Saturday, September 21, 2013

Finding your own way of doing something

is really a large part of what creating is all about.  Dyeing my own fabric has been a large part of what my art looked like in the past and my way of having a stash of fabric to use as I work.  When I moved from Louisville to Missouri I got rid of a lot of my older commercial cottons.  When I moved from Missouri to Florida I sold hundreds of yards of my hand dyes and all of my commercial cotton yardage.  For the last three years I have not missed having it because immediately after getting settled in Florida I went in a different direction.  I began to using silk instead of cotton and use paint pigments instead of dyes to get the colors I wanted.  For three years I did very little machine piecing.  I  still find joy in painting but am itching to get back to piecing again.  To piece you need fabric to cut up and sew back together.  To make what I have in mind I need to dye and that's what I will be doing between painting on silk and traveling to teaching the next six weeks or so.

     Here's a look at the Orange flower with the addition of a second seed pod which I thought it needed.  Thanks Susan for agreeing with me. ;)  and here is a look at  the blue piece I finished several days ago.  The facings are done, but as usual they both need sleeves, names and labels.
     The saying that you grow into the space you have or shrink if you don't want to be climbing over stuff is holding true with me.  Less stuff in the apartment, more stuff here.  This move has afforded me room to grow my stash again; not to the extend of what I had when I lived in Kentucky.  There I had a lot of fabric which was an equal mix of commercial and hand dyes. 
     In Missouri I had and used  mostly hand dyes I think in part because I had a really great area in the garage, just steps from the laundry room where I could make a mess and I had lots of room to store all the fabric I dyed.  I didn't have a lot of commercials because I thought driving to any one of the three quilt shops and Joann Fabrics in Columbia, MO was a pain.  When you dye fabric, the UPS man knocks on the door with the fabric and the dyes. 
     I am building my stash  again.  This time with both  hand dyes and commercial fabric.  For now I am using the commercial prints only for backings.  Over the last two - three  months I have visited a few quilt shops and I find myself really liking the look and colors of the new fabric lines.  The two stores I visit most often are an easy drive from my place.  The Sewing Studio is the closer of the two and reminds me of a mini Baer's.  My Louisville friends will know what store I am referring to, for the rest of you, just know that in its day, Baer's  was the best.  It carried  everything, from Bernina's to bridal to fashion to home dec to tacky costume stuff as well as a large amount of quilt weight cottons. The same can be said for the Sewing Studio located up the road from me in Maitland.  That store is all on one floor instead of three and the annex for tailoring that Baer's had.
     I dyed my first pieces of cloth in the late 80's when I took a  class from Judy Anne Walters, the author of "Creating Color: A Dyer's Handbook" one of the first book written about fabric dyeing for quilters.  After that class, I knew without a doubt that I was not going to be a dyer.  No way.  No how.  Too much water and way too much stirring and stirring and stirring.  After the class I came home with some beautiful solid colors but for all the work I had to do to get it,  at that point in my quilting journey, I'd rather buy than dye.
     Years past.  Taste changed. Methods evolve.   In 1996  I picked up some packs of Dylon at the Ben Franklin's near where I lived and tried it on some white cotton fabric I had in the house.  It was certainly easier to use than Rit Dye and not as much work as high water immersion dyeing was.    Some time after that I brought  a copy of  "Hand-Dyed Fabric Made Easy", low water immersion dyeing; a book by Adriene Buffington.  The book is still available online from places like and Ebay.  After reading the book, ordering dyes and worked through her lessons.  After that I was hooked and I shared my enthusiasm for her way of dyeing with my friend Marti who was game to give it a go.  Thus began my long lasting relationship with Pro Chemical and Dyes and with Robert Kaufman's  and the bleached white Kona PFD fabric they sell.   Marti and I wanting to know more about dyeing enrolled in 2 five day classes.   One in 2001 with Liz Axford at Arrowmont and the other with Carol Soderlund  at the Crow Barn.  We learned a lot from both dyers and some of my favorite colors and effects are achieved by combining both dyers approaches to dye color mixing. 
     When I lived in Kentucky my friend Marti and I dyed together  often taking advantage of a week when her husband was off biking across Iowa or something.  We planned and prepared and we were efficient and we got it done.  Bolts and bolts and bolts worth of dyed fabric got done in that time.  Enough to keep us working for months without having to dye more for a while.  I miss doing that and our time together very much. 
     Several weeks ago I started dyeing quantities of fabric again. I have the space, and the place to make a mess again and the weather while still "hot" is getting less so.  The washer and dryer are  steps away from the garage.  There is a sink in the garage which I've never had before in any of the places I've lived and worked, but I hadn't dyed a hundred yards of fabric by myself at one time for a long time. Not since leaving Missouri.   As I did those first 75 yards it seemed to me that the process of doing so was dragging on longer than was necessary even when I was doing it the same way I had done it the from the beginning.
     After that first session  I concluded  I needed a more efficient way of dyeing 25-50-100 yards at a time by myself. So I went in search of how others did it.   I visited the blog of many dyers but decided I like what Lisa Call and Melody Johnson did best and took note of how they dyed yards and yards of their not quite uniformly solid colors.    For years Melody was on the quilt show circuit selling her cloth.  I did not want to learn  how or create her specialty fabrics just her almost solid colors.  From them I learned how to do it easier, faster and with a step or two less than I had been doing previously.  Now mind you... she doesn't  tell how she managed to get all those many thousands of yards ironed and ready to sell without standing for hours on end pressing the cloth.  The ironing and making ready to store is why after I dye the last fifty yards I have from Testfabrics I am returning to Kona PFD.  It really is much easier to iron.  I put in an order for six bolts of it on  Thursday.
    After some try this and try that,  I think I've got it.  The what that I've got is a combo of Carol Soderlund and her way of making stock solution based on weight of dye to weight of goods so there is no guess work for me in determining the value of what I am getting and Melody's pre soda ash soaked cloth, and her use of a limited amount of water and dye solution that is massaged through the cloth then squeezed out and then placed in a clear plastic shoe box. 
     Once I have massaged and squeezed out the excess dye, I open up the piece of cloth to inspect it and to see that I have no unwanted  not dyed  area.  Doing it her way I am also sure there are no area's of the cloth that the soda ash has not reached and opening it up to inspect it I am sure there are no places that the dye has not touched.  Lisa does it somewhat like melody.  She is less exact with her dye amounts and she uses open containers. 
     Melody stacks  and  her stacks are more organized.  She uses uniform size Glad ware or the like with lids, whereas Lisa uses an eclectic mix of plastic ware.  I opted for the uniform look, just larger containers.   From my neighborhood  Big Lots  I brought 4 dozen or so plastic shoe boxes.  The first couple of times I used them I put the lids on the shoe boxes and stacked them very neatly.  Believe me, neatness has noting to do with the final look of the cloth.  If you use the lids,  you have to rinse them as well as the boxes.  Now, no lids, less work. 
     Thursday evening I pre soda ash soaked 50 yards of fabric.  Yesterday with my dye solution ready and waiting in the garage/wet studio refrigerator,  I dyed the fifty yards so fast and with energy to spare I soaked 50 more  yards and let them soda ash soak while I had lunch.  After which I  began dyeing that batch.
     Today I am doing the washout per Melody Johnson in four loads.  Here is the first load out of the dryer.  Pinks to red.  Second load is yellow to orange.  Third, turquoise and other blues are in the dryer now, pinks to purples the last load is in the wash machine. 
     This dyeing session was spurred on in part because I will be driving down state to teach a class in Coral Springs next Saturday so I needed some pink, turquoise, orange and yellow yardage for their kits. 
     I see two days of ironing ahead of me.  Wednesday I will be pulling quilts from the closet to organize them for my trunk show for the guild I will speak to  on Friday evening.  The class I am teaching on Saturday so I still have supplies to gather for that since it is a kit class for 13 of the 19 who signed up. 
     So now you know what I will be doing the rest of the week.  Will try to remember to take the camera with me when I leave and more importantly remember to use it while I am there.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Some times something isn't done when you think it is

As I sat quilting on this piece I kept looking at the orange ones as it hung on the design wall waiting for a time when I felt like sewing on the facing, sleeves and a label.  The more I looked at it the more I knew I had to do more to it.  Some thing wasn't quite right.  The something I realized was that I could not visualize how the middle stem at the bottom of the composition could possibly connect to the biggest bloom  even though that was my intentions. 

Here is the before.  What to do?


I like it better with the addition of the seed pod and the addition of another stem that is positioned so that it looks like it belongs to the largest bloom.  Better...
   I like odd numbers.  Would five stems and another seed pod work in the composition?  I will keep looking at this piece and contemplate the addition.
Now back to quilting.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

I needed a "big" city yellow pages phone book or two

a few days ago.  Or do they still print them?
Like any new piece of equipment, there is a break in period, a learning curve to navigate before you can say, "yea I got it".  Me and my HQ16 are going through such a period and as I finished this latest piece I feel like we are getting on much, much better.  Some things are not imprinted on my brain, yet.  For instance, four out of 10 times as I end a line of stitching I am still reaching for the lever to raise a presser foot that this machine does not have. 
Another  major thing I have mastered about this machine is reinserting the bobbin case by feel.  For a sewer with machines that have always had drop in bobbin,  accomplishing this little task has lowered my frustration level tremendously since I change the bobbin thread ever time I change the top one.
The other thing that was driving me a little crazy was how you thread this machine.  The threading was intuitive except for these three hole above the tension disk area.  I hated to do this step with every thread change. 
A friend suggested that I should tie the new thread to the old thread a few inches before these thread guides and pull it through the three holes.  Eureka!!!  It works ... oh joy, oh joy. 
Even though the table top height of the HQ is the same height as the table that my Janome is in, I felt that I was sitting too low when I used the same chair that I sit on to sew at the Janome.   I  solved this not sitting at the right height to sew at the HQ by using a draftsman's chair but... there is always a but, the extra inches  that put my elbows into the ergonomically correct position made it so that my left leg  was dangling and my right one was stretching to reach the foot pedal.  This made me slide forward in the chair, perching on the edge rather then sitting properly, again,  throwing my elbows into an awkward position.  The solution, I needed to raise the floor if I wanted to leave everything else the same.  And I did. 
Hence my wish for a big city phone book.  Not having one of those or several smaller one I could put my hands on and stack, I gave myself a present.  At least that is what my grandson Josh says it looks like.  In the garage, I located a 4' x 4' piece of 2" thick blue insulation foam left over from one of the 8' panels I cut down to make my design wall that had escaped being put out for the trash collectors.  I broke it into two sectioned along the scored line, stacked one on top the other and  covered it with contact paper to disguise its not to pristine appearance.  I  and added a piece of rug floor grip to the bottom to keep it from sliding away. 
It is wide enough that I can rest my left foot on it as well as the machine foot pedal.  No more dangling legs.

Here is the pieces I just finished.
It has been block and trimmed to the finished size of  24" x 42".   The facing, sleeves and label will come later.

 Now I am off to the quilt store so I can get some blue thread to begin working on the next piece.