Thursday, June 11, 2020

Make a quilt - not a UFO

Think about where the journey starts. Do you browse the Internet and see a pattern or a ‘Block-of-the-Month’ that calls your name? Is your guild planning a guest speaker who will lead you down a path? Do you visit the fabric store and shop for ideas?

A common scenario: We see something we like, and decide to buy the pattern. We may get a kit, or shop for the recommended fabric, whether in the store or from our stash. Shifting into high gear, we study the pattern and begin to cut and sew. Before long, something else has grabbed our attention; we weary of the repetitive sewing involved; or we find the pattern more difficult than we first thought and are unhappy with the whole process.

The anticipation of embarking on a new journey can carry us forward to a point somewhere in the middle. We have done enough to see a where the quilt is heading. We no longer focus on a vision of the quilt, but long hours of repetitive tasks. Self doubt steps in: Is my sewing good enough? Why don’t the corners match? This doesn’t look like the picture; I’m tired; my blocks aren’t square...why did I ever start this big a project? I just don’t have the time and energy right now. Maybe tomorrow - or next week - or next year.

The only thing we have produced is yet another UFO: Un-Finished Object.

Problem #1- We are materializing someone else’s vision
If the only investment we have is the purchase of fabric, and a book or pattern, it isn’t really ours. We may think it is, and vow to finish this one. Spending money, time and labor will never make it our own. Too often we see those expenditures as disposable.

 We have made no sustainable investment. Before we can own a creative endeavor, we must invest something of our creative self in it. Appliqué lends itself to enhancing patterns, or can be the basis for a new pattern, in which we are 100% personally invested. We invest ourselves by adding to the quilt or modifying it according to personal significance.

I still buy patterns I love. At the very beginning, I decide: Will I copy the designer or traditional block, or will I use the pattern as a foundation on which to express my personal vision. How will I adapt it to my vision and purpose?

If I am following every step of a pattern, it is usually because I want to learn the lessons embodied in the design. When I have achieved that, chances are I will lose interest.

Problem #2 - Self doubt is a double edged sword.
Self doubt can be a useful tool, or it can stall our development.

Every artist I have ever known has learned to deal with the ugly specter of self-doubt. It’s a fact of creative life. We either give in and give up, or doggedly work away, disliking ourselves and the piece. Another alternative is to examine the niggling discomfort of self-doubt. Ask yourself if those thoughts are valid. Are you really incapable of sewing a straight seam? Or is there another way to do the same thing that makes it easier? Find a way that works for you.

We all make mistakes. When I get down on myself I joke that I am “suffering delusions of adequacy.” By joking about it, I’m reminded to not take those feelings seriously.

Problem #3 - Mental fatigue sneaks up on us.

Could you be working past your most effective level of energy? Or is the impetus carrying you along till you become tired without realizing it?

When we schedule a dedicated time to work on our craft, we can set the time frame to allow for rest periods. When feeling daunted by the work ahead of us, the temptation is to work faster - get it done!
In reality, the solution is to slow the pace and work deliberately, mindful of what is causing the frustration and fatigue.

I was working on one commission when I realized I was “taking a break” way too often. Not finishing the quilt was not an option. I had to step back and determine what problems were causing the stress and fatigue.

1. The “invisible thread” kept breaking. Simple fix - new spool.
2. I was having difficulty guiding  the layers of fabric under the needle while doing the machine quilting. The fix - a Teflon sheet on the machine bed, and a pair of quilting gloves to replace the rubber fingers and rubber gloves that made my hands sweat.

Creativity is a journey of discovery...

What if we did this? How can I change that? We may not know exactly where the journey will end, only that it starts with the seed of an idea. One thing leads to another as our vision expands. Ideas come from seeing what we like. A photo of a heron on Dauphin Island inspired a ‘sea’ of variable log cabin blocks for my appliqué of a heron in flight. That idea led to adding an appliqué of a hermit crab on the beach of sandy colored log cabin blocks. Sand Dunes have always reminded me of the waving action of the sea. Using the same traditional pattern in both elements made a visual connection between the two areas.

One successful quilt commission began with a young girl who liked ladybugs. The design process began with - I have a ladybug: Where do you see ladybugs? The garden. I decided on a favorite quilt pattern: Garden Trellis. When I had the top finished, I appliqué’d large ladybugs over the surface randomly.

Browsing through beautiful photos of wildflowers led to a quilt of hand painted wildflowers of North Carolina. Permission was given by the photographer to use his photos as reference.

My favorite quilt began with the intention of using my stash of “orphan blocks.”  When learning a new technique or trying out a pattern, I often make only one block. Over time, my stash of blocks become the ‘orphans’ that have never become part of a quilt. I re-visit those old friends and while trying to think of ways to use them, the creative process takes over and may lead me on an entirely new journey 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Filet Lace as done by Mary of Scotland

As published in NeedleArts Magazine - a publication of the Embroiderers' Guild of America. This article led to a wonderful correspondence with Pauline Knight, author of Filet Lace, published by Batsford, UK.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The linen shell

I still haven't published instructions for the white piping. 
This is what it looks like on the outside.
It's clean finished on the inside.
It doesn't ripple or flare 
after washing.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Appliqué Elements

I've been busy - I'm writing a book, or series of books - for quilters. However anyone interested in developing techniques employed by artists will get some benefit from it. What follows is an excerpt, a draft not for publication.

Symmetry: a noun meaning "the quality of being made up of exactly 
similar parts facing each other or around an axis." 

Asymmetry: a noun meaning  "lack of equality or equivalence
 between parts or aspects of something; lack of symmetry."

Dynamic: An Adjective meaning "Relating to forces producing motion."

(source of definitions: google dictionary)

Dynamic Symmetry - 

Tessellation is an example of “dynamic symmetry.”
The commonly accepted “Rule of Thirds” and the "Golden Mean" are others.

To quote an article published by Larmon Studios:

“Dynamic Symmetry is an armature which is geometrically
 designed to promote continuity, flow, rhythm and balance 
within artistic design.” 

While simple symmetry may be illustrated as any one of the
geometric polygons, dynamic symmetry uses asymmetry.
To try tessellating a design, draw a simple square.
From one side of the square, cut out a shape (any shape)
and re-attach it to the other side.

(What does the circle/square design remind you of?)

The square has a part of a circle cut out from the left edge
 and attached on the right edge.

If you hold a mirror on one side, the image is not symmetrical 
but forces movement of the eye from one side to the other..

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Spend Time to Save Time - Basting

When I learned to sew in 4-H*, we were taught to baste our garment together by hand before sewing. Being young and foolish, I decided I would rather do anything than baste. Thus, I wasted time ripping stitches out, re-doing them, only to rip again. When someone used the words “pin” basting, I thought I need never baste with needle and thread again. However, pin basting only works in certain instances.

A pin doesn’t bend easily. If it’s long enough to be effective it is too long, and if it is short enough to be effective, it’s too short. Plus, pins snag the skin and lets blood flow into the fabric. A needle will prick the skin as well, but it is easier to control one needle than many pins.

The problem is: A pin is not a stitch, nor is a pin a thread and never will be. Nor is tape, glue or staples, although each of those have a purpose.

The tools for basting are simple: A good needle with a round eye and contrasting thread.

The size of the thread determines the size of the needle, as it must be able to pass through the needle’s eye. The thread would be fine enough to glide easily through the fabric, but not so fine as to allow the simple running stitch to slip out. Normally, I use a heavier weight basting thread than the sewing thread. It’s a judgment call and may need some trial and error on a sample of the fabric being used.

Avoid using an embroidery needle with an oblong eye. It’s designed for use with threads that are thicker than the needle. To pass through the longer narrow eye, the thread must be separated and flattened.

When basting, the needle compresses the fibers of the cloth, and the thread passes through. When removing basting an inch or so in front of hand sewing, you can see what looks like holes in the fabric. Unlike actual holes, they are spaces where the fibers have been pushed apart and will soon disappear.

Sometimes it’s helpful to use those “holes” to guide your stitches as you sew.
The thread is guided through the eye of the needle before it is ever cut from the spool. If the end of the thread has relaxed and frayed while on the shelf you can clip a bit off the end to give you a clean, sharp point. I’ve seen advice to stiffen the thread with clear nail polish or glue, but have never found any need for it.

The reason for threading the needle before cutting the thread is to be sure the “grain” of the thread is going in the right direction.  If you put a fiber, or a spun group of fibers under a microscope you will see that there is a distinct direction to it, like the point of a barbed arrow. One end will be smooth, the other with barbs. If you thread the needle “backwards” the barbs will push against the fabric, causing the thread to tangle and knot. If you’ve ever gotten a fishhook in your hand, you know to cut the hook off rather than try to pull it out. Thread manufacturers know this and wind the spool accordingly.

To knot, or not?

With basting, your stitches are temporary. Knotting the thread is optional, so long as it’s easy to remove. Consider if you will be working the final stitches on the right or wrong side: If I am basting for a hand stitched appliqué my knot will lie on the right side of the fabric where I can see it. If I will be stitching a seam with right sides together, the knot would be on the wrong side of the fabric. It only matters that the knot isn’t enclosed.

If I choose to leave the thread unknotted, I may take 2 long stitches, one on top of the other, to secure the end which is easily removed from either side. The stitches only need be long enough to get the scissors’ point underneath them for snipping, or to pull free of the fabric.
How long to cut the thread is also optional. The longer thread may need some careful handling to avoid tangles.

The process of the needle and thread passing through the fabric will twist the thread. A few stitches won’t make any difference, but if you see the thread twisting back on itself, roll the needle between your thumb and finger just enough to let the thread relax. Otherwise it will tangle and knot.

The length or pattern of your stitches
depends on the reason for basting.

For example, long stitches work well when basting the three layers of a quilt before actual quilting, or very thick fabrics.
Back basting to mark a needle turned appliqué calls for a tiny stitch on the wrong side of the fabric, and a stitch on the right side of the fabric that is about a quarter inch long. A tight curve may need a smaller right-side stitch, but the scissor’s point will still fit under it, for cutting.
Top basting is a series of stitches worked on the right side of the fabric: 2 – 3 straight stitches on the background with a small stitch that only bites the edge of the foreground fabric, followed by 2 – 3 more straight stitches in the background. Top basting is done when matching prints or plaids, or in curved piecing that will be machine stitched.

What determines effective basting?

The layers of fabric are held securely, while the piece remains flexible and able to withstand the handling of sewing without shifting or coming apart. Unlike pins, the sewing machine can stitch over, or even through it. It is easily removed when its purpose has been served.

A special “thank you” goes out to Connie Sue Haidle of Apple Blossom Quilts. Her YouTube demonstrations and Face Book group have inspired me to re-visit beautiful hand appliqué.

*4-H is a national educational organization in the United States dedicated to teaching the fundamental skills of agriculture, homemaking and consumer economics. Each state directs the program through a state college or university. The four “H”s stand for: Head, Heart, Hands and Health. Generally, teachers are local volunteers who are under the supervision of an agent of the state organization.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Creativity

For every obstacle, there is a way around...
                    The solutions are what we know as "creativity."

If you are alive, i.e. working, resting, playing, nourishing...
you encounter problems that become obstacles.

Those obstacles provide the opportunity to seek solutions. Sometimes
we get answers. But just any answer isn't necessarily the solution.

The commercial world dumps answers on us from every side.
Ask yourself: What is the question?
Then you seek to find the best fitting,
more effective application.

The simplest question has the most possible answers,
while complex questions are, by their nature,
more limiting by the parameters they impose.

It's true: Less is More!


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Last post of 2019

Looking over my posting history, the first year I had this blog, I had posted 24 posts during the year, and not that much since then, except in 2017 with 40!

Just to have 24 posts for 2019, along with a resolution to post every 2 weeks in 2020 - I needed one more post:

Patience, a definition

Patience is a noun but sometimes you need a verb - what to do while being patient!

I prayed on it and got the answer:

Patience = Productive Preparation