Sunday, August 31, 2008

Too Good to Sleep

I was awake into the wee hours this morning, because I could not put down a wonderful novel: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." What a charming book -- well worth the lost sleep! It's a story told in letters, of people on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel during the period during WWII when the island was occupied by the Germans. They invent a literary society to explain why some of the residents are caught out after curfew one night, and then decide that they'd better read something if they're going to run a literary society. The novel reminded me of 84 Charing Cross Road (another wonderful story told in letters, about strangers who become friends through their correspondence about books).

I highly recommend it -- but don't start it before bedtime!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Slowly but surely

Yeah, I know that looks like a mysterious mess, but I thought I'd share the beginning stages of a new project. For my design workshop, our next challenge assignment involves the concepts of balance and threadwork. My inspiration piece is a textile design by the Scottish artist Charles Rennie McIntosh, of stylized tulips, and I adapted it and fiddled with it and messed around with it in Photoshop until I got it where I wanted it. Then (putting my new inkjet printer to the test) I printed it out on tracing paper, laid it out on fabric, and sewed over the whole thing.

I tried this sewing-through-tracing paper-technique on a small project, by the way, and it worked fine. Pulling the tracing paper off at the end was no more difficult than removing paper foundations after paper piecing. Although I think I should stock up on some water soluable stabilizer -- it'd be nice to just dampen it and have it melt away. At any rate, this is sort of a fun way to transfer a design and get the quilting done in one swell foop.

So, the threadwork defines the lines of the design and acts as the quilting lines, too. And now, I'm painting in the spaces with Lumiere paints -- a very fun and relaxing process.

It's frustrating, though...after doing the design work and drawing and stitching, which took a fair amount of time, I was so happy to get to the painting part... And I haven't had time to get more than this little corner done.

Once again, real life gets in the way of serious fun.

Oh well, it's there waiting for me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Book Review: Foolproof Machine Quilting

Free motion quilting is one of those things that quilters seem to either love or avoid. I know a number of quilters who've been pretty intimidated about free motion quilting, and I know scads of them who simply aren't interested in learning it. They'll hand quilt and send a quilt out for professional long-arm quilting before they'll drop their feed dogs and hook up the free motion foot.

But one of the best things about quilting is that there is room for every taste and technique here. Those people who don't want to quilt using free-motion quilting -- or those who do but want a different alternative from time to time, will want to check out "Foolproof Machine Quilting" by Mary Mashuta (C&T Publishing, 2008).

Mary Mashuta is an internationally known quilt maker and teacher, and pretty much a legend here in Northern California. She excels at using contemporary and unusual fabric choices with traditional quilt patterns to create innovative and striking quilts. And if you've ever examined them or had a class with Mary, then you know that Mary just doesn't do free motion quilting. Instead, she's developed a way of designing elegant and relatively simple shapes to complement the blocks she quilts, all sewn with a walking foot and a straight stitch.

This book lays out Mary's thoughts, processes, and tips about walking-foot quilting. She tells you how to use thick threads (even #8 perle cotton), and how to select the right needles and batting for your project. Most importantly, she shows how she creates her own quilting templates, using freezer paper or contac paper, to make repositionable quilting guides in any shape you choose. There are lots of illustrations in this book showing variations of quilting shapes and even creative uses for decorative stitches in the quilting process.

My one disappointment about this book? Far too many of the quilts shown in this new book are ones already shown in other books by Mary and C&T. In fact, the cover of this book is a detail shot from a quilt featured in Cotton Candy Quilts (C&T Publishing, 2001), where you can find almost the same picture. You all know how much I love quilt books, and you won't be surprised that I really do look at them over and over for inspiration. Sometimes I'm studying color, sometimes quilting designs, sometimes just general ideas. So as I looked through this brand new book, I was dismayed to find that many of the quilts weren't new to me. To be honest, it felt too much like I was looking at the Mashuta books I already have. Maybe if the book were subtitled or marketed as "an up-close look at Mary Mashuta's quilting using her body of work" -- with some clue that you're going to see a lot of older quilts here, not new ones-- I wouldn't have been so disappointed. I couldn't help feeling a bit cheated as I turned page after page to see quilts I've seen in her other books.

Still, the information here is clear and very useful, and the images do provide good illustration of attractive quilting designs. The images are all about the quilting designs, so I recognize that the use of those same quilts is for a different purposes than in the previous books (where they were generally shown for the pieced block designs).

All in all, I guess I'd grade this book a "B" (can you tell we're in back-to-school mode?). The content is good and the instruction is very clear, even if you may have seen a lot of the quilts before. This book, and the walking-foot quilting ideas taught here, are good ones to have in your quilting bag of tricks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Watching the River Run

I have not been able to make it to my ongoing Practical Design workshop in several months, due to vacations and family events and such. So this Sunday, I'll be getting back to it and I'm really looking forward to it. I've talked about it before, but basically we work with an artist/leader and she guides us through work on various design concepts. There are assigned themes each time, which we can choose to do or not as time and energy permits. And because I've been gone so long, I was determined to complete a piece for this class.

This month's topics are line and applique. Another ongoing aspect of the workshop is that we select artist mentors who have worked in other media -- I chose Andy Goldsworthy because I love how he uses organic shapes and natural objects and simple designs to create striking pieces of art.

Luckily, I just happened to have this little piece I'd done for another exercise. I love the fabrics and the line shape, so my challenge to myself was to turn this into something.

As you can see from the result above, I bordered it with some other fabrics -- which required some creative piecing, as I didn't have enough of the graduated hand-dyed piece I wanted to use and was determined to make it work. I fused and machine appliqued "pebbles", and then continued the theme with machine quilting (which was VERY fun to do.) You can see a detail here.

I really enjoyed this exercise and am very pleased that I managed to turn a little UFO into something I really like. Very satisfying! Oh, and Francoise, the size is 26 x 28 inches.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Good Life

The other night, Roger and I were lingering at the kitchen table after dinner. Caroline had gone upstairs to immerse herself in a drawing project, we'd fed the dog so she had stopped chasing her tail to get our attention, and we were enjoying another glass of wine and quiet conversation. The sun was setting, and as the sun shone into the room across the table, we noticed an amazing shadow on the kitchen wall.

We ran for our cameras, and I captured this shot. Nothing was posed or changed in photoshop-- this is really the shadow that appeared.

Magical, I think! Just yesterday, I happened upon an interview with psychic James van Praagh, who said something like "Coincidence is God's way of remaining invisible." And that thought sprang into mind when this shadow appeared. Roger and I remind each other at times that, although we so easily get bogged down in the day-t0-day-ness of school and work and childrearing and house maintenance and such, we live an amazing life in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

To have our dinner scene reflected back at us, to show us the beauty in the moment, was a lovely gift.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I'm continuing to enjoy experimenting with my Nikon D80 camera, and I'm having great fun (and learning a lot) posting and viewing pictures on One of my favorite things there is a group called "7 Days of Shooting". It's a photography challenge group, essentially -- different themes every week, and different aspects of shooting that theme every day. You can post pictures that suit the day's assignment as you choose. It's a great motivator to get out and shoot pictures of things you wouldn't (well, I wouldn't, anyway) think to photograph. And with all challenges like this, it's totally fun and fascinating to see how other people interpret the theme.

I took this picture (a view out a side window in our bedroom) for the theme "Between," when the daily task was black and white. It's my take on the theme because there isn't a lot of space between the houses in our development, and this picture exaggerates that even more.

And today I learned that my picture was selected to be featured in the 7DOS blog. A thrilling recognition for a beginning photographer like me!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rayna was Right

We are trying to enjoy the last few days of summer vacation (school starts this coming wednesday) so Caroline and I decided to have an art/play day. We broke out Rayna Gillman's book and went to work making gelatin prints. The picture above shows the pieces we made laid out on the patio table to dry.

Yep, this is the very technique that sounded too bizarre and icky to me to want to try, until I read Rayna's book. And it really did seem like the very tactile sort of art that Caroline loves. So last night I mixed up two pans of gelatin per Rayna's instructions (which took all of two minutes), and this morning we were good to go.

What fun this was! The picture above shows my very first print, with the fabric laying on the gelatin after I'd laid it on the painted and textured slab of gelatin. The front side came out darker but I really love the back side. I used a baby's bath cup and the lid from a can of shaving gel to make the texture.

Caroline did this rainbow one, blending colors and texturing with a flower-shaped hairclip and a plastic fork. I just love this one.

As Rayna explained would happen, the gelatin started developing cracks and softening (because of the heat, maybe -- it's HOT HOT HOT here today) but that just added to the texture. This print resulted after I rolled on black paint, stamped all over with a finger-print textured rubber stamp, pulled a print, then stamped the stamp AGAIN onto the gelatin.

And as we were tearing fabric squares, I had lots of thread ends that I dragged through green and yellow paint and then laid on the gelatin which had been painted with dark blue paint. I really got into these thread-mess prints and made a bunch of them. (Hint: do not try to roller paint on tOP of the thread -- as that leads to getting thread wound all around your brayer.)

It was pretty fascinating to work with the gelatin, I have to admit, and not as weird as I thought it would be. It was quite firm, but soft enough to take pressure in an interesting way. I was surprised at how easy it was to wipe it down with a damp paper towel to change colors, too. At the end of the process, Caroline gathered up her gelatin hunks and went outside to fling them on the driveway (I'm guessing that's what Rayna has her students do after her workshops, don't you think?) to watch them explode and then dissolve when it was all hosed down.

So, a good time was had by all and now I've got some very fun fabric to play with.

Thanks, Rayna!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Fifteen Years and Still Counting

Yesterday, Roger and I celebrated our 15th anniversary. My gift to him was this little quilt (it's about 10x13) and I had such fun making it.

I converted a wedding photo into a brown monotone, and then printed it on silk. (I used Jacquard's pre-treated inkjet silk sheets for the first time --very easy to use.) Then I had fun layering this little composition and doing simple quilting.

We got married on 8/8 -- and I stitched two infinity symbols which just happen to be sideways 8's. And the three mother of pearl buttons are for our family of 3. It was a simple little thing but very fun to make and Roger loves it.

To celebrate, we went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant, Zin. We had wonderful food, a great bottle of wine (Raymond Burr's 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, to be precise) and then came home to watch the amazing opening ceremonies to the Olympics. It was wonderful to talk about how it showed important aspects of Chinese culture, heritage, and history with Caroline.

It was a lovely day.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Let the Games Begin!

Well, the Olympics have officially begun, and in honor of our Quilting Olympics Mathea has designed a button to advertise your participation on your own blog! You can find it here and even choose which size you like.

To put the button on your blog or website, right-click on the image, choose "save this picture as", and save the image to your own harddrive. Then you can upload that image to your blog or site as usual.

You hardcore Olympians may start and finish a project during the Olympic games... me, I'm just gonna piece and piece and piece. I'm just working on accumulating a big ol' pile of tumbling block blocks. As I said earlier, it's all about endurance.

Happy 8-8-08 to you! (which is my 15th wedding anniversary, btw... a lovely date evening is ahead for us!)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book Review: Create Your Own Handprinted Cloth

I've long had the same feeling about the idea of creating my own fabrics with various surface design techniques that I had about learning to dye fabric: I was afraid to start down that road out of the fear that I'd get so entranced with even MORE ways to add fabric to my already-stuffed shelves that I'd never get anything finished. So, while I read Rayna Gillman's blog regularly, I've avoided getting very involved with printing, screen printing, and other surface design techniques.

But earlier this week, a copy of Rayna's new book Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth (C&T Pub. 2008) landed in my mailbox, around the same time I'd been laid low with a nasty sinus infection. I retreated to bed with my antibiotics and this book.
And, I'm afraid to say, I was smitten. Dang it, I knew this would happen. I really want to try some of these techniques.
First, the book itself is really pretty to look at. There are tons of vibrant pictures. Each page has great visual appeal, so it's a pleasure to read this book even if you're not going to rush off to paint fabric right away. I'm much more likely to want to use a book if the pictures are vivid and interesting (shallow, I know, but what can I say?) and this one definitely fulfills my visual criteria.
But for someone like me, who doesn't like making an enormous mess and who doesn't have a dedicated "wet" studio area (I'm left to the kitchen and the patio) Rayna's instructions make these techniques seem feasible. I'm leery of melting wax to try batiking, and I tend to think of screen printing as something complex that trained artists need big expensive equipment to do. I'm impressed at how Rayna explains how these techniques are accessible and easily achievable with relatively inexpensive and/or found items. It's a small thing, I know, but I really liked that Rayna explained how to make a portable work surface to use when trying these techniques. That's the sort of basic information I need.
A lot of different surface design techniques are covered here -- stamping and stenciling with found objects, "random" screenprinting, gelatin plate printing, discharge printing, soy wax batik, and more. And as I read each section, I not only could see myself trying the techniques I'd not yet used, I actually wanted to try them. Rayna's text is very encouraging and she takes a lot of pleasure in the simple concept of experimenting. I've had people tell me about gelatin printing, for example, and the idea of printing with "jello" sort of grossed me out. But Rayna's instructions and pictures made me think again. I really want to give this a try, and I figure it'll be a good mom-and-daughter project one of these days.
One of the parts I like the best in this book is "Can This Fabric Be Saved?," where Rayna shows some examples of pieces she made that she didn't like, and how she changed them with additional surface design treatments to make them better. That was encouraging too for the non-confident among us.
Scattered throughout the book are pictures of art quilts made with various personally-created fabric, by Rayna and others. I would have liked to see more, but of course I realize that the point of the book is simply making the fabric ... once made, it's like any other fabric in terms of how a quilt artist chooses to use it.
I'll confess that that leads to my other vague discomfort about getting on the "surface design" bandwagon. I have the impression that, as surface design techniques are being taught and used more widely, more people are making cloth, adding quilting to it, and calling it "art." I feel like I'm seeing more and more pieces made to simply show hunks of hand-created fabric, without (to my eye) good composition, thought to artistic principles such as balance, focal point, etc. Wrongly or not, I've concluded that a lot of people who delve into surface design end up falling in love with the fabric they make and then can't bear to treat it as actual cloth to cut up and integrate into anything. I can see that making the cloth is an artistic process, but to me, that doesn't necessarily make the resulting cloth "art" in and of itself. I appreciated that the title "Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth" makes clear that it's about making the cloth, and then you're left to use that cloth an element in your art. But I'm digressing. That's my own pet peeve about the subject.
In short, I'm very impressed with this book and how accessible Rayna makes these techniques. I think I'm going to give a few of them a try ... I guess I'd better make a bit more room on my fabric shelves!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Quilting Olympics

Four years ago, knitter and blogger-turned-author Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (aka Yarn Harlot) came up with the brilliant idea of participating in her own knitting olympics while the actual olympics were on tv. Her challenge back then was to choose a challenging knitting project (because, after all, the olympics are all about pushing oneself to accomplish one's best feats), cast on during the opening ceremonies, knit during event-watching, and finish by the closing ceremonies. The whole thing became quite the knitting event, with international "teams" starting up all over the place. And yes, I managed to get sucked in and indeed knitted a lace shawl during the process...The first and last one I shall ever, ever knit.

In any event, with the China Olympics starting just days from now, I've decided to embark on a Quilting Olympics project. I'll be working with batik scraps (of which I've got many)and I'll sit in front of the tv hand-piecing tumbling blocks. You know, these:

I know, it's not an extreme quilting sort of event. But it's all about endurance --c'mon, HAND piecing? I'm a machine lover, through and through. So I figure this is like the marathon run. I'll be hand-sewing all those Y-seams for miles and miles and miles.

Wanna join me? If you do, then figure out what you're going to work on during the Olympics, and post a comment here (or link to your blog) and we'll see what happens.
Let the stitching begin!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Book Review: Simply Stunning Woven Quilts

If you haven't stumbled onto this book -- Simply Stunning Woven Quilts by Anna Faustino (C&T Pub. 2008) -- you'll want to take a look at it. I've been meaning to review it for a while now, because it's one of the most innovative books I've seen in a while.

Here's the thing that impresses me the most about this book: it takes a basic concept (weaving) and shows you how to do it in increasingly complex and amazing ways. And truly, Faustino's instructions lead you from the basic principles into more interesting and unusual and complicated ways to use weaving. The pieces that result are the sorts of ones that you'd stand in front of at a quilt show or art gallery, looking closely and thinking, "How the heck did she DO that?"

And, even better (for those of us who like relatively instant gratification) it's fused. And while it is very much like the weaving we all did as elementary school kids with strips of construction paper, Faustino's spin on it is much more appealing. If you could do that construction paper thing, you can do this.

The photos and illustrations provide very clear examples on how to cut and assemble to get the eye-popping woven results. Faustino shows how to use the woven technique in both subtle and bold ways, for a very different background or a main feature in a piece. There are woven log cabin pieces that are gorgeous, and woven circles of graduated color that make my fingers itch to start cutting fabric.
As I read this (over and over -- and it amazes me every time) I'm impressed at how Faustino has come up with an easy technique for a complicated look, and then figured out all sorts of different ways to use it, AND she's sharing it all here.

I'm very eager to try this out. There are innumerable possibilities for using this technique.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

It's illuminating!

Finally, after a brief blogger glitch, over at Twelve by 12 we've been able to reveal the quilts for our August 1 challenge. Brenda chose the theme "illumination" -- another great theme with lots of possible directions.
It took me a while to figure out where I was going to go with the concept, and as usual the idea I started with in mind is not what I ended up with. I had grand ideas about "illumination" as knowledge and I even played for a while with a photograph I'd taken recently, trying to incorporate it to say something about how parenting is a constant learning process, with a whole string of those lightbulb, "aha moments."

But too many ideas confounded me. I tend to get so stuck in my head thinking about the ideas from a left-brain angle.

So it was with a lovely flash of delight that I stumbled onto a photo of chinese paper lanterns. I've always had a thing about lanterns and in fact have collected images of them with the thought of making a big quilt one of these days. Duh! This was pure fun to make and didn't get all balled up in my head with deep meaning.

I dug out a bunch of silk dupioni fat quarters I'd bought at a quilt show a long time ago, and away I went. I had fun stitching the spines and pleats of the lanterns with heavy thread. And last, I got to use my favorite Neocolor II crayons to make the lights inside the lanterns glow through. I'm very happy with this little quilt, and have called it Happy Lanterns. It just makes me feel good to look at it.

As always, the Twelveby12 group's pieces are stunning, and different, and reflect such a variety of ideas and techniques and personal styles. Terry Grant also used the paper lantern concept (which surprised us both!) but still, her interpretation is quite different from mine.
Head on over and take a look at them! And don't forget to click on the "friends of Twelve by 12" on the sidebar to see how others played along, too.

The next theme is "shelter." Hmmmm.....