Ya Gotta Keep Trying

I keep saying this to myself, as well as to others. I tried ONE MORE TIME to dye some deep colors on cotton. By the way, I am using “premium bleached muslin,” most probably from Joann’s. I am using Procion MX dyes from ProChem. And this time I followed (mostly) the instruction sheet from ProChem on “low immersion” dyeing. I wrote down three dye formulas for deep blue, deep forest green, and dark barn red. The red is not barn red, but the other two were almost exactly what I was looking for.

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I am going to see how much I like using the fabrics I have dyed. Because the rinsing required is incredible. It is much more rinsing than anyone’s instructions I have heard or read. I think they know if they tell you how much you are going to have to rinse, it will scare you off.

Nevertheless, it makes me very happy that I was actually able to dye what I set out to dye.

Dyeing. What I know for sure.

What I know for sure is that I don’t know very much about dyeing cotton. And I know that it is VERY different than dyeing wool and protein fibers, which I know a lot about. So I am reluctant to start, and then when I finally do, my results are not as expected. But like I said in my last post, you just have to try.

What happened is kind of funny. I had planned for a long time to get out there and dye some cotton. So then I decided to go through my hand-dyed fabrics and see what colors I needed. Well….I had a lot of hand-dyed fabrics. I did not feel any inspiration as I re-folded them and put them in color families. I guess I don’t need to dye any new fabrics right now. The very next day I went to the Cherrywood site and thought, I need to buy some of these fabrics! And that’s when I realized that I could probably try to dye some myself.

I looked at the colors I wanted, and wrote down some formulas to try. I was more careful about measuring than I have been in my past cotton dyeing experiments. Most of the colors I got were not nearly as intense as I hoped for. In thinking it over, I believe I did not use as much dye as is recommended. The problem I have is that there seems to be SO MUCH dye that is not retained in the fabric. But perhaps I need to think of that as “colored water” and not wasted dye.

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The solid colors I dyed.

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I had some printed fabric that I over dyed.

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The most intense colors I got! A complete surprise. I used three leftover dyes, and put part of the fabric in a jar, then added more fabric and the second dye, followed by the rest of the fabric and the last dye. So much better than I anticipated!

I formulated a plan. I would call Pro-Chem and ask them about the repeated rinsing and the wasted dye. And I would ask if they could tell me the Pro MX dye colors that would correspond to the Sabreset dye colors that I have used for so long on wool.

Let me just say this: PRO-CHEM ROCKS! Just as I remembered, a real person answered the phone. As I started to ask the question, she said, let me transfer you directly to the lab. ANOTHER real person answered the phone. Sometimes when I am asking for directions or advice, the person seems to be somewhat impatient, and so I get nervous and it takes me even longer to ask my questions (so I usually have my questions all written down ahead of time.) This woman did not sound impatient at all. She understood exactly what and why I was asking. She said that is a common problem when you go from dyeing wool to dyeing cotton–you are used to the dye exhausting and the water being clear. And she explained that this dye is so reactive that it actually bonds to the water! (so I wasn’t far off when I said I would try to think of it as colored water!) She couldn’t tell me the corresponding colors (Sabreset to Pro MX) but she said that would be a great idea if it could be done. And she said, “call back any time!” I felt so much better after talking to her.

I also re-watched portions of the Jane Dunnewald online Craftsy class on dyeing, and I studied the Pro MX color chart and compared it to the Sabreset chart. And I decided that there were just a few more colors that I need to order. And I printed out the Pro-Chem instruction sheet on low water immersion dyeing. Tonight I have three yards of muslin being pre-washed, and tomorrow I will try again to dye three deep colors.

Momentum

A few weeks ago, I made a little “in the meantime” piece because I had “nothing” to work on in the evenings–no handwork.

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Since then I have embraced the kantha blanket, and have begun the long journey of repetitive stitching that I had planned for it.

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And then, I finally bit the bullet and started a new project that I had been mulling over since last December.

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Can you guess what it is? I am doing a quilt of “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It has long been one of my favorite pieces of music. When I lived in Texas, our church choir sang it, and we were required to memorize it. The words are magnificent, and have so much meaning to me. I had the idea when I went last December to a beautiful cathedral in downtown Sacramento for a performance of The Messiah. My little idea was that the quilt had to be extremely beautiful, mostly white, with perfect extensive quilting, and of course, the words would be preeminent, and of course beautiful calligraphy. Hmmm. See why I was afraid to start it?

A little thought came along–why don’t you do what you know you can do well? So I decided to use my own handwriting, and to make my circles with embroidery. I bought some silk-type fabric at Joann’s to practice on, and it turned out that I really liked this fabric, so I stuck with it.

I wanted the piece to be a bit larger than most of my embroidered works, so I came up with the idea of doing the circles and the words in separate panels, and then after all of them are embroidered, I will join them into one quilt top and add more quilting.

All I can say is, you just have to try. It very well could have been that these things would not have worked. Heck, they still might not work. But by trying, even if I fail, I have learned something new.

And now, I must leave you. I have a bit of stitching to do:)

The Journey

Recently I had lunch with an old friend (who creates AMAZING Pysanky eggs) and she told me about her recent trip to Spain, where she and her husband walked the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago!! The Camino has been walked by thousands of Christian pilgrims for the past thousand years. Nowadays it is still walked by pilgrims from many faiths, and many times for reasons other than a faith journey. Whatever the reason, it is something that fascinates me. Committing to walking 500 miles, and then following through with that–well that is the kind of thing that inspires me.

My friend recommended two movies–Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago, a very well done documentary, and The Way, another excellent movie about the same thing. I watched both movies this past week, and was very moved by the stories of the people walking, and how they continued on in spite of pain and other difficulties. And how each person found special meaning through their walk and the camaraderie that they found along the way.

As I watched (and stitched) it reminded me of the quilting journey I am on. Many times it is a spiritual journey (nothing excites me more than stitching the beautiful words of scripture into a quilt.) Sometimes the journey I have chosen seems endless, and I wonder, “what was I thinking?” as I stitch. But like the pilgrims on their way to Santiago, I learn that the journey is what is important. I will learn many things as I stitch. Sometimes I learn that what I chose to do didn’t work so well. Sometimes there is a turn in the road, and I discover something completely new and unrelated to the current work. Always, there is value in putting hand to cloth and striving to create something beautiful.

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In the Meantime…

While I was working on making my kantha blanket top, I was without a hand stitching project. I found this little sketch in my notebook and thought it would be a fun embroidery project.

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I found an interesting dark fabric to use as the top, and made a sandwich. I decided to “draw” the outline with black perle cotton. In the past I have machine stitched outlines. Once I got into it, I enjoyed this process. If you’ll look close, you will see the outline I drew and the outline I embroidered are not exactly the same. I wasn’t embroidering to scale, and I ran out of room somewhere in the middle. No biggie.

My favorite part–choosing the embroidery threads! And, I found a little case I had gotten at the thrift store, and it is perfect for the threads and the entire project will fit in there.

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I chose a fairly limited palette of colors to work with, and am challenging myself to stick with just these colors.

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Stitching so far:

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Obsession

I don’t know where it came from, this obsession to make a “kantha blanket.” I have a little niggling thought that it might be because of answering the question so many times “what is kantha stitching?” and always being careful to explain that my stitching is “kantha inspired.”If I did a blanket, I would have something more “authentic” to show people.

So after my failure at the last scrappy quilt top, I set about making a more organized, partially planned, scrap quilt for the kantha blanket. Like I do for most projects, I chose a large variety of fabrics that I like, and then narrowed them down to fabrics that might work together. And set a few parameters for the piecing–Longish rectangles, 4 inches wide by about 7 or 10 inches long. I would insert a few squares with my “crosses” and my circles. And I went to town working on this quilt top.

In just a few days I finished it, and with the finish came a deep sense of despair. This “planned scrappy” quilt top was not much better than my really really scrappy top. What is wrong with me? I can’t even plan a simple scrappy quilt. Which then devolved into Nothing I’ve ever done is really any good at all. Oh, it was bad.

Fortunately for her, my best friend was not available for conversation that day. By the next day I had decided to follow my own advice, and “continue on.” She concurred. I’m not sure if covering this entire piece with stitching lines 1/4 inch apart will help. But it will be in the spirit of kantha–using what I have and making something useful of it.

In the meantime, I mentioned to my mom what I was doing, and she started asking a ton of questions about kantha. So I got out my big book of Kantha, and what do you know–what I am doing now is still not very kantha-like in the traditional sense. We’ll just call it a modern take on kantha:)

The sandwich is made, and I am happily stitching away on my kantha blanket.

I decided to not show you the entire piece. Any hint of sympathy or disapproval might send me into a downward spiral from which I might never recover :)

I decided to not show you the entire piece. Any hint of sympathy or disapproval might send me into a downward spiral from which I might never recover:)

The Really Really Scrappy Quilt

“Its not such a bad little quilt, Charlie Brown.”

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And now, the rest of the story:)

About a year ago a new book came out called Slow Stitch. I guess I was being thrifty at the moment, because I didn’t buy it. And then it sold out, and so I wanted it REALLY REALLY BAD. One day I saw on the author’s blog that it was going to be re-printed. Oh joy! I pre-ordered it from Amazon. So the past week or so I’ve been reading it in the morning. The author is really all about using what we have, and even goes into using re-purposing used clothing and fabric. I have a LOT of fabric to use up before I could ever get into buying thrift store clothes for quilts. She also talks about traditional kantha stitching, and an idea began to grow.

Two weeks ago, before rug hooking camp, I set about cutting one inch strips of fabric. They have a student sale at camp, and last year I sold bags of the strips for knitting your own rugs. The fabrics I was going through had already been sorted into bags to sell/give away, and as I came to scraps too small for the strips, I set them aside in neat piles, probably to give away. When I came home from camp, the piles were still there. Such nice little scraps, I thought, and put them in a container in the closet.

Then, last week, Maria Shell wrote a great blog post about how she loves using small scraps. Those scraps in the closet began calling to me! I would make a completely scrappy quilt, NO PLANNING. Use the scraps just as they came. No design wall. And I would make a real Kantha quilt/blanket. I even ordered some cotton gauze for the middle layer, so it would be really nice to stitch through. The only rule I made was that after sewing 3 or four scraps together, I would square them up to the nearest quarter inch.

I had been sewing the scraps together whenever I had a few minutes to spare. So Tuesday, after I finished the little needle keeper, I set about making my wonderful Really Really Scrappy Quilt. In the end, I had to put the big pieces on the design wall to see how they would fit together.

Its not such a bad little quilt. But I’m not sure its one that I want to spend hours and hours of hand stitching on. I do really want to do a kantha style blanket, but I’m thinking that a little more planning and design process wouldn’t be a bad thing:)

Blocked!

Usually on Monday I am raring to get into the studio and start working. I had lots of things I could work on, and new ideas that were begging to get started. I just could not make myself start on any of them. Maybe its because I was feeling extra stiff–yes, we’ll blame it on that. I went to the gym and spent a good long time on the bike and in the pool.

Monday night I FINALLY finished stitching on this little piece–inspired by the cover art on the latest issue of Quilting Arts magazine and my planned trip to rug hooking camp. Stitching on wool seemed like the perfect travel project. But filling every square inch of this little piece with stitches took FOREVER. And what the heck was I going to do with it?

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Well….C., the same new friend from my SLO workshops who suggested the fabric to frame my little embroidered piece, took this wool embroidery and folded it and suggested making a needle-keeper (is that what they’re called?)

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So that’s what I did. Tuesday morning I had a plan. I decided to line it with a really pretty piece of dyed wool, and stitch those two pieces together with blanket stitch.

I didn’t want to sew the sides up, because I wanted to be able to lay it flat to see the design as a whole. Then I realized I wanted a pocket for my thimble, so there was the perfect scrap of fabric just laying on the cutting table, waiting for me.

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This was just the little jump start I needed. I spent the rest of the day in the studio, working on a project that I was quite enthused about… I’ll tell you more about that next time:)

What I Did First

When I come home from a trip, or when I have finished a large project, sometimes I don’t know what to do next. I used to worry that I was losing my mojo, and felt a lot of pressure to “get right back in there.” But after this trip, I felt relaxed about the whole thing. For a few days I concentrated more on working in the garden and exercising, something I hadn’t done much on this trip. That was good for me.

But I know that it is best to keep working consistently at your art. I have several projects to complete, and I have fairly well-formulated plans for some new projects. Plus, there’s “Noah!” But I chose a small embroidered piece that was almost done. I was pretty sure I could finish it in a day.

It was this small piece. I had finished up the embroidery on it (remember, it was already a quilt sandwich itself,) and I had attached a large border of a really nice textured fabric to it, added batting to the whole thing, and basted it well, so I could hand quilt it.

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Well, that did not go so well. Even though it was well basted, it was bunchy in spots. More bunchy than I am willing to put up with. I threw it in a corner and left for Cambria.

When I came back, I knew what I needed to do. I UNDID all that hand quilting! The batting was reusable, but I threw away the muslin backing. I headed into the studio to find an appropriate backing. There on the cutting table was this piece of fabric! I have put this piece of fabric in the “to go” pile several times. But I always rescue it, because it is a really nice Japanese fabric. Its just that it was dark and dull colors. This little piece was a bit dark and dull. This fabric would be perfect.

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As I laid it out to cut it the right size, I had the idea that if I cut it large enough, I could use it as an extra large binding, folded over from the back. I put together the sandwich, revved up the Juki, and went to work. I simply quilted along the block lines within the embroidered piece, and then changed thread colors, and did a simple grid on the light “frame” fabric. I carefully cut the batting one inch from the edge, and then the backing another two inches from that, so I could fold it over twice to make a nice firm binding, and I hand stitched it carefully to the front.

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Plans don’t always go this well. This little piece almost ended up in the discard bin, several times! The whole successful process tickled me so much I wanted to share it with you. Sometimes you do need to stop working on a project, but many times you just need to continue on, and see what happens.

When I walk by this piece now, I see a lot of blank space on that surround. Perhaps a little more embroidery?:)

Rug Camp!

Cambria Pines Rug Camp is just a wonderful experience, all the way around. Its also fun to go to the same place for a period of time (I think I’ve gone six out of the last 7 years.) You get to know people a little  bit, and look forward to seeing them every year.

My teacher this year was Donna Hrkman. She is a wonderful artist who has chosen rug hooking as the medium to express her work. She specializes in portraits, so I was always a little too intimidated to take her as a teacher. I didn’t want to do portraits, but I admired her work a great deal.

This is one of her most well-known pieces “Steam Punk Reverie.”

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Look at the detail in this portrait of an Indian boy. To do this monochromatic rug, she dyed nine shades of the same color.

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This is her newest rug, a portrait of her son. I LOVE the way she superimposed him on top of a scene of the downtown area where he works and plays and lives.

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Okay. So it was finally time to start my portrait of Noah. Donna spent individual time with each student to get them started. I had to start on the eyes, which I was dreading. But with a little encouragement from Donna (and also, she drew in the highlights in his eyes,) I got started. I was really so very happy with how they came out.

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The next day, I filled in with more colors, trying to choose the right shade for each area.

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The NEXT day, I wanted to start working on the “natural” side of him. I had a lot of natural wools with me. I chose eleven of them, and then pre-cut strips so I would have a palette to work from. This is the same thing I do when I am starting an improv quilt. If I just keep the large pieces of fabric in front of me, I have a hard time starting. But if I cut strips of the fabric in the sizes I think I might use, it is a lot easier to make the next step.

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And here is what four days of concentrated rug hooking looks like. I was so pleased with what I was able to accomplish. I still think his face looks too fat. In looking at the earlier photos, I think I can see the problem. There will be some unhooking soon, I think.

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On Wednesday, we have a rug show. Everyone brings their rugs, and they clear out the dining hall and put up a wonderful display. I was pleased to see my big rug displayed with this nice group of rugs.

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And thus ends Cambria Pines Rug Camp for another year. I have so many quilting ideas that have been percolating and have been put on the back burner for a while. I am excited to get started on some of those projects. But I will set Noah up at my rug hooking station, and will continue to work on him.