Machine Quilting Marathon

What you’re looking at, above, is the back of my 54″ x 60″ art quilt. You’ll be forgiven if you can’t quite make out the machine quilting details, it’s not the best shot. Here’s a close-up of some of the madness:

As I mentioned in a previous post, my sewing machine is right-hand dominant; the “throat space” is on the right, the controls (this is an old machine, so, there aren’t many controls) are on the right. So, my right arm is feeling a bit of repetitive strain. Needless to say, since my machine-quilting marathon began 3 weeks ago, I’ve done little if any swimming, belly dance or fiddle-paying, all activities which require a cooperative rotator cuff.

Here’s some of the quilt front:

A close up:

All the hard stuff is done. While there’s still 20% to go, it’s mostly stippling on the edges, which is not very time-consuming. Today I had the Turner Movie Channel on in the background while I was sewing; today’s movie theme was Disney live-action films like the Parent Trap and Escape to Witch Mountain. I’m not kidding you, those movies were playing while I was sewing. I was also dealing with a migraine, so, creating a simple mood was key in getting anything done.

I hope I can get this thing to hang nice and straight when it’s done. THAT is a huge chore for any non-traditional quilt where there’s lots of distortion of the fabric.


Another Quilting Update

OK. I’ve got about 1/3 of the quilting done, though you can’t really see all the detail here:

As a result I’ve got some tendonitis in my right shoulder from shoving the scrunched up quilt through the small square-shaped hole between the part of the machine with the motor and the part with the needle: I believe this is technically called the “throat space”. It’s very small on my machine.

I quilt on what you know as a sewing machine but what quilters now quaintly call a “DSM” (domestic sewing machine) because you can now buy (if you have the funds) super fancy quilting machines that quilt for you, practically.

So, between that and a killer migraine I’ve lost 2 days of quilting!! I really need to get this done, but I also don’t want to be headed to the orthopedic surgeon for another cortisone shot anytime soon. I had bad rotator cuff related tendonitis a couple of years ago when I tried to change the way I bowed my fiddle tunes. What a painful experiment that turned out to be. It’s kind of sad because I really need to push through now to get this done (my Christmas present this year? a whole day of quilting! uninterrupted!), even if the net result is a finished quilt and a repetitive strain injury.

More pics soon. But it’ll be a few days.

Finished Quilt Top

Every minute I spend posting to this blog, I could be working on my art quilt….which is due January 11th at the local quilt guild meeting if I want it to be in the January Quilt Show.

This is what I had to work with around Thanksgiving: I was arranging the poppy appliques and trying to figure out where they looked best. There was an awful lot of pinning and re-arranging going on before I settled on where each flower looked best.

After looking at it for a while, I realized I was going to need a couple more poppies for the design to feel balanced. I made a couple of appliques at the dining room table; here you see the pieces cut out, but not yet sewn together:

And here’s the finished applique:

If I worked on this before dinner time, I got this look from the corgis in the house:

They are staring at the dining room table. Where I am sewing. Not eating, and not making them dinner.

This is how dinner looks:

Baxter eats about 1/4 cup of wet food and then conks out for a bit while Bearbear attacks his kibble and peanut butter filled Kong toy.

I lost a whole evening of sewing at Thanksgiving time making pies with that super-special lard I blogged about a few weeks ago; yum yum, here are 2 sweet-potato pies and an apple pie and they were DELICIOUS:

Then, upon further inspection of my art quilt, I decided that the satin-stitching wasn’t dense enough: in certain places, because I was using light thread on dark fabric, you could see the fabric through the stitch. So. I put stabilizer under all of my reverse applique poppy shapes and put down another layer of satin stitch on top of the existing stitch. It took FOREVER. I was going crazy. But, the end result is much better: you can’t see it too well here, but, the orange thread on the right side of the sewing machine needle is 2 layers of satin-stitch and the orange thread on the left side is just one layer:

In the photo, it looks insignificant; but trust me, the real thing looks greatly improved with my sewing due-diligence.

My goal was to have the quilt top done–absolutely done–by the end of November, so I could spend all December quilting. Which I hope will be enough time. Here’s the finished quilt-top: pressed, all bits of thread snipped, and looking pretty darn good:

I met my deadline! I’ve already sewn together my muslin backing for the quilt, gotten my batting; I’ll put the quilt sandwich together Friday and get quilting this weekend.

Wish me luck. And just a few chiropractic visits.

Quilt Top Is Almost Finished

Progress is bleeping slow, that’s all I can say. Having a day job and trying to get an art project done right now seem to me to be mutually exclusive occupations.

Tonight I finished all the “couching”, which is sewing down yarn around the unfinished edges of reverse applique.

Here’s a reverse applique with unfinished edges:

And here it is with yarn sewn down around the edges:

On the back, you can see the bobbin thread on the tear-away stabilizer;  I used sheer polyester thread for the topstich. Polyester is the good invisible thread; nylon is the bad invisible thread (it turns yellow over time).

I then tore away the stabilizer, as the name of the product suggests; all of the layers of the quilt top are quite evident here:

Voila: here it is, everything is DONE except now placing the appliques, which I’ll do over the next few weeks, and hopefully get started quilting this thing by Thanksgiving. There will be about 5 desert poppy appliques placed on top of this design when it’s done:

Delayed by the Art Quilt

Well, I’ve been clearly not posting anything new; but as you can see above, I’ve spent some time working on my art quilt, instead. I’m making progress.

My sister visited recently and suggested I use some pale colors and bright pink colors in large poppy appliques to help the design. I realized I had few fabrics dyed in this color. I tried to make new appliques work with my fabric on hand, but I couldn’t make it work and finally gave up, frustrated. I decided I’d have to spend some time dyeing new colors. Not that dyeing fabric is time consuming–it isn’t–but every hour counts right now because the deadline to submit a photo/application is this Wednesday for entry into January’s Tucson Quilt Show. So I’m spending all my free time getting it ready to photograph.

The first thing I did was tear my favorite quilting fabric–cotton sateen–into small pieces, most about the size of fat-eighths. I then got all the fabric wet in a bucket of water…

…and then wrung out the fabric and scrunched into damp shapes that would fit in the bottom of a quart plastic yogurt container, my preferred container for dyeing. The fabric was scrunched in one of 4 shapes which you can see below, from left to right the shapes are: the general scrunch shape, the spiral twist shape, the sloppy pleat shape and the wadded-up ball shape. They each produce a unique pattern of dye.

Outside on my patio this morning, here are all the containers ready to go…

I added liquid dye to each container; I mixed 5 colors and combined them differently for each one. I use Procion fiber-reactive dyes that are set with soda ash, and I get all my supplies at Dharma Trading Company.

Bearbear and Baxter were there to watch (quietly). Poor Baxter, he’s slapped daily by Bearbear’s tail, seen here wagging in a blur; his tail  is exactly at Baxter’s eye-level. Baxter doesn’t have a tail. 😦

After 90 minutes I topped each container off with about half  a cup of warm soda ash solution:

Then I squeezed out the dye I could, then swirled each piece around a bucket with Synthrapol, a detergent that separates dye molecules in the water so the dye doesn’t move from fabric to fabric. Even so, many people recommend rinsing fabrics separately when you remove them from the dye bath. I haven’t had any problems letting the fabric touch at this stage; the soda ash has fixed most of the dye, too.

Then I put all the fabric–lights and darks–into the washer together. I add a small amount of S and use hot water. Then I’m done!

The fabric looks fabulous. I’m pressing it when I done posting this!

Progress….

Here you see 4 new poppies from the last time I posted about my art quilt; clearly, I’ve gotten my machine back!

Here’s a close-up of the 4 new flowers. Reverse applique. And I completed all the zig-zag stitching on the appliques, too; but I had a few struggles with a 50 weight rayon thread that kept breaking, it was a type of thread I hadn’t tried before. With a new needle and lower tension, things improved, but on this purple flower I feel the satin-stitching is a bit lumpy and stressed:

Things look a lot better on the orange poppy, the satin stitch is nice and smooth:

No matter; it’ll work in the end!

I figure I have to make 7 more reverse applique poppy shapes…..

If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Applique

Recently, I’ve been hobbled by plantar fasciitis, due to bellydance practice (working on my 3/4 shimmy). Ouch. Then, my sewing machine conked out last week. I was so depressed.

But I did listen to the call of needle and thread, and pulled out the old overhead projector:

I magnified a simple drawing on transparency plastic of a desert poppy: then I traced the image from the overhead projector with a sharpie onto some Pellon Tru-Grid to make a pattern; this “pattern” for an applique will have 4 parts (not including the stem):

So, this is hard to see below, but the master pattern is on the left, and in red on the right I made 4 individual pieces for the poppy:

Then I picked out the right fabric. My photos of poppies in my yard seem to all have darker colors on the background petals. Here, I have my first piece of fabric, water soluble marker, scissors:

I traced the pattern onto the fabric, carefully selecting the bias, because there are curves in all the pieces, and it’s easier to manipulate the appliques with curves when they’re cut on the bias…and then I cut it out, adding a 3/8 inch (give or take) seam allowance to the drawn line…

…and then I spritzed some water on my counter top, and gently dampened and folded and squeezed the seam allowance fabric under the drawn line. I also alternated some pinching with a hot iron. Notice that the bottom part is unfinished; that’s just extra fabric I left on so that the other 3 pieces will have something to attach to.

Here are all 4 finished pieces, all pressed:

And, once I put them all together with a few straight pins, they looked like this:

That’s close enough for me to the pattern I made. I basted the seams of each piece. I’ll baste it all together, and eventually this will be one of several poppy appliques on my new art quilt; I’ll topstitch them down to the quilt top. I’ll add some water soluble crayon shading to the applique, too, to create the illusion of depth. But the appliques will be machine sewn to the quilt top, when the time comes; it’s just sturdier, and, there’s only so much hand applique I can take!

Return of the Art Quilt

Remember this? My art quilt project from over a year ago? Either do I. But this past weekend I spent a lot of time trying to get this thing off the ground. I started with more reverse applique, to increase the visual crop of verbena flowers:

Then I drew some poppy shapes and made a pattern for 2 different sizes of poppy; these will also be reverse applique (eventually, I’ll add real applique):

So here’s how the first poppy turned out:

And here’s a slightly closer-up shot; you can’t see all of the painstaking zig-zag stitch. I’m going to need an awful lot of thread. I figure I need to add about 10 more poppies like this one:

I hope to finish this by the end of the year; more updates soon!

Paper and Cloth Lamination Project

Last Christmas (!) I got myself a copy of the very aesthetically pleasing book  Paper & Metal Leaf Lamination: A Mixed Media Approach With Cloth, a joint venture by well-known fiber artists Jane Dunnewold and Claire Benn and Leslie Morgan.

I’ve been meaning to give some of the techniques a try; I finally got around to it the past few days after work. Above you can see the basic ingredients: book with instructions, bottle of acrylic gel medium (not inexpensive, it’s from France), silk screen and squeegee, and sheer piece of fabric–in this case, silk organza.

My goal: use gel medium to transfer photocopied images onto fabric, creating a sheer, durable, laminated piece of fabric with (ideally) cool, ghostly images. The first time around is always a sample; but I still give a sample my 100%!

With my supplies above, I cut up photocopies I made of photos I took during last months’ trip to Washington D.C.; the photocopies are over a week old, and supposedly they make a better transferred image when the ink on the copies has had a week to “cure”.

I arranged the photocopies on a piece plywood that had several layers of polyester batting and cotton flannel stapled on top; then, I placed the organza on top, and per the instructions in the book, diligently pinned the silk down, stretching it tight over the collage.

Then, I took the board outside in the blistering heat of the day; I worked under my patio umbrella. Here you see the collage under the fabric, the silkscreen, squeegee and acrylic gel medium. Also, a plastic tub of water to immediately wash the tools–that gel medium dries fast, and permanently. I silkscreened about half the bottle of gel medium onto the silk, making sure that the fabric was thoroughly saturated.

It took just 20 minutes for the piece to dry; here it is on my ironing table, paper stuck to fabric:

I pressed the silk/paper sandwich on the highest setting, using baking parchment so nothing got scorched:


Once heat set, the piece was stuck in a bucket of cool water for 20 minutes to soften the paper for easy removal:

Here’s the wet fabric-paper sandwich, and a green brillo-type scrub pad. Most of the paper just peels right off, in messy papier-mache blobs; the gummy residue of the paper needs to be scrubbed off, firmly but gently so as not to scrub a hole right through the silk (I did make one small hole due to over-zealous scrubbing). You can see some of the small wet-paper blobs below:

Once all the paper is removed, and the gummy stuff scrubbed off, I tossed the fabric into the washer with cold water for a quick rinse; when I took it out, I lightly pressed it. Both sides of the silk are free of paper, just the image from the ink is left behind.  Here is the finished sheer piece,  the “wrong” side showing (i.e. not the side that had the paper directly touching it) hanging on my white design wall:

And here it is over some blue fabric, just for a different perspective:

I don’t know how I feel about this technique at this time. I think I’ll try it again. I’m not really fond of altering the “hand” of the fabric– maybe I’m a purist, or, just not adventurous!–and the gel medium significantly alters the hand of the silk, to the point where it now feels like a restaurant menu. I noticed in a few places there were bubbles on the transferred images, so I think I may have used too much gel medium in certain places.

The reason I’m hanging up this piece with the wrong-side showing is because I want to read the text from my images. The ink from the photocopies is lifted onto the fabric where the fabric touches the ink; so, on the “right” side the ink will be stronger, and the text (and all images) will be backwards.

If you use this technique to transfer photocopied text, just remember that the paper side of the fabric will have backwards text once you’ve scrubbed off the paper, and you will only be able to read the text from the “wrong” side of the fabric, and the wrong side is perfectly fine, it’s a bit more “ghostly”; if you want to read the text, you will need to consider this and consider the “front” of the piece to be the fabric-side. I think this isn’t a big issue if you’re using sheer fabric; but, if you transfer images onto a more solid piece of fabric, you will most likely have no choice but to use the paper-side, and your text will be backwards. Which is not bad or anything. It’s just something to consider.

Reverse Applique: A Weekend Sampler

I think one big secret to any successful art quilt design is making samples. A sample is a helpful way to “audition” a technique on a micro-level before taking the plunge into the art quilt itself. So, this past Saturday I made a small sample using sheer fabrics and reverse applique. I learned both techniques from Libby Lehman, who is a very gifted artist and teacher, and I encourage anyone who reads this to look into her work.

Before starting my project I first had to make some scones, though: a weekend morning is all about carbs and coffee. There are lots of scone recipes online; this one is pretty good, though I substituted plain yogurt for vanilla yogurt and added a bit more sugar, and I used half spelt flour, and I baked the scones on parchment. But this recipe gives you the proportions. Here are the scones,  just egg-washed:

While I was winding my bobbins I let them over-bake, but they turned out really good:

Thus armed, I started my sample.

In my current project, I have a “design motif” of a flower-shape based on desert verbena. I want to repeat this design motif multiple times in my piece; this is generally a good design principle, at least for me. Using sheer fabric to add a thin, nearly transparent applique is one way; using reverse applique is another way: both of these techniques add very little heft to the quilt top itself.

In both reverse applique and sewing sheer fabrics onto a quilt top, you need a background fabric, which in this case is yellow hand-dyed cotton sateen and is about the size of a fat-eighth; on top of the yellow fabric is a layer of pink polyester tulle, which I’d painted to get that color, if you look at the bottom left corner you can see the 2 fabrics:

Flipped over, you can see I’ve attached some stabilizer scraps with spray-adhesive. The stabilizer is a cotton-pulp fiber that I got on a giant roll from a company in Minnesota; it works well with my machine– you have to experiment with your machine to figure out which stabilizer works best.

So, to get started, I now have the following fabric sandwich: background fabric, tulle on the top and stabilizer on the back:

Below on the left is a pattern for a large verbena flower; I drew the design on the stabilizer part of the fabric sandwich:

Then I sewed over the drawn line with straight-stitch (use a small stitch) along the drawn line. I then reinforced with another line of stitch to make sure it was nice and strong, this is what it looks like on the back….

…and the front…

I then pulled off all the stabilizer from the back, then gently snipped away all the unnecessary tulle on the front, and all that was left was this nice flower held in place with 2 rows of straight-stitch:

So. Now I want to actually start the reverse-applique; I have one layer, now on to the second layer. I draw an outline of the same shape, just smaller:

I then pick the fabric for this flower, a fuschia I dyed, and I used spray adhesive to attach the stabilizer to the wrong side of the fabric; the fuschia fabric is then placed under the yellow fabric, so that the new small flower shape is directly over the fuschia fabric underneath:

Because I use an older machine, I have to unscrew the presser foot in order to fit my embroidery hoop under the needle; then I reattached the presser foot.

The new fabric sandwich–yellow fabric on top, fushia fabric with stabilizer underneath– is then slid into the embroidery hoop, and again straight stitch is used (small stitch) to stitch over the drawn flower shape.

Once sewn, the new, smaller verbena looks like this:

I carefully used snips and cut away the top yellow fabric to reveal the fuschia underneath; at this point I realized I needed to use reverse applique again to make the small pink center for the flower, so I did that in a pinch, using the same techiques described above: now, I have 3 layers: tulle flower, reverse applique flower and reverse applique flower center. Cool!

The whole piece then goes back in the embroidery hoop and I used satin stitch over the raw edges of the flower. It looks OK; my foot pedal had a small short in it which just got worse as I sewed, to a point where I could only get the machine to sew if I used the ball of my foot: an ergonomic nightmare.  So it’s not the best satin stitch;  I didn’t bother trying to finish the center.

So, the general idea is to use the above technique on my big project; here’s an idea of where some of the shapes might be placed:

But my sewing machine is in the shop now, as of this morning: oh well. Looks like I’ll be working on fiddle tunes the next few days…