Monday, May 25, 2020

May Already?

I suppose that title should read "Almost June?"

Yes, I am a slacking blogger. I do have a few custom client quilts to share, but just have not taken the time to sit at my computer to post. This is one I finished a couple weeks ago for Jackie Kunkel. It is her Desert Blooms batik line. The design is particularly edgy and linear and I found that oddly challenging to come up with a quilting plan. Somehow in the discussions with her, she said maybe we could not have feathers on this one, and that request threw me for a loop. Feathers have a nice nonlinearness to them which help to soften linear designs.
 On to Plan B.  I didn't really have a Plan B though.One thing I did do on the quilt though is use colored threads. They are subtle - a soft gray and a lavender. It is also double batted so that the texture shows well.
 There's a combination of fills, frames and other things. In the end, I just had to put a "motif" (we wont call it a feather) that would help to soften the lines of the pattern. I used what I call fish-spine feathers. They are edgy and don't exactly read as a feather, but the benefit is the curved secondary patterns that result from the spines. You could say that the quilt broke me and I had to quilt feathers.

 There's a variety of small patterns on the borders, faux borders and sashings -- all intended to bring a textural component to the quilt.
I'll post more of the recent quilted goodness soon, but let me make you aware of another online learning opportunity. I have created a second online video class. The first one on grid-based fills ran this month and I am delighted to have had 75 students sign up for it. With no quilt show or locale to teach in person in sight, I have created another online class. I'd love if you'd take a look and consider taking it from me. If not, kindly share this information because others might be interested. Right now, word of mouth is the only way of disseminating this information.
Details about the class as well as enrollment are done through my website  here. You can also watch a short trailer about how the class will run, when it begins, etc.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Online Learning Opportunity

I am happy to announce my first online video class. It is called Beautiful Backgrounds and is all about grid-based designs. Details and enrollment for the class is on my website, just click the "classes" tab". If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
If you are interested, let me explain the signup process. First enrollment is done through my website Look under the"classes" tab, and signup. This 3-1/2hour class is $75 and begins on May 1st, but this is all explained on the website.

AFTER enrolling on the website, then go to facebook. Yes, you need an account even if you don't use facebook. Search for the group "Beautiful Backgrounds GridBased fills". Some have noted that searching words "Beautiful Backgrounds" or "GridBased fills" locates the group. Then hit the request membership to group button. I will approve the membership when I can match a person who has enrolled to the same name in the requested membership list.  I hope this makes sense.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Lost Identity

These days are surreal -- like nothing I could have ever imagined would be happening. A month ago I was oblivious to the immense change that our lives would be enduring. Scientists had to have known that coronavirus was going to affect many people hugely, but the magnitude to which it has is almost unfathomable.

Not even a month ago, my quilt The Value of Violet won top prize at the AQS Daytona show. This is a freaking huge award too -- to the tune of $10000. If that's not enough, my other quilt that was at that show also won one of the bigger prizes. Sadly, life at home has been such that I just cannot bolt off to every quilt show I want to attend, even if affordability is not an issue. I was sad and mopey because I just wanted to be there.

Within a week, I had made airline reservations to go to the Lancaster show. I wasn't going to wait and see how my quilts did; that really did not matter. I just wanted to go. Flying is easy as it is a short direct flight and then a short drive from Phili. The cost was about the same as driving the 8-9hr trip because it cut out 2 additional nights in a hotel. Seriously, when I booked reservations on March 1st, I had no clue what was about to happen. I knew that it might come to travel not being recommended. It just never occurred to me that AQS would be forced to cancel the show.

That news came 4 days ago, and it was hard to swallow. It came the day following when I heard that the Dallas Quilt show cancelled. It's a minor show on the circuit, but one that I had 2 quilts, both with ribbons. Cancelled quilt shows represents lost income to folks like me who make and show them as a living.

Not all who show quilts admit that it is part of their livelihood. It has taken nearly a decade for that to be the case. Some shows don't yield ribbons and checks, while some produce nice paydays. There's no way I can say with certainty how my quilts will do because you never know who is judging or who has sent in a fantastic quilt. On average, though, I know that my workmanship and style are rewarded at many shows. Is this an income that somebody 10-15 years from retirement can hang their hat on? Heck no, BUT combined with teaching opportunities and client quilting and my books, things are fine.

The writing on the wall, though, did not end with these 2 shows canceling. The gigantic wildcard was what was MQX going to do? In the last several days to week, it was becoming painfully obvious. The news was covering closures everywhere. My kids' schools closed on the weekend through the end of the month. When recommendations to not hold events with over 250 people are being made, that just about says it all. In the end, the CDC announced yesterday that gatherings of over 50 people should be avoided.

Hearing that MQX would not happen this year is like a dagger to my heart. I have gone to this show since 2010. If you count the 3 years I went to MQX Midwest, this would have been my 14th time attending and my 9th time teaching there. It is as close to a home show as they get. THIS is the show that I mistakenly entered in 2010 (the person recommending I enter really said "MQS"), and the show that spawned all of my love and interest in making/competing show quilts. I cannot even comprehend if it does not happen next year. I was supposed to teach there next month. I guess it's a good thing I did so well at Daytona because I will definitely be missing that paycheck.

So as I sit here, with my kids sequestered at home we are all feeling a bit hum drum. It's not really like they are on vacation because they cannot have friends over. Tomorrow the schools should be forwarding work instructions for how they are not going to completely backtrack educationally with this required home stay. I love having them close, yet I feel stir crazy and lost. Everything I do, every quilt I design or make has a goal in mind -- to be the best I can make so that it hopefully catches the judges attention. I make them to share with other aspiring quilters, to motivate and to inspire them. TEACH them. Then that little birdie pops into view mumbling "why?...what's the point? there is no show" Oh my goodness, there has to be another show. The cancellations of MQX and AQS cannot result in the end of these companies. They put on fantastic shows and have been my lifeblood.

This disease is serious. I hope not to have to endure it along with everything it is robbing me of. Right now though I just want the old me back. The me of today is depressed and sad and really missing how things used to be. I'm sure there are others of you feeling the very same sentiment.

Be safe, all. Heed the warnings. If this passes, I will be at the AQS Charleston show in late September.
Here's a sneak peek at something coming down the pike (please take your fingers off the "copy" button as I don't want this shared yet).

Friday, February 28, 2020

Belladonic Haze

What is a Belladonic Haze?

First, it is my newest 2020 show quilt. Some say that it is a plant that contains toxins that can cause hallucinations. Reality is, the phrase comes from a 1973 Queen song. As I go through this post, you will see why the name is relevant to me.

So here she is, all 75" of her. This quilt was started in the spring of 2018. It is my third carpenter's star quilt (go back and search for Zen Garden and Illuminations for the other two similar yet very different versions of this design). It is definitely a modernized take on this fairly traditional lone star variation.
Some years/months ago, I posted some of the early variations I had when the design was in its infancy. I played with what to do in the setting squares as well as the colors of the pieced diamonds.
It seems for quite a while I was playing with a leaf thought for the setting squares. I clearly hadn't pulled the fabrics that would be used either.
I even pondered this interesting wrought iron notion. I went so far as to draw it out on the pen tablet and have a piece of fabric printed at Spoonflower to see if I liked it. Somehow it seemed like cheating, so it was abandoned. There was just no way I was going to applique that wrought iron. These colors are fairly representative of the actual quilt though.
And here is the one I went with (EQ rendition). EQ does a great job creating a realistic model of what the actual quilt will be.

About then, I was turned on to the wildly creative paint dot mosaics of Elspeth McLean. Appliquing black bias vine seemed crazy, but appliquing thousands of dots was much more up my alley. Go figure...
You already know I'm a bit off my rocker! I was intrigued and inspired, and the quilt took off.
I pulled lots of stash fabrics in my "go-to" colors. I also had Debra Linker dye me some most awesome peach silk Radiance in several shades. I began with the pieced diamonds. While they are strip-pieced, they are anything but fast. I am careful to match intersections. These were done in the early spring of 2018.
Fabrics in the diamonds are mostly cottons, but there are a few silks thrown in for that contrast in texture.
Throughout the spring and summer (and probably fall!), I hand appliqued the setting squares - 24 in all. This pattern with 46 turned edge dots was made 8 times. It has 14 different color silk Radiance dots. When I was making them, I tried to keep track of how long each took. That was 45000 brain cells ago, though, and I have long forgotten! Best guess, from the cutting of fabrics to turning the edges to the hand stitching, each block takes around 8 hours. Probably more.

The circles were initially pin set in place, then glued, then basted. I'm picky and don't like to applique around 50 pins. They just get in the way. This is a nice taupe Radiance that I hoarded 4-6 yards of when Radiance first went discontinued. It makes a nice neutral background for all this color.

The second tier of setting squares is similar but different. It may look a bit weird from the squares below, but when they are all on the carpenters star, the pattern is obvious. It was a ridiculous assembly line of dots. All in all I made about 1300 dots for this quilt.
I am most adamant about certain colors - notably blue and brown. These are just not in my wheel house. They are not colors I relate to whatsoever. That said, I just could not find a good neutral for the background of this quilt - one that let all the colors pop, and one that coordinated with the silvery-taupe silk. Brown is a hard color to work with because you have to work to get the quilting to show. Furthermore, it's just blah. mud. I knew I had my work cut out to make this something that I would like. I kept telling myself that the star and the silk were the show, the brown is just supporting cast. To this day, I'm fully sure I agree.

The finished flimsy dates to about February 2019. I remember one day thinking that the brown background needed a little "more". That was the day I began cutting another 150 or so of those burgundy silk circles that scallop around the outermost parts of the star. After 1200, what's another 150?!
The piecing was not without its issues. Most quilts fall into this category though. The center where the 8 diamond sections came together was a "full D-cup" as we say. Flat?...neh. I steamed the heck out of it and made it better. In the end, a pretty dark green silk circle was appliqued at the quilt's center, and the offending poof was cut away. Nothing is perfect and this was far from the only blemish the top had.
The quilt is loaded with just a layer of batting and no backing. It is fully basted and marked. Message to self: On subsequent quilts, only mark the trapunto. Mark the remainder of the quilting after the trapunto is cutaway!

I decided I'd do a little cutaway trapunto on this quilt. I'm not really sure why as it is kind of a pain in the rump and it's not without risk. I was trying to get some color/interest onto the brown background. Places I did trapunto are shown in white below (that is the back of the quilt top and the white is just batting).
So, you need a little background about things before I get much further on the quilting description. The piecing of the quilt was during a relatively typical time for me, but when it came to starting the quilting last winter, life was a total mess. My dad had been in and out of the hospital in the late fall of 2018. On new year's day 2019, he went into the hospital again and was there for 3 months until he died. It was stressful and hectic, and I was not in a particularly creative niche at all. To compound this, my oldest kid was all over the map too in terms of getting into trouble at school, being suspended, skipping, etc. I was taxed and stressed to about the limit of what I wanted to endure.

This is the time I realized I needed a coping mechanism for myself or I was going to be in the loony bin fast. I found myself going back to music I loved when I was a teen. Those of you who know me don't even need to guess who it is. I am about the biggest Queen fan I know. I had their music on vinyl way back when, but failed to replace all of my records with CDs when turntables were out of vogue. Last winter I did, though, and it was like an old love was in my ears again. The music dragged me through the days I didn't fully know how to get through on my own. It helped me to want to quilt again, inspirationally. It took me to what was the funnest, most carefree time in my life. I won't go so far as to say I want to be a teenager again, but I remember the dear friends I had and how mostly life was just happy. And the 1982 Queen concert I snuck to without permission is high on my list of great life moments.
While the quilt is this explosion of color, I wanted to add my subtle homage to the inspiration that actually got me to finish it. I quilted the song titles of 36 Queen songs into the outermost border of the quilt. This is done in a blue thread, and is not "in your face" strange or anything. Or if people think that it is, get over it. This is my quilt and I can quilt whatever I want on it. You can sort of see the stitching below. I used a 40 wt thread and went over it 3 times. With 15 studio albums of song titles, I first chose my favorites, then the ones that best filled the available space.
It seems I have only a few photos of the edge of the quilt. This shows a bit of the text. Two photos back shows how I transferred the lettering to the quilt using Saral transfer paper. I did this erroneously before the trapunto was quilted and I discovered that the markings were fading much more quickly than desired so the first pass of quilting on the lettering was done with a fine brown thread, just to mark them. I went back later with the blue thread and darkened them up. Oh, the things you learn.
Fat Bottomed Girls...(one title of many from the songs I love)

The picture above shows this fun filler I put in the background. It is super time consuming, but so different so I had to do it. I teach this in my Grid-based quilting classes because it is really not that hard. If you can quilt a pumpkin seed with curves, then imagine replacing the curve with the "elbow". Now, rather than a straight x-y grid, use a hex grid!

Here is a closeup of the petal shapes I placed throughout the brown background. The finer thread was done with the trapunto. After it was cutaway and the other battings and backing were loaded, the petal was outline stitched again with a heavy metallic thread Razzle Dazzle. As an aside, this is done with the thread in the bobbin and the quilt loaded upside down. The photo is also completely out of order of when it was done since the rest of the quilting would have been done when I got to the bobbin-work quilting!
Another thing I added at the end was a little hand painting. Even with a heavy colored thread, only so much of the design shows on the brown batik fabric.
I mixed up a green-yellow that coordinated with the applique dots and carefully painted the frame around the trapunto arch as well as the points on the crown. It only seemed fitting that if the quilting was Queen-inspired that the quilt have some homage to this. Call me crazy.
I used that same star-filler that takes the hex grid again in the little arching space, this time using a lavender thread. Repeat, Resize, Reuse. The feathers on these blocks are some of my favorites. I call them my Spread Your Wings feathers. And yes, that is a Queen song - one with lyric "Spread your wings and fly away, fly away, far away" was trying its best to take me somewhere other than where I was.
It is always so glorious how feathers can create movement and secondary patterns, especially when there are 16 of these blocks encircling the quilt. These are completely freehand quilted, with only the spines marked to keep them similar from block to block.
Here's the center of the quilt. I chose to ignore the diamond piecing and create a lovely overlay design.
And, after the crosshatch went in...The texture is coming along. It is always tricky with printed fabrics to get the texture to show. Patterns must be deliberate. It helps to use simple geometries, and to enhance frames to a wider width or to use multiple frames.

Here is a sequence of pictures showing how this star filler is stitched (and another location I used it). First the grid is quilted out. Notice the hexagons or equilateral triangles.
Then I go back and add the detail fill creating the stars. This is quilted with Superior MicroQuilter 100wt polyester thread. Normally I use silk but there was not a well-matched silk thread for this color fabric. The feathers on these 8 inner blocks are different from the outer ones, but they still complement them. By virtue of how the dots were arranged they just could not be exactly the same.

I chose a brown sateen for the backing. It indeed makes a lovely two-sided quilt, showing off the quilting very nicely. Why make the judges struggle in finding the mistakes...LOL!

 So back to the name... Belladonic Haze

It dates back to what was probably Queen's first "hit" (Keep Yourself Alive) from their 1973  and 1st album. Truth be told, this album did not really launch the band. That didn't come for a while until they released Killer Queen some 18 months later. This song got more airplay then than it did at its initial release. Never the less, as a consummate Queen fan, I love to listen to the progression of their music from this first very rough and raw album to the later songs of the late 1980s and early 1990's. It has the energy I know from Queen, and a message I like. My life felt like the hallucinogenic version of a belladonic haze for the better part of 2019, as though an uncontrolled bomb went off in my mind (and the look of the quilt kind of carried that thought!).

I was told a million times of all the troubles in my way

Mind you grow a little wiser, little better every day
But if I crossed a million rivers and I rode a million miles
Then I'd still be where I started, bread and butter for a smile
Well I sold a million mirrors in a shop in Alley Way
But I never saw my face in any window any day
Now they say your folks are telling you to be a superstar
But I tell you just be satisfied and stay right where you are

Keep yourself alive (Yeah)
Keep yourself alive (Ooh)
It'll take you all your time and your money
But honey, you'll survive

[Verse 2]
Well I've loved a million women in a belladonic haze
And I ate a million dinners brought to me on silver trays
Give me everything I need to feed my body and my soul
And I'll grow a little bigger, maybe that can be my goal
I was told a million times of all the people in my way
How I had to keep on trying and get better every day
But if I crossed a million rivers, and I rode a million miles
Then I'd still be where I started, same as when I started

I'll leave you with a shot of the label. For anybody questioning it, yes I made a boo-boo and had to repair the top of the label. When I reprinted the label, the color and size were both different. I didn't feel like hand stitching an entire new label on it. I have my limits, and this quilt pushed me to several of them.

The quilt is different, it has symbolism and it has personal meaning. To anybody that doesn't get it, you don't have to. It means something to me and that is all that matters.
I created the sleeve with Photoshop and printed it and the label at Spoonflower. It has the titles of many Queen songs, as well as sections of lyrics that resonate with me. I leave you with a couple shots from their concert last summer in Boston. There's no Freddie as there was when I saw them in 1982, but they are so incredible still, even in their 70's.

While these pics are not the clearest (quilt is hanging in a location with lots of natural light making the photo appear hazy), here is Belladonic Haze at her debut show, MidAtlantic Quilt Festival. She hangs with a most joyous 3rd place ribbon too!