Friday, December 31, 2010

From Frustration to Satisfaction

Well, I have really been sewing up a storm this holiday season. One project that I worked on was re-creating the leaf drawing that I was so frustrated with earlier in the month.

While in Hawaii, I found some additional fabric at one of my favorite stores, Sew Special in Maui, to try in my background. Both the sky and the 'hilly' section are the new fabrics.  In my new version, I decided to not outline the leaves but simply use Mistyfuse to bond them to a background. That worked very successfully. I then did some decorative stitching on the leaves, using my batting and fabric for the back of the piece as support. You can see that I am going for a much lighter, breezier effect this time, which I think works quite well.
My next phase was the quilting. I decided to treat my quilting lines as wind currents. The grain in the hilly fabric actually accentuates this effect. Before quilting, I actually sketched the direction of the wind through the leaves on a piece of tracing paper set on top of the fabric.
I quilted some of lines through the tracing paper  and then filled in more of the quilting. But, I didn't like my lighter quilting thread against the darker trees.
So, I decided to play with the Inktense Pencils that I just got in the mail. These watersoluble ink pencils blur when water is added and fix permanently to the fabric. What I found actually worked quite well for this purpose was to wet the pencil tip and dampen the fabric. I could then easily color in the quilt thread where it crossed the trees. I am quite satisfied with the effect.

 The result of all this pleases quite a bit. A few more touches and I shall be done with this piece.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Becoming a favorite on my Design Wall

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was reading Rule-Breaking Quilts by Kathryn Schmidt. I used some of my free time over the holidays to try one of the exercises. My objective, which I think Kathryn would agree is an objective of the book, was to increase my comfort with just free cutting pieces of fabric rather than measuring precisely. I was challenged by this concept when I took Pat Pauly's class earlier this fall and figured I could use some more experimentation. Kathryn's book gave me a bit of a structure which I really appreciated.

To start, I followed the basic instructions rather strictly. I wound up with a set of blocks.

At about that point, you are sort of encouraged to 'get creative' in assembling them into a quilt. Kathryn gives you some pointers but your finished quilt is really your own creation. After a few days of staring at the blocks, I decided to start playing. It didn't take me too long to come up with a design that I liked enough to sew together.
 I credit Kathryn's tips and many photos for the quickness of my progress. I actually found myself liking the piece the more I walked by it. So, I decided to work a bit on some additional borders to bump its size up a bit. And, I liked it even more. So, I added some more. What is interesting is how this last border really changed the balance of the colors.

At this point, I am really pleased. I am going to let it sit on my design wall a few more days. I may add some more to it. Otherwise, it is on to the next phase - quilting!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Fun

I spent a peaceful day at home for Christmas. Both of our children are living out west and my husband and I chose to stay home for the day with a simple dinner. As a result, I got to focus on my sewing for the entire day. What a luxury!

For a start, I watched a DVD on fusing by Laura Wasilowski, Fused Art Quilts. I found Laura to be a great teacher. Her DVD is very professionally produced and she even sings a song during it! Laura covers all the basics that one needs to create a fused art quilt and at the end she illustrates what she has taught in a simple project. If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been exploring different approaches to fusing, particularly after a disappointing result a few weeks ago. While my art quilts are a bit of a different style than Laura's, I still picked up quite a few tips that I will apply in my own projects. It is always helpful to see how others approach a goal, particularly when things are so meticulously taught.

I spent part of the rest of the day on a flower piece that has been on my design wall for a few weeks and which gave me a chance to experiment with the free motion quilting settings on my new machine.

This is one of those projects that disappointed me. My basic criticism of it is the heavy look of the petals. In retropsect, I should have shaped the petals more instinctively. The flower came from a photo and I got too caught up in following the lines of the photo. I also had issues with the center of the flower while I was working on the piece. The center that you see is actually a second try. I never had a really good handle on how I wanted to create the center and the first attempt really didn't work for me. I had some fabric that resembled some of what I had wanted to create so I wound up cutting a piece of that and putting it over the original center - persistence on my part.

So, that is what I didn't like about my dear flower. How about the positive? I like the colors in the petals - it was one of my first attempts at creatng petal shading through piecing. And, I like my free motion quilting - particularly the leaf effect around the petals. It is the first time I have tried for that sort of an effect and I can see that I have going to use it in future projects.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Season's Greetings to All

Thank you everyone for your friendship and support in the past year.
Have a wonderful holiday season.
With hopes for a peaceful and joyous 2011!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Obi = Martial Arts Weapons Bag

I am finally back sewing...and exploring a new machine. So, for an opening project, I decided to take an obi that I picked up in Kyoto several years ago and convert it to a holder for my aikido "weapons" - wooden sticks ranging in size from 5' to about 12".

It was an excellent opportunity for me to learn not only how to thread my new machine but also switch to dual feed and adjust pressure foot tension. And, it was a basically pretty simple project - basically folding the obi in half lengthwise, trimming to the length I wanted, and hemming the sides.

First, I created a knife or tanto pocket on the upper inside of the the bag. I found that an applique stitch worked great with anchoring in the extra obi fabric that I had left after cutting the obi to the length I needed.

Then it was simply a matter of adding some additional fabric to hold the drawstring on the inside of the top and sewing up the sides. An applique stitch worked great for that too.

Eventually I will probably add a piece to carry it over my shoulder.

In the meantime, I have a new weapons carrier and the first project completed on my new machine. It feels great to be back sewing!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Giving Value in 2011

My travels of the past weeks have meant not sewing and not teaching aikido. These absences happen from time to time because travels are part of my life. I am always a bit hesitant when I return to resume teaching.

At this point I have been teaching almost 25 years. Our group is blessed with a great core of instructors who can teach as well as me and, at this point, are probably better able to take physical falls, etc. of our art. (I turn 63 next month.) It is a favorite mind game of mine while I am gone to ask if now is the time to retire....but then I return and stand in front of the class. I am lucky as there is always a great group of students. They are inevitably skilled for their rank (due to the high quality of instruction in our dojo) and eager to learn. And, I am reminded of why I teach.

Saturday morning was a great example. I overheard two high ranking students discussing an issue in technique before class started. It became the basis for the second half of our class. As the group practiced, my experience allowed me to offer suggestions to all on how to tweak their throws. They expressed appreciation. I left the dojo feeling that my presence contributed to their learning. And, as a result, I felt great the rest of the day.

Teaching is something I love and continue to do after all these years. Why? Because I can give value.

Anytime in life that we can give value to someone, we receive as much, if not more, in return. This is true in any activity. I find that it is as true in my fiber art as in my aikido. When I feel that there is value in what I am creating, that I know it will lift someone's feeling, perhaps inspire action, then I feel great.

Garden of Dreams, 2008

For all of you, I wish in 2011 that you may appreciate the value you are giving to others in their lives through your art, your work, your many activities, and I hope that you will carry the joy of that feeling with you throughout the year.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Favorite Travel Book

I enjoy reading and go through a lot of books in a year. On this last vacation, I found one that is undoubtedly one of my favorite all-time books. A Week At the Airport by Alain de Botton has a title that may strike many as a bit strange. A book on an airport? A week at an airport? Why? It seems Alain was invited to spend a week writing about a new terminal at London Heathrow.

I travel a lot and find airports in general fascinating. So, a book by that title is bound to be one I will pick up. As it turned out, it turned out to be one of the more mesmerizing books I have read.

Alain has a wonderful sense of humor - a bit British I might say. I found myself laughing out loud many times as he described typical airport scenes.

He managed to cast a spell over me by weaving in the names of many exotic places in chapter after chapter. That alone might have made me love the book. Where were these places? Might I ever visit them?

But, what really drew me in was Alain's descriptions of humanity. Not just the poignant descriptions of travelers and airport workers. His depth of knowledge of human history is reflected in every page.  His ability to weave in questions that have faced us all through out time makes the book a most thoughtful piece.

Here is one of my favorite quotes:

At the beginning of human history as we struggled to light fires and to chisel fallen trees into rudimentary canoes, who could have predicted that long after we had managed to send men to the moon and aeroplanes to Australia, we would still have such trouble knowing how to tolerate ourselves, forgive our loved ones and apologize for our trantrums?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Project for 2011

I have signed up for an Online Beading Embellishment Workshop with Lisa Walton of Dyed and Gone to Heaven.  It starts on January 6th for 6 weeks. I have been getting hand dyed fabric from Lisa for a number of years and this workshop is a new venture for her. It caught my eye and I thought it would be a good way to start the new year.

Lisa plans to cover a minimum of:
  • Basics and equipment
  • Seed stitich
  • Stop stitch and variations
  • Attaching interesting embeliishments such as shells, stones and cabachons
  • Lazy stitch and variations
  • Back stitch including drawing with beads
  • Fringing and dangling beads
The course will be a combination of notes and short videos which will be sent weekly. Students will also have access to the course Blog  to interact with Lisa and other students.

I think this will be a fun way to learn some beading tricks and will be something I can take with me while I am traveling. If you think you might be interested, you can sign up here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One more day

Not to pound you with photos of Maui, but these are from the past few days and the colors are fascinating me.

These are from sunset after a day of storms - yes, there are occasional winter storms in Maui. "Winter Storm" meaning that it rained most of the day and the temp was only in the high 60's - why I love Maui.

The rest of these photos are from a boat trip that we took around Lanai the day after the storm. It was with Safari Boat Excursions and I heartily recommend them. The owner, Capt. Dave, does a fun-filled and thoughtful trip around the island of Lanai, with plenty of snorkeling if the weather is right.

This is our second trip with Capt. Dave and he adapts the day's stops to catch opportunities. We actually went snorkeling around this wreck off the coast of Lanai - something which doesn't happen often because of the winds and the current.
Here is a photo of Shark's Fin - that is rock, not a real shark. The reds in the cliffs is absolutely vibrant.
Another highlight was having the boat approach and slightly enter a cave along the coastline. I got to snap this shot of the upper part of the entrance to the cave. I can guarantee that this is going to be transformed into an art quilt when I get home.
Just one more photo, just because it was so special. We got to stop along the coast and swim up to take a walk on the sort of beach you imagine in your dreams. Unreal!
I shall be looking at these photos all winter!

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Morning Run!

Here are some photos from my morning run!
That is ocean behind those trees!


More sunrise
 So, I guess I am not in Rochester, NY at the moment, if there is an ocean behind those trees.

Here is last night's sunset from our lanai.

We are in Maui for a few days and I am so enjoying the warm weather. This is my time to meditate, remember what it is like to relax, and to just enjoy the moment. I trust that I will return from this trip inspired and ready for the new year. With scenery like this, how can I not!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Change How You Follow

The Harvard Business Review regularly sends out emails on research and articles in the management field.

This following email was titled Change How You Follow and caught my eye. The advice struck me as universal in application in any situation where you are involved with a hierarchical structure whether in business or community organizations.

It reflects the basic truth that the only person you can change is yourself and it is a choice for each of us on how we deal with conflict. We can become victims and complain constantly, or we can be creative in how to transform situations to work for us.

If you feel frustrated or uninspired by your leader, you're in good company. Many people are unhappy with the leadership styles of those above them. Rather than trying to oust or change your leader, it may be time to look inward. Accept what you can't change — your leader's style. Focus on what you can control — how you follow. If you have a manager who likes to have his hand in everything, don't resist the micro-managing. Instead, invite him to get involved. He's likely to include himself anyway, and bringing him in increases the likelihood he will support your work. If your leader is more hands off and fails to motivate you, find inspiration from the work itself or from others in the organization. Then, reflect back to your leader what you find most inspiring. You may be able to show him what you need by getting it elsewhere first.

The article is by Li Xin Bais, a Senior Strategy Consultant for IBM in China. The full article and ensuing discussion can be found at this link

Monday, December 6, 2010

SAQA Trunk Show At the Schweinfurth

I was privileged to participate at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in a trunk show of quilt artists who are members of the Central/Western New York Region of SAQA. It was the first time I had been part of a trunk show and it was great fun.

One of our two regional SAQA reps, Marcia Eygabroat, organized seven of us into what was definitely a diverse and entertaining show. The weather in Auburn, NY, where the Schweinfurth  is located, was snowy but there was still a full room in attendance for the show. Participants included Mary Diamond, Ruth White, Pamela Kirch, Sally Dutko, Janet Root, Aafke Steenhuis and myself. I had previously been in a workshop taught by Mary, participated in a Guild retreat where Janet had been of great help, and seen Aafke present at a Quilt Guild meeting. For me, this represented an opportunity to see more of their work, meet some new people, and get to discuss my favorite topic - quilting!

We each presented a selection of five or more of our works. Here are some photos from the event. Apologies for the photo quality - I forgot my regular camera and used my iphone.

Aafke had, as always, an impressive selection of quilts to share, but maybe what was most fascinating was a brace she was wearing on her right arm. It was necessary as she had reinjured a chronic problematic wrist. You can't see it very clearly in this photo but she had decorated the cast with little quilts, etc. It was very colorful.

Ruth White shared some of her amazingly detailed work on small quilts with us.  Here is Ruth after her presentation displaying some of her works.

Pamela Kirch shared a number of pieces from her series on microbial cells. Aren't the colors amazing!

Mary shared some of her works from her latest series on her grandchildren and Sally shared some of her abstract art pieces. I am sorry I don't have photos of either but you can check out Mary's website for photos of some examples. And, there are some examples of Sally's work on a webpage created for her participation in the Greater Ithaca Art Trail event.

Janet Root concluded the Trunk Show with a fashion show of a selection of her many jackets that she creates.

A number of the other presenters and helpers modeled the jackets for Janet as she discussed them.

Here is Marcia Eygabroat, our SAQA rep, modeling another of Janet's jackets.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a snowy afternoon in upstate New York. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Learning from Frustration

I feel like I can't sew anymore. 

 Have you ever been there? Well, that is what I thought as I looked at how my Leaf piece was progressing. It was an experimental piece - I was trying some new materials and methods - but, really, I thought it could would be somewhat respectable.

Wrong. Frustration, frustration, frustration.

I have been blogging about this project for a few weeks.

I used a photo of mine to create a sketch.

 That worked well.

Next I gathered fabrics and created the background.

The background is pieced - I did that successfully, I admit. Unfortunately, from a color perspective, I knew the yellow was going to create problems when I added individual leaves, but I thought I could get around that.

Technically, my next step was to shape the trees a bit more and then fuse them to the background. I was using Mistyfuse for this and when I did fuse them (after this photo) it worked well. I also stitched lightly around the edges of the trees with no problem.

Then I began to play with the leaves. I cut them out, with Mistyfuse on the back of each leaf and laid them out on the background.

You can see in this photo that I was appreciating and experimenting with how to address the issue of the less-than-ideal color of the background as I played with arranging my leaves. Note that the applique of the 'slenderized' trees to the background really looks okay.

So, my next step was to applique the leaves to the background. I should mention that I had fused some Pellon to the back of the entire pieced background. I have done this applique process many times before successfully. Not this time!

Yuk!!!! This is what it looked like after I have done the upper portion of leaves.

Here are three major problems as I see it:
  1. The worst is that the background did not provide satisfactory stability. I had thought I was using a fairly heavy weight Pellon that I have used before. Now I am thinking it was a lighter weight then what I have used in the past and I was out of my heavier Pellon.
  2. Also annoying is that you can see towards the bottom of the photo that the Pellon I had fused to the back began to give way and I wound up with a pucker in the background that wasn't there before! I suspect the problem here is because I really steamed the piece trying to smooth out the thickly appliqued leaves and this destroyed the pellon bonding.
  3. When I steamed the whole mess, the seam line of the background piecing shows through on the leaves.
I guess if you are going to make a mess of something, why not do a stellar job of it!

I welcome feedback on what went wrong. Granted that this would not have been the greatest of art works if it had been successfully sewn but it would have been nice if I could have created a technically proficient piece. 

What am I learning from this? Hmmm.
  • I am wondering,  if the results would have been any better if I had not fused the leaves on to the piece. This was the first time I  fused pieces and then did outlined them. Perhaps the lack of give in the upper fabric played a role? I am wondering if fusing with Mistyfuse works well if you are going to quilt over the entire piece - not heavily decorative stitch/outline relatively small fused pieces.
  • Would this have worked better if I had a stiffer support behind the fabric? I am sure at this point that this answer is yes. I am going to put some tear-away stablizer behnd another part of the piece and see what happens. 
  • Then, there are the design issues... I really should have stopped to find a better fabric for the background.  I chose the gold background for the wrong reason. It would have worked in another piece, but not with these leaves. Then I was too caught up in catching the gold of the individual leaves to switch them to a different color. 
  • Also, at the design level, I probably never would have been satisfied with my outlining of the leaves on this piece, even without the lack of stability. It is too heavy for this composition. This is a basic design flaw that goes back again to better color selection in the first place.
What am I going to do now? First, go on vacation in a few days! How convenient is that! Then totally drop working on this for a bit and play with some other projects. Finally go back and experiment on the remnants for better methods.

Thanks for listening everyone! Supportive suggestions are most welcome.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sewing Exercises for the Wrist with Judy Warner

Here is another short video with some different stretching exercises for your wrists. They come from the art of aikido. I think you will find that not only will these increase flexibility in your wrists but also help to calm your mind and body. Be sure as you try them to remember to breathe, we often hold our breaths when we are learning something new.