When negative is a good thing

After resting up from our day of making improv houses, my friend M and I launched into a 2-day workshop with Jacquie Gering on activating space.

Specifically, Jacquie talked about the relationship between positive and negative space. We often focus on positive space – the subject of whatever we’re making. If you give a someone a piece of paper and ask them to draw a dog, the person might well draw a dog in the center of the page, with nothing around it. The dog is the positive space — the “thing” being depicted. The rest of the page, the negative space, is the “nothing” — it is the space where there is no thing. It’s empty. It’s job is to hold “the thing”.

At least, that’s how many people treat negative space. They concentrate on the positive space, and the negative space is what is left over. But what if we give more importance – even equal importance – to both negative and positive spaces? When the negative space becomes activated, it contributes to the composition as much as the positive space.

negative space bicycle selfieIn the studio art class I just finished, the instructor, Linda, led us through several negative space assignments. This was one of them (it’s a selfie, because part of the class participation mark required us to take a selfie each day beside something we’d worked on in class).

For this exercise, Linda propped a bicycle in the middle of the room, and instructed us to draw the negative space using black charcoal. Instead of drawing spokes of the wheel, I had to draw the space between the spokes, etc. Because, for the positive elements of the picture to look write, the negative spaces also have to be right. Linda’s favourite example was “arms akimbo”. Frequently, when drawing someone with their hands on their hips, her students would give the subject long spaghetti arms, bent at the elbow. Linda suggested that the best way to avoid the problem was to draw the negative space between the inside of the bent arm and the body — if you got that space correct, you couldn’t possibly make the arms unnaturally long!

negative/positive space assignmentBack to the class with Jacquie, and balancing the positive and negative space. A famous example is the yin yang symbol. Is the black space the negative space, or the positive? You can’t say, because both have equal weight, equal power, within the image. In the first exercise we did with Jacquie, we tried to achieve something similar, by cutting out shapes from black paper, and trying to arrange them on a white background so that neither the black nor the white space seemed dominant. Here’s one example I worked with. Notice how the shape of the white space changes as I move the black pieces closer together, or farther apart.

By the end of the second day, we were all working busily on blocks of our own design. It was really neat to see the different designs people came up with. I’m pretty happy with my design — but I want to wait until I have a few more blocks made before I show it off!

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Improv Houses

Last week, I was fortunate to take three days of classes with modern quilter Jacquie Gering. It was a great experience, really adding to my learning. And since I went with my friend M, it was a mini vacation, since we supplemented our classroom hours with walking around the small town where the classes were held, eating nice foods, and laughing and talking in our hotel room in the evenings. When you can combine quilting and carrot cake, you know good things are going to happen!

Jacquie Gering improv housesThe first day, Jacquie led a class on improv piecing, focussed on making these awesome house blocks with a mid-century modern look. This quilt was her sample.

I liked how the blocks were both extemporaneous and bounded — the improv piecing added so much fun, colour and freedom to the houses, while the black framework and solid backgrounds provided the contrast of stability that allowed the houses to pop. If the houses were on a busy background, they wouldn’t be so dramatic.

my 3 improv houses

It was one of those fun classes in which everyone happily sewed away all day, with Jacquie occasionally interrupting us for a teaching moment. I enjoyed wandering around the room and seeing what had gone up on everyone else’s design walls — we started by making a couple of houses that were similar to Jacquie’s, and then people got creative and made all sorts of funky buildings.

Here are the three that I managed to finish that day — I especially like the adobe-style one on top. I’m looking forward to trying some other variations now that I’m home. I think these blocks will become a great quilt that will add a punch of colour to one of my walls!

The class contributed to my experimentation with improv piecing. At one time, I thought “improv” had to be a sort of lawless chaos. I wasn’t sure I liked that. But as I work with improv techniques, trying them in different projects, I have come to view improv as an approach that can be experimental, freeing, whimsical, and expressive. I can control the colours, shapes, or quantity of the improvisational pieces in a project, and use improv to the degree that it contributes to what I want to accomplish.

What I learned in art class is…

My studio art class concluded at the end of July, and after breathing a sigh of relief that I’m free from assignments for a bit, I can reflect on what I’ve learned this term.

I originally signed up for the class because I wanted to be more informed about the choices I was making in my quilting. Other people seemed to know more than I did about things like composition, colour, and so on, and seemed better able to make strong choices. I could look at quilts (or any other art) and see that I liked some but not others, but I couldn’t always say WHY. I enrolled in the studio class hoping that I would start to fill that knowledge gap, begin to understand why I liked some things and not others, and begin to make more deliberate and educated choices in my own work. So… was the class successful in meeting those goals?

I would say yes, this studio class was a good start. But it wasn’t the end. There’s so much more to learn!

We covered a wide range of ideas – line, shading, perspective, colour, working in multiples, composition principles, life drawing and portraiture, and even stop motion video. Some of those things translate directly into quilting; others have a more tangential relationship to it. I found I liked drawing in charcoal — not something that translates well to quilting fabric! But I did try, on some assignments, to draw quilting into it. Like this self-portrait, done in charcoal – the assignment was to draw myself with some object balanced on my head that communicated something about myself. I drew myself with a sewing machine on my head!

Basically, I learned, you want to avoid a picture where everything is centred, because then your eye looks at the thing in the centre, and no where else. You want you viewer’s eye to move around the composition. Some of the principles I incorporated to try to accomplish this were running objects off the edge of the page; using the Rule of Thirds for placement (so the main subject of the drawing is not centred); having the eyes in the portrait looking upwards, to direct the viewer’s gaze upward (an implied line of sight). These are things I can keep in mind when I work on a quilt — I can make the subject more interesting by showing only part of it; or use distribution of colour, value, shape, or direction of line (or implied line) to help move the viewer’s eye around the quilt.

Here’s another project: it was our colour component of the course. The original assignment was to make paper collages that illustrated six different colour schemes (achromatic, monochromatic, analogous, etc). I asked if I could do mine in fabric instead of paper and glue.

I drew out a rectangular prism pattern using the rules of perspective we’d done earlier in the term, and paper-pieced each one using the appropriate colour scheme. Then I used improv piecing to fit all the prisms together.

I admit, while I was working on, there were times when I was pulling my hair out, trying to get it all figured out! In the end, I was happy with how it came together — and I was happy that I built the idea from different things we’d learned in the class, including value and perspective, as well as colour. I would never have made this piece, had I not taken the studio class!

I don’t know how many more classes I will take in total, but I have signed up for two more for the fall: one is art history and visual culture, and the other is about text in art. I’m excited to see where these next classes will take me!

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!

 

 

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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??

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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!