My absurdly talented partner Andrew painted this portrait in 1 day. There are so many things I love about this painting. If I had to choose what made this painting feel so much like me, I’d have to say its the couple of wayward hair strands across the forehead and down the side and the dulled green in my hair.
Ah Sunday. Ability to get in car, drive to parents house to steal their internet and type a blog post with a keyboard rather than one finger on a mobile phone! The one benefit of no internet is that I’ve actually spent time I would normally spend on the internet sewing! Well, the sewing part hasn’t been extensive. Think more cutting out, testing, tossing and trying another technique. In the quilt I just finished the only applique was raw edged applique. In the case of the squirrel and the doves, I was lucky enough to get Kim from Applicuts to use her laser to cut them and this seals the edges and they don’t fray as much. In the case of the little gecko I had to fussy-cut him and then blanket stitch him within an inch of his life by hand so he didn’t fray. So I decided to give ‘needle-turn’ applique a go. Who knew there were so many ways of doing it?
A little internet research shows you that many people do needle-turn applique using freezer paper. Some use freezer paper in combination with starch to crisp up the edge. Any technique which involves cutting out shapes, ironing them, stitching around them, only to then have to leave a hole and fiddle with tweezers to pull out the bit of paper, seems a bit… well… annoying. Pull the paper out? Bugger that! I wanted a method I could leave the ‘template’ in.
I tried just using an iron to turn my edges. Fail.
I tried using a basting stitch on the machine. My little wisp of fabric got eaten by the feed dogs.
I traced my shape on the fabric and before cutting it trying the basting stitch… it wasn’t the smoothest and too time consuming!
I ended up using a method pretty close to the one described by Rachelle Denneny in a demo DVD I got at the newsagency. (I’d give you a link to her website, only I can’t find one!)
I deivated a little, but not much.
- I used the Floriani leave in fusible wash and wear interfacing that she used. This is going to sound strange but I found it both stiffer and softer than vliesofix – and the backing doesn’t seem to edge itself away from the glue piece with repeated handling.
- I ‘pleated’ my outer curves with a palette knife rather than a cuticle stick (there are more art supplies in my house than nail care implements).
- I did cut my ‘notches’ on the inner curves to ease it in first because I put the glue on the back of the interfacing, rather than the bit I was turning.
- I didn’t assemble my pieces as a ‘whole unit’ with glue like she does, I put them down one by one. This was probably due to impatience on my part as I hadn’t cut every bird feather at the beginning – I didn’t even know if it would work!
- Rachelle has a masterful skill in machine qpplique and free motion work (she has won awards for her quilts in Australia shows as well as in Houston). I’m guessing that she has had thousands of hours practice. I’d be struggling to notch up 2 hours, so I hand slip stiched my feathers down!
The best part about this for me was being able to use a palette knife and a glue stick to turn the edges rather than an iron. I’m a bit of a gumby and had already had a few moments of ‘quickly dancing’ fingers as I got too close to the iron.
Of course when I fronted up at dress-making class with my creation, my incredibly knowledgable teacher quickly produced an alternative to all my tracing on the curves.
Using bias and bending them into shape would have been easier.
‘Oh I did think of that’, says I defensively. ‘It wouldn’t work because my pieces are different widths at different points and I didn’t want to have a seam at the end for the spade shaped piece.’
Of course, this is Bev. She has decades of experience. She had an answer for this one too!
Well then you just make bias as wide as the widest part of the bulb and then cut it back.
Hmm. I’m not sure how good an idea it is to tell a woman who has spent considerable time drawing curved shapes that it would have been easier to just bend them in. Then again, this is Bev. She’s nearly always got a better way. (We just don’t tell her that too often).
I am still without internet. I am not happy. Telstra decided – in their infinite wisdom – that the problem was solved and so cancelled my appointment. When I told Optus to tell Telstra that it wasn’t fixed, they said that the appointment I had for the 29th of April was now going to take place on the 16th of May! Optus guessed right that I wasn’t going to be happy with a further two week delay, so hassled Telstra some more until they coughed up a date of 6th of May. Still another week I have to wait because of their mistake. Frustrating as hell.
I’m writing this from Andrew’s place. While at home with lack of internet, I can neither work nor do half the internet surfing I normally do. Instead, I’ve been sewing. A dress is taking shape. I’ve started on ideas for a lap quilt including this piece of fabric that I’ve embroidered.
Saffron has recovered from her cystitis just in time to ‘assist’ with the sewing.
Handpainting fabric is as much fun as painting on canvas or watercolour paper and it has one added advantage – it takes up less storage space! This piece is about 15 X 25 inches. If I had that in paper, that would be an awkward size. In fabric I can just fold it up.
I’m posting this pic now as I expect I may be offline again for a few days. My internet keeps dropping out. At least tonight I got it resolved to a point where they have concluded it is not the phone line – the fact that the phone line has also been dodgy for the last month is apparently co-incidence! They say it’s the modem and they are sending me a new one at no cost. After this long of flaky phone lines and internet connection, so they should! Fingers crossed getting a new modem will stablise my internet access.
It’s probably a good thing it’s being flaky. I have just started to set up a pinterest page and I think I got a little too excited by some of the cool things I could pin!
After about 6 months in the making, today I finally finished my first – and possibly last – quilt. This quilt was born out of an idea from Andrew: that we should make a quilt together.
He had his own ideas. A sea of aqua, turquoise, teal, blue and violet. A multitude of bright large format squares. I on the other hand wanted my usual earthy and autumnal tones. On the colour front, I’d say he got the lion’s share.
The construction didn’t quite take the format Andrew had expected. The pieces grew organically after the selection of the tree as the centre piece. We stencilled it with lumiere bronze paint together and I think at that point, he probably realised this wasn’t going to be a quick project. It was also not going to be without damage – at that particular stage, little flecks of bronze paint in his bathroom where I had washed out the stencil.
While he may have won on colour, I triumphed when it came to whimsy: the lizard in a teacup with a licorice allsort my favourite of the added amusements.
All cats feature: Saffron as a colour (poor Saff, it was the best I could do), Licorice as the aforementioned sweet, Pickle as his ginger self and Gesso as a purple squirrel. (The last act of the quilt was gluing on his eye today).
The black cat in the tree is the one Andrew wants that we don’t have.
Lizards also abound – some with functioning legs and some without. It is these unique references which make this truly one of a kind. A quilt that could only ever be the story of the two of us.
For those who have see my art over the years, this probably comes as no surprise. Anything I create is made for the purposes of self-expression rather than for it’s aesthetic qualities.
The idea of buying a quilting ‘kit’ holds no attraction at all – unless there’s someone out there selling Alice in Wonderland tribute meshed with wheels, cats, curly-ques and lizards?
As this is my first quilt I could hardly draw on any quilting skills as reference, so I instead returned to my mixed media toolkit.
On the white rabbit – which went purple – I had to turn to my long suffering sewing teacher for advice.
I stuffed him with toy fill, only he kept springing a leak. With some cajoling, he finally agreed to keep his innards, well… within.
I managed the white backstitch outline but the point of his umbrella had a distinct wonkiness. The umbrella you see in the finished product had some expert intervention to correct it’s trajectory!
I discovered that I had insufficient patience for large areas of hand-quilting – although I must admit it does have a strangely meditative quality. The small area of pink spiral patterned fabric on the top left is one of the few spots where I did try out the old fashioned way. While I could claim this was out of wanting to be traditional, in truth, it was just testament to my lack of free motion sewing skills. In the end the only area I was happy to free motion were the tree roots, for it mattered not how bumpy and gnarled they became as I covered up each of my mistakes.
This free motion incompetence meant that I completed around each branch of the tree using a walking foot and turning the fabric. It was slow work which at times had me cursing Stencil Kingdom for not selling the tree stencil in a smaller size!
Other features are tiny in comparison – like a small trio of playing cards, or a teapot in the bottom right hand corner. Still I think they add something to the quilt and when you view it in black and white, it only serves to emphasise that together with the tree it’s these little areas of ‘light’ that pop out from all that purple.
Andrew still protests that it wasn’t bright enough – he wanted more pink and more yellow and red gingham (yes, can you believe it?). I on the otherhand wanted something a little less vibrant. That neither of us felt the colour is quite right, just goes to show that we did achieve a representation of us. It is neither his bright bold cheeky self, or my more muted tones, but somewhere in the middle. Today I looked at the quilt with more than a dash of pride. I’m not quite sure how I got to this point… how those ideas tumbled out… but I do know that we’ve created something we will both cherish for a long time. I have to say that I thought Andrew was a little nuts when he suggested we make a quilt. I’m glad he did.
This quilt would not have been possible without the help of a special few and some amazing art suppliers out there.
I have to include a special thanks to The Stencil Kingdom, as without their business, that beautiful tree focal piece would not exist. Whoever was nutty enough to make a stencil with that many little twigs, I thank you. I’ve been buying stencils from this company in the UK for a number of years to use in my work. I don’t get them that often as postage from the UK is expensive however whenever I do, I add another tool to my art stash that’s definitely a keeper!
Fabric & Threads: Most of the fabrics have been sourced from Busy Bee Sewing, with just a couple of the Batiks from The Quilters’ Store. The stranded cottons and embroidery threads also came from Busy Bee and I just supplemented with a few special pieces from The Thread Studio in Western Australia (that gorgeous thick swirl at the bottom) and some I picked up from Room For Threads at the recent quilting show. (To the lady from this stall with the funky red glasses and clear passion for quilts, I assure you that both my and Andrew’s name and the date and the location are going on the quilt. Who knows where this quilt will end up after we are dead – hopefully not in the trash – but I agree it’s a lovely habit to get into signing and dating quilts just the same as we do other art forms).
Applique & Applicuts: To Kim Barter of Applicuts – a huge thank you. When I asked for a 3 inch squirrel as a special order, you obliged… the same with those doves! I know you weren’t sure what the hell I was going to do with them, or that they would become stencils in their own right, but I thank you for humouring me! (For anyone interested in the mileage I got out of a tool intended for applique: check out my earlier post).
Painting & Art Supplies: Thankfully, I really didn’t have to shop much – all the things I’ve accrued over the years came in handy. My old faithfuls – caran d’ache wax oil pastels – got a workout as well as the Golden Fluid Acrylics. Apart from some print paste, I really didn’t have to buy anything to paint that fabric. If anyone does need supplies, I get my Golden Fluid Acrylics from Alex at The Sydney Art Store. Actually, Andrew and I get almost everything art-wise there because it’s accessible (a rare thing for an art store) and Alex is just so helpful. I’ve even had times when Andrew has sent me in to buy a paintbrush and Alex has been happy for me to pluck a few out and go back out to the car so Andrew could choose for himself and then run back in to buy them.
To Bev Barter – dressmaking teacher extraordinaire. I’m not going to say that you are amazing woman, or a brilliant teacher, or an absolute hoot for company as I don’t want ANYONE else to want your teaching services for fear I will have to make way for new students! I want you to be stuck with me.
Seriously, thank you for fixing the licorice allsort, the rabbit’s umbrella, for teaching me french knots… oh… and how to quilt enough to get by on this project. Not that many people would have let a student do this as their first project. Which just goes to show you truly are one of a kind.
To Licorice, Saffron, Pickle and Gesso, thank you for all your assistance during the project. Sitting on the quilt was so helpful. Really.
Lastly, to Andrew for having the idea in the first place. For drawing that bloody woman, the white rabbit, helping to paint the tree, and all those little helpful comments along the way. Sorry about the pins I left in your couch, or all the threads that went into your vacuum cleaner! I know that you will forget all about these once you get to sleep under it and you are toasty and warm. You are a delight and a bugger at the same time. On this project I can truly say the idea was not mine alone, but mine.
I spent the morning at the Art Gallery of NSW’s Francis Bacon exhibition.
It amazes me that each time I go to an exhibition of famous painters that I find pieces I expect to enthrall me don’t, yet others take my breath away.
Today two pieces which are poles apart captivated me. This ‘running dog’ was blurry yet crisp. It was just enough to suggest and blurry enough to be masterful. It may seem like a strange choice. I can only say that the picture doesn’t do it justice.
The second piece, is quite the opposite of the first and I cannot even tell you what I like about it. The intensity of the orange was stunning. The scratchiness of the texture, the haphazard nature of the flowers – it was one of those pieces which from a distance hung together beautifully and up close revealed all these little mysteries.
The exhibition made me want to come home and paint the most vivid orange I could find – not that I’m sure I could get one stronger than Bacon’s.
The other thing I took away from the exhibition was a new found admiration for how much a few lines can do to add depth to the painting. Bacon’s cage, box, rooms were ever present.
Instead I’ve come home and looked at my most recent art effort. I’ve picked up a crayon and coloured a few areas before I’ve realised that ‘ship has sailed.’
This piece is smaller than an A3 page. Working small, I can finish a piece in one night, or one week. When I work small and quickly, then I get a raw reflection of just that particular moment. If I continue working on the piece after the moment has gone, the painting becomes something else. So I’m leaving this one as is.
It’s been a while between impromptu art pieces and I’m clearly out of practice. Not only did I succeed in getting paint all over my hands but I also lent my arm on the heat gun and spent the next period with it under a tap, all the time hoping that Saffron was not about to take a walk across the painting table.
I started with bronze, cream and phthalo blue. I then decided I’d like to collage on the woman holding a beheaded man on a platter. Before anyone suggests it, no, Andrew has not done anything – this is not biographical! The only explanation I can give is that the colour of her skirt fit with my painting to date.
(By the way, if anyone can tell me who painted the original, I’d like to know… it’s in my miscellaneous collage pile and I have no idea where it came from).
I then wanted a tiger. That’s why I have a bird.
It really didn’t go very smoothly at all.
The best part of the whole art experience was opening up the watercolour pad to find the following piece I’d quite forgotten about.
It’s been a week of dealing with Saffron having cystitis again combined with the first full week back at week and very hot weather that leaves you drained of energy. When I let Saffron out of the bathroom I was watching her like a hawk to ensure there weren’t any accidents outside the tray. The shower recess became a favoured spot but, quite frankly, I was happy with anywhere in the bathroom. That’s what mops are for! She is improved but still not back to normal.
Needless to say with a full week of work and sick cat, there has been little ‘art-ing’ or quilting going on. So I’m uploading photos of what I did in between Christmas and New Year. I tried to take a photo of a larger area and encountered cat assistance. I think it won’t be until I have some humans to help hold it up that I can get a wider shot… so I’ve gone for the detail instead!
I, like many others, have trouble keeping the stitches even. When it came to tree roots I figured that even wasn’t important. I went over them quite a bit as I didn’t want them to appear too delicate – it’s a bloody big tree they are holding up! Also doing this, unpicking was not an option. Perhaps when you just have to go for it, the result is better?
The chequerboard floor
I needed an quilting pattern which would fill that expanse of purple around the bottom of the tree. I also needed something matching my level of quilting yet still in keeping with the quilt being about Andrew and I.
A chequerboard pattern seemed a great option at the time – I only had to sew straight lines! It was pretty easy, just length with all the tying off. The chequerboard pattern also fit with me. I have been known to throw the odd chequerboard into a painting:
I supposed it’s related to Alice in Wonderland and the chess pieces. It could also be because I’ve seen them used so beautifully in the work of artist James Christensen, one of my first art book acquisitions and still a favourite. He often puts a fish in his paintings. (If your not familiar with Christensen’s work, the link I’ve included is to a slideshow of his art). I’ve just realised looking at the above painting of mine, that perhaps I’m getting a thing for teacups! The one above has a hippo in it. The one in the quilt has a lizard… and a licorice allsort…
Lastly, a photograph of my French knots. I’ve never done these before I think they look a little more like French grubs than knots, but never mind! They are a little added texture. Most of them are 1 strand of brown silk and 1 of reddish-brown cotton. (I was told not to mix n match but it seemed to work ok). There are a few which are just two strands of cotton. I really can’t see any difference in ‘grub’ quality between the silk-cotton mix and just the cotton. So mix n match it will be!
When I get myself into an artistic lull, I have a mixed media method that I employ. I’ve had friends try it as well and it can produce fun results.
Here it is.
Step One: Image Selection
My get out of a rut method is very simple. I go to my collage stash and start to look through it – quickly. When I see something which catches my eye – I pull it out. Speed is important here. I’m looking for that instant gut feel that says ‘Pick me!’
I usually pick between 5 – 10 images and know that I won’t use all of them. The collage above I think uses just 4, although often it’s about 6-8 pieces together. While those familiar with Dover PIctorial’s re-use policy may think this target number is because you can use up to 10 of their images in your project copyright free, it’s more because too many pictures and I get a little lost in the process of pulling out all the imagery.
Step Two: No refining
Having selected my 5-10 images, there is a temptation to ‘assess’ them. I could say that I can’t have a hand that’s just as big as the woman. Or I have a background which looks to be indoors but I have a rhinoceros. The whole point of my quick selection process is to stop making predictable combinations. If there is any refining to be done, it will only be culling a few of the images I have chosen. Selecting more is not an option.
Step Three: Putting it together
The lovely part about collage is shuffling the bits around before deciding to stick! There are entire blog posts dedicated to the best ‘glue’ for collage. Personally, I love matt medium. I see no reason to look at anything else.
These days most of my collages will be couple with some other media – whether that’s acrylic glazes, charcoal or – my favourite – Caran D’ache Neocolor I wax oil pastels (a very long way of saying ‘expensive swiss crayons).
Yet looking at the collage above, going back to just black and white collage may be fun. I’m off work until January 2nd, I feel a collage coming on.
If you’re in a rut, give the above a go! It may not result in your best artwork of all time but I can assure you, fun will be had and something will get created.