Monday, August 24, 2015

Art quilt guild challenge: Weave

Deconstructed screen print, check; hand-dyed fabric fused, check; hand-dyed thread, check; time crunch, check!

I am lucky enough to meet with a group of diverse and talented ladies once a month. If you don't have an art quilt guild in your area - start one! It's inspiring, and a great place to learn new things. One of the things the guild likes to do is have challenges. This can be...challenging! I sometimes find they take up too much time, so I participate selectively. I have a complex project on the go, and I really want to dedicate my limited time to it, but I haven't contributed much at the guild the past few months, and was feeling guilty.

With 4 days to go, I set about producing a quick quilt. I like to use the fabrics I've dyed, but that I'm not mad about for these kind of things. I played with deconstructed screen printing earlier this year, and made a series of prints that were an interesting exercise, but not fabulous cloth. The prompt was "weave", so I sliced the screen print, and fused some plain colors to match. This was a poor method choice. You'll see why later. 

I seamed the fabrics to make the warp, and free motion quilted in the opposite direction to make the weft. Or possibly the other way around. I'm not sure which is which! Horizontal and a vertical lines. You get the idea.

The deconstructed print had circles. I love circles! These were great embroidery opportunities, and allowed me to cross the horizontal and vertical lines, while playing with my hand-dyed embroidery thread. This was #8 DMC. It dyed beautifully. I love being able to create variegated thread. Unless I had a really odd color, I don't think I would bother to dye plain colors. I also love combining stitches. I did buttonhole around some of the circles, but I wanted something different. I did chain stitch around the inside of the circle, and then fly stitch from the outer perimeter of the circle into the center of the corresponding chain. I think it made quite a striking stitch.
Fly and chain stich to embellish circle shape
Of course there were French knots! When making these, the space in the thread variegation may not match the space you have to stitch in a way that gives you a pleasing range of color. Try making a knot, then taking the thread through the back of the fabric to a new place further away, making a knot etc. You are essentially making your own color spacing if you want a random effect, rather than a shaded effect, which is what will happen if you just use the thread as it comes.
Creating a random color spacing with French knots
Hmm, those buttons could have been sewn with a little more symmetry. 4 days people! Deadlines don't make for precision. 

To follow the weave prompt, I wanted to create a woven border, a la Laura Wasilowki. Here is where my very poor choice earlier comes in. Quilting with fused fabrics is a snap, as long as your fabrics are fused. There are 2 reasons for this. The first is that they will stick together.

 I had been in such a hurry to get started, that I sliced up my deconstructed fabric without fusing it first, and when I realized what I had done, I was too lazy to fuse 2 inch strips. Fusing larger pieces of fabric is a breeze, smaller bits is more of a hassle. No problem, I thought. I am weaving with 6 pieces of fused fabric, and 1 piece that isn't fused. The fused ones will hold the unfused one. This proved to be correct. No problem in adhering the weaving together. 

However, there is a second very important reason that fabric must be fused when doing raw edge applique. That raw edge! Without the fusible it frays like crazy.

How not to fuse
That was a bummer, but I decided to finish the quilt anyway because I see these challenge quilts as a way to get better at all the aspects of art quilting, from creating a design, making color choices, free motion stitching to binding. My miters are improving a little! Here is the finished result. 

Challenge quilt with "Weave" prompt
Next month we will have a SAQA representative coming to do a trunk show! Should be awesome!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The duh factor - bad free-motion stitches

Bad stitches? Check everything. Why is this so hard to remember?

At least I have learned to test my thread on a scrap piece first, and to draw the design several times and then test stitch it a couple of times to build up muscle memory, but last night I was just doing butt ugly stitches, and couldn't figure out why. 

Then I thought about how long it had been since I had cleaned out the bobbin area. Every 10 bobbin changes they suggest, but who keeps track?? It was desperately in need of a clean. For good measure I changed the needle, and rethreaded the machine. Sweet stitches ensued. Why don't I think of this ahead of time, instead of as a remedial measure?

New resolution to begin each major free-motion project with a newly cleaned out bobbin area, and a new needle. We'll see how long that lasts...

Monday, August 17, 2015

Frustration-free yarn bundles for dyeing with Procion MX

Here's how to prepare a skein of yarn for dyeing so you avoid tangles and frustration.
Take 2 chairs and drape the skein of yarn over the backs of the chairs. Move the chairs far enough apart that the yarn will not be slack, but you don't want to stretch it. The demo yarn is Queen Anne's lace. It is a 100% cotton and dyes up beautifully with Procion MX dyes. I then use it for couching. 
Dye bundle tutorial 1
 Now you need a fiber that is not going to take the dye, so it is easy to see to remove when you are done. Acrylic yarn is perfect. I see you, Ms. Twitch, leave it alone!
Eyeball the yarn and tie a piece of acrylic yarn in two equidistant spots. Notice how the tied pieces are by the chair backs. I am going to be working in the open area between the two chairs.
Dye bundle tutorial 2
Take as many strands as you feel will be comfortable for dye batches. I find 10-15 strands is a good number to work with, as I can be sure the dye is squished into all the strands. Nothing worse than finding white patches when you are done. Tie a piece of acrylic yarn around the strands you have chosen. You can use a simple double knot. Separate another group of strands and tie them together. 
Dye bundle tutorial 3
Tie them loosely, so that you can insert the tip of your finger into the knot. If the knot is very tight, you risk the dye not being able to get to the fiber.
Dye bundle tutorial 4

Continue until all the fiber is tied off into batches. When you are done, move the yarn around a little, and you will see if there are strands you have missed.
Dye bundle tutorial 5

 Now do the same on the other side of the chair. You should now have the yarn tied in 4 places. If you think of the skein as a square, then 2 opposite corners should have a single tie, and the other opposite corners should have multiple ties. 
Dye bundle tutorial 6

Ms. Twitch is doing her best to undo them all, so we will have to move quickly! Now comes the scary bit!
Dye bundle tutorial 7
Cut the entire skein at one of the single ties.If you wanted longer pieces, you could only separate out the threads once, and only cut once. You would then have yarn the full length of the skein, but it would still be separated into bundles.

I prefer to hand couch, so I like lengths half the length of the skein. I am therefore going to cut again at the other single tie. I now have neatly bundled yarn, ready for a soda soak and dyeing. See this post. 

Having been scolded for being obnoxious, Ms. Twitch is now feigning indifference to the whole process. Do not be fooled...
The less untangling you have to do, the more time you can spend dyeing, and that's what we are really interested in..color, color and more color, and the ability to blend hand-dyed thread and hand-dyed fabric, and have fun! 

Shahrazade yarn, cotton and rayon blend

Project in process

Monday, August 10, 2015

Wash away water soluble stabilizer as focal point for embellishment

Wash away or water soluble stabilizer like this is great for making parcels of thread that can be used to embellish or create focal points on a quilt.

Make sure to get sticky stabilizer, or it will be very hard to keep everything together. I believe the images below show a Sulky product. You can see how thin it is, the countertop shows through. The Vilene brand is thicker, and I prefer it as things stay put. The downside is it takes longer to get rid of.

Cut two pieces of stabilizer. Remove the backing from one of them. Lay down a line of fiber on the sticky side. The fiber could be wool, embroidery thread, cording, sliced fabric, leftover threads etc. The only limitation is that it must fit under your sewing machine foot. Flip the fiber about till you have some organic lines that please you. Or you could do very graphic straight lines and make a plaid type effect.

Now lay a second layer of thread over the top of the first. This is an excellent place to use up scraps and very small pieces of yarn. Different textures add interest.

Add something sparkly before you are done. It will make the whole thing pop. How cute is this? There are baby sequins on the thread.
For best effect, don't overcrowd the stabilizer. The stitching will hold it together, and add even more texture. Remove the backing from the second piece of stabilizer and put it sticky side down on the fibers you have laid out. You should have a sandwich of stabilizer, thread, stabilizer, and all the stickiness should be in the middle, around the thread. Take the sandwich to your sewing machine and free motion over the whole piece, catching all loose ends and making sure everything is attached. Once you wash out the stabilizer, anything that is not attached by your sewing will fall apart. I like to do vertical and horizontal straight lines first to give a structure to the piece, and then I free motion over all of it. If you use contrasting colors on the top and the bobbin, the resulting "lace" is even more versatile! Best of all, if you are starting out free-motion stitching, eyelashes and other uneven stitching will not show.

Once the sewing is done, hold the sandwich under running hot water to begin to soften and dissolve the stabilizer. Then leave the sandwich in a container of hot water overnight. Rinse and repeat until all stickiness is gone, and dry flat on a towel. Play!

Because of the transparency of the finished product, a single sandwich can have varying impact. Look how the effect changes with the background.

"Lace" over varying colored hand-dyes
Once dried the piece is pretty stable and you can slice it up for projects like this 

Quilt guild bag challenge

Quilt build bag challenge detail
And then you can embellish your embellishments!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Making fabric scraps into useful donations

Unwanted fabric, big and small is a problem for lots of crafters, quilters etc. The stuff piles up! My son's college had a sobering labeling system for garbage. Cans read either "recycling" or "landfill". Yikes! It's so easy to toss stuff in a garbage bag and not think about what happens to it after that. 

So, I have scraps large and small, thread up the wazoo, not to mention UFOs that are never going to get finished because I either screwed them up too badly to make it worth the time to fix them, or I really hate them. Leah Day had a thought provoking post on what to do with unwanted fabric, and it didn't take much investigation to find out that my local quilt shop collected pillows stuffed with all the unwanted soft stuff, and donated them to the local animal shelter. Done deal!

I can't tell you how therapeutic it is to take a rotary cutter to really ugly projects, or projects which have driven you to distraction. And when the end result is something that will provide a little comfort to a homeless animal, well, it positively makes your halo glow, and takes away all the guilt so often associated with UFOs!

All you need is some kind of container for your pillow, to support it while you are filling it. I have a rectangular basket which I keep next to my sewing machine, so it's really easy to dispose of all those threads. 

Then you need some fabric for the pillow casing. Obviously I do not use my rather nice hand-dyed shibori, this is for demonstration purposes only! I normally buy fleece when it is on sale, as it is so nice and snugly. Lay the fabric out, then fold in half, right sides together. Sew the 2 short ends closed and turn it right side out. 
Hand-dyed Procion MX shibori

Hand-dyed Procion MX shibori

Remove cat from fabric and line basket with it - the fabric, not the cat. 

In a shockingly short period of time the pillow will be full of threads, trimmings, free-motion practice strips and the like. If you are feeling kind, buy some cheap batting and slice a little into each pillow for some extra softness. Check for stray pins. These will not add to the comfort of the pillow!

Not your average pretty blog picture!

Dangling threads are a great temptation. You may have to rescue some which have mysteriously left the basket.

Make sure the pillow is not so full that it is no longer soft, then sew up the long open end. I just zigzag it closed. Your scraps are taken care of, you have a nice soft pillow for a needy animal, and the effort involved is minimal. Thanks for spurring me to action, Leah!