09 Feb

Improv Handbook: The Process

Last year I volunteered to be a test quilter for Sherri Lynn Wood’s upcoming book The Improv Handbook (it will debut at QuiltCon and be available through Amazon on March 17th). What appealed to me in Sherri’s proposal was that the book would not have specific how-to patterns, but would inspire makers to create their own designs based on inspirational “scores.” Examples in the book were to be in a range of styles and experience levels. Ultimately, my quilt did not make it into the book, but I thoroughly enjoyed making it — and only wish I had had more time to commit to the process because the more I worked on the score, the more options emerged. I could have easily made three quilts from the ideas that were spurred by the prompts in the Flying Geese score I was assigned.

So, here’s a glimpse of how I made my quilt “Nene” (named for the state bird of Hawai’i which happens to be a type of goose).
The begining
I chose fabrics based on a favorite painting in the room where I was likely to use the quilt.

Kunia Painting



Sewing a Flying Geese block
Then I made a bunch of flying Geese blocks (without measuring or using rulers).


Flying Geese block
What if I stretched out the proportions?


Improvisational Flying Geese
What if I “outlined” the geese? I really wish I had made a bunch more of these. As I ran out of time, I wanted to make a whole quilt with just this style block.


Flying Geese blocks
I made lots of geese.


Improv Flying Geese blocks
I made so many that I had lots of leftovers.


"Nene" in progress
I started out thinking I might make an abstracted version of the landscape in the painting.


Improv Dutchman's Puzzle block
But I made some Dutchman’s Puzzle blocks and liked where that was going.


"Nene" quilt in progress
They looked pretty good alternating with solid color blocks. That might be too tame though.


"Nene" quilt
Ultimately my quilt became something between the two ideas. Clusters of more complicated blocks, surrounded by larger swaths of fabric, vaguely reminiscent of a landscape.


“Nene” detail.

I have not seen The Improv Handbook yet, but based on my experience as a test quilter, I am very much looking forward to seeing the final product. I wish Sherri all the best and hope that her book is a smash hit at QuiltCon!


09 Sep

Sketchbook Challenge Blog Hop

Today is Day one of The Sketchbook Challenge big blog hop!


My date to post is on September 13th but there’s something to see every day. Because there are so many of us, it’s a long hop and many are offering tutorials and giveaways.

Here are the full details:

The Sketchbook Challenge Hosts have a surprise for you – for the next 21 days we are celebrating September’s theme of Houses and Hideaways with a blog hop! Each day, beginning on September 9th, you’ll find a new post on The Sketchbook Challenge blog related to this month’s theme that will also include a link to the artist’s own blog, where you’ll find tutorials, videos, studio tours, exciting giveaways and more!

On each day start by swinging by The Sketchbook Challenge blog and then follow the link to the Host’s personal blog for extra goodness. Here is the blog hop schedule and enjoy!

** On each day start at The Sketchbook Challenge blog!**

September 9 – Gina Lee Kim

September 10 – Jacqueline Newbold

September 11 – Sue Bleiwess

September 12 – Jackie Bowcutt

September 13 – Me!

September 14 – Jane Davies

September 15 – Lyric Kinard

September 16 – Terry Grant

September 17 – Carol Sloan

September 18 – Leslie Tucker Jenison

September 19 – Lesley Riley

September 20 – Traci Bunkers

September 21 – Lynn Krawczyk

September 22 – Desiree Habicht

September 23 – Jamie Fingal

September 24 – Mary Beth Shaw

September 25 – Kari McKnight-Holbrook

September 26 – Deborah Boschert

September 27 – Susan Brubaker Knapp

September 28 – Laura Cater Woods

September 29 – Jane LaFazio


05 Aug

In Stitches

I am proud to announce that I have an article in Volume 4 of “In Stitches” eMagazine!

By the creators of Quilting Arts magazine, this digital magazine has the advantage of including videos and slide shows with the tutorials, plus taking up a lot less space on your coffee table! My article is about making small art with a big impact using collaged fabrics and crocheted and embroidered details. See how a piece evolves from auditioning fabrics to layering the elements and adding three dimensional stitches and other embellishments. Other volumes of In Stitches include articles by fellow Twelve by Twelve artists Deborah Boschert and Terry Grant, and by circle of friends pal Natalya Aikens (Deborah actually lives in both camps!). Go check it out.

11 Apr

Aloha Pineapple Quilt Along: part 9


Project Introduction here

Part 1 (supplies) here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

Part 7 here.

Part 8 here.

Since it had been two weeks since the last installment, and we worked on two phases of our quilt construction, I’m posting TWO parts. The basting probably went pretty quick, so the next task is to hold teh layers of the quilt together permanently.

These pineapple blocks have a lot of seams in them, which could be difficult to hand quilt over. They are also visually quite busy, so free motion or pantograph designs could get lost and therefore not be worthy of the time spent creating them. I’d suggest simple straight line machine quilting, like diagonal lines X-ing through the centers of the blocks, or in-the-ditch quilting.

Almost done!

OR, you could tie the layers together like was often done on old utilitarian quilts. I’ve decided to continue my scrappy theme and use up some of my embroidery floss bits and bobs. Jason plans on using deep blue for his, and Katie will use black to match the solid color in her quilt.

Tie 1

Use a large eye needle embroidery or chenille (and a threader to make life easier) and thread it will a long length of floss. Stitch from the front of the quilt, through all three layers, and back out the front, about 1/4″ away. Pull the floss almost all the way through, but leave a tail 1″ to 2″ long.

Tie 2

Put the needle back into the quilt right next to where you did the first time and, again, back out 1/4″ away, near where you came out the first time.

Tie 3

Pull it taught, but not so tight it puckers or pulls the floss all the way out (then you’d have to start over).

Tie 4

Tie a square knot with the ends.

Tie 5

Looks good!

Tie 6

Cut the tails (mine are on the long side, but don’t cut them so short they could pull out of the knot) and move on to the next tie. I tied my top in the center of each block and at the intersections of the blocks.

I think it is smart to use a batting with some polyester in it when you are tying a quilt. You want something that doesn’t need to be stitched too closely. If you want to use a more delicate batting, that might clump over time, then machine stitching closer together would be the way to go.

All that’s left is to bind the quilt!

Just for fun, here’s a real pineapple. After more than two years, the pineapple top in my back yard has finally decided to fruit. At this young stage, I can almost see how it inspired the quilt block.

Real Pineapple (baby)

11 Apr

Aloha Pineapple Quilt Along: part 8


Project Introduction here

Part 1 (supplies) here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

Part 7 here.

Our progress is really showing now! Most of us have pieced our tops together (pineapple blocks + borders), and are at some stage of getting our three layers together.

Deb’s pile of blocks is looking wonderfully colorful and Hawaiian. Once the blocks are done, then they need to be laid out in a pleasing arrangement.

Laying out the blocks

Here Jason helps Kathleen lay out her beachy blocks. She’ll label the backs and then sew them together (see Part 7 for a tutorial).

Basting 1

Then comes the layering and basting. Here’s Katie’s backing laid out, face down, on the floor. Tape the fabric smooth, but not so taught it’s pulled out of shape.

Basting 1.5

Taping works well on a smooth floor like this, but you can use straight pins to secure your layers if you have a carpeted surface.

Basting 2

Lay the batting on top and smooth it out, starting in the center and working out towards the edges. Depending on how well your batting “sticks” to the backing fabric you may or may not want to tape it to the floor too.

Basting 3

Center the quilt top, face up, on top of the batting. Smooth it out, again from the center, and tape the edges in place.

Basting 4

Use safety pins (curved ones are easiest to use) to pin all three layers together, spacing them about a hand’s width apart. Start in the center and work your way out to the edges. You could also baste with needle and thread using very big stitches and a thread color that contrasts with your top. Once the layers are basted together you can remove and dispose of the tape. Now you can take your quilt anywhere to stitch or tie the layers more permanently.

Here’s Jason’s basted quilt, showing off his pieced backing that is dramatic enough to be a quilt on it’s own.

Katie’s color just glow!

And here’s Deb’s blocks — almost ready to be sewn together!

My friend Kim has found an effective way to baste quilts without crawling around on the floor. Click here for the video she learned from and a tutorial with her own adjustments to the method.

26 Mar

No Promises Marbling with Dye Paint

I have marbled with paint which gives great control, and I have dyed with fiber reactive dyes which give good color and hand, so now I was keen to see if I could combine the best of both worlds and try marbling with fiber reactive dyes. I started out writing this post with all the recipes and directions thinking that someone might want try to do this too. But by the time I reached the rinse out stage at the end of the day it was clear that all I produced was a big bucket of fail. I put my resources and recipes at the end though in case anyone wants to avoid my mistakes.

The Preparation:

In preparation for my marbling experiment, I mixed up a batch of carageenan size on which to float the dyes, just as I would have for regular paints. I made thickened dye paints using information gleaned from the internet. I used two recipes for comparison. One pretty standard, one with a little oil used to keep the thickener from clumping (which I thought might also help with that whole floating on water thing one needs with marbling). The dye paints are a mixture of dissolved Procion dye powder, Print Paste, and water mixed with urea. I dripped a few of these on to my carageenan water and they seemed thick, so I let it all sit overnight with the plan to thin the paints with more urea water in the morning. On marbling day, I soaked my fabrics in a solution of water and fixative, then hung them to dry.

The Marbling:

To start, I thinned my basic dye paints with a little urea water. They sunk. I increased the urea water, but the paints still sunk. I tried the dye paints with oil and had more floating and less sinking the first time, but the colors were blotchy due to the oil. At this point, I laid a piece of fabric on top to see if the dyes would even transfer and to my delight, they did! Unfortunately, when I switched to marbling with the dye paints with oil, they all decided to sink just like those without. Looking back, I see in my Dharma catalog a wetting agent called calsolene oil. I wonder if I could float concentrated (but unthickened dye with calsolene oil on my carageenan size. Hmmmm…….

I vaguely remembered seeing instructions for dye marbling with shaving cream that recommended leaving the fabric a few minutes before removing it from the size, so I kept that in mind when I was testing my fabrics. However, after less than a minute the fabrics started to sink so I had to take them out. After sitting on the sidelines about 10 minutes, even the faint pattern they had disappeared. So, after all my variations of thinning and oiling failed, I thought I might as well just go ahead and try the shaving cream method.

I went back to my undiluted dye paint (the batch with oil since I wanted to save the standard batch to paint with directly in case of complete catastrophe) and added shaving cream to it thinking that this wasn’t too far from the formula on the Dharma instructions. Certainly this technique is easy — especially if one doesn’t go through the exercise of making up the now unnecessary print paste the night before. The carageenan size was a complete loss, though I did contemplate saving it to use with paint. I decided I’d rather just make a fresh batch if it came to that.

Marbling using the shaving cream technique went pretty smoothly and the results batched in the sun under wraps for a good five hours. I really hoped the colors would be as vivid when done as they looked while wet. Washout does not look promising though.

Because I had taken the trouble to make up the dye paints, I decided to do some painting directly on the fabric. Painting went pretty well, so I handed over the operation to the Jr. Redhead. About half way through her painting the table tipped and everything came crashing down around her. We saved the red paint, and she emerged unscathed and undyed except for some black splodges on her hands. I cleaned everything up while she shakily painted a few red hearts on her fabric.

The Conclusion:

The reason people marble with paint is because it works. Perhaps I need to experiment not on dye versus paint, but on better fixing my paint with more time under the iron or in the dryer. Marbling on shaving cream is fun and easy to do. I’ve seen pretty nice, if grainy, results online, but my attempts look like the black is a complete blur. I have high hopes for the pieces we painted on directly, but they have no marbling, which was the whole point. Now I have to decide whether I want to return to traditional marbling with paint tomorrow, or order new supplies and try unthickened dyes, perhaps with calsolene oil. If I have to order though, I may be cutting my time too short for the 12×12 deadline.

The Recipes (if you really want to keep reading):

DISCLAIMER: I am not a frequent nor expert dyer. The following is merely an experiment put to digital paper as reference mainly for myself. It is an accumulation of advice from many places such as a dying class taken from Dijanne Cevaal, fabric marbling with the book “The Ultimate Marbling Handbook” by Diane Maurer-Mathison as guide, and online resources such as Prochem and Dharma Trading Company.

My base or size on which to try floating the dyes is a mix of 3 Tablespoons of carageenan to each gallon of water. I mixed enough, with my immersion blender, to have at least 2 inches of size in my designated tray. I use this when I marble with airbrush paints. It is mixed up the night before so it could properly thicken and the air bubbles could subside. In a perfect world I’d use distilled water, but I am too lazy to go buy special water for a project.

To make the dye paints I followed various tips found online as follows:

First, I mixed urea and water: 1 cup warm water to 7 teaspoons urea.

For the print paste, I mixed 3 cups warm water, 6.5 Tablespoons urea and 8 teaspoons sodium alginate thickener. I mixed this all up and allowed it to “rest” for several hours. I also made a batch in which I added 1 Tablespoon canola oil to the sodium alginate to minimize clumping. This was intriguing because since oil and water don’t mix, I thought it might be helpful for floating the colors on the carageenan water base. Other results notwithstanding, adding the oil definitely helped decrease clumping. Many recipes also suggested adding water softener to the print paste. I did not have any, so I skipped this step. It may be something I regret.

To make the dye paint itself I dissolved my Procion dye powder into just enough of the urea water to make a paste. I used 1 tsp powder for the red, pearl gray, and light black (which due to powder formulation should be a different grey than the pearl grey). I used 1 tsp yellow and 1/2 tsp red to make orange, and I used 4 tsp black since all sources said black needs more. To the blacks, I also added a teaspoon or so of table salt. I did not see reference to salt online in conjunction with dye paints or marbling, but in my class with Dijanne we used quite a bit in immersion dying and my new Dharma catalog had a small reference to use salt with blacks in tie dying so I did. Then I added a generous glug of print paste to each jar, duplicating some of the colors but using the print paste with oil just for comparison. I topped off each potion with enough urea water to make 1/2 cup of dye paint.

27 Jul

Canvas is fabric too

As I was making “Fairytale Forest” it seemed less like a quilt and more like a painting that happened to be of fabric, yarn, and beads. It called out to be mounted on stretcher bars like a painting. I’ve also been seeing lots of small quilts mounted on gallery wrapped canvas of late. I’ve done it as well, to give postcard sized work more of the presence it deserves. That got me to thinking about using the canvas as less of an afterthought, and more of an integral part of the artwork (again, like a painting). “Cloud House” was my first foray, with the canvas more like a mat, but the fabric collage really worked for me. After making “Pink House,” I considered writing an article about stitching fabric collages directly onto stretched canvas (even though it’s now mounted on another canvas). pink-housesm   I gathered up a variety of canvases and have tried more collages — experimenting with primed canvas, unprimed linen, and plain bars (I even found round canvas, but have yet to make anything with it). canvases As I was working on the latest piece I realized that I wasn’t ready to let go of this. Obviously I don’t have the market on fabric collages on stretched canvas — and I do think everyone with the inclination should try something like this. But try it with birds, mushrooms, abstracts, figures, flowers, trees, and yes, houses. I’m afraid that if I write an article (and it’s published) with only houses as samples, it will limit how others see the technique. I’m enjoying the houses too much to branch out into other imagery, so I’ve decided for now to share what I’ve been working on, but not to write any sort of how-to.  rooted-canvases2 Enjoy and stitch amongst yourselves.

22 Jun

Adding a Line Drawing to a Quilt

I thought I’d share my process for adding the stag’s head to my latest quilt. It’s by no means the only way to add embroidery to a quilt, it was just my way for this quilt.

First, I drew the stag’s head directly onto a piece of tear-away stabilizer. I’m a confident draw-er and just went freehand using a photo as reference, but one could certainly find or print something out at the appropriate size and trace it onto the stabilizer.

Next, I pinned the stabilizer onto the front side of my quilt, which I had already quilted with parallel lines or channels. With 40 weight thread, I free-motion quilted the stag’s head, following the pencil lines I had drawn on the stabilizer. The tedious part follows — gently tearing away all the stabilizer. A seam ripper or something pointy is helpful to pick at the teensy bits in tight spaces. I also knot and bury any thread tails left from when I’ve stopped and stared lines of stitching.

Above is a detail of the front of the quilt with the machine embroidery; below is the back of the quilt showing the full picture.

For the nose and the eye, I placed appropriate shapes of fabric in position under the stabilizer to raw-edge applique the pieces as I followed the pencil drawing (you can still see a white haze of stabilizer that I haven’t yet picked out).

Once the machine embroidery is done and the stabilizer is ripped/picked out, it’s time to add the thicker lines with hand embroidery. Follow the main machine stitched lines, but don’t do the ones that define details on the interior of the image.

Using two strands of embroidery floss and a small chain stitch, I was careful to only go through the top layer of the quilt so as not to mar the look of the thread drawing on the back. Make a small quilter’s knot at the start of your floss, insert the needle into the top only of the quilt an inch or two away from where you want to start stitching, exit the needle where you want to start and pull it gently to pop the knot through the top and into the middle of teh quilt sandwich. When you’ve embroidered your way to the end of the floss, make similar knot by wrapping your thread around the needle twice and pulling it down the length of the needle and floss until it is close to the fabric (it helps to stick a pin into the knot while it’s loose to facilitate sliding it down the floss); enter the needle into the fabric at the end of your stitching and exit the fabric an inch or two away (being sure to go through the top layer and some batting only). Gently pull the needle and floss until the knot pops down into the quilt.

Enjoy the many possibilities of combining patchwork shapes with embroidery lines.