Today is a good day to dye

One thing I enjoy about my friend R is that she is always trying to new things – and frequently invites me to share in her adventures. This past Saturday, she asked me to come out to her farm so we could try cyanotype and shibori. I’m always up for getting my hands dirty!

We started with cyanotype. There’s a way to do it with chemicals you mix yourself, but for this first time, she purchased a package of pre-treated fabric. Like camera film, all you have to do is expose it to UV light for about 15 minutes to get the “picture” to take. So, we drew the blinds of her studio against the sun, cut some sections of fabric, and began laying out our compositions. The fabric exposed to the sun will turn blue; the area covered by an object will turn white.

We added a little tape to the corners, so the fabric wouldn’t shift on the board. We started with buttons, foam cut-outs, and dried leaves. Then we covered our compositions with a piece of glass (can’t be UV treated glass – just the old-fashioned kind! We used glass taken out of picture frames) simply to hold all the objects in place, since it was a little breezy outside. I don’t know if you can see in the photo, but in the lower right, I used some netting from a bag of lemons to see if it would make an interesting pattern – and I weighted the extra down with stones.

After success with our first go, we got more inventive. Here’s a photo showing how the second batch turned out.

This project was super easy, and not messy at all. It does require a good, sunny day, though.

After a break for lunch, we launched into some shibori dyeing. R had purchased¬† indigo dye, and got it mixed up ahead of time in a vat. Smelly stuff! We prepared our fabrics by finding different ways to scrunch, knot, twist and tie them. Later at home, the Mouse said dismissively, “Oh, it’s just tie-dye!” She’s not wrong – the tie-dye t-shirt kits you get at Walmart can be used to accomplish the same effects. R and I were just using the authentic indigo dye to get the traditional rich blue colour.

There are lots of different ways to arrange the fabric for dyeing, depending on the result you want. Here, I tried wrapping the fabric around a length of PVC tube (like you’d use for plumbing a drain), and wrapping string around it was I went, then scrunching the whole thing down to one end of the pipe. I used a little tape to keep the ends from slipping.

Then we plunged it into the vat of indigo. You leave it in for 3 minutes, pull it out and marvel that it turned GREEN! and then sit it in the sun for 20 minutes, where it turns blue. Then return it to the vat again for more dye. Apparently, it reacts as much as it is going to, after about 3 minutes in the vat; then you have to remove it and sun it in order to get a fresh reaction. We did 3 dips in the dye – we would have to wait until after the fabrics were finished and put through the washing machine before we could ascertain whether that was enough dips to get the depth of blue we wanted.

But here are the wrapped tubes after 3 dips and a quick rinse:

The instructions tell you to gently massage and manipulate the fabric with one hand while it’s in the dye. We did that, though not very aggressively – frankly, I think we were both afraid that we end up with just solid blue fabric! But after seeing the results, I realize how the massaging is important for working the dye into the folds of the cloth. And if you want a more even pattern, it’s also important to try to keep your folds/scrunches fairly regular.

Here’s R with a piece of fabric she’s folded in triangles, then secured the three edges of the triangle wad with metal skewers held together with elastics. You can see the triangles in the design… they unfolded into hexagons!

We used all-white fabric for some of the dyeing. But we also tried over-dyeing, using some of the fabrics we’d dyed last summer that didn’t turn out as well. Adding a layer of shibori was definitely a great way to spice up a fabric that had previously been a grungy orange.

For this piece, I folded it accordion-style, then wound elastics around it at intervals. Turned out really cool!

R kept all the samples we’d made so they could be run through her washing machine. Later, she sent me this photo of all the pieces pinned to her design wall – including the cyanotypes. Don’t they look awesome?

You can see that the indigo blue came out a lot lighter after washing and drying. Another time, we will try doing more dunks into the vat, and more massaging of dye into the creases. But we’re pretty happy with how this first batch came out!

It was a fun day, although I did go home with blue hands, despite wearing gloves for the shibori. I’m definitely looking forward to more adventures with R!




Giving back

Well, it’s a good thing I made so much progress early in 2017! Once I realized I was starting a Studio art class at the local university on May 1st, my sewing time became complicated.

Not that I haven’t done any sewing, because I have. But not on any of the existing UFOs I’m supposed to be completing this year. I’ve been using the limited time now available in my schedule to work on some charity projects.

First, let me tell you about the May meeting of the modern guild I belong to. We did a charity quilt sew-in, and by the end of the evening had created 10 quilt tops! It was a fun event. Everyone brought fabric strips of a designated colour, and basically you sewed on one strip to the side of a centre square, then passed on the quilt to the next person, and everyone ended up with a rainbow-ish log cabin style quilt, for our children’s charity. (Oh, except Wendy, in the front right. She is showing a top she made with the quilt lotto blocks she’d won at the April meeting.)

While preparing for that meeting, I made another charity top. I’m happy to say that he block in the middle was a UFO, and all the fabric used was from my stash. I think it will be cheerful for some young recipient who is stuck in the hospital.

I have a second, similar, UFO house block that will become the centre of another charity quilt. It’s in the queue.

I also used some scrap triangles from my friend Megan and some more stash fabric to try out the Delectable Mountains pattern, before setting it as the June lotto block for the modern guild. I made blue and green sections, then mixed them up for fun. Just a few more pieces to make!

In addition, a new member at modern guild, Lisa J., lent me a copy of the The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters, by Sherri Lynn Wood. So of course I had to try the first exercise in that book… Again, I was able to use stash fabrics, and it’s still in pieces on my design wall. Getting close to done. Both the Delectable Mountains and the improv quilt can be kids’ charity quilts when they are finished.

Finally, I’ve recently become involved with Days for Girls. If you don’t know about this organization, it strives to provide homemade, reusable sanitary products for girls and women in the Third World, who otherwise couldn’t go to school or work because they currently have no way to manage their menstrual flow. The volunteer group I’ve joined sews reusable pads and panty shields, and packages them with purchased underwear, soap, and a Ziploc bag that allows the recipients to launder their items using just a small amount of water (since water availability is usually also an issue). It’s amazing to think that I can change the life of another woman somewhere in the world by spending a few hours to create these items for her. It feels like a very worthwhile use of my sewing machine.

That’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve also been super-busy with my studio art class… it’s fun, and I think I might be learning things I can eventually apply to quilting. Maybe. Or maybe I will end up with yet another hobby. Here’s the most recent thing I made in class: paper cranes on draped fabric.

As I was working on it, I thought, isn’t it ironic that when I’m not sewing fabric, I’m drawing it??


Motoring through April…

I feel like I’m getting lots done in the sewing room — and other parts of my life, too! — but I’m not getting to this blog often enough. I need to add some blogging time to my weekly schedule, that’s for sure.

Brown is not my favourite colour.jpgOkay, first: finishes! I finished my colour study quilt, which I am calling “Brown is NOT my favourite colour”.

It is also a study in circular quilting with a walking foot, because I wanted to quilt another quilt (up next) in a spiral, but wanted to try the technique out on something small first. In this quilt, I discovered that I had a tendency to push the fabric toward the walking foot during the spiral, which ended up creating a slight twist in my fabric as I went on… good thing to learn here. I had to remind myself to slow down and let my walking foot do the work.

april showers.jpgThankfully, things went more smoothly in “April Showers”. This lap-sized quilt was a bit tricky to do — a lot of quilt to feed through the throat of my machine. The good thing was, that as I spiralled further and further out, the arc became increasingly gradual, and the amount of quilt in the throat became increasingly less!

I started the spiral with a circle about the size of a dinner plate and worked out. When finished, I picked up the beginning of the quilting line and spiralled in as far as I could, until it became too awkward to continue. I’ve also heard that you can do the smallest part of the spiral with a free-motion foot, but I was afraid that I would be too wobbly.

may lotto block.jpg.jpgSo that’s two more off of my list of UFO’s to complete for 2017, and it puts me well ahead of where I need to be. Yay! Oh, I also made this lotto block for the modern guild’s May meeting. It’s part of a modern BOM series found on Sew Mama Sew. Done!

On an entirely different topic, I started a learn to draw class, with the hope that I would start learning more art-type things that would bring an extra dimension to my quilting. Never having taken an art class after grade 8, I had to admit to having some gaps in my education when it came to things like colour, composition and line. I’ve been to three classes so far, and it’s been challenging! My big assignment for last week was drawing a shoe — specifically, my running shoe.

running shoe.jpg

This week’s assignment? Self-portraits! Gah! I don’t even want to show you what I’ve managed so far. Yesterday’s attempt… well, I told my DH that I made myself look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He laughed, but didn’t disagree!

I do have more UFO projects in the queue — really looking forward to clearing off the last of the lingering old projects! More in a few days…


March wrap-up

March was a very productive month. On top of the Balinese quilt I already posted about, I finished quilting and binding my Values quilt:

It’s definitely imperfect, but I learned from the process of trying to quilt it. And that’s what it’s all about, right? If I’m always afraid to quilt my stuff because my quilting isn’t perfect, it won’t ever get any better.

Wait till my next post, when I show you the experimental quilting I’ve been working on!

Anyway, back to March. I also got the top pieced for the third charity HST quilt for my Wednesday sewing group:

I don’t know if there’s a name for this lay out, but I think of it as “The Twist”. It was a bit tricky to do with random fabrics that people donated, but I think that I was able to make it work, thanks to the helpful input of a couple of ladies in the sewing group.

Now it’s all pieced — but I need a backing fabric, and to decide who will quilt it. Me? Or someone else?

But that’s not all. I also managed to finish piecing another quilt top — the one I’ve been thinking of as “Spring Rain”.

This one was made from scraps left over from another quilt. I thought the fabrics were so nice, I wanted to do something special with them. I like the clean, modern look of this quilt. (Obviously, the top and bottom rows still need to be trimmed to an even edge!)

I have already purchased a backing fabric for this one, so I need to press, baste and quilt it in April.

Now, I have to confess, I’ve also added a new project to my UFO list. The local quilt store was offering a course on fabric collage, and I decided to take it. And of course, I foolishly picked the largest project — a tall flamingo. I should have picked a little cat! Oh well. So here’s my flamingo so far:

This was taken during the class. The flamingo is now on my design wall at home, and I already have some ideas for how to edit her. So stay tuned for updates.

So that was my March. April will be busy, but I plan to fit in as much quilting as I can, so hopefully I can stay ahead of the curve in getting through my UFOs.

Off to the gym — need to stay in shape if I’m going to do all that sewing, you know!

Something new

My good friend R had her birthday earlier this month, and I wanted to make her a little something as a memento. However, she is quite an amazing quilt artist, so I struggled to imagine what I could make her that she hadn’t already made herself, and probably done a better job of. Then it occurred to me that she is a traditional quilter… so I could make her something modern-inspired.

I came up with this little piece, which I called “Stormy Spring”. The leaf blocks are improv pieced using the cut-and-splice-in method. I took a square of the green leaf-patterned fabric, and made some improv branching cuts, then spliced in dark brown fabric to create the branches.

I almost messed up on the first leaf! I made the cuts, started piecing in the brown strips, then got a couple pieces turned around and couldn’t figure out how to put them back together again. Fortunately, I was able to use the print itself to decode what went where, and finally reassembled the block. Afterward, I was careful to piece the remaining blocks slowly and methodically! I used a pale blue background fabric, and then quilted in gusting lines with a blue thread, to represent the cool and sometimes rainy winds that bluster around in March and April.

R seemed pleased with it. I’m certain that she is more accustomed to giving away quilts than receiving them, so I hope she enjoyed being the recipient for a change, even though this was just a little piece.

Okay, off to finish the binding on my Values quilt!

All progress is good progress!

I tell you, it feels good to finally be crossing off projects that have been sitting on my “to do” list for ages – sometimes months, sometimes years! Why did I procrastinate so long? At least I’m getting through them now.

Over the weekend, I quilted my “Values” quilt – it was a from a workshop I did a couple of years ago with Cheryl Arkison, to learn how to use value placement more effectively in quilts. Top has been finished for so long… now, finally almost done.

Here’s the front of the quilt. It’s made of half-square triangles arranged in concentric squares. I thought that radiating lines from the centre square would emphasize the movement of the design (since I’m trying to find ways to make the quilting complement the design, not just hold the layers together). Using my walking foot and some green painter’s tape to mark guidelines, I quilted many times across the quilt, trying my best to keep intersecting at the centre square.

Overall, it worked pretty well. But there were some drawbacks. First, I realized as I worked that the centre point was becoming pretty thick with threads. I tried to capture it in this closeup. Can you see? The outer edges of the quilt are soft and draping, because there is distance between the quilted lines, but as you get toward the centre, the quilting becomes denser, until you end up with a mass — almost a bump — of threads at the centre point. Another time, I might try to come up with a different solution. Perhaps, have fewer lines go right to the very centre of the design, and then use some deep inverted “v” lines to create the impression of additional spokes (if you get what I mean).

Another issue that is related to this one: where the fabric became densely quilted, it started to “puff”. Can you see it? I’m going to see if I can use my iron on the steam setting to press that sucker a little flatter. But it’s a problem I didn’t foresee at the beginning. Ah well, this is all about learning, after all.

And here’s the back. The trick was, I made two additional rows of blocks for the back that mirrored the corresponding rows on the front of the quilt — then I had to figure out how to get them to line up perfectly! I used basting spray on the quilt back and ironed it onto the batting, nice and flat. Then, with DH and Mouse holding the back/batting up to a window so I could see through, I carefully worked at lining up the quilt front with the pieced strip; the front was also spray-basted, so it stuck where I put it, but was repositionable. When I had them lined up, I ironed the quilt front to the batting, then basted around the whole perimeter using my machine set to a basting stitch.

On the whole, it worked pretty well. However, another time, I would baste the perimeter by hand, using even longer stitches, so that the layers and edges are secured where I want them, but the thread could be more easily clipped and removed if necessary during quilting. Even set to the longest stitch, my machine’s stitches were still pretty close together, and that made it awkward whenever I quilted toward an edge that need to be released.

Anyway! There you go. Another big step conquered; all that’s left is making and attaching the binding and sleeve, and the Values quilt will be done. I could have completed that today… but instead I worked on something else.

I was looking through my task list this morning, and noticed something that had been sitting there for while — something that kept getting scheduled, but then not done, so pushed forward again. Yes, it was finishing the last four pairs of Christmas pajamas. I made so many pairs back in December that I felt burned out on pajama-making, so the last four pairs had sat, partially cut out, since then. I decided to bite the bullet today and finish them off entirely: much though I still disliked the idea of working on them, I disliked even more that feeling I got every day when I saw them still sitting on my task list. So I brewed some hot jasmine tea and made myself sit down and sew a pair for Q, a pair for DH, and (amazingly enough) two pair for me that were made from the leftovers of Q’s and DH’s pairs. Since I had them each listed separately on the task list, that meant I could cross off 4 items today! Whew!

I have a few more things I’d like to get done in the sewing room this month, but happily I still have several days ahead of me to sew. I shall just keep chiselling away at my self-assigned daily tasks, and I will be able to look back on March as a productive month!


More lotto blocks

So the lotto block for our March Modern Quilt Guild meeting was the Tic-Tac-Toe block. I posted a picture earlier of my sample blocks:

I was so thrilled to see the completed blocks at the meeting last week! They looked gorgeous.

Don’t you love the oranges and pinks? I think they look fabulous. Such a cheerful collection of blocks. The guild member who won them, Celeste, seemed genuinely thrilled to be taking them home. I hope she will bring back the finished piece to show at a future meeting.

Trying to keep things interested, I challenged everyone to try some improv curved piecing for our next lotto block. Here are my samples.

Can’t wait to see what we get for our April block collection.

The nice thing about doing the block lottos, I think, is that it is an opportunity to try a new pattern or technique without making a big commitment. If you make a block or two and don’t like doing it, then you can stop. If you decide that you like the blocks, however, you might feel motivated to make a whole bunch and create your own quilt.I hope others are seeing it that way, too, and will be motivated to try all the blocks.

This certainly fits with my plan to keep challenging myself to try new things in 2017!