Monday, June 29, 2015

Crayola nostalgia

I had a fabulous aunt, who not only introduced me to Dr. Seuss, but also thought nothing of giving cash to the feckless young. For my birthday she would give me R5.00, which was worth approximately $5.00 in the 1960s, and was a king's ransom. For that price I could buy a huge box of Crayola crayons, the extra special one with a bazillion colors, including the amazing copper, gold and silver. In reality, the box probably looked like this one.
Drawing with the crayons was the least of the joy in this purchase. There was the trip to town with my mother, which was an adventure in itself; there was the stationery store, full of enticing things; and the staff's solemn respect due to the possessor of such massive wealth, even though she couldn't quite see over the counter yet. Then there were the organizational possibilities. Taking up each pristine crayon, its tip unmarred, its paper unruffled, I would read the name. Such names! Pure poetry! Burnt sienna! Magenta! And the variations, sky blue, Prussian blue, French navy, Wedgewood blue, blue green, turquoise. Not just a blue, but a classification of blue. This blue is not that blue. This led on to the sorting. How should each color relate to its neighbor in the box? How could one possibly start using the crayons until all the relationships had been worked out. Hours passed, continents drifted, and still no crayon had touched paper! Some would marvel at such detail in one so young, others (usually those closely related to me) would mutter about OCD. Of course, in time, crayons would be blunt or broken, wrappers would be torn and lost, but that bright shining moment of possibility is what I always remember when I think of Aunty Betty, long gone, but much loved. A passion for color, fostered young, is a priceless gift.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Wednesday words

What a portentous title! A bit embarrassing actually, seeing that I can't quite remember the actual words for today's quote, just the general thought! Last year I did a class with Rosalie Dace at QSDS in Columbus, Ohio. It was a very inspiring weekend. It was the second time I had been to QSDS. The first was a monoprinting workshop with Melanie Testa, also a very good experience.

Rosalie's theme was African cloth. I grew up in South Africa under apartheid. Besides the obvious human and economic misery caused by apartheid, it also robbed people of a wider cultural identity. I am shamed by how few African countries I can name on a map, I don't speak a black African language, and my knowledge of African cultures is largely limited to a social anthropology class in college. Rosalie grew up speaking Zulu, and her love for, appreciation of, and wealth of knowledge about African cultures was very enriching. The fabrics were fabulous too, and so wide ranging.

Back to the words though. At one point she said (and I am representing her very freely here, since I failed to take notes) that nature has already been done perfectly, so she feels no need to try to copy it. Her quilts are abstract, which is how I prefer to work, so I guess that is why her words resonated so much. I know lots of people like to work representationally, but for me, Rosalie's words were permission to explore my own path.

If you ever get the chance to go to QSDS, do! It's a wonderfully enriching experience. Both times I floated home on a cloud of new ideas, wonderful inspiration and the joy that comes from sharing time with people who are making their way down the same path, and are often so very generous at lending a hand along the way.

The 2016 class list is available, and I am already scheming about how to squeeze in a class!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hand dyed embroidery thread - ready to play with!

Once the hand dyed embroidery thread is washed and wound onto a spool, it is playtime! I am really liking this shahrazade yarn from Dharma Trading. Look at the amount of texture in the strand. Each different piece of the yarn takes up the dye differently, so you get a subtle variation even within the same color.

Procion MX dyed cotton/rayon blend

 It is a cotton/rayon mix, and the twisted rayon thread, and rayon slubs add a shine to the more matt cotton color. Look at how nicely the thread plays on hand dyed fabric!

Procion MX dyed cotton/rayon blend

Procion MX dyed cotton/rayon blend
This is going to be so much fun to work with!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Cushions inspired by Jane LaFazio

I have had such fun making cushions a la Jane LaFazio's DVD "Layered and fused applique quilts". I may just have made 10 of them...Obsessive, moi?
Hand-dyed and hand and machine stitched fused cushions inspired by Jane LaFazio

The thing about learning to dye fabric is that you end up with lots of color samples, in not very useful sizes. I used fat eighths because I was interested in color effects not yardage, but a fat eighth is not a lot of anything. It is perfect for this fused project though! I didn't dye the dark blue circles, that is a Robert Kaufman fabric. I need to figure out how to create a look alike. I love dark blue with brights, and it is a particularly indigo tone. So much commercial dark blue fabric has a heavy purple cast to it.

Once the fusing was done I got to play with all the variegated thread I have collected over the years, and played with my sewing machine's fancy stitches. I found out I can't mirror stitches. How about that. I traded my Husqvarna for a much more upmarket Bernina, and ended up losing a feature. (I love you Bernina, don't pout!)

I really enjoyed the DVD. By the end I wished I could invite Jane over for coffee. She is such fun!

The great part about making 10 cushions was the production line I got going, and the way they could all be different, but the indigo circles gave them some unity.
Hand-dyed and hand and machine stitched fused cushions inspired by Jane LaFazio

Jane recommends Steam a seam, but I have to say I did not take to it. Besides being more expensive than Wonder Under (which I buy by the bolt with a 50% off JoAnn's coupon), I just didn't like the texture. I guess I am a creature of habit!

Once the whole front was machine stitched it was time for the big fun!!! Hand embroidery. I've been watching some Benn and Morgan videos, and Claire Benn often uses the word "meditative" about her process (See sidebar for links). I find hand embroidery very similar. Stitching french knots is very relaxing (until the knot doesn't seat properly, then the air has been known to become a little blue). I wasn't entirely happy with how the middle join lined up. Spiderweb to the rescue! I love this stitch. My mom, embroiderer ace that she is, taught it to me, and it just made sense immediately, unlike bullion stitch, which I have never got the hang of, even though she has demonstrated it repeatedly and it is one of her go to stitches.
Here is how to make the spiderweb
Spiderweb embroidery stitch

The number of spokes and the distance you whip the web allows for different effects. And of course, if you are me, you just can't resist adding some more french knots. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Winding off the hand dyed embroidery thread..with a little "help" from my friends

Winding dyed thread is not the most entertaining part of the process. Having help can speed it up...or not. Daughter with fingernails for eliminating knots, very helpful. Miss Twitch with teeth and claws for creating knots and soggifying thread, less helpful. 

Dropping the DMC skeins over a chair back is a great way to speed up the winding process and eliminating tangles. Unfortunately for the unwary, a cunning hunter lurks below, ever vigilant, lightening fast and relentless in the pursuit of the tantalizing moving thread.
Miss Twitch, butter wouldn't melt..

At first she makes a stealthy move

But the killer instinct soon kicks in and she attacks the thread with teeth and claws
And an enviable flexibility!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday words courtesy of Melody Johnson (Mixitupmel and Fibermania blogs): The art is on the front for goodness sake!

While I do try very hard to get better at sewing and quilting, if it's a toss up between what goes on the front of a quilt and what the back looks like, then I am going with whatever will make the front work better. The workings on the back can get covered up with a second backing if necessary. Handwork isn't always the prettiest from the back, but it is so addictive to do. Sitting quietly making French knots is like meditation...until one of them goes wrong, then the stream of consciousness tends to become a whole lot less serene! Seriously though, art quilts are about the message on the front. That's not trying to excuse poor workmanship on the back, but if the back of the piece is limiting what you're doing on the front, then you have the process back to front, if you get my meaning!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

No longer threadbare!

Procion MX continues to rock my world with color! I love to add hand embroidery to my fiber creations, so what could be better than dyeing my own thread? Quilting Arts Aug/Sept 2014 had an article by Melanie Testa and Carol Soderlund on dyeing your own thread. I bought the thread winders they recommended, but when I came to do the dyeing, I couldn't find them. You know how that goes...But it was all good, because I like my way better, although there is some winding and untangling at the end.

Once my dyes were mixed and my fibers were soda soaked, I took some trusty plastic shelf liner and added three generous dollops (very scientific term..) of analogous colors towards the back of the plastic. For more complex colors I added black or grey. Then I laid the skein of thread closest to me on the plastic. With gloved hands I then drew beads of the dye down to the fiber, mixing the colors in some parts, keeping them pure in others. It is so fascinating to see them blend and change, and this way I could get a lot of color variety because I could adjust the length of the fiber strands. I have several sets of lidded plasticware for batching, and I also used them for soaking each color set in water to get rid of the excess dye when the batching was complete. Three days of changing the soaking water and the dye was gone. The hardest part was getting them dry! They are more tangled than usual because I got impatient and threw them in the tumble drier in garment bags. Luckily my daughter is almost as obsessive as me, and will join me in a winding and untangling fest! Grown up daughters are the best! So companionable!

Once dyed, the threads can also be overdyed, providing you haven't saturated the color receptors the first time around. Great for couching, embroidery etc. Yarn is from Dharma Trading.
Procion MX dyed cotton yarn

The first time round I added a reasonable amount of soda solution, but didn't cover submerge the fiber, and when I came to add the dye, it didn't penetrate all the way in some places. The second time I completely covered the fiber in soda solution, expecting to be able to drain off the excess, but it drank it all in! Greedy stuff. You could probably soak it in water to get it saturated and then just add the soda ash you need for dyeing. Once wet, the dye seemed to travel fine. This yarn takes forever to dry too, but is very rewarding once it is done. The first yarn pack I bought, I cut it into lengths suitable for couching or embroidery and then dyed half in oranges/corals/pinks and the other half in greens. What was I thinking?? These are big packs. No one needs that much green! Luckily it overdyes beautifully. This was a desperately boring pale lilac, but not anymore! Some of the green is now teal and turquoise.

I had so much fun with the first yarn pack, I then tried the shahrazade. Clearly I should not enter spelling bees, that is a word with waaaay too many letters! This yarn has rayon slubs, which also dyed beautifully. The more prosaic thread is DMC 8.

Procion MX hand-dyed DMC and rayon/cotton blend

Lots of fun, and not difficult at all! Give it a shot! (If you haven't used Procion MX dyes before, do some research and make sure you use safe practices. Paula Burch's website is a fount of information )