Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Black and White Tale

It's rainy, windy, sleeting, cold.  Oliver wanted to curl up with a good book, so he chose Ann Fahl's new one, A Black and White Tale. 

He didn't want another "how-to" book on quilting, because for him, that train has left the station.  Instead he wanted whimsy, delightful adventures, quilts yes, and not too much reading time, a simple poetic journey, something to slowly browse, and ooh and ah over the quilts. 

But, most importantly, he wanted a book about a cat!  Maybe a black and white cat named Oreo who lives near us, with fellow quilter Ann Fahl and who is the subject of many of her glorious quilts. 

Whether it's birds, flowers, cranes, things in her house, watching the night sky, having tea or a power breakfast for quilters (oatmeal!), Oreo has many delightful adventures that Oliver loved reading about.  He even seemed to catch her mysterious and exotic scent on the edges of the book...... oh my!

He sighed when he finished, looked at me and purred in contentment.  He definitely has given his "paw of approval" for this charming book, perfect for quilters or non-quilters, for animal lovers, especially cat lovers.  He thinks Grandmothers would love to read this to children.  It combines quilts and cats and some lovely verse.  It would be a perfect gift, or something special to keep and look through from time to time, just for yourself.

If you want a copy of your own, go to Ann's website to order:  www.annfahl.com

If you are going to the AQS Show at Paducah coming up at the end of April, this book will be available at two vendors, Artfabric and Quilting Books Unlimited.  Caryl Bryer Fallert will also have copies for sale at her Bryerpatch Studio store, plus some of the book's quilts on display.  It's very near the expo center, and if you've never strolled over, take the time to do so.  It's amazing!  Tell her I said hi. 

Hope the weather clears soon, and the birds are chirping again, with spring just around the corner.  Oliver is sleeping again, but he had a great evening with his book.

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day,

Friday, April 15, 2011

More Eggs

More Eggs! 
I thought I’d share some more Ukrainian eggs with you, from Carolyn Trout.  Above, a sample of her work, as well as below.  Carolyn explains the process:
This is a hobby for me. I do not sell eggs, but I do give them away as gifts, to charity auctions, etc. I’ve been doing this for about 30 years, more or less. These eggs are Pysanky, Ukrainian Easter eggs. The process is a wax resist process, exactly like batik, only on egg shells instead of on fabric. They are not painted, but dyed.
The process requires successive steps of drawing with hot beeswax on the egg shell and then dyeing in increasingly dark colors, until the final color, after which all the wax is melted off to reveal the pattern underneath.  I’m not Ukrainian by birth or culture, but I do use many of the traditional patterns, some of which are thousands of years old. If you Google ‘pysanky’ or ‘pysanka’ (the singular form) you will find tons and tons of information. I learned to do this when my husband gave me a kit for Christmas many years ago. He had no idea that he was starting an obsession and that he was going to lose his wife to the siren call of the dyed egg.”

Happy Spring everyone; enjoy the eggs.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons Learned

The Monterey Peninsula coastline was rugged and beautiful last week while I was at Empty Spools Seminars at the Asilomar conference center.  Our class was also rugged and beautiful!

We learned so many things about free motion machine quilting, taking care of sewing machines, the sounds they make that indicate happiness or trouble, materials used that affect our work and make/break our quilting efforts, oiling and cleaning machines, even winding nice bobbins.  Oh yes, we learned some great quilting designs as well, how to do them, where to use them in quilts.  Below is a summary of some of these things, for quilting on a home sewing machine:

Beware the “dreaded lagoon of puff”! Whether you are using a lofty batt like wool or even something more flat, if you quilt a design in peninsulas and then come back towards the main design already quilted you may end up with a small pond or lagoon of “puff” that has to be controlled and worked in. It is possible with many of the curving designs, but sometimes it is not. You end up with a pleat. Try and avoid going out on these long journeys away from the main design area because filling in can lead to problems.

Building designs from the bottom to the top gives you great visibility for spacing and design formation because you can see the design already quilted, in front of the needle.

Touch the preceding design area – don’t leave gaps as they will draw the eye, rather than the good parts of the design.

An open-toe foot is crucial for precision. Designs like Bananas, Headbands, Diane-shiko, Gingko, Celtic Bubbles, and many others need the visibility that this foot provides so it is easier and more relaxing to quilt, plus the results look so spectacular when the work is precise, even when done in a larger scale.

Thread color and choice of design both affect tension. You might have to tweak the upper tension a bit when you change out colors, even in the same thread. Small circular designs like rocks and froth need a lower upper tension number than big designs, or straight or gently curving lines.

Bobbin thread should not be heavy. Go for lighter weight cottons or specialty bobbin threads, even #100 silk for the most useful and best looking threads for the back of your quilt.

• Don’t be afraid to switch out colors of bobbin threads to match the color of the top thread you are using. Wind them first, it only takes a moment. Check tension before stitching on quilt.

Quilt a real quilt, a placemat, a table runner. Apply what you learn to something that will be useful, and use lovely fabrics in colors and designs that you really, really like. There are more out there, either in your stash, or new ones that appear all the time in quilt shops and online.   Even if you let your cat sleep on it, and make another better one, do it!

• Remember the three important things to get right every single time you machine quilt: tension, stitch length, and color of thread.

• In order to become proficient at any one design you must quilt it a lot. Not a 6” square, but many 6” squares. It is also good to use it on a quilt so that you have to resolve the edges, learn how to meet other designs or parts of the quilt and make it look wonderful, effortless. No one wants to practice every day, so “warm up” and then add the technique or design to a real quilt and do a lot of it. Repeat it throughout the quilt for continuity and cohesiveness.

Always keep something appropriate and pretty layered and ready to go near the machine, so when you clean and oil it (often!) you can quilt out something and make sure the oil is distributed well at the same time. Some of my best designs and ideas come at these times. Below, a sample of doodling I did after I oiled the hook area of the machine, and wanted to quilt a bit to work any excess oil out.  I began with a simple curvy line, then kept going with echoes and curves, added stem and leaves.  It was fun, and it helped me get warmed up for my quilting on the project I was doing at the time.

Experiment with thread so you can express your artistry, but if your machine develops problems, go back to the same lightweight cotton thread top and bobbin, same color, and get things working well with it, then branch out to new threads. You’ll see if it is the machine that has a problem or the new thread. Also, get the right needle for every thread you use.

Don’t forget about the “float” or pressure adjustment on the foot of the machine. Lessen the pressure for higher loft or working in the puff. Increase it for straight lines so you stay nice and steady.  Below, the new foot for Janome machines (and some other brands like Baby Lock)  lets you adjust the pressure of the spring on the foot itself so you can float over seam allowances or puffy areas.

Learn to look ahead of the needle, especially when the foot obstructs your view. Look at negative space instead of the stitching; visualize the puff.

Take breaks! Stop after those first few feathers for just a second to re-gain concentration, then proceed, so the entire line of feathers will look great. If a design deteriorates, you have lost focus and concentration. As you progress you will be able to work longer with better results.

Enjoy it all, the colors, the threads, the wonderful dimension that you achieve as you machine quilt your own quilts.

The sun set over the Pacific on our last day at Asilomar.  It was a wonderful week with a great class.  I'll be back at the end of May, so if you are in that class and have questions, please email me and I'll try and give you an answer. 

Keep quilting - your work gets better every day!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Home from Asilomar

The fire was roaring, the soft salty sea air felt wonderful on my wintry dry skin last week at Empty Spools Seminars, held at the amazing California state park, "Asilomar," or Refuge by the Sea.  And refuge it was.  Right on the coastline near Monterey, it takes you back in time as you live, eat, and work in the historic buildings scattered through the acres, deer freely roaming, surf booming in the distance.  Huge Monterey pines and natural vegetation frame the ocean views.  Delicious food three times a day, and fun and laughter with all who are there in the various classes.  And quilts, quilts, everywhere.

My class, "A Quilting Journey," was all about free motion machine quilting on a home sewing machine, and my 24 intrepid quilters did great.  We worked very hard but were relaxed and had a good time as well. 

My trip out there had a few glitches, one which involved 12 hours in Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix.  It was after 8 hours that I noticed the carpet, below, was a funky rendition of my "Celtic Bubbles" design I teach, only this one had little jet airplanes sprinkled throughout.

Our small prop jet plane ( 8 rows, noisy) left Phoenix at 9 p.m.-ish, and did ok until it met the high winds in California and along the coast.  The turbulence was terrible, still have bruises from that, and for the first time I turned green from airsickness but managed to refrain from throwing up on the handsome man seated next to me. 

In the pitch dark night we were told the loud noises we heard were just chunks of ice being thrown off by the propellers and were hitting the plane.  Eek.

Then amidst the turbulence the pilot announced we would have to land in Fresno as we were almost out of fuel.  Double Eek. 

At least the buffeting ended when we landed for fuel, and I chewed a Tums.  Ground felt so good, but soon we were up again and more turbulence.  The clouds cleared, and Monterey Bay was spread out below us like jewels in the clear night air.  I arrived at Asilomar and my lovely room around 3 a.m. Whew.  Sometimes I wonder why I teach quilting!

Above, the deer were my view out of my sleeping room, so gentle and pretty.

My class began the next day, 24 quilters who rose to every single challenge I threw at them.  We laughed, had fun, were serious about our work, but could also smile when things didn't go that well.  In the end, I think everyone improved and some were sailing free with their quilting.  It was very rewarding for me, but some gremlins took time to sum up my teaching and the class on the board one evening, below.  And if it is too fuzzy to read, that's fine too.  I think they hit all the salient points of my barking at them for 5 days!

Special thanks to Toyo and Evette, who helped with the class and did a terrific job, and Jan and Helen-Mary, who let me demo on their machines. 

Next blog post I'll give a summation of things we learned in class.

Meanwhile, Oliver was ecstatic to see me and climbed in my carry-on of quilts when I was unpacking.  He is just now truly believing I am back for good and is thrilled his two "people" are together again, just for him.

Keep quilting!  Your work gets better every day. 
More to come,