink and cold-water faucet in the far corner that is handy for some of the process, but since my water is very hard, I bring out warm, softened water from the house for the dye baths.

I've been washing out the dye with a hose in a bucket. Maybe someone can tell me if that's a good idea or not. I follow up with a warm rinse, then a hot wash (Synthrapol or substitute) in the washing machine.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Purple asters - next project in the works

Since the last quilt was so fast and fun, I'm doing another the same way - this time in purple and yellow, with a 9-patch in the middle. Now waiting for the sewing machine repair man to appear. Hope he can find the place.

Can't wait to get home and start painting, dyeing, gluing, etc!

Later: The sewing machine repair guy showed up just fine, fixed the machine, which turned out to have rusted inside (humid East), regaled us with lengthy right-wing political comments, and went on his way. However, I ran out of time to do more than cut the strips for the Purple Aster quilt, so boxed them up to be sent home. They will be arriving in the mail shortly after my return.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gingko Go Round 4

After a busy day of exercise in the pool, chauffeuring, shopping in an unfamiliar store (always a challenge), in late afternoon I answered the Call of the Quilt and returned to my almost-finished project.

In this photo you can see the stitching lines on the back of the fleece and the applied binding. Wild, isn't it?

The binding: Two inch strip, pressed in half, sewn to the BACK (approx. 1/4" seam), fold brought around in front so that it barely overlapped the line just sewn , finished with a decorative stitch (in this case, narrow herringbone). My stitching lines on bindings are never 100% straight, but with a decorative stitch, it's not obvious. None of it was done by hand, but even at that, it took nearly two hours, including all the steps: measuring and cutting the strip, pressing, stitching, and sewing area clean-up.

The birthday girl doesn't yet know it is hers, but she may have suspicions.

Gingko Go Round 3

Here it is, except for the binding. I would have been finished in one day if I had not chosen to do a two hour shopping trip mid-day, or taken a break for mealtimes, or gone to bed early.

It's a great hurry-up gift (think Mother's Day, or that last-minute quilt for a baby shower) for someone who doesn't particularly appreciate explorations into quilts for the walls.

Gingko Go Round 2

The center focal fabric is a 21x21 Japanese print. I pinned it to the center of the fused-to-fleece grid, and stitched on the first round, a print that makes me think of a Japanese screen.

It's just like foundation or paper piecing: Stitch and flip.

Here it is, round 1 sewn and pressed, ready for round 2.

Round 2 and 3 have been stitched and pressed. I will spare you the details of the following rounds. They all went on in the same way. Easy peasy.

Gingko Go Round 1

I had so much fun making my fleece-backed quilt last fall that I decided to repeat the performance.

My idea is to make a light-weight lap quilt with no batting, and no quilting required after it's put together -- though certainly some could be added for detail interest.

This quilt will be foundation pieced directly onto fleece. On my previous quilt made this way, the fleece stretched a lot in the making, and I was using cross-grain-cut strips, so it was hard to determine whether I was keeping it square. Even though the fleece was a plaid design, the print was not completely straight on the weave, so things went a wee bit wonky.

This time I applied fusible quilters' grid to plain dark green fleece (see photo) to use for squaring-up purposes, in addition to preventing some of the stretching. This is a 2-inch grid; a smaller grid would be easier, I think.

The inspiration for this quilt design was Roberta Horton's Brick Brack Medallion quilt done with Kaffe Fassett fabrics. What appealed to me in that design were the striped rounds. This time I used fewer stripes than previously; I would have done more if I'd had the fabric on hand.

Earlier this week I purchased 7 fat quarters from G Street Fabrics in Centreville, Virginia. These are 21x21 squares instead of the usual 18x21, something I didn't know until I opened them up and saw the beautiful size. I wish all fat quarters were cut this generously. It's certainly worth going out of one's way to purchase your fat quarters there.

My favorite fabric of the bunch was a gingko print, hence the name of the quilt.

Because I used fat quarters for everyting but the stripes, I had to piece my strips, probably something a purist would never do, but no one has ever accused me of being a quilting purist. I spent a good hour figuring out how many inches I would need for each round, and how wide I could cut the strips from the one fat quarter I had of each print. Then, once I discovered the fat quarters were more than 18" long, I refigured everything. It was time well spent.
More next time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shopping lesson learned

Oops, 'scuse me a moment while I turn off my music. I never could understand why my kids could do homework with the sound of the radio filling the room, and I can't do anything requiring deep thinking while music of any kind is on. Then someone told me I was auditorially sensitive (that is true; can't sleep with a ticking clock in the room), so if music is running, it takes priority in my brain and other functions suffer. Thanks, I knew that!

Anyway (music off now), yesterday I trotted meself down to G Street Fabrics in Centreville, VA, and after an hour of looking, finally settled on a beautiful piece of fabric with which to make a dress. It was the only fabric in the whole store that I wanted, and it was perfect. Took it to the table, the cutter unrolled it, and there it was, one yard short of what I needed. I was SOOOOOO disappointed. Bought some quilt fabric to console myself.

Today, on the way to Physiotherapy for sister-in-law, Linda, I trotted meself over to Joann's, and, with a 30-minute-deadline, found the one and only piece of fabric that I wanted in that store. I also needed some fusible interfacing, so perused the stash of interfacings without immediately finding what I needed. Three ladies were heading across the store toward the cutting counter, carts full of bolts, and "Danger, Will Robinson" motivated me to saunter quick-step to the cutting counter, so as not to be behind them and get Linda late to her appointment.

Arriving, finally, at the head of the cutting line, I told the girl I needed 3 1/2 yards, then stepped over to the interfacings again while she cut the fabric. She was a shy young thing, seemed a bit uncertain, probably new.

At the checkout line, another little wait, I looked at my cutting slip. 3 yards. THREE. No 1/2 anywhere to be seen.

"Oh, no!" I said.

"Something wrong?" asked the very tall, very cute, very young checker guy, probably just out of high school.

"I asked for 3 1/2 yards, and I only have three," I said. "I can't fudge on this, because I'm tall, and I usually add a couple inches anyway."

The young man was very helpful and professional (he should be promoted). He remeasured the fabric to be sure (yup, 3 yards), checked the bolt (not enough), and called another store to look for more of the fabric (no luck). I paid for my other items, he made change for my $100 bill without complaint, and I was on my way.

It's a good thing I bought that quilt fabric yesterday. I am consoled.

Lesson: Always watch your fabric as it is being cut.



Altering my blog title. Ya-Ya Quilts posts have been imported here. If you found me, I'm glad you could follow the clues in the treasure hunt. Yeah, the hunt you didn't know existed!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Quilt = altered fabric

A few people in my life - OK, men - can't understand why I buy a perfectly good piece of fabric, cut it into all kinds of pieces, stitch it back together, fuse it, paint it, sew on buttons, beads, sticks and rocks, and am as happy with the process as with the end results.

A lot of other people in my life - OK, just about everyone - can't understand why something that is not made to be put on a bed can be called a quilt. That's why I decided that Altered Fabric is a good term, at least for me, whether it is, after all, a bed quilt (I make those, too), or something meant to hang on a wall or a person's shoulders, or be propped on a chair or against a door.

Since I am in the midst of travel at the moment, this blog will be slightly stagnant until I have a chance to do a bit of blog altering, probably once I return home.