Category Archives: Sewing
It was almost a disaster. I lost the 55th piece of my fibonacci flower. Some people may have just decided that it had to stay with 54 pieces but I could not. I hunted through sewing bags; down the back of my sewing cupboard, under the sewing machine, on the floor, in the scraps. I was looking for a piece of fabric about 3/4″ wide. Once I stopped looking, I found it.
At the moment, the flower looks a little silly as it is without stem. That piece of gold and orange batik will be reduced once the stem goes on. I tried two methods of ‘needle-turn’ applique for the main pieces. The first I stitched the line on the sewing machine and then clipped and turned under with the iron. The second – the gold one – I used a palette knife and glue stick. This is because I’m not very safe with an iron – or at least my fingers aren’t!
And on a completely unrelated subject, here are the girls, grooming themselves simultaneously. I often think to myself when Cat Protection Society said they were inseparable, they were absolutely right. In this short video they even turn to each other’s name! (Saffron is on left, Licorice on right).
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.
Sometimes I love getting an ‘art material’ and using it in a way it wasn’t intended! I know that many artists do this; it’s why both ends of the paintbrush get dirty; why happy accidents turn into techniques.
Lately I’ve been playing around with applicuts. An applicut is a fabric shape/image cut using a laser which is intending for applique work on quilts. It comes with a sticky ‘fusible’ backing so you can iron it down first and then stitch. Whether you use satin stitch, straight stitch, a decorative machine stitch or even hand stitching is really up to you. I recently hand-cut a shape with scissors. As I was applique-ing (if that is a word!) it down, I had problems with it fraying. I think I’ve been spoilt by using applicuts as the laser almost ‘seals’ the edges so it seems to fray less.
A friend of mine (the daughter of my dressmaking teacher) makes these applicuts. She hasn’t asked me to write this post and may just shudder at some of the things I’ve been doing with her materials!
Applicut as a stencil
When I started the art quilt I knew that I wanted to include some birds in it as Andrew loves painting pigeons. I also wanted a squirrel (one of our nicknames for Gesso). A small squirrel. I got some left facing and right facing doves. At first everywhere I put the dove in it’s ‘true applicut’ form seemed to stand out more than I wanted. My idea was to have a few doves over the quilt but integrated within it, rather than looking like items I added later.
I was getting nowhere until I was messing around with handpainting fabric (I’ve become a little bit of a painting fabric-holic) and decided to add a subtle outline of a dove by tracing around the applicut with a Pitt pen. It was subtle. I was happy.
But what would happen if instead of putting it on after the fabric was painted, I used it during the painting process?
Applicut as a mask
Under the screen went the applicut. It was going to get paint all over it. Hmm… nah… who cares. I had a spare one!
It shifted a little as I did it. Sometimes I think that would be annoying but in this case I didn’t mind that it was a little fuzzy. I did a monoprint with the lighter copper colour on a piece of perspex and then defined him a little more once again using a Pitt pen.
Applicut as ‘stamp’
After doing a few of these, my applicut was more than a little wet. I flipped him over (something I’d seen Kerr Grabowski do with paper she’d been using under her screenprints) and rubbed a little . I must have also had gold/copper paint on my hands because even outside the bird I got some added colour. This is one of my favourites birds in the quilt. He sits in the top right hand corner.
Applicut for ‘pattern’
My applicut had started to curl up. I think all the moisture was getting to it. So I just plonked it down without worrying whether it was straight or not. I then got a pallette knife and dragged some copper paint over the top and then removed the applicut.
It looked nothing like a bird but I still liked it. At this stage my applicut looked decidedly dirty and sick. I had a couple so I wasn’t fussed if that was the end of this particular applicut. I’d had some fun with it!
Initially I’d tried using the ‘paper’ backing as a stencil tool. Unfortunately it’s slightly ‘waxy’ and after one use it ‘recoiled’ itself into an unusable state. When I try to unfurl it to stick it under the screen, it springs back and I can’t get it flat.
About a week later, I was painting fabric again. (Yes I know, it’s a little addictive!). Anyway, I was looking at the poor applicut which was once purple. Now mottled on both sides I could still see residue of the fusible backing. I decided to give it a shot and see whether it would stick.
Remarkably – it did!
Yesterday, I finally put a purple bird on the quilt.
They were always supposed to be purple – not gold and copper. I didn’t do anything untoward to this particular applicut besides clipping his wings a little. I wanted to make it look like it was behind the other shape (at this stage marked out by the temporary white tacking line). I intend to quilt along that line so hopefully it will look like the bird is in the background.
I’m not sure that I’m done with the applicuts just yet. If anyone has any other ideas how to get a little more mileage out of this one art material, let me know.
I think I’ve finally cracked it! I’ve tried a number of different mediums to combine with my regular acrylic paint to make them into ‘fabric paints’ with very mixed success. At last, I have found that print paste is my new best friend.
If you are thinking of creating your fabric for quilting then here’s a few of my ‘what not to do tips.’
Golden GAC 900
You can have too much of a good thing! I found that when I combined my paint with GAC 900, the result was often sticky. Perhaps I put too much but it seemed to be a fine line. For me, I want something that’s not as sensitive. That I didn’t have great success with this Golden product really surprised me. I am very attached to my golden paints and many of their mediums – they are simply a joy to use! However GAC 900 is being crossed off my list. Others my get it to work. I’m not that patient!
Supercover = supertacky! I actually didn’t realise when I bought my black permaset textile paint that I had chosen Supercover. (Their paints come in standard and supercover). I think the idea is for a product which has a greater opacity. Unfortunately it gets a tacky feel which I really don’t like.
Believe your silk screen will stay clean
Every site I’ve read says it – don’t let your paint dry on your screen; clean it quickly. Well, it doesn’t seem to matter how speedy gonzales I am at getting the silk screen washed, my screen is not ‘clean’. What I soon discovered (after fretting I’d ruined my screen) is that it is more stained than dirty. I can still get really clear prints through it but I do have marks – particularly from phthalo green!
Believe you can stop at just one piece!
Originally I’d only planned to put a small piece of my handpainted fabric into the quilt. I thought given I hadn’t put pieces in the centre parts that it would look like I’d tacked them on! With a dwindling supply of the fabrics already in the quilt, I’ve had to supplement. (At least that’s my excuse!)
Thinking starting with coloured fabric is a good idea!
There are fiber artists out there who like to start with fabric which is already coloured – Lynn Krawczyk is one. She says she got tired of filling in the white spots! Perhaps it is because I’ve painted on paper and canvas first and fabric second, that I seem very attached to starting on white. I know how one colour layered on top of another will behave when I’m using paint. When I’m starting with a fabric colour, I’ve taken my art colour theory and adapted it – with very mixed results. I think it is because it’s hard to know the properties of the colour you are painting on. I stared at it for a while trying to decide whether it was a green or purple leaning blue; I deliberately chose a red loaded with crimson as usually you can make a beautiful purple out of a blue and red where each leans towards purple in it’s colour. I got dark mud instead! So, I’m sticking to start on white.
Forget to put gloves on
A lot of people recommend gloves whenever using any kind of paint for health reasons. In the case of silk screen printing, I’ve discovered that for reasons of ‘messiness’, the gloves are essentially. Somehow I regress back to a 2 year old and get it not only on my fingers but up my arms, elbows and on my clothes.
Think the cat will leave you alone
Wait until your cat is in a very deep sleep or suffer their curiousity you will!
So what is working?
Permaset Print Paste in combination with any of my acrylic paints seems to be producing a very consistent result. I like the Golden Fluid Acrylics the best but I think that’s just a result of my passion for them generally! Thicker paint does work and other brands seem fine – e.g. Matisse.
As you need a fair bit of paint for silk screening, I’ve taken to using the lumieres for some embellishment on the top (see bird at top of this post) rather than using them through the screen. They do work beautifully as a screen print; it’s just me being stingy on my paint!
Waterproof Calligraphy pens
I’m loving the nice crisp line I can introduce with a calligraphy pen – especially amid the chaos that is my painting style! Now my quilt has the words ‘mad as a hatter’ up one side. It’s subtle enough that you can’ easily read it however still detectable.
I’m trying a few other things but I’ve yet to wash them so will let you know if they are a success!
Most of my artwork uses waterproof materials as otherwise half of what I had placed down would ‘melt away’ each glaze. Despite this, I’m finding I am still on a learning curve regarding what materials are waterproof enough to withstand machine washing.
I had some failures. I had some victories.
Faber Castell PItt Pens
A stalwart of my painting to date, these have never bled ink on me in subsequent glazes. Still, I wanted to test the ‘permanence’ of this permanent marker before I got very excited with my quilt drawing. The Pitt Pen didn’t say to heat seat it prior to washing. I decided to iron one test piece anyway and discovered it fared slightly better than it’s non-ironed counterpart.
Caran D’ache Neocolor I
Another art supply I use frequently, Caran D’ache’s wax oil pastels are fantastic in glazed artwork (neocolor I, that is… I do wish one day the colour range you can get in the water-soluable neocolor IIs would be extended to the non-watersoluable variety). To test it out for the sewing machine, I used a Cedar Canyon rubbing plate (designed for use with Shiva Paintstiks). I then went over part of the design with Golden Medium GAC 900 and left part as is. I ironed all of it prior to washing.
Here is the result. The piece unprotected by the GAC 900 has all but vanished! The GAC 900 does leave the fabric with a ‘wet patch’ look about it but I figure if I paint the entire panel, no one would notice. The alternative is to put the medium straight into paint (unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to use a rubbing plate with paint yet!)
Golden Fluid Acrylics
The word Alice has been painted using a mix of Golden Fluid Acrylic and Jo Sonja Textile Medium. I’m sure Golden’s GAC 900 medium would work just as well, I just couldn’t find it at the time!
I’m not going to show you a picture of the piece with Shiva Paintstiks post-wash. I ironed it. I let it dry for days. I didn’t iron it a second time. Some of it decided to leave during the washing process. I’ve since read an excellent tutorial on using Shiva Paintstiks from This is My Brain On Quilts. I plan to have another go!
Lastly, I couldn’t have a piece on paint on fabric without mentioning Lumieres. If I didn’t already own so many other paints, I think I’d just use Lumiere and Neopaque. I washed the pieces and I cannot tell the difference from the pre-wash photographs. Good news really, given the entire tree is painted in Lumiere Bronze metallic.
An Updated Photo
Please forgive the photo quality.
Thanks to a long weekend, I’ve managed to make significant progress on piecing together the quilt. At the expense of housework of course!
PS: If you are wondering what that yellow line is near the bottom it’s the start of a swirl. It’s handstitched in thick silk. The photograph below shows a much smaller spiral which has been stitched in that lower right hand corner. The thick silk is hand dyed from The Thread Studio. I’ve already run out of the purple so will have to get some more!
‘Why don’t we make a quilt which is our story?’
Ever since then, I’ve been playing around with different paints on pieces of fabric. It took some weeks before I summoned up the courage to just start painting. In the end, I opted for one of the easy options by using the lumiere paint. I didn’t need to put any additives to make it suitable for fabric. Also it had a thick enough consistency that it took to stenciling and freehand painting well where other options bleed. Still, I was tentative about starting.
To mitigate my nervousness I chose an affordable plain purple cotton quilting fabric as the backing.
The tree stencil, Andrew and I chose together. It came from Stencil Kingdom in the UK and it is enormous (over 40 inches wide) but spectacular. The original stencil is wider than it is long, however, in order to suit being part of a quilt, we’ve altered it slightly to reduce the width and increase the length. Much to Andrew’s delight, I volunteered him to do all the freehand joining bits!
In return, I got the task of hand-stitching on the black cat in the tree. Mister had a go at hand stitching and after a few moments complained that his hands hurt – a likely story! If anyone is wondering whether this cat is Licorice or Saffron, I can tell you it is neither. The reason for the black cat is that Andrew keeps telling me he needs a black one to go with the white and ginger one. He thinks then he will have one of each colour. Everytime he says this I point out that cats come in more than just 3 colours and our fur family is complete! So, to humour him, I have provided him with a black cat in spirit – or stitch! End of argument.
Of course, Licorice, Saffron, Pickle and Gesso will have to make an appearance somewhere in this collaborative effort. At this stage, Gesso will arrive in the form of a squirrel – one of his nicknames. He’ll be purple as white would stand out too much. I think it’s fine that Gesso is going to be an odd colour. He has painted himself with enough colours to date that he clearly doesn’t want to be white! As there was no way I was going to stitch a squirrel, I’ve ordered one from Applicuts.
As for the other three… well, time will tell how they appear in this piece!
I am absolutely delighted for my dressmaking teacher that the Sydney Morning Herald decided to do a story on the rising popularity of dressmaking in a vintage style. I’m sure there are many dressmakers and many sewing teachers out there in Sydney but I doubt any of them could rival Bev. As she says to me, if I re-told half the stories she’d told me, or some of the things I’ve seen her do and say, no one would believe me. To top it off she’s an excellent teacher. Some people teach you how to do something. Bev teaches you why and that I think is much more valuable as you can learn to adapt it. Best of all, she knows my likes and dislikes so well that if I come to her with a pattern – vintage or otherwise – and a concept; if she thinks it will look awful, she’ll tell me! I’ve watched her be diplomatic with other students. It’s only us lucky long term ‘permanent fixture’ students who get the warts and all version.
Lastly – because I know Isobel will say it – I’m not looking at the camera because we were instructed to pretend the photographer wasn’t there.
My boss is going to Peru in 3 months. He’s already started buying supplies for the trip. I’m going away the day after tomorrow. I haven’t finished packing.
Why is it that packing is like studying for a high school exam? Packing a week in advance is only for the nerds in this world. I can normally count myself among the geekery. Not this time. I seem to have slipped into holiday mode too early.
Delighted by not going to work on Monday, I started making a dress. But I couldn’t even finish my distraction properly! I had intended to complete all the facings today so it only left the hem for tomorrow. Did I do it? No! [80% completed dress pictured left].
Delighted that it was the second day of my break, I started compiling pictures for Andrew’s Christmas photo book instead. Yes, making Christmas presents in February! He says he is going to start calling my BTF. I racked my brain hard to think what that TLA meant. Big tall female? Brown truffle feet? Bristly touched face?
‘Back the Front’ apparently.
Fair call, I should be packing, I’m cropping photographs instead. I should be tidying; I’m making a dress!
The girls have been safely delivered to mums for their little ‘vacation’. Licorice has apparently explored the house (while the 3 cats in residence were outside) and found the bed to her liking. Saffron hasn’t emerged from under the chair.
Tomorrow it’s time to round up the boys and ship them off for cat boarding. Fortunately the boys don’t mind car travel. The girls on the other hand wailed in unison; as irritating as C-3PO but without the off switch.
As I try to write this blog, Andrew is complaining that the blog is getting more attention than he is. I roll my eyes at him. He replies:
‘One day your eyes are going to roll all the way back like a poker machine and never come back.’
9 days together in a car. A small car at that. Do you want to start taking bets on how many kilometres we get before the first debate about the appropriate speed at which the car should travel?
Fortunately we have a camera each and I’m on a mission to actually do some travel photography during February. Given I declared it the theme of this month’s challenge, I think it would be quite useful if I could come up with a few pictures myself.
Our first stop is Coffs Harbour. Someone asked me, ‘why Coffs Harbour?’ They stopped short of adding ‘there’s nothing there but a big pineapple.’ I at least I think it’s a big pineapple. Maybe it’s a banana. Or a lobster. I know it’s not a big sheep. That’s at Goulburn. I digress! No, I have no secret passion for Coffs Harbour. The answer is very simple. It’s about half way up the coast and the only place I could find a disabled hotel room. It looks like it may have some gorgeous 1970s furnishings to match. I’ll let you know in a couple of days. If they run to wireless in Coffs Harbour that is. If you hear nothing, just imagine: exposed brick with brown and orange soft furnishings. Yum.
PS: If anyone is more prepared than I and has February travel photos done, you can leave a link here.