Monday, April 29, 2019

May Day (almost)

(Warning...not really quilting related post)

Confessions...The last 3 months have been a blur. Four if you want to be honest. My blogging and social media presence on facebook have been sporadic, if at all. I will go weeks without even getting on the computer, then think it's high time I posted, but not really have the words to say. Life works that way.

In the past, when issues in my personal life were rampant, I still had quilting as my salvation. This year has been different. I'm not burned out, but it has been challenging to find the motivation to do the things I would really like to do, like finish the top that has been started for months. Or quilt the next piece on the frame. I have always used quilting as my fuel to restart that which is crooked in life, but this time it is taking something different. The fact that quilting cannot get me back on course is stressful, and confusing. I'm not one for rediscovering what works and what doesn't, being that creature of habit. Some days it's easier to crawl into a hole and vow to try again tomorrow.

My dad was in the hospital several times in 2018, for anywhere from a few days to as long as 2 weeks. It was unsettled, but somehow he always got better, went home and life mostly returned to normal. On new year's eve 2018, he went back into the hospital. Except for coming home for 6 days at the end of January, he was there until March 31st, when he lost his battle. He had recurrent unexplained GI bleeding, then congestive heart failure & fluid retention, then kidney failure. As we learned through this process, all of these things are interrelated, and are extremely challenging to treat. When you get one of them managed, you have wreaked havoc on the other. He went on dialysis a week before he died, something he never wanted to do. In February when I was in Florida teaching, he had heart valve surgery which was supposed to solve one of his issues. The fact that it may have was masked by the continual decline he suffered in other areas. They said he had hospital-induced dementia. This once very intelligent person, who read excessively, was barely a cloud of recognition. He could not focus or hold down decent conversations some days. He couldn't sleep there. For several days of his last week he was put in a drug-induced state so he could get rest. It was all pretty miserable watching the immense decline, and how hospitals treat (and overtreat). In the end, our family had to make some very tough decisions about his care, knowing that if he could tell us what he wanted, it would probably be anything but what he was getting. Losing one of my parents is hard. It's agonizing seeing my mother go through this. She's been with him since she was 16. I want to feel whole again, but am slowly coming to terms with the fact that whole will take on a new meaning different from before. I have lost grand parents before, and a dear friend from high school when she was just 39. It was sad then, but somehow life just went on. This experience has sent me soul-searching.
There has not been a traditional service yet, as my dad and our family are anything but traditional. This is something I am so grateful for. The week following his death just seemed too all-consuming to possibly squeeze planning a quickie memorial service into. I don't know how or why most people do that. It feels so contrary to who I am and how I process grief. Hopefully my mom feels the same, as she is clearly taking the brunt of this. Though we do have a service planned for mid-May, I am already being constrained by the anxiety of going. I'm a private person, and going in front of her family and friends feeling broken is not where I want to be. I don't need everybody else's sadness to process my own. I just prefer my aloneness.

I am managing my own feelings through working on my own quilt (above) for a few weeks. I figured it was better to screw up something of my own than anybody else's...LOL!  I took it off of the frame today for a look, and it's "getting there". It's not terrible, but I'm still waiting for that feeling of being fully invested. I have some different ideas for this quilt, and how it will finish, and I'm sure that many will be taken aback by my choices, but hey, that's life, and it's my decision. The quilting is most definitely influenced by my coping mechanism. I have rationalized that it's ok for this to be different than past quilts. The process is helping with all I need to process.
(my quilt "Escape")

My salvation through this has been music. It's been in my ears 8+ hours a day. Maybe this helps my mind from wandering and thinking too much; maybe it's taking me back to a time and place when I knew nothing could go wrong, or if it did I was just too young and optimistic to care. Throughout my teens and twenties, I lived to hear the songs of Queen, having most of their albums. Kids I went to high school either loved them or hated them. You know which camp I am in. I went to high school in very-conservative southern Mississippi. The fact that we knew Freddie was gay tainted the image of this fabulous group with so many. I loved every song they did then, and still do. It's the music of my happy youth. It's the concert I snuck out to go to, and nearly got caught doing so. I remember it like it was yesterday. Until last weekend (when my 14-yr old announced it), I don't think my mother was even aware of the lie of her 16-yr old. Why, 36 years later would I even care? The resurgence of their music since the movie came out has been wonderful. It's fun to see a new generation introduced to their music (even if 2 of my 3 kids claim it is attrocious "How can you possibly like music 45 years old?"...I roll my eyes!). Not having a turntable anymore, I went and bought all CDs except 2 from the early 80's just to torture my non-loving kids! Gosh it's fun to be a parent sometimes...LOL! You will have to wait to see how exactly this coping mechanism has migrated into my current quilt.

Through the events of the past month, it took listening to Innuendo (their last studio album) in the car one day for me to realize that was the last thing Freddie sang with the group. As much as I hated to come to the realization that Queen as I knew and loved was gone (and yes I did know he died 27 years ago when it happened), it symbolized something bigger. It took this music to make me finally break down over the loss of my father, and the loss to our family. What began as a means to cope with grief, and give me peace and structure, touched a sensitive nerve too. Freddie and my dad were nothing alike, neither in person or what they did for me. But as sure as Queen's music and musicians still endure without Freddie, I know that our family, more importantly "I" will survive too, and endure whatever life gives me. Not all steps will be easy, but all steps are walkable, one day at a time. It was a poignant breakdown moment.

Onward and upward, friends. Life is not always easy or fair. Find what makes you happy. Do what brings a peace and solace to your days, even if it is 180 degrees to what another might do.

My next post will be quilting related, I promise. I am working on one as we speak!

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 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.