Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Termite art -- part 3

Perhaps the most obsessive of my termite art techniques was the use of tiny squares of fabric sewed down in grids. The squares measure a bit less than 1/2 inch. I attached them the same way I did with selvages – by stitching through a quilt sandwich to applique the design elements at the same time I quilted the layers together.

These quilts have to be designed on graph paper beforehand, and I have to mark a grid onto the white top of my quilt sandwich so I know where to place the bits. But I have used several different techniques to actually hold them in place while I sew them down.

River Map 1: Falls of the Ohio

The first quilt I made in this series was experimental. I started sewing down one of the columns and placed each little bit under the needle when I got there. This turned out to be terribly time-consuming and I decided I needed a better approach. I’ve repressed the details, but in the next two smallish quilts in this series I know there was an attempt to pin the little bits in place before I stitched each column.

There was also an attempt to fuse the bits down on the quilt top before stitching. That was less than successful because I decided I didn’t want the edges of the bits to be pasted down flat on the quilt; I wanted them to be able to wave in the breeze. Had I been willing to fuse the entire square, it would have been relatively simple to execute (put Wonder Under on the entire fabric, and then cut out the half-inch bits). But because I wanted the edges free I had to cut 1/4 inch squares of Wonder Under and tack them down on the grid, then put the fabric bits on top and fuse them down.

In retrospect this was a really bad idea. Not only did it take forever, but I was amazed at how much static electricity built up just by cutting the Wonder Under into little bits and placing them on the quilt. I would painstakingly position the bits of WU, then try to lay down a silicon presser sheet – and the bits of WU would leap up to the sheet when it got within an inch of the surface! I eventually finished the project with copious applications of Static Guard to the presser sheet, and thought there had to be a better way.

My magnum opus in this series was Green Ps, which contains 8,600+ squares of fabric. This time I decided to glue down the fabric squares. After marking the grid on the white quilt top, I would pour glue into a saucer and use a toothpick to put dots on 10 or 12 of the grid points. Then I would use tweezers to put a fabric square on each grid point. Eventually, when all the squares had been glued down, I assembled the quilt sandwich and stitched everything together.

Green Ps, 2005, 40 x 52

This approach worked pretty well, but it took forever. My husband was off on some expedition and I seized on the opportunity to do nothing but work. In the morning I would get up, make a cup of tea, grab a banana, go into the studio and glue bits of fabric. Didn’t have to stop to make dinner or do any other household chores, so I just glued all day.

I wasn’t impatient, I wasn’t frustrated, I just went into a lovely zen state in which nothing existed except the fabric, the graph, the toothpick, the glue and the music.

Finally about midnight I would shake myself back into this world, turn off the lights and go to bed. As I was closing up shop for the night, I would write down how far I had gotten – and realized that in 15 hours I had finished some ridiculously small portion of the whole. That part was kind of frustrating. It took more than a week of glueing 15 hours a day to get the fabric in place, and then several days more to stitch the quilt together.

With most of my quilt series, I have had the experience of liking what I did, and deciding to do it again twice as big. Obviously I made a big jump in size from the River Maps to Green Ps, and would have loved to do it again even larger. But I couldn’t figure out a way to accomplish this without spending a year on the quilt, and I have never made another one. Sure wish I could find a way to do so!

PS - maybe you wonder why the quilt is named Green Ps instead of Green P.  Lisa Strother, one of my quilting friends, knowing my love for alphabet puns, gave me a piece of fabric that was printed with lots of green peas in pods, plus leaves and tendrils.  I sliced that fabric into half-inch bits and put three rows of them at the bottom of the quilt.  So there was one green P at the top and many, many additional green peas at the bottom.

PPS - for typography aficionados, the face is Footlight.


  1. TAN "Q"
    This is a great series. Tan Q for putting them all together for us to see.

  2. ROFLOL - termite art?? These wonderful pieces in all of your posts deserve a better name!! I do, however, identify with your term "therapy sewing."
    I sew strips together for my therapy. But 2" squares?? OMG.

    What you have done with these tiny strips and selvedges and squares is terrific, which you already know, of course! I especially love your graphic type pieces.

  3. These are fantastic! I read all of the posts telling how you did each one and I admire your tenacity.

  4. How did you mark the grid on the quilt top?

    When you sewed, did you sew down the middle of the scrap of fabric (both ways) or down both sides (right and left, top and bottom) or were the scraps small enough that just the one cross was enough?

  5. Fascinating - and Beautiful. Love, love, love your work.

  6. thanks everybody for your kind words! I've always loved these quilts and since they're getting old I don't have them out and about so much. it's fun to take another look.

    Q or D -- just one stitch line in each direction; the corners waft in the breeze. I'm going to post close-ups tomorrow and you can probably see more detail.

  7. Kathy, all I can say is "WOOOWW!!!" The movement in the selvedge pieces reads like a river current. I had seen your flag piece in a magazine, but I didn't realize how it was put together. I love all the air in your quilts!
    Keep up the good work,
    Linda Laird

  8. Amazing! Love the way you've combined the raw and the refined. Love wordplay too.

    Termite art suit you to a T. Chuck Close has nothing on you!

    Thanks for showing your stuff. I am flabbergasted.

  9. How 'bout trying something like 505 temporary adhesive spray? It doesn't gum up your needle. You could spray one section at a time, lay down your squares, repeat..repeat..repeat....

    Actually, I'm itching to do something like this now. Gee, thanks - just what I need!