Sunday 29 March 2009

Stitch Size?

My current quilting projects ( 2 for FoQ and a workshop for QuiltWOW) are plodding along without much to show or share at the moment. So my thoughts returned to a post on BQL Yahoo Group a few weeks ago, asking about quilting stitch size - how to obtain that 'heirloom' 14 stitches per inch. As my stitching has grown (literally!), it made me question what the ideal stitch length is and what constitutes 'ideal'. My current average stitch size ( as show in TBL 'Gythion Glow' above) is about 2 per inch. I can however stitch much smaller. This is my first ever quilt project c. 30 years ago - I was determined to get the teeniest stiches and worked up to 12 or 13 stitches per inch ( counted on the top only). In those days, pretty much all that was available was 2oz polyester wadding which is easy to stitch through and the cottons I pieced were from clothing from jumble sales - not too tight a weave. I used a 8 or 9 between and the specialised 100% cotton glazed quilting thread 'Belding Lily' from US. I started off using a 18" wooden quilting hoop but when the rectangular ones made from plastic tubing came available,this became my favourite - it still is as it's easy to adjust the tension evenly. In the late 80's /early 90's I settled on about 8 stitches per inch for consistency ( it took 7 years to hand quilt my one and only double bed quilt based on medieval tiles !)
When I got my Bernina sewing machine and could achieve small stitches that way, I started to increase the size of my hand stitching for decorative purposes, using cotton perle and silk buttonhole thread. In the late 90's it was about 5 stitches per inch in 'City Girl Dream of the Sea' (below)
And 5 years ago in 'Serifos Storm'(below) I'd increased (or should that be decreased!) to about 3 or 4 stitches per inch

As part of the TIF challenge last year , I returned to using glazed quilting thread but in huge tacking stitches (1 per inch! ) - appropriate to a piece about barely being held together. Although, with practice, I could probably achieve very fine stitching again ,my preference now is for combination of machine quilting and BIG handstitching which feels right for the scale I'm working now ( ignore the quilt police!) I use chenille needles ( needed to penetrate layers of acrylic paint as well as fabric and cotton wadding). The key it seems to me is evenness and consistency and developing a rhythm that suits and is enjoyable.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Batik and Spirals

Yesterday , I enjoyed an interesting couple of talks at Quilters Guild London and Middlesex Regional Day, both of them concerned with the people behind the textile:in Indonesia and in Mongolia. A bit of retail therapy was also in order from Textile Techniques ( some natural and indigo hemp from Thailand and 'Batik Transitions' book). I've bought several things from them in the past, including this old block printed 'selendang' (carrying scarf) from Java. I'd bought it 10 years ago thinking of wave/sand patterns but I haven't yet plucked up the courage to cut it.

Diane Gaffney also showed examples of finely pleated skirts by the Miao hilltribes of the 'Golden Triangle' in Indochina, intricately embroidered and appliqued. Some of these had been made into jackets - far more wearable. I'd bought this rather plainer example at a Knit and Stitch show- the indigo dyeing and batik is lovely and subtle. I'm wondering now whether I should unpick it, wash it and use it rather than it being stuffed in a box. It is in 2 sections so I could retain 1 pleated section. After the regional day, I used the opportunity of being in the area to go the the V&A , my favourite museum. They'd just opened a new bookshop and I browsed the extensive textile sections. Poring over the books in the sculpture section was .....Antony Gormley(instantly recognisable from using his own body as the basis for so many of his pieces). Didn't see him buy anything tho' despite a 10% discount but then neither did I.

This galvanised metal lawn edging that has just arrived is rather sculptural. I've always had a thing about spirals.

Sunday 15 March 2009

Mainly Metals

I confess I'm an Earring Addict ( well it's good to support other artists......) and for Xmas a couple of years ago I got a Precious Metal Clay kit so I could make my own. I hadn't actually got round to using it ( mainly as I was scared of using the blow torch supplied for firing pieces) so I bit the bullet and on Friday went on a workshop with Sarah Lamb at Art Van Go studios. It really is alchemy! We practised first using paper clay to work out our ideas and then modelled pieces in 'Art Clay' which is not that different from fine porcelain clay in texture. After placing in the kiln (or fired in the flame of a butane cooks torch), it remains white but feels heavier and more dense. Then using wire brushes and cloths the bright metal is revealed. Magic! I meant to take photos as I went along but it was too exciting. My preference is for fairly simple 'rustic' pieces. I was really pleased with these 1 3/4 inch textured earrings ( particularly the slightly crumbly edges where the clay was beginning to dry out while working)
I also think there's potential in these tiny thumb pots modelled round a thimble and my fingertip. They look quite dynamic worn as they move around on the handmade silver wires that Sarah kindly made. Everyone produced something interesting ( those pieces that worked best were those that made the most of the organic quality of the clay) and I've now got the confidence to have a go at home.

Meanwhile, in the garden, we've decided that the plum/greengage tree has to go and invested in a sculpture to take its place. We bought it on ebay (where else) but the artist has some interesting pieces on his website. Not only is its shape reminiscent of the recently clipped bay tree but when the pieces knock against each other, it sounds like wind chimes. We haven't yet put it in it's final position but it looks great against the Forsythia and next doors Camelia.

Tomorrow we are going to Wickes to choose paving and gravel for the next stage of 'Mediterrean-ising'. In order to work out how many paving stones we need, I cut out mock flags from newspaper and laid them out weighed down with stones ( I'd already laid out the hosepipe to work out where the borders are going to be). Not the final design but gives an idea of what it could look like. While I cooked lunch , I asked Ian to collect the paper up - when I looked out the window he was intently reading a section he's missed - wish I'd had my camera to hand

Sunday 8 March 2009

March Machine Maintenance

I've been enjoying participating in the BQL Calendar Challenge ( continuing to to apply the 12 inch square format I used last year for the CQ Journal Quilts). The challenge for me is to stick quite closely to the instructions supplied but make it interesting and relevant to my current work. This months challenge was to print a photo on fabric and surround it with grid of squares cut from 2 inch strips of fabric. As I'm currently working on a larger 'Weir' piece, I used a photo of that and the strips were the trimmings I'd cut off the edges. It's a long time since I've done much accurate piecing so I was relieved I could still make (most) corners meet.
For many people doing the challenge , it was the first time they had attempted printing on fabrics using the computer and I've been interested to read the comments. I've been using C. Jenkins 'BubbleJet Set' solution and preparing my own sheetsfor several years now so I was interested to try the 'Miracle Fabric Sheets' which are made by the same company. I have to say that I wasn't very impressed -the results are much lighter and duller looking than with my own sheets despite all the usual tricks of increasing saturation and contrast of image (to the point it looked garish on the screen) A commercially available sheet that worked really well, with bright colourful images, were those available from craftycomputerpaper. Their only downside is that it's quite a thick, tightwoven material, not easy to stitch by hand. I now use these when I want to print on a white background and save the'Bubblejet Set' for dyed fabrics and organzas which are not available commercially (or very expensive).
I also spent some time cleaning out and adjusting my sewing machine. I was having terrible problems with looping of thread on the back which persisted despite changing the needle. Just as well I have a back up machine (or 2)! So I invested in a can of air used for cleaning computers and after a few puffs of that, quite a bit of of lint flew out despite diligent use of a brush. I also retrieved 2 pins using forceps and tightened the screw on the bobbin case. With another new needle , it now works like a dream.

Not so much time in the garden this weekend apart from laying out a hosepipe to get an idea of where we want the edge of the gravel area ( we have plans to remove the lawn later in the year) and buying a hazel hurdle to screen the compost area.
Last weekend , I bought some twigs of Forsythia in and the buds opened out in the warmth. As the buds are beginning to break outside, time to consign these to the compost.
I like the combination of the yellow and the blue of the art glass 'cornucopia' which I bought as a present but kept for myself as it was too heavy to post.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Lopping the Lollipop

Over the last year, Ian and I have been gradually taming the garden, pruning and cutting back the overgrown shrubs and trees. With new loppers as Christmas presents it was the turn of the bay tree to receive a severe haircut! Working upwards, I first chopped down the numerous shoots and suckers from around the base so we could position ladders, then gradually clipped from underneath. Found a beautiful old birds nest hidden inside. Ian's job as my lovely assistant was to hold steady first the kitchen steps, then the full sized stepladder and pass me the relevant loppers( choice of 4 from sturdy ones for cutting through branches to telescopic ones). The main problem was the tangled vines of Clematis 'Balearica' with which it was smothered - besides raking it off, Ian was tugging hard at a length of it while I snipped until he staggered back with an armful of the stuff. It's never like this in the gardening programmes! After 2 hours work, got to the point where my upper arms were aching too much to continue. You never seem to have quite the right tool for a job - I could have done with some cheap and nasty lightweight telescopic loppers, the 'professional' ones were heavy to wield for so long. There's a few annoying straggly twigs out of my reach that will have to wait for Ian to bring back a pole pruner from his parents.
We are however very satisfied with the final result and we're not the only ones- our next door neighbour Dee came out especially to admire our handiwork and ask whether the tree had always been there!