Drought, Improvisation

The entire process has been interesting. I started with the intent to improvise, to use my ugliest fabric, and to enter a show. I also planned to apply color and design theory and stay rigidly within a complementary color scheme.

I succeeded in those goals. It was butt ugly. Really it was. At first.

The ugly brown fabric I chose was one I bought in bulk with a lot of other bolts. It languished on the shelve for three years. At a quilt guild meeting, I heard several others talking about their ugly fabric challenge. I thought it was a great idea, I knew exactly the fabric I would base this on. At least now I had a challenge to use it up. This fabric was so bad, no one wanted to swap for it and I couldn’t give it away. Being raised frugally, I couldn’t just toss it.

Amazingly I also had in my stash a blue which was exactly opposite that brown on the color wheel and it was also an ombre.

Now this was improv, with no pattern or plan. So I just started by layering the two fabrics and cutting big swaths in mild curves. I sewed those matching curves together, of course with big chucks I ended up with things that wouldn’t lay flat. So then I chopped up into blocks  that would lay flat and decided I would just sew them together. It looked like a muddy mess with no life to it. It was the sleepiest boringest most awful quilt I had ever made. Now what? CMYK color wheel to the rescue. I realized I needed some pop. but what? more blue.. na, more brown, na.. but what? Would I need to change my complementary rule? Well, turns out on the CMYK color wheel that orange is really brown that isn’t diluted. how wonderful! And I just happened to have a yard of the perfect orange in my stash. So I began layering and slicing orange into the most boring blocks. I ended up with something much more interesting, now the blocks had fire! I realized. Muddy browns, Sky blues and fire.. the name of the quilt came to me at that point.. Drought! We were living it for real and this quilt was being born in the middle of drought made of the colors of drought.

For me 100% improv is impossible. I compulsively have to add rules as I go, I have to build a framework or I get “stuck” and go nowhere. I have found that 4-7 rules is the right number to get pleasing results. A few rules give structure, too many rules and the improve quilt will look plain boring. Limiting the number of rules encourages experimentation and flexibility when “issues” arise in the process.

I had been in a stubborn Dr Seuss mindset regarding quilting during this period of my life. This could have been my mantra:

I’m not going to do straight lines,
I don’t like straight lines,
I will not do them, no I won’t,
I will not do them,
It’s not a joke.

My rules for this quilt were:

  1. Must use the single absolutely ugliest fabric I had in my stash.
  2. Must stay in a complementary color scheme using the CMYK color wheel.
  3. Keep the idea of a “modern” quilt in mind especially negative space, scale, contrast, and incorporate illusion depth of field ideas.
  4. Let the quilt develop. i.e. Build each stage as I go without pre-planning the next stage… Worry about the blocks first, then figure out the layout, then the quilting plan, then figure out the binding.
  5. If it gets a few wows from people, enter it in a couple of shows.
  6. My Reward if I do all the above: (not really a rule, but a goal
    If I do all this, Get a new camera. (see one has to set fun goals especially if one is using ugly stuff to create new stuff. I had a goal even if the project stayed ugly and got boring. I believe in rewarding oneself at the end of onerous tasks. And my old camera, was really old, and had white spots where pixels were burnt out, and needed replacing really badly)

(if you want to know… I got all the way through number 5, so I had to get the new camera so I could submit the quilt to the shows. YAY!)

Shrink Test

Important to know about the fabrics we use, if we will be washing it. Inhave somemlines she didnt test that I want to. Anyone else do any shrinkage tests like this?

That's What She Sewed - Sew Modern Blog


To pre-wash or not to pre-wash? That is totes the question today! Do you do it?? Personally, I so rarely pre-wash, especially if I’m making a quilt (shhh, don’t tell, sometimes even with a garment). Pre-washing adds in a lot of steps to a project and if I am feeling inspired to make something I want to do it NOW. I know some people always pre-wash, it’s like second nature to them. As soon as their fabric comes home it goes straight into the wash. This got me curious about how much I’m really risking in my act of defiance/laziness. How much is my fabric really going to shrink? So I took a swatch from each of the fabric manufactures we carry at the shop and gave ’em a whirl in the washer. The results were kind of shocking and not all results were the same.

I started with a 6 1/2 inch…

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You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, with Commentary

Catbird is so eloquent. I could not have said this better about pricing quilts or art for that matter.

Catbird Quilt Studio

Scene 1
[Setting: small town library reading room. Characters: paint artist and quilter.]
Artist: You should sell those!
Quilter: No one would pay me what they’re worth.

Scene 2
[Setting: quilt shop. Characters: quilt shop clerk and quilter.]
Clerk: For the women who make the quilts we sell, it’s really a labor of love.
Quilter: If I’m going to put that much love into a quilt, I’ll give it to someone I love.

Scene 3
[Setting: quilter’s living room. Characters: professional musician and quilter.]
Musician: You should sell those!
Quilter: No one would pay me what they’re worth.

The End

All three of these scenes have happened to me in the last few weeks. I relate these to you because there’s been a lot of discussion recently about the value of hand-made crafts. I’ll use quilting as my frame of reference, but the discussion surely applies just as well to…

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Like Jewels in a Treasure Chest

Catbird has it right. Many quilters undercharge for their work and many people do not value time and effort. Catbird spells out why she would charge several hundred for a baby size quilt. I completely agree with her. People have asked me to make quilts for hire for them. I tell them what it would cost and what I expect to make per hour for designing, cutting, and assembling it. All of them have backed out. I am OK with that. I’d rather spend that time and effort on a friend anyway and have the quilt with someone who would care for it with the same intensity it took for me to make it.

Catbird Quilt Studio

[Note: I wrote this post a couple of years ago, before starting Catbird Quilt Studio. The audience for that post was primarily non-quilters.]

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a quilt, perhaps one from your past, perhaps one you are making yourself, perhaps a dream quilt. I see colors spilling forth, like jewels toppling from a treasure chest, tumbling onto the sand, glimmering, gleaming in the sun. I see leaves cartwheeling from trees in fall, nestling on the ground in patterns of dark green, plum, scarlet, gold. I see stark contrasts of blood red on snow. I see muted browns and double pinks, plaids and paisleys and calicoes.

I am a quilter. Often when I say this, people will respond by saying, “My grandmother was a quilter. I’m glad to know people still do that.” Yes, people still do that. According to Quilters Newsletter and the Quilting in…

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Bernina 830 versus Janome MC15000

My conclusion, each of these machines has pros and cons. I COULD live with either one. But I am lucky that I can afford both. So I generally piece quilts on my Janome, MC1500, while I appliqué and free motion on my Bernina 830. I will use either machine during embellishing art quilts depending on what stitches or effects I want. I embroider much more on my Janome because of the ease of monitoring and changing thread (nice threader).

I have been a member of the The Quilt Show for several years. Recently we started a thread about machines and features. I felt compelled to write about my two favorite machines. Here is what I posted to the forum on the Quilt Show.

Since a few have posted about their Bernina 830 experience. I thought I would too. I did not get a lemon and I absolutely love my 830. It is a solid workhorse for me. It takes any thread I throw at it even metallic. And I love the huge hoops. I also have a Janome MC15000 and I like it too. However it doesn’t free motion as well. It straight stitches better. However the Janome has a tendency to have nesting thread on the beginning of a stitching line. The Bernina does not.

Here is my experience Bernina 830 vs Janome MC15000

Straight stitching: Janome wins with a beautiful straighter stitch but with the caveat to use a bit of scrap material to start other wise I get a rats nest on the bobbin thread at the beginning of a stitching line. Holding the top and bobbin works too, BUT who wants to do that if they have an automatic thread cutter. You can attain a very nice straight stitch on the Bernina if you use a single hole plate, and carefully match your thread to needle size. But still Janome’s is a prettier straight stitch.

Thread cutter: both machines will cut thread. I think cutting is faster on the Bernina than on the Janome (this is an impression, not measured with a stop watch). Bernina sews without nesting after using it’s cutter. Janome will form nests if you sew after the cutter. On the Janome you will need to use a bit of scrap or pull out and hold the thread tails when you start sewing again.

Freemotion: Bernina wins hands down, no contest

Needle threader: Janome’s is better and more consistently threads the needle. Both machine’s needle threaders work better than my lower end machines.

Heavy or lots of layers : It really depends. Heavy tight weave several layers like quilting on a denim from denim backed with batting, I use my Bernina. Thick tough fabrics like cordura 400 or 600, I use the Bernina. The Bernina doesn’t skip stitches like the Janome can in situations like this. “This” is comparing same thread, same needle, same fabric, same number of layers, and sewing at half speed machine, etc. I do like the dual feed on the Bernina, especially when piecing flimsy or wispy light weight chiffon or silk fabrics. BUT! I like the ease of adjusting the pressure for the dual feed on the Janoma. I think the dual feed on the Janome is better for normal quilting cotton and cotton batting. I go to my Janoma for doing straight stitch quilting in a modern quilt kind of look where you would quilt with lots of straight lines or expanding circles or spirals. Bernina actually recommends an extra walking foot for this kind of quilting.

Embroidery: Both work great. Both do a great job. But due to thread change on these single color machines, I prefer the Janome because of it’s more consistently working needle threader. (though I Think the thread path on the Bernina is easier to do). MC15000 has an extra pro: I like the fact this machine is wi-fi capable.. that I have an app on my iPad that I can ‘see’ where in the process the embroidery is, if thread broke, if the machine stopped, and if i need to change colors. I can run around my home and do chores while doing embroidery without having to check to see the status of my machine. I actually get more embroidery done because of this.

Knee lift: have to put two paragraphs one for each machine explain this one.

Pro for the Bernina is that the knee life is mechanical. This makes doing appliqués more fun on the Bernina instead of the Janome. I can barely raise or take the pressure off the fabric when turning curves or corners and still have some pressure from the foot helping me keep things lined up and it acts like an extra hands. On the Janome, the knee lift seems to actually be an electronic switch, when I use the knee lift, there is no infinite range of lifting the pressure foot, it is either up or down. I don’t like this. So I typically do appliqué on my 830. (I also prefer the double blanket stitch the Bernina has over the similar stitch on the Janome).

Pro for the MC15000 is the knee lift will set to control other things besides lifting the presser foot, you can use it to control stitch width. Yes, really! So for an art quilter, I can use it for neat effects. I also use it when couching lumpy irregular yarns and other items to art quilt while embellishing. It’s very fun once you learn how to control it.


My conclusion, each of these machines has pros and cons. I COULD live with either one. But I am lucky that I can afford both. So I generally piece quilts on my Janome, MC1500, while I appliqué and free motion on my Bernina 830. I will use either machine during embellishing art quilts depending on what stitches or effects I want. I embroider much more on my Janome because of the ease of monitoring and changing thread (nice threader).

There Is A Philosophy of Monoprinting?

Glad I asked me that…

There is serendipity and a leap of faith in the act of monoprinting. Faith is something we all need more of.

Most printmaking is all about making hundreds or thousands of copies of something all the same. Mono printing isn’t like that at all. The genius of monoprinting is that it is a one shot deal. Every print you make will differ.

In mono printing, you spread paint on a surface and transfer it to another surface. You can manipulate the paint in-between if you wish. You can manipulate the surface you put the paint on and you can manipulate the surfaces you press onto the paint. But you can never identically reproduce the exact same chaotic placement of every bit of paint. You can make things similar, but never identical. So you can make coordinating prints that look really good together for triptychs or series of art objects.

All that similar but different concept attracts me to it. Kinda like how I am attracted to people. I love that people are different. If we all were the same and had all the same ideas, and all the same way of doing things, the world would be a really boring place. Monoprinting also appeals to the scientist in me. One of my favorite classes had a section on chaos theory and how organization comes from disorganization. Monoprinting is a bit like that.

You could put paint right on the fabric but it just won’t look the same as monoprinting. You would lose that bit of specialness that monoprinting imparts. There is a spontaneity that we should all have in life and monoprinting is a kind of physical evidence of how a little chaos results in something wonderful.

Monoprinting can also change a fabric, it can tone down one that is too wild or it can add energy and interest to a fabric that is dull or boring. Sometimes a little dab of paint will do it. Same with people, animals, and things. All our experiences rub off on us and change us a little bit. Every encounter we have changes us a bit, every encounter changes the fabric. The more I think about it… there is a philosophy we can learn from monoprinting.

Once I get out of my introspective mood, I’ll write up another post about my low budget monoprinting presentation soon.

Luling Fiber Arts – February 2015

Denise wrote up a great synopsis of my presentation this past Tuesday. Mono printing is really fun and has so many applications in fiber arts like making quilting fabric and making rad fabrics, papers and printed materials for incorporating into art! I’ve printed fabric and paper so far. I want to try flattened tin next. What else could I try?

HollyDee Quilts

Having been a very active member of my local quilt guild since 1997 I knew I would need to find a group to play with in our new location.  There is a very small group that meets once a month at the Luling Art League and members take turns presenting something new.  I like the idea that it is Fiber Arts – that will help get me out of my box!

Kelly is the organizer and she had recently attended the local SAQA meeting and was ready willing and able to share what they learned there.  It was called mono print – we used a bray (a tool for rolling paint smooth)  Glass and plexiglass but a jelly (sp) plate works better Kelly said.

Please note – while we used glass because it was what we had, care should be used if using glass not to press to hard as…

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Superior Threads Reference Guides

Ricky Tims and Alex Anderson posted a list on TheQuiltShow website about their favorite Superior Threads reference pages. They just happened to post my go-to pages! How about that?! Here is the link on The Quilt Show of that very helpful list.

Superior Threads Reference Guides.

PSST. The $42 bucks I spent on the full access star membership for thequiltshow.com is the best return on investment I’ve gotten on quilting education. And they didn’t pay me to say that. There is such a wide variety of topics and guests on the show, it’s amazing. I’ve had a lot of ah-ha moments watching the episodes.

A Burning Cedar Tree Quilt Inspiration

Quilt inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. Tonight I’m fantasizing about all the cedar trees in the world spontaneously combusting. I am going to pour out all the vitriol I feel towards the whole genus of Juniperus on a new quilt.

Quilt inspiration can come from the most unlikely sources. Tonight I’m fantasizing about all the cedar trees in the world spontaneously combusting. Yes, I have a degree in natural sciences and I KNOW all about the environment and I KNOW how interwoven it all is. BUT! After a month, that included a week in bed, feeling like I have the flu, suffering from CEDAR FEVER, I think it might be nice if they just disappeared, like instantly. With all that KNOWING being said… officially, on my list of quilts to do someday is a burning cedar tree. It won’t be religious, or a statement on *gasp* global warming or climate change. IT will be brutal and mean and I am going to pour out all the vitriol I feel towards the whole genus of Juniperus and especially Juniperus Ashei. This quilt shall be named Ashes to Juniperus and Dust to Cedrus. An odd name that sounds very big and angsty (my new word today). A name that will give me justice at least in my own mind toward that despicable immune system bashing miscreant plant.

I actually do feel better after spouting that out. Now, where is my Nyquil?

A Blunt Question to Ponder

Melani is right about doing a little planning. A little planning is all about loving and taking care of those we love after we’re gone. I have quite the collection and I know my hubby wouldn’t do it justice, nor would it be fair to leave the mess to him to deal with if I were to go before he does. Quilting is just not his thing. I’m 100% sure I’d be better at dealing with his horses than he would be with my quilt hobby collection. So, I must thank Melanie for this reminder… to write a letter and include it in our disaster folder.

Catbird Quilt Studio

Do you have a plan for your stash? Not for while you’re using it, but for when you are not?

I’ve heard the old joke, “She who dies with the mosts stash wins!” But it’s not really true, is it? At some point, all of us will be done quilting, whether that comes because of a loss of interest or ability, or due to death. Be prepared for that day.

Will your family look hopelessly at your shelves, cupboards, closets, bins, and tubs, full of fabric and kits and unquilted tops, wondering what to do with it all? I have read too many stories of people whose stashes were discarded because family members were not interested and had no idea of the value. Sewing machines are expensive. Here again, family members may have no idea of value. Would you like your $1,000 sewing machine sold for $75? It might be able…

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