Sunday, January 31, 2016

It's a Wallhanging! It's a Dish! It's Color Therapy!

I made quite a few of these jewel box wallhangings last year. Composing and stitching the little squares is pure, joyous, non-toxic color therapy.
Each square takes on a personality of its own.
But I have to say I was getting bored of making them into wallhangings. How about doing something different? How about making them like Transformers, so that they CAN be wallhangings, but they can also be, say, DISHES! That, to me, is profoundly exciting. (My life is trés dull).  So on my most recent hostess gift, I stitched pairs of snaps on either side. 
Snap shut one pair, and you get an assymetrical dish: 
Snap both pairs shut, and you wind up with this partially symmetrical dish: 
Or, your giftee can leave it flat as a trivet/table runner, or hang it on the wall flat, or, come to think of it, hang it partially or fully snapped! 
Don't forget a hanging sleeve on the back, behind an non-snapped edge. 
Interested in making jewel box therapy? Here are three posts to how incredibly therapeutic these are to make:  (123

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Tarot of Fabric Selection: Six Games for Ultra-Serendipity Quilts:

There are a lot of quilters out there who talk about serendipity, but really, they have elaborate plans.

For example, Susan Carlson, one of my quilt idols, wrote two fantastic books called Freestyle Quilts and Serendipity Quilts. But her projects start with a beautiful, intricate sketch (she has a degree in illustration). Here's a part of one of her drawings:
I made several complex fish from her patterns, and anyone who knows Carlson's work would immediately recognize my guys as her offspring:
There were many serendipitous moments - choosing fabrics was a gas - but I was definitely following a  plan.
Similarly, Sarah Nephew, another longtime inspiration, has a couple of quilt books with "serendipity" in the title. Her gorgeous quilts require a ton of careful planning and cutting before you get from the serene to the dipity. (No Y seams, though, which is great!)
You can see and buy Sara Nephew's terrific books here. I totally love this book and am going to make something from it. 
I, by contrast, practice a radical form of serendipity quilting that is closely associated with, and in fact, virtually identical to, extreme laziness.

Here's how it works: A pile of unrelated fabrics accretes like stalagmites in a conspicuous area of my sewing room, for whatever reason (I auditioned them for different projects; my overstuffed cabinets exploded; I bought them seven weeks ago and am too lazy to put them away; I am a hoarder in denial; etc.)

After a while, I start to see connections. The universe appears to be sending a complex message - like Tarot cards, runes, or tea leaves - important dispatches that I must not ignore.

For example on a recent Hawaiian vacation, (blog entry), I bought a half-dozen new, mostly unrelated fabrics, including dupioni silks, cotton batiks, and a half-yard of this elegant, high-quality gold-flecked Asian print;
And, from a different store, two yards of this flimsy, low-quality, wacky fabric poking fun at Tokyo's pop culture:
Once home, I procrastinated putting them away, because I so enjoyed looking at them. Eventually, it came to me that these two totally go together. If you've visited Japan, you know that the juxtapositions of ancient and edgy - in the streets, the clothes, the packaging, the hearts and minds - are enthralling.

So I went for it!
 I patched up the turning hole in the back and added a hanging loop.
The back took almost as much time than the front. If I were into ultra-radical serendipity, I would hang it backwards. A friend of mind admired it (the front), and I was thrilled to give it to her!

Want to experience authentic serendipity for yourself? Here are five highly-disciplined exercises to force you to be lazy (or crazy) enough to make a very serendipitous quilt:
  1. The Random Number Method: Use a family member or online random number generator (like this one) to generate three numbers between 1 and 25. Go to your fabric stash, pick a pile, count down from the top, and pull out three fabrics that correspond to those numbers. Make it work. (If your stash is small, you can do this at the fabric store. See #4).
  2. The Project Runway Method. Set the timer for 10 minutes, race to your fabric stash and randomly pull five fabrics. Splay them on the kitchen table and leave them there until a concept comes to you. When your spouse asks why you can't clear the table, explain that you are channeling messages from the universe.
  3. The Pet Method: Similar to #2, but lay six fabrics on the floor, and then use ONLY the two that your dog, cat, rodent, etc. first lie upon. Same thing works with small children. (The pet can also help with decorative stitch selection...(although there is a danger it will gnaw on the spool pin.)
  4. The Method for People Who are Mediocre at Darts: Acquire darts. Print out a color wheel from the Internet. Thumb tack it to a bathroom door. Knock on the door to make sure no one is inside. Stand far back and yell loudly to make sure none of your family members or pets are approaching. Throw 3 darts toward the wheel. (If the darts land on the door or the floor, those count as colors, too.)
  5. The Blindfold Shopping Method. Put a blindfold in your purse. On your next visit to a quilt shop, approach a sales clerk, introduce yourself, blindfold yourself, and ask politely if she can steer you towards the fat quarters section. There, use your hands to feel out 3 fabrics. No peeking! Warning: The salespeople will whisper that you are kinky/bonkers.
  6. The Relationship Buster. This next approach works best if your spouse or #1 best friend is NOT a quilter or visual artist. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Ask him or her to pick 3 fabrics. Refrain from making suggestions or faces. Find a way to make it work. You may be stunned by how beautifully it all goes together; or, just plain stunned. Vengeance will be yours! Give it to them when you're done!
Whatever you make, keep it small, just in case it's a disaster. My bet is that you, or someone you care about, or your pet, will love it! (Send me a picture, I will strive to love it too!)
Ginny was very particular about stitch selection. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My Wedding Canopy Article in Machine Quilting Unlimited Magazine

Extreme excitement: My 7-page article about making a commissioned wedding canopy is in the new January 2016 issue of Machine Quilting Unlimited magazine.  Here's the cover of the issue, with a glorious animal portrait quilt by Susan Carlson, on of my quilting idols.
Here's the first page of my article: 
It's a step-by-step description of my collaboration with the bride, and the technicalities of making this kind of medallion quilt (way easier than it looks.) 

MQU is a beautiful magazine that I only became aware of recently.  By "machine quilter", they don't just mean longarmers - the articles are for anyone who does any part of any quilt with any kind of machine. You could be a hand worker and still love the editorial. 

The same issue has an article about one of my quilt heroes, Susan Carlson, who makes intoxicating animal portraits; Lisa Walton's insanely intricate wholecloth painted quilts inspired by Spanish tiles; a stupendous labyrinth quilt by Sarah Ann Smith; exquisite new versions of antique Baltimore Album quilts; and so much more. It covers the broad territory from traditional to cutting-edge art quilts, and they make it all look gorgeous!

 If your LQS doesn't carry this magazine, they should - tell them about it! Meanwhile, you can buy the January 2016 issue, or back issues, here


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fake Your Own Precuts Tutorial: What the Fabric Companies Don't Want You to Know

I  feel conflicted about everything, and one of those things is precuts.

Precuts are neat stacks of fabric squares, rectangles, strips, triangles, and/or hexagons that range from an inch to a yard across. Here's a Benartex assortment (no financial affiliation with any company in this blog post):

They're precision cut, color-coordinated, hypnotically packaged, and depending on the the company, may have unhealthy food names, such as Layer Cakes. Crackers. Charms, Honey Buns, Dessert Rolls, Turnovers, Pops, and, come to think of it, Fat Quarters, which is what one complains about after consuming the aforementioned foods.

(Robert Kaufman fabrics calls their 1.5"x 40" cuts Skinny Strips - Are they trying to be funny? Similarly: Why aren't precuts ever called Broccoli Bites, Celery Styx, or Fyltered Water?)

I'm especially fascinated by the Jelly Roll-like entities, (the term 'Jelly Roll' belongs to Moda fabrics), which are beautifully wound  into a spiral. They're usually made up of 20-to-40 strips that are 2 1/2" high x about 40" long. Other companies call them Roll Ups, Rolie Polies, Design Rolls etc.
Anthology packs their 2 1/2" strips into a bay-windowed box that looks suspiciously like it might contain chocolate:
Mmmmm. Darn you, Anthology! Despite the mocha packaging, Anthology calls them "Story Strips".

The 40-strip packs cost from about $30 on sale, to upwards of  $50 retail. That's for about 2 2/3 yards of fabric, not an outrageous price for the convenience. Precuts can save hours of time choosing and cutting. And like chocolates, we deserve them!

On the other hand, I already have all those fabrics, or reasonable facsimiles, at home. They're packed in odd, large shapes, eccentrically folded and tightly smashed into cabinets and boxes in my sewing room.

Thus, I feel guilty when I fondle new precut packs at my LQS or ogle them online. I can't come up with enough excuses to buy them.

So last week, when I was cutting 3/4" strips for Ann Brauer stripping exercises, I thought, what the heck, while I'm at it, why not make myself my very own fabric roll?

I charged ahead without doing any homework, If I had closely studied the rolls online or at my LQS, I would have first bought a new pinking-edge blade for my rotary cutter. There's a reason, I quickly discovered, that most of these commercial charms and precuts have zig-zag cut edges. Otherwise, you get stray threads - a lot of them. A pinking blade  runs around $5-$10.
With a rotary cutter and a ruler, cutting the strips is a breeze. The hard part is the rolling. It goes well for about an inch, but the more you roll, the more challenging it becomes:

I went back to the Internet photos, and realized that that I needed to fold the strips in half. But where do the folds go? First I tried to roll starting with stacked folds,
But that way,you wind up with raw edges at the ends:

Back to the Internets again. On closer study, I deduced that the folds are at the end of the roll. After some more trial and error, here's the 4-step procedure I came up with for rolling your own.

1. From scraps and/or yardage, cut a bunch of  strips to 2 1/2" high (or whatever you want), x the approximate length of your fabric. Any length is okay. You can cut off the selvages or not - personal taste. Uneven lengths are okay. Some of my strips ended at 15" - 32"  long, rather than 40". It didn't make much of a difference in the final product.

2. Iron if necessary (I don't, except to save lives), and stack the raw edges directly on top of each other (in this photo, the raw edges are lined up to the left):
3. Start bending the raw edges over.
Almost immediately, a bump will form to ahead of where you're bending.
It's only going to get worse. So pick that sucker up, and hold it up in the air! Shake out and adjust the dangling part as you roll. One person can do it, but two is better.
3. Carefully continue to roll, readjusting and straightening as you go, all the way to the end.
It's true that if all your strips are the same length, the ending folds will line up closely, at even intervals. But it doesn't look so bad the way it is.

3b. Tap your roll on a tabletop a bunch of times. That will help them align.

4. Find something groovy to tie them up with. Jute! Satin! A color that complements the fabric! Here's a blue grosgrain ribbon:

The ideal: A brown fiber that evokes chocolate (like the ribbon below, which came off an actual chocolate box).
Did you notice that the fraying worsened with every step? That's why you really need the pinking blade. Also, no matter how carefully I wound, I couldn't align the strips as perfectly as the store rolls. The fabric companies must have a special winding machine? 

You don't have to cut 40 strips. My roll of 20 strips folded in half is about 5" across - very substantial.

Despite or perhaps because of its adorable flaws, a personalized roll made by you would be a meaningful gift for your stitching and crafty friends. Perfect for swaps. Even if your giftee never sews the strips into a quilt, the rolls make excellent pincushions, paperweights or decorative coffee table toys/conversation pieces.

Take the idea little further and package it like junk food treats! I tested my roll in various vintage tin  boxes. Here's a box from holiday season 2011.


Bartons Passover chocolate box, possibly from the last millenium. 
Starbucks coffee holiday sampler box, vintage unknown. 

After I choose the perfect packaging, I will give it to my DH, so he can surprise me with it, perhaps under the Chanukah bush next winter; or under my pillow for consolation when my aging teeth need crowns; or atop my birthday cake. Then I can pretend that we paid $48 for it new, which, come to think of it, we did when I originally bought the fabric from whence the strips were cut.

On the other hand, after all this work, it's easier to just buy the danged precuts. Plus you'll be keeping the fabric stores and industry in business. In fact, now that I think of it, it's our moral obligation to buy precuts! Let's all resolve to shop for them frequently in the New Year!

PS Our family does not actually do Chanukah bushes, but if we did, I would want precuts under them.

PPS Dear family and friends, don't buy me precuts. But thanks for thinking of me. I roll my own.

PPPS Very cool round cushion project from strips here.

PPPPS. Anthology Story Strips and Hoffman Bali Pops are on sale this week at Hancock Fabrics, here! But you really should roll your own! Or not.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

I spent New Year's getting Insanely Thin and Stripping

This New Year's, I made calorie-free Vegan Rainbow Bacon!

It all started four days ago, when I decided to reread old issues of Quilting Arts magazine for fun. I came across an article by Ann Brauer in the December 2012/January 2013 issue. Ann's quilts are museum pieces and I've long admired them.  One type, which she sells on her Etsy site, involves long, thin strips. Check out, for example, one of her beautiful bags, here.

The QA article explains how she does it. I was astonished to read that her strips are crazy-thin! They're cut at 3/4" and  finish at 1/4"! I only make strips that skinny by accident! Plus she sews with utter precision and consistency. Each quarter-inch is dead-straight.

It sounded like the perfect New Year's activity. If I can't be vanishingly thin, at least my strips can be! So I threw a party, in this sense:
I cut several batches of 3/4" strips, one batch from batiks, one from solids, and a third from prints. (Here are some of the solids).
(I had yellow-and-purple on my mind because the Lakers' garish Rose Parade float got stuck in my head.)

The QA article includes Ann's step-by-step directions and tips, which are not mine to divulge. In a nutshell, it involves stitching the strips directly onto a batting and backing. Here's the extent of my precision.
 Ha! I wasn't even drinking. This is how I always sew when I'm trying to go straight. 
Now you know why I can't be permitted to make garments. 
I deeply regret the orange. Let's pretend I was drinking alcohol-positive eggnog. I wish. 

(For Ann's complete how-to, a link to buy the QA issue is at the bottom of this post.) 

Ann's technique is an excellent way to start on New Year's fitness resolutions. Every strip, or every two strips at most, you MUST run (because you're so eager to see how it looks) from the sewing machine to the ironing board, and back. That means you'll be standing up and sitting down, and zipping back and forth, getting almost as much exercise as dangerously young Star Wars actors

My rainbow bacon slab is made from solids, and measures 31" x 6". It has 27 strips, i.e. approximately 14 round trips between the iron and the sewing machine. 
The same piece also works as a basket (need a base),

 or a double basket:
They remind me of  coil pots. Or the washout canyons of Utah.
 Here's a wave experiment I did before finishing the top and bottom edges.

Next, the piece I made mostly from batiks:
It measures 18" x 9" and includes 37 strips packed into those 9"! 
What photos can't convey is how wonderfully bumpy-textural and hefty these pieces feel, much more than a regular quilt. I think it's because they're 5 layers. There's the back, batting, front, as in a regular quilt; plus there's the seam allowance of the strip you're attaching; the seam allowance of the strip underneath it. Those two seam allowances back everything.

This gives them gravity. Like a dog with a new toy, I have been literally carrying them around the house for two days (but not in my mouth), placing them upright on coffee tables. drizzling them down to the floor like waterfalls, arranging them like screens and sculptures and ocean waves, bending, folding, stroking and petting. I don't want to be separated from them, even for meals. 

So what does Ann Brauer do with her pieces? Along with hanging them as art, she also makes them into placemats - no mealtime separation anxiety - as well as pillows - so you can sleep with them - plus purses, cellphone cases, tea cozies, and more.  

I also tested the batik piece as a tray....
 Or a purse,
Or a basket that could conceivably hold this 9" pinecone. 
I made another batik strip set that I turned into a little box (3 1/2" on a side).  
I do have one tip for stitching a foundation-sewn project like this: Before you add each new strip, cut away all dangling threads from the previous strips, and check the back. These long, thick pieces act like a magnet for all the scraps, lint, threads, and small pets in a three-foot radius of your sewing machine. It picks them up, silently carries them along, without you feeling them because the sandwich is so thick. Then you (well, I) stitch them securely in place to the back. I am not showing you the results, because the whole point of this blog is to pretend that I am a competent quilter. OK, I'll show you. 
Yup, I managed to stitch four long rows before detecting that the thread ends from previous rows, plus a massive, foldy scrap, had adhered to reverse side. If I were a surgeon, I would have just lost my license for accidentally stitching my forceps to someone's kidney.

Want to make your own?
  • Learn about Ann's technique by ordering a digital edition ($8 cheap!) of the Quilting Arts issue here. No financial affiliation.
  • An article she wrote about how she makes more uneven strips is here
  • From Ann's blog, here's how she joins sections: http://annbrauer.blogspot.com/2016/01/finishing-quilt.html
  • More of her stunning pillows and purses: http://annbrauer.blogspot.com/p/small-works.html
  • A nice article about Ann and her work is online, here.
By sheer coincidence, I learned that one of Ann's quilts is on the cover this month of Art Quilting Studio magazine (the Winter 2016 issue). The article is about a different series of her quilts, which involve curved piecing with uneven widths, Since uneven is more in my aptitude range, I immediately ordered a copy, here.  No financial affiliation. It's my first purchase of 2016!  I can't wait!