Saturday, July 13, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Lots of piecing this week -- one more small top finished and another one (this is #4 in the last three weeks) with a good start.  Last week I compared machine piecing to riding a bicycle -- you don't forget how, when you don't do it for a long time, but you are rusty.  And three days ago I decided my self-evaluation skills are also rusty -- it took me until this week to realize that the first three pieces aren't really what I call very good. 

I had high hopes for number 3, with one quadrant of the quilt composed of colored stripes for the fine line "roads" to contrast with the black-and-white stripes in the rest of the quilt.  But when the whole thing was sewed together and put up on the wall, I wasn't happy.  I think it's repairable, with a lot of fussy, fiddly ripping and remaking, but I'm not going to do that right now.

But number 4 -- I love it!

Here's how far it's gotten in two days.  Another two or three good days in the studio would probably be enough to finish it, but looking at my calendar makes me wonder when those days are going to be possible.  What's more frustrating than having to interrupt your huge burst of creative energy with a bunch of other things?

Here's my favorite miniature of the week.  I've always loved those red berries on wire stems that you're supposed to wrap around branches on your Christmas tree.  Hardly ever wrap them around branches on the tree, but I love to have a bunch of them on hand.  This week they got stuffed into a tiny (half-inch diameter) spool of thread.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

A fine new book

I've spent the last few days reading a new book by my friend Maria Shell, "Improv Patchwork."  You probably have encountered Maria's wonderful quilts at Quilt National and many other prominent venues, mostly made from solid color fabrics pieced into intricate and dazzling patterns.

Her new book explains how she makes these patterns and assembles the "bits" into large quilts.  Although you can probably figure out how this happens by simply examining her quilts closely, it's always great fun to watch somebody else's processes and see how they go about a complex task. 

Seeing Maria's work, whether in person or in print, always makes me want to run down to the studio and do the same thing.  I share her love of obsessive piecing, of wonky blocks, of freehand cutting, of solid fabrics.  She does a great job in the book of imparting enthusiasm and excitement for this style of quiltmaking.

I consider myself an accomplished quiltmaker and machine piecer, and yet I almost always learn something new or get a fresh idea from reading somebody else's books.  I'll share three takeaways that I got from Maria's book:

1.  If your sewing machine doesn't have a needle-down setting, in which you can make the needle always stop in the down position when you take your foot off the pedal, you can have your repair guy fix it to permanently stop down.  Needle-down is an invaluable element in obsessive piecing, because it keeps your small bits of fabric from escaping or oozing out of position when you have to let go for a minute.   One of my beloved older-model Berninas lacks a needle-down setting (and also lacks a knee lift lever) and thus I rarely use it; now that I know it's possible to alter that I might just be able to bring it back into regular service!

2.  If you want to make freehand cuts on a piece of fabric too wide for your cutting board, turn it diagonally and get several inches more space.  Duh -- why didn't I think of that??

3.  Contrary to much conventional wisdom about color choice, try using equal amounts of each color in your palette, instead of one main color, one secondary color, one accent color, etc.  Maria writes:  "You will be amazed at how this ups the wow factor of your work."  I'm thinking about this and looking for an opportunity to give it a try.

So, I'm giving this book a big five stars.  If you love machine piecing I bet you would get some inspiration and helpful hints from it.  You can buy it directly from Maria -- click here.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Last week on Art With a Needle

Greatly energized by some mystical force, I've been sewing madly this week on a project that isn't exactly clear in my mind, but I feel I have to sew for a while before it's clear what's going to happen.  I'm making a bunch of small quilts, about 27 inches square, which will each be quilted and bound individually.  Then at some point I plan to assemble them into a larger piece, either a four-patch or a nine-patch, joined together either by hand stitching or with ties through grommets.

I have two of the tops finished and am maybe halfway through a third one.  I'm having such fun on the piecing that I am postponing quilting until I run out of enthusiasm.

Last week Shasta left a comment on my post about working with leftover yarn bits on my endless mile-of-crochet project.  She asked, "Are you using one piece of yarn until it is gone or are you mixing the colors as you go along?"

If it's a small bit of yarn I'll use the whole thing.  If it's more like a half-skein, I might divide it up, use part in one place and the rest in another.  I do try to achieve some kind of color scheme in each "cake" of crochet, so would probably not put random colors together.  Since I plan to display these with the sides of the rolled-up "cakes" visible, I like to have some pleasant variety of color in that side view, so no cakes made of a single color.

Here's my favorite miniature of the week.  A couple of months ago, right after an episode of very high water on the Ohio River, my son and I went on a scavenging expedition to the river banks.  I searched for tiny bits of stuff that would fit into the 1 1/2 x 2 inch bags of my miniature project, including this bit of driftwood.  Add a simple gold wire wrap, and it became a daily art.


Friday, July 5, 2019

More yarn leftovers!

Several years ago, I think, I embarked on an endless project along with my friend Debby.  We resolved to knit (Debby) and crochet (me) strips that would stretch for a mile.  (Read how we got started.)  As time passed, I would be more or less enthusiastic about the project.  Sometimes I would whip out a bunch in a week, other times I might go for months without progress.

I had resolved to use only leftovers rather than buy new yarn, so I was at the mercy of whatever might show up in grab bag or whatever someone might give me.  And frankly I had hit a dry spell recently.  During the cold weather months this winter I was working on baby afghans, from entire skeins of yarn, rather than the mile-o'-handwork.

Last fall a friend who teaches refugee women how to sew told me that her ladies also do knitting, and I asked her if they were going to just throw away the leftover bits anyway, could I have them?  And last month she dropped off a huge bag full -- almost five feet tall.

This should keep me crocheting all summer.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Fourth of July!

Our morning walk today was over the Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian route across the Ohio River, which is reached by a circular ramp to take you up to bridge height.  Many others had the same idea, including this group of runners.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Back to piecing

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle, but I suspect that if I were to get back on a bike today I would wobble a bit before the balance came back.  Same happens, apparently, with piecing, which I haven't been doing any of in a really long time.

I started work on a quilt last week in the style that I call "Crossroads," but instead of simply making cross cuts and stitching them back together with a fine line to mark the seam, I had to get fancy and stick in little streets that didn't go all the way across.  It was great fun, until I put the whole thing up on the wall and realized that one edge looked really sloppy.  Not that there's anything wrong with sloppy, but this edge didn't go with the others.

And then as I started looking more closely, I saw that top edge heading off northward on a diagonal that clearly didn't go with the pretty-much-right angles of the rest of the quilt. That's what happens when you cut by eye instead of by ruler.  I ordinarily am a firm believer in cutting by eye, but this style of piecing seems to benefit from more control.

The bicycle was wobbling, but maybe that's part of the fun.  I set about to fix things.

Concealed that diagonal swerve by putting in some properly straight streets beyond it.  I opened one of the vertical seams and inserted a street that went partway across the quilt at the right angle, then added two more lines to solidify that edge.

Then solidified the other three edges with a few more lines and some extra ladders of piecing.  Most of the extra ladders came from cutting off some of those very wide edges at left and bottom, and repositioning them on the other sides.  Just a little bit of extra piecing at the end to make things come out even.

I like the way this turned out.  A little bit wonky in the center, but pulled back into place at the edges to fit the square format of the finished quilt.

Now I'm eager to get on with the next quilt!  The bike is riding more smoothly, and I don't think I'll repeat the same silly mistakes I did in this one.  And it's so good to be piecing again.