Monday, September 15, 2014

A Good Day to Dye

It was something I swore I would never do. I'd given it a shot years ago, and decided that dyeing fabric was something I didn't need to do. I mean, it's not like there aren't a million zillion fabrics already out there, just waiting to be discovered and then chopped into lovely little bits. But....

Finding yarns for tapestry in a range of gradations (especially in the US), is a real challenge. In fact, finding yarns for tapestry is rather complicated all the way around, there are so many variables. Just as with fabric, the medium values are easy to find. It's the lightest  lights and darkest darks that are the biggest challenge.

Just as always, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how this hand dyeing thing worked. Wanting just small amounts of each color for now, I knew that I wanted to use mason jars and a canner for steam setting the dyes. Figuring out how much dye to use to achieve the desired depth of shade was the stumbling block. Different sources varied widely as to how much to use, so my first batches were way, way more intense than I was looking for.

But the colors came out so clean and bright and pure, it was still super fun to just toss the skeins in the dye and just see what happened.

After a while I just started mixing colors, adding black to skeins that came out too close in color to be useful, or blue, or red.

After my first day of dyeing, I was pretty darned happy with my yarns. It's a pretty good selection, if I do say so myself, especially considering I had no idea what I was doing! Not quite the light lights and dark darks, but hey, that just means I'll have to dye another day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hat Dance Hanging

Here's my Pilgrim/Roy Invitational Challenge quilt, hanging in a special exhibit at the American Quilter's Society show in Grand Rapids, MI! On my list of things to see at the show, I had to get special dispensation from the show organizers (Bonnie Browning herself took the picture) because the exhibit was labeled as no photography allowed.

Honestly, this is pretty much the only way one of my quilts will hang in a national show. Competition is just not my cup of tea. But thank goodness that there are so many quilters willing to show their quilts, or we would have nothing but vendors to see at a show.

Not that that would be a bad thing. Of course I checked out the vendors! I saw a fabric that I adored, and then didn't buy it because it wouldn't be enough to be the background for a queen sized quilt. Stupid, stupid! It would have been perfect for a smaller project. I can have such tunnel vision when it comes to purchasing supplies. Sometimes my need for an orderly stash really hampers my shopping.

I didn't see much that was new, but I did enjoy reconnecting with some old pals. I was heartened to see so many traditional style quilts and vendors. I thought that the modern quilters had pretty much run us out on a rail. But, it seems that we're still going strong, and maybe I will go back to designing new quilts and writing patterns.

One thing that did catch my attention was the brand spanking new Bernina sit-down quilting machine.  How long have we been asking for this? Only one of two machines currently in the US, I was able to sit and stitch for a bit, and it's lovely. It's quiet, and it has the capacity to use regular sewing machine needles as small as 70/10! For most quilting machines, it's 90/14 or bigger, and I know that folks do wonderful things with those needles, they've always been the deal breaker for me. But now... well, I guess it's time to start stuffing that piggy bank. They won't be available until next spring, so I'll have plenty of time to skim some cash off the grocery budget. (Don't read that sentence, Kent. I'm just kidding, really. Sort of.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rest is Not Idleness

Taking some time off to heal and consider my options is not as easy as it sounds, especially not for someone who is used to a lifetime of going at full steam ahead. Taking a step (okay, a leap) back from the physical challenges of travel, and starting physical therapy, have proved to be just the thing for my dodgy old neck and my creative burnout.

This has been my summer of weaving. I've always turned to learning a new craft when my creative juices run dry. I think it's a "making" thing. It's a new label, being a maker, but it perfectly defines me. I have been a maker all of my life, and when taking a break from making quilts, it was only natural that I should need to make something else.

The tapestry bug has bitten me, hard. I'm talking the weaving kind of tapestry, not the embroidery kind. I've taken two tapestry classes this summer.

Starting last spring, Rebecca Mezoff offered a three part, comprehensive online tapestry class. She's just charming, and the class format included lots of personal interaction. I highly recommend the classes. The sample to the left is from one of the early parts of the process.

In August I attended the Michigan League of Handweavers' annual workshop retreat. What fun! Just as in quilting, weaving is bent and shaped into so many intriguing art forms, just waiting to be explored.

While there, I took a tapestry class from Nancy McRay. It was awesome! The sample above is from her class. Three days of the quiet strumming of tightly warped looms, extremely individualized lessons and wonderful encouragement, were a balm to a healing soul. (Not to mention the nightly hugs from grandbabies, the retreat being in their town.)

And here is my class final project for Rebecca's class. That's a pumpkin growing there, just in case you couldn't tell. The tapestry is only ten inches wide, so I'm having to edit, edit, edit to try to tell the story. I'm really pleased with some of it, other parts, not so much. I'm still thinking of spaces as in fabric for applique, and that's holding me back a bit. But I'll get there, probably in about a million years, but then, if it could be mastered in a day how inspiring would that be?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Academy of Applique

At last! The big reveal. This is the applique project that saved my sanity during our crazy month of family comings and goings. I've been invited to teach at the Academy of Applique in Williamsburg, Virginia! If that's not cool enough, I'm going to be teaching two multiple day classes, giving us a chance to really explore and savor the applique process.

 This is the class sample for the three day workshop at the Academy of Applique. The class descriptions are on line now and registration will open on September 2nd. This class is called Gather Ye Rosebuds, and in the three days of class we will have the time to play with design and color. We'll concentrate on the more flexible, modular aspect of my applique technique in this class. I'll have dozens of preprinted flowers in various sizes and shapes with which to fill our vases. We'll even have time to design and sew our own custom backgrounds to give our bouquets just the right setting. I had so much fun playing with color values and shapes I am already planning another version.

I will also be teaching a two day workshop, Autumn's Bounty. This class will be a great introduction to the basic "Hand Applique by Machine" technique. We'll have time to audition and select just the right fabrics to show off our lovely harvest. (I'm in love with the grapes.) I'm expecting that we will be able to go home with our applique pretty much finished, which is rather amazing for applique workshops, if I do say so myself.
As I've mentioned before, I've really cut back on my teaching schedule, and I haven't done much teaching on the east coast. The Academy is a wonderful gathering of all things applique. Come on all you applique artists, this is the place to bond with your people, learn new things and generally have a great time.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Time Travel

Do you ever wish away time? Do you try to mentally project your thoughts to a date and time where life will return to what ever is normal for you? I have to admit that I do. It's not so much that I'm wishing away time, I know life is too short for that, but it is sort like casting out an anchor for getting through challenging times. In a way, it's like envisioning my victory over the current situation.

It's been like that for the past month. I've tossed a marker to today, knowing that our wonderful, but hectic, family gatherings will have been enjoyed and survived. Ironic, isn't it, that not too long ago I was deep in the throws of empty nesting, and now I look forward to being back to my quiet life. That's the thing about life, I suppose. It's always changing. Normal really is just a setting on the washing machine.

Our Kansas kids were back in town for about ten days. While we were home base, they were here to celebrate weddings and reconnect with friends. We saw them in the mornings on their way out the door, and sometimes in the evenings as they regrouped for nighttime activities. We did have a lovely time on the drive down to Detroit Metro, for their return flight home. Yeah, I cried a little when they left. It's a mom thing.

Our grandchildren stayed with us for a week. They are now seven and four, and delightful, well mannered kids, and exhausting. I don't know how folks our age manage young children of their own. But, we had a great time together, and I'm grateful that they live close enough that we can be a part of their lives.

Of course, in the middle of all the excitement, I had a class sample to finish. As usual, I stressed out about it way more than necessary, but it too, is done and gone. (More on that in a couple of days.)

It won't be back to happily boring though, for a few more weeks. I'm looking forward to three days of tapestry workshop this week, where I get to be a student. And there will be autocross for Kent. From there we will blissfully slide into our familiar routine of work and play. Not that I'm counting the days or anything.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How it begins

I've been invited to teach a three day applique class next March. Three days! I'm so used to trying to cram everything I know into just six hours that three days seems like an incredible luxury. I'm excited to be able to devote time to design, color theory and embellishment as well as technique. With this in mind, I've set out to develop the class sample.

My idea is to offer students a variety of flowers (you were expecting something else?), in several shapes and sizes, and allow them to arrange their own bouquets. The challenge is to present enough choices to keep everyone happy, but, at the same time, I don't want to offer so many choices that students can't make good progress on their samples.

Here's my preliminary layout, with some of my fabric choices surrounding it. I've gathered up three different styles of main character flowers, there will be three of each in the handouts. I've used one of each here as a sort of tease, but also because it is this sort of mish mash bouquets I have been cutting from my garden.

So far, so good, right? The vase isn't showing up well here, it is actually a little more complex that what can be seen. As I'm working on the glue basting I'm also considering what sort of embellishments I will add to the shapes. I may do a little ink work on the yellow rose, but I think the zinnia and the painted daisy will need some french knots, at the very least.

Moving on the accent flowers, it's there that I hit a snag. That's my little finger in the picture. That circle is less than a quarter of an inch in diameter. I want to challenge my students, not frustrate and discourage them. Glue basting shapes this small takes skill and patience. Most of my students would probably be able to pull it off by the end of the second day, but I'm thinking that I want to keep this class fun and gratifying. So, I'm back to the drawing board to simplify and enlarge some of the smaller elements. I think I'll leave some smallish ones in place, for those who really want a challenge.

I'd love your feedback! What would you like to learn in a three day applique class? Would shapes this small scare you off, or reel you in? Would you rather work from a proscribed pattern, or would the idea of designing your own bouquet excite you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A summer for gardening

It's been a lovely, quiet summer so far. The weather has been mild, a good mix of happy sunny days and charming all day rains. The flower gardens are really coming along, although I still have some major weeding to do on a couple of them.

Our hard winter was really tough on my perennials. Quite a few didn't survive, including several of my roses. I put off weeding and planning to see what really was gone, and what was just taking its sweet time about coming back. I've had a few nice surprises, especially from roses I was sure were gone.

The pond also suffered from the hard winter. We lost nearly all of our fish. The ice was nearly three inches thick when we finally hefted it out of the pond, near the end of April. We'd been waiting for it to simply melt away, but our cool spring prevented that. Despite having lots of aeration, I think the fish suffocated. We've added three new fish and a few new water plants. and I think it is looking well again.

Gracie is learning that grass is good for sprawling, but mom gets super mad when she lolls around on the flowers. I'd lay prickly rose branches between the plants to discourage her, but they seem to be her especially favorite to chew. I catch her swiping them out of the weed cart all the time.

The gardenia is now constantly in bloom, adding its scent to the lavender and roses. I've left the few milkweed volunteers, hoping to coax a monarch butterfly, or two. I haven't seen a single one so far this year.