Saturday, March 29, 2014

Anniversary Quilt

Mischa decided to hop on the quilt as I was trying to photograph it.
The more experienced among you probably chuckled knowingly when I figured that it would only take me an hour per block to quilt the thing. Indeed, quilting a sample block in the hand, being able to work easily from all four sides, gave me quite a misleading idea about how quickly 16 blocks+sashing would go. It took me at least 32 hours, which when combined with piecing the blocks and slipstitching the binding came to a grand total of 45 hours. I'm not even including the crazy late night dye session.

Which, if I was trying to sell it for $450 wouldn't even give me minimum wage. It's a good thing I do it for love.

I decided last night, as James and I celebrated one year from the day we first met, that I would give it to us, in honour of our relationship. When I first started making the blocks, a couple of years ago, I was thinking they would become a wedding chuppah for a friend. I remember being a little peeved that the bride thought it would be too folksy, and that's probably when it went into the UFO closet, where it sat quietly gathering energy until it decided it was time to emerge.

James has promised a good photo of the whole thing, once we get the doggie off it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Chequered Flag

And, yes! Heather has roared past the finish line!

Well, I've finished the hand-quilting, anyway. There is still the binding and final wash to go, but that will be SO quick and painless after the quilting. I'll show you a picture tomorrow, it's dark now. 

What prompts this faux excitement is James' question to me as I announced that I was almost finished. He asked if I was thrilled. And while yes, I suppose there was a little flurry of elation to know that I was almost done, the last stitch felt like the first, and all the millions in between.

It reminds me of when I used to run, and did a few 5 and 10 k. races. I was never a competitor, I just ran for myself, and to see the finish line approaching never spurred me on to a glorious final dash. It was just one step after one step after one step, and then I stopped, and had a nice drink of water.

There is a sense of being glad it's over, but there is no grand finale in handwork. I think a button being sewn on has more drama. My pleasure is all in the work itself.

Update: Deb left the most thought-provoking comment on this one, prompting me to ask, "How do YOU feel when you are almost done a piece?"

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Coming Together

I am still stitching away on the little quilt, so I apologize if you are getting tired of seeing the same old colours. But I am loving the feel of the layers of fabric coming together, the way the quilting stitches give such a sense of cohesion and flexibility. The cloth moves differently, is more supple, yet resilient. The work is a pleasure.

James asked me this morning how I manage to get through the day without seeming to worry, which surprised me, since I have just as many cares and woes as the next person. I suggested that stitching is what keeps me sane, and I really do think it is a calming, restorative, nurturing and healing activity. But you already know that, don't you?!?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Lull and a Couple of Wows

Somehow a week has passed since my last posting - and I had been so good with frequent updates this year too. Sorry, dear readers. I have not forgotten about you! My mom was visiting, and I've just been quilting away on that same piece - almost done.

I was very excited to hear this morning that my workshop on the Expressive Stitch next month has already sold out, and there is a waiting list! I am hoping the festival will add a second one, but, oops, just felt a wave of performance anxiety wash over me. I must remind myself that stitchers are such a lovely bunch of people, and getting together will be so inspiring and fun that there's nothing to be nervous about. This workshop is part of the annual Gabriola Island of the Arts Festival - there is an amazing lineup of workshops in writing, performing, permaculture, music, visual art, and more. If you are in the neighbourhood, you should come and play! Or make it a destination visit - Gabriola has lots of accommodations, good restaurants and beautiful scenery.
Heather Cameron, Strange and Singular, 2014, Hand embroidery on canvas, 20"x28"
And, what a difference a frame makes! So far, in the Codex series, I have left all the works unframed, just stretched over artist's stretcher bars. My intent was for them to be more like pages in a book, with implied continuity, and less decorative and precious. But as it happened I found a frame at the recycling centre that was the exact size I needed, so rather than using my previous method, I laced the embroidery over the MDF panel that came with the frame (after covering the panel with acid-free barrier paper) and popped it into the simple wood frame. Wow! I like how clean and finished it looks, as well as being somewhat more protected from damage. (There is no glass in the frame. Fabric has to breathe.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Imperfections Are Natural

The blocks are 10 1/2" square, and the sashing is 1 1/2" wide.
Taking my latest mantra to heart, I am trying to reconcile myself to imperfection. This doesn't mean I don't strive for neat, even stitches - I do, and I un-stitch a lot. But I try to be okay with the "not perfect." With such wonky blocks it makes no sense to get all tight-assed over the stitching!

I ending up following Sherri Lynn Wood's lead in using perle cotton to quilt with. I found three little balls of the most perfect taupe DMC in the stash (in a bag marked 29 cents, so they must have been a thrift store find) and I like how their sheen and slightly heftier weight enhance my stitches, which just looked awkward and thin in the coral quilting cotton I used in the sample.

So I am happily quilting away, sticking to a sedate speed of one block per hour and doing no more than an hour at a time, in consideration of my rickety thumb. BTW, my neighbour Robin, she of the fantastic quilting skills, showed me her thumb joint and it was a shocker. I guess I'll live!

P.S. Thanks for the tips about dealing with the bleeding brown cloth. Very helpful!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bleeding Colour

 Here's a little sampler square of the crazy log cabin quilt. I tried out quilting different distances from the seams of the patches. Contrary to my expectations, it only took about an hour to do the one square, so looking ahead to sixteen hours for the whole piece isn't too daunting. But, horror of horrors, the dark brown linen bled like crazy when I washed it. It doesn't show too badly against the darker coloured patches, but the pale yellow cotton just seemed to soak it up. I tried spot treating it with Retayne, which helped a bit, but not completely.
Might you have any hints for me, dear readers? Other than pre-washing ALL fabrics before piecing?  I'm thinking of  giving the whole thing a treatment with Retayne, but that is a product I haven't used too often, so have no idea how it will do with fabric that has already been sewn. I guess this is one of the dangers of using thrift store materials - the pants this linen came from weren't new, but probably had only been dry cleaned before.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

By Guess and By Golly

That's my nice freshly dyed yellow quilt backing on top.
It's 10:30 at night. I'm standing at the kitchen counter in my rubber gloves, splooshing a once white linen table cloth around in a basin of alarmingly orange liquid. Welcome to the glamourous life of a textile artist.

What prompted this late night dye bath? Well, opportunity for one - James is away, unable to quell my impulse with a wise and cautionary word. Dire necessity for two - I needed a fabric to back my crazy log cabin top, and I needed it NOW!

A couple of hours earlier, I had set out to locate a suitable piece of cloth in the stash. This meant pulling all the totes out of two different cupboards, going through them, getting sidetracked by something lovely that I'd forgotten I had, getting several new ideas, pulling out the makings for a bunch of projects, re-organizing the totes, realizing I had no fabric that would work for the quilt, pulling out another tote of old tableclothes tucked away for just such an occasion, finding one that was just the right size, but it was white and that was too stark a contrast, looking through everything again, deciding that I would have to dye the tablecloth myself, putting everything back into the totes (including the exciting and oh-so-tempting makings for a new project), stuffing them back into the closets, pulling out the bin of dye stuff and finally getting ready to dye.

Oh, but the instruction book for Procion dye wasn't in the bin. So I had to go looking for it on four different bookshelves, finally locating it tucked away loose in a cupboard. It's a good thing there wasn't any alcohol in the house because I sure could have used a glass of wine by this point to "settle me nerves". (I don't dye on a regular enough basis that I remember the procedure, so I need to re-learn each time.) I decided that something in a warm yellow/saffron/burnt orange range would work, estimated the weight of the tablecloth, blithely mixed up some suspiciously clumped yellow and orange dye powder, threw in a pinch of marine violet and was all set to go when I realized I was out of washing soda.

So I ran upstairs to the computer and Google-d "substituting lye for washing soda" 'cause I did find a jar of white crystals that I was pretty sure was lye, even though the label had somehow rubbed off. Google told me I shouldn't do such a thing - dangerous, toxic, etc., but I figured akalinity was what was needed and I would just be careful. So I mixed a couple of teaspoons of the mysterious white powder into some water, ascertained by the fumes that there was a good chance it was lye, and gingerly poured about half of it into the dyebath.

Then, I tested it with a pH strip. I may fly by the seat of my pants, but I do have a pH test kit! And, by crackey, the colours matched and I was right on the target of 10.5. Woo hoo! How's that for a miracle?

So I splooshed and splashed and actually followed the instructions for timing. The cloth came out a beautiful tangerine, and I hung it in the bathroom to dry.

The following morning it still wasn't dry (Pacific Northwest, ya know) so I threw it in the dryer for a few minutes and had a small freakout when I pulled it out and there were some mysterious black streaks on it. Hoping that this was just the dyeing gods having a bit of fun with me, I threw it into the washer and was very grateful to remove it, streak free.

As linen will do, it dried much lighter. But that's okay. It will be just fine.

My neighbour Robin, a fabulous quilter trained by Mennonites, suggested that I hand quilt the piece, going inside the edge of each patch in each block. Crazy and time-consuming as it sounds, I think I might just do that. Ah, time...if it doesn't get me one way, it'll get me another!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Protest at the BC Legislature against the ferry cuts. James Emler photo.
James Emler photo
 There is a big demonstration against the province's addle-brained cuts to BC Ferries in Victoria today. I was planning to be there, but circumstances didn't co-operate. But I hope the protestors are successful in achieving their goal: convincing the government to return the ferry corporation back into the fold of the Ministry of Transportation, getting rid of the bloated management structure, and making island living feasible once again for families, seniors and regular poor folk like me.
I think I found this on some social media site that I do not officially participate in. (But I lurk. There, I have confessed. It's the only way I can follow news in the community.)
"Imperfections are natural." I love it, I think it will be my new mantra.
Not a sign, (well, maybe of spring, since the grass is growing and it's not soaking wet) but an old project unearthed. There were more squares finished than I remembered, so I started piecing them together using a remnant of linen from the thrift shop, and little squares of blue for the intersections. I'm not too sure if a perfectly square grid works for or against the randomly pieced blocks, but it's a nice chunk of fabric. I'm pondering now whether I should add to it, or just sandwich it up and quilt it, then start another one. I'm liking the smaller quilts these days - this one is about 50" square right now.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Keeping the Hands Going

You might remember I wrote a while back about the giant knuckle on my little finger. I did finally ask the doctor about it, feeling very sheepish about my trivial concern, slotted as I was, no doubt, between a patient with a brain tumour and one in a wheelchair. He took one look, kind of scoffed and said "It's arthritis." Apparently it's also in my right thumb. He grudgingly ordered an x-ray, which confirmed his suspicions. The knuckle in the little finger has a deteriorated joint. He suggested Voltaren to relieve the pain and inflammation, which sort of helps, but it's basically downhill from here.

Which is not welcome news. I need my hands. I have already given up weaving because of my back, and haven't spun in a year because I don't want to tempt fate, but there is something about holding a needle that seems to really bother my right thumb if I do it for too long. And a recent flurry of machine quilting left my hands mysteriously sore and achy.  So I checked around the internet and did find a couple of posts with good information especially for stitchers.

Quilter Jeni Baker has lots of good tips in her article Safe Sewing: Crafting with Arthritis. And Nordic Needle has a good piece on Hand Health. I also found lots of sites that gave warm up exercises for the hands, but doing them in a sinkful of hot water seems like it would be much more effective. Pacing and taking lots of breaks is just common sense, but I really need to DO IT, not just think about it.

I'm wondering about the upcoming gardening season, since that can be very hard on the hands. Some kind of extra-supportive glove is probably the answer. Any other good ideas out there?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Quilt Improv - Well, Sort Of

Since I have been sworn to secrecy about the quilts I have made to test Sherri Lynn Wood's improv "scores" for her forthcoming book, but I'm dying to talk about the experience, I'll take another path. I picked up a couple of books from the library that also use an improvisational approach, just to compare. The first one is Quilt Improv by British designer Lucie Summers.
I returned it to the library after a quick browse. What does that tell you? Well, it's a perfectly lovely book, but not for me. Her methods are still way too controlled - there is nothing here that made me feel like dancing on the edge of wild abandon. Instead, it's very structured and safe, and as you can see from the image on the front, very tidy. Summers apparently has a line of fabrics with Moda, and although she doesn't say if that's what she used here, the sample fabrics are contemporary and colour co-ordinated. She does suggest using scraps, and most quilters have huge stashes so one could follow her templates and be more adventurous in fabric selection. I'm not keen on her suggestion of tiny 12" square sample quilts and the "larger" quilts she shows in the second half of the book would barely cover my knees. Her design boards, while very photogenic, aren't really that helpful. For example, if you want to create a quilt based on a grid, she suggests seeking inspiration by finding images of things that are square, like tiles and lattices. And the text is low contrast and hard to read. But, who knows? If you have good eyes and have never designed your own quilt before, this book is non-intimidating and just might give you a few ideas.

I had a somewhat less lukewarm reaction to Yoko Saito's Japanese Quilting Piece by Piece, also from Interweave Press. She doesn't claim to use an improvisational approach, but indeed states that her quilting became much more free and fun once she stopped following patterns and worrying about cutting things perfectly. She too has a line of fabrics in her distinctive earthy palette of taupes, browns and greys. I have long admired her work and have a couple of her books in the original Japanese, but the text isn't really essential as the diagrams are so well drawn and the method clear. Most of the projects are bags - not simple ones either. Many require intermediate to advanced sewing skills in spite of their organic look. As much as I like Saiko's style, I probably wouldn't make anything from this book, but would enjoy it just for the beautiful images and inspiring techniques.

The main problem I have with both these books is that there is no real foundation for HOW to improvise - which for me means trusting your instincts, being responsive to the materials at hand, working from your core, creating space for spontaneity, testing your boundaries, being in the moment. This isn't easy if you haven't had much practise, but certainly can be developed with the right encouragement. I am very hopeful that Sherri Lynn's book will offer just such a nurturing and inspiring voice.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Cherish the Past, Adorn the Present, Create for the Future

The first thing I must say in my defense is that because I move so often, I regularly whittle down my book collection. Too many books is not the problem. In fact, I have gone from a peak of something like 40 boxes of books down to just 12 as of the last move. I am an ardent librarian, and I know which books I cannot live without and which ones can go on to another home. I swear, your honour, that I have no recollection of buying this book. In fact, the other day I saw it on the shelves of a bookstore and coveted it dearly, but I didn't have enough money to buy it. How it appeared on my bookshelf at home, right next to Early 19th Century Embroidery Techniques (which I do remember buying), is a complete astonishment to me. I plead early onset dementia, or the existence of a fairy godmother, to explain the presence of this book in my collection. It is not possible that such a treasure could languish on my shelf unread.

The book in question is Gail Marsh's Early 20th Century Embroidery Techniques. I took it to bed with me last night after discovering it on my shelf, and couldn't put it down. More thrilling than a murder mystery, more passionate than a Harlequin romance, it spoke to my soul. I couldn't get to sleep for a long time afterwards, thinking of the heights to which embroidery has so recently soared, and the relatively sorry state it is in now. (I blame WWII, but that's probably better left to social historians.) When I finally did get to sleep, my dreams were filled with the strong, visionary, incredibly skilful women, like Ann Macbeth, Rebecca Crompton, Louisa Pesel and Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, who inspired and influenced  a couple of generations of stitching artists. I woke up wondering what the hell happened, that we could now live in a world where cross-stitched swear words pass for radical embroidery. (Etsy, I'm looking at you.)

Now, I know that there are many fine stitchers out there, and the art world has opened up to valuing context and concept as much or even more than technique. But less than 100 years ago, embroidery was not only taught in schools, it was seen as a means to improving one's life, to learning many essential life skills, to developing one's mind and creativity. It was a vital, surging force, and one I wish was still with us now.

P.S. The title of this post is from William R. Lethaby, architect, writer, designer, teacher, and esteemed friend of Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth, whose collection forms the essence of this book.
P.P.S. Needle'n'Thread's Mary Corbet has written a very thorough review, and she had a similar reading experience to my own. Check out her post for lots of inside pages.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

How Shopping Drove Me to Drink, and Other Stories

Yesterday I went over to Nanaimo intending to do a quick in and out at Fabricland, the world's crappiest fabric store. (When there is only one fabric store in town, Fabricland will have to do.) They were having a 50% off sale, so the store was jam-packed, complete with their famous half-hour line-ups at the till. That experience, combined with long bus rides (where the driver announces with complete lack of irony that Nanaimo is the land of many malls), blowing snow and just missing the ferry back to Gabriola, led me to totally abandon my attempts at a healthy lifestyle. I went to the nearest mall and got a $2 slice of pizza and a single can of beer, which I drank in public, contrary to all laws and ladylike behaviour. When I finally got home, I had zero desire to cook supper, so I dined on popcorn and trail mix, washed down with a fairly decent pinot noir.
Then I went to read in bed with Ann Hood's Knitting Yarns, which surprised me with some very entertaining writing, particularly Taylor Polites' story of knitting for his chihuahua.
I have been amusing myself with small crafty projects as I plan the next big embroidery. Here's the beginning of a collection of pillows, made with an old floral sheet and thrift store doilies. I think I'll make some nice plump tassels for the corners of the rectangular one. I used a scrap of thrift store lace trim on the square pillow, and decided after I was finished that it was too white. Instead of taking it apart, I just brushed the trim with diluted tea and let it dry. Instant aging!

I've also been finishing my test quilts for Sherri Lynn Wood's book project. I have promised not to blog about them until her book comes out, when all the testers' quilts will be posted on an online forum. The need to share is driving me crazy. Maybe I can cheat and post a very small detail. (Update: I did post a picture, but instantly regretted it. It's good to know I still have some scraps of self-control.)