Friday, September 30, 2011

Free Motion Challenge

A few months ago I entered Leah Day's Free Motion Challenge.  I was so thrilled that my little quilt was chosen as 1 of 14 semi-finalists.  After viewing the other 13, I knew I probably wouldn't be one of the 8 finalists. They were all so awesome.  However, this morning I got an email from Leah stating I was one of 8!  I am so surprised and happy!  Below are some photos of my winning quilt.  We had to use 5 of Leah's quilting designs - I used variations of her bubble and fern leaf designs.  The fabrics are all ones I painted myself, except the dark green.  However, it is also a hand dyed piece.

I want to congratulate my fellow finalists - like I said, their work was amazing and I cannot believe I am one of the winning group!

Seasonal Transformations  8.5"by 11"
Closeup of the quilting

Another closeup

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My Quilt Philosophy: Musings

Leah Day posted a blog about why she doesn’t want to use a long arm machine.  I left a comment but started really thinking about things and realized that she touched a nerve.  So rather than hog her comments page, I will expand on those thoughts here.  Comments most welcome!

I started quilting 2 years ago and am self taught (it probably shows).  I stumbled onto Leah’s website early through the videos.  Thank God!  Otherwise I might not have stuck with it.  Unfortunately I ran into some pretty snobby, snotty people from the get go. I have since met some great quilters who are encouraging and willing to impart useful criticisms and solutions.  I am exploring and trying almost everything I come across.  I have joined some Internet based bees and swaps, which force me to do and learn things I might have avoided and “met” some cool people from all over the world doing so.

One lady I know calls herself a “topper”.  She is upfront that she likes to create the top but doesn’t have the least desire to quilt.  She does beautiful work and is enjoying herself.  Other people I have met aren’t all that thrilled with the top creation but can’t wait to get to the quilting part.  Me?  I have set out to learn it all as well as I can.  I want to be able to piece, appliqué, whatever, to create a top, be it a place mat, a blanket, a piece of art. Both the traditional as well as the improvisational styles appeal to me.  Then I want to enhance it with embellishments such as paint, beads and of course, lovely threads.  I consider quilting part of the enhancement process.  I still lean towards making sure I can wash the quilt – I like the extra texture from the shrinkage, but have made one quilt that shouldn’t be washed.  I like it all – I like the variety of the work and the ability to work on whatever I want to when I want to.  

No matter how you do any craft, you have to sink some money into it.  Decent fabric and thread isn’t exactly cheap, although bargains can be found.  Good cutters, scissors, needles, etc., also aren’t cheap.  So even if doing everything by hand is the least expensive, you do have to invest in decent tools if it’s going to be successful and most importantly, FUN.

When I started quilting I still had my 25 year old Elna Stella.  It had had a rough life sewing outdoor gear, kid’s clothes, curtains, you name it.  But when I had to be sure of a ¼ inch seam and when I started to try to quilt with it, the poor thing shrieked.  So I gave it away and bought a new machine.  I set a budget, but quickly realized that I was 25 years behind the inflation curve.  I am also of the opinion that you should not skimp on tools, but buy the best you can reasonably afford.  You will save money in the long run.  So I researched and looked and tested for a long time and finally settled on a Janome 6600.  It cost about twice what I had initially set out as a budget but less than half of the equivalent Bernina or Pfaff.  I am still very happy with my choice.  I sew on it almost every day.  Yes, it has its quirks, but I now know how to deal with them.  It is still a very forgiving machine.  I wish I had bought a new machine like this years ago.

I then went through all my sewing tools and threw most of them out, even my pins.  I had bought new quilting pins and they were so smooth and glided into the fabric so well, I realized how burred my old pins were!  I also replaced my threads, many of which were at least 10 years old and very brittle.  Some had even faded!  

Making tops has its challenges, but that part is closer to the regular sewing I have been doing than quilting.  Quilting itself was a whole new area for me.  During the course of learning this craft, I have considered short arm versus long arm.  A work colleague builds long arm frames as a side business.  He could give me a really good deal.  So I played with long arms every chance I got – at shops, at quilt shows, etc.  I didn’t like it for a number of the same reasons that Leah articulated well:
  • The machine is big – you have to decide the largest quilt you would want to make and buy that size frame.  So if, like me, you know that very few bedspreads are in your future but more place mats, lap quilts and wall hangings are, this isn’t going to be for you.  The only place I could put it is in my basement.
  • They are really expensive.  Even with my discount from my friend, I would have to pay in thousands.  He quickly agreed that you would have to do a LOT of quilting or take in work to make this investment worth it. 
  • Even machine rental isn’t cheap.  It averages about 75$ to 100$ per day in my town.  Because of that and the time to set up, you would have to be ready to finish your work in 1 or 2 days.  Otherwise it would rapidly become too expensive.  That interferes with being able to quilt when you have time or when you get an idea or when you are inspired.  How are you going to practice so you can make the best of your time and get the quality you desire?
  • The long arm approach is very different from short arm.  In long arm the machine moves, in short arm, the quilt does.  It is valid to say the long arm acts more like a brush or pencil, but when I have used one, I felt like I was given a huge fat crayon – it would take a lot of practice to gain the ability to do fine detail (see the problem with affording that discussed above). I usually can spot long arm work: the patterns tend to be larger and the lines farther apart with relatively long stitch length.  Short arm work tends to have tighter designs and shorter stitch length.  I think this is an artifact of the difference in set up.  In long arm you have a larger work area which would lead to more expansive design, while on short arm your focus area is smaller.  The short arm work appeals to me more.  Yes, it also takes a LOT of practice, but I can easily fit in to my busy days.  I keep a couple of small quilt sandwiches near my machine and when the spirit moves me, I play with ideas or practice the latest of Leah’s creations, etc.  No big set up, no big expense.  Big payback in gaining proficiency.
I admire people like Karen McTavish, who are masters at the long arm.  They decided this way of quilting is for them and have invested the money and time to become proficient at it.  I equally admire people like Leah Day, Diane Gaudinski, Susan Brubaker Knapp, Ann Fahl and Robbi Joy Eklow, who all quilt on a domestic machine. There is amazing hand work out there.  Each quilter decided what she/he liked and have put in the time needed to gain the desired proficiency.  That’s what it is about and all their work is to be admired.

The other day I was in a quilt shop that specializes in long arm.  While I was drooling over some batiks, I heard a machine going full bore in the back room.  After 15 minutes non-stop, I started to wonder how anyone could go for that long with no stops.  So I peeked.  The long arm was quilting away, but the “quilter” was sitting off in a corner, her back to the machine and looking at her Facebook page.  Sorry, to me, that’s not quilting.  It makes me wonder about quilts entered in shows where the top was created by one person and quilted by another (usually, but not always long arm).  Did that other really do the quilting or just program the machine?  With short arm I don’t see that happening.

Anyway, I am going down the path I want to:  exploring new ideas for creating tops and learning to quilt with my Janome.  I couldn’t be happier. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Leaf Pile

Photo 1: Leaf Pile

As noted two entries back, Leaf Pile is an outgrowth of a smaller challenge quilt I made.  I wanted to explore both the leaf theme and Robbi Joy Ecklow’s puzzle quilt approach. It measures 25”by 31.5” and has taken over 7 months to complete.  Mostly I have been staring at it, trying to figure out how to quilt it and afraid to start. Creating the appliqué collage had been so tedious and I didn’t want to mess it up.  I finally said, “Screw it – just go.” And it went!

Initially this was supposed to have a different background.  I had taken Ellen Lindner’sInstant Art Quilt course on line and thought I could adapt the torn and rearranged fabric approach for the background.  But it just didn’t create the look I wanted – I’ll use that background in some future project since the concept certainly works.  After auditioning both light and dark backgrounds, I settled on a light one.  I also decided to just sew down the appliqué edges with a straight stitch and then quilt the vein patterns as they exist for each species, because there is good variety between them.  In the background I quilted the occasional small outline of maple, oak and aspen leaves and then echoed around them a bit before filling the rest with MacTavishing.  The border was alternating leaf outlines that I echoed around once. (Photos 2 and 3).  I was after texture and enhancement without overwhelming the appliquéd area.  It’s more subtle than the photos show. 

The appliqué leaves were quilted with a variety if almost matching colors by Isacord. The background thread was a cream Isacord and the leaf outline in the border was a variegated yellow/tan by Sulky and echoed in a brown Isacord.  I like the sheen these threads have.
Overall, I am happy with the result.  I learned a lot and would like to do more of this.  

Photo 2: Border and background quilting detail

Photo 3: Applqué, border and background quilting detail

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gnomes and Shrooms

I am first generation in the US.  My folks came over at the end of WWII – my dad really was one of those German rocket scientists.  They stayed 25 years before returning to Europe, but instead of going to Germany they went to Switzerland.  Tough place to have to visit – NOT!
Anyway, I grew up with picture books that featured Zwerge, i.e. gnomes.  My daughter Tanya got those same books, so she has always really liked them. Red capped mushrooms are big in those books, too. The whole garden gnome thing is big over there – some people are serious about them and others (like me) think they are such marvelous kitsch (or as Tanya says, “Cheestastic!”)  I even have one, but don’t dare have him outside – he’d get stolen in a heartbeat. (Photo 1).  Couldn’t believe it, when I saw him and of course, I just had to buy him.  He has a special tag and the company Heissner that makes these have a whole series that are collected – like beanie babies or Steiff animals.  He wasn’t cheap.

Photo 1: "Frechdachs"  (scallywag)

Tanya received some really cool fabric that was themed on the work of Alphonse Mucha (a Czech artist who is synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement).  She got enough for a regular pillowcase, but the pillows she uses are the same as mine, which are typically used in northern Germany – they measure 30”square.  So I had to add borders, etc. to create a large enough pillowcase.  I didn’t want to mess up the fabric, which is out of print, so thought to make another case first.  That’s when I found the gnome and mushroom fabrics.  I made a pillowcase from those plus some red (Photo 2).
Photo 2: Gnomes and Shrooms 30"square pillowcase

It turned out well, so then I made a case from the Mucha fabric plus some other fabrics for the borders (Photo 3).  Tanya got the cases for her birthday and she was delighted.

Photo 3: Mucha 30"square pillowcase

I had a bunch of the gnome and mushroom fabric left over, so I made a 32”square baby quilt from it – it’s the one I used to illustrate my last blog entry about blocking.  The random bits of red are from the pillowcase border that I mitered – no sense wasting perfectly good HST’s!  It was fun and it gave me a chance to work on some quilting patterns. (Photo 4)

Photo 4: Gnomes and Shrooms quilt, 32"sqaure

I recently bought a book “Free Motion Quilting Made Easy” by Eva Larkin that takes a different approach to FMQ over the more freewheeling designs most think of.  She takes the basic square (up to 4”) and divides it vertically, horizontally and diagonally.  Often the seamlines from the piecing provide most of the necessary lines, or you can mark them or you can eye ball it.  Then using a combination of 8 basic shapes you create a variety of more formal patterns.  I really like the look – there are times when something like this is more appropriate.  In Gnomes and Shrooms I used this style in the corner blocks (Photo 5) – more for practice than anything else. 

Photo 5: The brown blocks quilted using Eva Larkin's style of FMQ

 The rest of the quilt uses a variety of more doodling type patterns.  The center is a sun, the brown around it uses Leah Day’s woven line, then nested arches in the next yellow band, in the next brown, a matrix design and then finally open swirls that are echoed in the outermost yellow area. (photo 6).

Photo 6: Quilting on Gnomes and Shrooms.

The final quilt should hopefully please some baby and his/her parents!