Monday, June 29, 2009

Quilts in the Yard '09

Well I've been working like crazy trying to finish the birdhouse quilt for this week's quilt show, Quilts in the Yard. This is a quilt show organized by one woman, my friend Bonnie Ross. Now understand, Bonnie is one of those woman that everyone wants to be friends with. She is full of joy, eternally young, and just amazing. That said, doing a quilt show by yourself is a huge undertaking.

Last year, when she told me what she was doing, I thought she was nuts. Didn't she know that quilt shows were organized by whole quilt guilds, not just a couple of ladies? Still she rose to the challenge and it was absolutely gorgeous. I had never been to anything like it. People came from all over to see the quilts. Its held at Scotland Yards, a nursery in Edinboro, PA where Bonnie works. Quilts are hung throughout the property under trellises, in greenhouses, and in a beautiful restored barn. Last year, there were over 200 quilts and wall hangings. The vast majority of the work was traditional, but Bonnie invited me to hang some of more contemporary pieces. They were well received and it was nice to get validation of my work. Sometimes all we see are the flaws in our art, so its nice to hear some kind words.

Anyways, Bonnie is repeating herself again this holiday weekend. The show will be on July 5th from 10 - 5. Admission is $2 with proceeds going to the Edinboro library. A lot of the pieces will be up for sale for reasonable prices. If anybody has any questions please just email me directly.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blind Hem Stitch - 1 Nina-Marie - 0

Well, I've decided that I have a very complex love-hate relationship with my sewing machine. She's an Elna 6003 Quilter's Dream. Eleven years ago, I sold my first quilt and bought this machine which I had my eye on for quite a while. She really is a great friend normally. She's never broken down on me, does everything I need her to do and never complains when I have to sew back together 1000 little pieces of perfectly good cotton that I had just cut all up.

Still this week, we had a little tiff, her and I. I finally got the birdhouses quilt all designed and pinned properly. Now I wanted to top stitch it all down with a nice blind hem stitch like described in Vikki Pignatelli's book Quilting by Improvisation. It sounded easy enough when I read how to do it. I looked on my machine labels and found that among all those stitches was indeed a nice hem stitch. I never had used it before since all my pants get hemmed with Steam a Seam. So I sat down with matching thread and started sewing. With a little trial and error I got the right size stitch I wanted, but couldn't manage to make the stitch exactly right. You see you are suppose to run the straight part of the stitch off the applique with the little arrows its making bite into the applique. Either the straight stitch was too far away from the applique or ended up on the applique. Sighhhhhhhh that didn't look quite right.

So my machine and I had a little talk and she reminded me that I did have a nice user friendly owner's manual in my drawer. There I found out that I had a foot that did hemming with a guide - Who Knew? With that the stitching went better but still wasn't perfect. I stitched and stitched over three days and 8 hours. Its nice working in two colors though, because I only used two bobbins of thread - blue and orange. My machine and I had made up by the end although I felt like a pin cushion from getting stuck so many times. I think my machine and the pins are in cahoots.

I think next time I'm going to try just a neat straight stitch and see if that gives me what I need. I know its not all fancy like the blind hem stitch but I know it likes me better.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tumbling Blocks

"You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together both outwardly and inwardly. You have One faith, One Master, One baptism, One God the Father of all, who rules through all, is present through all, and works through all. Everything you are, think and do, is permeated in Oneness." Ephesians 4:4
Have you ever had a project get out of hand? This one did. That seemed funny since the whole thing is made by hand from beginning to end. What started out to be a simple millennium quilt ended up being a 5 year lesson in patience.
So in 1999, quilters online were all trading little 2.5" squares. You would cut up so many charms and then send them out to other quilters all around the world. We were all trying to get 2000 of them and make a Y2K quilt. I loved trading. It made every day a good mail day. I really wanted to decide a nice quilt to put them in. At the same time, our guild had had a program that taught us all how to English paper piece. That's when you use some sort of template (most of the time paper) and you baste the fabric to the template. Then you piece all the pieces together and take out the paper. A lot of Grandma's Garden quilts are done this way since hexagons would be so hard to piece traditionally. I decided to challenge myself and use English paper piecing to make a tumbling block therefore, skipping the hassle of inset seams. I wanted the pieces to be nice and little and the quilt completely by hand. Plus it would be a nice study in value.
I drafted the pattern on my computer and printed out hundreds of the paper templates. They all needed to be cut, then the fabric basted on, then pieced into little Light, Medium, Dark tumbling blocks. Once I got a ton of those done I started to put them all together. I played around with different sets but saw one in a book that I might want to modify to my taste. Little by little the quilt started to grow. My daughter was a toddler then and there was time here and there to do hand work. Soon all the Y2K charms were used and I thought the quilt looked too little. So I drafted it out bigger and reached into my stash of sample fabrics squares I had been hording. Well. . . . .You'd think that with an engineering degree I might have figured that making the set a little bigger would increase the number of square dramatically. But no. . . .I didn't figure that out until the end (five years later) when I counted over 4200 of them in it. When finished, I was tired of the project and was glad to get it done. It ended up being 65" by 95". I said never again - but never say never. This year I started a pinwheel tessellating quilt all done by hand. Sighhhhhhhhhhhhh. . . . . . . . . .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Praise Hands for Sacred Threads 2009

"Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God, the Father, for everything." Eph 5:19,20

I have a habit of emailing quilters if their work really strikes me. This is how I got to know a new friend, Lisa Ellis last summer. I loved a lily quilt that she made and posted. Looking over her body of work I could see many similarities with mine. We both like to use Christian themes, women in motion and organic lines. She suggested that I enter the Sacred Threads Quilt Show. I put it on my list of things to do since I had seen articles on how amazing the show was. That said, life happens and the deadline for the show snuck up on me. So a week before they were due, I started designing. I had 3 or 4 designs drawn out and chose the one that I thought was the strongest. I had gotten inspiration from an online photo - which I blew up and cropped (twice). Then I drew in my own elements adding value with pencil.

I picked a pallet of primary colors (adding a bit of the complementary for accent). I pieced the background using fabrics not only from my stash but also my scrap bags. Ever since I color sorted my scraps, they are far more useful. With the background safely done, I created a pattern for the praise ribbons that would rise from the hands. I imagine them to gradate in different values of yellow, orange, and red. Still I was a little stumped on how to do that until I decided to paper piece them right onto the pattern. I machine rough edged the praise elements onto the background - which created a nice hard element of line - then added a ton of machine quilting. I don't think I ever added so much free motion thread work before in a piece.
I sewed every free moment I had that week. It took just over 40 hours to make the quilt but I was really happy with the final result since its what I had seen in my minds eye. Lisa is Sacred Threads Web Master and she cleverly had set up an online entry system which is wonderful. I got my entry in with only 4 hours to spare. I was thrilled! The only thing that topped that excitement was when I received the envelope 10 weeks later saying that it was accepted - my first national show.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back from Sacred Threads 2009 Quilt Show

Its been a long time since I've had the chance for a road trip. My good friend Kristen and I did just that yesterday when we went to Columbus Ohio to see the Sacred Threads 2009 Quilt Show. We also took the chance to see Quilted Surface V in downtown Columbus. Let me just say both were Amazing!

After a 3 hour car ride, we found ourselves in a very quiet Columbus Downtown district. Since we hadn't had lunch we tracked down the Northern Farmer's Market which was bustling. Inside a renovated warehouse, there were vendors offering all sorts of prepared food and market wares. There were booths in all shapes and sizes! We decided on Indian take out for lunch and headed to the second level where there are plenty of tables. After a quickie tour of this great market, we headed to the Columbus Cultural Arts Center. There we saw a free QSDS exhibit which included some of my favorite teachers, Cynthia Corbin and Elizabeth Barton. It was a real treat to see one of Cynthia's new pieces in person. The space at the Center is great and a perfect place for an exhibit. The whole room was full of inspiration.

Then back into the car for a quick 15 minute ride to Reynoldsburg. There we attended the Artist Reception of Sacred Threads 2009. This is a national quilt show created by Vikki Pignatelli, which lets the quilter exhibit pieces that are part of her spiritual journey. In the jury process, the art work along with the artist's statement are both taken in consideration for entry. I was very honored to be included in this exhibit. We saw approximately 200 quilts that explored all different aspects of spirituality. The depth of the work was a little overwelming. So many times in the 3 hours it took me to see the show, my breath was literally taken away. A few times I had to walk away from a piece or embarass my self with tears over the artist statement. The organizers gave you a chance to leave a written comment to the artist if a particular quilt caught your heart. I left one for Dianne Dockery, Kutztown, PA who showed The Woman at the Well which really struck me. The organizers did a great job with the logistics of this quiltshow and made it very user friendly. I would highly recommend anybody to go view it and/or enter in 2011. This exhibit runs through June 28.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Birdhouse in the Middle

Is it just me or sometimes do you feel that life is like a game of monkey in the middle? You reach - You stretch - You try your hardest to get what you really want - but it only gets snatched away.

Yesterday was a day like that. With the rain coming down, I worked diligently in my sewing hole. The Birdhouses were so close to being ready to sew. I finished finally and realized that the little one in the middle wasn't quite right. Toooooo light. So off came the many pins and auditions started. This fabric is too dark, too blue, too medium, too much contrast, not enough contrast, etc. etc. etc. Four times, I thought the house was just right - but then - at the last minute decided it wasn't.

The center of a quilt design is important. You want a person's eye to land there but not linger. The viewer should travel around the quilt to see all the goodies it has to offer. Still since the eye probably starts in the center, you want a nice welcoming. Its like a pretty entry way to an open house. If the entry way is pleasing, then it sets the tone for the rest of the home. So the center house needs to be perfect. Could I get it that way - No.

Frustrating. . . Annoying. . . So I did what anybody who is sick of being the monkey in the middle - I took my fabric and went home. I called it quits for the day and figured that the bird could live another night in the shelter. Like Scarlett, I'd think about it tomorrow.

Still its nice to get this far, and with the whole day in front of me, I'm sure the center bird will have a roof over its head by nightfall.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Supply Lists and Inspiration

Well today proves that I will do anything not to go into my sewing hole. The birdhouses are calling me, but I haven't made it there so far. Although I did make some real progress on Sunday, my creative time yesterday was spent making sure I had everything I needed on my supply lists for QBL (which is only a month away at this point). Once I entered the wonderful world of art supplies, I was lost. Yes - my name is Nina-Marie and I'm an art/school/office supply junkie. Still filling out my supply lists gave me a justified reason to bask in the bliss of So many pencils, papers, rulers etc etc - heaven - sighhhhhhhh. I was very good though and just bought the tracing paper and pencils I needed. I ended up finally deciding on a set of cool gray colored pencils in 7 gradations that will make the best value sketches. Now Elizabeth, my teacher, said I only needed 4 - but she thinks I should only do a quilt in two colors too . I count myself very lucky that those are the only two things I need for the two weeks of design classes I have planned.

With the supply list filled, I'm still left with what I feel like making those weeks. Both teachers, want us to come prepared with inspirational pictures on subjects we would like to create. I guess that means I need to actually decide what I want to create. With the whole world as inspiration, that's a lot easier said then done. Until the birdhouses, I have been on a "women in motion kick" for quite a while. Women are always in motion and I feel the need to capture that. On the other hand, I'm not quite sure I'm done with birdhouses - or trees for that matter. If you look at my doodles you just see tree after tree after tree. So many options - only two weeks of classes. Not to mention I would love to stick with the theme I choose and actually play with it this year. What good is starting an exploration if you're only going to put it up on the UFO shelf when you get home?

So these are the things that are worling around my mind when I should be concentrating on orange and blue birdhouses. As for the tree - well - I saw the dollar store pens and just had to find a use for them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My First Art Quilt, QBL 2001

Psalm 1:3 - "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." 36" - 36"

Its funny what leads us to create art. There were hints all through my life, but the final shove was in 2001 when a good girlfriend asked me to teach art at a summer program she was creating. I told her - I don't do art. She laughed and said - Ohhh you'll be fine. The next thing you know, I'm sitting down and creating different art pieces the kids could try.

So when it came time to chose a class at Quilting by the Lake 2001 (Morrisville, NY), I signed up for a design class rather than a technique one. The class was taught by Joan Colvin (who passed in 2007). She was an amazing artist and teacher. She explained her method of looking at photos for inspiration and then creating a version onto a batting/backing. She had us just freely cut with our scissors into the fabric to get the shape we needed. Then we pinned it up onto the batting. So for 3 longggg days, I cut and shaped, cut and shaped. I remember sitting on a gym floor with fabric all around me in little piles. By the end of the week, the piece was well onto its way to being finished. I was actually a little shocked that I could create what my mind's eye saw. Joan had us sew it all down to the batting/backing with a little zig-zag stitch and nylon thread. Then with the help of a couple of new friends, Phillipa Naylor and Christine Fries, I learned to add free form thread work.

The whole process was very far from what I had been doing. I had been working on a lot of traditional work up to this point and liked (and still do) to work by hand. To use my sewing machine to do something other than a straight scant quarter inch seam was liberating.

I never did hang that piece in my house - don't ask me why. But I did show it last year locally where it was sold. I thought I would miss it, but now I'm glad someone is actually enjoying it.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Finally Some Fabric

Cutting into the fabric is sometimes really easy and sometimes really hard. This time it seemed daunting. So many questions were running through my mind. Were my fabric choices correct? Was the scale right? Did the houses need to be edited a bit? Would blue and orange really carry the piece? Finally, I just "manned-up" and pulled out my favorite scissors. I mean - gosh - its only fabric right? Little by little, the piece has come together over the last few weeks. Time in the sewing hole is hard the last month of school.

I'm really having fun playing with value this time around. I did a value sketch - several in fact - but ditched them all. I decided to do it by eye. I'm sure I'll have to tweak it at the end though. I do like Vikki's method, but next time I'll put the Pellon I'm using, as the foundation, right onto my wall rather than my design wall. Keeping the pins in the pellon and out of the flannel wall is a pain. I'm very glad though, I didn't go the rough edge applique route. The nice clean edges of the houses work to achieve the feel of diversity I'm trying to create. I want them to look like a community of individuals even though they are the same simple shape. Hopefully the shape and palette will unify the piece, while the value adds the interest. We'll see!

I have 17 hours into this piece over May and June and I really need to get my act together. I'm hoping to show it at the end of the month. Plus there is another UFO (Unfinished Object) that I finally want to get done. I wish I could buy discipline at an on-line quilt shop. The owner would make a small fortune.

Friday, June 12, 2009

More Birdhouses, the Birth of an Art Quilt

After the last piece, I became enamored with the simple shape of those birdhouses. I started researching them and found that there were many people that were passionate about birdhouses. They came in all shapes, sizes, colors and designs - just amazing! So I started playing with different images that I collected during my birdhouse surf. I use photoshop to manipulate them into a few new designs. These two, I felt were the most successful. From there I traced a workable sketch. I always edit lines at this point - putting in lines that I want to continue - taking out lines that just seem too much. When the designs were complete, I chose to continue with the one with more birdhouses. I must be in a more is more mood!

A teacher of mine, Elizabeth Barton, suggested to me that I might want to limit my color choices in my pieces. Now in my "More is More" mood - this did not seem very fun but I grumbled my way to my color wheel and settled on burnt oranges and grey blues. I comforted myself with the fact that there was a full range of values to play with.

With design and color picked out, now I just had to figure out how to make the darn thing! It wasn't your average piecing quilt. Nor did I want to fuse it because I didn't want it to flatten out on me. Finally, a good friend sent me Vikki Pignatelli's book Quilting by Improvisational. In there, Vikki explains how she uses freezer paper to get her curves with the seams easily turned under. I thought it would work just as well on the straight sides of my birdhouses. From there I just had to make the freezer paper template and decide on scale - which I changed - twice!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Birdhouses and Lilies

During the height of our second snowiest winter ever, it came to mind that I wanted to do a quilt that just spoke of summer. I love summer with its long days, heat that wilts you and enough green to make everything look alive. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to make so I started looking online for inspiration. There I found a wonderful image in one of the stock photo sites on line. I bought a copyright image, to keep the copyright cops at bay, and used it for inspiration. It really captured Summer and all the things that conveyed.

Once the image was found, I started to play with manipulating it into my own creation. After a few failed attempts, I realized that it was the image itself that was I wanted to reproduced Not my most creative moment, but looking out the window at inches and inches of snow it seemed to fit my mood. So, I took some tracing paper and copied over my image - adding and editing lines as it seemed necessary. From there I could make an overhead transfer to get a finished pattern. My patterns are usually guidelines, but with the realistic feel of this quilt, this one would be a little more then that.

I went up into my stash, to find the right fabric. I pulled hand dyed cottons and a few commercial fabrics, including the "barn siding" one I've been saving for years. Finally a project to use it on. I started placing fabric right on the batting I planned to use on my quilt. I tried a new idea of drawing the sketch right on the batting with a sharpie marker since the fabrics I was using were fairly dark.
Once the background was all placed and pinned my husband suggested that I sew it all down. It made it super easy to continue the designing of the foreground of the quilt. I added the birdhouses and flowers by cutting them free hand and placing them down on the sewn down background.

Then it was just a matter of top sewing it all down. There is a lot of stitching in this quilt using rayon, poly, and cotton threads. I just kept stitching and stitching until I thought it had the right amount of texture. It still came off a bit flat but it was fun doing it. I added the backing and put in the necessary quilt lines.
It took about 35 hours from start to finish and is about 24 by 36 inches. Its been a long time since I've tried my hand at a realistic quilt. In doing my own critique, I felt that I did manage to capture the dog days of summer. I like the use of splashes of color and the texture of the thread work. What wasn't so successful, was the use of value - especially in the background. This could have helped the piece not look so flat. For its title, I chose the scripture Ecclesiates 11:7 - "Oh, how sweet the light of day, and how wonderful to live in the sunshine".