Intimidation by Freezer Paper

Finishing a quilt top is a great feeling and definitely a milestone in the quiltmaking process but “getting to the quilting part” from there is not as direct as one would think. How do you know what quilting designs will look fabulous and “make the quilt?” How do you know what to quilt where? Sure, there are lots (like hundreds? thousands?) of quilt stencils out there, and I seem to have my own private collection of them, but for some quilts stencils just don’t cut it. Yes they make the quilt easier to mark, but how many times are you going to find the perfect stencil, in the perfect size and style, for a particular part of the quilt? Not many, in my experience. For some quilts, you need other tools: pencils, freezer paper, rulers, compass, flexible curve, circle and feather templates, and ink pens. Oh, and erasers, lots of erasers. Let the intimidation begin.

tools of torment

Freezer paper is one of the essential ingredients to this torture. You know, that stuff that people who hunt their own food use to wrap meat? I’m no hunter, but I go through a wicked amount of freezer paper when I quilt. I use it for everything. The rough side makes great drawing paper and though it’s strong it’s also fairly thin, which becomes important later. You can just tear off a chunk in whatever length you need (great for long border designs) and when you run through the whole box, the grocery store has more.

What could possibly be intimidating about freezer paper? It’s something akin to writer’s block, I think. This step in the long road finds me staring at a white piece of freezer paper, seeing a hazy picture of the quilted quilt in my mind and trying to get that picture to flow through my pencil onto the paper. I’ve said before that I’m not so good at designing my own quilting patterns and I’m not much of a doodler, at least with paper and pencil. So I’m staring at a blank sheet of paper Continue reading Intimidation by Freezer Paper

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The Misery Quilt update

The misery rolls on with this quilt, as there are times it seems that it’ll never get done. Okay, I’ll admit that it hasn’t been the top priority lately (though I can’t really figure out what HAS been the top priority, just not the quilt in any case), but I really need to be getting on with it if it’s going to be done by Christmas (ha!). Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that I finally had to set a (possibly fuzzy) deadline for completion? I don’t like to do that to myself because then I get stressed, but I had to aim for something, just to have a goal here.

Anyway, when I sit down to do this satin stitching around the medallions in the border, sometimes the planets will all be in perfect alignment and everything will go well, and it turns out looking like this (click for a bigger pic):

Satin stitching when it's good

And then there are the other (sometimes more frequent) times, when for some unknown reason, it turns out all crooked and wobbly looking:

Satin stitch when you get to rip it out

I think maybe the edge of the open toe appliqué foot is just hitting the edge of the lighter fabric at times, and at other times it sort of slips off the edge, and then I get wobbles. Since there are multiple layers of fabric and fusible web here, I guess I’m not surprised, but it is frustrating. When this happens we get to pull out the X-acto knife and rip this tiny satin stitching with the lovely silk thread out. A very sharp X-acto knife is the only way I’ve figured out to get the stitches out easily, and without tearing up the fabric or stretching it out and making a complete mess of it. There is that slight risk of cutting right through the fabric of course, which would necessitate a much different usage of the X-acto knife if there wasn’t any Prozac handy right then.

If I mess up these borders, I think the whole shebang may find a permanent home in the deepest part of the basement storage room with all the other skeletons. The leftover scraps will have to be hidden too, so that I can forget I ever had any thoughts of making this quilt. Is it any wonder that working on this thing feels like a chore? And then there’s the comic relief:

Shadow being helpful
I think Shadow thinks it’s time for bed, not quilting. He’s quite the little manager. If I’m not in bed early enough to suit (think “right after dinner”), he bugs me until I get there, sometimes for hours on end. Obviously he’s aptly named…pest that he is!

The allure of antiques and quilts

I think there are times when ITMan rues the day that I discovered antique furniture (okay, let’s be honest, I know there are times!). Lately, probably due to the number of new pieces that have found their way home with me (more on those later), I’ve been thinking about what it is exactly about antiques that speaks to me so strongly. So take a look at this:

Carved medallion on buffet

This is the carving on one of the doors of my buffet in the dining room. This is not a recent addition, but one of the pieces I got in Antwerp when I took a road trip to an antique wholesale warehouse with two carloads of other shoppers a few years back. I bought some other pieces on that trip, but we’ll get to those later. Anyway, I looked at this carving with new eyes some time ago, and thought about translating it into a quilted design. I think it was Kristin’s needle doodles that started me on that track, and I figured at some point I would work on some sort of a practice piece to see if I could duplicate the look and the texture of this design in fabric and thread. That’s as far as the idea went, but it was still floating around in my head when it came time to figure out what to do with the border of The Misery Quilt. The scalloped border was definitely more perfect than the idea that came before, but it still needed something more, and here’s what developed:

Border medallions

Can you see the roots of this design in the carving on the buffet? I loved those little curved edges around the central medallion on the buffet, and they soften the line of the oval, and add a bit more interest. I can hardly wait to get to the quilting part to add to the effect! I’ve planned to put sixteen medallions, eight each of two different sizes, in the outside border of the quilt. The embroidery designs are all just a bit different, since the feathery magnolia and leafy designs are all actually separate embroidery files that you can put together any way you like and stitch them out.

If you look closely at the background of the medallion on the buffet, the wood has been textured in some way, so it almost looks like stippling, in person anyway. I don’t know that “textured” is the proper term, since I know just enough about wood carving and furniture making to appreciate it, and nothing more, but you get the idea. I’m planning to quilt The Misery Quilt in #100 silk thread, and will probably put some insanely small background pattern around the flower in the medallion. The medallions are fused together, by the way, and I’ll do satin stitching with the silk thread on the edges like I’ve done in other places on the quilt.

I’ve come to realize that many of the reasons quilting attracts me the way it does go for antiques as well. Character, individuality, the unmistakable stamp of loving hand craftsmanship, finely wrought details, and the sure ability to stand the test of time; all these things are inherent to both antiques and quilts. Is it any wonder? Even the excitement and satisfaction of the search is similar: when you find the perfect antique that you just love (and can afford, and have a place to put!) you get that warm, fuzzy feeling, just like when you’ve found the perfect fabric for your current project, or you’ve tried some new technique or design solution and it’s given the project new life and made it better than you ever imagined it could be. What’s not to love about antiques and quilts?

How your location affects your creativity

Do you think it doesn’t matter where you are, you can still be creative? Not so, or at least not completely so. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about your creativity, I’m talking (or grousing, as the case may be) about mine. My creative energy level is heavily dependent on my location. Here’s the vicious cycle: The design and construction process on the quilt is going well, a new idea hatches, experiments take place and the experiments look good, until I realize that I need x, y or z to really make it all work, and I can’t get my hands on x, y or z (because of my current location here in Germany) without ordering it from the States and waiting a week (or more) for it to arrive so I can continue on my merry creative way. Much angst and gnashing of teeth ensues while trying to find a way to avoid ordering x, y or z, but still make the new idea work. No good, and creativity comes to a screeching halt and the energy and enthusiasm levels plummet. Rinse, repeat, ad nauseam.

In this particular instance, x happens to be Sulky rayon embroidery thread in colors that are evidently not sold in Germany. Why this should be since the dang stuff is made here is completely beyond me. Maybe I could try a different brand of rayon, but I already have lots of Sulky, and it comes in spools of a reasonable size for someone like me, who just dabbles in the machine embroidery thing. I have some spools of Isacord, and they’re so huge, I’ll probably not get through them before it rots, and they’re more expensive anyway. And yes, it’s The Misery Quilt, again. If it ever gets to the quilting part, I’ll believe in miracles. I guess I’ll go pack it all up, and try to find something else to work on until my thread gets here. /grousing done now, thank you.

Designing from the outside in

Some quilts are meant to be, and some aren’t. Some fly together in flashes of inspiration, but others can take up hours and hours of time (not to mention the yards and yards of fabric) and still fight you all the way to the last stitch on the binding. Some quilts are labors of love, while others call forth emotions of a far less complementary nature. “The Misery Quilt” is truly living up to its name at this point, inspiring those “less complimentary” emotions at every turn. Last week, I threw in the pencil and got back to the machine to stitch up what I thought would be the perfect borders for this quilt. I put two of the finished borders on it last night, and I wasn’t happy with it. Again. I decided a retreat to my bed was in order, since it was late, and I was hoping things would look better in the light of day.

Nope. Didn’t look any better this morning. It’s not that the borders are bad, they’re not. In fact, they’ll be beautiful—on some other quilt. I took a picture of it on the design wall, and played around in PhotoShop for a bit, and decided I really was back to square one (or is it square three? I’ve lost count…), needing to figure out a curved appliquéd border. *sigh*

Kristin wrote a comment on the last entry about this monster of a quilt, about whether I’d retreated into my comfort zone when I decided to make the borders with the border print instead of the curved appliqué:

Don’t think of this as a retreat to the old comfort zone, but as a confirmation that your first ideas were the right ones. Sometimes the cliché or obvious ideas are the first ones you come up with, so you need to work through the problem to get to a more interesting solution. But often, our gut instinct knows what to do right away. I’s still beneficial to work through the options though — to confirm that your gut really did know what it was talking about.

Um, where does that leave my gut instinct now? 😉 I have no idea, but I think I just heard my friend Dawn say “I told you so!” I bent her ear about what to do weeks ago (on the phone long distance with pictures, no less), and she said it needed curves in the border. Okay, you were right! Continue reading Designing from the outside in

Retreating to the comfort zone

For the last two (or maybe more) weeks, I’ve been trying to design the outer borders for the bird quilt (a.k.a. “The Misery Quilt“). I really thought it needed some curves in the outer border(s), and maybe some more embroidery of some sort as well. I did test stitch-outs of a couple of embroidery options, and just didn’t have that “this is it” feeling about any of it. I played around with a diagram of the quilt, drawing curved appliquéd borders, viewing with mirrors, and just wasn’t terribly happy with any of it. I tried designing an appliquéd border without planning any embroidery to go with it, and still wasn’t happy with it.

Soft-Edge Piecing

Soft-Edge Piecing,
by Jinny Beyer

After a few really grouchy days (I get like that when I’m creatively stumped), I finally threw in the pencil, and headed to the bookshelf for inspiration. As I’d already been through all my books on borders and design, as well as all the books like the MAQS Founder’s Collection with all its prizewinning beauties, I pulled out Jinny Beyer’s Soft Edge Piecing for starters. I’m working with a border print and the soft edge piecing technique was in the original plan for the quilt way back when, maybe ten plans ago now. I really didn’t expect to have a flash of inspiration at that point, but desperation had set in.

Maybe the quilting goddess is smiling on this quilt (finally!), because I did see something in the Soft Edge Piecing book that had me grabbing for my fabrics to try it out. Here’s the result (click for a larger view):

Birds quilt border

I really, really like it! I had that “this is it” feeling immediately. The border print looks prefect between the light and dark borders, and I already know exactly how I’ll quilt parts of it, too. (Oh, and you see that tiny little satin stitching? I used the same technique on another part of the borders for this quilt and I used my Pfaff machine. I tried it on the Bernina this time, Continue reading Retreating to the comfort zone