Friday, February 26, 2021

Phase 1 finished!!

I have made 2,662 postage-stamp-size quilts, their polka dots signifying coronaviruses floating around in the air around us, each one marking the death of one Kentuckian to the disease in 2020.  That was the easy part.  Now it's time to sew them together into a big grid.

But first, arithmetic.  

I'm not one for a whole lot of planning before I start a project.  Some people may find security in sketching, measuring, samples, templates, junior "etudes" before embarking on the real thing.  I find those things unnecessary, time-wasting and anxiety-provoking.  I like to get on with it, and let the actual materials tell me how they want to behave, what they want to become, even as we work together.

I did make an attempt to pre-plan this project.  I thought I would make my postage stamps 1 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/4 inch tall.  So I cut my fabrics into 5 inch strips, planning to eventually slice them into four strips the right height, and then cut the strips into 1 1/2 inch pieces.  I made a couple hundred at those dimensions before I realized that they looked too square, and I wanted my bits to be more obviously rectangular.  Can't tell you why, they just looked too puny.  

Thought about this for a while, and then decided what the heck, let's change the size.  A few hundred smaller ones would surely not be apparently among a sea of larger ones, and if they were, so what?  People aren't all the same, why should their metaphorical embodiments have to be?  So most of the tiny quilts are 1 3/4 inches wide.  

But even if you can get away with changing the arithmetic in midstream while making the components, there comes a time in construction where you have to actually commit to a certain number.  Namely, how many columns of postage stamps to make, and how many stamps to sew into each column.  

Because I had upsized my bits, the full finished size got bigger too, and suddenly I was worried about it being too wide for my good brass rod that I always use to hang big postage stamp quilts.  I think I'll end up with about 2 inches per column, with the bits pushed pretty close together.  So I'm leaning toward 41 columns of 64 bits each, plus one extra column of 38.  Or something like that.  

I don't have to decide until I sit down to sew, and that can't happen until I clean off my sewing table and transform it into a huge, smooth, obstacle-free surface with no cracks or corners to impede the movement of the stitched grid.  A few days to think -- and then maybe I'll just flip a coin.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A reader finds inspiration

It's always great when somebody out there not only reads your blog, but grabs an idea and does something lovely with it.  This time it was Jennifer Allen, who wrote me:

"I fell onto your blog while searching for ideas about working in series and I'm glad I fell.  I've been looking for a way to find some focus, to narrow parameters, to slow down and explore... just be more thoughtful in what I'm doing.  Here's a pic.

"Parameters: limited to the 5 wool swatches I had on hand for size (about 8 x 6) with no trimming allowed, each to use buttons already on hand (and long forgotten), some hand stitching (however primitive) on each one and other sources of fabric being one old hat, one old dress, and two remnants all on hand.  

"I'm so pleased with the Button Box series that I've hung them.  Very satisfying.  I'm looking for my next 'series' and thinking in place of buttons, button holes might be interesting.  

"Narrower parameters and small size seem to be key for me to gain some focus; a step in a good direction.  Buttonholes are now lodged in my imagination and I'm enjoying just thinking about the idea.  Enjoying is pretty good too."

Jennifer, you're welcome!  I'm so glad you stumbled on advice that obviously you were ready for, and able to make good use of.  The old saying: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.  

Note to all:  Good for Jennifer to set rules that worked, and double good for her to plan her next series on the shoulders of the first one.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

More counting -- oops!!

I've been watching TV for several hours a day all during the impeachment trial, sometimes in my studio while sewing "postage stamps" for a coronavirus memorial, sometimes in the TV room with my husband while sewing french knots for another coronavirus memorial.  (Both will have the same total: 2,662, to mark the death toll in Kentucky during 2020.)

For the postage stamps, counting is easy, because I tie the little bits into bundles of 25 and can easily tell how many I have made.  Coincidentally, one full shoebox of bundles is exactly half of what I need, and I'm well into the second box.

But counting the french knots is a little more difficult.  Well, truth be told, a lot more difficult.  The 2,662 knots have to go into the proper month.  I sewed and sewed and sewed on December, which needed 754, and after a while I stopped and counted.  This involves taking a photo and checking off each knot with a mark in my Paint program.

I needed 86 more knots, and it was tricky to keep track.  I would make five knots, counting out loud, then make hash marks.  As careful as I tried to be, once or twice I lost count and had to go back and reconstruct, from the back of the work, exactly how many knots had occurred since I started the new thread.

After I finished December, I did March (the easiest month -- only 15) and then set in on the other months.  I worked on November for a while (423 needed) and then thought I'd better stop and count.  I moved on to April, which needed 225, and made some, stopped when I thought I was getting close, and moved on to some other months.    

After a particularly furious day of french knots yesterday, I decided I'd better count and see where I stood.

November was pretty close -- less than 100 still needed.  I would have been happier if it were closer, but I should be able to count as I sew, especially if I won't be stopping to shout at the TV.  October is only halfway there, 171 knots done, 140 to go.  That's going to be more tedious to count; maybe I'll just sew for a while, take a new photo and start the count all over again.

But April.  

Imagine my chagrin when I counted April and found that I had overshot the target by 56!  Now I will have to cut out 20 percent of what I did.  I hope the fabric will be forgiving and not show ugly holes.  Boy, do I feel dumb.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Counting knots

The impeachment trial has already proven to be a most conducive environment for hand stitching.  While watching yesterday I made a whole lot of french knots on my memorial bandage, so many that when I went to count them this morning I realize I'm almost done with the largest month in the project: 668 out of 754 needed for December.  The last 86 will require me to count as I stitch -- which will be fine until I get distracted and have to yell out at something outrageous said in the Senate.  I'll have to be careful!

And now it's time to decide how I will separate the months on this "calendar" scroll.  Probably with a line of machine stitching?  

Meanwhile, on to November, with "only" 423 deaths to mark.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Back to the pandemic memorial sewing

The last time I wrote about my coronavirus memorial quilt at the end of January, I had 23 bundles of 25 postage stamp-size little quilts, on the way to 2,662 pieces -- the number of deaths in Kentucky in 2020.  With a few days off to sew Valentine hearts, I've been making good progress and now have 53 bundles -- halfway there!!  (I decided it was less daunting, and simpler, to count bundles rather than pieces.  It seems way less difficult to make 106 bundles than to make 2,662 bits.)

Meanwhile I decided that I needed a new hand stitching project, so I'm doing a second 2,662 memorial, this one in french knots sewed onto a vintage roll of six-inch wide bandage muslin.  

This piece is going to be organized by month, showing how the pandemic started slow, plateaued for most of the year, and then hit the fan in the post-Thanksgiving surge.

You know how I feel about planning -- the less the better.  I like to work out problems while stitching, not before.  I really have no idea how much space it's going to take to make 754 french knots, so I'm just sewing away.  Pretty soon I'm going to have to start counting, at least to estimate how many inches of bandage to give to December.  Then I'll work backward and allocate the same space to each of the other months.  

I think what I'll do is take a photo and pop it into my Paint program, then mark off each knot that has been counted with a click of my paintbrush, ten knots per color.  Like this:

That's 110 knots counted, so I think I have about 500 made so far.  Looks like I can do 8 inches per month.  I actually have enough bandage on the roll for 12 inches per month, so I don't have to worry about running out of space.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Totally frivolous

I was looking through old blog posts last week and happened upon one published in a long-ago early February, suggesting that maybe we all needed to do something fun, frivolous and friendly.  I think this February we need that kind of activity maybe more than ever before.

My post, from 2010, showed how to make little Valentine hearts from tulle and whatever tiny scraps might be lurking about your sewing table.  I layered Solvy between two thicknesses of tulle, stuck scraps in the sandwich and machine stitched a whole lot to hold everything together.  After cutting hearts, I soaked the Solvy out.

When I re-read the post, I wondered why I had bothered with the Solvy.  Surely I could make a tulle sandwich without that layer of cheese in the middle!  So this week I went back to the sewing machine to make a new batch of hearts.  Since I suspect those I sent out to my friends and family eleven years ago are missing in action.

I found several kinds of tulle in my stash, but chose a sparkly red one.  Inside the sandwich, several kinds of shiny threads and some snips of pink, red and gold sheers and silk.  In the sewing machine, red thread, some plain cotton/poly and some metallic.

Then I stitched a lot.  When everything was sewed in place, I put on a darning foot and made free-hand hearts, going around each outline three or four times.

Cut them out, saving the extra bits for future use (hold that thought). 

I can't exactly remember what that first batch of hearts felt like, but these seemed to be looser, lacking that stiff Solvy cheese in the middle.  So the stitching tended to pull tight against the tulle, and left bulges in the unstitched areas. 

I wasn't sure I liked that effect, so I painted the hearts with matte medium, diluted a bit with water, and let them dry between two layers of plastic under a weight.  That flattened out the bulges, and gave the finished hearts a bit of stiffness, just like the old hearts, who got that way because you can never wash away all of the Solvy.

As I wrote in 2010, Valentine's Day is coming up, and for once I had the brilliant idea in time to actually make a little present and get it to my loved ones on schedule!  (That is, if the post office cooperates -- too bad I didn't come upon that old post six weeks ago.)

If you're intrigued by this little project, I urge you to read the old post first.  See which approach appeals to you -- the firmer Solvy sandwich, or the looser tulle-only approach.  Also note that the old plan calls for three layers of tulle, and the hearts I just made were only two layers.  As a result, they're airier and less substantial.  You might want to add a third layer, or even a fourth.  (And when I compare the new ones to the old photo, I realize that I did a lot less stitching this time, which helped the hearts be airy, insubstantial and bulgy.)

In the 2010 version, I drew the hearts with a marker before sewing the outlines, but this time I just eyeballed it.  I can't see much qualitative difference in the artistic effect, but I do remember that last time, the marker was coming off on my fingers and I wasn't happy.  So if you want to draw first, make sure to use a waterproof ink.
Play with it!  And then check out the 2010 post for a helpful hint on making the hanging cords.

PS -- as you sew, you may have the same experience that I did -- you think of more people who you could send little Valentines to.  So you may make a second sandwich (which I assure you will go faster than the first one).  When you do, use those leftover bits from cutting out the hearts as filling for your sandwich. 

Happy Valentines Day!!