Sunday, November 25, 2007

Study in Color : Festive Taco Dip

Here's the Taco Dip I made for our Thanksgiving Feast. I love the colors and balance ... Maybe the edges are a little too blah, but this is a start!

Anyone know how to take a picture and separate the colors and percentages (how much green, red yellow, black)? There must be photo software that can help ... What are they?

It would be neat to use this color scheme as the inspiration for a quilt someday ...

Email me directly, if you'd rather not leave a comment. I've been interested in this for quite some time, but don't really know where to start ...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wet Studio

I thought I would share my "wet studio." This is an area of my basement adapted for messy projects like hand-dying cloth and soap-making. A batch of soap is curing on the blue plastic in the picture above. My husband (who cooks at our house) is very insistent that I not use the kitchen for these types of projects. He does not want the kitchen contaminated with lye (for soap-making) or dye powders or other chemicals I might use for my mess-making--so he helped carve out my basement retreat area.

It's a 120-year-old house, so the basement is not one of those nice living area spaces. I have plastic covering the wall behind the counter area because the mortar in the stonework sheds its salts. There's always a gritty powder coming off the walls ... The plastic keeps that residue off my work space.

The basement stays nice and cool in the heat of summer, and is a great place to retreat since we don't have air conditioning. The my soap and dye season is over until next summer, as the basement is too cold to work in for very long.

We got the cabinet at a moving sale for a great price! It cleans up easily, and has lots of storage space underneath.

To the right of the counter is a shop-type washtub that my husband trash-picked several years ago. (What a visionary!) This has been wonderful for rinsing dyed fabric, and cleaning up my messes.

We replaced all the windows last fall, so now we actually have LIGHT in that previously dark and dreary basement.

You'll have to wait until I clean up my sewing room before I feature that in a post!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Batting Samples (a la Harriet Hargrave)

Front and back of a sample batting square. The back is supposed to be 1/2 black fabric so you can see if this batt beards with your chosen needle. This particular sample is pre-washed muslin fabric with pre-washed Hobbs batting. I used a blue washable marker to trace the stencil design. The 6-inch square is drawn on the front with permanent marker to test shrinkage and take-up from quilting (The mere act of quilting can make the piece shrink as well. Who knew?)

Why am I doing this?
Several months ago, Harriet Hargrave spoke at the Darting Needles Quilt Guild in Appleton, WI. Her lecture was on batting.

Now--you probably would not think of batting as a very interesting topic, but Harriet made it intriguing! She suggested making quilted batting samples from as many batts as we can find (or order her batch of batting samples (which I did)). The sample kit contains most of the batts Harriet Hargrave carries in her shop (minus the silk). Even in the finer quilt shops, they usually carry only 1 or 2 types of batting amid all that wonderful fabric. It's amazing to me that so little thought goes into what's inside these wonderful quilts we make. Which is why her lecture was so refreshing!

She said people used to blame nylon thread (old style fishing line) for the crackly feeling they'd get in a quilt gone wrong. Harriet said it's more often from a bad choice of batting. Invisible threads are much better today than they used to be ... and so are the batts available now.

In 1997, Ms. Hargrave wrote a book called From Fiber to Fabric, which I read last summer. Fascinating process! She has also worked with the Hobbs people to get them to produce battings that we quilters actually want to use in our quilts. I for one, am grateful for her input!

I learned early on that I really don't care for Warm N Natural (Did you know that WnN was originally designed to be used for window coverings? It's great as a window quilt because it doesn't sag or stretch. I just don't like sleeping under it ... ) At present, my preferred batting is Hobbs 80/20--mostly because it's been easy to get locally (Though JoAnn Fabrics no longer seems to carry it.) We'll see if my opinion changes after these experiments ...

Harriet says we need to think about what type of batt is appropriate for the person we are making the quilt for--as much as we think about patterns and colors in the top being appropriate to the person, the batting is also an individual choice. Some people like light and airy and warm (silk might be the best choice). Some people like breathable cotton or wool. Some people like hot-hot-hot (so polyester might be appropriate). It all really depends on who's getting the quilt and their preferences. Do you want thick or thin? Do you want something you can quilt by hand? on and on ...

I've been doing a mixture of marking and free-hand/free-motion quilting on the squares :
* Stencils with blue water-soluble marker (see 1st picture above and feather below)

* Feathers drawn on Golden Threads quilt paper and stitched through (Tip : Don't use a pencil to trace the feather/design as the graphite from the pencil migrates as gray to the thread and fabric. It should wash out, but it makes everything look dirty and gray.
* Freehand designs. You can see sample free-hand patterns from Patsy Thompson's website.

Though I think several of the ladies thought I was crazy to be working on such a collection of batting samples at Quilt Camp, I think this is a very useful exercise. With so much concentrated practice on free-motion, my technique was starting to look pretty good by about the 12-15th squares. Too bad I have so little time for free-motion. It really is something that takes practice to keep up the skills (kind of like welding, I hear). By the time I have another quilt to do, I'll have forgotten the feel and pacing to keep the stitches even ... Maybe by then, I'll have a long-arm to practice on??????

When I'm done with this project, I'll have a box of batting samples, and I'll be able to see what a batt will look like after it's been washed a few times. Believe it or not, it makes a big difference if you use pre-washed batts, or pre-washed fabrics, or a combination of both. The samples allow you to see what effects are possible --and offer direction on how to attain the desired effect with a particular batting, and washed or new fabrics.

"Sandy's Promise" (above) was made with a new Hobbs 80/20 cotton/polyester batt with pre-washed fabrics. After being washed, this batt does shrink a certain amount. That's what gives it that wonderful old-timey look that I was after.

The first quilt I made was from a kit. I thought I knew how to sew, and I did it on my own. I found out there are a lot of tricks to learn with quilting ... I used a thick polyester batt (I was rebelling against Warm N Natural even then!). It's puffy and light and warm, but even through the cotton top, the batt feels kind of scratchy. Now I know that the polyester batts are not great for the longevity of a quilt. The polyester fibers can rub, scratch and damage the cotton fabric of the top. I don't expect this one to become an heirloom, but I do like to use natural fibers if possible.

10 Great Things about Quilt Camp

No pictures for this entry. Hope you don't mind the text ...

1) Concentrated time to sew-sew-sew!
2) Catching up with Ma and Rosita (fellow family quilters)
3) Getting to see all the other neat projects and color combinations all the other ladies are working on. Bobbi made several envelope purses--I got the "pattern" from her. Expect to see a few of them here in the coming weeks. Mrs. C. made a gorgeous winter quilt that was red, white, blue and green. I took notes on her colors because it was such a pleasing combination in perfect proportions ...
4) Learn new things : Do you know what WORMS are?
My mom was working on a quilt made with "worms." Since it was for a man, I was thinking she meant there were worms as patterns and motifs in the guy-fabric. No--she meant those pre-cut jelly roll strips.
5) They feed us very well. Someone else cooks and cleans up for us. Hurray! Usually, the food is great. Here are some highlights from the menu this time : a very tasty apple strudle (made with organic apples) and cinnamon buns loaded with frosting (What can I say? I don't get these at home!), home-made potato soup, and a delicious broccoli curry over noodles. All we have to do is sew-sew-sew! (and eat-eat-eat!) There's also a table loaded with snacks to tide us over between meals. We don't want for anything!
6) Quilt Camp is usually set next to a beautiful lake with lots of trees around with gorgeous sunsets visible through the windows. I don't usually take the time away from sewing to walk in the woods--usually because I can't convince anyone to go with me into the woods. Sigh!
7) This Quilt Camp was hosted by Cutting Edge Quilt Shop in Antigo, WI, my home town. This time, there was a whole group of teachers-who-quilt in attendance. I think most of them were newly retired. The lady who sat next to me was Mrs. C.--I used to babysit for her kids back in the day. Nice to catch up with her.
8) Great commaraderie. If you forget to bring something, usually someone else brought enough to share (ie batting for one of Bobbi's envelope purses). If you don't know how to put on your bindings, someone there will be more than willing to show you how they do it.
9) You get to see and hear all the other sewing machines people use. You really don't need a fancy $6K Viking to accomplish some gorgeous quilts. It was neat to hear all those Vikings humming along ...
10) A break from my family--separation makes the heart grow fonder. I always come back with even more love and admiration for my swell family who encourages me to go on these retreats. I am so fortunate!

At 37, I'm usually the youngest quilt camper in attendance. Where are the younger people? I am also one of the youngest people in my Quilt Guilds. Is the younger generation scrap-booking? Or living it up in 2nd Life and facebook?

Quilt Camp Fall 2007

I spent the weekend at Quilt Camp : a whole weekend devoted to nothing but sewing, with a group of like-minded women (inlcuding my mom and Aunt Rosita).

Projects on the to-do list this past weekend :
1) Get used to using the Husqvarna-Viking Designer 1
(I've had it since last Christmas, and have not yet ventured to open it--why bother? My other machines work fine--and I know how to use them. By the end of the weekend, I could set it to sew 1/4-inch quilting seams with the rudder foot and do free-motion quilting. That was a triumph! It's a nice machine--and I still have a lot to learn on it.

2) Sew blocks for 4-patch stacked posey quilt
I got the basic blocks sewn (they still need to be squared up), but I need my design wall to decide how they will go together. I have not yet studied the above, or spent time divining what would be a proper order--That takes time to digest. I just wanted to show you what's brewing in my sewing room. ;-)

3) Add a hanging pocket and label to "Sandy's Promise." Yeah! It really is done now!

4) Sew 1/2-square blocks from Keepsake Quilting charm packs (Cottage Florals and Neutrals)
Here's a possible layout on the design wall for a few of the 1/2-square blocks. Not set in stone, by any means, just a possibility ...

5) Begin quilting the batting samples (I got through about 15 ; only about 45 to go!)
More on these batting experiments here ...

I did not bring the squares for the John Hiatt Quilt as it's too hard to do fusible applique at Quilt Camp--too much stuff to bring without a light box and my bursting box of scraps as a pallette.