Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Mr and Mrs Blackbird

I've just finished working on this quilt, which is the fourth in a series of blackbird quilts, though the third is still waiting for a few finishing touches.

Like my other blackbird pictures this has a curve-pieced background which is quilted before I start to lay on the applique.

Then, as usual I sketched out various elements on pieces of paper, and tinkered with the composition until I felt it was right.  This part of the process takes ages.

I use Oakshott shot cottons a lot, as you can see if you look for the label in my side bar.  The different warps and wefts create a feeling of dimension, and the colours are extremely beautiful, so they are ideal for applique.     

Only the brown was difficult to get right and so I used a single French General fabric (front and reverse) for Mrs Blackbird.  This turned out to be very fortuitous because I have run out of the second-hand black beads I used for the eyes of previous blackbirds and I couldn't believe my luck when I looked at the colour test circles on selvedge.

I added a shine to the eyes with a french knot.

This piece is a commission, and I wanted to give it a bit of clout so, rather than binding, I finished it by wrapping round a homemade wooden 'stretcher'.

Mr and Mrs Blackbird
Shot cotton and quilting cotton
Curve piecing, raw-edge applique, free-motion embroidery
38 x 38 cm

Monday, 3 February 2020

Poppies by the Sea

I've just finished a quilt inspired by a miraculous sight last summer when there was a beautiful flush of poppies by the sea near where I work in East Lothian.

They were such a surprise as they are not what I usually associate with coastal flora.

Although they look so delicate and fragile, with their silky petals, they seemed to stand up surprisingly robustly against the wind and rain.

I love those colours against the sand and sea.

This little quilt is at about 12 inches square.  It is pieced, quilted, appliqued using Oakshott shot cottons, and embroidered.

Poppies by the Sea at Cockenzie, East Lothian
12 x 12 inches
Pieced, quilted, appliqued, embroidered
Oakshott cotton, quilting cotton
Mounted on canvas

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The Endeavourers #9, Wishes: Say it With Flowers

Today is our quarterly reveal for The Endeavourers quilt group, and our theme this quarter was 'Wishes'.  For some reason I found this theme a very difficult one.  I couldn't think how to express it.  I had lots of thoughts about what 'wishes' might be about but none of them would settle into a quilt.  Eventually I set on what I would wish for someone else - happiness.

We often express our hopes and wishes to other people in the form of flowers  - either as a bunch of flowers or as a symbolic bunch of flowers on a card - so this became my plan.   I wanted to make a really jolly, happy and exuberant quilt as my quilts are usually more restrained, and maybe subconsciously I was wishing for a bit of colour at the end of a long grey January!

I was going to add a little banner at the top of the quilt, saying "Be Happy", but when I tried it out I didn't like it and although it would have made the quilt more obviously relevant to the theme artistic vanity won over.

The vase and table cloth are pieced, and the flowers are raw-edge applique, with quilting to make parts of the flowers stand out.  I thought a couple of the flowers needed a bit of extra pop so added buttons to the centres - the largest amount of time was spent in fussing with the composition.   Finally I bound the quilt round a canvas and stapled it in place.  I had a lot of fun making it!

Please check out the fantastic work of my fellow Endeavourers on our group blog.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Positivity: A quilt gets a second life

Four years ago I made a quilt.  It was very difficult to make but I had a particular vision of how I wanted it to be.  At the time I was looking for a bit of optimism, and though I'm not religious the quilt was a symbol of my faith at the time that everything would be alright.     

The quilt was pieced with tiny squares - each one finished at one quarter of a square inch, ie the sides are a half-inch long - in Oakshott cotton and gold silk, and had on it a red cross under which I laboriously pieced the words 'Help Will Come'.

It was a kind of personal marching banner and when I was finished with it I was really happy with it, but looking at it I suddenly realised (duh!) that although it was a very personal quilt it might be taken to refer to an international aid organisation - not what I intended at all.

This realisation was a bit of a blow and I kept it under my bed for the next four years trying to decide what to do with it.  Yesterday I got it out again and, holding my breath, cut the bottom off.

Without the wording it is very reminiscent of Victoria Gertenbach's "9 Patch Quilt in Red and White" but I am still proud of it because it really was a beast to make and although I am its mother, so to speak, I think it is still beautiful even if it is in a different way to what I originally intended.  In fact its transformation rather matches my evolving attitude to life - I don't feel any more that help will necessarily come from external sources but that we have try to stay positive and make our own changes to the world.

Friday, 1 November 2019

The Endeavourers #8, Dreams, "Moonlit"

Today is the 8th reveal for the Endeavourers art quilt group. 

Our theme this quarter was 'Dreams' and I knew straight away that I wanted to make a quilt about the moments between twilight and dawn when your senses become really acute but at the same time the natural world takes on a magical and rather dream-like quality. 

One of the best things about being involved in a quilt group like ours is being inspired by all the other members.   In this quilt I borrowed a technique from Fiona who is always so adventurous in trying out something different.  In her last piece for the group she used cyanotype (solar-printing fabric) and the colour and effect of this technique fit perfectly with what I envisaged.

My initial plan was to use a bit of cyanotype along with overprinting and painting but once I got started I fell so in love with the process and the result that I did not want to add any further colour or techniques, so my quilt owes a far bigger debt to Fiona than I first intended.

You can buy the chemicals required to create cyanotype fabric yourself but I bought ready-to-use fabric.  You use sunlight to 'expose' it, masking out the shapes you want by placing found or made material on top.  I used flowers, grasses and foliage along with moth shapes which I drew and cut out of card.  I also tried drawing on acetate but the result was too faint.

Once you have taken your piece of cyanotype fabric out of its lightproof packet you obviously have to work quite quickly to compose your image but it was not cheap so I was careful to plan my images first.  I took some glass out of a couple of picture frames and placed it on top of each piece to stop my materials blowing away - the sun doesn't make it over the roofs into my garden at this time of year so I laid out my work first on the pavement outside, and then on the roof of my car in the street!

The glass also helps to hold your material flat and in contact with the cyanotype fabric, resulting in a crisp image without any 'shadows' where the light has got in round the edges,  but I liked the more blurry and ambiguous results best as they are far more ethereal, delicate and dreamlike and I stopped making any effort to weight the glass down completely flat.  I also really loved the differences in colour according to how long each piece was exposed, and how sunny it happened to be at the time.  I exploited this for the section that is supposed to look lit by the abstract moon. 

Having assembled images into a composition (which took ages of faffing) I wanted the stitching to add texture and interest without dominating in any way, so the only thing I did was to add some barely-there embroidery (seed stitch and french knots) to the moths and fennel flowers, in off-white Aurifil wool because I love the matt and organic look and feel of it.   I also took advantage of the pattern showing through the 'moon' from underneath and highlighted it with some machine quilting.

It's always very exciting to read how the other members of the group interpreted the theme, and to see how this was translated into their quilts!  Please check out all the quilts on our group blog, where you'll also find links to members' individual blogs.

Things I learned:

The colour in cyanotype fabric is only on the surface - and stitching left tiny white puncture holes.  These show in my seams if you looked closely, and also where I tried and took out some additional machine stitching, and I would try a very sharp needle and very fine thread (eg Aurifil 80?) next time in case that helped.

The texture of the fabric is more open than quilting cotton and there is a lot of fraying.

The colour of the fabric after washing and drying keeps developing over the next several hours, becoming deeper.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me to cut at least some of the fabric sheets into smaller pieces to play and experiment with first!

Thursday, 1 August 2019

The Endeavourers #7, A Walk In the Park, "Taking a Lion for a Walk"

Today is the seventh quarterly reveal of quilts made by The Endeavourers and our theme for inspiration this quarter was "A Walk in the Park".

As usual it was a lot of fun thinking random thoughts about the theme, which suddenly went in the direction of a doodle we used to do at primary school called 'taking a line for a walk' - maybe you know the one; you do a squiggly line and then fill in all the intersecting loops with different colours or patterns, preferably using your best felt-tip pens.

For no real reason I thought perhaps I could take a lion for a walk (ho ho) and so here is my quilt.

My little lion has just taken a wander through a park filled with flower borders, and is now sitting down smelling the flowers and enjoying a rest.

My quilt is approximately 26x24 inches. The flower borders are made from Liberty scraps.  The lion's mane and tail are accentuated with lazy daisy stitches in perle thread, and I used 28 weight aurifil for the stipple quilting.  I used fusible bias binding for the line, and carved a stamp for the paw prints - the first time I've used either in a quilt and now making me think of other possibilities. 

I wanted a binding that looked like a picture frame so attempted a faux-flanged binding and have to admit that it took me two goes to get it right.  So although my quilt is really just a bit of fun I tried to use some 'new to me' techniques.  I enjoyed making this one a lot and am quite pleased with the result!

I'm looking forward to seeing how the other members have treated the theme and, as usual, learning from their adventurousness!  You can find their quilts on the group blog today where there are also links to their individual blogs.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The Endeavourers, #6, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, "The Pond"

Today's the day for the sixth quarterly reveal of The Endeavourers art quilt group, and 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' is the theme of our reveal.

When I first learned this was our theme I initially felt a bit despairing as nothing came immediately to mind except Paul Newman on his bicycle and the song in Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, but luckily we have a whole quarter and I started to really enjoy thinking about it.

Once I'd got Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head out of my head it quickly got replaced with Chopin's Raindrop prelude, which is a beautiful piece of music evoking the kind of lovely, peaceful, heavy but gentle rain you sometimes get (except where I live where more often than not it is accompanied by a high wind and coming at you horizontally).  It really makes me think of rain falling on greenery, on a still dark day, and so eventually I settled on the idea of rain falling on a pond and its surrounding plant life.  Since the raindrops also had to be falling on someone's head I added a frog, who is making the most of the wet.

Although I know someone who has a complete horror of frogs I love them.  I have the smallest pond liner you can get, about 1.5x2 ft, in a corner of my allotment and in a good summer I can come down and find seven frogs peeping above the surface which makes me very happy.

The pond in my little (15 x 16.5 inch) quilt is surrounded with marsh marigold, rushes, and water forget-me-nots.  Fish swim below the surface.

I used shot cotton, mostly Oakshott which is my favourite fabric to make pictures with, and began by appliqueing the fish and adding a little embroidered detail for their spines.  With some darker fabric
I also made a shadow in the water at the edge of the pond where vegetation would hang over.  I then made the surface of the water shiny and 'submerged' the fish by layering a piece of blue-green gauze on top of them.

The idea to use the gauze came from two things - my mother-in-law had made a lovely shimmery cushion cover by sewing a piece of gauze over an appliqued pattern and I was reminded of this when I used tissue paper to protect the blackbird quilt of my last post while pressing it and really liked the softened effect as the image showed through.

When I'd added all the foliage and flowers round the edge of the pond I finished up by adding some quilted rings for the ripples in the water made by the falling raindrops.

I added some squiggles and lines in the background to suggest more greenery, and it's quite a textured quilt because of the quilting and free-motion embroidery which I used to add details to the leaves and flowers, which also have french knots: but the water is still and calm except for the ripples.

I am very intrigued to know how the other members have tackled this theme - you can find all the quilts on our blog together with links to each member's own website.

15 x 16.5 inches
Shot cotton and gauze
Raw edge applique
Free-motion embroidery and quilting


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