Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Project: Improvisational Piecing

As I've mentioned, I was lucky to get to take a 5 day workshop with Jean Wells Keenan at Asilomar this spring and it was a really great experience.  Her work includes lots of intuitive piecing, two things (working intuitively and piecing) that I'm generally terrible at, so it was a great opportunity for me to get to push myself to try new things.

We were to bring inspirational pictures, and the class was called something like "abstracting from nature" so most people worked from nature pictures.  However, as much as I love the outdoors (especially at asilomar) I wasn't feeling that vibe.  Rather my inspiration and pinboards lately have been filled with bold, graphic, sculptural art so I brought a pile of pictures in that vein.  Before going, I used this picture as a color scheme to help guide what fabrics I packed, so wound up with lots of blues, oranges and neutrals.  I really love this combination, especially with a few pops of saturated fuschia.  Yum.  I also liked the sculptural nature of those pants, but in the end used this beautiful paper sculpture as the jumping off point for my sketching.

The first part of the class involved exercises in color selection and the curved piecing technique that Jean uses.  That was really helpful to me-I love curves, but have always hated having to precisely match up seams and curves.  It was great to be able to piece freely along the curves.

After doing some initial exercises, we started sketching and abstracting.  This is where I really had to let go- typically I sketch/draw/design until I have a full pattern (either on paper or in illustrator) and then follow my pattern.  Here though I sketched and abstracted and sketched and cropped until I had some shapes that were reminiscent of the original inspiration, but really quite different.  Then I just started piecing-keeping a vague idea of the direction I wanted my curves to go, but otherwise just letting things build.

Small sketches

This was my final "pattern" which was just mainly a suggestion for the directionality of curves/piecing.

These were the first two sections I pieced.  You can see they're a little lumpy from all the curves, but judicious pressing and reseaming when irredeemable bubbles formed solved the problem.  I found this process of piecing curves worked great as long as I was willing to let go of any preconceived notions about making something that matched my pattern.

Here with the third inner set pieced and pinned up.  It was feeling a little top heavey at this point and there was a ton of "waste" where the two orange sections overlapped, so I cut off the overlap and auditioned a bunch of different ways to incorporate the piecing I whacked off.

I settled on that option on the bottom right.  Once that was sewn on, there was another bit of light orange overlap to cut off, which I wound up positioning at the bottom left.

At this point I found that it had completely diverged from my original sketch and that it looked a bit like a person wrapped up in a scarf or shawl. One of the exercises we did in the class was to go around and leave one word about how all the pieces resonated with us.  My sheet had all kinds of great words from my classmates, many of which were spacey/science fiction-y in nature.  I thought it looked kind of like a Jawa, others suggested a still suit a la-Frank Herbert and Dune, and many others had additional sci-fi words.  

The yarn lines are pinned up to help guide/audition the piecing and design lines in the background.  That was one of Jean's suggestions and I found it really helpful for deciding how to fill in all the background area.

And here it is with the background pieced in.  This is how it is still, hanging on my design wall waiting to be quilted.  Originally the pale purple inside the blue circle corresponded to open space behind that paper sculpture, but as it's taken on a more figurative aspect, I've been wondering whether I ought to paint that central purple piece dark- maybe to look something like the picture below.  Thoughts?

It'll be the next thing to finish, although I still have to decide how to quilt it.  I'm not sure how I'll finish it- I may cut it off square, but I might also decide to make uneven edges to reflect the curved piecing.  I'll wait to decide until after I quilt it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Craft is Art

A while back Urban Threads (my favorite source for fabulous machine embroidery designs) capitalized on the current trend of adult coloring books by issuing a coloring contest for one of their embroideries.  They released the Craft is Art pattern free and challenged people to stitch it up and color it in.

The contest call came right as I was about to start painting in the quilting on my large illuminated manuscript quilt, and give the weird fabric that quilt is made out of, I had planned to do some paint/ink/marker tests before nearing my quilt. It seemed like this was the perfect opportunity, so I made a quilt sandwich out of the same fabric as my quilt top, stitched out the design and started coloring in.

I'm so glad I did because the surface of this fabric is really weird-  it's a think polyester fabric with a suede like finish, and come to find out, many of the things I was considering using on the quilt bled outside the lines.  The bleeding was so bad that I wound up adding more color outside the lines on purpose to give a sort of watercolor-wash effect.

Things I tried that did not stay inside their lines-  cheap acrylic paint cut with water, good acrylic fabric paint cut with water (like setacolor), fabrico markers (so sad about this), inktense pencils (likewise sad about this), sharpie, latex paint cut with water.  I usually really like diluting my paint a little with water just to make it easier to get down in crevices around the quilting, but I really found that I had to use the paints completely undiluted  if I wanted them to stay put on this particular fabric.  I also used some oil based enamel since it gives better metallic, and the color on it stays put fairly well, but occasionally the solvent separates and bleeds out giving a weird halo sort of effect.

It was pretty fun to color in though, and after coloring it, I quilted the background with multiple colors of silk thread using motifs to echo the embroidery pattern and bound it using organza.  From a practical standpoint, organza is a pretty dumb thing to bind with (hard to iron, very ravely, doesn't crease well), but I really wanted a light, glowy edge and I think this accomplished it.

So now I have a new little mini to hang on my wall!

Have you guys ever painted/colored in embroidery or quilting?  If so, what media did you use? I find it fairly tedious, but have used it now a couple of times, including in my Gloria Patri quilt.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Alien Game Mat

Anna's birthday was just a bit ago (she turned 4), and I recently saw this Silly Alien Beanbag project by one of my favorite bloggers, Mollie from Wild Olive.  I decided to make up a set for Anna, and it was a blast.

I did the mat a bit differently than Mollie, mine is grey fleece with a cotton binding and small moon craters appliqued on with rainbow satin stitch.   But really, the best part is the alien beanbags.  With their crazy eye and bright colors, you can't resist playing with them.

Anna and I played beanbag toss (can you land on the mat?  how about the big crater?  how about the small crater?) but even more fun was just playing aliens.  Alex wanted to get in on the fun too and we had a great time pretending to be aliens on all the different grey planets.  Thanks to Mollie for such a fun project!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Embroidery Swap

I signed up for an instagram swap called #Bigstitchswap2 being hosted by the lovely Sarah and Cindy of FairyFace Designs and Fluffy Sheep Quilting, respectively.  I've had an instagram account for a while, but I never posted anything, so this was a fun chance to get to use it more.

The swap was for a small piece featuring some amount of hand stitching.  Some people were making pouches, or mini-quilts, or journal covers, etc.  I decided to do a clock, and because I've been on a hand embroidery kick lately, I decided to do some more of that.  Recently, Mary Corbet (of Needle'N Thread) had a sale on her fabulous PDF embroidery books and I picked up her monogram alphabet book.  It's really fabulous, it has great stitch pictures and descriptions as well as instructions for making the letters and suggestions for switching up stitches.  If you're at all interested in embroidery, her website is great.

Anyway, using it as a guide, I stitched up the following for my partner.  I started on the J, then decided it needed a bird, so I stitched that in.  Don't worry about the blue marker in the bird closeup, it's that water-erasable marker and is gone now.  Afterward I pieced the letter into a background, embroidered a clock face and some accent stems, and wrapped the whole thing around a set of 8x10 canvas-covered stretcher bars.  The last step was putting the clockwork in.

I had a fun time working on this, and hope my partner enjoys it!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Easter Crafts

Talk about getting behind!  Just before Easter, I was lucky enough to get to have Walker and Raegan over to do Easter crafts.  They'are always so enthusiastic, and we did a couple of different things, but my favorite was the string-wrapped Easter eggs.  I remember making these as a kid and loving them, and then trying again as an adult, with only limited success, so I was determined to make it work this time!  After some trolling around online, here's what worked for us.

1. Soak a ball of thin cotton string in starch for a while (maybe about an hour)?  I put the string and starch in a ziploc bag and that seemed to work ok.
2.  Cover workspace with plastic and pour ball/starch into a bowl.
3. Wrap string around a blown up balloon all over-  don't try to leave a hole for the opening, it will make you crazy.
4. Put string wrapped balloon in oven at ~200 for about an hour.  Alternatively you can let them dry overnight, but they need to be really really dry, and it's really tempting to poke the balloon out.  We actually cooked in the oven for about an hour, then I turned off the oven and just left them in there until the next morning.
5.  Carefully pop balloon.  Mark where you want the opening to be using a marker and then cut out with sharp scissors.
6. Hot glue trim or rick rack around the opening to help stabilize loose open edges.
7.  Stuff with Easter grass and candy!

Walker wanted red thread with turquoise rick-rack and Raegan wanted pastel rainbow with pink ribbon.  I used pastel rainbow thread but went with creamy brown ribbon.

Of course afterward, there were still partial rolls of starch-soaked thread with which it is impossible to do anything else, so I made a couple more.

We also painted canvases, using cut out letters as resists, and the kids seemed to like the negative space leftover when we peeled off the letters.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


When I look back I see it's been almost a month and a half since my last update, and even before that things were sparse, short, and not really in-depth about my ongoing artwork.  Part of that is because some of the projects I'm working on are for entries with restrictions on showing things before the entry, part of that is because I've been working on my same large illuminated manuscript quilt and I feel like continual tiny updates are boring, part of it is because I feel like I don't have energy for more than look-what-I-made-today posts, which I think are sometimes less valuable than thoughtful posts describing why I'm working on something or even how.  However, the largest reason for my absence and slow progress is just life.  We all have it, and shifting obligations really impact what gets posted here.   The fact is, that sharing what I'm working on has to come behind actually working on what I'm working on, and sadly that has had to take a backseat to other outside commitments.

But I really like posting, and showing what I'm working on, if only because it's a fun record for me, a way to look back at how I'm spending my time.

I'm in a slightly better frame of mind just now, having recently returned from a fabulous annual retreat with my mom (Vicki Conley) to the Empty Spools Seminars out in Asilomar CA.  I'm not generally a California girl, but as my mom says, Asilomar is truly the happiest place on earth.  Excitingly, my mom was artist-in-residence this year, and she was awesome.  Her lecture was great, and I was so proud that she got to share some of her work with such a receptive audience.  Here she is at her workspace with several of her in progress pieces up on the wall.

While there, I took a 5-day workshop with acclaimed artist and teacher Jean Wells Keenan and it was really wonderful.  It was very freeing to learn from her and work in her intuitive and free way.  I tend to work with a very precise plan, and so forcing myself to work with her approach was new, expanding, and very satisfying.  Much more about what I worked on in the workshop later, but for now just a few more pictures of Asilomar.

Yellow flowers in the morning, then the same flowers at midday.

Afternoon sun on Merrill Hall.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hand Embroidery

Recently our church vestry went on a retreat held at our diocesan summer camp (St. Crispins for any Oklahomans) and the beautiful setting and relaxing environment made me return home in the mood for some hand embroidery.  We closed by singing this Sam Baker song-  it's a lovely way to wrap up, and I love the echos to Come thou fount, one of my favorite traditional hymns.

Anyway, I decided to do a piece of hand embroidery referencing that text and turn it into a cover for my three ring binder full of vestry paperwork.  I sketched it out ahead of time, and then just stitched away.  My stitches aren't very even- clearly I need work on my satin stitch, but overall I'm pleased with how it came out.  By the time I got to the words I was done hand stitching, so I decided to do those free-motion on my sewing machine.

I made the binder cover so that one inside flap has an integrated pencil case and the other size has a pocket to hold a notepad.  I always have a good time figuring out how to assemble things like that.

And on another hand stitching note-  I hand stitched my valentines this year!  Well- not really stitching, more like card-threading, but it was fun all the same.  I've always loved string art, so much so that I did a quilt using it a few years back, so I decided to take a simplified approach to it for my valentines.  It's just perle cotton on cardstock.

I was also inspired by some beautiful online calligraphy (I'm terribly ashamed that I can't remember where I saw it) to try some fun envelopes.

Although at the moment I've gone back to working on the quilting on my big two panel quilt, there's more embroidery/hand stitching in my future as I've signed up for the big stitch swap being hosted by Fairy Face Designs.  This is my first instagram swap, so it's a new approach for me!

Friday, March 4, 2016

More Quilting

I feel like I've been quilting on my large Eucharistic Prayer C quilt forever.  I still love this project, but it feels like the quilt that is never ending.  Alas, there is still much more quilting left to go and then painting, so the end is not yet in sight.   I've been getting so bored and frustrated with the quilting that it's been hard to get motivated to work on it, but it's not like I'm at a design standstill or anything so I feel like I should just force myself to push through.  I keep telling myself that it will take even longer to finish if I don't work on it.

I realized the other day that I haven't actually shared any updates on it since this very brief snapshot before Christmas, so I figured I was due to show some progress.

The background of the large borders on both panels is quilted in green, red, blue, and purple and will eventually be painted in.  The green is fairly continuous, but the red blue and purple aren't which means tons of stops and starts.  Added to all the color changes in each vignette and I feel like I spend twice as much time burying threads as I do quilting.

Wow this is turning whiny!!!  I better stop and just show some pictures :)
These are a few of my favorites of the quilted images.

And here's the back of one of the panels which is mostly finished (quilting wise).  I think the back looks pretty cool, apart from the giant ripple bump in the backing which I didn't discover until hours of quilting had gone over it.

I'm going off now to be inspired by all the rest of the creatives out there and hopefully exit the other side in a better frame of mind!!  Linking up as always with the awesome Nina Marie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Lights Quilt

I finished the big layered quilt I've been blogging about and got the show entry done (hooray).  I'll post final pictures of it after I hear back from the show.  Before I go back to my other big illuminated quilt, I thought I'd do a couple of small projects.

A couple of years ago I made some really small (like 7 x 9) quilts inspired by the light-wrapped  trees we see so many places here during the holidays.  I had some trouble with the foiling and glue and had always wanted to come back to the idea.  When our church's youth program asked me to donate an art quilt to their auction to raise money for the youth pilgrimage, I thought it was the perfect time.  

I worked slightly bigger this time, but used more or less the same approach as before.  The first layer is shiva paintsticks to sketch in the tree (using freezer paper stencils).  Then I screened/stenciled the foiling glue on.  This time I just used regular tacky glue and it worked fine for the screen and foil, although it was quite sticky and two prints was about all I could get out of it.  I did figure that I might as well make at least two of them since I went to all the trouble to cut the screens/stencils again.  The quilts finished at ~12 x 16 but I decided to mount them on fabric-wrapped 14 x 18 canvases.  I think it gives a bit more presence for a small quilt and certainly makes them easier to hang.  I love that the black fabric I chose has some pattern in it, it's almost like some sort of black-on-black brocade weave, so there's some variation in the color of the background.

So fun for a short project.  I'm giving the one with the green tree to the church kids and hope that it finds a new home during the auction and raises a bit of money for their trip.

Lights at Chesapeake #3, 2016 c.Shannon Conley

Lights at Chesapeake #4, 2016, Shannon Conley