Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I think I lost the month of May....

I 'd like to go back and look for it, but like a little scrap of paper on a windy day, it's long gone.

I'm back after an unintentionally long break from updating the blog. A scramble with projects, trips out of town, and starting a new job have all rearranged my schedule. I've picked up hours in a local quilt shop, great for my peace of mind and maybe not so great for my hoarding tendencies. Yes, it's hard to look at the fabrics all day long and not want to take them home; on the other hand, someone is always bringing up a bolt you'd swear you never saw before... it's great for inspiration. Look for some new goodies in the shop in the coming months.

I'm finally making it back around to my own work, both with assorted reuseable goods (several items in the prototype phase as I figure out how to best piece them together) and with the artwork. The studio is very nearly littered with work that was started back in April and had to be set aside, so it's time to get the creative flow moving again. I've been thinking a lot about the words that move me to create, and I'm having to study my trees in a whole other way now that they're full of lovely greenery-- it presents a different kind of challenge for me. Bare branches are much more visually striking for me, more likely to get my pen scribbling away.

I'm planning to get some photos of the sample I'm working on for the shop in the next few days. It feels like such a long time since I did regular ol' patchwork piecing and I'm finding it very soothing. Even firing up EQ6 again as I keep coming across fabrics I'd love to use for.....


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

some overdue thanks

A roll of thank-yous!

To Katie at scrumdidlyump for her notes on my shop in the Howard Street Handmade blog. It's exciting to see someone else's view on your work. Howard Street is good fun to participate in, and I'm glad it's going well!

To fellow Etsyian mysticwynd for including my mossy tree in her lovely Arbor Day treasury.

Check out her shop for pretty pretty jewelry pieces, with some gorgeous glass and floral details.

And to KBShimmer for including one of my wraps in her sweet treasury for picnic time! Perfect for the warmer weather and sunny days.

Check out her shop for handmade soaps & bath bombs. I'll admit I'm intrigued by "Chocolate Beer cold process soap" and there's some Mint scrubs that make me want to actually clean the dog hair out of the bathtub so I can relax for a soak myself.

Many thanks, ladies!

Monday, May 4, 2009

time flies...

...whether you're having fun or not. Some space has been made in the studio as one project has made it's way out the door:

And I've annexed the guest room for auxiliary studio space, to stash my portable design boards (on blue insulation foam) and rolls of fabric for the next project. Striking the balance between what needs to happen NOW--or better yet, yesterday-- and the flow of ideas for pieces I want to make or have already started, isn't easy. I suppose that is the difficulty for anyone working at making a living doing something they love.

It's been a pleasure, though, to spend some time with my old machine, referred to as Nasty Maury. I can't imagine, now, how I managed to quilt a queen-size paper pieced quilt on this monster. I'm probably blocking the memories for a reason.

I'll admit, though, that I miss Maury's ability to adjust the pressure of the presser foot-- it's awfully handy for getting over high spots and thick seams. The Pfaff doesn't allow for that, and I remember asking about it when I was shopping for that machine; the saleswoman looked at me like I was nuts. If any of you out there find yourself shopping for a sewing machine, always ask questions! Think about what you want to do, or what you may have had trouble with in the past/on a previous machine. Think about the features you envy on your friend's machine. Test drive, test drive, test drive-- would you buy a car without taking it for a spin first?

This piece, Leaves #2, will be making its way to the Etsy shop this week. The frame measures slightly more than 8x10, and the stitched portion is about 3"x7". I'm really happy with the way it looks in the frame and will probably list it that way-- something new for me. I've also been listing some new wraps, ready to take along on your next outing.

We used ours for a take-along lunch on a trip to the Asheville Art Museum this weekend. The goal was to check out the Christo and Jean-Claude exhibit, but we had to wait about an hour and a half (waited down the street at Barley's Taphouse, with some local brews...) for a panel discussion to clear out. Who schedules a discussion to take place *in* the sole room of the exhibit, for 2 hours, on the last day? It was interesting, though, to see the sketches and topographical maps used for presenting the art installations. He had used the actual fabrics in the rendering, coloring and shading over them, stitching them down, over photographs of the space- a cool mixed media vision all on its own.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What's happening in the studio?

..... cleaning, for the moment. The second go-round of Howard Street Handmade was this Saturday, so much of the past week invoved late nights peparing a few things and prepping some better ways to display my wares. The balance has been spent in eyeball-crossing math and layout for one of the other projects on my plate at the moment, and I really ought to know by now *exactly* how to figure the necessary amount of fabric for making bias binding strips.

There's a decent explanation (if you've ever spent some time with scissors and a sewing machine) here, although I'd like to put together my own version with a fabric that has an easily visible "wrong" side. So that's in my immediate future. I've brought my old machine up from the basement, where he's been boxed up since the move a year and a half ago, to get a clean-up and trial run with the heavier weight fabrics I'll be working with in the coming weeks. While my much-loved Pfaff is supposed to be able to handle all sorts of chores, it's a bit too precious to me to take any chances. The old Kenmore is like a sewing machine equivalent to a pick-up truck from the 70s... battered, some things don't really work, but it's made of real metal and will crash it's way through just about anything.

Several new small pieces were finished just in time for the show on Saturday, and those will make their way into the Etsy shop in the next few days, when the camera battery gets recharged. The tree that made an appearance here a week or two ago was sold at the show, and I neglected to take any pictures first (kicking myself for that), so I want to be certain I've covered everything this time around.

I've also finally gotten back on track with wedding planning, which makes it's way in and out of the studio and everything I'm working on as I keep an eye out for inspiration. There's some great ideas and eye candy on the Etsy Wedding site, and I'm starting to get excited about the whole process again. I'm doing my best to not lose focus here, but it is, after all, a wedding....

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I wasn't too threatened by the warnings of snow for yesterday... but this is what we woke up to this morning.

Last fall I planted hosta, lily of the valley, and one beautiful peony, all of which were happily making their way, and I'm glad I decided to cover them up last night. I realized this morning that I missed a few out front, which are now under an inch of snow.

The sight of those snow-covered pots is jarring something in my sketching brain-- that part that makes me squint at things and cross my eyes to see it in a different light, and grab whatever scrap of paper is available to make my visual notes on what I'm seeing. Sometimes it's the way light hits an object, or an angle that makes me think it bears an uncanny resemblance to a totally unrelated memory. Sometimes it's just the pattern of lines on the back of a truck, or the side of a building. I feel a pang when I read articles about people with sketchbooks and journals full of ideas and colors-- mine are scattered into pockets, coats from last summer, under the seats of the car, on the grocery list, and a hundred other places.

But then I have the pleasure of coming across a scrap months later, and the idea is new to me all over again. Maybe I see something different than I did the first time; maybe I have no idea what I'm looking at. It's especially nice when there are notes involved. "numbers. circles in washers and coffee mugs. arc upwards on frame." Obviously I had a plan there, and I might eventually remember what it was, lol.

My stack of new wrappers got sidetracked yesterday when I discovered I'd lost my wallet, but there should be some posted to the shop later today or early tomorrow in new fabrics.

I also have a few smaller pieces in the works, including some new trees. It's one of the nice things about this combination of being surrounded by woods and the trees still being leafless, every time I look up from what I'm doing, I'm staring at those overlapping bare branches. It's an endless fascination for me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

After a beautiful weekend, the weather's about to turn nasty again-- 80 degrees yesterday, and a forecast of snow for tonight. Aside from needing to cover a few of my plants, I know what this means for me:

Sketchbook, maybe some watercolors and textile paints on muslin scraps, and lots of charcoal. With a drop in temperature and clouds rolling in, my mind turns inward and starts to wander, and that's a great thing for the creative engine. I get that holed-up-for-winter feeling. Out comes the file of pictures for fodder, and hopefully by the end of the week there will be a few new pieces making their way onto frames and boards.

While all that is going on in my brain, I'll be working on another batch of those sweet potato burritos and trying to keep my hands off the cupcakes we picked up from Short Street Cakes yesterday.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

oh yeah....

The great big piece has left the building, and is settled in its new home.... It's funny how appropriately-sized it seems hanging on the wall, when it was taking up most of my little studio and spilling out into the next room. I've been doing so much smaller work that I had forgotten what a pain it can be to squeeze things through the throat of my machine, having to continually stop to reroll. I wish I had photos of me cramming queen-size quilts through that space; I know I've done it, but I can't picture it when I'm sitting there.I'm happy, I'm proud, and I'm wishing for a good massage to get all those knots out of my shoulders before I start the next project.

confessions of an overthinker?

Okay, I'll admit it... blogging, for me, is not an easy habit to develop. I am not, by nature, the type to chat up folks I don't know, or to talk when I'm not sure what I want to say. As a student, I dreaded classes where I was required to turn in rough drafts and outlines for papers-- I would write the paper first, then go back and create an outline and change a few things to create a rough draft.

What does that have to do with blogging?

I find it difficult to post when I don't have anything fully formed and ready to go. When I think (like now) that I'm probably rambling. When I'm convinced that if I give it just a little longer, I'll come up with something more interesting, or helpful, or just a bit more fleshed out. Like many people, I want to get it right the first time, and that often leads to procrastination and avoidance.

I cannot count the number of times I've come across something that was truly inspiring, and made me think, That's right! You just have to jump in and do it! Just make that decision, take that first step! The world won't end! And yet, it seems that's a lesson I will spend my entire life relearning, every few weeks. When I was painting regularly, one of my coworkers would occasionally come up to me (as I stood staring in frustration at the mixing table, or drafting table, or in front of a drop) and say, Gwen, it's only paint.

So, note to self: it's only fabric. It's only art. It's a beautiful day, my family is- mostly- healthy and happy, and it's time to go make something.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

photo catch-up

Updating with a few photos taken in the past several days... I've been a little lazy with the camera, in part because we drained the battery. You think you have your shot all lined up, and then it just shuts off. It's also been gray and rainy for a while, and though I love all the fog and mist and find those gray days to be pretty good for me creatively, it does make it harder to get nice photos. My best work time, usually, is very very early in the morning and late in the evening-- I think there's something about the non-descript character of the outside at that time (in the dark, or in the gray/overcast days) that lets my mind run free. I'm not thrown off track by external stimulation. Or maybe I'm just a night owl.

Back to the tree. Here's a before-thread view. I've gone back in and fleshed out some spots, added pieces to tweak the color.
And this is roughly the same area, with thread work (and low light). One of the things I love about working in fabric is being able to add this layer... with something like painting, you create the image and any adjustments or additions you make (while lovely, I'm not knocking painting) are additional layers of the same material-- paint. In most cases. With fabric, you can create the image and completely change the character and direction of the piece simply by adding the threadwork.

The colors and size of the thread used can have a dramatic effect, adding dimension, or pattern, or the suggestion of other meaning that isn't immediately noticeable in the overall image. Deciding what and how to quilt a finished top is something that many quilters struggle with-- what will complement it best? Should I emaphasize one part of the design over another? Should I use thread that matches the background, or go for high contrast? But they're crucial questions. The thread can take a piece from "nice" to "WOW". Sometimes it just serves to liven up the image. I started this piece about 2 years ago, and finally felt "done" this past summer.

For a long time, it sat here:

while I wondered what on earth I was doing with it. The reddish-purple bits weren't making me happy and something just didn't feel right. But the thread helps, changes.

All of which is to say, this is a big part of why I love working with fabric- the potential for changing direction and adding depth without losing what you started with.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

how to grow a tree

Let's just jump right in...

First there's the "empty canvas"-- if you look closely, you can see the faint charcoal outlines of the trunk and branches.
With the pile of brown paints and the teeny rotary cutter, I get busy slicing and shaping.
Now the overall shape is clear, moving outwards into the smaller branches, and I start to close some of the gaps.
The body gains solidity and more shaping to define the places where there is overlap or a split between branches. I've been tacking things down with the iron along the way, just a brief 2 or 3 second touch to keep the pieces from shifting as I layer and cover gaps. Before moving into the top section I'll slide my small pressing mat underneath and press over the whole lower trunk.
The whole piece is shifted to give me access to most of the top area. It is all resting on a piece of blue insulation foam (the stiff stuff, about 1" thick, that you can find at places like Lowes or Home Depot), which in turn is balanced on the ironing board. Insulation foam is, I think, the easiest and fastest way to give yourself a design wall. You can pin into it and prop it against the wall, or wrap it in flannel-- even a bedsheet would do-- and your fabric will stick to it without pins, great for auditioning fabric placement.
Here I'm using the tweezers to place fabrics in the upper branches. Why tweezers? Partly because I've been drinking too much coffee. But mostly because there's less chance of me disturbing the other pieces. It's very easy to end up knocking something out of alignment. Also, it's not easy to get a hold on a teeny sliver of fabric without accidentally shredding or fraying it, and the tweezers allow you to manipulate the placement much more delicately.
And the full image:
I'll go back in to tweak some areas where it needs a bit more coverage, or where an especially light or dark fabric is leaping out and needs toning back, but overall it's ready for threadwork. Once the thread is in, the foliage will be added and stitched over. But that's for another day....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

adding color

New updates on the big project! I managed to get a few photos while the light was nice and sunny. All the color lay-in is done on the side panels and I'm cutting for the center panel, which is the most delicious part for me. I love putting the trees together.
This is the left side panel, with the right up at the top of the post. From this point, they're ready for threadwork, and then will be stretched on a wood frame. Once this project is done, I'll do a post with some step-by-step photos showing how I do that part-- this one will be a bit unwieldy to get pictures along the way. The side panels are 24"x48" so I'll need both hands...

The panel is resting on my ironing board so I can tack pieces down a little at a time. Taking a hint from Melody Johnson and her super helpful blog (one of the first I started reading, check out the list in the sidebar for specific info on fusing), I use pre-fused fabrics with the paper removed. This creates what I think of as my "paints". I can then cut freely without have to worry about stitching every single piece.

You can see the paper template behind the board-- I roughed in the leaves with charcoal pencil, but having the drawing available helps me sort out what I'm seeing when the leaves overlap.

My pile of green paints is on the table, along with several small rotary cutters, scissors, and the all important tweezers, which make arranging small pieces much easier.

If you're here visiting from my Etsy shop, thanks for coming by! This current piece is absorbing all of my time right now, but I'm nearly done, and will get back to making art in a more manageable size. On the other hand, if you have a lot of wall space you're looking to liven up with something none of your neighbors have, I can help you out, lol. This piece is a commission for an Asheville resident with a very tall living room wall; I hope to have a few pictures when it's done.

Monday, March 23, 2009

found the camera.

Lots of pictures today and then I've got to get down to biznaz...

So, in reverse order over the weekend:
I recommend wine flights. Rob is sampling; we tried the Syrahs and Merlots and they were... fine. Nice after roaming the grounds for several hours.

Stepping backwards...

It's always nice, IMHO, to visit greenhouses full of big healthy happy plants, especially when you're coming off winter. And it's good inspiration for creating, all those overlapping leaves and blooms. The conservatory at Biltmore is BIG and lovely, though I'm still biased towards the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, which is biggER and less pricey. The building itself is really impressive, and gives a nice glimpse of the house through the trees, when you're standing down at the doorway (which is just barely visible here. Really, it's big.)
Gotta admit, the whole place is like a fairy tale. Another few weeks and everything will be blooming-- you could see all the buds coming up and just starting to open outside.

Prior to the gardens, we toured the house itself:

Again, tons of visual feasting. We didn't really get any photos of the house up close (and of course no photos allowed inside)... we end up looking at all the teeny stuff or architectural details that most people won't bother with. There's gargoyles everywhere and they're ALL DIFFERENT. The amount of design that went into all the individual decoration is mind boggling. There's a neat little exhibit in one of the basement rooms that shows a lot of the construction of the house, including a photo of some of the zillions of plaster models made by the architect as a guide for the stone carvers. I can't imagine how many crates full of models got shuttled back and forth from NYC to Asheville while all this was going on.

So now we're back to Howard Street!

Rob helped me get my table set up and pieces hung on the impromptu wall (door wrapped in fabric) since I was a shaky panicked mess. I couldn't even get through my cup of coffee that morning. My table mate didn't come, so I had the raffle items next to me, which was really very nice and kept me making conversation.

Foot traffic was steady-- these shots were taken right as we were opening the doors.

And now, I've got to get back in the studio, which still looks like it did Friday night before I finished packing for the show, only with more stuff spread out... maybe next week I'll get caught up on the housecleaning. Lots of work to get done in the next few days, and I'm still sketching off trees we spotted in walking around the grounds at Biltmore, so not to fear-- more updates to come.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

boy, what a weekend...

I'll be doing another post in the morning, when I remember where the camera is...

A great, and busy, weekend! Saturday was the first Howard Street Handmade art/craft shindig, and it turned out well. Steady traffic all day, lots of good fun and folks and eye candy at the vendor's tables. I'll get a few photos in.
After it all wrapped up, Rob and I stopped next door at Short Street Cakes for some much-needed coffee and cupcakes which are WONDERFUL. Rob's came with a plastic baby on top, which I think he left in the bathroom at the Wedge Brewery, our next stop....
Where I met a lovely girl wrapped in a lovely quilt, which started a great conversation. We hope to see them again soon.

And today was our first trip to the Biltmore Estate (well, Rob went in junior high or something, but that was a while ago...) courtesy of my friend Sandy, who had passes that needed using. Talk about a party house. I'd love to be able to just invite a dozen or so friends to stay the month cruising around my enormous home and gardens and indoor bowling alley. Really, who has an indoor pool in 1895? George Vanderbilt, that's who.
Truly, one of my favorite things about the house wasn't the house at all, it was the handful of portraits by John Singer Sargent, who is-- along with Auguste Rodin-- my favoritest artist ever.

We wound down the trip with a stop at the winery-- the line for the tour and tasting was around the block and down the street, so we skipped that and just got 2 flights at the wine bar. Not bad, but it pales in comparison to most of what we've had in Charlottesville, VA wineries.

I'll be back tomorrow with photos, once I find that camera....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Just a brief one today....
The weather has turned lovely again, and the morning after it's been raining is always good. Soon that sunrise will be lighting up new leafy greens and I'll be heaving a big sigh of relief. Generally, I'm a bigger fan of cold weather than warm, but it seems like this winter has gone on for too long- maybe it's being home all the time, maybe it's the depressing economic news and I shouldn't have the radio on all day... Any way you look at it, spring makes for good mental juju.

I've been watching it mostly from the windows of the studio, as I'm scrambling to finish up work and preparations for Howard St. Handmade this weekend. I'm very excited, a bit anxious, and can't wait for it to come so I can stop fretting. :) Also trying to balance that with continuing work on the big project... photos next time, maybe. So until next week, I'll be enjoying those pear blossoms from the behind the glass.

In the meantime, my back brain will be meditating on and thinking good thoughts for my parents as Mom has knee surgery this week, and Dad is staying home to help out. Hopefully they'll enjoy the time together and not make each other crazy-- it has been a long time in the planning, aand I hope that she'll feel better when it's all over.

Monday, March 16, 2009

misty mountain...

This kind of weather always makes me think of Seattle. And Tolkien.

Took a work break this afternoon to let Lucy run around outside-- as much as she can when she's still attached to me-- and the richness of color was too good to pass up. It doesn't show well by camera, but the trees almost glow with the moss and the damp. This is taken from up the hill at the back corner of the house. We're sort of situated in a bowl, with mountain ringing us on all sides, so the weather can be a little strange. The peak across the street wasn't even visible until close to 1 pm.

On the other hand, it looks like at least some of my plants and bulbs survived the constant bouncing between warm and freezing temperatures.

The next few days are supposed to be warm and sunny, so I'm glad for the rain right now. Everything is perking up, and I'll be able to get my photo set-up back out in the sun to get pictures. I like color, which means there are very few places indoors to pose artwork for a clean, neutral photo.

The ideas are coming faster than I have time (or space) to work on them right now, but I'm thankful for that. I know there will be a point where I feel strapped for inspiration again. In the meantime I'm just wishing I had another 8 hours or so of solid working time. Or that I could function well without sleep. I'm at my most manically creative between, say, 9pm and 10am... it's just that I really like my bed, too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

pounce and transfer

Okay, it's not the most dramatic photo... but the rings are all stitched on the center panel, plus some of the highlights, which will be very subtle once they're up on the wall, but hopefully will catch just a bit of the sunlight that comes through the big windows:

The rings were transferred onto the top after the interfacing was fused on. Once again my scenic background made itself useful... I needed the rings to fall precisely where they had been drawn on the template, since the idea is that some of them overlap into the side panels. And if you've ever tried to freehand a big circle while the fabric is all rolled up, you'll know it comes out less than round.

Enter the pounce wheel.

I've had mine for years and can't remember where I bought it, but Dick Blick was the major art supply place in college, so maybe there. Depending on your frame of reference, it's like a)a miniature spiked pizza cutter b)a 28mm rotary blade with points or c)a tracing wheel, only sharper.
The idea is to punch holes in the paper, so that you can rub chalk or charcoal powder over your drawing and end up with a nice dotted line that replicates your original drawing. You need something firm but puncturable underneath as you trace-- I have a piece of foam core board-- blue styrofoam insulation panels also work well, or even a piece of corrugated cardboard. I'm punching through newsprint, which goes quickly, but if you're looking for a multiple-use template or stencil you might want to try kraft paper instead.
When you flip the drawing over, you can see if you've missed anything.

Lay your drawing over the surface you're transferring onto, secure it with tape or pins, and get busy with the chalk powder. Considering the light background, charcoal might have made more sense, but it also would have made a bigger mess and I don't have any on hand. So there was a bit of tracing with a water-soluble white marking pen in some of the lightest spots.

The side panels have been transferred and layered with batting as well, and are on their way to being quilted, then highlighted with metallic thread. Almost to the fun part...
Which will look something like this.
This one has had what I think of as "anchor" stitching done, and the background quilted. The body of the tree has been stitched enough to hold everything in place, and the tips of some of the branches have been extended a bit. Foliage and additional branches will get added, a good deal more threadwork, and then it'll be stretched on a frame for hanging.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

hours of gentle curves....

The backgrounds for this big project are pieced in long strips, with gentle curves. I've been using a technique I learned in Myrna Giesbrecht's class "Points and Curves" several years ago, when it was taught at Quilt University. Myrna is no longer teaching there, but her website has info on classes and workshops that she offers, and she's a phenomenal teacher.

Anyway, about those curves... there's no pinning involved, which is why it worked out for these 52" or so runs that I needed to stitch. The pieces are set out with one overlapping the other, both right sides up, by a small amount:

The overlap is on top of the cutting mat, with the already-sewn portion to the right. I have a few pins holding the two pieces together since I've got these laid out on the floor.

Cut the curve through both layers at the same time (either freeform or you can follow a pattern, but try not to get any REALLY deeply rounded parts):

Make registration marks to give yourself a guide for lining up the two pieces when you're sewing. I put some pins in to hold them together until I'm closer to the sewing machine, but mostly because it's such a long seam. For smaller pieces, just the marks will do.

Then they get placed right sides together, and line up the fabric as you go-- no pinning--so you're only pulling together the next inch or so as you stitch. Use the registration marks to stay lined up as you go (the pencil marks are visible just in front of my thumb):

I find it easier if I keep the top fabric lifted slightly, and just keep easing the curves...

Once it's done, press with a little steam and you're ready.

I'm looking forward to the next part-- a quick bit to add interfacing, then batting, and getting those background circles quilted in, and then the fun part... drawing the tree and all the leaves.