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Archive for October, 2008

Mother and Daughter Working Together
Mother and Daughter Working Together

This week, I drove to Pittsburgh to meet the ladies (and gentlemen!) of the Quilt Company East Quilt Guild. What a great group! They are friendly, cheerful, and talented. On Monday night, I gave one of my favorite lectures, Fabric Acquisition 101. We talked about what fabrics to buy, how much to buy, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Tuesday was an action-packed day. We started out with my Trees Workshop. Setting up in a spacious and well-lit space, we all shared fabric and ideas as we created our own personal forests. I was so happy to watch these ladies approach this new technique with such open minds. The technique uses freeform rotary cutting (much like Ricky Tims with his Caveman Quilting) and lots of steam. Each participant gets a pattern, but I always hope that every quilter will create her own trees in her own way. The pattern is there for when they go home without me.
Happy!

Happy!

What I love about teaching Trees is watching each quilter “get” the concept. They each bring lots of fabric and a vision. As the workshop progresses, many of the quilters abandon their original vision (some more willingly than others) in favor of following the creative process. More than one quilter remarked that the trees they created were not the ones they had planned when packing for the workshop — but in a good way.

Lots of Steam!

Lots of Steam!

After we were finished with the workshop, we were off on a road trip! Elizabeth and Charlotte took me to a favorite quilt shop in Finleyville, PA, called Quilters Corner. What a great shop! They have a little bit of everything. Looking for a nice Moda selection? Got it. Batiks? Um hmm. Black and whites, Anna Griffin, Lonni Rossi, Lakehouse, you name it. Books, magazines, notions, even a corner for holiday fabric and projects. The most striking samples, however, were the applique pieces designed by shop owner Mary Beth Hartnett. From design to fabric choices to execution, the applique work was exquisite. Do you hear me, Book Publishers? Hurry to sign Mary Beth before your competition does. These patterns have universal appeal.

Afterward, we drove through Pittsburgh so that I would have a sense of the city. It was beautiful! We drove on some very scenic roads and saw some amazing vistas. We saw the pink water in the fountains (for Breast Cancer Awareness month), lots of twinkle lights, and diverse architecture. And now I understand why the Steelers do so well. I’d hate to be a warm-climate football team and have to come play in that giant open stadium!

I’m not sure how we packed so much into two fabulous days, but we did. Now I have just enough time to rest up before I leave for the IQA Festival in Houston!

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In Progress on my Design Wall

In Progress on my Design Wall

Here’s where I am with the piece this morning. I’m auditioning two background fabrics right now. I’m not in love with them, but more about that later.

I’m happy to say that I’ve rediscovered how valuable a digital camera can be in the design process. Because I’m blogging about the process of this piece, I’ve been taking scads of pictures. It’s funny what you can learn by taking a picture of a piece in progress. When I look at the work on the design wall, I see one thing. When I look at it though my camera’s viewfinder, I see a second perspective. It’s sort of like using a peephole to gain some distance from a piece. Then, when I download the images onto my computer and start to work with them, I see so much more.

When I look at this piece on my design wall, I see the individual fabrics more than how the fabrics work together. I also see the original photograph and I measure how well the quilt portrays it. At some point, I need to let go of the fact that I started with this photo and move on to making the quilt work on its own. That’s a lesson I hope to keep in mind as I move forward.

The View through my Camera

The View through my Camera

When I look through the viewfinder, I begin to see the piece as more cohesive. I see how the fabrics work (or don’t work) together and I get a better sense of proportion, balance, overall use of color. Here, I’m distracted by the motion in the green fabric at the top. I meant for that to suggest trees, but it doesn’t really work. I like the fabric, but I’m not sure I can use it for this piece.

The darker fabric at the bottom was meant to suggest the ground, but I’m finding it distracting. When I look at it on the wall without the camera, I’m happy with how pretty the fabric is. Through the camera, I realize this fabric isn’t helping me. In a simple piece, every element has to pull its weight and earn the right to be included. In the back of my head, I hear Heidi Klum telling this fabric that it’s out.

Cropping Makes a Difference

Cropping Makes a Difference

Cropped, this picture tells another story. The first thing that I noticed is how wrong the top green fabric is. Without the original photograph to distract me, I now realize that I need sky. There may have been trees there originally, but out of context, the viewer would never know that. This quilt needs sky in the background. I’m happy with this realization, since I have a lot of blue batiks that I now get to play with. I’m also looking forward to how well the blue sky will work with the orange hat.

A second immediate benefit of cropping the image is that I get to see how little of the two background fabrics will be visible in the finished quilt. Two paragraphs ago, I was distracted by how busy the fabric at the bottom is. Now I realize there isn’t that much of it. I’m still not convinced it’s a good choice, but it’ll be a placeholder until I find the sky fabric.

Once you have the digital image loaded onto your computer, you can work with it to make design decisions. If, for example, I didn’t like the proportions of this piece, I could use my cropping tool to experiment. How would this look if it were square? Or what if the rectangle were oriented horizontally rather than vertically? I’d need to add more elements to either side, but it’s possible. In this case, I think a vertical rectangle is just right.

I’m going to visit the Quilt Company East (a quilt guild in Pittsburgh) tomorrow to do a lecture and workshop. In the meantime, I’m going to ponder more background fabric choices and a question that my husband keeps asking: what about the spokes? Hmm. I’m open to suggestions…

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In all projects, art included, I’ve followed the same path: start with what you know. Ironically, I’ve heard the same advice from several other sources in the past month.  It’s funny how things circle around.

Design Wall Ready to Work on Fabric Choices

Design Wall Ready to Work on Fabric Choices

And so, what do I know and how will that help me choose my fabric? I know that the hat is orange. I also know that the picture has dark backgrounds. The lightest spots are the hat, the hands, and part of the wheel. I’ll start with the hat. I’m choosing a light orange and yellow batik.

At this point, I need to think about construction. Briefly, here’s the plan. I flipped the cartoon face down and traced some of the pieces onto Wonder Under. Since I used a Sharpie and thin exam room paper, it was easy to see the lines. Then, when I fused the Wonder Under to the fabric, everything was facing in the right direction.

What I Know

What I Know

After the hat is in place (temporarily, basted on a muslin background with a glue stick), I choose fabric for the hands and face. I’m thrilled with a black/grey/white batik that looks like tread and I use it for one of the tire surfaces. The rest of the tire should be darker than the tread fabric, but not darkest. The batiks are giving me the movement and illusion of tread that I want without being literal. The hands should be light, but not pale. That’s all that I know. Now I need to stop and think.

As I begin to pull fabric for the ground, I realize that I can narrow my choices by ruling things out. I don’t want to use any fabric that has a distinct-or even subtle-print. It’s distracting and I think I want the tread to be the only print. I think. I want the value to be about the same as the trees, but with brown replacing the green as the main color. Now I’m in trouble, because I’ve invented this “perfect fabric” in my head and I’ll never find it.

I’m back to the very first trees-in-the-background piece I pulled. And I have a placeholder black batik for the shirt. The shirt color will be my last decision, because I’m comfortable changing it from the original. I’m having a really hard time finding the right ground fabric. In my experience, when things are this difficult, it’s time to take a giant step backward and think. Have I followed a path too far? Did I make a bad decision upstream? And so I go back to what I know and start again, questioning the assumptions I made about background fabric. 
 
There are two rules of thumb fighting it out in my brain. First, darker colors recede and lighter colors advance. Second, darker colors on the bottom tend to ground a piece, and lighter colors seem to float. So, do I want the trees to be darker (recede) or lighter so that the ground fabric can be darker and anchor the piece?  
Original Tree Fabric, Darker Ground

#1

I think #1’s too dark all around. It’s in keeping with the original photo, but I’m fearful of the contrast. That said, I do want the foreground to pop.

#2 is currently my favorite, but I’m not convinced. I like how the hat fabric plays with the tree fabric, but the ground fabric may be too busy.  Not sure.

#3 is just too busy. Too, too busy. Distracting.

I’m going to let this stew while I work on something else. Thoughts? Please share them.

#2

#2

 

#3

#3

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Creating the Cartoon

Creating the Cartoon

After a long delay, I’m finally back to work on this quilt. This is the sixth and final quilt for the Vintage Revisited Challenge issued by Mary Kerr.

Mary sent each of the participants a fragment of an unfinished grandmother’s flower garden quilt top. This isn’t my favorite pattern and the fabrics left me flat. The final challenge for me will be finding a way to use some of the fabric in a meaningful and appropriate way. But that’s for later.

In an earlier entry, I promised to blog about the process of this quilt. And so, here’s the next step.

With the quilt block disassembled and an image chosen, I needed to figure out how to translate this photograph of my husband working on his bike (top left) to a quilt. I started by blowing up the image to 200%. Then, I lined up the four printouts and taped them down to a background paper that’s 24″ x 24″, the dimensions of the finished quilt. Even though the image is rectangular and the finished quilt will be square, I still think it will work. I’ll try to use the borders to create a useful way to include the original challenge fabric.

With the size established, I needed to create a full-size cartoon. Using exam room paper (yes, it’s exactly what you think it is), I traced the image in pencil. Then, using a Sharpie, I retraced only the important lines, vastly simplifying the image (lower left).

My next challenge is choosing the fabrics. I think I’ll try to stay true to the photograph as much as I can, but that’s just my initial thought. Here at my work table, I’m surrounded by batiks and hand-dyeds, trying to make final decisions. Stay tuned for my next blog entry, where you’ll see fabric choices — or at least auditions.

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