Friday, September 30, 2016

Week in Review 2016 - 09/30


The newest threads added to my collection.
Tips, Thoughts and Techniques:

Have you noticed that no matter how many spools of thread you have on hand, when it comes time to selecting the ones to use none of them are quite right? What's a fiber artist to do? Buy more thread, of course. 

My thread choice has evolved over the years. Just as my machine quilting started with a basic all over stipple, my first thread choice was to use a clear monofilament. This had the advantage that it worked with most color fabrics since it "disappeared" and all you saw was the texture of the quilting. However, with very dark fabrics when the light hit the thread it would be sparkle and unless that was the look you wanted, it could be distracting. Hence the reason why monofilament comes in smoke - or a dark gray version today.

It didn't take long for me to stumble upon Superior Thread's King Tut line. This is a true staple Egyptian cotton thread that dramatically reduces the amount of lint build up. What drew me to King Tut was the range of variegated threads offered. There are 136 different options and the vast majority are variegated threads. The change between colors along the  thread is very short, resulting in a thread that blends well with multi-colored fabrics.

Detail from Siren's Song. I used one of the
few variegated polyester threads from
Marathon. It is my go to color for sky.
Predominately white with hints of baby
pink and blue. Not only can't your see the color
shifts in the image, but they are hard to pick up
in person. However, a solid white wouldn't
blend as well. It would be too harsh.
King Tut thread is cotton and therefore does not reflect light. It is average in thickness. Not so thick that it stands out above the fabric, but also not so fine that it hides in the fabric. Currently, I've been drawn to finer threads that add sheen to my work. I turned to Marathon Threads polyester and rayon lines. The advantage of fine thread for machine quilting is that you can do a fair amount of "unnoticeable" traveling stitching. In other words if I quilt myself  into a corner I can back track over the thread to get to where I need to go, instead of breaking thread. It simply is more efficient. Since much of my recent work has focused on interpretations of water and sunrises, the sparkle that rayon and polyester threads give enhances the design.

The finest (thinnest) thread of all is Superior Thread's Bottom Line. Love it! This is my go to bobbin thread. I choose something that "works" with my back fabric, and is mid range or so with anything happening on the quilt top. Because Bottom Line is fine, if the tension is set right you can't even see it on the quilt top. 

Most of my studio time this week was spent quilting Siren's Song. I did manage a few other things, as you can see:

1)  Siren's Song:

a) Prep for quilting - Done!

b) Begin quilting - Done!

I was pleasantly surprise how much quilting I actually did get done. I'm finished quilting the lightest sections. I'll be switching top threads next week.

2) Free motion quilting practice - Done!

Siren's Song is giving me all the FMQ practice I need. :)

3) Do some surface design work - Done!

I have started to play with some hand stitching with an eye to embellishing my work with it. I did a fair amount of embroidery, crewel and needlepoint before I turned to making quilts. I'm VERY rusty. I'd like to get my skills back.
4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.

Yesterday, I was ready to give up many times over. The top thread was breaking at a annoying frequency, sometimes after less than minute, while other times lasting for 5 - 10 minutes. I'm fairly good at diagnosing the source of a thread break. This had me stymied. The "sound" suggested that the thread was getting hung up. There was "sprong" type noise just before the break. I did my best to stay calm, rethread and begin again, and again, and again... Instinct suggested the issue was with the despooling, what happens as the thread comes of the spool. At first it seemed when the thread came off the lowest section of the spool it was getting caught on the lip of the thread above. I solved this by uncoiling the thread manually each time it reached the lower limit. That worked for a while but then it got hung up no matter where the thread was being despooled from. I was close to the end of the spool and this exposed more of the top portion of the spool. I felt the rim and edges of the exposed spool. My finger snagged ever so slightly. Since there wasn't that much thread left I removed it all from the spool and run it out along the floor of my studio. Genius! I quilted for another 20 minutes until I came to the end and the thread didn't break once.

What thread adventures will I face next week? The reality is that it is always an adventure that has me both cringing when things aren't going smoothly and delighted when they are. Here is next week's adventurous plan:

1)  Continue quilting Siren's Song

2) Free motion quilting practice

3) Do some surface design work

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.

I am now linking up to two blogs on Fridays. The first is Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays and the second is Free Motion Mavericks.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Week in Review 2016 - 09/23

Siren's Song
The top is complete!! I was inspired
to add a few prairie points between
some of the seams. I felt it helped
make the transition between the
sunset image and the roiling wake
less abrupt. Also, it helps create the
spray/churning water that I hope
to convey.
Tips, Thoughts and Techniques:

At what point do you start planning on how you will quilt your work? Right from the start? While you are creating the top? Once the top is done? My answer is D: All of the above. During the early stages I'm not so much planning as mulling over the possibilities. 

There are many ways I could quilt Siren's Song. Back when machine quilting was first getting a toe hold, the common method was to quilt in the ditch. This is when the quilting line follows the seam line. Next stippling with monofilament became all the rage. With a trend towards Modern Quilting parallel lines of quilting spaced evenly apart, often on the diagonal with asymmetrical balance seems de rigueur. 

Testing my theory of how to quilt
Siren's Song
My belief is that the quilting line should add a design element to the piece. It must enhance the composition of the top. It is there to add texture. The texture can help with pushing some elements forward while causing others to recede. This is done by varying the intensity of the quilting. It should not overwhelm the underlying image. This can feel like a of pressure to those new to creating quilts. I thrive on the challenge. For me, the quilting phase is when the quilt comes alive.

First Light is almost done. 
1)  Siren's Song:

a) Finish piecing - Done!
b) Piece backing - Done!
c) Prep for quilting - Started.
d) Begin quilting - Yes and no.


I haven't started quilting Siren's Song, BUT, I have settled on a design. This took some research, some practice drawing it out on paper, and finally spending several hours seeing if I could design on the fly. In other words I want to be able to free motion quilt this design without marking the top. It looks like I can. Yeah!
I focused on the quilting the sky.

2) Free motion quilting practice - Done!

Clearly the motif for Siren's Song counts as FMQ practice. I also spent some time working on First Light


3) Do some surface design work - Didn't get to it.

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open. - Done!

It was so tempting to take the easy way with Siren's Song. In other words, not to add the prairie points because they will be a nightmare to quilt to around. Also, why not do an overall stipple pattern? It would be so much easier to execute than the very complex, constantly changing, and requires regular decisions about what to sub-motif to add when. Who is to know when looking at the work what could have been besides me? Why not slam the door on what may or may not turn out to be a great idea, but what is clearly going to be challenging to institute? Because, my muse/gut says this is the way to go. This is not the time to chicken out.

1)  Siren's Song:

a) Prep for quilting
b) Begin quilting

2) Free motion quilting practice

3) Do some surface design work

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.

I am now linking up to two blogs on Fridays. The first is Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays and the second is Free Motion Mavericks.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Week in Review 2016 - 09/16

Tips, Thoughts and Techniques:

Lola relaxes in the sunshine just
to the left of my sewing table.
I must have some reptilian blood. Yesterday the sun was blanketing my studio in a way it rarely does in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was tempted to climb atop my sewing table and let the sun envelope me. As you can see my cat thought her condo, just to the left of my sewing table was purrfect. It is amazing how an afternoon of sunshine can elevate my mood. I was able to experience the progress I made on Siren's Song in a way I haven't for weeks now. 

Although Siren's Song still has a long way to go before it is finished, I have started my next immersion project. I signed up for SAQA's Seminar on Stitch. You must be a SAQA member to join, but the seminar alone is worth an annual membership. SAQA's Education Committee has pulled together a series of articles, created videos, provides a discussion Board and yesterday we had our first video conference. The highlight for me was learning about Yvette Stanton's book, The Left-Handed Embroider's Companion. Actually she has two books, the other is for right handers. If you are left handed, you know why I am exploding with joy over a book that breaks down approximately 175 different embroidery stitches from a left hander's perspective. I've already placed my on-line order. 

I spent a focused hour or so each day this week on the Stitch seminar, but I also found time  to attend to the following:

Detail from Siren's Song taken after several
rows were pieced together.
1)  Siren's Song - finish piecing the partial blocks that will be surrounding the sunset. - Done!

Even better, I seamed together the blocks in the top two rows and then stitched those blocks together. 

2) Free motion quilting practice - No

3) Do some surface design work - Done

I'm counting all that research/reading on Stitch as doing surface design work.
4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open. - Yes

The National Bike Challenge is wrapping up. I made my 2,000 miles for the summer. The trick is finding ways to bike when the weather is conducive or as I did this morning, finding an alternative exercise vs. not exercising at all. 


In competitive sports such as biking, running and swimming, training involves gradually pushing farther, harder, faster through speed drills and endurance bouts. Shortly before a key competitive event that practice drops off dramatically. This is called tapering. The body, used to expending much greater energy gets jumpy, eager to do the work it is used to. I feel tapered. I am ready to attack Siren's Song next week. I feel as though I can power through the final piecing. Then it is on to the next challenge - the quilting! Why stop there? Here is next week's plan:

1)  Siren's Song:

a) Finish piecing 
b) Piece backing
c) Prep for quilting
d) Begin quilting

2) Free motion quilting practice

3) Do some surface design work

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.



I am now linking up to two blogs on Fridays. The first is Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays and the second is Free Motion Mavericks.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Week in Review 2016 - 09/09

Insight
35" x 34"
1995
My first art quilt
Tips, Thoughts and Techniques:

I am fortunate that my husband is the primary maker of meals and dish washer in our home. Cooking doesn't suit me. Too much multi-tasking, coordinating and mess for someone who thrives on order, clear surfaces and not touching anything wet or sticky. Ironically, I love to read about cooks and can't watch enough cooking shows. This week I discovered Chef's Table: France. D√©licieux! There are four episodes, each focusing on a different french chef of a Michelin starred restaurant. What struck me was how every single chef had a cathartic moment when they let go of what was expected, trusted their instinct to do something that had never been done before and excelled because of this courageous leap.



EQ 7 piecing diagram for Siren's Song.
The the rectangle indicates the planned
location for the sunset image. The dashed
lines indicate the "allowance" to be sure
there will be no gaps between the image
and the background. The silver penned
squares are the blocks and/or partial
blocks I need to make.
Chefs are artists. I suspect it is the creativity, courage and focus chefs possess that captivates me. The parallel between how I work and how these chefs work became clear when I was drafting an artist statement about my first art quilt, made in 1995. The statement needed to include what I was doing while making the quilt and how I felt about it. I've made many quilts since 1995. I have become used to the rhythm of euphoria when the idea hits, followed by a "what was I thinking? This stinks!!" phase and ending with a neutral, "not bad." Yet writing about Insight, my first experience, the emotional rollercoaster of creativity felt fresh and tripled in magnitude.

My current work in progress, Siren's Song, took a few steps back or forward this week. The direction is a subjective one, as you will see.

I created this on EQ 7 to double check
the location and math.
1)  Siren's Song - piece the partial blocks that will be surrounding the sunset. - Some progress

I digressed a bit. I wanted to work out what would and would not need to be pieced to surround the sunset image but not piece much more. There is nothing worse than discovering you need just an inch or so more. This sent me back to EQ 7 to fine tune my drafting and math. 

2) Free motion quilting practice - Not this week

3) Do some surface design work - Not this week

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open. - Done!

I am always setting goals for myself, often extending or pushing the goal before I even reach it. For example, I shared recently that I was going to try to hold my local ranking in the National Bike Challenge at under 100 for a week. I did that, not just for one week, but every day since. I am currently ranked 81st. My next thought was to see if I couldn't log 2,000 miles for the summer. This seemed a reasonable goal at the time. I only needed just shy of 300 miles before September 30th, the conclusion of the National Bike Challenge. At the beginning of last week I had chipped this down to 150 miles. Since I normally ride 125 miles a week, the goal still looked easily obtainable. Then the rain started and the temperature dipped to the point of extremely uncomfortable to ride. I have 75 or so miles to go. I am staying open to either outcome. I may or may not meet my arbitrary goal. Either way it was a successful National Bike Challenge year for me.
This is the original photo used
to abstract the background. Its
scale is the same as the piecing
diagram. I use this to select my
fabrics.

I heard from Spoonflower this morning. My fabric (backing and sunset image) has shipped. Looks like I need to buckle down and attend to the following next week:

1)  Siren's Song - finish piecing the partial blocks that will be surrounding the sunset.

2) Free motion quilting practice

3) Do some surface design work

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.


I am now linking up to two blogs on Fridays. The first is Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays and the second is Free Motion Mavericks.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Week in Review 2016 - 09/02




Siren's Song
72" H x 56" W
The sunset image in the photo is
printed on paper. I wanted to test
the scale and approximate color
before committing to have the image
printed on fabric. Although I could
print it myself, the size of the image
requires seams if printed at home.
I find seams detract when they
randomly bisect an image.
Tips, Thoughts and Techniques:

Finally! I am far from done with Siren's Song. However, the first major stretch of the journey is complete. As you can see from the full image of where I left off yesterday, there is a gap that needs filling in. The background is complete. It is time to savor the moment. 

The practice of yoga teaches one the importance of resting poses between the more taxing poses. At first I found resting the most difficult part of my classes. How could I improve my balance, strengthen muscles, gain more flexibility if all I did was stay still focusing on breathing in and out? Every muscle in my body was twitching, preparing for action, a full body toe tapping state of being during those early classes. No more. I have learned to embrace times of rest. 

Siren's Song will rest briefly. I need the time to strategize how to fill that gap. I do my best strategizing subconsciously as I go about my daily chores or write in my morning pages. I may do an experiment or two to test various theories. It is best not rush. It is best to ponder. It is time well spent, like resting between strenuous yoga poses. When I approach my work this way, although it can feel counter intuitive, ultimately it saves me time.

First Light
This is my first Spoonflower experiment.
I "painted" the sky on my iPad using the
app Sketchbook Pro. Then I manipulated the
color and added the tree silhouettes
in PicMonkey.
My work as Chair of SAQA's Exhibition Committee continued to provide me with a significant number of projects requiring my attention. This week, however I was able to get into the studio, and most importantly focus while I was there. The results are clear is you can see:

1)  Siren's Song:
a) Finish row 9 - Done!
b) Select image to be seen through the porthole. - Done!
c) Design backing fabric - Done!
d) Have fabric printed - Done!

Both the sunset image and the backing fabric have been ordered from Spoonflower. The picture was taken by my husband and then I manipulated through PicMonkey. This is a free software application that is available as part of the design process on Spoonflower. It allows me to adjust color, and in this case I used a radial filter. I designed the backing fabric, too. It is based on another photo taken from my husband, the one I abstracted for the background on the front side of Siren's Song
2) Free motion quilting practice - Done!

It felt good to get back to free motion quilting.
This is a detail of the quilting in First Light.
I was concerned that going for a full month without any time spent on free motion quilting I would feel rusty. This was not the case. It felt natural to spend a few hours on filling in more of the sky in First Light. 
3) Do some surface design work - Not done.

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.

The gym I belong to has break weeks between sessions. Some classes are held, many more are canceled. This week is also when many of the rooms are refurbished. Fortunately, yoga was not canceled. However, some people looking for something to do decided to give yoga a try. The dynamics of the class changes dramatically when so many people are new, naturally uncertain and frankly distracting. It is easy for me to feel resentful and wanting things not to change. I chose to welcome the new students and appreciate their presence. Change may bring momentary discomfiture; it also brings progress.
What progress will I make next week? No idea. However, I do have a plan as follows:

1)  Siren's Song - piece the partial blocks that will be surrounding the sunset.

2) Free motion quilting practice

3) Do some surface design work

4) Beware of when I find myself shutting down and find a way to stay open.

I am now linking up to two blogs on Fridays. The first is Nina Marie's Off the Wall Fridays and the second is Free Motion Mavericks.