Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Value of Violet - The quilting

Judging at MQX is done, so I am comfortable sharing the rest of the details on this quilt. I realize that some have seen the quilt already in person at MidAtlantic, but I get superstitious about a new quilt's judging where MQX is concerned. This is almost always the first show I send any new quilt to because the quality of judges and the value of their critique is unmatched. Though it did win viewer's choice at MidAtlantic, part of me wishes I had waited to enter it. The comments from the judges were shallow, as though they didn't really look at the details to comprehend the thought processes that went into its making. Life goes on. There is always another show. I am thrilled that those who attended the show recognized what I feel is this quilt's potential. To me, it is my best quilt made to date. It may not win ribbons everywhere it goes, but maybe it can inspire somebody.
A few weeks ago I showed you the top and explained some things about its making. Now, let's look at the quilting. Typically, I spend ~6-8 months getting the quilting on a large quilt finished. Looking at the dates on my photos, I started the quilting in April, and finished the quilting some time in September. It would have been loaded, removed and reloaded onto the longarm several times, depending on my inspiration and client workload.

This is the first quilt for which I attempted trapunto. Back in 2011 or 2012, I took a basic trapunto class at MQX. We worked on a 15"x15" sample piece. It was fun, right up to the point that I snipped through the quilt top (while I was clipping the trapunto). For those unfamiliar, cut-away trapunto is done by quilting portions of the quilt with just a batting. You then go back and snip (very carefully) around the perimeter of the quilting. You will then reload the top with whatever battings are desired and quilt the entire quilt. It's time-consuming as well as risky.

I wanted to bring a subtle awareness to the fuchsia in the quilt through thread. To test if this might work, I started with a small sample of the outer border, which is made from 1" purple squares. I even went so far as to put gray silk beside it so I could see if the cutaway looked natural by the much more sheer fabric.
My quilting plan for the sample was exactly what I envisioned for the real quilt -- more orange peels. This is clearly intentional to bring part of the quilt's piecing/applique into the quilting. In this case, I chose to densely quilt on the trapunto areas to bring this thread color onto the fabric. 
The next step is to take the quilt off and very carefully snip around the trapunto.  You have to snip close to the stitched line, but not too close! Cutting a line of stitching means it has to be fixed. It does create a lot of waste batting, but that is part of the process. "Real" trapunto quilters (those that leave the shapes not quilted on) usually use a lofty batting like poly or wool, but because I was quilting on these orange peels, I chose an easy batting to cutaway - Hobbs 80/20. I was still planning to double batt the entire quilt, so adequate loft was not a concern. 

Here is my finished sample, after it is batted and backed. I gave it some background quilting in the areas around the orange peels that might be similar to what I would eventually do. Can you see how the peels pop?! The trapunto test was a success to me. 
 This would be done on the quilt's large outer border as well as in one other location on the point central border.
Now let's fast forward a bit...Trapunto is stitched, trimmed. Quilt is reloaded with backing and batting...Here we go. Let's do the rest of the quilting. First, though a quick look at the trapunto outer border beside the quilt.
 Many people ask what order I quilt things on a large quilt. Is the SID done first? Do I just keep changing thread colors as needed? There is no simple answer to this question, because it may be done differently on each quilt. For this one, though, I started at the top, quilted that purple border, then I proceeded to baste the entire quilt. I gave it a grid of 1/2" basting stitches every 4", and in both directions. Doing this enables me to move around the quilt, and to use whatever color thread I desire, when I want to. While this quilt has a lot of items that could be ditch stitched, it also has larger areas that just cannot be left unquilted. That makes the process tricky. After basting, the ditching was done, using a clear monofilament nylon thread.
Often I approach the quilting with much of it designed. This was not the case on this quilt though. I think I was just sensing time was of the essence to get quilting on it. Off and away I went!...

The design I chose for the pieced-diamond corners (above) attempted to marry an interpretation of clam shells with a fill motif that I thought mimicked the avant-garde "flowers" I appliqued in the lower corners of the border (see below). This spiky shape was reinvented within the clam shells. I should mention that some patterns, though different as in the case of clam shells and pumpkin seed, derive from a similar shape, and thus work very nicely together. Am I crazy? yes, probably, but I do think about these things too when I choose what to quilt where.

Now, for a look at the finished corner...
I think all of the curves play nicely together. To help set them off, I added the outer frame in a fuchsia color thread that was filled with swirls. Denser quilting was placed inboard of it to set it off. The diamond basket weave flat fill was quilted with a 100wt silk thread so that the fabrics showed and not the thread, but all other motifs on these corners were (I think) 40wt thread. The 1/4" linear pattern outside of the last frame has just enough texture to show on its own. Remember, effective quilting is all about selecting patterns to place beside one another that show both individually as well as together. 

Moving on...

Some of the backgrounds on this quilt were very printed. I do like what this brings to the texture of a finished quilt. It certainly poses as a challenge, though, when quilting and trying to see what on earth you are doing (unless you are using a contrasting color thread, which was not the case). With that thought in mind...I second guessed these small pumpkin seeds, because half of the time I just couldn't see them. In the end, they are still there, but they only show when the light is just so. Deciding what to use for motifs is not always easy. The notion of repeating piecing into the quilting, as I did here, helps to create unity for the overall quilt. And, after all, I just couldn't use linear lines everywhere there was print! 
As an aside...you can see the second location (above) that I decided to put the trapunto. This time, the quilting in fuchsia thread is in a finer silk, so that it has a more delicate effect on the solid purple fabric.

On to the applique border now. This area of the quilt already has great interest since this is where the applique is located. The problem I created, though, is that I also used the very solid gray silk here too -- and for me, traditionally, locations where I put silk are places I hope and expect to have more showy quilting. Delicate, detailed quilting does not show well on the print, but it does on the silk.

I don't really know how this particular design for the space behind the applique came about, but the general feeling of this quilt has always been one leaning towards the Asian influences to me. I remember this awesome Japanese garden I used to visit in San Francisco (back when I lived in No Cal). It had peaceful pagodas, koi ponds, simple gardens, and appealing meandering walkways. The serpentine walkway look came from that memory.
I included the random stacked bricks in my book Dense & Dainty, and always wanted a location that it just felt right. This was the one. It is also bordered with bricks turned on end, to give a more realistic feeling. This part of the quilting is stitched in a lavender thread. Though it does not show in t he photo above, it does show in the real quilt. I also quilt around the blocks more than one time so that the line between blocks is pronounced and darker in color.
I created  this very low-tech cardstock pattern to create the walkway shape. They were marked as I quilted them because I didn't have it planned well enough before it was loaded.
The space around the brick ways is quilted in gray silk thread. These 1/8" spaced lines are very effective at popping the applique, but were a complete pain given the massive number of knotting and burying of threads this entailed.
 Here's the finished border.
The only area I have not discussed is the center of the quilt. It is easy to look at this and just see 100 orange peels and background. I staged the color gradation of the petals to be lighter at the center to draw the viewer's eye inwards. I wanted the quilting to do this too. Creating a central focal point is important, especially on medallion-style quilts that do have an intended visual center.
I placed a very-visual diamond at the center. I also created a secondary frame outboard of that. Both of these frames consist of two 1/4" channels so that they show more effectively on the printed Kaffe gray fabric. Putting dense linear lines on both sides of the frame enhances the frames' visibilities.  

Originally, I was going to use two or 3 different floral fills for the silk areas, but you may notice that in the finished quilt (a couple pictures down from here), I have just one. I got to yank out the more ruffly flowers because I didn't think the variety was effective. Sucky? yup...but life goes on.

The quilting on the silk petals themselves is all identical. You could say I learned my lesson with the backgrounds :-)  I actually pulled this leafy-feather design from a 2015 quilt of mine, Bouquet Royale. A similar version was used on the almond shapes surrounding the center medallion.
On The Value of Violet, different color 40wt poly threads were used for these orange peel pieces. The quilting was not done in silk, as I often do on silk fabric. Mostly, I wanted the added texture that a colored thread brings.

Here are a couple pictures of the backside of the quilt... The backing is not a solid, which I often choose. It is a pretty, Gingko leaf print reminiscent of Asian designs. The quilting on this quilt was such that I knew there would be every color bobbin from white to dark purple. I opted for a print because I didn't know what solid color backing might be best. Lazy?...yea, a little!
 Kinda pretty from the backside!
I'm almost done...

How about a relatively brief discussion on embellishments. The quilt does have some subtle things added after it was finished to enhance it's appearance.

Remember the frames I quilted to the center of the medallion? When I saw the finished quilt laying on the floor AND when I knew that the binding/edge would have the bright white prairie points, I knew that the center really needed the white too. It needed a small punch, nothing too heavy, to bring the viewer's eye inwards. The white at the outer border would serve to move the eye outwards. At that point, though, I'd have to go with paint. It was too late to applique. I always approach paint and fabric as a last resort, knowing that in the blink of an eye I could completely botch a finished quilt that has somewhere between 800-1000 hours invested. This is painted with a white paint with a pearlescent colorless extender. It has a subtle sheen. It took about 3 coats to cover the Kaffe print, but the end result is good.
The other things I did were to add embroidery around the perimeter of every orange peel. It is in a color floss that is slightly darker than the silk. And it took what felt like near forever! It is so hard to embroider at the middle of a finished quilt. Someday, just someday, I will think of these things before the top is sandwiched with multiple layers of batting! I also added the delicate ring of pearls around the center circle. I did not add crystals or pearls to go over the top. This is a very traditional quilt, and it needs that simpler, understated elegance.

There were a couple places I hand couched a perle cotton floss in deep fuchsia. It helps to give a finished look here. It is stitched on with a matching SoFine thread.
In this location, you can see where I traveled numerous times with a pink thread. There is too much backtracking...too much to leave and too much to try to mask with purple Sharpie. Whoops, my secret is out!...
So, with the same perle cotton, I hand couched another line of embroidery thread across this area. What's another 10 hours between friends?...Seriously, all of this hand embroidery and hand-couching is extremely time consuming. I spent nearly ~60-70 hours doing all of it.
I don't weigh how long something will take when trying to decide whether or not to do it. It all comes down to "Will it make this a better, more finished quilt". Then the answer is very simple. 
The last area I embroidered around are these white appliqued swags. In this case, I chose 3 strands of white satin floss. It gives the edge of the appliques an interesting effect, almost a texture and a sheen.
Just before I brought this to the MQX owner, I thought I'd take one stab at fixing a couple of places where the older embroidery thread bled (see below). On a quilt many years ago, I marked the pieces with Sharpie pen, and some of this remained on the edges of the pieces. After I blocked the quilt, this sharpie bled to the top and back of the quilt. I was successful getting it out using rubbing alcohol. So...I dabbed a Q-tip in alcohol and went to rub the bleed spot. Almost instantaneously, the bleed blossomed and spread. It was the colossus "oh-shit" moment if ever there was one.  
Because I had already bound the quilt with all the scallops, there was no way I was going to reblock this. I had just one last option to fix this up my sleeve...Paint. All the white paints I owned were pearly so I had to buy a jar of flat white Jacquard acrylic paint from my local artist store. I thinned this down slightly with medium that does not have a pearlescence, and gently painted away the bleed. I was extremely lucky!


So there you have it. That is all I can think of to write about this quilt. Since this has posted, it is fast forwarded 2 weeks. I don't know at the time I am writing this how it will do at MQX, if it will ribbon, or what the judges will think of my choices. That is partly why I usually keep these longer analytical posts about my decisions until after it has been seen and judged. I like judges to discover the details without them being told where they are. I hope you have enjoyed hearing about this quilt. If you have any questions, please post them here or on my facebook page (where this will also post).  I can be found here on facebook. If you post questions here, though, I can only reply if you have your blogger account enabled with an email.

Cheers!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Quilted Scallop Binding for The Value of Violet

My days are needing a distraction, so I thought I'd get back to the posts I have envisioned to do on the making of The Value of Violet. This post discusses the quilted scallop binding I put on this quilt.
 The nice thing about this detailed finish treatment is that it is mostly done on the machine. That, though is the double-edged sword because some of this process was challenging because of using machines. Often it is easier to "tweak" as needed when doing hand work.
I tried to take photographs throughout the making of this binding edge, but I do know (in retrospect) that I did not capture all of the steps quite as thoroughly as I would have liked.

***added...
When I initially wrote this post, I failed to mention the importance of this step.  When embarking on creating a new (or in this case somewhat experimental) edge treatment, making a mock-up is really important. Below I am showing both the mock-up I did for a previous quilt, as well as the one done for The Value of Violet. At this point in my thinking process, they were very similar. I was unsure of how the narrow lavender 1/2" strip of silk Radiance would behave, in the latter case.

********
As you can see from the first two photos, the scallops are made from several different shades of the lavender fabrics. There are also some done from the silk Radiance (below). I just did not have enough of the Radiance to do all of them. The first step is to determine what size/diameter scallop will be used. The pieces of fabric are cut a bit larger than this, but I always mark a boundary for where the finished seam will go so that quilting does not extend further than there. These are quilted on my long arm -- this is mostly because I find it easier to do, and I am really not a very good domestic machine quilter.
I made 104 scallops. The initial quilting on the scallop just has a cheap muslin on the backside and Hobbs 80/20 as the batting. Each color scallop has a thread that best compliments its shade. I quilted a simple half-flower design on each, after first playing with several other options.

Below, the quilted scallop is seen from the backside (muslin side). The plastic gig is centered on the quilting, traced, and then the scallop is cut out.The soft fabrics distort and stretch some, so using the original marking on the front of the shape is not the most accurate way to end up with a semicircle.

Here are some of these cut out, seen from both the back and the front.

I made up several samples before delving into the actual scallops. The one on the left is just finished as I would have done a previous quilt (Taking the Unmapped Road), while I the one on the right is amped up by the addition of a micro-piping. Adding the piping was complete craziness, but I loved how it completed the look, making it appear more finished. Chaching...this was bound to add at least 50 hours to the project!...
As luck would have it, I had a yard or two of this grape Radiance which had not yet been used on the quilt. I cut strips of bias about 1" wide (if memory serves correctly). The Radiance is wrapped around a piece of very fine cording, and is stitched with a zipper foot using a matching silk thread. I don't know how many yards of this stuff I made, but quite a few.
Next, it is trimmed using Susan Cleveland's trimming tool to have a consistent 1/4" seam.

Now I get handy with the iron and Elmer's glue. Pieces of the piping are glue set around the perimeter of the scallop. The glue is heat set with the iron. You could pin them, but the presence of the cording makes pins a pain in the rump to deal with.
 
I immediately stitch the piping down, again with the silk thread.

The next step is blind. These scallops are backed with the same fabric I used for the backside of the quilt, for a continuous look. I cut 104 "backs" using the same gig shown earlier. the backs are pinned onto the top of this piped, quilted scallop. The pieces are carefully stitched together with a zipper foot. I use my fingernail to locate where the piping is so that the stitched line is right beside it. It is a slow process, and often required going back and moving the stitched line a bit closer as needed.
Turn the scallop right-side-out to inspect, and "tweak" as needed. If it was ok, then a second line of stitching was placed 1/8" outboard of the first. Note, in both cases I am using a very short stitch length and a 50wt poly thread.

 Trim just barely outside the 2nd line. My Karen Kay Buckley scissors are fantastic for this. The serrated edge keeps the cut sharp and accurate. Lastly, create small snips into the curve, occasionally penetrating through the outermost line of stitching. This will ensure that the curve will turn and be smooth.
 Let's look at the finished, piped quilted scallop...From the backside -
And now from the front - 
  The dark purple piping was perfect!
It was not enough to just create perfect scallops. Now they have to be turned into the binding.

I measured the edge of the quilt, going one side of the quilt at a time. A 1" strip of the grape radiance (this time interfaced) was cut, marking the exact length. Scallops were placed along this and stitched on. For several weeks, I puttered with ways to jazz this simple binding just a little, each time really wanting to bring some of the white into it. Call me a nut, but my eye wanted to have a dash of white at the outer edge. I played with using a cording (below). Interesting, but too much finicky hand work was my final assessment.
 I also contemplated adding a scallop of another shape to place in between the purple semicircles. My first go at this plan was using a white satin fabric. I did not have enough white Radiance, and did not want to use white batik. I wanted the sheen.
These were also quilted on the longarm. My first go with this plan proved frustrating. The blue marking pen did not want to come out, and I ended up soaking them, which caused distortion. I just was not pleased with the finished result. I managed to get my hands on some PFD Radiance, and tried again, but when I assembled one of the binding sides, it was thick and bulky. Again, not something I was going to use. Sorry, no pictures of this for some reason.
 For a while it was a veritable white scallop factory.
In the end, I opted to go with the prairie points in white, just as I had done with the previously done binding. I really wanted to have this edge slightly different, but it was not in the cards. I was running out of fabric, steam and time. Life goes on.

So...100 or so of the prairie points were made (again no photos). They alternate white batik and white Radiance, just to get that occasional pop of sheen. These are placed and stitched behind the purple scallops. Then a piece of ~2" wide "facing" fabric (it is the light print above) is stitched to the assembly.
With all pieces together, the grape Radiance part of the assembly is pinned and sewn to the quilt. I had already added a micro-piping to the edge of the quilt. That is why I needed to mark a line (above) with pencil to know where to stitch. This contraption has a good bit of bulk so using the zipper foot didnt work well. marking the piping edge, then following the line was the simplest thought I had.
 The facing was hand stitched to the back of the quilt. It is not perfect. The use of slippery fabrics make for a pretty distraction, but they can be challenging to keep really straight or in place. In the end, I think it turned out well, and mimics the orange peels of the quilt's design.