Saturday, July 21, 2012

Olivia by Olivia...


A co-worker's young daughter made this very cool image in art class, and my friend has it hanging up in her office. In most homes, it would probably be displayed on the 'fridge. It has a slightly zentangle feel. It must be a standard art class exercise -- write your name in wonky block letters that fill up the paper, add some squiggles across the page, and then color in the areas that the lines define. I've probably seen it at least 100 times. One day, I really looked at it, and thought, gosh, I'll bet I could make that in cloth.

Fabric palette & mirror-imaged drawings
I took a picture, made a careful black line tracing, blew that up, and then printed copies -- rightside out and mirror-imaged. I used the mirror-image line drawing to trace the entire image onto paper-backed steam-a-seam2 fusible. Then section by section, I carefully cut-off a chunk, cut the chunk apart into its constituent pieces, selected 'colors' from my palette of fabrics (kept pinned up next to the drawing). I used a color mirror-imaged copy as a reference.

Transparency placement guide
I used a fat quarter of dark tone-on-tone purple as the background (which shows through in a few places). After fusing the individual pieces to their fabrics and carefully cutting out each piece in the section, I used a full size transparency line drawing to guide placement. Once the first large piece or two were in place and properly aligned, the smaller pieces tiled the surface so well that placement was relatively easy. After removing the paper from the fusible, the surface is tacky, like a 'post-it' and even tiny pieces stayed put with no problems. When all the pieces were in place, I fused the entire surface, layered with backing and batting, and then used a narrow free motion zig-zag to quilt in the black lines and to secure the raw edges.

The final little quilt is darker, but surprisingly like the original picture. I added a narrow stripey binding, and couched a black chenille yarn down right next to the binding, a touch of contrast that is starting to become a signature. There is also some hand cross stitching on the baseball, and I blanket stitched the label.
  This will be presented to Olivia's Mom next week. I sure hope she likes it. 

Update: Mom loves it. So does does Olivia and now its up to them to 'duke' it out.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A little experiment -- in 2 parts

I've taken lots of classes, including on-line classes through Quilt University ( ). Sounds weird, I know. You might ask "How do you 'see' what to do? How do you get feedback? Do you use a virtual sewing machine?" Obviously, this doesn't work too well if the point of the class is to learn a manual skill that requires hands-on input, but for some things, the online thing works pretty well. One of my best experiences, so far, was a class with Jane Hall (Firm Foundations), in which she covers a very wide range of foundation piecing methods.

The first part of the little experiment was actually pretty big. A friend and I did the course together. We got together ahead of time and decided to use black and white fabrics, with a small number of jewel tone colors to spice things up. We knew we were going to end up with a bunch of individual blocks, and we decided to coordinate a bit, so that we could get some use out of what we made without a tremendous amount of extra work. We graded the B&W fabrics into a range of 'values' (virtually all white to virtually all black with about 5 intermediate values in between) and divvied up the fabrics so we would each have a set of distinct fabrics. Each week, for the class, we had a block or two that were strongly suggested as homework, and then a few more optional examples of the same technique. Somewhat miraculously, my friend and I ended up making the exact same set of 10 blocks (except for 1 extra, see below). I put them together with sashed blank blocks and an original paper pieced border to build a quilt top. The paper-foundation pieced border was a little like a 'senior thesis'  -- the capper for our Quilt University class.

The finished quilt was given to a colleague, but also get a nice honorable mention in the 2011 Greater San Antonio Quilt Guild Show (my second show and first ribbon of any color). The quilt also has a small black and white stripe (railroaded) binding, and a beautiful scarlet red pearl cotton couched in-the-ditch next to the binding.
"It's Not All Black and White" unquilted top,
upside down from final. (@SGH 2011)
Me and the quilt and our pink ribbon, GSAQG 2011

The second part is the little experiment. After making the quilt, there was one block left over. I made the miniature Mariner's Compass, and my friend didn't. I won't show the foundation, since that came from Jane's course materials and is copyrighted, but it was a fairly standard compass with 16 points, and an appliqued center. Amazingly (to me  --  this is only my 4th mariner's compass), the entire block finished 6 inches.
Sections partly paired up and ready for assembly

I sewed things in 8 sections, and used Judy Mathiesen's 'fold back and sew next to the fold' method for some of the pieces in order to control the direction of the seam allowances.
Back -- Sections assembled, ready to trim

Back -- Center and outer 'pie-crust' section added

The outer section was cut from a single 6.5 inch square, and the compass was sewn in using a freezer paper template method and a little glue stick. Note that the the background fabric was actually used with the 'wrong side' facing out (see below) in order to get a lighter, lower contrast background.
Front -- Finished Miniature Mariner's Compass

Front -- Finished Mini-Mariner

This poor, lovely but lonely little Mariner's Compass sat pinned up on my wall for quite a while. Although I had no desire to make any more, it seemed a shame to let it waste away -- hence the little experiment. The graduate students, where I work, hold a charity Art Show and Auction every year. Little, relatively inexpensive things sell better than big things. The show is a great opportunity to 'clean house' AND do some good, so there is some incentive to finish off little experiments and let them move onto another life.

Here are the experimental results. I used EQ7 to audition different ideas for the prairie points before picking this arrangement and colors. Finished, they are 3/4 inch tall and made using Susan Cleveland's ( prairie point tool. I really like the asymmetric look (note to self -- do more of this...) and I like the complementary colors (they look better 'in the fabric' than online).

Finished, this little guy is 9.5 inches -- perfect to warm up some one's 'cube' at work.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Birth of an Eggplant with Ruth McDowell as midwife

Earlier this month I got to take a class from Ruth B. McDowell ( in Kallispell, Montana. I've admired Ruth's work for years, and have been on the waiting list for a class for more than a year. This was an amazing opportunity, since Ruth is retiring from teaching.

Line tracing from the photograph
Photo of Ichiban Eggplant flower in my garden
"Changing ... Leaves some things behind"
SG Hilsenbeck, 2008
Preparation: Besides travel arrangements, plans for my husband to come later in the week and extra days to be spent sightseeing, fishing etc (Montana is a new state on our life-list), there was also preparation for the class. First, an image to be turned into a small quilt. I had several in mind but opted for this one. My goal was to translate this into cloth, aiming for a finished size of about 17x25 inches. Second, a pencil tracing of the image, to ID the main lines. Notice that in the tracing, I left out all the underlying foliage (mustard greens, etc). I wanted to hi-light the beautiful dark purple stems and the light green leaves. Third, I packed an entire small suitcase with fabric from my stash, in greens, purples, yellows, etc.  
Fourth, but actually done several years ago, it was important to already understand how Ruth's freezer paper method works and to have some experience putting pieces together. I made this little quilt by carefully following the instructions in Ruth's book.

First Days of Class: The first days of class focused on taking the image and turning it into something you can actually sew. Ruth did an absolutely amazing job of reviewing an image from each of 17 students and making suggestions for how to 'de-construct' the image into sewable sections.
Students in class
 Del Thomas (, also in the class, took this picture of several of us students, including me (standing) mesmerized by Ruth's magic.

The following pictures show Ruth's general suggestions for breaking up my image (left), my careful full size drawing, with all the sections and pieces meticulously labeled, and the final tracing on freezer paper (sections and pieces traced on shiny side) with major sections outlined in hi-liter on the paper side.

Ruth's Mock-up
Full-size drawing on tracing paper
Freezer Paper showing sections on
paper side.

This process was quite demanding -- requiring careful thought about how to things will be sewn together, thought about where colors will go, and great attention to detail. What a luxury to have an entire day, or more, to really concentrate on this. This would be hard for me to do at home, squeezing a little time here and there from in between other demands.

Next steps: With the full size drawing in hand, it was time to turn to fabric. What fun auditioning little bits to see how they would look. Experienced members of the class seemed to able to pick fabrics and immediately iron onto the freezer paper templates and pin up on the wall (Note: a design wall, with a full-size copy of the drawing on which to pin-up each piece (make visual designs visually...) is a must!). I opted to waste a little fabric by pinning up snippets, to see how they would look, and then go for ironing and actual cutting out, once I was generally happy with the choices. Ruth also suggests pinning up nearly everything before sewing, so you can really see how it will look, and make changes before you go down a path you will regret.

Starting to audition fabrics.
 With the photo as a guide, here I have pinned up little bits of candidate fabrics to see how it will look. I'm especially liking the flower. The strips of dark purple just give the impression of how the contrast will work with the stems.
Starting to pin-up prepared pieces

Beginning to audition possible outer border fabric.
Close-up, showing prepared pieces pinned in place.

We left the border fabric choice until the end, and after looking at quite a few, Ruth helped find an interesting fabric that hi-lited the green and purple of the design and was similar in 'value' to the center background. This also illustrates the need for a really deep stash, OR to live in a great quilt shop. The class was in the back of the Quilt Gallery in Kallispell, and it could not have been more convenient to pop-up to the front of the store to 'look for something else'. They even ran a tab.

Finishing the Top: I'm quite a slow, methodical piecer. In fact, I'm pretty slow on all the parts of the process. On the other hand, I savor each step, and generally only work on small to moderate-sized things that I can finish in my lifetime. I have actually made one large king-size quilt, but it was too much like sewing a circus tent, and I do not plan to repeat the experience. But I digress. Considering my snail-like pace, I made amazing progress on assembly of the top during the last two days of the class.
About half of major sections sewed, before packing up.

Back, showing seams
Front, showing finished top (18x24.5")
@SG Hilsenbeck, 2012

After an hour or so for several evenings, and all day last Saturday, the top is entirely put together. Amazingly, I did not lose any of the little pieces (ziplock bags are wonderful), I did not sew anything in backwards or upside down (color coded tic-marks, like being rich or thin, you cannot have too many), AND miracle of miracles, it lies flat.

Plans for quilting and finishing: I haven't decided exactly what to do yet, so this will have to wait until next time. When I step back, I'm quite happy with much of how the image looks and less thrilled with other parts. Rather than micro-analyzing or perhaps trying to tweek, I view this as a learning experience. Quilting will be the next part of the experiment. Thinking of this as the small experiment that it is takes some of the decisional anxiety out of the equation. I feel freer to try things out and then I know can to do better next time.