Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas Spirit

Book Review: The Ultimate Applique Guidebook

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to make friends with Annie Smith. Some of you know Annie for her wonderful Quilting Stash podcast.  Annie is just a delight -- she's fun and funny and she has a lovely enthusiasm for all things Quilty.  She also has the perfect voice for a podcast host, so listening to Annie makes you feel like you've had a chat with a dear friend about what she saw at the latest quilt shop or show.

Annie has a lot of quilting talents, but her love of applique is highlighted in her brand new book, The Ultimate Applique Guidebook  (C&T Publishing 2010).  I was lucky enough to get a pre-release copy when I ran into Annie at PIQF, and I've been savoring it since.

I'm the first one to admit that I don't do a lot of applique, unless you call Wonder Under an applique method.  But I have to confess that this makes me feel like it's do-able.  Annie covers both machine and hand techniques, all of which are illustrated with charming abstract flowers designed by Annie.  I really like reading through this book -- it has Annie's voice throughout, giving you tips and tricks on both machine and hand applique to make things go more smoothly. 

You can listen to Annie's podcast on how she wrote the book, her submission process with C&T Publishing, and more here.

This book seems most appropriate to me for a beginner to intermediate quilter who hasn't done much applique.  Or someone like me who has quilted a lot but is reluctant and/or mildly intimidated about getting into that much handwork.  Annie's book will make you want to give it a try.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections on City and Guilds (or how I discover why it is I'm doing this)

I've mentioned here before that I've been plugging away for some time now in an online City and Guilds course with Linda and Laura Kemshall.(What's pictured above is an exercise I did for it.) At the time I signed up for it, I did so because I admire the Kemshalls' work tremendously and hoped to learn a bit more about how they achieved the effects they do.  And I figured that it would be good for me to focus more on design.

So, I've intermittently worked away at the exercises, trying techniques and making samples and playing with various new supplies.  It's all been fun and it's showed me some new things, and even made me appreciate some things I already knew in a new way, in a sense of realizing that I could use them in different ways.  Still, there have been moments when I've wondered why I'm doing this, why I'm taking my time to fuss around with little samples when I have ideas in my head for bigger projects that I haven't made yet.  And I think, maybe I should just stop.

But recently I had an epiphany about why this is good for me.  When Helen was here from England  in October and we attended PIQF together, we talked about how PIQF was different from the big quilt show she attends each year, Festival of Quilts in Birmingham.  Helen commented how she saw so many more patterns at the US vendor booths, and how there were far fewer art supplies on offer. 

And that got me thinking.  In the City and Guilds course, each section links design and technique together.  From the very first lesson, a patchwork technique is shown along with exercises designed to get you thinking about how to create designs that might use that technique.  The idea that you can create your own designs from the outset, even with the most basic techniques, is built into the program from day one.

And that strikes me as quite different from how most of us learn to quilt here in the US. I know this is not universal, but I think it's typical that people generally learn quilting here by taking a class in which the focus is making a sampler quilt or some traditional block, and the goal is to make the quilt the way it is shown at the beginning of the class.  You learn technique by making pre-designed projects, and while you might advance into more complicated projects involving more complex techniques, the goal is still to make your version of that particular project.  The idea that you design your own isn't typically introduced in the "typical" quilting path until later down the road, and it seems to me that here in the US, most quilters never move to that stage.  Designing their own quilts is not something they envision doing or want to do, and quilting is all about sewing quilt patterns and taking classes to learn someone else's quilt.  Design is considered either a) very advanced, or b) something only the "artsy" people do.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this, if indeed if my distinction is even accurate.  (I think it is, but I'm sure many others have had different paths or leapt into making their own designs from Day One.) 

But thinking about this has confirmed for me why I'm doing C&G and why it's good for me.  It reminds me over and over that the design is up to me, and I can find inspiration everywhere.  At the moment, I'm working on an assessment piece for which I'm pulling inspiration from one of my favorite places ever (Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire) and translating some aspects into fabric.  It's been fun and exciting in a whole new way. 

So, I'm realizing that this C&G course has shown me a different approach to quilting, and I like the switch.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Blog Exploring

I seem to have been struck by one of those not-quite-the-flu crud illnesses in which you are not full out feverish and retching sick, but where you feel like that might be just around the corner. So I have been coddling myself with lots of sleep and reading and hot tea and vegetable soup, and now that I'm feeling an eensy bit better I thought I'd share some of the blogs I read that make me happy every day, no matter how I feel.  A lot of you probably know the art quilty ones, so I thought I'd share some of the not-so-fabric related ones:

Vivian Swift: How I Make Moutains Out of My Molehill Life:  How could you not love a blog with a subtitle like that?  Vivian is 1) a very funny woman, and 2) a talented watercolor painter who shares painting tips, and 3) an author who talks about her writing experiences and 4) someone I'd just love to hang out with.

Hooked on Houses:  This is the best house porn ever. Julia writes about celebrity houses.  She tracks down the houses that we see on TV shows and in movies, gives close looks at beautiful sets (I was drooling over the house in the Meryl Streep movie It's Complicated -- there it all is, for endless scrutiny.)  She features bad MLS listing photos (go on, you KNOW you want to look...) 

Tiny Red:  Thereza is an illustrator and graphic designer in London who does the most wonderful art.  Go look.   It'll make you smile.

That is Priceless:  Old master paintings with truly funny captions by comedy writer Steve Melcher. 

Color Me Katie:  Katie is a photographer and artist in NYC who loves color and fun and photographs what she does with both. 

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman:  If you haven't discovered Ree Drummond's blog about life and motherhood on a cattle ranch, you should go look.  It'll make you smile.

Daisy Yellow:  Great art journaling inspiration here!

Feel free to mention some of your favorite blog destinations in the comments!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Wings of Night

Last week, I had a window of time with nothing pressing.  No work, no deadlines, no projects that had to be finished.  So I gave myself the time to just play, and ended up making this quilt.

I started with some of the prints from my first screen printing experience this summer.  I have a thing for spanish lavender and so made a whole batch of prints with spanish lavender blossoms on them.  I love how they looked against this hand-dyed fabric. So away I went.

It felt so fun to just play, move things around, test the "what if I try this" sort of thing.  I'm happy with the result, but even happier with how fun and free the process was.  I also had a great time machine quilting (on the new Bernina 830) and I couldn't believe that I was able to do all of the vermicelli quilting with ONE bobbin.  I love that enlarged bobbin.

Here's a detail.  Yep, I couldn't resist breaking out the Neocolor crayons, and adding some hand stitching.


"Wings of Night" is a variety of spanish lavender -- isn't that a gorgeous name for a flower?  So that seemed perfect for the name of this quilt.

I'm hoping to get some more play time this week, but a work project landed in my email inbox this morning.  So we'll see.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Book Review: Collage + Cloth = Quilt

I haven't posted a book review here for a long time -- did you think that meant that I wasn't looking at (or buying) new books?!  Au contraire!  I continue my love affair with books and even when I'm not spending much time with fabric or my sewing machine, I'm always looking and reading and gathering inspiration.

So here's a book I've added to my collection recently. It's Collage+Cloth=Quilt: Create Innovative Quilts from Photo Inspirations by Judi Warren Blaydon (C&T Pub. 2010).  Because of the subtitle, I wondered when I first picked this book up whether it'd be another book on using photos transferred to fabrics.  But no, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed.  The main idea of the book involves choosing a few photographs, cutting them up to assemble a pleasing collage, and then using the collage as the basis for a quilt.

It's a great concept, and I'm impressed at how beautifully this book works through the process.  It makes the process of moving from images to collage to quilt very accessible and quite do-able.  There's a good discussion about choosing photographs for scale and composition.  There is a very useful connection shown between various collage arrangements and quilt formats.  The brilliance of this concept, of course, is that cutting up photos and arranging elements for a collage feels much less intimidating than cutting fabric and designing an art quilt.  So really, once you've got your collage set up in a way that excites and interests you, translating that into fabric feels like an easy jump.  You've already designed your quilt.

As is often the case with me, my favorite part of the book is the gallery at the back, which shows photo collages by various people (the author's students) and the quilts that resulted.  It's a very inspirational set of work.  I'm all set now to scour my photos to play with this idea. 

If you're looking for a new way to jump start your art quilting, this could be a fun new approach.

Monday, November 01, 2010

October's End

Today is the reveal day for our Twelve by Twelve colorplay challenge.  Terri chose our "rusty" color palette which she defined with rusty oranges, peaches, and the blues and greens of patina'd copper.  This is my response, called "October's End."

My process?  I started with a stunning piece of fabric dyed by Just Imagination's Judy Robertson.  I cut some strips, and spent a lot of time moving them around.  No meaning, no attempt to make them an abstraction of a particular image -- just moving and looking and aiming for something that I liked. Same with the circles.  Moving shapes, playing. Some people work this away all the time.  For me, it feels ... unfocused?  Unsure?  It was enjoyable, but my mind keeps trying to overlay an image or meaning onto what I'm doing.  

Goodness, I'm having a challenge with using a color palette as a starting point.  That's the idea, of course, a challenge.  But it makes me realize how strongly I connect words to images, and how I immediately move toward a specific image to translate into fabric.  I go back and forth, too, with whether that's a good thing (moving toward one's natural inclination) or whether I should push myself in the opposite direction.  For now, I'm trying to get away from the literal, and I'm making myself play with abstraction.  It's a stretch, and sometimes it's uncomfortable, but it feels like a good thing.

All this creative angst, eh?  Maybe I've been watching too much Project Runway.

I actually made two pieces this round, which I've never done before.  This was actually the first piece I started with, inspired by an amazing piece of batiked fabric made by my friend Judy Bianchi. It's called "Make Your Own Way."

To be honest, I'm not crazy about it.  But it was time to stop and move on.  I think this reflects that I WAS trying to say something in this piece in an abstract way (about being different in a field of similar things) and then it moved away from that idea in a way that is visually confusing.  Still, the exercise was fun and I still have a hunk of that lovely fabric for more exploration.

And here's my goal for the fabric work I'm doing now:  Lighten Up!  Stop Analyzing!  Just Play!