Batting Experiment and a Sale

June 30th, 2012

For me, the quilting on a quilt really adds something special, so it’s a huge disappointment to me when I feel like my quilting doesn’t lend the textural interest a quilt deserves.  For the last 4-5 years, my favorite batting for quilted wall hangings has been Hobbs Tuscany Silk batting, but it has disappointed me enough times over the last 3 years that I no longer consider it a reliable batting for me.  Every time I open a new package, it’s always a surprise what I’ll get.  Sometimes it’s thick, sometimes it’s thin, sometimes there seem to be wide differences in the ratio of polyester to silk.  Maybe it’s differences in whatever the stuff is that makes up the scrim…I don’t know what it is, but I do know that one package is never the same as the next!  I raised my concerns to a rep in the Hobbs booth at Fall Quilt Market 2010 and he really did not take my concerns seriously.  He just kept repeating that they had strict quality assurance controls in place to ensure that one batch of batting was the same as the next batch of batting, so what I was observing could not possibly be correct.  I decided to keep giving their silk batting more chances, but I’ve finally thrown in the towel on it.  I say this with a heavy heart, but I’ve stuck with this product longer than I should have.  So, what’s a girl to do?  Start experimenting, that’s what!

This wall hanging is my first experiment.  I used 1 layer of Hobbs Tuscany silk (bottom layer) and then 1 layer of Thermore 100% polyester batting.  I was surprised by how much loft that thin layer of Thermore batting added and I can really see a huge improvement in the definition of the quilting.  There is no trapunto in this quilt, yet if you look at the tail feathers below…

…you can see that they appear to have a trapunto layer behind them.    The birds do as well, as you can see here:

In real life, the stem at the base of the block really poofs out, but this photo doesn’t show it as much:

When I’m quilting an applique scene like this, the first thing I do is to outline all applique pieces with invisible thread (Monopoly by Superior Threads).  Next up, I quilt any designs that I want to be dominant.  If feathers or vines are part of my plan, they would always be done at this stage.  Because they create lines that the viewer’s eye will follow, you want to give your feathers and vines “preferential treatment” as far as choosing how much valuable real estate (i.e. open quilting space) they will claim.  Here’s an early shot where the feathers had just been stitched:

I stitched those feathers in a solid light green trilobal polyester thread (Ricky Tims Art Studio colors by Superior Threads) that was just a bit darker than the background fabric; this helps them show up but in a very subtle way.  After that, I started doing some background fill quilting with a thread that matched the background fabric more closely, but then decided the feathers were too subtle.  To draw a bit of attention to them, I went back in and hyperquilted them with 24 Karat Gold rayon thread by Robison Anton.  You can see the difference here where one side is hyperquilted and the other is not:

Of course, the minute I finished hyperquilting that first feather, I regretted it!  Being too lazy to rip it out, I went ahead and hyperquilted the opposite side.  I’ve now had 3 days to live with it and I’m glad I did the hyperquilting!  I didn’t want my four corner triangles to be stitched quite as densely, so I just went with a simple loop-d-loop stitched in Variations by YLI:

I’m very happy with the textures on this quilt, but the next one I try will be a new experiment in another brand of batting.  And I almost forgot, we’re in the last 6 days of a sale on all Appli-K-Kutz fabric dies.  All retail purchases of the Appli-K-Kutz dies are 20% off if you enter Bird in the discount code box, and the sale discount is good through 9 am eastern DST on 7/6/12.

Now it’s your turn to chime in with your 2 cents!  What are your favorite battings (or layers of batting types) for wall hangings?

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What are YOUR Studio Habits?

June 27th, 2012

Lisa Call, the noted textile artist, recently posted  about her studio habits; you can find her post here.  If you don’t read her blog, it’s worth checking it out.  She is a very focused textile artist and she generously shares her mindset on why she does what she does to advance her art and to grow as an artist.  Here are my answers to the questions she has posed about working habits:

Is your studio at home or a separate space?

I live in 2 states, and in each state, my studio is at home, and that works out great for me.  If I had to go somewhere else to work, I would not get nearly as much studio time.

How big is your studio?

My North Carolina studio is really large; it measures 33 ft x 25 feet and it enables me to work very efficiently because there are a variety of stations which are set up for specific purposes.  Since each station has a dedicated function, I don’t have to spend time putting equipment away or  getting equipment/supplies out.  My Ohio sewing room (I can’t call this space a studio) is very small and overcrowded.  I haven’t measured it, but I’m guessing it measures roughly 10 ft x 14 ft. It has dormer ceilings and that makes it feel even more claustrophobic in there.  It doubles as my office, so I don’t have the luxury of having dedicated stations that serve specific purposes. In truth, I have started to really spread my fiber work into other rooms in the house.  We have a finished basement that houses an HQ16 sitdown model set into a large cabinet.  I have also spread into a spare bedroom on the second floor that now houses an embroidery machine.  I don’t have the logistics of all this “outreach” worked out, though.  I don’t have my thread selection in these other places and that is not working well for me since I am  totally a thread person. Here’s a shot of the sewing table in NC as it looked earlier today:

If you’re wondering if I usually have so much crap on my sewing table as I’m working, the answer would be “yes!”  Here’s an old picture of my cutting table.  I’m posting it because it’s clear in this photo, and I was too ashamed to post a picture of what it looks like today:

Typically, how many hours a day do you work in the studio?

I average 4-5 hours per day, but in reality, there is a huge variance from day to day.  I have some days where I spend 10 hours in the studio and on days when I work at hospice, I get up early to have 30 minutes of studio time before work but I’m too tired at night to get back in there.  I am happiest when I’m in my studio so I generally try to organize my day to maximize studio time.
How many days a week?

I am in my studio 7 days per week.  If something happens and I can’t get in there everyday, I feel on edge, like something important isn’t being fed.
Do you listen to music while you work?

Not very often.  When I do, it’s usually very loud.  I am not a person who enjoys music being played quietly in the background when I’m sewing or creating.
Do you watch television while you work?

You bet I do!  I was weaned on television!  I love having the tv playing in the background of whatever I’m doing, and the more trivial the show, the better.  Currently, my favorite thing to play in the background are any of the “Real Housewives of….” franchise!  Actually, almost anything from Bravo in the background is entertaining!  I can’t actually watch the show, but it’s nice having it play out in the background.

Do you answer the telephone while you are in your studio?

Yes, if it’s not a telemarketer.
How often do you take breaks?

It depends on what I’m doing.  If I’m doing something I totally enjoy, I can work for 4-5 hours without a break.  If I’m frustrated with a piece or doing a technical part of the creative process that I’m not wild about, I may take a break every 20 minutes or so.  For example, I can sit and free motion quilt for 4 hours and feel great physically and mentally the whole time.  Conversely, I can only quilt in straight line types of designs for about 15 minutes without my neck feeling really tight and my brain feeling very edgy and anxious, so I take very frequent breaks when doing that kind of work.  My work has changed a lot in the last 9 months.  Ever since programmed embroidery has become part of my life, my work routine has had to accommodate it.  This means being interrupted frequently to swap out threads, re-hoop a project, etc.  I am loving the effects I can get with embroidery, but sometimes I long for the old days of being able to sit at my machine and just FMQ without interruption.

Do you have any over-use issues with your hands or any other body parts?

Both of my wrists are in trouble, my left more so than my right.  I have carpal tunnel syndrome but I also have a problem with recurrent tendonitis in each wrist.  When this gets really bad, I have had a condition called Guyon’s Canal Syndrome and this has been far more painful to me than the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  Most of the time, I can manage this but when it flares up, it is somewhat disabling to me.

If so, how do you manage them or compensate?

I sleep with both of my hands in wrist splints and this has helped me tremendously.  When I have a flareup, I use the wrist splints during the day as well.  I will rarely have to use Advil.  When the tendonitis has been severe enough to case enough swelling to initiate the Guyon’s Canal Syndrome, I have to take steroids.  I’ve been told I need surgery, but I’m not ready to concede that yet.  Knock on wood, but I haven’t had any issues with my neck or my back, even with sitting and FMQ’ing for hours at a time.  When I exercise, I spend a lot of time stretching afterward, and I think that’s helped to keep me flexible.

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Finally, a New Quilt Has Been Pieced!

June 20th, 2012

Excuse the lousy picture, but all I had available was laying it out on the floor.  This quilt is kind of a sampler of different bird block designs.  All the applique shapes were cut out on my Sizzix machine using Appl-K-Kutz dies and they are all embroidered.  Here’s bird block 1:

…and here’s the 2nd bird block design:

I love how the plumes just kind of flow from the swirl tails.  Here’s the 3rd bird block design:

…and last but not least, my current favorite, bird block 4:

The heart looks really intriguing; here’s a closeup shot of the thread work:

I was going to use a feathered wreath for the center block but I’ve used them in so many quilts that I thought I should use a different shape.  Here’s what I ended up using:

I’ll show you different variations of this block in another post, but know that this block looks very different when set on square instead of on point.  And here’s a side setting triangle block:

…and here’s a corner setting triangle:

And here they all are again put together:

And now for a good pressing so I can get this quilt basted together!

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First Dyeing of the Season

June 9th, 2012

I finally dyed a little fabric on one of these fabulous warm and sunny days.  Here’s a shot of some yardage drying in the sun:

I’m dyeing these to use as background blocks, so I don’t want a lot of “color action” but instead want some subtle mottling of colors.  Each piece of yardage was scrunched into a small amount of liquid dye in one of these tubs:

…and then nuked in the microwave on high for 3 minutes.  (If you do this, find an old microwave that will never be used again for food.)  Once done, the tub is removed from the microwave and a piece of saran wrap is put on top, so it can “steam” for awhile:

Once it starts developing large condensation droplets on top, I remove the saran wrap so they don’t drip onto the fabric.  (This will cause an area to be extra light in color due to the dilutional effect.)  I let the fabric sit in the tub for 3-4 hours because this will create lines/ridges of darker color where the dye pools.  If I’m not in a hurry, I’d leave it like this overnight, but I’m usually in a hurry.  The last step is I spread it out on the driveway.  This step is not necessary for the dyeing part of the process but it’s necessary for a lazy person such as myself.  This step makes sure each piece is completely dry so I can just throw it into my washing machine.  I am too lazy to rinse off the excess dye in the utility sink and working this way, I have a no muss/no fuss washout!

These fabrics are not my usual high saturation colors, as you can see by these 2 stacks:

…but they’ll do fine for what I need them for.  And in case you think I’m not doing any sewing, check out this wall hanging I just stitched together this morning…it’s all machine embroidered applique:

…I love it!

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