My Hands

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about “needing” something to hand sew (embroider) in the evenings. Vickie asked about how my hands were holding up. Actually, I wanted something to hand embroider on BECAUSE of my hands.

I had carpal tunnel surgery five years ago. Before having the surgery done, I had carpal tunnel syndrome for about 10 years. Carpal tunnel affects different people in different ways. For me, it meant that I just couldn’t do any handwork before noon (my hands would go numb)…and of course, it did hurt if I used my hands for too long. I got carpal tunnel from knitting (literally) hundreds of hats on circular needles, which kept your wrists bent in a non-ergonomic way. I would wake up with my hands in that same cramped position.

So now, I am very aware of my hands. I want to keep using them as long as possible. And that is why I wanted something to hand embroider. If I have several different types of handwork to do, I can rotate, and each thing uses my hands in a different way. I was knitting and making yo yo’s a lot, and knew I needed to vary what I was doing. Hand embroidery, as long as I am using good fabric (NOT batik, too tight a weave) and nice batting (really nice cotton or wool) is easy on my hands.

I do most of my binding by machine. My BF did give me these clips, which are really helpful. Recently I used them when I whipped the edge of a rug. They eliminate the need for pinching the fabric together, which I find hard on my hands. Here is a link to my yo yo maker. They are fun and addicting to make. That’s why I needed something else to work on 🙂

Cleaning and Restarting

One morning I woke up and knew this was the day! The day that I would clean out my fabric stash cubbies. I got sidetracked by a couple of unexpected chores, but I finally went out there and got it done! It feels so good to go through your fabric, weed out a few old things (or in my case, little bits and pieces) and know what you have and where it is. I have a LOT of commercial solids, and unfortunately, I stopped working with them a while ago, in favor of the hand dyes. But I might come back to them, knowing what is available.

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I actually didn’t straighten out the two cubbies with my hand dyes and my 1800’s reproduction fabrics. I know what’s in there already.

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Next, I decided that I liked the idea of using 36 of my stars (made from my box of 2 inch squares) as the center for a medallion, so I sewed those together, and then auditioned a few fabrics for the next few rows of the medallion. Because I had straightened out my fabrics, I found this birdhouse fabric that I had bought recently and really liked. I might use it in the medallion quilt with that gray fabric as a background. Before I put everything away, I decided to use the pink “log” fabric as the next border, and cut that and sewed it to the stars, about a 3″ width.

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The reason for doing all this was to clear the design wall. I wanted to get back to the small compositions I had made for my “characteristics of God” series. I am anxious to get back to work on these. I have 3 or 4 more fabrics out to make into compositions.

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And lastly, for your inspiration, here is a great little saying that perfectly describes the creative process.

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Noah!

The Noah! rug is finished! If you knew Noah, you would know why there has to be an exclamation point after his name in the title of the rug. He is quite the dog. One of the most frustrating and most loved dogs I have ever owned. And I’ve owned a lot of dogs. If you’re interested, you can read more about him over on my other blog. Just check out the topic of Noah.

And here’s a link to my thought process when I started this rug. And a link to the start of it, with some help from my teacher at rug camp.

And here is the completed rug. Its not perfect, but its the first portrait I have ever done, and I am so pleased with how its turned out, especially his eyes. Who would have thought you could capture such expressive eyes with 1/4 inch strips of wool pushed through a linen backing?

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Stupid Sewing

A few days ago I was talking to my BF, and tried to express what I was feeling. “I don’t have any hand sewing project right now. I want to do something, but don’t seem to be able to make a decision about what to do/how to put it together. I look at artists like Judy Martin and Penny Berens, and it seems like they just work without a plan, but I know that that’s not true.” I was having trouble expressing what I wanted to say, but my BF knew just what I needed “Its time for some stupid sewing!” she said happily.

Stupid sewing. I don’t think we coined the phrase, but basically it means just sewing together fabric without a plan or any pressure to make something significant. It may or may not turn out well. But in the process you are freed up to create, and sometimes the act of creating will teach you what you need to do next.

So stupid sewing it was. I had set aside this piece of golden brown fabric, thinking that it might be nice to embroider on. And I had made a few larger yo yo’s with the new yo yo maker I got myself for Christmas. I thought that the print I used for them was just outstanding. It was a beginning.

 

In short order, I put together this little composition, used wool batting, muslin backing, and chose a few colors of threads, and there it was. SOMETHING I could embroider on.

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Pretty fast I noticed it did not have enough color and contrast. Got out the pile of cherrywood bits and pieces and cut some small squares to add. Oh, and maybe a few smaller yo yo’s.

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That’s better.

Now, one of the things I learned at Nancy Crow’s workshop is that prints are sometimes difficult. I LIKE prints. But she is right. This print on the side is somewhat distracting. It might get some stuff put on top of it. But for now it stays.

My mind is working, and I am learning things as I go. Best of all, I am happy to have SOMETHING to stitch in the evenings.

 

Last Quilt of the Year!

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When I last wrote, I vowed to clean up the studio. I did start that. I made one last Artful Oven Mitt, and then I put away all those scraps and insulbright. And I started to clear off the Janome table. And I came to this quilt, that had been folded up on the back of the table for….maybe a couple of years! I know I had the idea to make it after Victoria Findlay Wolfe won Best in Show at Quiltcon with her double wedding ring quilt. I found a date of 2012 for that quilt, so maybe I started this one in 2013.

ANYWAY, it has sat there for a while. I knew it was there, but I thought I was stuck on how to quilt parts of it. When I unfolded it, I found that I had made that decision at some point in time, and all it needed was to continue on quilting that design to get it finished. This is what I was enjoying on the Juki when I first got it–finishing up old tops and half-finished quilts!

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This is one of my zig zag wedding ring quilts. I really do enjoy making these. They seem to hold up very well in the wash. You can see where I thought I was being artful and incorporated some decorator big print fabric in there. And I carefully organized the colors for the background squares and the small squares for the rings. I’m not sure any more what exactly I was thinking of…

ANYWAY, when I finished it and threw it on my bed to see if I had missed any spots, I was pleasantly surprised. I really like this quilt, and will keep it for myself for a nice springtime quilt.

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I think it shrank quite a bit when I washed it, because most of the background fabric was some loosely woven hand dyed fabric. That caused the small “ring” squares to poof up bit more than usual.

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I decided to not do an end-of-the-year review. Just too much work. I know that I have worked consistently, and am content with what I have produced. The Hallelujah! quilt took the majority of the time, but I also finished up the “what they said” series. And I did make a serious dent in the large bin of unfinished tops.

Happy New Year to one and all! Be sure to make time for quilting and creating in the new year.

The Best Christmas Present

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on the Hallelujah! quilt, Maria Shell wrote about making Christmas gifts, and she generously offered to send her Artful Oven Mitt pattern to commenters. I had been quite intrigued by her oven mitts, and although I am a dismal garment sewer, I was hopeful that I could make these. What fun gifts they would be! I immediately thought of about 20 people who might appreciate receiving an Artful Oven Mitt!

And sure enough. Maria’s pattern is very well written, and when I followed the directions carefully, my first artful oven mitt was finished! It went straight into the box headed for my BF, and arrived in plenty of time before Christmas.

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I call receiving this oven mitt pattern “the best Christmas present” because I really just needed something colorful and not too hard after working for months on a neutral colored quilt. I had so much fun digging through some scraps and getting out other fabrics to make oven mitts for friends and family.

Here’s a Christmas-themed one for my friend who really likes Christmas:

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Another friend gave me some designer fabric samples, and I used those to create two more colorful mitts.

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I also started another one, but mistakenly drew the pattern (with a sharpie marker) the same on both sides. I like the lining fabric I was using so much that I just sewed the one that had sharpie marks wrong side out for a mitt for myself 🙂

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And one more for good measure. I love this Starry Starry Night fabric that I got at Joann’s. You might see that I have used some orphan blocks in some of the mitts.

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Maria is offering her pattern for $10.00, which includes shipping from Alaska! Just email her. The full size pattern for the mitt is included, so you don’t have to figure out how to enlarge a pattern. The insulbright (heat resistant batting)  is available at Joann’s (use your 50% coupon) or at Amazon. Here’s another of Maria’s posts about her process.

The studio is a mess of insulbright and colorful scraps. I am going to give myself a few more days of oven mitt creation, and then the STUDIO WILL BE CLEANED for the New Year. I have a few new ideas I am anxious to try out, as well as that series that I started on the Character of God.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Hallelujah!

The Hallelujah! quilt is now completely finished! I finished it in time to hang it in our church the Sunday before Christmas.

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Some notes on the process… my original idea came last year as I sat in a beautiful cathedral for a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I wanted to try to do something that would evoke the baroque beauty of the cathedral–the ornate over-the-top painting and carving and details everywhere. In my original idea I wanted to do a whole cloth silk quilt with ornate machine quilting and machine lettering.

I thought about this quilt a LOT before I was brave enough to start it. By that time, I had decided to hand-stitch the lettering, and to include 4 large circles that would offset the verses. I spent a lot of time thinking about which words I would include. The Hallelujah Chorus repeats phrases and words, and many times they actually overlap in the singing. In the end, I eliminated most of the repeats, except where I thought they were needed for emphasis.

When I decided to hand-stitch the lettering and the four large circles, I decided that I needed to do the piece in panels, because it is much easier to hand-stitch a smaller piece. For the most part, the seams are unnoticeable. Once I had all those panels finished, I carefully assembled them and put them up on the design wall. That is when I started thinking about adding more circles. It seemed more in keeping with the way I currently work. Once I auditioned a few, I actually liked the way they looked And so about 50 circles were added to the piece.

I decided to use wool batting. My way of constructing a quilt sandwich is to use 100% cotton batting and to use steam to “stick” the layers of cotton together. But now I was using “silky” fabric and wool batting. There was no sticking going on there! I decided to hand baste it. I was able to do this on my cutting table. And I was very pleasantly surprised that there was actually no slipping of the layers going on. The hand basting held everything together very nicely through the embroidery of all 50 circles, and then through the machine quilting.

In between here, you might remember, the Juki quilter went on the blink. This was anxiety producing, but it actually gave me no option but to hunker down and get everything embroidered while I awaited the Juki’s return.

And then it was time to quilt. Now, I had been doodling quilting designs for almost a year. But you know…QUILTING is different than doodling. I knew I wanted to include feathers and cross-hatching. And some sort of background fill. Many of my sketches included a lot more design elements. In the end, I decided to only use 3 quilting designs since the circles were filling in a lot of space.

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But I don’t know how to explain this except to say…I DIDN’T KNOW. I started putting feathers where there was space, and tried out some crosshatching, and then some pebble filler. I outlined all the lettering as I went along. But somehow I didn’t know that I would need to put quilting everywhere–between all the lines of words and between each word! I think I would have been overwhelmed if I had realized that this was what I needed to do.

In the end, I enjoyed every minute of the quilting. It took three concentrated days. Each day I would take the quilt and put it on the design wall, and mark where I though I could fit another feather or some crosshatching. I took it back to the machine and put those feathers and crosshatching in place. And then I filled in with endless pebbles. When all was done, I found the perfect piece of golden brown fabric for the binding, and after it was applied, I soaked the quilt in cold water to make sure all the blue pen came out, spun the extra water out, and then blocked it on my design wall.

In the midst of the quilting, I listened to the Hallelujah Chorus. It is such a magnificent, complex piece of work. My quilt is a very humble homage to Handel’s work, and beyond that, to bring honor and glory to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

A Banner Day!

Sunday while sitting in church I started to panic that I might not finish Hallelujah! before Christmas. I sketched a bit to make sure I had a complete plan to finish all the quilting, and so Monday bright and early I was in the studio ready to start quilting. Tuesday I did the same, and Wednesday it looked like I might be able to finish. Each day I put the quilt back up on the design wall to see if I wanted to add more feathers or crosshatch, and finally to mark each area that still needed to be quilted.

I had bought two spools of Mettler silk-finish thread for this quilt, and here is what was left when I put the last stitch into place:

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Here is what the studio looked like on Wednesday, the day I finished the quilting. I have already cleaned up some of this. And I am aware. None of this mess has anything to do with quilting an all white quilt.

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On the same day, I could hardly believe it, I re-worked that pink area of Noah’s face, and went on to finish ALL of him, leaving only the hardwood floor left to hook to finish this rug.

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Here is a bit of Hallelujah! I am still doing some hand quilting on the circles, just to tack them more securely in place. Then to bind it, wash it, put a sleeve on, and I will really be done with it.

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I am almost sad to be done with both of these projects, but I am also happy and excited that I will now have time to move on to new exciting projects that I have been thinking about for a while!

A Quilting Diversion

What could distract me from quilting? Well that would be rug hooking! Noah! has languished on the frame for months. What happens, and I’m sure you can all relate, is that the longer you leave a project, the more you become certain that you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what comes next. And in the deep stages, you are sure that you never enjoyed rug hooking and are pretty sure you might never get back to it.

But my annual California Getaway (in Anaheim) is coming up in January. It would be nice to be able to share Noah!, and also, I need to figure out what I am going to work on at this rug hooking retreat.

Here is Noah! where I left off some long time ago.

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I found this picture of an owl on a mixed media artist’s blog. I found her blog through my Australian blogger friend! Ya gotta love blogging!

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I was quite intrigued with this picture, and thought it might make an interesting rug. I wrote to Elizabeth and asked if she would mind if I used her picture to make a rug, and she kindly gave permission. I did the online thing and had an 8X10 enlargement made at the local Walgreen’s.

I was in Walmart one day, and thought I would get some tracing paper to start working on this pattern. And then I spied that wonderful clear plastic sheeting that they sell in their fabric department. That would be even better. Because this was a complex pattern, and I would be able to see very clearly which branch and which vine were going which way.

This worked so perfectly. It will be my go-to for rug patterns from now on. I wasn’t sure that the Sharpie pen would work on the plastic, but it did. Here is the start. I taped the photo to the plastic, and then just started copying.

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Here is the pattern, taped to white paper so the Sharpie lines will be clearly visible for copying. The squiggly lines are where I mistakenly drew in the edge of the photograph before I discovered that the photo enlargement had eliminated the trunk on the side  of the original picture. I just looked at the online picture and drew that in by hand. You can see that I didn’t copy every single line and motif. That might make the pattern too confusing, and it will be easier to add in those details later as I hook. Now I will take it to the copy store and have it enlarged to about a 20 inch square. And then it will be ready to transfer to the rug hooking linen. And I will be ready for my trip to Anaheim!

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And finally, all this rug hooking activity and discussion (I talk to my rug hooking friend Mary Lynn about all this) got me in the mood to give Noah a try again. And what do you know? I rediscovered the joy of pulling loops of wool through the linen backing! Through our discussions, I realized that I needed to add a bit more intensive color to the colored side of Noah, and so there was a bit of unhooking involved. I thought I should add more color to his face, and so I re-worked the lime green and magenta pink areas. The lime green I like, but I don’t like what the magenta has done to the shape of his face, and so I will have to re-do that area. But I am so enthused about almost having all of Noah completed, and I have my collection of brown wools all ready to go for the hardwood floor. The end is in sight!

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Yo Yo’s!

Here is a project that I have been working on for YEARS! And by that I mean–I started it, and then got bored so it went in the closet. And then maybe a year later, I ran out of handwork, and thought–Yo Yo’s! And got them out and worked on them for a while until something more interesting came along, and back into the closet they went. And on it went, and still goes.

The project started with a group of fabrics that I really liked, in colors that I don’t usually choose–mostly browns with a few greens thrown in. And originally, I think I saw some scarves made out of yo yo’s and that is what I wanted to do. I started joining the yo yo’s into blocks 4X6. And I liked them so much that I thought, I’ll make a quilt! Do you know how long it takes to make yo yo’s? I timed myself last night. One yo yo takes 5 minutes, and so 24 of them takes 2 hours, and that does not include sewing them into their 4X6 block!

Anyway, I kept thinking about combining them with little “quiltlets.” Like make mini quilts the same size as the yo yo blocks and alternate these quiltlets with the yo yo blocks. I thought I would use the same group of fabrics I had been working on, and it would just be very scrappy.

When I finished the kantha blanket, I got the yo yo’s out again. And this time, I had the thought to use one unifying fabric for the alternate blocks. I got out this favorite dark fabric, and I LOVE the way the yo yo’s look on it.

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So now I am a little more motivated to work on my yo yo’s in the evening. If I want to make a quilt 54″ X 63″, I need 54 yo yo blocks. (I am using the “small” yo yo maker. The finished size is about 1 inch.) I have 12 made. I am not going to do the math of how many hours that will be. I will just keep making yo yo’s between projects, and someday I will have a yo yo quilt 🙂

And kind of along the same lines (taking a long time to complete a work) but completely different–watch this short video of this incredible artist at work. He took 3 1/2 years to complete this. It took my breath away.