Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How it begins

I've been invited to teach a three day applique class next March. Three days! I'm so used to trying to cram everything I know into just six hours that three days seems like an incredible luxury. I'm excited to be able to devote time to design, color theory and embellishment as well as technique. With this in mind, I've set out to develop the class sample.

My idea is to offer students a variety of flowers (you were expecting something else?), in several shapes and sizes, and allow them to arrange their own bouquets. The challenge is to present enough choices to keep everyone happy, but, at the same time, I don't want to offer so many choices that students can't make good progress on their samples.

Here's my preliminary layout, with some of my fabric choices surrounding it. I've gathered up three different styles of main character flowers, there will be three of each in the handouts. I've used one of each here as a sort of tease, but also because it is this sort of mish mash bouquets I have been cutting from my garden.

So far, so good, right? The vase isn't showing up well here, it is actually a little more complex that what can be seen. As I'm working on the glue basting I'm also considering what sort of embellishments I will add to the shapes. I may do a little ink work on the yellow rose, but I think the zinnia and the painted daisy will need some french knots, at the very least.

Moving on the accent flowers, it's there that I hit a snag. That's my little finger in the picture. That circle is less than a quarter of an inch in diameter. I want to challenge my students, not frustrate and discourage them. Glue basting shapes this small takes skill and patience. Most of my students would probably be able to pull it off by the end of the second day, but I'm thinking that I want to keep this class fun and gratifying. So, I'm back to the drawing board to simplify and enlarge some of the smaller elements. I think I'll leave some smallish ones in place, for those who really want a challenge.

I'd love your feedback! What would you like to learn in a three day applique class? Would shapes this small scare you off, or reel you in? Would you rather work from a proscribed pattern, or would the idea of designing your own bouquet excite you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A summer for gardening

It's been a lovely, quiet summer so far. The weather has been mild, a good mix of happy sunny days and charming all day rains. The flower gardens are really coming along, although I still have some major weeding to do on a couple of them.

Our hard winter was really tough on my perennials. Quite a few didn't survive, including several of my roses. I put off weeding and planning to see what really was gone, and what was just taking its sweet time about coming back. I've had a few nice surprises, especially from roses I was sure were gone.

The pond also suffered from the hard winter. We lost nearly all of our fish. The ice was nearly three inches thick when we finally hefted it out of the pond, near the end of April. We'd been waiting for it to simply melt away, but our cool spring prevented that. Despite having lots of aeration, I think the fish suffocated. We've added three new fish and a few new water plants. and I think it is looking well again.

Gracie is learning that grass is good for sprawling, but mom gets super mad when she lolls around on the flowers. I'd lay prickly rose branches between the plants to discourage her, but they seem to be her especially favorite to chew. I catch her swiping them out of the weed cart all the time.

The gardenia is now constantly in bloom, adding its scent to the lavender and roses. I've left the few milkweed volunteers, hoping to coax a monarch butterfly, or two. I haven't seen a single one so far this year.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

And now for something completely different

Part Three: Learning Curves
As the previous posts have suggested, I'm learning to weave. I'm taking a tapestry weaving online class from Rebecca Mezoff. She is charming, delightful, and an excellent teacher. I've learned so much over the last couple of months, and not just about tapestry.

It turns out that I am the sort of student who would challenge me as a teacher. I wanted to know all of it, and now. In the first few passes of yarn through the loom, I knew that I was hooked. This is a new way of playing with color, and my mind just sort of boggled at the possibilities.

Part Two: Demi Duites, Pick and Pick and Weft Joins
I chafed a bit when I learned that we wouldn't get to angles until part two, and curves would remain a secret until part three! I wanted to know it all, now. I will admit to some very ungracious grumbling. And then I recognized it. I'm that student. On the one hand, it's sort of a miracle to see from the teacher's perspective, seeing that moment when the door to all the new possibilities opens up in a student's mind, when a student totally gets it. On the other hand, it's super hard to contain the excitement and discipline myself to learn to crawl before trying to fly.

When it came to tapestry, I got it. I am the sort of person who is used to catching on to things quickly, at least anything involving needlework. It's in my dna, just as much as my green eyes and freakishly long legs. But tapestry is not needlework. There are no needles involved at all. There is an entirely new vocabulary to master, not the least of which is the interaction of warp and weft.

Part One: Hatching 
We're only part way through part three, and I'm excited to see what comes next. I can't say enough good things about Rebecca's class. It's part self-directed, but with a great deal of interaction with Rebecca. She responds to questions very thoroughly, sometimes even creating new videos to clarify a point for a struggling student. If you are at all interested in tapestry, check it out. You won't be sorry.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It's called OLAD

Obsessive Loom Acquisition Disorder. OLAD. I knew about the malady, but never expected to be infected so quickly. Looms have very specific functions, designed for specific styles of weaving, sort of like the way sewing needles are designed for specific tasks, only taking up way, way more floor space. And I've got it bad.

My OLAD was still manageable when I had just the Baby Wolf and the Mirrix, each designed for specific purposes.

This sweetie is a terrific loom, but it has its limitations. It's considered a portable loom, so it's not quite sturdy enough for weaving rugs. (With all this fabric around me, I see many, many rag rugs in my future.) And, it only has four shafts (patterns are made by threading the warp through different shafts), the more shafts a loom has, the more complex the patterns can be.

I have woven several things on this loom, not the least of which is the beautiful overshot pattern to the left. With careful threading of the shafts and repeated sequences of treadling, marvelous designs can appear.

It was the "mathyness" that drew me to quilting originally, taking just simple bits of algebra to cipher out an entire quilt. Weaving is also mathy, and I love it!

But just as, after a time, all those straight lines in quilting designs began to chafe, so it is with weaving. So, I needed a tapestry loom.Tapestry weaving lets me draw with yarn. It's the weaving world's equivalent of applique. I am taking an online class from Rebecca Mezoff, and so far we are only up to geometric forms. The class has been just marvelous, Rebecca is a terrific teacher.

This is my final project for Part One. Curves aren't actually covered until Part Three, which is next month, but I couldn't help myself. They were supposed to be circles, those blobs, but at least the top one ended up a convincing oval. Even the triangle was a bit of stepping out, we're only just now getting the the lessons in triangles, in Part Two.

And now to the OLAD, one more type of loom, this one a for-real floor loom, a heavy duty loom that can handle rug making, and also with more shafts for more intricate patterns. I've been watching for a used loom to come up for sale nearby, and one did, just last week.

Introducing the Norwood. These looms have a delightful Michigan history, built by a furniture maker out of cherry wood.

She has eight shafts, and a weaving width of almost forty inches. She also has a sectional warp beam (it's the spiny looking thing on the left), so I'll need to learn how to work with that.

I wish I could say that I was done buying looms, but I fear I have a couple more in my future. I'm certain that I will eventually want a larger tapestry loom, and I'm also considering a band loom, to weave intricate, skinny bands of color. But that's it, really, who actually needs a loom with more than eight shafts, or hooks up to a computer, or is just bigger? Nah, I'm done with OLAD, really I am.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Loom Room

 To say that the office was a disaster would be an epic understatement. This picture shows the cleanest part. I am too embarrassed to show you the rest of it. The room was crammed with stuff. Parts of books and patterns, printing stuff, binding stuff, paperwork and general junk was piled higher and deeper and filled every corner. And it was all stuff we thought we needed. The room was so bad that, even though I relish a challenging organization job, I turned a blind eye to this room.

And then there was IKEA. I love IKEA, and luckily the nearest one is about two hours away or I'd be in big trouble. Fine furniture it's not, but its a big cut above chain store stuff and that's good enough for my purposes.

This wall is the office. What used to take up the entire room is now mostly hidden behind doors. The desk that filled a quarter of the room (and harbored stacks of homeless paperwork) is gone.

A center for tapestry weaving is replacing it. Instead of the jumbled mess from the first picture, a Baby Wolf floor loom awaits. I was worried that I'd gone a little bold with with paint color, but now I love it. The room positively glows! I can't tell you how many times I've gone back to the room because I thought I left the light on.

The room is still a work in progress. I'll be sewing up new curtains, there's a new top coming for the tapestry center with room for the bobbin winder. And before much weaving can go on, I'll need a proper bench.

My buddies always said that one day my stash would cause me to expand into another room, but I don't think this is exactly what they had in mind.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Now with even more applique!

As I mentioned earlier, I decided to make templates for the stems instead of using bias strips. It seemed like the best way for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted the motifs to be very uniform in shape, cutting templates would eliminate the wobble that sometimes finds its way into bias strip stems. Secondly, this stems are really rather thick, getting them to lie flat might have been a challenge. And last, working with a very dark background meant that even the brightest light box would have a tough time showing the guide lines. These motifs span the background from the pieced block to a background border, so I'd have to squirrel around the entire quilt to do the marking, placement and sewing of the motifs. Ick.

To make life even easier, the entire motifs were sewn together before placing them on the background. They can be held in place with fewer pins, and since the flower parts and stems are already stitched, all that is left to do is stitch around the perimeter.

This close up shows the stitching on the appliques. I'm a big fan of Superior's MonoPoly. It really is the best there is, super fine, flexible and yet strong. Love it. I've used clear here, the smoke color would have been too dark.

I didn't quite know how I was going to quilt it, I rarely do. I thought that the quilt was already busy enough, decided that the eye needed quiet places to rest. In the end I quilted the snot out of the background and added just enough stitch in the ditch on the appliques to give some dimension. Most of these spools of thread returned to the bin unused.

Here it is, all basted up and ready to quilt. This is the moment of terror, when I take this quilt top that I really love and chance ruining it with my quilting. Yeah, even though I've been machine quilting for more than thirty years, I still have to talk myself down before I attack the quilting.

Of course I didn't take a picture of the finished quilt, I was working on a deadline and wanted it out the door. But I wanted to show you a little bit more of the piecing. It's not perfect, although I am very happy with the overall outcome. What I wanted to show is how the seams are pressed. Instead of following the old rule of pressing towards the dark, I pressed all the seams away from the background. In doing so, the design fabric is elevated, pushed forward visually, making the background fabric recede. Stitching in the ditch around the piecing will push that background even further back, giving the design a real opportunity to shine.

I do hope that someone heading to Paducah for the show would be kind enough to send a picture of my quilt in the collection. It's the only time one of my quilts will hang in a major show. And at next year's show, when the quilt is auctioned off to benefit the National Quilt Museum, I hope it will bring in a tidy sum.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Piecing the Background

When my BFF remarked on how complex the center star looked, I just said, pshaw! It's not nearly as hard as it looks. After all, the feathers are merely half-square triangles! No biggie.

Well, yes biggie. It turned out to be quite the challenge to piece. I was so engrossed in figuring out what to sew next that I forgot to take more pictures. (I could have sworn that I did!)

Sure, the half-square triangles were a snap, but after that, each step took a lot of consideration. I tried to plan out the order of the steps in advance, but gave up and decided to just hope the star would tell me what to do next. It did, but, I have to say, I haven't sewn this many inset seams in one block before.

The block was designed to finish at 23", because it made the math a little easier. I was totally surprised and impressed with myself when it came out to just the right size! With a block with so much fiddling about, I was sure that it would be off by a country mile.

But here's the secret: aside from the ability to figure out piecing order, which did take a bit of advanced piecing know-how, the sewing part only requires the most basic of quilt making skills.

It makes me sound so curmudgeonly to say it, so totally old school, but mastering accurate cutting and sewing will never let you down. Learning just two skills, understanding how to cut out right sized pieces, and that holy grail of piecing, the quarter inch seam allowance, will open the world of piecing to you.

One more skill was needed for this block: understanding inset seams. They are made to sound so scary, but the secret of success is just to always sew away from a fixed seam. In other words, we begin a new seam right where we left off.

I've loved the challenge of this quilt, and I'm seriously considering making it again. I'm sort of into pastels at the moment, so maybe I'll make a very girly version to replace the one that got away.