Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nasturtiums, again

After some deliberation, one of my Nasturtium-inspired quilts is put together.

After the blocks were completed for this quilt, I shifted them around on my design wall for about a week before I decided to sew them into a top.  One of the decisions I went back and forth about was whether or not to leave in the yellow/yellow-orange colors that were in my original stack.  If I were going to try and mimic the exact colors of the nasturtiums, I would have to leave them in.  But there was something about them I didn't like after I put them with all of the red/reddish blocks.

Ultimately, I decided that I did not want to use these blocks and removed all shades of orange and yellow except for a dark shade of what I am going to call burnt orange. When placed near the reds in this quilt, this shade of orange does not pop out as orange.  It sort of masquerades itself - it's more subdued.  This can happen with colors.  They can appear differently to you when you put them together with other colors.  They can also be perceived  differently by different people. At any rate, the brighter yellows and oranges were just too bright for me and had to go.

Here is a portion of the quilt on my design wall, ready to be sewn together.

I also experimented with another setting option before I started sewing....

As you can see, I did not end up with this setting.  But I think it has some possibilities as a future quilt!

I finished putting all of the blocks together one day last week and had a 'photo shoot' outside with my daughter and our dog.  Both of my daughters are amused by my constantly carrying quilts around to put them in what they consider to be unnatural surroundings and taking pictures of them.  On this particular day, it was super windy, so we had to pin the quilt down, which worked only for a brief moment.

And, Darcy insisted on appearing in some of the shots.

The wind got the better of us in most of the others...

 I never really did get a good flat shot out side.  But I like the way this one turned out, with the red leaves of my neighbor's tree peeking over the fence.  Things like red leaves make me really happy.

We also took some pictures near the actual nasturtiums.  These little gems will soon be gone for the winter, so I am picking them for my sewing table for as long as they hold on.

I used to associate a red and green color scheme with Christmas.  As I have gotten older my tastes have changed, however.  I find myself gravitating toward this complementary palette regardless of the season.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bringing the outside in

Last week, I was preparing to give my Color confidence lecture to the Hinsdale Embroiderers guild. I always take the chance to re-look at my color books and if I can, go to the library or bookstore to peruse some new ones.  I am a sucker for books about color--and oddly, especially ones that are not about color for quilters.  

One book I found particularly engaging last week was A Colorful Home by Susan Hable (Chronicle Books, 2015).  It is loaded with images of beautiful interiors and advice for living with color.  

Even the inside front cover of A Colorful Home is some eye candy.  I want to cut it out and hang it on my wall!

Depending on the day (and week and hour) different things about a book will resonate with me. Last week, it was a suggestion in the beginning of this book to look to your garden for inspiration.  Ok, I thought--how can I apply this - right now - to a quilt?  I find creativity to be a fleeting thing sometimes.  I am either all in or all out.  Last week I happened to be having an all-in moment.  So, I drove right home from the library to look at my yard.

At our house, in late October, there is not much going on outside at the Walsh house.  We have a super small city yard to begin with, and a few years ago we bricked in most of the back with a lovely patio.  I do, however, have a few self watering planters on the side of my garage that I happened to plant some seeds in with my daughter earlier this summer.  In one planter we did Nasturtiums.  I absolutely love these flowers--they are carefree (we planted them and left them alone - I rarely even checked the water level in this planter).  Their colors are super saturated and they provide great contrast with their green leaves.  They work well as cut flowers (I had them on my windowsill all summer after they started blooming). And, you can eat them!

So there it is - I was going to make a Nasturtium quilt.  A quick trip to the basement and I was back upstairs with a load of shot cottons.  I took several of the leaves and flowers to look at them against the varied red and green fabrics. In this case, I felt like I wanted the colors to be kind of literal.  I took the fabrics outside--whenever I went to a fabric store with my mother or grandmother, they always took the fabric near the windows to look at it in natural light :).

In the end, I took out some of the fabrics that might have added interest, but didn't fit into the color ways I was looking at in my flower pot.  Perfect!  The stars were aligned, and I was able to start cutting and sewing right after deciding on these fabrics.  (This rarely happens to me!)

I chose to make the i-candy pattern for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I had recently made a new sample for this pattern and had the measurements and method fresh in my mind.  When I am having a creative urge, sometimes I want to get right to sewing and not worry about figuring out something new.... Secondly, these blocks are relatively small (finishing 6") and I felt like this was a representation of the way the flowers looked to me.  Here's how the quilt started out:

These were the first blocks I finished.  I am still deciding a few things about this quilt - its size, how it will be quilted, and whether or not to add more fabrics (within the same color scheme) for interest.  I also started a top putting the colors in the opposite places (the i's are green and the squares are red, etc). I've given myself a deadline for finishing these projects....I won't divulge in case I can't meet it.  However, I'm usually the best with self imposed deadlines.  I have high hopes for getting in some sewing time this coming week!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Photo Ready

Thanks to my mother, these three new samples are laundered, groomed and ready for their photo shoot later this week.  Stay tuned for forthcoming shots!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sneak Peek!

Here's a sneak peek of the blocks I started a few weeks ago with Handloom batiks. These blocks are for a new pattern--the quilt is almost ready to be quilted and is scheduled to be photographed mid-October so stay tuned!

I used about fifty different prints for this new sample quilt.  But, don't worry, at the quilt show in Madison, WI last weekend I replenished my stock :).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Inspiration Day

After the last school year, I stopped teaching history so that I could a) devote more time to my quilt patterns and b) spend more time with my youngest daughter, who is growing up so fast!  Last week they started teacher’s meetings, and I would have been busy the whole week.  To celebrate ‘not being busy’ - or I should probably say ‘being differently busy’, I permitted myself the luxury of running errands on one of those weekdays. And, in the process, I ended up having a rather inspiring day!  I find it so satisfying to buzz around on a day that I would normally be working.  It’s almost like playing hookie.

First, I went to the library to get a book on teaching elementary school art (I’m still teaching art--more on that later!).  There, I spent a happy, decadent hour in a comfortable chair by the window looking through art magazines.  I discovered several new artists this way and am always interested to see how different people use color and texture to transform every day objects.  If you are a visual person (and I am) looking at pictures/paintings is such a great source of inspiration.  I love the library and magazine racks at bookstores.  Even home dec magazines are a great place to find artful inspiration.  They often feature beautiful artworks of all types--representational and abstract on the walls of rooms that are drool-worthy. As an aside, the Des Plaines library is also kind enough to hang a lovely vintage quilt near the magazine stacks.  I couldn't find a plaque (if there is one) with any information about the origin of this quilt but I sure do like it's simplicity.

I then moved on to Home Goods, where I continued my inspirational errands with another favorite of mine--dishes.  On Friday, (and everyday, for that matter) my favorites were blue and white. I will never stop wanting to make blue and white quilts.  In fact, Blue Willow - one of my very first published patterns, is all about blue and white dishes.

The above photos were taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this summer.

To assuage my guilt for what could be seen as a frivolous day, I went to Home Depot to run a much needed errand--we needed stain for our privacy fence.  But something happens to me when I am in the paint department at a hardware store.  The paint chips call to me like a plate of chocolate chip cookies and I am suddenly inspired to repaint every room in my house (much to my husband’s chagrin).  I always come home with a fistful of color chips and hang them randomly on the wall.  Then, I try and convince my dear husband, who hates painting, that a year is really not an unreasonable time to start thinking about a color change in the kitchen and bathroom!  

I find the arrangement of all of the paint chips at hardware stores really spectacular, don’t you?  In fact, they are practically begging to be made into a quilt!  

That idea is going on my “bucket quilt list” - which at this point, I would need five lifetimes to complete!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pre-washing and errands

I recently started a cover quilt for a new pattern that uses beautiful hand crafted fabrics from Handloom Batiks.  I have been collecting these batiks every time I go to a quilt show where they are vending.  They are beautiful, and different, and it took everything in me not to just start cutting into them once I decided how I wanted to sew them up.  But, I knew that they should probably be pre-washed, especially since I was going to sew them together with cream solid!

As a general rule, I do not prewash fabrics, mostly because of time.  I usually just sew them into a quilt and then wash the finished project.  I have only had a few cases in which the fabric dyes ran, or at least only a few cases in which they ran and transferred onto other fabrics in the quilt.  Luckily, color catcher sheets (just what the heck are those things anyway?!) have always taken care of the problem.  This time, however, I was not going to risk it.

Here is the super-technical way I determine if fabrics need prewashing:  I group them together by like color (and by that I mean colors that won't show it if the dyes transfer a little).

Then, I throw them together in my white laundry sink and cover them in hot water.  If the colors run into the water (and at first it looked like they might not...), I just throw the wet fabrics in the washing machine - without detergent.

But this time, as the sink filled, I could tell I was going to need to not only pre-wash these fabrics, but possibly treat them a little with something to guard against any colors transferring onto the cream solids.

A quick search through my laundry cabinets provided only white vinegar.  And after a google search about setting fabric dye with vinegar, I decided that I was going to need to get some Retayne - a chemical dye fixative. Luckily, you can usually get this at your local quilt shop!  Needless to say, this decision dictated the next several hours of my day.  I drained the sink, leaving the wet fabrics in a pile at the bottom (later I would be sorry about this, but I was having a fabric emergency so at the time it didn't matter).  A quick phone call told me I could get some Retayne at Quilter's Destination in Arlington Heights.  So, I packed up my daughters (promising them lunch, since it was 11:30 and I had to pull them away from their figurines and Sophia the First castle!) and we all piled into the car.

A few hours later (lunch took longer than expected and we made a quick stop for school supplies) we pulled up in front of Quilter's Destination.  Thanks to some good advice, I picked up both Retayne and Synthrapol (a chemical detergent that can be used before and after dying) and headed for home.  Ok, I might have bought some fabric, too.

When I returned home, I put all of the still-wet fabrics in the washing machine and ran them on a normal, hot water cycle with Synthrapol in the detergent compartment.  I have a front loading washing machine and have been putting Retayne in it for years.  When the load finished spinning I took it out and set it aside and repeated the same process with a stack of warm colored batiks - mostly reds.

I actually had been more worried about the red fabrics running (red dye has a reputation!) but believe it or not, they actually ran way less than the greens and blues.

After I had washed both loads with Synthrapol, I threw them in the washer together and washed them on a hot cycle with Retayne.

In the meantime, I soaked my laundry sink with hot water and bleach because the bottom of it was green and blue - yes, leaving a stack of steaming wet fabric in need of pre-washing at the bottom of a white laundry sink is a bad idea.  I was really afraid that the dyes would not come out, and I told myself that it didn't matter if I slightly ruined my laundry sink for the sake of quilting, only I knew that it did.  My daughter was standing by watching me saying "Mom, I really don't think that's going to work.  What are you going to tell dad?"  Luckily, the bleach worked and my sink is back to white again!  Thank you, Clorox!

The hot water/Retayne cycle worked.  When it finished spinning, I took out a few pieces of the different color ways and threw them back in the laundry sink (well rinsed from the bleach soak) to see if they would still run in hot water.  They didn't.  To be absolutely certain, I rolled them in a white terry towel and twisted it--success!  No dyes transferred onto the towel.  So, I threw everything in the dryer for a few minutes.

Years ago, I learned a nifty trick from my business partner, Janine.  Instead of letting pre-washed fabrics dry all the way in the dryer, she takes them out while they are still damp-dry and hand presses them flat to dry the rest of the way.  She uses the carpet, but I have two kids and a dog, so I tend to use my cutting mat and sewing table.  The trick is to hand press them well, like you would a sweater that has "lay flat to dry" instructions on the tag.  If you do this step well, you won't have to iron them when they dry--you can skip right to cutting them up!  I usually stack them about four pieces high.  In this case, however, I ran out of room and had to stack many on top of each other.  I have a de-humidifier running in my basement studio, but it's been pretty humid here in Chicago.  So, I rotated the pile a couple of times to be sure that all of the fabrics dried thoroughly without getting moldy.

Pre-treating/washing fabrics is sometimes a long process (especially when you don't have what you need on hand and you have to stop on the way to get what you need for washable markers and glue sticks) but it is so worth it.  I have such heart ache when I spend hours working on a quilt only to take it out of the washing machine and find that the light colors all look - well - less light.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Going Back to the Beginning.

This year I have the honor of teaching art to the seventh grade girls at the school where I teach-The Willows Academy in Des Plaines, IL.  The entire curriculum for the seventh grade year is based on geometry and fiber.  We have covered knitting, hand sewing felt cuties, basic geometry and color theory and we are finally at the mountaintop--hand piecing!  We are making pieced "mini quilts" that the girls can finish into a pillow, table topper or doll quilt.

So, I made a very professional looking lesson plan and tried to anticipate how many class periods I would need, what supplies we needed to buy, and what fabrics the girls should use.  I also made a swanky power point and a work sheet to go along with it!

I decided that to take some of the pressure off of the process that we should all use solids to make hand-pieced 16-patch blocks.  On the day before the lesson, I had some of the art students grab the fabric bins from storage so they could take out all of the solid fabrics (the only ones I had planned on using).

We have three bins of fabric in my art room.  One is full of donations from unknown sources.  The second and third are full of fabrics that I brought in from my sewing studio.  The contents from the first bin is about what you would expect: fabrics that people didn't want to throw away but clearly didn't want to keep, either.  There were pieces of burlap, denim, satin, scraps of clothing and weird novelty fabrics.  Suffice it to say, the plan to use the solids was working on the girls after going through all of the odd (and ugly) fabrics in the first bin.

The very minute they opened the second and third bins, however, I knew I was going to have to change my mind.  Their reaction to rifling through all of the pieces reminded me of the way I react to fabrics!  They could not resist touching, turning over, scrunching, grabbing, squirreling away, squealing about and even smelling the various prints!  One girl was walking around for so long with a half yard piece that she loved that I finally told her to take it home! Within moments, most of the fabrics were out of the bins and being closely examined.  Everyone started making her own stacks of favorites.  And then I remembered.  I remembered that fabrics--their patterns and their colors--are one of the main reasons I wanted to start sewing in the first place.  I began to think about the first scraps I hoarded in my nightstand as a ten year old ( I had 'stolen' them from my mother and grandmother--although I think they knew).  I thought about the scraps of fabric my mother threw away when she was cutting out a quilt that I pulled out of her wicker waste basket in her studio (the one that she still uses and I still pick things out of).  I thought about the scraps of fabric from various quilts I have completed that to this day I have in a bin because I just can. not. throw. them. away.  And let's not even get into the fabrics I have that I know I will probably never use but just had to own because of the color combination, or pattern, or combination thereof.  One of the reasons I love to sew is because I can work with pieces of fabric over and over and over again.

In the end, each of my students made a stack or two of fabrics that they thought would look good together (only one or two students decided to use some solids in their project).  They raised some interesting questions for a group of people that have had limited experience with fabrics and color.  Would different patterns in the same color family go together?  Can you mix batiks with fabrics that "don't look like batiks?"  Can you use only two fabrics in your quilt block?  What happens if you use only one fabric? Can you still cut it up and sew it back together? How do you know if fabrics match? What happens if you can't decide? And, Can you use sixteen different fabrics?

Their questions forced me to go back to some of the basic lessons I learned when I first started to sew and to reflect on some of the principles I have formed because I have been sewing so long.  It was a really great review.  It was also very inspiring to see how excited some of them were about the possibility of beginning their project with the fabrics they have chosen.  Of course some of them asked the inevitable question:  "Can I take these home and sew them on my sewing machine?!"  "No, I replied....the unit is on hand-sewing!"

As I locked my classroom that morning, I looked around the room at all of the fabric stacks and workspaces.  Some of the girls had already started cutting their blocks out.  I had that feeling that I get when I am up sewing late into the night and I don't want to go to bed.  I was scheduled to teach a history class directly after art.  But, I did't want to leave--instead, I wanted to dig in and start cutting some squares of my own.  And then sit there and sew them all together!  I can't wait until Monday's class.  We are all going to sit in a circle and have a sewing bee. :)