Saturday, December 20, 2014

2014 Year in Review

I was going to do this after Christmas, but yesterday I noticed that the new moon and the winter solstice coincide this year, so now is the time to put the old year to bed, and then make Christmas the celebration of new beginnings that it is meant to be.

So I'm back! Last year Toronto fibre artist Kit Lang did a wonderful post reviewing her projects and learnings from the past year. I believe that improvement, whether you are an artist or an artisan, requires regular reflection and adjustments, so I decided then that I would do something similar this year. Here are the highlights of what I've learned in 2014.

I'd been stressing about UFOs for years, and last January's resolution was to cut them all loose. Clean slate, start over.

Well, it was easy to say, hard to do. All my old projects crept back on the list.

My final thought is that it's like gardening -- cutting away the dead wood makes the whole plant healthier, but over pruning can be equally bad. The trick is balance,

In May I got a new sewing machine, the Brother Nouvelle 1500s high speed, single stitch machine. What a difference it's made!

I've never thought that it's reasonable to spend thousands of dollars on fancy gadgets for a hobby, but I can feel my opinion changing on that. I'm finding that better equipment gives a better result, and makes the process a lot more enjoyable as well.

Also in May, I was able to get this project, It's Warm Inside, from start to finish in about 3 weeks. That was the fastest I've ever done anything quilty! It broke down some mental barriers for me about starting and finishing in a timely manner.

Why was this one so easy to finish?
1. I had all the materials ready to go.
2. It was just 16 blocks, so there was no time to get bored.
3. I planned and cut the whole quilt before I started to sew. Then I wasn't slowed down by decision making during construction.

No, it's still not quilted, but I count it as a success nevertheless!

Mod Trips
Finishing those 16 log cabin blocks empowered me to get back to these Scrappy Trips blocks that I'd started in 2013. You could say they were a UFO whose time had finally come!

I applied what I'd learned. Rather than choosing, ironing and cutting fabrics for the blocks one at a time, I chose and cut everything for the rest of the quilt in one go. This streamlined the process, and it helped me make better choices, because I could see how everything worked together.

Even still, it was a grind to get the 25 blocks done. I think my threshold is around 20 blocks!

On the other hand, the two pillow covers I made from the leftovers were really fun. I think I liked the puzzle of how to fit them all together. That's something I plan to do again!

Over the summer I also put myself on a schedule to finish my "forever project," Texas Star. The schedule was easy, just six stars per week, and it worked.

I had to put my other forever project, Trick or Treat baskets, on hold while I finished Texas Star. Then, as I was finishing up Mod Trips above, I came to a big realization. It's not enough for a project to be interesting, I also need to have an emotional connection with it. Mod Trips is nice enough, and I'm happy it's done, but it's all intellectual.

And the baskets will be the same thing, too much head, not enough heart. I like the grey colour scheme and the fabrics intellectually, but I don't love them. I may start it again down the road in different fabrics, but this version is definitely dead.

Although it's nowhere near finished, this new project Jacks and Cats was still an important lesson. I learned that it is good to have a big stash.

I hear the groans! Over a year ago I resolved to only buy fabric for specific projects, and to stop buying just for stash. But I've changed my mind.

What I've found is that when inspiration strikes, it is very helpful to be ready to go. I bought the magazine and started this project on the same day. The whole thing flowed together beautifully, and it was super fun to be able to ride that initial wave of inspiration. For me, I think that's the best way to work.

Yes, I'm a little worried that now the brakes are off the shopping cart, but actually, I've bought less fabric recently.

Ink Week Finale

November's lesson was about the importance of the blogging community. Really, it should be whole separate post, but I'll just keep going here.

I am so appreciative of all you, bloggers, readers, and commenters, for the support, encouragement and inspiration you provide!!

My project Down in the Garden, had been languishing with just a few of these herb pots done, when I noticed that Kaaren at The Painted Quilt had started it too. She encouraged me to get back to it, and crucially, added my blog to her blog list.

That's so important, because I can see the traffic coming in from her blog, and it's very motivating. It is very helpful to borrow someone else's confidence when your own is flagging! It gave me the encouragement I needed to just go for it with Ink Week.

Then Mary Corbet recommended the series, and sent a huge spike in traffic my way. But, right between parts 3 and 4, a family emergency briefly knocked things askew. Once again, it was knowing that people were watching and waiting for the rest of the series that got me back on track and helped me to finish. And I'm so happy I did, because it turned out even better than I'd hoped!

So, when I say that I appreciate you all, it's not empty words. I really mean it! You make me better. Thank you!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Gift for Me

With the final push to Christmas now underway, this is probably my last post before the holiday. This week I bought myself this book, 500 Traditional Quilts, and I had to share it. Need a little reward after all the cooking is done? Get yourself this book!

The title says it all. 500 full colour photos of the best traditional quilts of today, chosen by Karey Patterson Bresenhan, Founder of the International Quilt Festival at Houston, from photos submitted by the quilters themselves.

I only photographed a few pages to give you the idea. In truth, the book is overwhelming and I needed a couple of sittings to look at it all. There are 432 pages, and it weighs over 2.5 lbs (1 kg)!

But what a wonderful resource! The ones on the right above, and left below, are two of my favourites.

While most of the quilts are American, and made in the past 7 or so years, there are also quilts from all over the world and as far back as the 1980s. I recognized many of them as Best of Show winners from recent shows at Houston and Paducah, as well as other national and international shows.

There are a handful of whole cloth quilts, but most of them are appliqued, pieced, or a combination of the two. There are several Baltimore-style quilts and a couple of miniatures as well. Most of the photos are full page, but a few are not:

My only complaint is that I wish there was some way to "zoom in" on some of the details! The star quilt on the right is 100" square, and made entirely from half square triangles (HSTs).

Best of all, the book was less than $20 on Amazon Canada. Unfortunately, it looks like it is now on backorder. But, it might be in stock elsewhere.

On a much smaller scale, I've been making HSTs this month as well:

I was inspired by Bonnie Hunter's new mystery quilt, in a general way, and more specifically by some of Audrey's recent work. But, there is nothing to show yet. I have 40 of these sets of 12 HSTs to make before I can start to put them together. In the new year, probably!

I'll be back after Christmas, but until then, I wish everyone a great holiday -- whatever, wherever and however you are celebrating!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Near the End on BFF

At the end of Ink Week, one thing that became clear to me was that I was ready to close out my current stitchery project, Best Friends Forever by Rosalie Quinlan. Now that all the individual stars are finished for Texas Star, I am also ready for my next English paper piecing project, which is going to be the setting for BFF. So I have two strong reasons to finish the stitchery portion of this project!

Today I have just finished the telephone, which is part of a motif from Month 6, and I'm about to turn on the tv and backstitch all the lettering while I catch up on a few episodes of CBC's Strange Empire.

Since it's Sunday and I haven't linked to Slow Stitching Sunday in ages, I thought I'd do that too! Recently it's seemed like Sundays have been a good day to devote to the sewing machine, but today I'm going to kick back. Plus, I'm keen to finish this up now!

The original, eight-month Block of the Month had 32 hexagon motifs. As I'm not doing them all, a smaller but still nice layout will be 22 hexagons, roughly like this:

Including the telephone, I need three more, so that's the plan for the next while. My cross stitch snowman is back on hold, by the way. My cross stitching neurons are rusty, and I was making mistakes all over because I was rushing it. BFF may not be Christmas-y, but it will sure feel like a nice gift to get this phase of the project done!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

333 Finished Stars

Yesterday I finished the last star for my Texas Star quilt:

I decided to use this low volume print, called "Warm Wishes," for my last three stars. As I got to the end I realized that I had some of my least favourite fabrics left, and I thought the last star should be nicer. I had a strip of this set aside for the binding of Mod Trips, so I cut it up and used it here instead. Against the white background they will almost disappear, and I like the idea of a few "ghost" stars among the rest.

I've been adding three background diamonds to most of the stars as I sewed:

Now I can sew the stars together without the boredom of all the white pieces. I've already made a start:

Back in August I made myself a schedule of six stars per week, in order to finish them all this year. I am so pleased that I have managed to stick to it! Some weeks I was ahead of schedule, and some weeks I had to catch up, but in the end I am right on time. If you missed some of the Ticker photos, here they all are again:

In the new year I may make another schedule for the rows, but I'll see how that looks after the holidays. After working on these for so long, it feels a little empty to think they are all done. I'll have to regroup a little now, and think about what the next big project will be. I put aside the baskets in order to finish these, so I may go back to those. We'll see!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Half Cross Stitch -- Which Way?

I have three, no, four, Christmas UFOs at the moment, and I won't finish them all, but I'm going to make a push on this one:

Dimensions Gold, "A Kiss for Snowman"
I thought it would look cute if I finished the figures before I started the background, and I think it does!

It feels like ages since I've done any cross stitch, but I think I last touched this piece in June. That was when I decided to unpick all the half cross stitches from the blue snowman body. It took two days! The trick was to pull them out without damaging the full crosses. It only took one day to stitch them in again.

Why did I put myself through that? Crazy perfectionism? Maybe. But here's the issue:

I am never really sure which way to stitch the half cross stitches. Should they slope up to the right, like the first or bottom layer of a full cross stitch, or up to the left, like the top part of a full cross? I have done it both ways on different projects. As you can see, the Dimensions instructions say to slope up to the right, like the lower layer of the cross stitch. And that's how I started with the snowman body.

But, I didn't like it. There was a clear shadow line where the stitch direction changes. So on the snowman face I stitched the half crosses parallel to the top stitch of the full crosses, which smoothed it all out and made the shading more natural. Then, once both figures were done, I realized I had enough thread left in the kit to restitch the body so it would all align.

From now on, I'll be stitching the half crosses in the way that gives the desired effect, rather than just unconsciously following the pattern!

The next step is to stitch the entire background in half crosses going the other way, so hopefully the figures will stand forward a little. And hopefully, it'll be done before Christmas!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Slowest Quilter Ever?

Blogathon Canada is on this week, and today it's Ontario's turn. Since the lake in "Lakeview" is Lake Ontario, I'm up!

Heather at Peace Love Quilt suggested on Thursday that she may be the slowest quilter ever, but I think I could challenge for that title! I started my first quilt in the late 70s, my second quilt in the late 80s, my third quilt in the late 90s, and I didn't finish any of them. (Although the third one may still get finished.)

It's just about a year since I finished my first quilt:

Nine Patch Jubilee, 54" x 66"

I'm now up to three:

Highlands Houses, 19" x 19"

And this flimsy is probably the next one to be quilted:

Mod Trips, 60" x 60"

Not all my projects are red and white! The quilt that I started back in the 80s was a Texas Star, from Judy Martin's book Scrap Quilts. Machine piecing all the Y seams did me in, but two years ago I started it again using English Paper Piecing.

The stars are about 3 3/4" across, with 5/8" hexagons and 1 1/4" diamonds, and to make a 60" x 80" throw I calculated that 333 stars would do the job. I'm very excited, because I'm only about two weeks from finishing them all!

Of course, the next step is to sew them all together. But it will be a big milestone on a quilt I've been planning since the 1980s!

I think there are three reasons everything takes so long. One, most of my projects are ambitious, like Judy Niemeyer's Prairie Star...

...which I've realized is going to be a heck of a lot of sewing, but which I hope to get back to in the new year.

Reason two is that I enjoy a lot of hand stitching -- including embroidery...



Best Friends Forever

...and applique:

Trick or Treat Baskets

Although, I really shouldn't show you that one, because I'm pretty sure I've changed my mind about the fabrics.

In 2013 one of my resolutions was to hand quilt a project, and I did -- this pincushion!

Hand quilting is still on my list of things to learn.

And reason three why it takes me so long to finish anything? Too many things on the go! But you know, the great thing about blogging is that it's mainly about the journey. I hope you'll join me!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ink Week Wrap Up

If you missed the earlier posts in the series, you may find them here:
Today I'm going to wrap up the series about the Tsukineko inks, but the complete project still has many more days to go before it's done!

My original plan was that the coloured inks would be a watery wash to fill in some of the large empty spaces in this stitchery quilt, Leanne Beasley's Down in the Garden. The stitchery was always intended to be the main feature, and to give the structure to the design. What I found on the first day, though, was that the more water you add to the ink, the more unpredictably it behaves. Here's a better photo of that first bird house:

So I think that while it's good to start with a plan, it's also good to be prepared to change it as events arise! I decided that I can live with the blue creeping over the lines in the block above, but that I didn't want that to happen with all the flowers in the other blocks. So the colours became darker and more saturated as I worked.

I bought some specialized equipment to work with the inks, and I was happy with all of it:

  • The Color Mixing Cups at the top of the photo are small lightweight plastic containers, each with its own lid. They come with their own tray, which makes it easy to organize and store the ink over a several day project.
  • On the left are the Tsukineko Fantastix, which also come with their own caps. I kept the ones that were loaded with ink in a plastic snack bag, and they were good for a few days.
  • On the right below the water jar are the plastic eye droppers, which I used to transfer ink from the bottle to the mixing cups, to transfer mixes from one cup to another, and to add clean water from the jar to the mixing cup.
With all three of these tools you need one for every colour of ink that you buy, and for every colour of ink that you plan to mix. They can't be cleaned, but the huge advantage is that they are much easier to control. They give you consistent results across the project. Painting or inking on fabric is very different than painting on paper, I found. It's less precise, so any tool that helps with that is well worth it.

I bought almost everything, inks, tools and fabric, from Dharma Trading Co., who also have some articles on techniques. The fabric was the Kaufman Kona PFD (prepared for dying), which really absorbed the ink well. The high thread count has been a little dense for hand stitching, but it certainly supports the thread well, and I've had no issues with stitch tension.

I will say that stitching over the bright colours, all of which you have chosen and painted yourself, is extremely satisfying! I have used all my favourite flowers as inspiration. The purple daisy colouration is inspired by purple irises, the small pink flowers are inspired by apple blossoms, there are the large coral dahlias, and the little yellow "sunflowers."

Those sunflowers, by the way, took two days of trial and error to get the right combination of stitch and thread colour:

In the end I decided that while the white gap between the ink and the stitching looked nice and "arty" in the purple and pink flowers, it did not work in the sunflower centres. I tried blanket stitch to cover up some of the gap, and it worked quite well. I also left out that yellow straight stitch in the petals, because it distracted from the clean curves of the stem stitch around the petal edges.

I still have more decisions to make about the four small flowers that are in the bird house blocks and scattered around the rest of the quilt, but this should keep me busy for now! I hope you enjoyed the series. It's been a large undertaking, but I've learned a lot. I can already think of a couple more projects for the ink, but I want to finish off a few more of my WIPs first!

Speaking of WIPs, since it's Wednesday I'll link up to WIP Wednesday at The Needle and Thread Network. And if you want to see all the posts on this project so far, including the quilt piecing and other little stitcheries, please click here. Happy stitching!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Ink Week, Part 4

There were just two flowers left for my last day of inking the stitchery designs from Leanne Beasley's Down in the Garden quilt. If you missed them, you can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. At this point, I thought it would be pretty easy. But, you should never count your chickens before they're hatched!

The large coral flowers, in the photo above, did go well. It was the last flower, the light pink one, that gave me a lot of trouble. Here's my well-used test sheet again:

The two remaining flowers were similar in shape, one large and one small, so I decided to make them two shades of pink, so they would be related but still different. Both would start from the Tsukineko Rose Pink ink.
  1. Here I started with a drop of the pure Rose Pink, and then gradually diluted it.
  2. Using the brush, I tried a petal shape with the diluted pink and the gold from the sunflowers. I liked it, but for the large flowers I wanted something more orange.
  3. This combination looked good to me.
  4. I made two petals with a long triangle of orange at the base, and the pink around the edge. It looked good to me so I went ahead and inked two test flowers, in the photo below, the four watering can blocks, and the large centre block.
    Large flowers seen from the back on the left, and front on the right
  5. For the smaller flowers I planned to make them both lighter and a little cooler. This is a drop of the pure Tsukineko Orchid Odyssey ink. I added just two drops of the orchid to cool off the diluted Rose Pink I'd been using, and a lot more water.
  6. I also started over with some fresh Lemon Yellow from the bottle, and diluted it heavily. Then I tried to reproduce the effect I had lucked into at #2.
  7. I started with some water in the centre of the petal, and then put a line of the light yellow down the middle, surrounded by a line of the light pink. The first two tries blurred together to make a muddy orange in the centre.
  8. Success!
  9. Time to try a test flower. Argh! The real flower petals were smaller than #8, and there just wasn't room for the water, yellow and pink to blend nicely.
  10. I tried this one without water, just the yellow and pink ink. The muddy orange came back, and it was still too dark over all.
  11. I had to draw on a couple more quick test flowers. This one was still not consistent, but I liked the lighter look.
  12. Still not great.
I had run out of room on my test sheet and I didn't have any more test flowers, so I decided to just go ahead on the real blocks. Probably not advisable! I tried two with water, and small dabs of yellow and pink. Then I abandoned the water for good, and just made dots of yellow and pink with dry white fabric in between. Fortunately, the first two pieces were so light that I was able to go back after they dried and add darker pink dots to them as well. If you look closely at the first photo, you can see that's what I did.

I used the final version of the small flowers on the centre block:

Although they were not what I intended, I think the small flowers still work anyway. Plus, now I have the opportunity to go in with the stitching and balance things a little more.

Next time I'll have some of that stitching to show, and my final thoughts on the process. It's been quite a journey! Please click here to read on.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ink Week, Part 3

Ink Week is becoming Ink Fortnight, but never mind, I'm still forging ahead! If you missed the previous posts, please click here for Part 1, or click here for Part 2.

Today was by far the most ambitious day planned, and God definitely smiled on me, because it went exactly as I had hoped. As each layer goes on, the consequences of a mistake get larger, so I am very grateful to come through the tricky part intact!

I'm making Leanne Beasley's stitchery quilt, Down in the Garden. This round flower is used all over the quilt. I thought that if I left out the inner circle and the dot, it would look like a little sunflower. I always love sunflowers!

My first thought was to fill the centre of the "sunflower" with a couched lattice, as I did in one of the Best Friends Forever motifs. But, I want to get away from the intensive embroidery I've done on that project, so my second thought was this fancy shaded ink that you see here.

Those shaded gold centres are one of the key features of the whole quilt, so they had to work. I reused my Day 2 test sheet, with just a few extra petals drawn on for the other flowers. By reusing the same sheet, it is easy to see if all the colours are working well together.

  1. I started by mixing a dark, sludgy brown from my three secondary colours, Tsukineko's Emerald, orange (which is actually called "Tangerine"), and the dark purple Wisteria. Strictly speaking, it is better to mix from the three primary colours, but I didn't buy red, just some Rose Pink. My sludge was not the nicest brown.
  2. Fortunately, I have been saving all my mixes from previous days, which I highly recommend. I took some of my yellow orange petal mix from Day 2, added more orange, then drop by drop added some of the sludge from #1 until it turned this caramel brown. It was still a little greenish, though, until
  3. I added a couple drops of the Rose Pink. Success!
  4. For the gold part of the centres I again went back to the yellow orange petal mix from Day 2, added some water, a drop of the #1 sludge, and a drop of the pure Lemon Yellow from the bottle, and lucked into the right colour pretty quickly.
  5. I loaded the gold and the caramel onto separate Fantastix. For the centres I began with a circle of the gold in the middle, leaving a wide white border inside the line. Then I used the caramel to circle around the gold, still well inside the line, and blended it over the gold towards the centre. I tested the circles with a centred highlight, and an off-centre highlight. I decided I liked the off-centre one best.
  6. Even though I was satisfied at that point, I thought I would try a circle with some extra water in the middle before I put in the ink, to see if it blended better. It did not! The gold washed out, and the caramel was too dark by contrast. I went ahead and used the #5 formula to ink the centre block, the four watering cans, and the 16 individual flowers shown below.
  7. After a rest and a quick lunch I sat down with the purple, Wisteria. The first drop is the pure undiluted ink, and below that is the diluted ink. 
  8. In my mind I was thinking of something like DMC 327 for these flowers, so I added some of the caramel mix from #3 to the diluted purple. This was close, but a little too brown, so I added a few drops more of the Wisteria, and a little more water, until
  9. It looked good to me!

There are twelve of these individual yellow flowers in the overall quilt design. I made a few extra so I could pick the best ones. I still had a few white squares of fabric left over, and over the weekend it occurred to me to use them to test the other flowers as well:

Maybe they will end up in the quilt, maybe not. The purple daisy petals were quite narrow... I was glad to have the extra practice before I inked the larger blocks!

With tight spaces like this, I found it was best to start in the middle of the widest petal, and work out to the points as the Fantastix dried out.

As I suspected, it was too optimistic to think I could finish all the flowers in one day. But, it's definitely coming along!

I would also like to do some two-colour shading on the remaining two types of flowers. That'll be Day 4! Please click here to read on.
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