Thursday, January 31, 2013

February Goal Setting

It's time to set goals for February for A Lovely Year of Finishes.

My goals for February are fairly straightforward:  I want to finish the two art quilts I'm working on.  The first is my entry for the SAQA text message show and it's almost finished except for all of those annoying-time-consuming-non-creative-but-important steps.  I haven't been blogging about it, but it's finished except for binding, blocking square, sewing on the label and sewing on the pocket.  It's a bit crunched so I think it will take a fair amount of blocking.

My second quilt to finish is the Japanese tree quilt, otherwise known as the brown blob of doom.  We'll see how it goes- I expect I'll like it more once it's done (if only because done projects no longer require you to sew on their bindings).

And, because a post without a picture is no post at all, here's a little embroidery I just did.  The pattern is from the lovely Carina, she has a bunch of very pretty different ones, you should totally check them out.  I wanted to use springy/valentine's day colors, so I went with pinks/reds/browns/greens.  I didn't want to do it on a plain white or linen background, so I chose this green gingko print.  I thought the pattern was subtle enough not to distract from the embroidery, but alas no.  I think the next time I stitch it up I'll use a solid background- maybe summertime colors on light blue.

Anyway, it's a fun addition to my spring decor!  Hope you all have a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

WIP: What's wrong with this quilt top?

My mom finished her Japanese Tree quilt (she had an earlier deadline than I did), and it's just gorgeous.  Someday maybe a guest post on that one.  I'm still working on mine though and having some difficulties.  My goal for January for A Lovely Year of Finishes over at Fiber of All Sorts was to finish this quilt top.  Most of my quilting time this month has gone towards working on a different quilt about which I haven't been blogging, so I thought just finishing the tree quilt top would be good enough for the month.

Two Fridays ago I linked up my progress with this picture over at Nina Marie's art quilt linky and asked for ideas for how to make it look less flat.  I got many helpful suggestions, including the idea to have some of the leaves and flowers be three dimensional (i.e. only tacked down in the center).

So I sewed down and bobbin quilted down a bunch more leaves and flowers using the green and pink organza (that had been part of my original plan) and then put on a bunch of three dimensional organza leaves and flowers (luckily just with pins).  All the leaves and flowers have edges that are sealed with the soldering iron and it totally helped with the flatness, but the whole thing was just wrong wrong wrong, composition and design wise.  

To help figure out what was wrong and see what there really was to work with underneath, my mom suggested temporarily taking down all the flowers and leaves that were just pinned up, which gave this.

A bit easier to look at, but now all flat looking (because I took down all the 3d ones).  After much discussion, we came up with the following list of things contributing to how wrong this feels to me:

1. All the leaves and flower clumps are the same size (bad!). The leaves are the same size out at the end of the branches as in the middle.
2. There are way too many green leaves for a spring tree, which should be mostly blossoms.
3.  In the one with the 3D flowers all the branches were covered up, and there was just too much on it in general.  I like seeing the branches.
3.  The pink organza flowers are just not giving the flowery look I wanted- the brown fabric shows through too much. 
4. One color of pink isn't really enough anyway.  Based on the picture in the center, there just be more variety of pink and white, and probably opaquer pink and white. I think with the brown background chiffon only isn't going to cut it.
5.  Too much brown at the top.

Unfortunately, there's only so much ripping out I could (or wanted) to do from the picture above.  Each leaf/flower is sewn down twice and then the edges of the chiffon were cut with the soldering iron which means they're kind of stuck down to the brown fabric.  Basically, removing too many of the leaves was not an option.  I did remove four of them that were really bugging me, big green blobby ones covering up branch ends over on the right side.  They left some organza-y residue stuck to the brown fabric.  I'm still not sure how I'm going to get rid of that, but we'll see.

Then I started adding back in 3D flowers, but instead of using organza I used other (opaque) silky fabrics I had around, in different shades of white/cream/pink.  I also tried to make them more varied in size and mostly much smaller.  I sewed them onto the quilt with little tacking stitches in the middle so they're sort of 3D.  When I cropped it down digitally to remove some of the excess brown, I was left with this.

Still not completely happy with it, but better I think.  I'm going to add some more of the white and pink flowers and maybe a couple more branches.  I'm also going to add a few blossoms to the blue center square so that it feels more integrated.

This quilt has not been one of my great successes and I'm definitely looking for suggestions if anyone has anymore design/composition ideas!

It's not finished, but it's finished-ish, and if I hadn't signed up with it for A Lovely Year of Finishes I probably wouldn't have forced myself to keep working on it and it would still be languishing in picture 2 state just taking up space on my design wall.  I'm also linking up with the always fabulous Lee over at Freshly Pieced, and the super creative Art Quilt Linky over at Nina-Marie's.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dish Towels

I used to see these and think they were really old lady-ish, or too country-ish for my taste, or kind of silly (like crocheted toilet seat covers-which always make me think "ew germy!").

However, you know what they are?  Useful.  Convenient. Handy. (and even cute).  Our dogs run off with any dish towel draped over a handle (of the fridge or stove for instance) and even ones left on the table or counter if they're close to the edge.  As a result, my dish towels are always balled up in a back corner, under the english muffins or somewhere else really random.  They don't dry out very well and as a consequence they're only out for a day or so before they get tossed in the laundry hamper.  I saw a couple of these at my mom's and decided I should make some.  I discovered the crocheted part is actually called a towel topper, and there are about a million web tutorials, but I didn't really follow one. I just sort of crocheted until I thought it looked finished, and now I can dry my hands in peace.

Many thanks to Mike for hanging the little handle!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grazing With Armadillos

In 2004, when I was in graduate school out in Tucson, my sister graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas.  I went out with my family for her graduation, and on the road home the talk turned to armadillos.  My grandmother had a stuffed armadillo toy and I expressed a desire to see one for real.  Sometime later, my sister saw a dead one on the side of the road and pointed it out to me. I expressed great sadness at the death of the poor baby animal, and became quite belligerent when my sister told me it was a perfectly normal full-grown armadillo.  I haughtily informed her that she had no idea what she was talking about, and that full-grown armadillos were about the size of cows.  Everyone in the car burst out laughing, as I was very insistent.

She finally convinced me that armadillos were not, in fact, anywhere close to cow sized, but I've never been able to live that down, and everyone is always quick to point out that my advanced degrees are in the biological sciences.  Of course, now living in Oklahoma, armadillos are very common (especially on the side of the road), but I'd never seen a real one until that trip through Texas. My entire knowledge of them came from a fabulous, Graeme Base book called Animalia.  Graeme Base is a children's author and wonderful illustrator, and Animalia is a great alphabet book.  In retrospect, the giant alligator wearing an apron covered with an alphabet stomping on an ant, abacus, ambulance, asp, apple, and alien all of which were the same size should have been a clue that the armadillo in the picture might not be quite to scale.  Nonetheless, it was enough to thoroughly convince me that my knowledge of armadillos highly outweighed that of my sister who'd actually lived around them for several years.

Tell me that armadillo does not look cow sized!

This Christmas, my mom surprised me with this wonderful art quilt immortalizing the dreadful armadillo story.  The center panel is from a cow T-shirt she'd bought me from an artist many years ago at a festival in Copper Mountain, Colorado.  The shirt was old, but was a favorite and I gave it to her to test out some interfacing she wanted to use.  I had no idea she'd make such a fun, involved art quilt out of it; it's covered with fabulous beading, 3 dimensional prairie points, and of course, the slightly-more-to-scale armadillo beads. Everybody had a good laugh at me again when I opened it, but in the end I had the last word; as I was examining the label, I noticed she misspelled the word armadillo, and reminded her that her inability to spell long pre-dated my misunderstanding of dasypodidae biology.

Grazing with Armadillos, Vicki Conley, 2012.  Photo c. Doug Conley

Grazing With Armadillos, Detail, Vicki Conley, 2012

Grazing With Armadillos, Detail, Vicki Conley, 2012
I'm so excited to have received such a great present, I really love the quilt!  I'm going to link up with the Art Quilt linky over at the great Nina Marie's  and with Elizabeth at a  Pieceful life. You should check them, out, there are always really fabulous things.

Friday, January 18, 2013

More on the Tree Quilt

Just a quick update on my tree quilt- I've finished the branches and started on the leaves. The soldering iron is working great for going around the organza. I have, so far, not burned anything down.  A few observations:

1. Use cotton thread to sew down the organza and use natural fibers for whatever you're couching on top.  I used polyester thread for a bit of it, and as I cut the organza with the soldering iron the thread melted too!

2. If you hold the soldering iron on the cotton back for too long it will burn a hole in the cotton as well, so watch out.

3. Steel wool works great for scrubbing the gooey stuff off the end of the soldering iron. 

4.  Be especially careful when cutting around a piece that's layered over another organza piece- it seems very easy to burn a hole in the underlying layer.

I haven't finished adding leaves and still have to do the bobbin quilting around them.  So far the leaf clumps feel very flat to me, probably because they are all about the same size and a single color.  I'm going to use several different shades of green for the bobbin quilting and try to add some smaller leaf clumps, but do you guys have any suggestions for making it look less flat?

Wishing everyone a happy weekend, and linking up with Nina-Marie!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Memory Quilt

I've made a fair amount of progress on my Japanese Sister Tree Quilt this week, but today I wanted to share a finish that's been in my WIP pile for a while!

It's the memory quilt for my dear friend Linda who was our church organist and choir director for 24 years.  The pattern is based on Amy Smart's lovely chain linked design, but my blocks were a different size so I just sort of worked out the math.  I mentioned previously that members of our church parish signed blocks for her and left messages/pictures, so those are in all the centers.

I did a zig-zag binding, which was easy-ish, but I got the edges stretched out a bit.  When it was all finished, I washed it, and was upset to see that some of the "permanent" markers had run a bit.  I heat-set all the blocks, and tested several of the markers before having people use them on the quilt so I thought they'd be ok.  Unfortunately, I didn't test every single color, and the running was definitely a color-specific phenomenon (the teal was the absolute worst!).  I'm really sad about this actually, but I think she can still read almost all of the blocks.  It did crinkle up nicely after washing, and it's pretty soft and cuddly (in contrast to most of my quilts which are so filled with quilting and fusible that they're fairly stiff).

I still miss Linda a ton, and hopefully this will remind her how much she matters to us!

Incidentally, it was my first ever pieced back (i.e. not solid) and it was fun to put some interesting things back there. 

And finally, some of the pictures and folded paper flowers (printed on copies of her favorite hymns) we made as centerpieces for the celebration on her last day at church.

Linking up with Lee as ever!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ruby Star Wrapping Round-Up

I know everyone is probably totally done with thinking about holidays and presents, but I wanted to jump in with one last holiday themed post.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of the great Ruby Star Wrapping book from Sew Allegorical during one of her sweet giveaways.  She kindly shipped it very fast so I got it in time to use many of its ideas for my Christmas wrapping.

I've always liked to use fun or non-traditional wrapping gear; I've used old national geographic maps, old conference posters, calendar pages, etc. but hadn't had any ideas for this year.  After thumbing through the book I decided to do a bunch of fabric bags so that I can use them all again next year.

I made several easy gift card pouches, since Mike always gives gift cards or cash to his girls, and I made about six or so drawstring pouches of all different sizes.  In the end, the thing that wound up being the easiest was a bunch of the fold over baggies.  These are like plastic lunch baggies, but out of fabric.  In the book they're small, sort of sandwich and snack sized, but it worked great to make them in a bunch of different sizes, some as big as pillowcases.  In cases where the present was smaller, I just wrapped the extra fabric around.  Tie it with a ribbon and ready-to-go!

Fairly quick and easy, and definitely less paper and tape waste.  There are tons of great ideas for all different non-traditional wrapping materials, I just went with fabric because (duh) that's what I have laying around.  It was actually a great chance to use up a bunch of fun Christmas fabric acquired from who knows where that I probably wouldn't have ever put in a quilt.

It's definitely a book worth looking at if you're craving ideas for alternative wrapping materials.  Thanks so much Al!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Japanese Sister Tree Quilt

I'm fairly certain that's not actually going to be the name of this quilt, but that's what I'm calling it now.  It's one of two art quilts i'm working on now, and finishing the top is my January goal for A Lovely Year of Finishes (hosted by Fiber of All Sorts).

I'm calling it the Japanese Sister Tree Quilt, because it's an offshoot (or sister project) to a quilt my mother is working on based on a picture of a tree she took in Japan.  Her quilt is beautiful and complicated and has an extensive backstory, which someday I will share here (hopefully with finished pictures).  For now, I'll just mention that the background of her quilt is based on a large graphic drawing she did in photoshop (of the aforementioned tree) and then printed out on fabric.  She accidentally printed one of the pieces twice so sent it home with me.  Along with another test print, this extra piece became the foundation for my quilt.

I'd been wanting to try out Libby Lehman's organza applique technique I saw in her video on The Quilt Show.  I quickly sewed up this quilt top (it's about 24 x 24) to use as a canvas for the organza.  I didn't have any tear away stabilizer, so I just fused shapeflex 101 (one of my favorite interfacings) to the whole quilt to add stability for the applique.

Sadly, only after I did that step did I hang up the top and notice that my three small blocks were not evenly spaced under the one large block.  I debated leaving it, but every time I looked at it, it bugged me.  So I ripped off the interfacing (not fun), picked out all the stitching, and fixed it as best as I could.  Unfortunately, the skinny border around the three small blocks is gold apparel fabric, and it completely unraveled when I tried to rip out and re-sew (not sure why it didn't occur to me to back that with interfacing).

After much difficulty, I got it all re-assembled (more or less) and began my planning for the organza.  I decided my first (and most involved layer) would be the tree branches, and then I'd go back in with green and pink for the leaves and cherry blossoms.  I ironed freezer paper onto the whole quilt top, except where my center block, was and sketched my branches, going out from the center block.  I then peeled off the freezer paper, adhered organza to the back of it, and then ironed it back down on the quilt top.

I took this before fixing the three small blocks.

This is a bit different from Libby's technique- she cuts her design out of freezer paper then stitches around it (through the organza), but my little branches were so skinny, I didn't think there'd be enough support to keep it all steady.  Having one large piece of freezer paper adhered down had the added benefit of keeping everything from stretching weirdly.  Incidentally, where there was organza adhered to the freezer paper, it wouldn't stick back to the quilt top (so I used a couple of pins) put there were several large areas where there weren't any branches (so no organza) in which the freezer paper stuck to the quilt top nicely.

I wasn't sure how the whole process would work out, so I started with a tiny section, sewing in a matching thread color over the freezer paper/organza/quilt top along the outline of a couple of branches.  I then tore off the freezer paper, cut away the excess organza, and bobbin quilted using some perle cotton (not sure which number, but it's fairly thick).  The bobbin quilting was quite easy, because I was able to just follow the previous line of stitching.  I love the varied line that comes from not threading the perle cotton through the bobbin tension; in some places it's very knobbly and in others straight and smooth.  It might be terrible if you were trying to go around a soft smooth shape, but I think the inconsistency here contributes a lot to the texture, and makes it look like tree bark.

The only thing I wasn't happy with was the frayed edges of the organza which were still visible.  If I'd couched on something thicker they might have been obscured, but my branches are pretty small and I didn't want a thicker edge.  I'd read that you can use a woodburning tool/soldering iron to cut and seal organza, so I tried that and it worked great!  I'm so thrilled to get rid of those nasty ravely edges.  Unfortunately, I didn't remember to snap a picture, but I'll show one next time. Now onto the million other branches!

I'm linking up with the inspiring art quilt party Off the Wall Friday over at Nina-Marie's.  You guys should check it out!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

WIP Wednesday: Crochet Flower Blocks

Thanks to the holidays and traveling it's been a while since I wrote a WIP: Wednesday post, but I'm getting back in the routine for the new year.

Over the last few weeks I had one major finish, the memory quilt for my good friend Linda.  I'll share pictures of it next week, I haven't had a chance to give it to her yet, so I want to do that before a final post.

While on holiday at my mom's, I made a lot of progress on designing my next art quilt, currently going by the name text messages.  It's actually inspired by illuminated manuscripts, specifically books of hours or prayer books from medieval Europe.  I think it's going to be pretty cool, but my mom and I are thinking about submitting a magazine article that features some of the techniques I'm using in it, so no pictures of it now either.

Instead, I thought I'd share pictures today of another long-term project on which I made significant progress in the last couple of weeks: my crochet sampler blocks.  Last year for Christmas my mom gave me this fun granny square book.  I started off crocheting them directly from the patterns in the book, and now I've done enough of them that I seem to be able to change them up a bit without too many dire consequences.  I love crocheting in the car, it's easier than paper piecing for me anyway, and I finally have enough of these that I thought I'd show them.  Sometime in November I thought surely I had enough blocks, but when I counted them up, I had barely a quarter of what I need.  Now I'm about halfway, thanks to many hours of crochet on the long drive to New Mexico.

Here's just a sampling of some of my finished ones, and below that are three of my current favorites.  I'm using 100% cotton yarn in just about every color I can find.  So far I really love the way they're turning out, although every single one will need extensive blocking, and I'm not sure how they'll wind up going together.  I guess we'll see!

I'm linking up with Lee, and hope you guys are all also making good projects on your WIPs!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy Monday and Plans for the New Year

I'm so very very late doing this, but I still want to share some of my plans and goals for 2013, as much to give myself a record as anything else.

First, a few thoughts on 2012.  It was a pretty good year for me, although by the end of the year I always feel ready to start something new.  The last couple of months (really since I finished Seymour) were filled with fun crafty sewing, but not with anything that I felt challenged my creative juices.  I just got Seymour back from the gallery show in Albuquerque and it was wonderful to have him back in my possession.  I feel really proud of that piece and like the feelings I got from working on it.  Doing more work like that is one of my goals for 2013.  In the last week or so I have finished up some of the things that were part of my 2012 (more posts about those in the coming weeks) so that while I still have UFOs, I feel like I have time and brain space for more creative design work going forward.

Major Goals for 2013

1.  I'm setting a goal for myself of creating four new art quilts this year.  Maybe I can finish more, maybe fewer, but that's my goal.

2.  It was really wonderful to finish Rejoice, Rejoice, not just because I love it, but because it was a UFO for so long!  Therefore, my second goal is to finish the last major UFO I have languishing in my sewing room: the dog portraits.  It's actually the only thing left on my my very first UFO list on this blog.

Current Projects in Progress/Planned

To add a bit of detail, here are the projects I have currently going or planned on which I want to make progress/finish this year:

In progress
Dog Portraits
Text Messages
Japanese Tree Sister Quilt
Crochet Sampler Afghan
Ahhhh EPP Star
Cyanotype Blocks Quilt

Gloria Loughman class quilt  (we're going to quilt camp at Asilomar again, YAY!)
Skirt from denim I bought a while back
Christmas centerpiece with vintage linen (I wanted to do that for this past Christmas but it didn't happen)

I know there are more I already have planned an in my UFO bin, and more that will get slotted in as time is available, but here's where I'm starting.

I've also decided to participate in A Lovely Year of Finishes hosted by Fiber of All Sorts and Bitter Sweet Designs

My goal for the month of January is to finish the top of the Japanese Tree Sister Quilt.  Hopefully I'll have time to do a full post on it soon, but here's a quick picture of where I am so far (since joining a linky with a picture free post is terribly boring).

Wishing you all a productive 2013!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Salamander #5

Mike and I have arrived home after a lovely holiday week at my family's place in New Mexico.  It was, as usual, fairly chaotic; between me, my sister, and my parents we had nine dogs and a baby, so there was lots of hullabaloo.  Fortunately, I did get to spend some good quality time with all of my family.

In common with most everybody else, I'm now trying to get back in the swing of things.  I have a bunch of thoughts and plans for the new year which I'll probably share next week but I wanted to share a bit of quilty goodness from the break.  Hopefully soon I'll have some more of my work to show, but I have a few quilts of my mom's I'd like to share first.

A long time ago, maybe two or three years now, my mom experimented with creating designs using a bleach pen on black fabric.  She made this awesome rooster; basically you take black fabric and draw on it using the bleach pen (there may be a stop step but I'm not sure) and then over dye it with fabric reactive dyes.  I think he's so cool, and the chicken wire quilting in the background really fits so well!

Cock-A-Doodle Doo, Detail, Vicki Conley 2009.  Photo c. Doug Conley

Cock-A-Doodle Doo, Detail, Vicki Conley 2009.  Photo c. Doug Conley

Cock-A-Doodle Doo,Vicki Conley 2009.  Photo c. Doug Conley

Around that time, my mom helped my sister do a lizard panel in the same way.  My brother-in-law really likes lizards, and my sister had been collecting lizard fabrics for a long time.  She pieced some blocks using these fabrics and put them around the panel.  Sadly, after that the quilt top sat around for a long time (until about two months ago) when my mom offered to quilt it for Becky since she doesn't have much time lately.

My mom quilted bricks in the background using metallic thread so it looks like the lizard is on a wall.  She also quilted some black-on-black lizards in the background.  It's called Salamander No. 5 which was, I believe, a nickname of my brother-in-law's.  He loved it, and I think it turned out super fun.  So cool to have it finally finished!

Salamander No. 5, Becky Buckner and Vicki Conley 2012.  Photo c. Doug Conley

Salamander No. 5, Detail, Becky Buckner and Vicki Conley 2012.  Terrible iPhone photo NOT to be attributed to my dad.

I'm going to add this to Off the Wall Friday, the fabulous art quilt link party over at Nina Marie's this week!